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The Deeds of the Divine Augustus is the funerary inscription of Emperor, Imperātor Caesar Dīvī Fīlius Augustus (or simply Augustus). This first-person record of his life and accomplishments is significant for it gives insight into the image Augustus portrayed to the Roman people.
According to the text it was written just before Augustus’ death in AD 14, but it was probably written years earlier and likely went through many revisions. Augustus left the text with his will, which instructed the Senate to set up the inscriptions.
By its very nature the Res Gestae is propaganda for the Principate that Augustus instituted. It tends to gloss over the events between the assassination of Augustus’ adoptive father Julius Caesar and the victory at Actium when his foothold on power was finally undisputed.
Various inscriptions of the Res Gestae have been found scattered across the former Roman Empire. The inscription itself is a monument to the establishment of the Julio-Claudian dynasty that was to follow Augustus.
The original, which has not survived, was engraved upon a pair of bronze pillars and placed in front of Augustus’ mausoleum. Many copies of the text were made and carved in stone on monuments or temples throughout the Roman Empire, some of which have survived; most notably, almost a full copy, written in the original Latin and a Greek translation was preserved on a temple to Augustus in Ancyra (the Monumentum Ancyranum of Ankara, Turkey); others have been found at Apollonia and Antioch, both in Pisidia.
The text consists of a short introduction, 35 body paragraphs, and a posthumous addendum. These paragraphs are then grouped in 4 sections: political career, public benefactions, military accomplishments, and a political statement.
- In my nineteenth year, on my own initiative and at my own expense, I raised an army with which I set free the state, which was oppressed by the domination of a faction. For that reason, the senate enrolled me in its order by laudatory resolutions, when Gaius Pansa and Aulus Hirtius were Consuls (43 BC), assigning me the place of a Consul in the giving of opinions, and gave me the imperium. With me as Propraetor, it ordered me, together with the Consuls, to take care lest any detriment befall the state. But the people made me Consul in the same year, when the consuls each perished in battle, and they made me a Triumvir for the settling of the state.
The 1st section (paragraphs 2–14) is concerned with Augustus’ political career, and records the offices and political honors that he held. Augustus also lists the numerous offices and privileges he either refused to take or be awarded.
- I drove the men who slaughtered my father into exile with a legal order, punishing their crime, and afterwards, when they waged war on the state, I conquered them in two battles.
- I often waged war, civil and foreign, on the earth and sea, in the whole wide world, and as victor I spared all the citizens who sought pardon. As for foreign nations, those which I was able to safely forgive, I preferred to preserve than to destroy. About five hundred thousand Roman citizens were sworn to me. I led something more than three hundred thousand of them into colonies and I returned them to their cities, after their stipend had been earned, and I assigned all of them fields or gave them money for their military service. I captured six hundred ships in addition to those smaller than triremes.
- Twice I triumphed with an ovation, and three times I enjoyed a curule triumph and twenty one times I was named Emperor. When the senate decreed more triumphs for me, I sat out from all of them. I placed the laurel from the fasces in the Capitol, when the vows which I pronounced in each war had been fulfilled. On account of the things successfully done by me and through my officers, under my auspices, on earth and sea, the Senate decreed fifty-five times that there be sacrifices to the immortal gods. Moreover there were 890 days on which the senate decreed there would be sacrifices. In my triumphs kings and nine children of kings were led before my chariot. I had been Consul thirteen times, when I wrote this, and I was in the thirty-seventh year of tribunician power (14 AD).
- When the dictatorship was offered to me, both in my presence
and my absence, by the people and Senate, when Marcus Marcellus and Lucius Arruntius were Consuls (22 BC), I did not accept it. I did not evade the curatorship of grain in the height of the food shortage, which I so arranged that within a few days I freed the entire city from the present fear and danger by my own expense and administration. When the annual and perpetual consulate was then again offered to me, I did not accept it.
- When Marcus Vinicius and Quintus Lucretius were Consuls (19 BC), then again when Publius Lentulus and Gnaeus Lentulus were (18 BC), and third when Paullus Fabius Maximus and Quintus Tubero were (11 BC), although the Senate and Roman people consented that I alone be made curator of the laws and customs with the highest power, I received no magistracy offered contrary to the customs of the ancestors. What the senate then wanted to accomplish through me, I did through tribunician power, and five times on my own accord I both requested and received from the Senate a colleague in such power.
