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Res Gestae Divi Augusti

 p332  Introduction

Among extant historical documents there is none that outweighs in importance the account of his steward­ship which the Emperor Augustus left among the papers deposited with the Vestal Virgins before his death, preserved to us in a copy chiselled upon the walls of the Temple of Rome and Augustus at Ancyra in Asia Minor, the modern Angora.​a This copy, known as the Monumentum Ancyranum, has justly been called by Mommsen the "Queen of Inscriptions."

Suetonius, Augustus, 101, states that Augustus had deposited with the vestal Virgins, along with his will, three other documents, all of which were opened and read in the Senate. The first contained instructions for his funeral; the third, a summarized statement of the condition of the whole empire; the second, the one with which we are here concerned, contained "a résumé of his acts which he wished to have engraved upon bronze tablets to be set up before his mausoleum." More than forty years before his death Augustus had built this mausoleum on the Tiber at the northern edge of the Campus Martius, in the midst of a small park, which was opened by the Emperor to the public. The mausoleum itself was probably surrounded by an enclosing wall, at the entrance to which, facing the Campus Martius, stood the pillars, or pilasters, on which was engraved the index rerum gestarum. The shell of the  p333 mausoleum itself has outlived the centuries and is still standing on the Ripetta, but the bronze tablets have long since disappeared. The original document, however, was copied on the walls of many of the temples of Augustus throughout the empire, and remains of three copies have come to light in Asia Minor alone. In addition to the Augusteum at Ancyra, inscribed with both the Latin text and a Greek version, there was found another ruined temple at Apollonia with remnants of the same Greek version; it is fairly certain that the Augusteum at Pergamon had both the Latin and the Greek versions; and finally at Antioch in Pisidia (Colonia Caesarea) Sir W. M. Ramsay discovered, in 1914, a number of fragments of the Latin text from a fourth copy.​1 But the inscription on the temple of Rome and Augustus at Ancyra is relatively so complete, although marred in places by the scaling of the stone, that it outweighs all the others in importance, and the designation Monumentum Ancyranum has become synonymous with Res Gestae Divi Augusti.

The temple of Rome and Augustus at Ancyra is still in a fair state of preservation. The Latin text is chiselled upon both sides of the inner walls of the pronaos or vestibule. It was arranged in six pages, three of forty-six lines each, on the left as one entered, surmounted by the title, which runs in two and a half lines across the top of all three, and three pages on the right of fifty-four lines each. The arrangement undoubtedly was in general a replica of that of the inscription at Rome. Each line contained on the  p334 average about sixty letters. The height of the inscription is 2·70 meters on each wall, and the length on each wall is about 4 metres. To mark the paragraphs, the first letter projects beyond the margin, and to indicate periods, a symbol like a figure 7 was used, which is usually, however, printed in the texts as §. On one of the outer walls of the temple was inscribed a Greek translation of the Latin. The fact that several Turkish houses had been built against this wall long made it difficult to read all of the Greek inscription and still more difficult to secure casts.

The Monumentum Ancyranum was first made known to the western world by Buysbecche, a Dutch scholar who was sent, in 1555, by Ferdinand II on an embassy to the Sultan Soliman at Amasia in Asia Minor. He first read and identified the inscription and published a copy of parts of it. After him the inscription was copied in part by many travellers, but the first faithful and trustworthy copy was made by Georges Perrot and Edmund Guillaume, who had been commissioned by Napoleon III to explore Asia Minor. They made a facsimile copy, but no casts, of the whole of the Latin, and as much of the Greek as they could get. Their plates were the basis of Mommsen's edition of the text in 1865, and of that of Bergk in 1873; also of the text in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. In 1859 the Berlin Academy commissioned Mordtmann to make a cast in papier-mâché, but after visiting the site he reported that the owners of the Turkish houses would not permit his getting at the parts of the Greek inscription which were hidden, and that the making of a cast would still further injure the  p335 inscription itself. In 1882, however, at the suggestion of Mommsen, the Academy commissioned Carl Humann to make a plaster cast. He not only made casts of the Latin inscription, but also of the Greek as well, having persuaded the owners of the houses to allow their walls to be partially torn down for the purpose, and the casts were safely transported to Berlin in the autumn of 1882, where they are now among the treasures of the Museum. Humann's casts have superseded in value all previous copies, except in a few places where the wall had scaled since these earlier copies were made, as, for instance, in page 5, lines 34‑48, and page 6, lines 1‑6. In 1883, using these casts as a basis, Mommsen published his great critical edition, with a supplement containing heliogravure reproductions from the casts. This edition of Mommsen has become the basis for all subsequent work. There are still passages in which the lacunae in the Latin cannot be supplied with certainty from the Greek translation, either because of lacunae or illegibility in the Greek text, and concerning which subsequent scholars have exercised their ingenuity in conjecture. Some of these conjectures are clearly more probable than Mommsen's, while others raise debatable questions which will never be cleared up until another copy either of the Latin text or the Greek translation is found in one of the many Augustea in Asia Minor.2  p336 But for by far the greater portion of the document we have the actual words of Augustus, and for a considerable portion in addition to the substance supplied from the Greek or from sure conjecture.

