Caesar Augustus died on 19 August of the year 14 AD, at about four in the
afternoon . It’s been two thousand years since then. Caesar Augustus had a long reign and he had a peaceful death, smooth, unlike a number of his successors who suffered a violent death.
had a peaceful death, smooth, unlike a number of his successors who suffered a violent death.
According to Suetonius, whose story I reproduce, Augustus used to say goodbye to their loved on famous entence, precisely that with which theater actors submitted themselves to the judgment of the spectator, pronouncing in Greek and Latin:
"Do you think that I have acted my part on the stage of life well?"
And he immediately subjoined,.
“If all be right, with joy your voices raise,
In loud applauses to the actor's praise.
Note: Lucianus of Samosata attributed to the Cynic philosopher Demonax a similar phrase in his Life of Demonax 65:
“The games are done, The crowns all won; No more delay. But haste away”and left to die by refusing all food"
. Another similar expression is attributed to Rabelais without sufficient reason: "Draw the curtain, the farce is ended" (in French, le rideau Tirez, the farce is jouée).
The phrase of Augustus is not without rhetoric, but also with stoicism and conformism maturity of whom from an immature youth became the most powerful person of the time. The story of his death and testament is full of anecdotes and details to which the historian Suetonius, a kind of drafter of the gossip of the moment was so fond.
Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Life of Augustus, XICIX et seq
Upon the day of his death, he now and then enquired, if there was any disturbance in the town on his account; and calling for a mirror, he ordered his hair to be combed, and his shrunk cheeks to be adjusted. Then asking his friends who were admitted into the room, "Do you think that I have acted my part on the stage of life well?" he immediately subjoined,
“εἰ δὲ πᾶν ἔχει καλῶς, τῷ παιθνίῳ,
δότε κρότον, καὶ πάντες ὑμεῖς μετὰ χαρᾶς κτυπήσατε.”
“If all be right, with joy your voices raise,
In loud applauses to the actor's praise.
” After which, having dismissed them all, whilst he was inquiring of some persons who were just arrived from Rome, concerning Drusus's daughter, who was in a bad state of health, he expired suddenly, amidst the kisses of Livia, and with these words: "Livia! live mindful of our union; and now, farewell!" dying a very easy death, and such as he himself had always wished for. For as often as he heard that any person had died quickly and without pain, he wished for himself and his friends the like εὐθανασίαν (an easy death), for that was the word he made use of. He betrayed but one symptom, before he breathed his last, of being delirious, which was this: he was all on a sudden much frightened, and complained that he was carried away by forty men. But this was rather a presage, than any delirium: for precisely that number of soldiers belonging to the praetorian cohort, carried out his corpse.
He expired in the same room in which his father Octavius had died, when the two Sextus's, Pompey and Apuleius, were consuls, upon the fourteenth of the calends of September [the 19th August], at the ninth hour of the day, being seventy-six years of age, wanting only thirty-five days. His remains were carried by the magistrates of the municipal towns and colonies, from Nola to Bovillae, and in the night-time, because of the season of the year. During the intervals, the body lay in some basilica, or great temple, of each town. At Bovillae it was met by the Equestrian Order, who carried it to the city, and deposited it in the vestibule of his own house. The senate proceeded with so much zeal in the arrangement of his funeral, and paying honour to his memory, that amongst several other proposals, some were for having the funeral procession made through the triumphal gate, preceded by the image of Victory which is in the senate-house, and the children of highest rank of both sexes singing the funeral dirge. Others proposed, that on the day of the funeral, they should lay aside their gold rings, and wear rings of iron; and others, that his bones should be collected by the priests of the principal colleges. One likewise proposed to transfer the name of August to September, because he was born in the latter, but died in the former. Another moved, that the whole period of time, from his birth to his death, should be called the Augustan age, and be inserted in the calendar under that title. But at last it was judged proper to be moderate in the honours paid to his memory. Two funeral orations were pronounced in his praise, one before the temple of Julius, by Tiberius; and the other before the rostra, under the old shops, by Drusus, Tiberius's son. The body was then carried upon the shoulders of senators into the Campus Martius, and there burnt. A man of pretorian rank affirmed upon oath, that he saw his spirit ascend from the funeral pile to heaven. The most distinguished persons of the equestrian order, bare-footed, and with their tunics loose, gathered up his relics, and deposited them in the mausoleum, which had been built in the sixth consulship between the Flaminian Way and the bank of the Tiber; at which time likewise he gave the groves and walks about it for the use of the people.
