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20. The Succession

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About this Lecture


In this lecture we think about the means by which Augustus attempts to secure a smooth succession to his chosen heir, focusing in particular on: (i) the importance of family connections to Augustus’ own political career, and his desire to create an imperial dynasty – as shown by the construction of the Mausoleum of Augustus; (ii) the extent to which the succession represented the moment of greatest threat to the principate as a system; (iii) the various branches of his family that he looks to for an heir – his daughter Julia and her children, his step-sons Tiberius and Drusus, and his sister Octavia and her children; (iv) the death at a young age of a series of potential heirs – Marcellus at 19 years old in 23 BC, Drusus at 29 years old in 9 BC, Lucius at 19 years old in 2 AD, Gaius at 24 years old in 4 AD – leaving Tiberius as the last man standing; (v) the implication in Tacitus that Livia may have had a hand in the deaths of Gaius and Lucius to advance the interests of her own son, Tiberius, in Augustus’ succession plans; (vi) the relative strengths and weaknesses of Gaius, Lucius, Tiberius and Drusus as potential successors to Augustus; (vii) the importance of Julia’s exile in 2 BC; (viii) Augustus’ final moves: adopting Tiberius and Agrippa Postumus (the son of Agrippa and Julia), and forcing Tiberius to adopt Germanicus; and (viii) the smoothness with which power transfers from Augustus to Tiberius in 14 AD.


In this course, Professor Matthew Nicholls (University of Oxford) explores the reign of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. Across twenty-one lectures, we consider a range of issues including: (i) the historical sources for reign of Augustus and their reliability; (ii) the events that led to the creation of the principate, particularly the Battle of Actium; (iii) the various constitutional settlements that formalised Augustus’ powers; (iv) his military achievements; (v) the importance of contemporary poetry (Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Ovid) and coinage for understanding his reign; (vi) the significance of key figures around Augustus, such as Livia, Marcus Agrippa, Tiberius and Germanicus; (vii) the extent to which Augustus really ‘restored the republic’ as he claimed he did; (viii) Augustus’ involvement in religious life at Rome and in the provinces; (ix) his administrative changes in Rome and in the provinces; (x) his management of various different sections of Roman society – the senatorial elite, the equestrian order, the army, the people of Rome and the provincial elites; (xi) challenges to his rule; (xii) his management of the succession; and (xiii) the importance of his own record of his achievements, the Res Gestae.


Matthew Nicholls is a visiting professor of classics at the University of Reading and Senior Tutor at St John's College, Oxford, specialising in the political and social history of the Romans, and the way the built environments of Rome and cities around the empire expressed their values and priorities. In 2014, Matthew was presented with a Guardian Teaching Award for his 'Virtual Rome' project, a digital model of the city of Rome, showing the city as it appeared in c. AD 315.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Nicholls, M. (2023, May 23). Augustus - The Succession [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Nicholls, M. "Augustus – The Succession." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 May 2023,