Friday, September 25, 2015


September 23 was the birthday of the ruler of the world.
In his lifetime, he was called Imperator, the Greatest, and the Son of God.

He was born Gaius Octavius in the year 63 BC.  His mother was a niece of the most famous Roman of the day, indeed, according to many scholars and his contemporaries, the greatest Roman who ever lived - Gaius Julius Caesar.  Young Octavius - also called Octavian - caught the eye of his famous great-uncle when he was in his teens, and Caesar named him as his conterburnalis (junior military aid) when Octavian was 19.  By that time, Caesar had defeated the Gauls, conquered three new provinces for Rome, and defeated his enemies in the Senate.  What was left of that august body of legislators had proclaimed Julius Caesar as dictator for life.  Caesar had implemented a huge slate of reforms for the city of Rome and the Republic's government and was preparing to march east, to bring down Rome's last remaining rival, the mighty Parthian Empire.  His friend Crassus had died fighting the Parthians, and Caesar wanted to avenge his death and recover the seven Eagle standards the Parthians had taken from the legions they vanquished when Crassus fell at Carrhae.  Before he could depart, though, a jealous band of conspirators ended Caesar's life by stabbing him to death.

   To the surprise and shock of everyone - especially Caesar's cousin and chief military legate, Marcus Antonius - Caesar's will named young Octavian as his chief heir.  No one expected the frail, asthmatic lad to last long in the brutal world of Roman politics.  But within eleven years of his uncle's death, the self proclaimed "Son of the Divine Julius" had vanquished Antony and Cleopatra, driven his enemies from Rome, and united the squabbling Republic into a well-run, centralized Empire with himself as its head of state.  Wielding power with an iron fist concealed in a velvet glove, he restored peace and order and made Rome the greatest power in the world.  Of all his accomplishments, he took the most pride in the fact that he had extinguished the fires in the temple of Mars - which signified that Rome was at war - more often and for longer periods than anyone could ever remember.  The government that he founded would endure till Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 476 AD, and then it would transfer itself to Constantinople and endure for another thousand years as the Byzantine Empire.  Needless to say, his birthday was a great holiday in Rome.

   So why does it pass unnoticed except for a few history geeks like me?  Because of another birthday, one that took place around the thirtieth year of his forty-five year reign.  This baby was not born into a wealthy patrician family, nor was he adopted by a rich uncle.  His youth was so unremarkable that only one story about it survives.  He worked with his hands, supported a houseful of siblings after his father's death, and traveled on foot wherever he went.  He never held a sword, never wrote a book, never took a single life.  Yet today HE is the one we remember as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Son of God, and the most significant life in the history of the Western world.  There is no doubt that Caesar Augustus changed the world, and that those changes were generally for the better.  But it was not his birth that split history in half - it was a birth that took place in a humble barn, many miles from Rome.  That is a birthday that no one forgets!

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