He made a will a year and four months before his death, upon the third of the nones of April [the 11th of April], in the consulship of Lucius Plancus, and Caius Silius. It consisted of two skins of parchment, written partly in his own hand, and partly by his freedmen Polybius and Hilarian; and had been committed to the custody of the Vestal Virgins, by whom it was now produced, with three codicils under seal, as well as the will: all these were opened and read in the senate. He appointed as his direct heirs, Tiberius for two-thirds of his estate, and Livia for the other third, both of whom he desired to assume his name. The heirs in remainder were Drusus, Tiberius's son, for one third, and Germanicus with his three sons for the residue. In the third place, failing them, were his relations, and several of his friends. He. left in legacies to the Roman people forty millions of sesterces; to the tribes three millions five hundred thousand; to the praetorian troops a thousand each man; to the city cohorts five hundred; and to the legions and soldiers three hundred each; which several sums he ordered to be paid immediately after his death, having taken due care that the money should be ready in his exchequer. For the rest he ordered different times of payment. In some of his bequests he went as far as twenty thousand sesterces, for the payment of which he allowed a twelvemonth; alleging for this procrastination the scantiness of his estate; and declaring that not more than a hundred and fifty millions of sesterces would come to his heirs: notwithstanding that during the twenty preceding years, he had received, in legacies from his friends, the sum of fourteen hundred millions; almost the whole of which, with his two paternal estates, and others which had been left him, he had spent in the service of the state. He left orders that the two Julias, his daughter and granddaughter, if any thing happened to them, should not be buried in his tomb. With regard to the three codicils before mentioned, in one of them he gave orders about his funeral; another contained a summary of his acts, which he intended should be inscribed on brazen plates, and placed in front of his mausoleum; in the third he had drawn up a concise account of the state of the empire; the number of troops enrolled, what money there was in the treasury, the revenue, and arrears of taxes; to which were added the names of the freedmen and slaves from whom the several accounts might be taken. (Translation by Alexander Thomson).
Supremo die identidem exquirens, an iam de se tumultus foris esset, petito speculo capillum sibi comi ac malas labantes corrigi praecepit et admissos amicos percontatus, ecquid iis uideretur mimum uitae commode transegisse, adiecit et clausulam:
ἐπεὶ δὲ πάνυ καλῶς πέπαισται, δότε κρότον
καὶ πάντες ἡμᾶς μετὰ χαρᾶς προπέμψατε.
omnibus deinde dimissis, dum aduenientes ab urbe de Drusi filia aegra interrogat, repente in osculis Liuiae et in hac uoce defecit: 'Liuia, nostri coniugii memor uiue, ac uale!' sortitus exitum facilem et qualem semper optauerat. nam fere quotiens audisset cito ac nullo cruciatu defunctum quempiam, sibi et suis εὐθανασίαν similem—hoc enim et uerbo uti solebat —precabatur. unum omnino ante efflatam animam signum alienatae mentis ostendit, quod subito pauefactus a quadraginta se iuuenibus abripi questus est. id quoque magis praesagium quam mentis deminutio fuit, siquidem totidem milites praetoriani extulerunt eum in publicum.
obiit in cubiculo eodem, quo pater Octauius, duobus Sextis, Pompeio et Appuleio, cons. XIIII. Kal. Septemb. hora diei nona, septuagesimo et sexto aetatis anno, diebus V et XXX minus.
Corpus decuriones municipiorum et coloniarum a Nola Bouillas usque deportarunt noctibus propter anni tempus, cum interdiu in basilica cuiusque oppidi uel in aedium sacrarum maxima reponeretur. a Bouillis equester ordo suscepit urbique intulit atque in uestibulo domus conlocauit. senatus et in funere ornando et in memoria honoranda eo studio certatim progressus est, ut inter alia complura censuerint quidam, funus triumphali porta ducendum, praecedente Victoria quae est in curia, canentibus neniam principum liberis utriusque sexus; alii, exequiarum die ponendos anulos aureos ferreosque sumendos; nonnulli, ossa legenda per sacerdotes summorum collegiorum.
fuit et qui suaderet, appellationem mensis Augusti in Septembrem transferendam, quod hoc genitus Augustus, illo defunctus esset; alius, ut omne tempus a primo die natali ad exitum eius saeculum Augustum appellaretur et ita in fastos referretur. uerum adhibito honoribus modo bifariam laudatus est: pro aede Diui Iuli a Tiberio et pro rostris ueteribus a Druso Tiberi filio, ac senatorum umeris delatus in Campum crematusque.
nec defuit uir praetorius, qui se effigiem cremati euntem in caelum uidisse iuraret. reliquias legerunt primores equestris ordinis tunicati et discincti pedibusque nudis ac Mausoleo condiderunt. id opus inter Flaminiam uiam ripamque Tiberis sexto suo consulatu extruxerat circumiectasque siluas et ambulationes in usum populi iam tum publicarat.
CI Testamentum L. Planco C. Silio cons. III. Non. Apriles, ante annum et quattuor menses quam decederet, factum ab eo ac duobus codicibus partim ipsius partim libertorum Polybi et Hilarionis manu scriptum depositumque apud se uirgines Vestales cum tribus signatis aeque uoluminibus protulerunt. quae omnia in senatu aperta atque recitata sunt.
heredes instituit primos: Tiberium ex parte dimidia et sextante, Liuiam ex parte tertia, quos et ferre nomen suum iussit; secundos: Drusum Tiberi filium ex triente, ex partibus reliquis Germanicum liberosque eius tres sexus uirilis; tertio gradu propinquos amicosque compluris. legauit populo R. quadringenties, tribubus tricies quinquies sestertium, praetorianis militibus singula milia nummorum, cohortibus urbanis quingenos, legionaris trecenos nummos; quam summam repraesentari iussit, nam et confiscatam semper repositamque habuerat.
