Res Gestae Divi Augusti, chapter 8

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See Augustus, Res Gestae divi Augusti (General Background) for the historical context of the Res Gestae.

Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Eulogy / Panegyric / Elogium.
Original Location/Place: 
Rome, Ancyra, Antioch in Pisidia, Apollonia, Sardis.
14 CE
Latin, Greek
Chapters 8 of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti introduces a central theme of Augustus’s claim to power: the improvement of society based on his re-ordering of the citizen body and their behaviour.
Chapter 8 begins with the statement that under Augustus, the number of ‘patricians’ in Rome was increased significantly (patriciorum numerum auxi). In Rome’s earliest days, the ‘patrician’ class made up the aristocracy of the city, monopolising magistracies and priesthoods until the 4th century BCE when, following the ‘conflict of the orders’, the plebeian class began to achieve more political equality (see Lintott, Constitution of the Roman Republic, p. 164-5). By the time of Augustus, the difference between patrician and plebeian was of little political importance, with the exception of the tribune of the plebs, which could only be held by someone of plebeian standing, and some key priesthoods that could only be held by members of the patrician class (Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae, p. 50). However, the proscriptions of the first century BCE and the civil wars, as well as longer-term ‘erosion’, had dramatically decreased the number of patrician families, with just fourteen of the c. fifty gentes known from the fifth century surviving into the first century BCE (Cooley, Res Gestae p. 138). The diminishing number of patricians meant that some of these key priesthoods were left vacant, such as the flamen dialis – the high priest of Jupiter – which was unfilled between 87-11 BCE (Suetonius, Aug. 31.4). In order to combat this problem, in 29 BCE Augustus used the new lex Saenia de plebeis in patricios adlegendis, which had been passed just one year previously, to create new patrician families, thereby demonstrating what Peter Brunt and John Moore termed ‘respect for religious traditions’ (Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae, p. 50. For a full list of the new patrician families, see Scheid, Res Gestae p. 39). This was a particularly relevant move for Augustus, whose own family, the Octavianii, had been raised from plebeian to patrician status under Julius Caesar in 45 BCE, using the lex Caesia (Tacitus, Ann. 11.25; Suetonius, Aug. 2.1). Although not overtly stated, the increase in patrician numbers and the security that this gave to the traditional priesthoods demonstrates the importance of religious customs for Augustus’s new regime; without their stability, his insistence upon the renewal of ancestral practices as a means of restoring ‘good’ behaviour across the Roman world was surely less secure.
Section 8.2 is arguably the most important part of this chapter, and certainly the area that has received the most attention. It deals with Augustus’s reorganisation of the senate and the census of Roman citizens. Firstly, there has been some debate as to his claim that the membership of the senate was revised on three different occasions (senatum ter legi), which is at odds with the five instances named by Dio Cassius, which occurred in 29 BCE, 18 BCE, 13 BCE, 11 BCE and 4 CE (Roman History, 54.42 – 55.13). Arnold H.M. Jones began unravelling the confusion, noting that the first two lectiones, or revision of membership, recorded by Dio were correct, in 29 BCE and 18 BCE. The fifth lectio, of 4 CE, he dismissed as one held by a triumvirate of the Senate (Jones, Roman Government p. 22). However, he attributed the third and fourth revisions, in 13 and 11 BCE as a misunderstanding by Dio, and that only the lectio of 11 BCE was in fact true (Jones, Roman Government p. 23. For further discussion of the problematic dates for these revisions, see Astin, Augustus p. 226-35; Rich, Cassius Dio p. 205-15). In spite of the confusion regarding the dates, Augustus’s intentions when revising the membership of the Senate was clear; membership had increased from approximately 600 in the late Republic, to a peak of c. 1000 senators in 29 BCE. Augustus excluded 140 senators that he considered unsuitable for the role, and persuaded a further 50 to retire, with further exclusions following again in 18 BCE (Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae p. 50-1). These revisions were not only practically necessary, but they conformed to the message of constitutional propriety and renewed respect for traditional positions of authority that focused Augustus’s ruling principles in the first years after Actium. The dismissal of improperly behaving senators and the regular revision of their numbers marked a return to the reputed ‘order’ of the Republic, and the legitimacy of those in power.
The first census under Augustus was given during his sixth consulship (in consulatu sexto censum populi…egi). Much has been made of the way in which Augustus’s censorial power is described here; the Fasti Venusiani record that Agrippa and Octavian were granted the rights with which to carry out the census as part of their consular power, but neither assumed the office of censor (Suetonius, Aug. 27.5; Jones, Roman Government, p. 24). However, there was no formal need for censorial power to be granted to them; as consuls they could – although unusual and not a traditional aspect of the role – have ordered a census to be carried out. The specific statement regarding censorial power therefore represents, as Alison Cooley has stated, a ‘new phenomenon of a magisterial power being bestowed separately from the office itself’ (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 140). Ronald Ridley, Alan Astin and Arnold Jones have all suggested that Augustus was uncomfortable holding the position of censor over the aristocracy of Rome, and thereby made the distinction between office and the right to carry out that office’s duties in order to mask the new power appointed to him (Ridley, Emperor’s Retropect, p. 103; Astin, Augustus p. 232; Jones, Roman Government, p. 26). This would then explain the, seemingly pointless, appointment of two censors in 22 BCE; although the power of the office was essentially transferred to the princeps, Augustus maintained the appearance of the traditional positions of Roman government.
