Res Gestae Divi Augusti, chapter 35

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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.
Date: 
14 CE
Language: 
Latin, Greek
Category: 
Roman
Commentary: 
Commentary
The concluding chapter of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti represents the culmination of all Augustus’s efforts during the course of his reign: his acclamation as “father of the fatherland.” Together with chapter 34, this chapter neatly closes the text and responds to many of the points laid out in the introductory two chapters. Chapters 1-2 and 34-5 record Augustus’s age at the start and end of his political career (the final sentence here gives a proposed date for the composition of the Res Gestae as between his birthday on 23rd September 13 CE and his death on 19th August 14 CE), with his greatest achievements saved for the end to illustrate the pre-eminence of his rule.
 
The chapter opens by emphasising the new importance of the equestrian class under Augustus; the word order of the traditional “senate and the people of Rome” has been modified to include the equites, in a demonstration of their prominence: senatus et equester ordo populusque Romanus – the senate and the equestrian order and the people of Rome. The sources differ on how these groups came together to offer the title to Augustus; Ovid, himself a member of the equestrian class, explicitly mentions the equites in his version, stating that the title was conferred by the people, the senate, and “by us, the knights” (“tibi plebs, tibi curia nomen hoc dedit, hoc dedimus nos tibi nomen, eques”: Fasti II.127-8.) Suetonius, however, states that Augustus was approached first by the people after Actium, at which time he declined the title. Following this, there was a popular acclamation of it in a theatre at Rome, and a speech in the senate by Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, who named him pater patriae personally, and not by senatorial decree (Suetonius, Augustus LVIII). Although Suetonius’s version doesn’t explicitly acknowledge the equites, it is possible that they took part in the acclamation in the theatre (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 273). What is clear, however, is that the decision taken to award Augustus ‘Father of the Fatherland’ was not one taken exclusively by the senate; unlike 27 BCE, when he was named ‘Augustus’ by senatorial decree alone, the title pater patriae was given following the consensus of the people, which is expressed deliberately here in order to demonstrate the universality of their approval (Alföldi, De Vater des Vaterlands,p. 93-4; see also Ovid, Fasti I.587-616).
 
Although the Fasti Praenestini give the date on which the title was bestowed to Augustus as the 5th February 14 CE, it is clear from epigraphic and numismatic evidence that he had been called ‘father’ for some time earlier than this (Alföldi, De Vater des Vaterlands,p. 92-3). Inscriptions from Italy and the provinces refer to him either as ‘pater’ (father) or ‘parens’ (parent) (see CIL II X, 823; CIL III, 6803; CIL XII, 136; CIL II, 2107) and coins had been minted as early as 19/18 BCE on which he was described as ‘father and keeper’ (parenti conservatori suo) (e.g. RIC I, Augustus, no. 101). The triumphal imagery that accompanies this legend on coins suggests that the primary connotation of the title was as “a saviour of Rome through military victories,” which certainly fits with other ‘saviour’ figures known from Rome’s history (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 273). As Andreas Aföldi established, in being awarded (and accepting) the title, Augustus is being likened to Camillus, who saved the Roman people from the Gauls (Livy, History of Rome V.49.7), to Marius, who saved Rome from the Cimbrian tribe (Cicero, For Rabirius Postumus X.27) and also to Cicero, who protected Rome from Catiline (CiceroAgainst Piso III.6). All of these figures were characterised as the heirs of Romulus, the ultimate father and protector, in whose image they ‘re-founded’ Rome each time her security was threatened by civil unrest (Alföldi, De Vater des Vaterlands,p. 28-36). Augustus was being heralded in exactly the same way; the similarity with Camillus had already been suggested in chapter 20, but here the analogy is made complete by the implied association with Romulus as the first ‘father’ of the Roman people. Most importantly, the title ‘father’ also invited comparison with the greatest father of all, Jupiter, the parallel example of whom was developed alongside Augustus’s image, even in contemporary poetry (e.g. Ovid, Fasti II.131-2). The implication was that Augustus was the worldly, human-equivalent of Jupiter in the heavens in a sort of shared pre-eminence (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 275). The title also invoked more tangible connotations, however, particularly that of the importance of the ‘father’ in Roman society and family life. This was a useful model upon which Augustus could build the pre-eminence of the title accorded to him, as the ‘father’ of Rome; just as the father-figure in a household inspired a sense of protection and positive sentiment, it was also expected that he would be obeyed according to the principle of paternal power (patria potestas) (Alföldi, De Vater des Vaterlands,p. 42-6). In the same way, Augustus might demonstrate affection and guardianship to the Roman people, but their obedience was expected in return, both in Italy and in the provinces, where the title contained additional undertones of authority (Cooley, Res Gestae, p. 274).
 
It is clear that this honour was not meaningless to Augustus; its placement in the final chapter of the Res Gestae ensured its prominence and established its position as the culmination of a life in leadership. The fact that it was not a title speedily sought by successive emperors also indicates the respect in which it was held; Tiberius refused to accept it, as did Nero the first time that it was offered in 54 BCE. John Rich has suggested that the title carried with it the sense that it must be earned, not simply awarded, and it was important for the emperors that came after Augustus to be seen to mimic his moral example (Rich, Augustus, War and Peace, p. 152). Pater Patriae was not an empty accolade, given to an elderly emperor at the end of his life, but rather an honour laden with mythological, historical, legal and religious symbolism, which brought to conclusion an unprecedented period of individual power and success.
 
 
Bibliographical references: 
Rich, John William, Augustus, war and peace, in The Representation and Perception of Roman Imperial Power (ed. L. de Blois, et al; Amsterdam: J.C. Gieben, 2003), 137-147
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Res Gestae Divi Augusti, chapter 35
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Thu, 11/22/2018 - 14:38
URL: http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/res-gestae-divi-augusti-chapter-35
Visited: Sat, 04/20/2019 - 03:07

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