In a style of studied simplicity, and almost telegraphic brevity, with not a word too many or a word too few, and, except for the personal pronoun which is used throughout, with an objectivity worthy of the commentaries of his adopted father, the document sets forth, (1) the honours conferred upon Augustus from time to time by the Senate and the Roman people and the services for which they were conferred, chapters 1‑14, (2) the donations which he made from his own personal account to the Republic, to the discharged soldiers, and the Roman plebs; also the games, shows, and spectacles given to the people at his own expense, chapters 15‑24, and (3) and account of his acts in peace and war, chapters 25‑35. The title provided by Tiberius includes only the last two, namely, the Impensae and the Res Gestae, but the first group may easily be reckoned with the third, since the services are there recorded as well as the honours conferred in reward for them. There is no attempt at literary embellishment. The document is almost statistical in its conciseness, and the facts of a long life are allowed to speak for themselves. The superlative is purposely avoided, and there is also an absence of the usual descriptive adjectives and adverbs. Nowhere does the emperor refer by name to any of his public enemies, such as Antony, Brutus and Cassius, Lepidus, or Sextus Pompey. Not even his own name appears in the body of the document, except in the statement that the Senate, out of honour to him, had conferred upon  p337 him the title of Augustus. No mention is made of his father, his mother, or his wife, nor, indeed, of any member of his family, except that he does mention Agrippa, Tiberius, Gaius, and Lucius, when their names were linked with his in public honours and public affairs. In a word, everything of a personal nature is omitted with studied objectivity, and his narration is limited to his relations with the Senate and the Roman people and theirs with him.

For a long time there waged in Germany a controversy as to the purpose and literary classification of the document. Was it intended as a political testament,​3 or a statement of credit and debit in his account with the Roman people,​4 or an account of his steward­ship,​5a or an apologia pro vita sua,​6 or as an epitaph?​7 Each of these theories had its defenders. If it was intended for an epitaph, Augustus must have contemplated that it would be thrown into epitaph form by his successor, Tiberius, who, in any event, allowed it to stand in the form in which it was written. Mommsen declares against ascribing it to any particular class of composition.​5b

 p338  It is clear that the document was not originally written in A.D. 14, as the last sentence would seem to indicate, but that it was begun much earlier, with later additions from time to time. As to when Augustus wrote his original draft, and what additions were subsequently made, and at what time, there has been much controversy. Some of the details of these problems will be discussed in the historical notes. It is sufficient to say here that it is fairly sure that an early draft of the document was already complete in his twelfth consul­ship, 2 B.C., and perhaps long before that; that subsequently changes were made in some of the statements as, for instance, in the case of the donations to the city plebs in his twelfth and thirteenth consul­ships, where the amounts are reckoned in denarii and not, as usual, in sesterces; that the statement in regard to the subjugation of the German tribes as far as the Elbe, while true at the time at which it was written, was no longer true in A.D. 14, when the last words were added, if, indeed, these were added by Augustus himself; and that the mention of his third census made in A.D. 14 is of course a later addition made either by himself or by Tiberius.

The Text

The Latin text of the Res Gestae, as here printed, is based upon that of Mommsen's Second Edition of 1883, supplemented by that of the third edition of the Monumentum Ancyranum by Ernst Diehl, Bonn, 1918. Diehl has had the advantage of the  p339 twenty-five years of study which scholars have devoted to the Monumentum since the publication of Mommsen's second edition and had adopted a number of readings which better fill the spaces in the lacunae, or better correspond with the content of the Greek version. In some of the passages Mommsen's readings have been retained as against Diehl, and in a few the conjectures of other scholars have been adopted as indicated in the notes on the text. Use has also been made of the fragments of the Latin text of the Res Gestae found by Sir William Ramsay at Colonia Caesarea (Pisidian Antioch) in 1914, and published by him in the Journal of Roman Studies, vol. VI, 1916, pp114‑134. These fragments are exceedingly small, but, placed in position, some of them serve to determine which of the conjectures of various scholars is the correct or more probable one.

