THE HOROSCOPE OF THE ROMAN EMPEROR AUGUSTUS AND HIS ATTITUDE TO ASTROLOGY

By Valerie Broege, Ph.D. (Quebec Co-Ordinator of the Canadian Independent Astrologers Order) (Vanier College, Snowdon Campus, Montreal, Quebec)

In this paper, I shall attempt to correlate the horoscope of the first Roman Emperor Augustus with what we know about his life and character as seen in both ancient and modern writers. Then I shall present what evidence we have regarding his attitude to astrology. It is hoped that this study will shed further light on an interesting chapter in the early history of astrology.

The ancient biographer Suetonius in his life of Augustus relates to us the circumstances in which the horoscope of Augustus was cast. While Augustus was in Apollonia at about eighteen years of age, just before Julius Caesar’s death, he went with his friend Agrippa to the studio of the astrologer Theogenes. Agrippa was the first to try his fortune, and when a great and almost incredible career was predicted for him, Augustus persisted in concealing the time of his birth and in refusing to disclose it, through lack of confidence and fear that he might be found to be less eminent. When at last he gave it unwillingly and with hesitation, and only after many urgent requests, Theogenes sprang up and threw himself at his feet. From that time on, Augustus had such faith in his destiny, that he made his horoscope public and issued a silver coin stamped with the sign of the constellation Capricorn, under which he was born.

The date of Augustus’ birth is given as a little before sunrise on September 23, 63 B.C., at the OxHeads in the Palatine quarter of Rome. But as Gleadow sees it, the coin is evidence that the day of birth should probably be one day earlier. Otherwise the Moon would be in Aquarius, which would not only contradict the testimony of the coin, but would also result in a horoscope “at which no astrologer would prostrate himself in worship!” The Moon squaring Mars and Saturn would scarcely be cause for jubilation.

The question then arises of which Zodiac system Theogenes followed. Combining the evidence of Augustus’ coin and the fact that Augustus’ horoscope was very good, Gleadow concludes that the Hellenistic zodiac system was used. See figure 1 for a reproduction of the horoscope Gleadow has included in his book The Origin of the Zodiac. I have added the part of fortune, the table of aspects, and the other accompanying interpretive remarks.

In analyzing the horoscope and correlating it with what we know of Augustus, let us begin first with the ascendant, which is the cardinal air sign Libra.  Cardinal signs are especially associated with executive and organizing ability. Notice that Augustus has an excellent combination of cardinal and fixed signs that is indicative of the capable leader (cardinal Asc , M.C. , and five planets; fixed: three planets)

With Libra rising and Sun in Libra, we also have strong testimony of an attractive person with a good deal of charm. The physical description given by astrologers for a person of this Rising Sign is an upright, straight body, an oval face, a ruddy complexion, light hair, and large eyes. This is the physical description that Suetonius gives of the Emperor: He was unusually handsome and exceedingly graceful at all periods of his life Although he was short, this was concealed by the fine proportion and symmetry of his figure. His hair was slightly curly and inclining to golden. His complexion was between dark and fair He had clear bright eyes in which he liked to have it thought that there was a kind of divine power, and it greatly pleased him, whenever he looked keenly at anyone, if he let his face fall as if before the radiance of the Sun

The latter description of Augustus’ desire to exert power over others accords well with the fact that his Sun, the ruler of the lordly sign Leo, is conjunct his Ascendant .Astrological tradition tells us that this position of the Sun endows one with a strong will, abundant vitality, intense self awareness, great initiative, powerful leadership ability, individualism, ambition for success and ·esteem, pride, and the desire to rule others. All of these qualities were indeed necessary for Augustus to come to prominence while yet a teenager in the midst of older and more experienced politicians and men of the world at Rome.

Other characteristics of Libra include a love of beauty and harmony, since the sign is ruled by Venus. Augustus is described as having a very calm and mild expression whether in conversation or when he was silent. Librans also have a great interest in poetry, music, and art — all things cultural. Augustus wrote numerous works of various kinds in prose, including an autobiography. He also tried his hand at writing poetry in hexameters, a book of epigrams, and a tragedy. More importantly, Suetonius says that he fostered the talent of his age in every way. He listened to recitations kindly and patiently, not only of poetry and history, but also speeches and dialogues. Several brilliant writers of the so-called Golden Age of Latin literature were his contemporaries and were encouraged by him, notably Horace and Vergil. He was also partial to various historians, such as Livy and Velleius Paterculus.

