Res Gestae Divi Augusti, chapters 3 & 4

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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 3 and 4 of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti are concerned with Augustus’s military record, successes in battle, and the celebrations that such successes brought. As well as directly recording the number of victories and accolades awarded to Augustus, they also reveal key aspects of Augustus’s style of leadership, primarily the virtues attributed to him on the golden shield – virtus and clementia – of which we hear more in chapter 34.  
Chapter 3 begins with a reference to the number of wars fought (and won) by Augustus, both at home and abroad. The civil wars are given by Suetonius (Aug. 19) as at Mutina in 43 BCE, against Antony; Philippi in 42 BCE, against Brutus and Cassius; at Perusia in 41-40 BCE, against Antony’s brother Lucius Antonius; around Sicily in 36 BCE against the son of Pompey Magnus, and finally at Actium in 31 BCE against Antony. The only foreign wars that he waged were in Dalmatia in 35-33 BCE and in Cantabria in 26-25 BCE (Suetonius, Aug. 20.1).  The statement that these wars were fought ‘by land and sea’ (terra et mari) is a crucial one, and pre-empts chapter 13; the gates of Janus could only be closed when peace was achieved in both fields. This particular focus on both land and sea appears to be a new development in the necessary prerequisites for closing the gates of Janus, which Arnaldo Momigliano suggested may have occurred in the Augustan period itself (Momigliano, Terra Marique, p. 63-4). This would fit with the imagery of the so-called ‘Tellus relief’ on the Altar of Augustan Peace, which included the personification of the winds above the land and sea, thereby incorporating the idea into the public art of Rome (see Ara Pacis (13-9 BCE)_Reliefs; Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 117). The most important part of the opening of chapter 3 is the claim of clemency (clementia); this was a cardinal virtue of Augustus’, which he shared with his adopted father, Julius Caesar, and specifically in the context of civil discord (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 117; Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae, p. 40). Cassius Dio relates that he spared some of Antony’s supporters (Roman History 51.2.4), and Suetonius states that some – but not all – of Antony and Cleopatra’s children were saved (Aug. 17.5). However, this is at odds with the actions of the early part of his career; as Ronald Ridley has demonstrated, Octavian was known for acts of cruelty, citing his involvement in proscriptions and the particular acts of persecution after his victories at Philippi and Perusia (Ridley, Emperor’s Retrospect p. 169-71; Cooley, Res Gestae p. 117).
Section 3.3 refers Augustus’s success as a military leader, and the oath of loyalty that soldiers took towards their commander, with the total number including, as Alison Cooley has shown, all those legionaries and praetorians who served under Augustus from the triumvirate until his death (Res Gestae, p. 118; for a full explanation of how this number was calculated, see Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae, p. 41). These numbers represented a significant change made to the army by Augustus, with this establishment of an essentially ‘professional’ core of soldiers, who volunteered for their positions in exchange for a fixed period of service, salary and retirement package (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 119; Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae, p. 41-2). This explains the reference to their settlement in ‘colonies,’ in which all inhabitants had the privilege of Roman citizenship. Antioch (near Pisidia) is one such example, with the presence of the Res Gestae inscribed there a good indication of how these towns were used to integrate Roman ideology and traditions into ‘un-Roman’ areas. There was a strategic necessity for these towns too, with the groups of veterans used as much as ‘peace-keepers’ as mechanisms through which Roman culture and control could spread. Chapter 3 ends with further confirmation of Augustus’s military success, this time as a naval commander and his capture of ‘600 ships’ (naves cepi sescentas).  The number captured was specific; Sextus Pompey, the son of Pompey the Great, had lost 300 ships during the battles of 36 BCE (Appian, Civil Wars 5.108, 118, 121), and Antony lost 300 ships at Actium (Plutarch, Life of Antony 68.2). Augustus had seized the total number, and dedicated the prows from many at a campsite shrine to Neptune and Mars in Nicopolis, which were also displayed at the Temple of Divus Julius in the Forum in Rome (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 120; see Dedication of Octavian’s victory monument at Nicopolis).

