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Caesar’s Comet, the Julian Star, and the Invention of Augustus


Octavian is credited with turning a comet seen in 44 b.c.e. into a symbol of Julius Caesar’s divinity and using it to advance his own political aims. Yet historical evidence argues against this account. Moreover, representations of the sidus Iulium (Julian star) on coins and in poetry adopt diverse and autonomous perspectives on the princeps. The idea that Augustus circulated the sidus as part of an image campaign seems instead to originate with Ovid, whose deification narrative at Metamorphoses 15.745–851 retrojected the princeps ’s mature power onto his early career and fueled the belief that Augustus gained and maintained power through propaganda.

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