Augustus also showed a keen interest in making Rome safe and beautiful. He took measures to secure the city against fire, flood, and brigandage. In his Res Gestae Augustus lists the temples he had restored, 82 in all. Not only was the Emperor involved in the restoration of old temples, but also the building of new ones.

Of particular interest from the point of view of astrological symbolism was his erection of a new temple of Apollo, complete with Greek and Latin libraries. In ancient mythology and religion, Apollo is the god particularly known as the patron of the arts as well as being identified with the intellect and the principle of the golden mean, or moderation. This trait of moderation is the hallmark of Libra. Perhaps in part because Libra is so prominent in the Emperor’s astrological make-up, Augustus identified himself with Apollo to such an extent that he had his own features incorporated in the statue of Apollo in the library, and looked upon the god as the symbol of his empire. The Apollo symbolism becomes all the more striking when one remembers that Apollo was also a Sun God, and Augustus has the Sun Rising in his horoscope.

Suetonius recounts other episodes that again link Augustus’ horoscope symbolically with Apollo and the Sun

Supposedly Atia, the moether of Augustus, had come one night to the solemn service of Apollo and had fallen asleep. Suddenly a serpent glided up and shortly went away. There appeared on her body a mark in colors like a serpent, and she could never get rid of it. Augustus was born the tenth month after that and was therefore regarded as the son of Apollo. Before she gave birth to him, Atia dreamed that her vitals were carried up to the stars and spread over the whole extent of land and sea, while Octavius, her husband, dreamed that the Sun rose from Atia’a womb.

The day Augustus was born, Nigidius Figulus, upon being informed of the hour of his birth, cast his horoscope and declared that the ruler of the world had been born. While Augustus was still an infant, as is recorded by Gaius Drusus, he was placed by his nurse at evening in his cradle on the ground floor and the next morning had disappeared. But after a long search, he was at last found lying on a lofty tower with his face towards the rising sun.

Did Augustus exhibit any of the justice and moderation attributed to Apollo and the sign Libra? As we shall ado, the answer to this question depends on what aspect of his career we are considering. In his favor Suetonius points out that the Emperor administered Justice regularly and sometimes up to nightfall, even when ill. According to this historian, in his administration of Justice, Auqustus was both highly conscientious and very lenient. He was also the first to settle the difficulties that soldiors had previously encountered in obtaining their discharge bounty. He set up a military treasury to which he contributed the equivalent of about $6,809,000 out of his own patrimony. In addition, he established for the first time a systems of appeals, whereby discontented litigants could have their cases reviewed. Jones regards this as by far the most important change which Augustus introduced into the Judicial system, which must have remedied many injustices and reversed many erroneous decisions. One of Augustus’ other accomplishments was to put into operation an equitable system of taxation in place of the grossly oppressive system of the Republican period of Rome’s history. In his Res Gestae Augustus seems proud of the fact that a golden shield was given to him by the Senate and Roman people in recognition of his valor, clemency, justice, and piety.

A few other observations have yet to be made in respect to the Libran elements in Augustus’ horoscope. It is interesting to note in astrological tradition, that when one has Libra rising the person’s father is a source of difficulty or loss. Often he dies when the child is very young; Augustus’ father died when heo was only four years old. The sudden loss of his father is indicated in the fact that his Sun is square Uranus in Cancer. the astrological tradition also associated Libra Rising with some duplicity in parental allegiance, for example, adoption. Augustus’ mother remarried soon after the death of his father, providing Augustus with Lucius Marcius Philippus, who was a good stop-father to him. Also in 44 B.C. Augustus was formally adopted as the son and heir of his great-uncle, Julius Caesar.

