Augustus’ presentation of “empire” in his Res Gestae


  • Chen Xiong King's College London



Augustus, empire, res gestae, orbis terrarum, imperium, amicitia


Having defeated all his political enemies and expanded the rule of Rome enormously, Octavian, from 27 BC known as Augustus, ended the civil wars which had plagued the Late Republic and founded the system known as the Roman Principate. The Res Gestae purports to be a retrospective survey by Augustus of his own public achievements in restoring the res publica and conquering the world. It was published in Rome but the only surviving copies were found in the new and distant province of Galatia. In this paper I will try to explain how Augustus, as the founder of the new era known today as ‘the Roman Empire’, envisages and presents Roman rule under his leadership by analysing the content of the Res Gestae. From it we can see that there indeed emerges a concept similar to our ‘empire’. The narrative structure of the Res Gestae shows that Roman imperial rule is conceived of by Augustus in a scheme of core-periphery, in which the core is composed of the provinces under direct Roman control, while the periphery is an area of more vaguely subject people or places maintained by threats and intervention, or more weakly by ‘friendship’ (amicitia), which vary according to the historical specifics of contact between these areas or peoples and Rome. In both cases, whether subjection is in the name of the ‘rule’ or  the ‘friendship’ of Roman people, it is Augustus’ personal authority that appears to matter the most, which indicates that Augustus’ institution of a monarchic system was a decisive element in the development of this new holistic concept of Roman imperial rule.


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