Chapter 4 moves away from the details of conquest to the celebrations Augustus was awarded afterwards. The difference between the Latin and Greek texts is interesting here, with the Greek clearly attempting to clarify details of the different triumphs and awards for its provincial audience, to whom both celebrations would be unfamiliar. In the Latin text, Augustus describes celebrating ‘triumphal ovations’ (ovans triumphavi); an ovation was a more minor celebration than a triumph, which was usually given to a general following the conquest of a foreign enemy. As the Greek version of the text makes clear, an ovation involved entering the city on horseback (or on foot) – eph’ hippou – whereas a triumph meant entering in a chariot – eph’ armatos. In the Latin text, Augustus appears to be trying to elevate the ovations to the status of triumph, through the phrasing and use of triumpho as the main verb (Ridley, Emperor’s Retrospect p. 97-8). The ovations occurred in 40 BCE, shared with Antony, following the peace of Brundisium, and in 36 BCE, following Augustus’ victory in Sicily (Scheid, Res Gestae p. 32-3). A triumph – awarded if a general conquered a foreign enemy of state, killed at least 5000 of the enemy soldiers and brought his army back to Rome safely – was more significant, and involved riding into the city in a quadriga, a chariot pulled by four white horses, and accompanied by his heirs and chief officers (Cooley, Res Gestae p. 121). The triumphs mentioned here refer to the triple triumph celebrated by Augustus in 29 CE; he celebrated for three consecutive days for his victories in Dalmatia, Actium and Egypt (Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae, p. 43; Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 121). Following tradition, a general could be hailed imperator by his soldiers following a clear victory; as the text relates, Augustus was called this twenty-one times by his troops, on account of his own successes, but also for those won by members of his family (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 122). It was practice, at the culmination of a triumph or after being acclaimed imperator for a general to present his laurel-bound fasces – the rods symbolic of a magistrate’s power, or imperium in Rome – at the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline hill (Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae, p. 43). As well as doing this at the culmination of his triumphs, Cassius Dio records Augustus having done this on two further occasions, in 13 and 9 BCE (Roman History 54.25.4 and 55.5.1), but in the Res Gestae Augustus implies that he did this each time he returned from a successful campaign - laurum de fascibus deposui in Capitolio, votis quae quoque bello nuncupaveram solutis – thereby indicating the frequency of his military successes, but also the extreme piety and devotion of his endeavours (Scheid, Res Gestae, p. 33-4).
Section 4.2 refers to a further honour awarded to the highest magistrates, usually the consuls, of Rome; as well as holding imperium, which gave them the power to command armies, consuls could be given the right to take the auspices (auspicium), following the flight of birds in order to ascertain the approval of the gods. As consul from 31-23 BCE, that right belonged to Augustus, and once given control of almost all the legions of the Roman army in 27 BCE, any victories won by them, under the favour of the gods that he had procured, essentially reflected back to him, meaning that no others could celebrate triumphs or be acclaimed imperator (Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae, p. 44). In order to celebrate the triumph, one had to have held the auspices under which the war was won; although individual deputies (legati) may have led the victorious legionaries, the command was held under the emperor’s auspices, and the success was his alone (Scheid, Introduction, p. 119). The ‘thanksgiving’ offered to the gods was usually a day of ceremonial sacrifice decreed by the senate when a victory was announced by the general (Cooley, Res gestae, p. 124). Augustus, however, accepted supplicationes for all the victories announced by his deputies; Alison Cooley has shown that the fifty-five occasions awarded to him amounted to a total of 890 days, meaning each celebration lasted an unprecedented average of 16 days (Res Gestae,p. 124-5).
The final lines of chapter 4 appear to abandon the theme of conquest and celebration, and return to the magistracies held by Augustus at the time of his death (indicated by ‘at the time of writing’). He had held the consulship thirteen times, the last of which in 2 BCE, although he had refused the honour since 23 BCE until that date (Cooley, Res Gestae p. 126). The most important magistracy, however, was the grant of ‘tribunician power,’ which he was awarded an unprecedented thirty-seven times (eram septimum et tricensimum tribuniciae potestatis). He was awarded this power every year from 23 BCE, when he gave up the consulship, until his death; it was an extraordinary break with tradition, and one that permitted Augustus the most wide-ranging control of the Roman world. The ‘tribune of the plebs,’ although originally conceived as a means of preventing the patrician senate from abuses of power over ordinary people (plebs), came to carry the most far-reaching powers in the Roman system of government. Those holding tribunician power – tribunicia potestas – could summon a meeting of the senate, call the concilium plebis, the popular assembly, together, propose – and most crucially, veto - legislation on behalf of the Roman people, and prevent ‘unfair’ treatment of citizens by magistrates. It was an extraordinary power. Augustus’s continued possession of this role should be understood in two ways; on the one hand it communicated the egalitarian nature of his government of Rome, calling to mind the traditional, Republican role of the tribune of the plebs and its representation of ‘popular’ opinion. As Alison Cooley has said, it was a bid to be seen as ‘the people’s champion’. On the other hand, the position also represented stability. The consistency with which Augustus held the tribunate was a direct statement of uninterrupted power, that was not dependent on annual election or the renewal of office (Gruen, Augustus,p. 40-2). But it also represented a special protective measure; the tribune of the plebs was traditionally granted immunity, or sacrosanctitas, protecting him from all forms of attack or prosecution. Not only did this emphasise the stability of his hold on power, but it also gave that very hold political legality (Eck, Augustus, p. 27-8). Augustus’s principate may have been extraordinary in the history of Roman politics, but the careful order in which he accepted the various magistracies that he held meant that it could not be called illegal.
Although a somewhat abrupt end to chapter 4’s discussion of military celebration, this final sentence neatly moves into the subject of the following three chapters, which chart the very magistracies held by Augustus, and more importantly, those rejected by him, in an overt display of his constitutional legitimacy and decorum.
Bibliographical references: 
Momigliano, Arnaldo, Terra Marique, Journal of Roman Studies 32 (1942) : 53-64
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Res Gestae Divi Augusti, chapters 3 & 4
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Thu, 11/22/2018 - 14:47
Visited: Mon, 02/26/2024 - 14:37

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