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Res Gestae Divi Augusti: An Emperor’s Autobiography

Latin

Res Gestae Divi Augusti: An Emperor’s Autobiography

Caesar Augustus bust

 

By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB

Introduction

Have you heard of Augustus Caesar? What a silly question! Of course you have. But did you know that he wrote a first-person account of his own life? That’s right! Augustus left the text in his will, instructing the Senate to engrave the text on a pair of bronze pillars in front of his mausoleum. In this article I will be discussing three excerpts from the Res Gestae and explaining why I think this text is so great for intermediate Latin students.

Augustus’ Military Accounts

Augustus’ reign was one of the most peaceful periods in Roman History. It followed, however, a bloody civil war initiated by Augustus and several others after Julius Caesar’s murder. Augustus allied with Mark Antony to fight against Caesar’s murderers. A few years later Augustus and Mark Antony would be fighting each other. In the following passage Augustus briefly mentions the wars from this period. Note how Augustus pardons his enemies.

“Bella terra et mari civilia externaque toto in orbe terrarum saepe gessi, victorque omnibus veniam petentibus civibus peperci. Externas gentes, quibus tuto ignosci potuit, conservare quam excidere malui.”

“Wars, both civil and foreign, I undertook throughout the world, on sea and land, and when victorious I spared all citizens who sued for pardon. The foreign nations which could with safety be pardoned I preferred to save rather than to destroy.”

Augustus’ Vengeance

In this passage, Augustus recounts what he did to the conspirators who murdered Julius Caesar. Notice how he refers to Caesar as “father” in this passage. Augustus was Caesar’s grandnephew but was later adopted by the dictator as his own son. Augustus mentions here how he sent some of the conspirators who had killed Julius Caesar into exile. Here is Augustus’ account:

“Qui parentem meum trucidaverunt, eos in exilium expuli iudiciis legitimis ultus eorum facinus, et postea bellum inferentis rei publicae vici bis acie.”

“Those who slew my father I drove into exile, punishing their deed by due process of law, and afterwards, when they waged war upon the republic, I twice defeated them in battle.”

Romans’ Approval of the Reign of Augustus

The senate was at first hostile to the concept of Rome as an empire rather than a republic. Still, following the civil war, they came to accept grudgingly the new state of affairs with Augustus as the first Roman emperor. The Romans remained uncomfortable with the idea of having a king. Monarchy had been taboo in Rome ever since the rule of Tarquinius Superbus, the last king, who committed a number of atrocities and whose son raped a noblewoman named Lucretia.

“Quo pro merito meo senatus consulto Augustus appellatus sum et laureis postes aedium mearum vestiti publice coronaque civica super ianuam meam fixa est et clupeus aureus in curia Iulia positus, quem mihi senatum populumque Romanum dare virtutis clementiaeque et iustitiae et pietatis caussa testatum est per eius clupei inscriptionem.”

“For this service on my part I was given the title of Augustus by decree of the senate, and the doorposts of my house were covered with laurels by public act, and a civic crown was fixed above my door, and a golden shield was placed in the Curia Julia whose inscription testified that the senate and the Roman people gave me this in recognition of my valor, my clemency, my justice, and my piety.”

Conclusion

I hope more Latin teachers and students will familiarize themselves with this important work. There are a number of accounts of the first emperor of Rome, in the works of Suetonius and Tacitus for instance, but this is the only one narrated in the first person.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.

Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.

 

 

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