Let us turn now to Augustus’ Moon. Notice that it is in the cardinal earth sign of Capricorn in the fourth house, governing home life and family relations. Astrologically speaking, Moon in Capricorn indicates an able administrator or executive, with enough generalship to achieve celebrity. With Augustus’ Sun and Ascendant both in the cardinal sign of Libra, this Moon position underlines the promise of success. Certainly Augustus had a real sense of genius for efficiency and organization. For exumple, he set up a bureaucratic hierarchy of municipal services.

Unfortunately, however, the Moon is in detriment, accentuating the more negative side of Capricorn in the tendency to make the native rather cold, calculating, and careless of the feelings of others. All of this fits Augustus very well. There is no denying that as a young man he was ruthless and unscrupulous. For example, he double crossed Cicero and the Republicans after the battle of Mutina, and add not keep his agreements with Antonius and sent him no legions from Italy. He was also ruthless after the battle of Actium, executing not only the last surviving assassins of Caesar, but others, whose deaths did not seem justified.

It is interesting to note also how Augustus’ Moon operated directly in relation to the concerns of the fourth house. Augustus was extremely anxious to have his daughter Julia married well from a political point of view, and he married her off without any regard to her feelings or those of her successive husbands. She was married first to the young Marcellus, next to the very elderly Agrippa, and finally to Tiberius, who loved his first wife and disliked Julia. Even in the case of Augustus himself, we know that his first three wives were all married for political reasons, and only his fourth marriage to Livia was a love match.

Notice that Augustus has a grand trine of earth signs, although his Taurean planets are not in close aspect to his Virgo Mercury and Capricorn Moon. A grand trine of earth signs especially is considered to be a potentially powerful and good influence in a horoscope. This configuration would indicate that Augustus was conservative and constructive in a positive way, since the earth signs are traditionally regarded as materialistic, stable, and conserving.

Augustus obviously manifested these traits. His whole political and religious program wasa bound up with the idea of retaining the old Republican formsa and reviving the ancient religious traditions. He treated with great respect such foreign rites as were ancient and well-established, but held the rest in contempt. His personal tastes were also conservative. He made the women of his family spin and weave in the old fashioned way, and he actually wore the homespun that they produced. He tried to make people wear the old toga, which had gone out of style except for formal~ occasions. Indignantly quoting Vergil’s line, “Romans, lords of the world, the toga clad race”, he instructed the aediles to turn people out of the Forum and its neighbourhood if they were not wearing togas. His views on marriage were also antiquated, and he passed quite a few laws concerning marriage and morals.

Augustus’ horoscope quite clearly shows that he might be expected to have a good deal of public importance and influence. Notice how he has three planets in the house of the career and public fame, the tenth house under the sign of Cancer. Uranus conjunct the Midheaven indicates a reformer’s temperament and the possibility of sudden catapulting into the public eye — elements that fits Augustus’ life history well. Notice again the square aspect of Augustus’ Uranus and Sun, which, among other things, can point to many friendships, but often being reserved for people who are willing to be the native’s ardent followers. The most famous friends Augustus had were Agrippa and Maecenas, who were his war and culture ministers, respectively. Augustus was greatly grieved by Agrippa’s death in 12 B.C. and had him buried in his own mausoleum; they were friends for 32 years with never a hint of quarrel. Agrippa had been a devoted friend since their school days and had been content to remain subordinate to Augustus. Augustus’ Sun square Uranus placement could also make him violently antagonistic to friends because of some real or imagined injustice; witness his banishment of the poet Ovid over some undisclosed indiscretion and his stony refusal to repeal the sentence despite the many appeals made by the poet and his supporters.

Astrologers have noted that Uranus-Neptune conjunctions are very frequent in the horoscopes of great and famous people. This conjunction can indicate a person who introduces new philosophies and political, social, or religious systems. Neptune square the Sun in Augustus’ chart can refer to the native considering himself to be the chosen vessel of some master or divine being; often this belief is the result of an unconscious desire for importance. In the case of Augustus, he saw himself as the son of the deified Julius Caesar, the descendant of the goddess Aphrodite. We have already noted his connection with the god Apollo. In addition, poets of the time, such as Horace and Ovid, also saw him as Hermes and the earthly counterpart of Jupiter, the king of the gods.

