Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.10.40

John Scheid, Res gestae divi Augusti. Hauts faits du divin Auguste.   Paris:  Les Belles Lettres, 2007.  Pp. ccxxiv, 126; figs. 4.  ISBN 978-2-251-01446-3.  €49.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Josiah Osgood, Georgetown (
Word count: 2025 words

It is a disturbing fact that the only surviving contemporary account of Augustus' takeover of the Roman government is his own. Shortly before his death, the princeps entrusted to the Vestal Virgins several documents, including a record of his achievements that he wished inscribed on bronze tablets in front of his gigantic tomb in Rome. The tablets were lost long ago, but an enterprising diplomat sent by Ferdinand I to Turkey in 1555 recognized a copy on the marble walls of an ancient building in Ankara, which proved to be the Temple of Rome and Augustus, center for the imperial cult in the province of Galatia. The Latin text was inscribed on either side of a vestibule leading into the main cult chamber, and a Greek translation affixed to the temple's side. But the Latin text is fragmentary, and for over four centuries now, scholars have valiantly labored to restore it. John Scheid's Budé edition represents the latest, and most successful, attempt. Anyone studying Augustus and his Achievements cannot afford to miss it.

In resurrecting Augustus' account, the far better preserved Greek translation of Ankara proved crucial. So too did the discovery, in the early twentieth century, of an additional (albeit lacunose) copy of the Latin text. This turned up in Pisidian Antioch, its original context unclear. Parts of the same Ankaran Greek translation were also found, in Pisidian Apollonia, affixed to the base of an ensemble of statues depicting members of the imperial house. All three sources for the text, then, originate in Galatia -- in a sense, an accident of archaeology, as Scheid argues (xvii), but perhaps some credit should also go to the zeal of the province's painstaking governor, Sex. Sotidius Strabo Libuscidianus, who may have encouraged monumental display of the text: he also set up in his territory copies of an edict, in Latin and Greek, cracking down on abuses of the imperial transport system that were burdening local peoples.1

Editors before Scheid, in possession of all the Galatian inscriptions, generally printed the much fuller Ankaran texts, even retaining their line divisions; supplements to the Latin, deduced from the fuller Greek, were included. But the texts were peppered with readings from the two other versions, marked in various typefaces. Sometimes bewildering, and now out-of-date, editorial signs were used too. As Scheid explains, the result was an unhappy compromise between a reconstruction of the 'archetype' and a critical edition of the four individual inscriptions; it suggested, too, that the Ankaran monument was closer to the original. The original, of course, is lost, and Scheid cogently argues that what the editor can recover is the Latin version sent out from Rome (which was revised at least slightly after Augustus' death, as several chronological indications show), along with a Greek translation probably made in Galatia itself.

In accord with this logic, Scheid, for his main text (4-25), reconstructs the full Latin copy sent to Galatia and its Greek translation (along with the inscription title and appendix, both of which it is argued were not the work of Augustus). Ankaran line division, therefore, is abandoned. Anything not found in any of the four versions is printed in square brackets, and illegible letters are dotted. One thus can see, at once, what part of the text is not securely attested (and alternative supplements are duly noted in the apparatus). A clear French translation is included.

Separately appear diplomatic copies of the four inscribed texts (cxli-ccxxiv). Producing these is less than straightforward. The Ankaran inscriptions, as Paola Botteri puts it, today are "nelle condizioni di un malato quasi in fase terminale."2 Squeezes made in the nineteenth century must be used, and even earlier reports. The Antioch fragments were damaged after discovery. Some of the Apollonia fragments are missing. Meanwhile, an important new fragment from Antioch turned up (see below). Scheid, in collaboration with Drew-Bear, is publishing a complete account of the Antioch and Apollonia fragments elsewhere, Botteri, along with Stephen Mitchell, the texts of the Ankaran monument in their current state.

Scheid's principal text may, in the end, not look that different from (say) the version in Ehrenberg and Jones' Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Augustus and Tiberius (second edition, Oxford, 1955), but his editorial principles have three benefits. They accurately convey the relation between the various texts; they allow the reader to discover as easily as possible all the evidence for any reading; and they reflect new work on the inscriptions. The Latin text here is a pleasure to use, and greatly improves on the tortured layout of the previous Budé edition of Gagé. Augustus would be pleased.

