What’s in a name? The name of this month wasn’t always August; previously the Romans called it Sextilis. This was back in the days of Romulus in 753 BC when there were originally ten months (… Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec.) The Roman Senate, in 8 B.C., decided to honor their first Emperor, Augustus Caesar, by changing the name of the month to Augustus.
Now Augustus wasn’t his name; it was a description of his importance. He was born as Gaius Octavius, though he is known in the history books as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, or Octavius to his friends. The title Augustus in Latin comes from augere “to increase” and was granted to him in 27 B.C. by the Roman Senate.
It meant “venerable” or “consecrated,” signifying his religious role in the Roman cultus. We use the term in English to describe someone auspicious, grand, or lordly… or with imperial qualities. The Greek equivalent is Sebaste (Σεβαστή).
Augustus in History
You know about Augustus from the Christmas story in Luke 2:
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth [i.e., the Roman Empire].
Back in Rome, his mother was the niece of Julius Caesar, and his father was governor of Macedonia. However, dad was only of the equestrian order, not the highest senatorial rank. Nevertheless, the young Octavius rose in status.
He was elected to the College of Pontiffs and later joined his great-uncle Julius Caesar on the battlefield. The General (and Dictator) was so impressed, he changed his will and named the boy his prime beneficiary. As Caesar had no legitimate heir, this adoption meant Octavius would succeed him.
Octavius took the name Gaius Julius Caesar, though Roman tradition required that he append the surname Octavianus (or Octavian) to denote his biological family. He is alternatively known as Octavius, Octavian, or Augustus.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood Roman