August is for Augustus

July is for Julius, and August is for Augustus, Julius Caesar’s biological grand-nephew, adopted son, and heir.

The famous statue of Augustus (but be was never that buff!)

The month of Augustus had been known to the ancient Romans as Sextilis.  It was in 8 B.C.E. when the month was renamed in honor of Rome’s first emperor.

Supposedly, the month was chosen to honor Augustus because that month was when he had a major victory. In August, 30 B.C.E. — while he was still known as Octavian — the future emperor captured the Egyptian city of Alexandria. The significance of the victory was enormous. Egypt was incredibly wealthy and produced vast quantities of grain. Egypt became a province and the breadbasket for Rome.

Augustus was on a roll.  Shortly after that victory, his enemies Mark Antony and Cleopatra were defeated and committed suicide (or were dispatched by Augustus).  Plus, his opponent Caesarion disappeared.


Augustus depicted at the Temple of Kalabsha, in Egypt

Fittingly, Augustus also died in August.

Today, when I think of August, I think of Ferragosto, which is a public holiday celebrated on August 15. The event originated from Feriae Augusti, a festival Augustus established for the working people who toiled in the hot fields over summer.  He had set the holiday for the first of the month, but later, the Vatican moved the date to August 15, which is the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Assumption of the Virgin by Cola dell’Amatrice, at the Capitoline Museums

Ferragosto, to me and many Italians, is always the time to go to the beach — others prefer the mountains — and enjoy the last few weeks of summer.