Why didn't Octavian just declare himself emperor?

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Jan 23, 2018


Titles are not grabbed, they are generally conferred by a higher authority (often God). Napoleon, to my knowledge, was the only one who named himself Emperor, but was never recognised by the other crowned heads.


The issue is not so much the title. It existed well before Octavian. The issue is the power and the aura that he gathered about the title.

The term IMPERATOR was attributed to a victorious general after a battle by the raving soldiery, and was confirmed by the Senate upon the return of the troops to Rome.

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The victory was celebrated in the city by a Triumph, a popular three days festivities during which the Imperator was paraded by the cheering crowd followed by his legions, his booty and the enslaved prisoners. There are all sorts of Hollywood films showing such extravaganza.

At the end of the three days the Emperor would lose the title and resume normal military duties.
L.J.Cesar, C.J. Cesar, Pompeius, Cicero, Brutus... were all Emperors before Augustus. C.J. Cesar was offered to keep the title but (confirmed by Shakespeare) he refused three times.

Augustus kept the title conferred to him after the battle of Azio (31 BC) and, returned to Rome, obtained the full powers from the Senate. The city and the Republic were in chaotic condition after Cesar's murder and the Civil War. Order was needed and Octavian was capable and willing to restore it.
Following his success in pacifying the situation, few years later (27 BC), the Senate conferred to him the Augustus appellative.

Cesar Octavian Augustus reign lasted more than 40 years. It was a period of relative peace and of cultural progress. Eventually he gave himself the right to name his successor (by adoption) and declared himself a divinity. The imperial sequence that lasted to the end of the First World War in 1918 thus begun.

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