Along with Uranus and Neptune, Augustus also has Jupiter in his tenth house. This planet is strongly placed in an angular house and is exalted in Cancer. The importance of this planet is symbolically represented in a dream that the father of Augustus had. He dreamed that his son appeared to him in a guise more majestic than that of mortal man, with the thunderbolt, sceptre, and insignia of Jupiter  Optimus Maximus, wearing a crown begirt with rays and mounted upon a laurel-wreathed chariot drawn by twelve horses of surpassing whiteness (perhaps symbolic of the 12 signs of the zodiac?). As a further testimony to the greatness of Augustus’ public influence and reputation, note that the part of fortune is conjunct the Moon, the ruler of his tenth house.

In close proximity to the tenth house is the planet Pluto, associated with leadership of the masses and changes that affect a whole generation. Augustus’ role of Emperor is certainly consonant with this placement, particularly when one remembers that his was the first generation to enjoy a peaceful existence after all the troubled years of civil and foreign wars during the Republican period of Rome’s history. Furthermore, Pluto in the ninth house is indicative of Augustus’ interest in regenerating legal, educational, moral, and religious systems. Pluto is given even more emphasis in Augustus’ horoscope in the fact that it is the pivotal point of a finger-of-destiny configuration.

Note that Augustus’ Mercury is exalted in Virgo in the twelfth house. Virgo is particularly the sign associated with perfectionism, order, office work, and bureaucracy. Augustus was instrumental in setting up a kind of civil service bureaucracy at Rome. In his personal correspondence he always attached to all lettors the exact hour, not only of the day but even of the night, to indicate precisely when they were written. His writing style was unadorned, and he was in the habit of carefully preparing his public speeches beforehand. He even wrote scripts for important conversations with his wife, Livia. He was afraid of forgetting what he was to say, and was afraid of saying too much or too little if he spoke offhand, even though he had ability in extemporaneous speaking. All of this concurs well with the fact that his Mercury, the planet of writing and communication in general, is in the house of self-undoing, limitations and secret fears.

In Augustus’ chart Venus is in Scorpio, which indicates a passionate and intense love nature. It is opposed by Saturn and Mars in Taurus, a bad aspect since both Venus and Mars are in detriment. Immorality, intemperance, and lack of consideration for others could be indicated, especially since Augustus’ other emotional planet, the Moon, is also in detriment and is associated with callousness and manipulation of others. Suetonius has this to say about Augustus’ morals: in early youth he incurred the reproach of various shameless acts. Sextus Pompey taunted him with effeminacy. He was accused:of having -homosexual relations with ‘Caesar and Aulus Hirtius. He was married four-times and involved in numerous adulterous relations as well, in some cases the more readily to keep track of his adversaries’ designs through the women of their households. He married Livia very hastily, not even waiting- for her to have her child by her former husband before the divorce took place. Even though his marriage with Livia was happy, he still amused himself by deflowering virgins on the side, his Sun square Neptune being a further indication of this perverse behaviour.                    

Venus in Augustus’ horoscope is in the second house of money and possessions, indicating both a desire for these things and extravagance. He was criticized for being overly fond of costly furniture and Corinthian bronzes. But often he showed generosity to all classes of people when occasion offered and surpassed all his predecessors in the frequency, variety, and magnificence of his public shows. Venus in the second house may also indicate a career associated with art and beauty; as we know, the arts and architecture of Rome were of great concern to him.

Another important house in Augustus’ chart is the eighth house of death and inheritances. Here he has a conjunction of the two malefic planets Saturn and Mars. This conjunction indicates a capacity for hard work, enduring strength, resourcefulness, courage, and military involvement. It can also be a significator for an obsessive-compulsive personality with ambition for power that could lead to oppressive and dictatorial attitudes.

Saturn and Mars conjoined in the eighth house can indicate- losses through death and violent deaths either of the person himself or those connected with him. It seems that Augustus was surrounded by death throughout his life. He lost his father at a very early time in his life, his adoptive father Julius Caesar was murdered, and he dedicated himself to avenging his death. He built a temple to Mars the Avenger, which he had vowed to the god if he killed all Caesar’s murderers. He narrowly escaped death many times himself through mob hostility, shipwreck, lightning, illness, battle, and assassination attempts.

