Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Mediterranean peoples: Augustus on his own achievements, conquests and alliances with peoples (14 CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 25, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=14263.
Ancient author: Caesar Augustus, Achievements / Res Gestae 1-3, 25-34 (link).
Comments: One of the final actions outlined in Caesar Augustus’ will (he died in 14 CE) was the publication (in Rome and, ultimately elsewhere including Ankyra / Ankara, as with the copy translated here) of a list of his own achievements, known as the Res Gestae or Things Achieved. This document is nothing less than an assertion of world domination and it makes reference to dozens of territories and peoples that were subjugated by violence or alliance and imagined to be incorporated in some form within Augustus’ empire on behalf of the Roman People. Augustus’ Achievements illustrates just how much the emperor, centred in Rome, expressed power and control in terms of the peoples under Roman domination. Although quite late, a comment by the fourth-century grammarian Servius also shows that Augustus may have represented such peoples visually as well: “Augustus made a portico in which he assembled images representing all the peoples, which was called the ‘Portico of the Peoples (gentes)'” (Servius, Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil 8.721.1; cf. the Aphrodisias reliefs at this link). This people-centred way of expressing hegemony also helps to explain why the earlier Greek and Greco-Macedonian attention to ethnographic discourses for the purpose of conquest or the justification of expansion continued into the Roman imperial period. On this also see Augustus’ adoptive father’s approach to Celts or Gauls (link) and the lists of Pompey’s similar-sounding though a bit less grand “achievements” with respect to subjugated peoples and “pirates” (link).
Works consulted: A.E. Cooley, Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Cambridge: CUP, 2009) (link); C. Nicolet, Space, Geography, and Politics in the Early Roman Empire (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1991), especially pages 15-28 (link).
Source of the translation: F.W. Shipley, Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History. Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1924), public domain (passed away in 1945), adapted and modernized by Harland.
[Introduction of Augustus’ achievements, with mention of controlling the whole world]
(1) Below is a copy of the achievements of god Augustus by which he placed the whole world under the control (imperium) of the Roman people, as well as the amounts which he expended on communal affairs (res publica) and the Roman people (populus), as engraved upon two bronze columns which have been set up in Rome:
At the age of nineteen [44 BCE], on my own initiative and at my own expense, I raised an army by means of which I restored freedom to the republic, which had been oppressed by the tyranny of a faction. For which service the Senate, with complimentary resolutions, enrolled me in its order, in the consulship of Gaius Pansa and Aulus Hirtius [43 BCE], giving me at the same time consular precedence in voting; it also gave me ultimate control (imperium). As propraetor it ordered me, along with the consuls, “to see that the republic suffered no harm.” In the same year, moreover, as both consuls had fallen in war, the people elected me consul and one of the three principal magistrates (triumvir) for settling the constitution. (2) I exiled those who killed my father, punishing their deed by due process of law. Afterwards, when they waged war upon the republic, I twice defeated them in battle. (3) I engaged in wars, both civil and foreign, throughout the world. When victorious, I spared all citizens who requested pardon. I preferred to save rather than destroy the foreign peoples (gentes / ethnē) that could be safely pardoned. . . [omitted extensive list of Augustus contributions in service and money to the community of Rome, including his various roles and titles].
[War against “pirates”]
. . . (25) I freed the sea from pirates. In this war, I returned to their masters for punishment about thirty thousand slaves who had run away from their masters and had taken up arms against the republic. The whole of Italy voluntarily took oath of allegiance to me and demanded me as its leader in the war in which I was victorious at Actium [31 BCE]. The Gallic and Spanish provinces, Africa, Sicily, and Sardinia took the same oath of allegiance. Those who served under my standards at that time included more than seven hundred senators, and among them eighty-three who had previously or have since been consuls up to the day on which these words were written, and about one hundred and seventy have been priests.
