“WE BRING PEACE AND FREEDOM TO THE WORLD”: Caesar Augustus’ “Acts of the Divine Augustus”

Part VI

F. Implied Message of the “Acts of the Divine Augustus” to the Subjects

Even though AA was primarily addressed to the people of Rome, its message was same to the entire empire: the dawning of the Golden Age of peace through divinely ordained Augustus. There was an implied message to the provinces as the existence of the copies of AA in both Greek and Latin demonstrates. Setting up copies of AA in the Roman provinces was an imperial demand for acceptance of the imperial myth not only about the events that had taken place in the empire, but, more importantly, also about the imperial system of peace and freedom brought by Augustus. The very existence of these copies in the Roman provinces constituted a powerful form of imperial propaganda about the imperial system of peace and freedom. It was also a demand of identification with the imperial order established, embodied and maintained by AA. The message of this dominant imperial myth was legitimization of not only the imperial system of peace and freedom, but also the emperor, with whom this system was bound up, as the author, protector and promoter of the system. In a way the Roman emperor was making AA a charter for the imperial system of peace and freedom, by convincing that the miseries were due to the “enemies of peace”, and he was the protector and promoter of peace and freedom. Restoration of peace in the empire confirmed the guilt of the enemies, and general correctness of the diagnosis. The crisis in the empire was introduced by the enemies. The remedy for this crisis was to remove the cancerous element from the empire. Thus, removal of the enemies of the imperial peace was essential for an imperial order to flourish. AA did not make any attempt to conceal either its diagnosis or remedy. By characterizing the Roman emperor as the divinely ordained author, protector and promoter of the Golden Age of peace, AA was making a general pronouncement of the identity of the enemies of peace, and also the remedy. The violence against the enemies of the imperial system of peace and freedom was divinely and unanimously (at least according to AA) ordained. Since the imperial system of peace and freedom was bound up with Augustus, not only as the author but also as the protector and promoter of this system, the identification with the imperial system of peace and freedom was nothing but allegiance to the emperor. Enemies of Augustus were the enemies of the imperial system of peace and freedom.

Therefore, unanimous identification of people in Roman provinces with the imperial system, and allegiance to the emperor was required to maintain the Golden Age of peace. That was why oaths of allegiance to Augustus were taken as indicated by an inscription, dating 3 BCE. This inscription was an oath taken by the inhabitants of Paphlagonia, which was annexed to Galatia in 6/5 BCE. It read:

I swear by Zeus, Hera, the Sun, and all the gods and goddesses, and Augustus himself, that I will be loyal to Caesar Augustus and his children and descendants all the time of my life by word and deed and thought, holding as friends whomsoever they so hold, and considering as enemies whomsoever they so judge, and for their interests I will spare neither body, nor soul, nor life, nor children…If I see or hear anything being said or planned or done against them, I will lay information and I will be the enemy of such sayer or planner or doer…If I do anything contrary to this oath or not according as I have sworn, I invoke death and destruction upon myself and my body and soul and children and all my race and interests to the last generation of my children’s children…The same oath was sworn by all the rural population at the shrines of Augustus in the districts beside the altars of Augustus (OGIS 532).

The Paphlagonian oath reveals the position of the emperor in the Roman provinces. This oath was not a public declaration of allegiance to the power of the state, “but an affirmation of loyalty to Octavian and his descendants personally, and a pledge to support him against his private enemies.”[1] Therefore, the responsibility of the subjugated people was to maintain the imperial system of peace and freedom through loyalty to the emperor.

In Galatia a copy of AA was inscribed at the entrance of the temple of Roma and Augustus. That means, the inscription was very much visible to the public and they would have been acquainted with the imperial myth. Since the inscription was set up in locations which had cultic significance, it would have been natural for the people to identify with the inscription religiously as well as politically. The identification of people in the provinces to the imperial system of peace and freedom embodied by AA was expressed in the form of the imperial cult. Identification with the imperial order and loyalty to the Roman emperor was sacred duty of subjugated people. Such a myth reflects a highly centralized state in which emperor ruled as a representative of gods. Resistance to emperor was treason against gods. That was why the imperial cult proved to be an indissoluble element of the imperial system of peace and freedom.

The subjects were aware of the power of the emperor. The power of the emperor was clearly expressed in Seneca’s soliloquy taught to Nero:

Here I of all mortals found favor with heaven and been chosen to serve on earth as vicar of the gods? I am the arbiter of life and death for the nations; it rests in my power what each man’s lot and state shall be: by my lips for tune proclaims what gift she would bestow on each human being: from my utterance peoples and cities gather reasons for rejoicing; without my favor and grace no part of the whole world can prosper; all those many thousands of swords which my peace restrains will be drawn at my nod, what nations shall be utterly destroyed, which banished, which shall receive the gift of liberty, which have it taken from them, what kings shall become slave and whose heads shall be crowned with royal honor, what cities shall fall and which shall rise-this is mine to decree” (Seneca, De Clementia I, 1,2).

Power was conceived in terms of violence. Since god was the most powerful being, god’s power was considered in terms of superior violence. Therefore, victory as a decisive act of superior violence was the manifestation of god. The emperor, the most powerful human being on the earth, was the vicar of god(s).

Thus, the purpose of AA in the Roman provinces was to draw from subjects not just an intellectual assent to what had been achieved by the Roman emperor. But, more importantly, the purpose was to demand identification with the imperial system of peace and freedom established by the divinely ordained emperor, and consequently allegiance to the emperor with whom the system was bound up. Although there was no evidence to suggest that Augustus had decreed that copies of AA be set up in subject territories, those who were responsible for placing the copies there wanted this to be a medium of imperial propaganda to the subjects. They wanted to convey the message of the document that all peoples allied with the imperial system of peace and freedom, and so with the descendants of Augustus, could enjoy the benefits of the Golden Age of peace that Augustus had brought forth. 

 


[1] Jones, Augustus, p. 38.

 

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