A conjunction of Saturn and Mars can also indicate cruelty and fixity of purpose since Taurus is a fixed sign. Augustus was particularly intransigeant and cruel in dealing with the assassins of Caesar and their associates. Beginning in 43 B.C., Augustus and the other two triumvirs proclaimed a proscription. Despite his initial resistance, Augustus carried it through with greater severity than his two colleagues. While he was triumvir, Augustus incurred general detestation by many of his acts. For example, when he was addressing the soldiers and a throng of civilians had been admitted to the assembly, noticing that Pinarius, a Roman knight, was taking notes, he ordered that he be stabbed on the spot, thinking him an eavesdropper and a spy.

After the battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. he sent Brutus head to Rome, to be cast at the feet of Caesar’s statue, and he vented his spleen upon the most distinguished of his captives, not even sparing them insulting language. For instance, to one man who begged humbly for burial, he is said to have replied that the birds would soon settle that question. When two others, father and son, begged for their lives, he is said to have bidden them cast lots to decide who should be spared, and then to have looked on while both died, since the father was executed because he offered to die for his son, and the latter thereupon took his own life.

After the capture of Perugia in 40 B.C. he took vengeance on many, meeting all attempts to beg for pardon or to make excuses with the one reply, “You must die”. Some write that three hundred senators and knights were selected from the prisoners of war and were sacrificed on the Ides of March like so many victims at the altar raised to the Deified Julius Caesar.

Augustus exacted the strictest discipline in the army. If any cohorts gave way in battle he decimated them. When centurions left their posts, he punished them with death, just as he did the rank and file. For faults of other kinds, he imposed various ignominious penalties.

Lot us turn now to the fifth house of Augustus’ horoscope to see how the Emperor got on with his children. Note that Uranus, the ruler of the fifth house, is square the Sun and widely opposed to the Moon as well as being conjunct Neptune. Furthermore, Saturn and Mars in Taurus are square to the cusp of the fifth house. All of these aspects would tend to indicate children who could prove rebellious, immoral, disillusioning, and likely to die prematurely. Augustus eventually came to realize that the two Julias, his daughter and granddaughter, were guilty of various forms of vice, such as sexual immorality and drinking, and banished them. He was disappointed in his hope of a son by Livia; they had no children. His two adoptive sons Gaius and Lucius died within eighteen months of each other. He then adopted his third grandson Agrippa and at the same time his stepson Tiberius. He soon disowned Agrippa because of his low tastes and violent temper, and sent him away from Rome. Augustus was so aggrieved by the conduct of the Julias and Agrippa that he never was reconciled to them and would even cry out, “Would that I never had wedded and would I had died without offspring,” and he never alluded to them except as his three boils and his three ulcers. He would not allow the child born to his granddaughter Julia after her sentence to be recognized or reared.

To close my discussion of Augustus’ horoscope, I would like to make a few comments on his health. Note that the ruler of his sixth house is Neptune, which is conjunct Uranus and Jupiter, sextile to Saturn and Mars, square the Sun, and widely opposed to the Moon. Also note that Mercury is in the twelfth house. Augustus had delicate health all his life, which could be accounted for by the Sun-Neptune square, especially since the Sun is in its fall. Yet the fact that he returned from death’s door a number of times may perhaps be seen in the sextile aspects of Neptune to Saturn and Mars in the eighth house and Jupiter conjunct Neptune.

The kinds of health problems he had can also be correlated with his horoscope. His body was covered with spots and birthmarks on breast and belly, numerous callous places resembling ringworm, caused by a constant itching of the body. Here we can see the action of Neptune in Cancer (the breast and stomach) square Libra (skin diseases). He also had bladder problems, kidney stones, and abscesses of the liver, again attributable to the Sun-Neptune square and also involving Mercury in Virgo in the twelfth house (the lower lobes of the liver).

Augustus was commonly ailing just before his birthday, and at the beginning of spring he was troubled with an enlargement of the diaphragm, and when the wind was in the south with catarrh. This description of recurring patterns of health problems also links up well with Augustus’ horoscope in that during the seasons of the years mentioned his Sun Neptune square would be activated around his birthday, and a T-square would result with the Sun entering Aries in the Spring. The natal Sun square Uranus and transiting Sun in Aries square Uranus could easily give rise to Augustus’ diaphragm problems.

