Res Gestae Divi Augusti, Heading

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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
The heading of the Res Gestae has been a source of some debate, owing to the variations of content and size that are present in the three versions of the text for which the heading survives (Ancyra, Pisidian Antioch and Apollonia). Theodor Mommsen believed that the original inscription in Rome bore the title Index rerum gestarum – ‘index of achievements’ (Mommsen, Res Gestae, p. 252) with later editors of the text, such as Jean Gagé preferring the view that the current Latin title was the result of an addition to the text ordered by Tiberius, following the death of Augustus (Gagé, Res Gestae p. 9). Other scholars, such as Wilhem Weber, believed that the title was composed in Rome and deliberately so to include the instruction to the Senate to authorise the installation of the pillars, to which the bronze plaques could be attached (Weber, Princeps, p. 70, n. 292; 125, n. 510; Scheid, Res Gestae, p. xx). The close similarity of the title with a line in Suetonius (Aug., 101.4), describing the reading of Augustus’s will in front of the Senate, also perhaps suggests that the Latin title as we know it from the inscription in Ancyra, was a direct and faithful replica of the text in Rome.  The Latin title of the Res Gestae also makes clear the elevated and superior status of Augustus’s deeds; they are worthy of being recorded for posterity and even celebrated in the same form as epic poetry. As Severin Koster demonstrated, the line rerum gestarum divi Augusti quibus orbem forms is in hexameter, the same meter used by Homer and Virgil in their epic works (Koster, Das “präskript” der Res Gestae Divi Augusti, p. 242). The use of such meter implicitly characterised the achievements of Augustus as extraordinary and established his principate as a period of remarkable narrative history.
The three surviving versions of the Latin heading of the Res Gestae vary size and content. In Ancyra the lettering of the heading in both languages is much larger than the rest of the inscribed text; the lettering of the Latin heading is between 4-8 cm, with the rest of the lettering just 2 cm tall. The Greek title is arranged to a similar ratio, 9 cm lettering for the title to 3 cm for the text (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 102). In Antioch the heading extends over the first two columns of the text, which has led Alison Cooley to suppose that the heading in Rome must also have been arranged in a larger size than the rest of the text (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 102). Most interesting, however, is the variation in the content of the Latin and Greek titles, in which the tone is remarkably different. The Latin emphasises Augustus’s successes in foreign conquest, particularly through the use of rerum gestae, a phrase usually attributed to success in warfare, and the benefactions to the people of Rome, but the Greek version of the text omits the reference to foreign domination and rephrases the language of benefaction so that it can be interpreted as gifts awarded to the people of the Roman world, as well as the capital city (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 102-3). Both titles refer to Augustus as a god (divi, θεοῦ), indicating that the title was written after his death and deification by the Senate on 17th September, 14 CE, and both state that the inscription was placed on bronze tablets (aheneis pilis) but this is the last of their close similarities. The line in the Latin version of the text ‘he made the world subject to the rule of the Roman people’ (orbem terrarum imperio populi Romani subiecit) is a clear statement of the theme of world conquest and domination that characterised much of Augustus’s reign, particularly in the earliest days of the principate. It was a theme picked up and developed in works of literature, such as Virgil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Fasti (2.684), which promoted the ideology that Rome’s military power and success was divinely ordained. This was further celebrated through images on coins which depicted Victories standing on globes, holding wreathes and palms, the traditional symbols of victors (for examples see Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 103; Denarius depicting the head of Victoria and Octavian as Neptune with his right foot on a globe (32-29 BCE). There is an inherently imperialistic tone in the line, which continues throughout the rest of the text. However, it is entirely omitted from the Greek title, which chooses to focus instead on the gifts given by Augustus; ‘the achievements and gifts of the god Augustus’ (praxeis te kai dōreai Sebastou theou) is deliberately ambiguous, and allows for the interpretation that the gifts were not specific to the inhabitants of the city of Rome, but for all the peoples living within the Roman empire, including those in the provinces. Alison Cooley has suggested that the modification to the line was carefully designed so as not to offend the community of Ancyra, which had only recently been brought under Roman rule due to the bequest of their king Amyntas, and not as a result of military campaign (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 28).
The title of the Res Gestae therefore serves as a good indicator of what the reader should expect from the different versions of the text; the Latin, perhaps copied directly from the original source at Rome, emphasised and celebrated traditional themes and motifs of Roman valour and strength, culminating in the supreme military domination of unconquered lands that Augustus’s leadership brought. Augustus’s Rome is presented in the Latin heading as an impenetrable force, mitigated only by the assurance that his deeds have all been accomplished on behalf of the Roman people, the populus Romanus, who are mentioned twice in this short title. This mitigation was necessary in Rome, where memories of the civil wars and the threat of tyranny still loomed large, but the provincial audience of the Greek version of the title was far removed enough that such subtleties were redundant; the main body of the Greek text describes Augustus in language that indicates their familiarity with the notion of ‘ruler cult’ and which intimates monarchical rule, particularly through the use of the title ‘god Augustus’ (Sebastos theos), which had been in use already in the Greek East during Augustus’s lifetime. The focus on his role as benevolent benefactor in the Greek title also plays down the image of him as a conqueror, and instead emphasises his generosity to the Roman world as a whole.
Bibliographical references: 

The Age of Augustus

Eck, WernerbookSchneider, Deborah Lucas (trs.)The Age of AugustusOxfordBlackwell Publishing2003
Realized by: 

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Res Gestae Divi Augusti, Heading
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Fri, 11/16/2018 - 11:04
Visited: Fri, 04/19/2024 - 18:19

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