- I was triumvir for the settling of the state for ten continuous years. I was first of the senate up to that day on which I wrote this, for forty years. I was high priest, augur, one of the Fifteen for the performance of rites, one of the Seven of the sacred feasts, brother of Arvis, fellow of Titus, and Fetial.
- When I was Consul the fifth time (29 BC), I increased the number of patricians by order of the people and Senate. I read the roll of the Senate three times, and in my sixth consulate (28 BC) I made
a census of the people with Marcus Agrippa as my colleague. I conducted a lustrum, after a forty-one year gap, in which lustrum were counted 4,063,000 heads of Roman citizens. Then again, with consular imperium I conducted a lustrum alone when Gaius Censorinus and Gaius Asinius were Consuls (8 BC), in which lustrum were counted 4,233,000 heads of Roman citizens. And the third time, with consular imperium, I conducted a lustrum with my son Tiberius Caesar as colleague, when Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius were Consuls (14 AD), in which lustrum were counted 4,937,000 of the heads of Roman citizens. By new laws passed with my sponsorship, I restored many traditions of the ancestors, which were falling into disuse in our age, and myself I handed on precedents of many things to be imitated in later generations.
- The Senate decreed that vows be undertaken for my health by the consuls and priests every fifth year. In fulfillment of these vows they often celebrated games for my life; several times the four highest colleges of priests, several times the Consuls. Also both privately and as a city all the citizens unanimously and continuously prayed at all the shrines for my health.
- By a senate decree my name was included in the Saliar Hymn, and it was sanctified by a law, both that I would be sacrosanct for ever, and that, as long as I would live, the tribunician power would be mine. I was unwilling to be high priest in the place of my living colleague; when the people offered me that priesthood which my father had, I refused it. And I received that priesthood, after several years, with the death of him who had occupied it since the opportunity of the civil disturbance, with a multitude flocking together out of all Italy to my election, so many as had never before been in Rome, when Publius Sulpicius and Gaius Valgius were Consuls (12 BC).
- The Senate consecrated the altar of Fortune the Bringer-back before the temples of Honor and Virtue at the Campanian gate
for my return, on which it ordered the priests and Vestal virgins to offer yearly sacrifices on the day when I had returned to the city from Syria (when Quintus Lucretius and Marcus Vinicius were Consuls [19 BC]), and it named that day Augustalia after my cognomen.
- By the authority of the Senate, a part of the praetors and Tribunes of the Plebs, with Consul Quintus Lucretius and the leading men, was sent to meet me in Campania, which honor had been decreed for no one but me until that time. When I returned to Rome from Spain and Gaul, having successfully accomplished matters in those provinces, when Tiberius Nero and Publius Quintilius were consuls (13 BC), the Senate voted to consecrate the Altar of Augustan Peace in the Field of Mars for my return, on which it ordered the magistrates and priests and Vestal virgins to offer annual sacrifices.
- Our ancestors wanted Janus Quirinus to be closed when throughout the all the rule of the Roman people, by land and sea, peace had been secured through victory. Although before my birth it had been closed twice in all in recorded memory from the founding of the city, the senate voted three times in my principate that it be closed.
- When my sons Gaius and Lucius Caesar, whom fortune stole from
me as youths, were fourteen, the Senate and Roman people made them consuls-designate on behalf of my honor, so that they would enter that magistracy after five years, and the Senate decreed that on that day when they were led into the forum they would be included in public councils. Moreover the Roman knights together named each of them first of the youth and gave them shields and spears.
The 2nd section (paragraphs 15–24) lists Augustus’ donations of money, land and grain to the citizens of Italy and his soldiers, as well as the public works and gladiatorial spectacles that he commissioned. The text is careful to point out that all this was paid for out of Augustus’ own funds.
