Fines auxi. Augusto e i limiti dell’impero

Gianluca De Sanctis


In the late Republican age the extent and range of Roman conquests convinced the senatorial oligarchy that the fines populi Romani were intended to grow up to coincide with those of the entire world. This belief reached its zenith in the Augustan age, when Rome became not only the “capital of the world” (caput orbis terrarum), but also a City-Olympus, where all the gods converged. The Res gestae, the court poets and official iconography celebrated an Augustus at once triumphant
and peacemaker, who would pursue the design of a universal empire at least until the disaster of Teotoburg. However, we have some documents, first and foremost the consilium coercendi intra terminos imperii addressed by Augustus himself on his deathbed to Tiberius, that seem to
contradict this view of magnificent and progressives fortunes. According to Suetonius no desire to extend the empire in any way or to increase his own military glory was on the mind of the prince, but an ancient Roman virtue called moderatio. Scholars have divided themselves between these two interpretations of Augustan ideology, considering them alternative and incompatible. Maybe there is no need to choose, if one distinguishes the level of self-representation, the dogmas of “propaganda”, the communicative strategy, from real intentions, doubts and private fears. Augustus had had plenty of time to fill the world with signs, images and
words celebrating the dream of an empire without borders. For his contemporaries it should not have been easy to distinguish the wish from its fulfilment. If many ended up believing him, it was because the rhetoric was enveloping and extraordinarily effective.

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