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

Part I 

The myth of redemptive violence lies at the root of the imperial system of peace and freedom. Imperial peace and freedom is established by means of violence. Creation of a peaceful and free empire is a violent victory over enemies and subjugation of their lands. Enemy, here, is one who is either a power contender or one who resists the imperial power and authority. By vanquishing enemies through violence and war, the victor fashions an empire of peace and freedom. Imperial peace and freedom is violent suppression and subjugation, and even liquidation of enemy. That means, the very origin and foundation of imperial order is violence. It is violence that not only originates but also perpetuates imperial order. The imperial system continues to promote violence against those perceived to be the cause of disorder in order to protect the imperial system of peace and freedom.

The imperial system of peace and freedom established by the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus[1] is delineated in his document written in Latin, Res Gestae Divi Augusti, which is translated as the “Acts of the Divine Augustus”. Edwin Ramage comments:

“Res Gestae is the single most important historical document of the Augustan period and one of the most important of the empire, since it comes from the hand of Augustus himself and deals with activities and policies that were from the first an integral part of the imperial system. The Romans also recognized its significance, for after Augustus’ death they followed his wishes and set it up outside his tomb in Rome and even put both Latin and Greek versions of it on display in the Greek world.”[2] 

A. Historical Evidence of the “Acts of the Divine Augustus”

 1. Archeological Evidence

Archeological discoveries have unearthed copies of the text of the “Acts of the Divine Augustus” (AA) in Latin and Greek versions. Strangely enough, the three copies of AA come from cities which fall within the sphere of the Galatian koinon.[3] The first copy was found on the walls of a mosque at Ancyra (now Ankara, capital of Turkey) and made known to the world by a Dutch scholar Buysbecche in 1555. This inscription of AA, written both in Latin and in Greek, is now called “Manumentum Ancyranum”.[4] Thoedor Mommsen calls it the “queen of inscriptions”. Epigraphical evidence confirms that the site, where the copy of AA was found, was once a temple of Roma and Augustus.[5] The Latin text was inscribed in six columns on the inner walls of the vestibule of the temple and the Greek text in nineteen columns on the outer wall.[6] The Greek text was not a direct translation of the Latin text, but “a fairly close paraphrase”.[7]

The first faithful and trustworthy copy of Manumentum Ancyranum was made by Georges Perrot and Edmund Guillaume in 1861 (or 1862?).[8] They made a facsimile copy of the entire Latin version, and as much of the Greek one as they could get. This was the basis for Mommsen’s edition of the text of AA in 1865 and of Bergk’s in 1873.[9] In 1882, Carl Humann made casts of both the Latin and the Greek inscriptions. These casts were relatively complete, although marred in places by the scaling of the stone. Using these casts as a basis, Mommsen published his critical edition of AA in 1883.[10] This edition of Mommsen has become the basis for all subsequent work. A second copy of AA was found in Apollonia in Pisidia. This copy was a Greek version of the text. The fragments of AA found here were helpful in supplying what was missing or indecipherable in the Greek text of Manumentum Ancyranum.[11] A third copy was found by William Ramsay in 1914 in Antioch in Pisidia. These were the fragments of the Latin text. They were significant in supplementing what was missing in the Latin version of Manumentum Ancyranum. Even though there are very minor variations among the three copies, “it is clear that all three spring from a common original.”[12]

The discovery of the inscription of AA both in the north and in the south of Galatia indicates that the text had reached a widespread audience in the Roman province of Galatia. People would have been well acquainted with the text. Deliberately the Greek version of the AA was inscribed on the exterior walls of the temple of Roma and Augustus so that it was more visible to the Greek-speaking public of Galatia. The Latin version was inscribed on the interior walls, which was visible only upon entry into the temple.

2. Literary Evidence

Suetonius, in his writing Divus Augustus, testified that Augustus wrote a summary of his acts. He stated that Augustus, sixteen months before his death in 14 CE, wrote a will with the help of two freedmen Polybius and Hilarian. Along with the will, Augustus also wrote three documents and committed all four to the custody of Vestal Virgins (Divus Augustus, 101). These documents were opened and read in the Senate after the death of Augustus in 14 CE. The first document contained instructions for Augustus’ funeral, and the third a concise statement of the condition of the whole empire. The second document contained a summary of Augustus’ acts, which he wanted to be engraved on bronze tablets and placed before the mausoleum (Divus Augustus, 101.4). This indicates that Augustus wanted AA to be a public document. The testimony of Suetonius substantiates the authenticity of the copies of AA.[13]


[1] Augustus’ original name is Octavian. Instead of the name Octavian, the title Augustus, which Octavian was bestowed upon in the latter part of his life, is used throughout this book.


[2] Edwin S. Ramage, The Nature and Purpose of Augustus’ “Res Gestae” (Stuttgart: Franz Steine Verlag Wiesbaden GMBH, 1987), p. 11.

[3] Ronald Mellor, Qea Rwmh: The Worship of the Goddess Roma in the Greek World (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1975), p. 89. Koinon means provisional or regional federation of cities.

[4] The 1865 edition of Manumentum Ancyranum was produced under the direction of Theodor Mommsen, a German scholar. The critical edition which was published in 1883 forms the basis for the subsequent scholarly work.

[5] Jean Gage, Res Gestae Divi Augusti ex Monumentis Ancyrano et Antiocheno Latinis Ancyrano et Apolloniensi Graecis (Paris: Societe d’Edition “Les Belles Lettres, 1977), p. 4.

[6] Gage, Res Gestae Divi Augusti, p. 5.

[7] P.A. Brunt and J.M. Moore, Res Gestae Divi Augusti: The Achievements of the Divine Augustus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 2.

[8] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Augustus/Res_Gestae/Introduction*.html.

[9] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Augustus/Res_Gestae/Introduction*.html.

[10] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Augustus/Res_Gestae/Introduction*.html.

[11] Gage, Res Gestae Divi Augusti, p. 6.

[12] Brunt and Moore, Res Gestae Divi Augusti, p. 2.

[13] Anne Dawson, Freedom as Liberating Power: A Socio-Political Reading of the Ecousia Texts in the Gospel of Mark (Universitatsverlag, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000), p. 15.


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