- I paid to the Roman plebs, HS 300 per man from my father’s will and in my own name gave HS 400 from the spoils of war when I was consul for the fifth time (29 BC); furthermore I again paid out a public gift of HS 400 per man, in my tenth consulate (24 BC), from my own patrimony; and, when Consul for the eleventh time (23 BC), twelve doles of grain personally bought were measured out; and in my twelfth year of tribunician power (12-11 BC) I gave HS 400 per man for the third time. And these public gifts of mine never reached fewer than 250,000 men. In my eighteenth year of tribunician power, as Consul for the twelfth time (5 BC), I gave to 320,000 plebs of the city HS 240 per man. And, when Consul the fifth time (29 BC),I gave from my war-spoils to colonies of my
soldiers each HS 1000 per man; about 120,000 men in the colonies received this triumphal public gift. Consul for the thirteenth time (2 BC), I gave HS 240 to the plebs who then received the public grain; they were a few more than 200,000.
- I paid the towns money for the fields which I had assigned to soldiers in my fourth consulate (30 BC) and then when Marcus Crassus and Gnaeus Lentulus Augur were Consuls (14 BC); the sum was about HS 600,000,000 which I paid out for Italian estates, and about HS 260,000,000 which I paid for provincial fields. I was first and alone who did this among all who founded military colonies in Italy or the provinces according to the memory of my age. And afterwards, when Tiberius Nero and Gnaeus Piso were consuls (7 BC), and likewise when Gaius Antistius and Decius Laelius were Consuls (6 BC), and when Gaius Calvisius and Lucius Passienus were Consuls (4 BC), and when Lucius Lentulus and Marcus Messalla were Consuls (3 BC), and when Lucius Caninius and Quintus Fabricius were Consuls (2 BC), I paid out rewards in cash to the soldiers whom I had led into their towns when their service was completed, and in this venture I spent about HS 400,000,000.
- Four times I helped the senatorial treasury with my money, so that I offered HS 150,000,000 to those who were in charge of the treasury. And when Marcus Lepidus and Lucius Arruntius were consuls (6 AD), I offered HS 170,000,000 from my patrimony to the military treasury, which was founded by my advice and from which rewards were given to soldiers who had served twenty or more times.
- From that year when Gnaeus and Publius Lentulus were Consuls (18 BC), when the taxes fell short, I gave out contributions of grain and money from my granary and patrimony, sometimes to 100,000 men, sometimes to many more.
- I built the Senate-house and the Chalcidicum which adjoins it and
the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine with porticos, the Temple of the Divine Julius, the Lupercal, the portico at the Flaminian Circus, which I allowed to be called by the name Octavian, after he who had earlier built in the same place, the state box at the great circus, the temple on the Capitoline of Jupiter Subduer and Jupiter Thunderer, the Temple of Quirinus, the Temples of Minerva and Queen Juno and Jupiter Liberator on the Aventine, the Temple of the Lares at the top of the holy street, the temple of the gods of the Penates on the Velian, the temple of Youth, and the Temple of the Great Mother on the Palatine.
- I rebuilt the Capitol and the Theater of Pompey, each work at enormous cost, without any inscription of my name. I rebuilt aqueducts in many places that had decayed with age, and I doubled the capacity of the Marcian aqueduct by sending a new spring into its channel. I completed the Forum of Julius and the basilic which he built between the Temple of Castor and the Temple of Saturn, works begun and almost finished by my father.
When the same basilica was burned with fire I expanded its grounds and I began it under an inscription of the name of my sons, and, if I should not complete it alive, I ordered it to be completed by my heirs. Consul for the sixth time (28 BC), I rebuilt eighty-two temples of the gods in the city by the authority of the Senate, omitting nothing which ought to have been rebuilt at that time. Consul for the seventh time (27 BC), I rebuilt the Flaminian Way from the city to Ariminum and all the bridges except the Mulvian and Minucian.
- I built the Temple of Mars Ultor on private ground and the Forum of Augustus from war-spoils. I built the theater at the Temple of Apollo on ground largely bought from private owners, under the
name of Marcus Marcellus my son-in-law. I consecrated gifts from war-spoils in the Capitol and in the Temple of the Divine Julius, in the Temple of Apollo, in the Temple of Vesta, and in the Temple of Mars Ultor, which cost me about HS 100,000,000. I sent back gold crowns weighing 35,000 to the towns and colonies of Italy, which had been contributed for my triumphs, and later, however many times I was named Emperor, I refused gold crowns from the towns and colonies which they equally kindly decreed, and before they had decreed them.