[Expansion of empire and conquest of peoples]
(26) I extended the boundaries of all the provinces which were bordered by peoples (gentes / ethnē) not yet subject to our empire. I brought under control the Gallic and Spanish provinces and Germany, bounded by the ocean from Gades [Cadiz, Spain] to the mouth of the Elbe river. I brought the Alps from the region which lies nearest to the Adriatic as far as the Tuscan sea under control without waging an unjust war on any people. My fleet sailed from the mouth of the Rhine river eastward as far as the lands of the Kimbrians (Cimbri) to which, up to that time, no Roman had ever penetrated either by land or by sea. The envoys of the Kimbrians, Charydians (Charydes) and Semnonians (Semnones) and other Germanic peoples of that same region sought my friendship and that of the Roman people. On my order and under my direction two armies were led, at almost the same time, into Ethiopia and into Arabia which is called Felix (“Happy”). Very large forces of the enemy of both peoples were cut to pieces in battle and many towns were captured. In Ethiopia, they reached as far as the town of Napata [near modern Karima, Sudan], which is next to Meroe [near Shendi, Sudan]. In Arabia the army advanced into the territories of the Sabaians (Sabaei) to the town of Mariba [about 120 km east of Sanaa, Yemen].
(27) I added Egypt to the empire of the Roman people. In the case of Greater Armenia, though I might have made it a province after the assassination of its king Artaxes [Artaxias II, died ca. 20 BCE], I preferred, following the precedent of our fathers, to hand that kingdom over to Tigranes, the son of king Artavasdes and grandson of king Tigranes, through Tiberius Nero who was then my stepson. And later, when the same people [Armenians] revolted and rebelled, being subdued by my son Gaius, I gave it over to king Ariobarzanes the son of Artabazos, king of the Medes, to rule, and after his death to his son Artavasdes. When he was murdered I sent into that kingdom Tigranes, who descended from the royal family of the Armenians. I recovered all the provinces extending eastward beyond the Adriatic sea, and Cyrene, which were then for the most part in possession of kings, and, at an earlier time, Sicily and Sardinia, which had been seized in the slave war.
(28) I settled colonies of soldiers in Africa, Sicily, Macedonia, both Spains, Achaea, Asia, Syria, Gallia Narbonensis, and Pisidia. Moreover, Italy has twenty-eight colonies founded under my leaderhship which have grown to be famous and populous during my lifetime. (29) From Spain, Gaul, and the Dalmatians, I recovered, after conquering the enemy, many military standards which had been lost by other generals. I forced the Parthians to restore to me the spoils and standards of three Roman armies [see coins depicting this at this link], and to seek as suppliants the friendship of the Roman people. These standards I deposited in the inner shrine which is in the Temple of Mars Ultor.
(30) I brought under the control of the Roman people the peoples of the Pannonians, to which no army of the Roman people had ever reached before my principate, having been subdued by Tiberius Nero who was then my stepson and my legate. I also pushed forward the frontier of Illyria as far as the bank of the river Danube. An army of Dacians which crossed to the south of that river was defeated and crushed under my leadership. Afterwards my own army was led across the Danube and forced the peoples of the Dacians to submit to the orders of the Roman people.
[Friendships and alliances with various kings and peoples]
(31) Embassies were often sent to me from the kings of India, a thing never seen before in the camp of any general of the Romans. Through ambassadors, the Bastarnians (Bastarnae); the Scythians; the kings of the Sarmatians who live on either side of the river Tanais; and, the king of the Albanians (Albani), of the Hiberians (Hiberi), and of the Medes sought our friendship. (32) Kings of the Parthians (namely Tiridates, and later Phraates, the son of king Phraates), king Artavasdes of the Medes, king Artaxares of the Adiabenians, kings Dumnobellanus and . . . Name of the Britons, king Maelo of the Sugambrians, and . . . king Name . . . of the Marcomannians and Suebians fled to take refuge with me as suppliants. Phraates, son of Orodes, king of the Parthians, sent all his sons and grandsons to me in Italy. He did not do this because he had been conquered in war, but rather because he sought our friendship by means of his own children as pledges. And a large number of other peoples experienced the good faith of the Roman people during my principate, peoples who had never previously had any interchange of embassies or of friendship with the Roman people.
(33) From me the peoples of the Parthians and of the Medes received the kings for whom they asked through ambassadors, from among the chief men of those peoples: the Parthians received Vonones son of king Phraates and grandson of king Orodes and the Medes received Ariobarzanes son of king Atavazdes and grandson of king Ariobarzanes.
[Continuation onto other achievements]
(34) In my sixth and seventh consulships, when I had extinguished the flames of civil war, after receiving by universal consent the absolute control of affairs, I transferred the republic from my own control to the will of the Senate and the Roman people. For this service on my part I was given the title of Augustus by decree of the Senate . . . [remainder of the list of achievements omitted].