Res Gestae Divi Augusti (or RGDA) can be translated as “The Deeds of the Deified Augustus”. It was written by the Roman Emperor Augustus at the end of his life, as an account of his achievements, to be displayed as a monumental inscription outside his mausoleum and elsewhere around the Empire. Too long for an epitaph and too short to be considered an autobiography, it could perhaps be seen as the forerunner of the modern blog consisting, as it does, of 36 consecutive posts, some of which had been drafted and edited over time as events happened and circumstances (and his name) changed. Covering his achievements from raising an army at the age of nineteen (while still Octavian) to exact revenge for the assassination of his adoptive father Julius Caesar, through the triumvirate with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, the establishment of the Roman Empire, the Senatorial award of the title Augustus and the gift of the Pax Romana to the world. Covering his military, political and societal achievements, his generosity and the accolades lavished on him by the Senate and people, it was a skillfully crafted exercise in ensuring how he would be viewed by posterity (but calling it propaganda may be going too far?).
Although the RGDA has been around a long time (obviously!) this new book by Alison E. Cooley from the University of Warwick, presents a new text, translation and commentary (the first one in English for over forty years, apparently). After a thorough introduction putting the events into historical and political context, the text is presented with the original Latin inscription and contemporary Greek version presented side by side one chapter at a time with each translated into modern English below. Most of the chapters are really only a single paragraph of 3 or 4 sentences, with the whole text (heading, 35 chapters and an appendix) fitting into 44 pages. Following the text and translation is an extensive and detailed commentary of the text, presented clause by clause with explanations, cross-references, analysis and comments covering linguistic style, political and historical perceptions, modern scholarship (including, where necessary, the presentation of diverging opinions). Perhaps most intriguing are the differences between the Latin and Greek editions of the text – the Latin inscription being the original penned (presumably) by Augustus himself and erected on bronze pillars outside his mausoleum; the Greek edition being an amalgam of fragments found in various places across the Empire (and in various states of preservation), probably based on an official translation from the Latin, but definitely done with a view to the sensibilities and interests of the provinces.
I suggested this as a Christmas present from one of my relatives and have been very pleased that they acquiesced. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, learning much along the way as well as feeling that I had gained an insight into Augustus’ perception of himself and his legacy. Although this is intended as a textbook for students of Augustus and the Augustan age, and is likely to become required reading for many university courses, it is still accessible to the interested amateur who wants something rather more reliable than a Wikipedia entry