After analyzing Augustus’ horoscope we can well understand Theogenes’ reaction to it. But what of the Emperor’s attitude to astrology Cramer in his book “Astrology in Roman Law and Politics” gives considerable attention to this question. According to Suetonius, from the time that Theogenes cast his horoscope Augustus had such faith in his destiny that he made his horoscope public and issued a silver coin stamped with the sign of the constellation Capricorn under which he was born. But Cramer believes that the issuing of such a coin would have been premature, considering that Augustus was only about eighteen at the time. Furthermore Augustus did not publish his horoscope until the year 11 A.D. when he wanted to reassure the populace, who were in a restive state because of rumors of his impending death.

In 33 B.C. we find Augustus, through his friend Agrippa who had been made an aedile for this purpose, expelling both astrologers and sorcerers from Rome. Cramer offers a good case that the decree was a political move to silence the astrologers, soothsayers, and sorcerers in Rome, who were mostly of Eastern extraction. They may be assumed to have been much more favourable to the cause of Mark Antony, the ruler of the East, against Augustus, the ruler of the West. Augustus obviously did not want the Roman people to be unfavourably disposed to him at this critical time because of the influence of astrologers.

It seems that in 28 B.C. Augustus issued an individual expulsion order against the Thessalian philosopher and magician Anaxilaus, requiring him to leave Italy. Cramer thinks that if this account is true Anaxilaus was probably expelled because he encouraged opposing political elements by his predictions during the uneasy period prior to the establishment of the principate in 27 B.C.

Again in 12 B.C. Augustus felt sufficiently disquieted by the temper of the Romans that he ordered all kinds of divinatory literature to be surrendered to him, doubtlessly including astrological texts. More than two thousand books and scrolls, with the sole exception of the venerable Sibylline books, were burned.

When in 1 B.C. Augustus entered his sixty-third year, the most dreaded one of the so-called climacteric years that astrology speaks of, he seems to have been filled with a sense of foreboding and subsequently a great sense of relief when he celebrated his next birthday. Such a reaction seems to indicate at least partial personal belief in astrology on the part of Augustus.

Again in 11 A.D. we find the Emperor imposing restrictions upon astrologers for political reasons. In an edict Augustus forbade throughout the empire all consultations regarding the death of any individual. To insure the observance of this law, the diviner and his client were not allowed to meet alone. Augustus enacted these laws to put a stop to persistent rumors that diviners had introduced to please their clients that the Emperor was about to die and great changes were imminent. To quash these speculations, Augustus had his horoscope published in an attempt to show people that he would still be around for some time to come.

From this survey of Augustus’ official policies with regard to astrology we can see that he certainly took it very seriously as something that the majority of the Romans believed in implicitly. Otherwise he would not have been concerned to counter predictions made against himself or his regime by circumscribing the activities of astrologers. As for his personal belief in astrology, two ancient writers have indicated that he was an enthusiastic adherent (Suetonius) or that at least he was superstitious about it (Aulus Gellius).Whichever the case may be, he might well have been inclined to shout its praises after seeing Theogenes’ appraisal of his horoscope vindicated by his long and successful life!

Bibliography:

1. Suetonius , Divine Augustus 94, trans. J.C. Wolfe, (London 1960).

2. Rupert Gleadow, The Origin of the Zodiac (New York, 1968).

3. A.E. Housman, “Manilius, Augustus, Tiberius, Capricornus, and Libra”, Classical Quarterly 7 (1913).

4. Augustus, Res Gestae Divi Augustus, trans. By F.W. Shipley in Velleius Paterculus, (London 1924).

5. Dio Cassius, Roman History, trans. Earnest Cary, (London 1916-1924).

6. A.H.M. Jones, Augustus, (London 1970).

7. Frederick H. Cramer, Astrology in Roman Law and Politics, Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society 37, (Philadelphia 1954).

Editor’s note: The original copy of the article submitted by Valerie Broege was extensively footnoted. Unfortunately  due to technical difficulties, the footnotes have been  (with sincere apologies to Valerie) deleted from this article. Copies of the footnoted article are available on request.

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