Augustus Caesar ruled at the time of the birth of Christ and lived from 63 BC to AD 14. He was the first Roman emperor to use a particular title, and it was in fact his favorite title. In Latin, the title is Divi filius, or “son of a god.”
Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. One of Julius Caesar’s favorite titles was “Divine Julius.” He considered himself to be descended from the gods, and a god on earth. Augustus, when he officially became part of Julius Caesar’s family through adoption, took on the title Divi filius, “son of a god.”
Augustus also set up statues of himself throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, because of the limitations of travel in that day, many more people would have seen his statues and images than would have seen him.
The most famous statue of Augustus had certain characteristics, and it gave birth to a popular style of statute representing him. He had the original statue commissioned while he was middle-aged, but it is an image of him as a young man with ideal proportions. In this style of statue, he’s perpetually youthful and perfect. Also, his feet are bare. Such a representation was only used in the depiction of gods and goddesses, so the statue connects him to the gods of the Roman pantheon.
In these statues, Augustus is also dressed in military garb, and his arm is raised up, as if he is addressing the people. He is represented as their leader, as their victorious military leader, who is leading Rome through all its military endeavors, exploits, and pursuits.
At his right leg, on many of these statues, there is a Cupid riding a dolphin. Now, there’s a double image here. The dolphin represents his victories at sea, and the Cupid represents Venus. It’s a way of signifying that Augustus was descended from the goddess Venus herself.
On his breastplate are figures that signify all of the countries that he had conquered and had brought into the empire, and it represents what we speak of in reference to the Pax Romana, or “peace of Rome.” The unification of various tribes and nations into one people throughout the Roman world was all brought about by Augustus.
One of the famous altars associated with Augustus can be seen today in Berlin at the Pergamon Museum, constructed in 1930. Of course, the foundation of the altar is in Pergamum, but it was moved to Berlin. It was constructed before the time of Augustus Caesar, sometime between BC 150 to BC 100, but blocks, an altar, and a statue of Augustus were later added to it.
On that altar is Augustus’ favorite title, Divi filius. We also find graffiti on the altar’s block and around the title. You might remember that Pergamum was one of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2–3. It’s the northernmost of the seven churches in Asia Minor. In the early Byzantine period, as that area was Christianized, someone put two lines of graffiti on the title Divi filius in the symbol of the cross. So, while Augustus Caesar thought he was the son of god on Earth, he was not. It was, in fact, that baby who was born in a manger during his reign. Jesus Christ alone is the Son of God.