In the general typography it has seemed best, for the purposes of the Loeb Library, to follow Diehl rather than Mommsen. Mommsen's lines, which correspond to those of the inscription, are too long for the width of the page of so small a volume. The ends of the lines in the original monument are here indicated by a perpendicular line thus, |, and the beginning of each fifth line, numbered in the margin 5, 10, 15, etc., in the various paragraphs is indicated by two perpendicular lines thus, ||. In the original, the first letter of each paragraph projects beyond the margin. To save space, the paragraphs are here indented according to modern practice. The lacunae and illegible passages are indicated by parentheses thus, ( ), and the words which have been supplied to fill them are, in the case of the  p340 Latin text, printed in italics. In the Greek text the parentheses alone are used. In the Latin inscription the long vowels are indicated on the stone, but not always consistently, either by an apex, or in the case of long i, by an elongation of that letter. In printing the Latin text the apex (´) has been used for all vowels whose length is indicated on the stone by either method. The sign § is used to represent a symbol on the stone which resembles sometimes the figure 7, sometimes an open 3.

Thayer's Note: Webpages overcome some of the limitations of print editions; it is therefore possible to streamline greatly the appearance of the text while making searches and reference much more convenient, and I have done so. For this Web transcription, therefore, the grayed part of the preceding paragraph should thus read:

Mommsen's lines, which correspond to those of the inscription, are too long for the width of most webpages. The beginning of each line in the original monument is here indicated by its line number thus, 5. As elsewhere in the text editions on LacusCurtius, each of these line numbers is a local link that can be linked to according to a consistent scheme, for which see the sourcecode of that page.

In the original, the first letter of each paragraph projects beyond the margin, and this Web transcription retains that format. Emendations of lacunae and illegible passages are indicated in a slightly brighter color than the rest of the text, as follows:

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Sample text


Bis ováns

<SPAN CLASS="Latin"><SPAN CLASS="emend">Bis</SPAN> ováns</SPAN>


Δὶς ἐπὶ κέλτος ἐθριάμβευσα

<SPAN CLASS="Greek">Δὶς ἐ<SPAN CLASS="emend">πὶ κέλτος ἐθριάμβευσα</SPAN></SPAN>


Running text, emended text

Running text, <SPAN CLASS="emend">emended text</SPAN>

This use of color has the great advantage of eliminating all those noxious parentheses and making the text somewhat more searchable, since you don't have to know where there might be a parenthesis: the same search will find militibus, militibus, and militibus.

In printing the Greek text, Diehl has been followed except in a very few passages.

Wherever it has seemed essential, the Latin text has been provided with critical footnotes. These have been omitted for the Greek version, partly for economy of space, and partly because the Greek version is of value chiefly as a subsidiary aid.

The Historical Notes

The interest which the Monumentum Ancyranum will have for most readers is chiefly historical. For the benefit of the general reader, and also of the student of history, the translation has been supplemented by historical notes, to amplify or explain the statements of the first emperor, which are throughout characterized by epigraphic brevity. In compiling these notes it has sometimes been exceedingly hard to draw the line between saying too much or too little. Owing to the nature of the document itself, these notes are necessarily much more numerous than is usual in the volumes of the Loeb Classical Library.

The Editor's Notes:

1 Ramsay, "Colonia Caesarea (Pisidian Antioch) in the Augustan Age," Journal of Roman Studies, vol. VI, 1916, London, pp108‑129.

2 Sir W. M. Ramsay's work at Colonia Caesarea (Pisidian Antioch) was stopped by the local authorities soon after he began to find fragments of the Latin inscription. When the work of excavation is continued it may be that other fragments will come to light which will clear up a number of the vexed passages. See Ramsay's article in the Journal of Roman Studies, vol. VI, 1916.

3 Hirschfeld, Wiener Studien, III (1881) and VII (1885); Wochenschrift für class. Philol., 1884; Plew, Quellenuntersuchungen zur Gesch. des Kaisers Hadrian, Strassburg, 1890.

4 Wölfflin, "Epigraphische Beiträge," S.-B. der Münch. Akad., 1886, p225, and 1896, p162.

5a 5b Mommsen, von Sybel's Historische Zeitschrift, N.F. XXI, 1887.

6 Cantarelli, "L'Iscrizione di Ancyra," Bullettino della com. arch. comunale, III ser. 4 (1889), p3.

7 Bormann, Bemerkungen zum schriftlichen Nachlass des Kaisers Augustus, Marburger Program, 1884; also "Veranlassung und Zweck des Mon. Anc.," Verhandl. der 43. Philologen-Versammlung in Köln, 1895. Supported by Nissen, Schmidt, and Peter.

Thayer's Note:

a Mod. spelling, Ankara — the capital of Turkey.

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Page updated: 19 Aug 17