reliqua legata uarie dedit perduxitque quaedam ad uicena sestertia, quibus soluendis annuum diem finiit, excusata rei familiaris mediocritate nec plus peruenturum ad heredes suos quam milies et quingenties professus, quamuis uiginti proximis annis quaterdecies milies ex testamentis amicorum percepisset, quod paene omne cum duobus paternis patrimoniis ceterisque hereditatibus in rem p. absumpsisset. Iulias filiam neptemque, si quid iis accidisset, uetuit sepulcro suo inferri.
tribus uoluminibus, uno mandata de funere suo complexus est, altero indicem rerum a se gestarum, quem uellet incidi in aeneis tabulis, quae ante Mausoleum statuerentur, tertio breuiarium totius imperii, quantum militum sub signis ubique esset, quantum pecuniae in aerario et fiscis et uectigaliorum residuis. adiecit et libertorum seruorumque nomina, a quibus ratio exigi posset.
About his long reign it have existed since ancient times a number of assessments: for some it was the great leader who ended the civil war, reached peace and saved the republican institutions; for others however he was a cruel and ambitious person who ended the republican "democracy" and established an authoritarian "monarchical" regime.
Augustus himself had left a paper that he recorded and distributed throughout the Empire which reflects the memory of his reign. It is a document, of course, of advertising in which there is no space negative criticism. It's called "Res gestae divi Augusti" "Acts of the Divine Augustus." The copy of the mausoleum was destroyed in the eventful history of Rome, but it is preserved in an inscription at Ankara known as "Monumentum Ancyranum".
We find the general assessment that Augustus makes about himself in chapter 34 of this document :
A golden shield was placed in the Curia Julia whose inscription testified that the senate and the Roman people gave me this in recognition of my valour, my clemency, my justice, and my piety.
Clupeus aureus in Curia Iulia positus quem mihi Senatum populumque Romanum dare virtutis clementiaeque iustitiae et pietatis causa testatum est per eius clupei inscriptionem.
The official historian Velleius Patérculu, moving by the court of Tiberius, has no qualms in repeating exact expressions of this document to praise the work of Augustus as a restorer of democratic freedoms, repeating the official version:
The civil wars were ended after twenty years, foreign wars suppressed, peace restored, the frenzy of arms everywhere lulled to rest; validity was restored to the laws, authority to the courts, and dignity to the senate; the power of the magistrates was reduced to its former limits,…. The old traditional form of the republic was restored. Agriculture returned to the fields, respect to religion, to mankind freedom from anxiety, and to each citizen his property rights were now assured. (VELLEIUS PATERCULUS, Roman History, II,89) (translation by Frederick W. Shipley)
Finita vicesimo anno bella civilia, sepulta externa, revocata pax, sopitus ubique armorum furor, restituta vis legibus, iudiciis auctoritas, senatui maiestas, imperium magistratuum ad pristinum redactum modum, … Prisca illa et antiqua rei publicae forma revocata. Rediit cultus agris, sacris honos, securitas hominibus, certa cuique rerum suarum possessio;
Seneca was not a historian but a philosopher and moralist and repeatedly refers to Augustus, whom he considers "princeps bonus", "good prince" who is generous and self-monitoring in power. …
Tacitus is a later historian of the early second century and represents the senatorial class , defender of republican liberty and primitive ideals. He does not deal directly about the Augustan age, but he refers to him on several occasions and even he considers this government as a monarchy, he justifies its actions by the need of the time: Augustus restored peace, even at the cost of freedom
After the conflict at Actium, and when it became essential to peace, that all power should be centered in one man (Historiae, I,1) (English (Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, 1873)
postquam bellatum apud Actium atque omnem potentiam ad unum conferri pacis interfuit,
In fact Tacitus presents the various contrary opinions of the authors without yours is clear. It seems to be closer to the enemies of Augustus, to them who think that he established peace but at the cost of much blood and losing the freedoms that will never be as before and he has a rather negative judgment about August.
Suetonius is a historian who does not have an analytical conception of history, but rather he collects all document, gossip, hearsay, anecdote which are at the court. He gives a Solomonic judgment on Augustus: before overcoming his adversaries in his early days he was cruel and overbearing, treacherous, lying, corrupt; in its second stage he was generous, just, merciful, modest “princeps” …
The best historian of these matters is the Greek Dion Cassius, with his Roman History, who lived from 155 to 235 at least. For him the regime of Augustus was an autocracy in which the Senate had a great influence. Precisely this was the right system he advocated in his time. Cassius tell in 53, 12:
But as he wished even so to be thought democratic, while he accepted all the care and oversight of the public business,… (Translation by Earnest Cary.)
In any case, the regime established by Augustus became later to tyranny, arbitrariness, illegality.
Anyway, at this point we can use the Roman ritual expression, repeated throughout the empire in thousands of tombstones,:
may the earth rest lightly on you
S(it) T(ibi) T(erra) L(evis)