- Three times I gave shows of gladiators under my name and five times under the name of my sons and grandsons; in these shows about 10,000 men fought. Twice I furnished under my name spectacles of athletes gathered from everywhere, and three times under my grandson’s name. I celebrated games under my
name four times, and furthermore in the place of other magistrates twenty-three times. As master of the college I celebrated the secular games for the college of the Fifteen, with my colleague Marcus Agrippa, when Gaius Furnius and Gaius Silanus were Consuls (17 BC). Consul for the thirteenth time (2 BC), I celebrated the first games of Mars, which after that time thereafter in following years, by a senate decree and a law, the consuls were to celebrate. Twenty-six times, under my name or that of my sons and grandsons, I gave the people hunts of African beasts in the circus, in the open, or in the amphitheater; in them about 3,500 beasts were killed.
- I gave the people a spectacle of a naval battle, in the place across the Tiber where the grove of the Caesars is now, with the ground excavated in length 1,800 feet, in width 1,200, in which thirty beaked ships, biremes or triremes, but many smaller, fought among themselves; in these ships about 3,000 men fought in addition to the rowers.
- In the temples of all the cities of the Province of Asia, as victor, I
replaced the ornaments which he with whom I fought the war had possessed privately after he despoiled the temples. Silver statues of me-on foot, on horseback, and standing in a chariot-were erected in about eighty cities, which I myself removed, and from the money I placed golden offerings in the Temple of Apollo under my name and of those who paid the honor of the statues to me.
The 3rd section (paragraphs 25–33) describes his military deeds and how he established alliances with other nations during his reign.
- I restored peace to the sea from pirates. In that slave war I handed over to their masters for the infliction of punishments about 30,000 captured, who had fled their masters and taken up arms against the state. All Italy swore allegiance to me
voluntarily, and demanded me as leader of the war which I won at Actium; the provinces of Gaul, Spain, Africa, Sicily, and Sardinia swore the same allegiance. And those who then fought under my standard were more than 700 Senators, among whom 83 were made Consuls either before or after, up to the day this was written, and about 170 were made priests.
- I extended the borders of all the provinces of the Roman people which neighbored nations not subject to our rule. I restored peace to the provinces of Gaul and Spain, likewise Germany, which includes the ocean from Cadiz to the mouth of the River Elbe. I brought peace to the Alps from the region which is near the Adriatic Sea to the Tuscan Archipelago, with no unjust war waged against any nation. I sailed my ships on the ocean from the mouth of the Rhine to the east region up to the borders of the Cimbri, where no Roman had gone before that time by land or sea, and the Cimbri and the Charudes and the Semnones and the other Germans of the same territory sought by envoys the friendship of me and of the Roman people. By my order and auspices two armies were led at about the same time into Ethiopia and into that part of Arabia which is called Happy, and the troops of each nation of enemies were slaughtered in battle and many towns captured. They penetrated into Ethiopia all the way to the town Nabata, which is near to Meroe; and into Arabia all the way to the border of the Sabaei, advancing to the town of Mariba.
- I added Egypt to the rule of the Roman people. When Artaxes, king of Greater Armenia, was killed, though I could have made it a province, I preferred, by the example of our elders, to hand over that kingdom of Tigranes, son of king Artavasdes, and grandson of King Tigranes, throughzTiberius Nero, who was then my step-son. And the same nation, after revolting and rebelling, and subdued through my son Gaius, I handed over to be ruled by King Ariobarzanes son of Artabazus, king of the Medes, and after his death, to his son Artavasdes; and when he was killed, I sent Tigranes, who came from the royal clan of the Armenians, into that rule. I recovered all the provinces which lie across the Adriatic to the east and Cyrene, with kings now possessing them in large part, and Sicily and Sardinia, which had been occupied earlier in the slave war.
- I founded colonies of soldiers in Africa, Sicily, Macedonia, each
- I recovered from Spain, Gaul, and Dalmatia the many military standards lost through other leaders, after defeating the enemies. I compelled the Parthians to return to me the spoils and standards of three Roman armies, and as suppliants to seek the friendship of the Roman people. Furthermore I placed those standards in the sanctuary of the Temple of Mars Ultor.