The last census had been held forty-two years earlier, in 70/69 BCE, and registered 910,000 male citizens (Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae p. 51). The figure given in the Res Gestae is almost four times that number, at 4,063,000, although this did include women and children, who previously were not registered. Peter Brunt has discussed at length the problematic nature of this growth in population; the civil wars should have resulted in a population decrease, but the number of slaves being manumitted and acquiring citizenship would certainly have accounted for some increase, as did the enfranchisement of areas such as the Po Valley region in 49 BCE and the citizenship award to different provincial colonies and municipalities (Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae p. 51; Brunt, Italian Manpower p. 113-30). However, more recent scholarship has disagreed with his assertion that in order to reach this population number, women and children must also have been included in the census, with Elio Lo Cascio preferring the interpretation that the increase represents a high level of under-registration in the Republic (Lo Cascio, Size of the Roman Population, p. 29-40). The Greek version of the inscription unfortunately mis-records the first census figure as 4,603,000 rather than 4,063,000, in what John Scheid believed to be a simple error of transcription, which has a rather minimising effect on the second and third census figures that are correctly recorded from the Latin as 4,233,000 and 4,937,000 citizens respectively (Scheid, Res Gestae p. 40). Irrespective of the problem of transcription, or the actual figures given in the text, arguably the most interesting feature of these increasing census numbers is that they are used to demonstrate the stability and success of the Augustan regime; the census figures are given right before a reference to the ‘new laws’ (legibus novis) in section 8.5. This is likely to be the legislation instituted by Augustus in 18 BCE that sought to renew the moral code and behaviour of the Roman people (see Res Gestae 6.2). The discord of the Late Republic had been blamed by many on the decline of traditional Roman values; increased wealth had led to greed and immorality, and it was this that Augustus’s legislation attempted to address. In particular his new laws, the “Julian law on the Marriage of the Orders and on Adultery” (lex Iuliae de maritandis ordinibus, de adulteriis coercendis), encouraged marriage amongst the aristocracy, in order to slow the falling birth rate. The law offered tax privileges to those who had three or more children, and penalised those who remained unmarried (Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae, p. 46-7, cf. 8.5). The laws had proven unpopular, with a modification to them eventually made through the lex Papia Poppaea in 9 CE; Augustus’s reference to the legislation here is carefully framed by the growth in population in order to demonstrate its success (Nicolet, Les fastes d’Ostie, p. 127; Scheid, Res Gestae, p. 41).
Augustus’s role as the moral reformer of Rome is reiterated in the final two lines of chapter 8; it is stated that he revived ancestral practices that were at risk of dying out (exempla maiorum exolescentia iam ex nostro saeculo reduxi) and that he handed down exemplary practices for the Roman people to imitate (ipse multarum rerum exempla imitanda posteris tradidi). This is a key statement of the governing ideology of the Augustan regime, which relied upon the long-held view that “Rome’s pre-eminence in the world was the result of the Romans’ superiority to others” (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 143). By renewing ancestral customs and practices, Augustus was renewing an ideal of a traditional code of behaviour upon which all Roman strength was founded. The superior morality of the Roman people was the key to their success. The final line also makes clear Augustus’s own perception of his role in this tradition; he was the example of superior virtue and probity, living by example for the benefit and security of Rome. Imperial ideology was quick to seize upon this precedent, with Alison Cooley giving the description of Tiberius by Velleius Paterculus as a further development of the ideal: “the best princeps teaches his citizens to act correctly by what he does, and although he is the greatest in power, he is greater in his example” (History of Rome 2.126.4 in Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 144). The dynastic intentions of Augustus fit the ideal and offered the entire imperial household as part of the example to which other Roman familiae should aim. It was a clever shift in the principles of Roman government, relying on the respect for tradition so cherished by the Republic, whilst using that tradition to support innovative self-promotion in the name of the security, and superiority, of the Roman state.
Bibliographical references: 

Italian Manpower

Brunt, Peter A.bookItalian ManpowerOxfordOxford University Press1971

Les fastes d’Ostie et les recensements augustéens

Nicolet, Claudearticle-in-a-journalEpigrafia. Acte du Colloque international d’épigraphie latine en mémoire de Attilio Degrassi119-131Les fastes d’Ostie et les recensements augustéensRomeUniversité de Roma – La Sapienza, Ecole française de Rome1991
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Res Gestae Divi Augusti, chapter 8
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Mon, 11/19/2018 - 12:54
Visited: Mon, 04/22/2024 - 16:06

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