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After Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Octavian, his great-nephew and adopted son, together with Caesar's friend Mark Antony, avenged Caesar's death. Many leading Romans were killed.

In 43 BC Octavian and Mark Antony formed the Second Triumvirate with Marcus Lepidus. The following year the Triumvirate defeated Brutus and Cassius at the battle of Philippi. In 37 BC the Triumvirate was renewed for five years. In the same year Mark Antony, already married to Octavia (Octavian's sister), also married Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. In 36 BC Octavian's fleet defeated that of Pompey's son, Sextus.

By 31 BC Octavian had become master of the Roman world, and he completed Caesar's work. In the same year Mark Antony quarrelled with Octavian and fought him at the Battle of Actium, which Antony lost; the following year Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and Octavian declared Egypt a Roman province. In 27 BC Octavian was given supreme power by the Roman Senate; he assumed the name Augustus, meaning 'revered'. The month of August is named after him.

During his long reign (27 BC - AD 14) Emperor Augustus brought peace and order to the Roman empire. He secured the boundaries at the rivers Rhine, Danube, and Euphrates, posting legions of troops along each frontier. He continued the reforming work begun by Caesar, erecting fine new buildings in Rome, and organizing road construction.

The Republic still existed after Caesar's assassination, but the idea of one-man rule had taken root in people's minds. Augustus was given the powers of an absolute monarch, but he presented himself as the preserver of republican traditions. He treated the Senate, or state council, with great respect, and was made Consul year after year. Even as his power grew, he insisted that he was princeps (first citizen), not a king. He successfully reduced the political power of the army by retiring many soldiers, but giving them land or money to keep their loyalty. Augustus also tried to encourage more devotion to family life among his subjects. The power structure he created lasted until Romulus Augustulus, the last emperor, was deposed in AD 476.

He encouraged a cult of Augustus, in which he was worshipped as a god. He passed his title and powers on to his son Tiberius in AD 14. An era when the arts of a nation are at their height, as they were in his reign, is still called an 'Augustan age'.

The period between the rule of Augustus, who died in AD 14, and the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180, is often called the Pax Romana (Roman peace), a time in which very few major disturbances jolted the feeling of security within the empire's borders, despite some dramatic events, such as a great fire at Rome in 64 that destroyed much of the city. Some of the emperors who succeeded Augustus were outstanding. Trajan (97-117) waged successful wars against Rome's enemies. Hadrian (117-38) limited the empire's size to keep it manageable, extensively touring the provinces to ensure they were well governed.

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