Students of the Res Gestae should also note that this edition incorporates a recent and important discovery from Antioch: the ringing words in chapter 34.1 in fact should read: ...per consensum universorum potens rerum omnium rem publicam ex mea potestate in senatus populique Romani arbitrium transtuli.3 Mommsen's potitus (for potens) was wrong. Augustus is not saying that he became master of everything through the consent of all, but that he was in possession of complete power with universal consent. The difference is important, as Scheid explains in a thorough note in the commentary that follows the main text.

The commentary (27-93) is strong on points of historical detail, and aims less to interpret the text as a piece of literature (on which, see further below). For instance, in discussing the remarkable section on Gaius and Lucius (chapter 14), Scheid explicates the honors the boys received and cites the parallel evidence, but says nothing of the significance of focusing on them, and not the 'stepson' Tiberius (or Agrippa or Marcellus for that matter). The analysis of the opening chapters gives no sense of the tendentiousness of the text. "La factio en question est celle de Marc Antoine," Scheid writes as his sole comment on the Latin word (28). Tacitus was so horrified at what he found here that he incorporated a devastating rewriting of the passage into the start of the Annales.

A few more specific points concerning the commentary: (1) 1.2: the chronology proposed here for the Senate debate of January 43 BC needs explanation: contrast, e.g., Rice Holmes, Architect of the Roman Empire vol. 1 (Oxford, 1928) 37-41; (2) 2.1: on the so-called iudiciis legitimis, it would be more valuable to have the devastating testimony of Appian and Dio quoted or paraphrased: this was a kangaroo court; (3) 5.3: on the problem of consular power some discussion of Dio 54.10.5 is in order; (4) 9.1: most editors restore vota p[ro valetudine mea] but Scheid shows that it should be vota p[ro salute mea]; (5) 12.2: on the celebrations of 12 BC, add a reference to ILS 88 (commemorating votive games for Augustus' return celebrated by the consuls); (6) 13: on Janus Quirinus, it is worth noting that Augustus attributes his own formula of peace terra marique to maiores nostri; also note the suggestion of Ridley, The Emperor's Retrospect (Leuven, 2003), 114 that Janus was never actually closed a third time; (7) 19: on the building program, add the studies of Favro, The Urban Image of Augustan Rome (Cambridge, 1996) and Haselberger, Mapping Augustan Rome (Portsmouth, R.I., 2002); (8) 23: on mock-naval battles, add Coleman, "Launching into History: Aquatic Displays in the Early Empire", JRS 83 (1993), 48-74; (9) 24: on Antony's stolen statues, Dio 51.17.6 refers not to Antony's thefts in Asia but Cleopatra's in Egypt (see Dio 51.5.5); it is worth observing that the passage of Strabo quoted by Scheid undercuts Augustus' claim; see my Caesar's Legacy (Cambridge, 2006), 385-86; (10) 25.1 on the struggle with Sextus Pompeius as a "slave war", one might wish to add nuance to Scheid's judgment, "Ce n'est donc pas une contrevérité"; later testimony is questionable as it is likely only to repeat Octavian's claims here; again see my Caesar's Legacy, 202-3 and also Powell and Welch, Sextus Pompeius (London, 2002); (11) 25.2: the oath from Conobaria (AE 1988.723) deserves mention, as some of its language must go back to 32 BC; (12) 29.2: Rose, "The Parthians in Augustan Rome", AJA 109 (2005), 21-75 has suggested that the cuirass of the Prima Porta statue of Augustus shows the Parthian handing a standard to Roma (not Augustus).

Preceding the text and commentary is an ample introduction (vii-lxxxvii), where Scheid reveals his understanding of what the Achievements is, and what light the text can shed on Augustus: here, too, scholars have famously struggled over the centuries. The introduction also covers such important topics as the state of the four inscriptions, their punctuation and orthography, the relationship between them, the nature of the Greek translation, previous editions, and Scheid's own editorial approach. A rich, though not entirely complete, bibliography follows (lxxxix-cxxxii).