- As for the tribes of the Pannonians, before my principate no army of the Roman people had entered their land. When they were
conquered through Tiberius Nero, who was then my step-son and emissary, I subjected them to the rule of the Roman people and extended the borders of Illyricum to the shores of the River Danube. On the near side of it the army of the Dacians was conquered and overcome under my auspices, and then my army, led across the Danube, forced the tribes of the Dacians to bear the rule of the Roman people.
- Emissaries from the Indian kings were often sent to me, which had not been seen before that time by any Roman leader. The Bastarnae, the Scythians, and the Sarmatians, who are on this side of the River Don and the kings further away, and the kings of the Albanians, of the Iberians, and of the Medes, sought our friendship through emissaries.
- To me were sent supplications by kings: of the Parthians, Tiridates and later Phrates son of king Phrates, of the Medes, Artavasdes, of the Adiabeni, Artaxares, of the Britons, Dumnobellaunus and Tincommius, of the Sugambri, Maelo, of the Marcomanian Suebi (…, -)rus. King Phrates of the Parthians, son of Orodes, sent all his sons and grandsons into Italy to me, though defeated in no war, but seeking our friendship through the pledges of his children. And in my principate many other peoples experienced the faith of the Roman people, of whom nothing had previously existed of embassies or interchange of friendship with the Roman people.
- The nations of the Parthians and Medes received from me the first kings of those nations which they sought by emissaries: the Parthians, Vonones son of king Phrates, grandson of king Orodes, the Medes, Ariobarzanes, son of king Artavasdes, grandson of king Aiobarzanes.
The 4th section (paragraphs 34–35) consists of a statement of the Romans’ approval for the reign and deeds of Augustus.
- In my sixth and seventh consulates (28-27 BC), after putting out
the civil war, having obtained all things by universal consent, I handed over the state from my power to the dominion of the Senate and Roman people. And for this merit of mine, by a Senate decree, I was called Augustus and the doors of my temple were publicly clothed with laurel and a civic crown was fixed over my door and a gold shield placed in the Julian Senate-house, and the inscription of that shield testified to the virtue, mercy, justice, and piety, for which the senate and Roman people gave it to me. After that time, I exceeded all in influence, but I had no greater power than the others who were colleagues with me in each magistracy.
- When I administered my thirteenth consulate (2 BC), the Senate and Equestrian order and Roman people all called me father of the country, and voted that the same be inscribed in the vestibule of my temple, in the Julian Senate-house, and in the Forum of Augustus under the chariot which had been placed there for me by a decision of the senate. When I wrote this I was seventy-six years old.
The appendix is written in the third-person, and likely not by Augustus himself. It summarizes the entire text, and lists various buildings he renovated or constructed; it states that Augustus spent 600 million silver denarii (i.e. 600,000 gold denarii) from his own funds during his reign on public projects.
Ancient currencies cannot be reliably converted into modern equivalents, but it is clearly more than anyone else in the Empire could afford. Augustus consolidated his hold on power by reversing the prior tax policy beginning with funding the aerarium militare with 170 million sesterces of his own money.
The Res Gestae was a unique public relations move for the original Emperor of the Roman Empire, whose political career was in many ways experimental. If their frequent use as “history” by later historians (both ancient and modern) who characterized Augustus’ rule according to categories he himself constructed in the Res Gestae is any indication, it is a rather successful piece of propaganda.
For better or worse, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti has been an instrumental piece of history. Whether solely propoganda or actual history, we’re happy to have this piece still available for us to see.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Augustus. Res Gestae Divi Augusti. Cambridge University Press, 14 May 2009. ISBN 978-0-521-84152-8.
Barini, Concetta. Res Gestae Divi Augusti ex Monumentis Ancyrano, Antiocheno, Apolloniensi. Rome, 1937.
Cooley, Alison. Res Gestae divi Augusti: Text, Translation and Commentary. Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-521-84152-8.
Gagé, Jean. Res gestae divi Augusti ex monumentis Ancyrano et Antiocheno latinis. Paris, 1935.
Mommsen, Theodor. Res gestae Divi Augusti ex monumentis Ancyrano et Apolloniensi. Berolini: Weidmannos, 1865.
Scheid. John. Res Gestae Divi Augusti: hauts faits du divin Auguste. Belles Lettres, 2007. ISBN 978-2-251-01446-3
Volkmann, Hans. Res gestae Divi Augusti Das Monumentum Ancyranum. Leipzig, 1942.