For Scheid, the Achievements is not prose of any "extraordinary art" and Augustus was no "great artist." Indeed, it was probably his staff who put it together: "S'il faut donc admirer quelque chose dans les Res Gestae, c'est le savoir-faire du secrétariat d'Auguste" (xxvii). Yet oddly, on the next page, we are told that the text belongs to a long tradition of works by statesmen, including Solon and Caesar, and that it was produced in the same manner. But then it is said that the Achievements would have been received as an "official document," and not as a "work of art of Augustus the man," reflecting a "particular talent." Scheid does see in it, though, a careful demonstration of the four virtues of the clupeus virtutis presented to Augustus by the Senate, an honor deliberately reserved for the end. Further, the Achievements glorify Augustus, but: "Elles présentent également comme une constitution générale du principat, donnée sous forme de récit autobiographique, dans lequel Auguste essayait, en s'appuyant sur son auctoritas suprême, d'imposer à ses successeurs et aux Romains un modèle de régime politique capable de survivre à sa mort..." (lxi).

Clearly the Achievements is a sophisticated piece of prose, which gives brilliant expression to the new political ideology invented by Augustus and that would enjoy centuries of success. That scholars have argued so fiercely over its genre, its purpose, its manner of expression shows that it is no ordinary administrative document. One may, like Tacitus, dislike what one finds; but it is something to be reckoned with, ingenious in places. Scheid's efforts to consider it as unreflective of Augustus' own distinctive personality seem to me mistaken. And I would certainly deem it literature (i.e., imaginative writing). That the title commences, in the manner of historiography, with a hexameter (Rerum gestarum Divi Augusti, quibus orbem) cannot be dismissed so lightly; even if not from Augustus' pen, it is still significant.

At the same time, too little is made of Augustus' stipulation to install the text in front of his Mausoleum.4 The ashes of the beloved adopted sons Gaius and Lucius were there, but the remains of the Divus would join them, making it, like the original Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, much more than a simple tomb. The monumental context gave resonance to the Achievements. As Brian Bosworth has suggested, reviving an idea of Wilamowitz, Augustus' emphasis in his retrospective on world conquest and benefaction justifies his apotheosis, and the monument visually underscored his claim.5 The monument reinforced, too, the inscription's portrayal of Augustus as a builder. Just behind the tomb was the public park Augustus had created, and nearby was the site of his cremation, enclosed by a marble wall and black poplars. Also in the vicinity were the Altar of the Augustan Peace and the marvelous colossal sun-dial, with its obelisk celebrating the conquest of Egypt. The monuments, like the Achievements, attest to the emperor's obsession with immortalizing himself and controlling the historical record, an endeavor in which he was quite successful, especially from 27 BC onwards. Are we really dealing with a statesman devoid of artistic ambition? It was thanks in no small part to Augustus that later emperors, kings, and dictators of Europe would tell their stories most memorably through monumental inscriptions, architecture, and art.

But however scholars choose to interpret Augustus' Achievements, the task will now begin with Scheid's outstanding edition. In reconstituting the text itself, above all, it represents a great advance.


1.   The edict was published by Stephen Mitchell, "Requisitioned Transport in the Roman Empire: a New Inscription from Pisidia", JRS 66 (1976), 106-31.
2.   Paula Botteri, "L'integrazione mommseniana a Res Gestae Divi Augusti 34,1, 'potitus rerum omnium' e il testo greco", ZPE 144 (2003), 261-67.
3.   See further Botteri (n. 2 above).
4.   On the relation between the Achievements and the Mausoleum, see especially Suna G├╝ven, "Displaying the Res Gestae of Augustus: a Monument of Imperial Image for All", JSAH 57 (1998), 30-45 and Jas Elsner, "Inventing Imperium: Texts and the Propaganda of Monuments in Augustan Rome" in Elsner, Art and Text in Roman Culture (Cambridge, 1996), 32-53: both studies are omitted from Scheid's bibliography. Add also the new data supplied by Edmund Buchner, "Ein Kanal für Obelisken: Neues vom Mausoleum des Augustus in Rom", AW 27 (1996), 161-68.
5.   Brian Bosworth, "Augustus, the Res Gestae, and Hellenistic Theories of Apotheosis", JRS 89 (1999), 1-18: again, omitted from Scheid's bibliography.

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