ARTH Courses | ARTH 209 Assignments

Art and Architecture of the Age of Augustus

Second Seminar, November 19.

Our second seminar will be devoted to an examination of the art and architecture from the time of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. As we will see, the political transformation of Rome from the Republic to the Early Empire was paralleled by a shift in the art of the two periods. The art of the period of Augustus is frequently called Augustan Classicism. As we saw in our discussion of Hellenistic Art, the art of Augustus is intentionally retrospective and models itself on past models. This choice of style was intentional to reinforce the political message of Augustus as a restorer of Rome. Of particular importance will be the strong influences of Greek High Classical Art, especially that of the Parthenon and fifth century Athens, on the art of Augustus.

In preparation for the assignment read Ramage & Ramage, pp. 100-131. You should also consult the following webpages:

Rome's Imperial Fora

Roman Power and Roman Imperial Scupture


Res Gestae, chapter 34:

In my sixth and seventh consulship [27 BC], after I had extinguised civil wars, and at a time when with universal consent I was in control of all affairs, I transferred the commonwealth from my power to the judgement of the senate and people of Rome. For this service of mine I was named Augustus by decree of the senate, and the doorposts of my house were publicly wreathed with laurel leaves and a civic crown was fixed over my door and a golden shield was set up in the Curia Julia, which, as attested by the inscription thereon, was given me by the senate and people of Rome on account of my courage, clemency, justice, and devotion. After this time, I excelled all in auctoritas, although I possessed no more official power than others who were my colleagues in the several magistracies.

Among the major monuments we will be considering will be the portraits of Augustus. Special emphasis will be given to the so-called Augustus of Primaporta (for a 360 degree view of the work)

In the Survey course, I regularly compare this statue to the Doryphoros by Polykleitos and the Arringatore or Aulus Metellus:

(for a 360 degree view of the work)


The central group on the cuirass shows the return by the Parthians of the standards that had been lost in the humiliating defeat of Crassus in 53 B.C. Augustus's victory in 20 B.C. was a diplomatic one as opposed to a military one The symbolism of the elaborate cuirass, or breast-plate, that Augustus wears has been compared to the symbolism found in the following ode of Horace:

Horace, Carmen saeculare:
In 17 B.C., Augustus reinstituted the so-called Secular Games, a festival celebrating the preservation of the State and supposed to be held once every 110 years. On the third and last day of the games an ode was sung in Apollo's temple by a choir of boys and girls, and it was Horace who was commissioned to write it. Compare this ode to the statue of Augustus, the Augustus of Primaporta.

Diana, queen of forests, and Apollo,1
O honoured and for ever to be honoured
Twin glories of the firmament, accord us
All we beseech today-
Day of devotion, when the Sybil's verses
Enjoin the chaste, the chosen youths and maidens
To chant their hymns of worship to the patron
Gods of our seven hills.2
Kind sun,3 bright charioteer, bringer and hider
Of light, newborn each morning yet each morning
Unaltered, may thou never view a city
Greater on earth than Rome.
Moon, gentle midwife, punctual in thy office,
Lucina, Ilithyia, Genitalis-
Be called whichever title is most pleasing-
Care for our mother's health.
Goddess, make strong our youth and bless the Senate's
Decrees rewarding parenthood and marriage,
That from the new laws Rome may heap a lavish
Harvest of boys and girls.4
So that the destined cycle of eleven
Decades 5 may bring again great throngs to witness
The games and singing: three bright days and three long
Nights of the people's joy.
And you, O Fates, who have proved truthful prophets,
Your promise stands- and may time's sacred landmarks
Guard it immovably: to our accomplished
Destiny add fresh strength.
May Mother Earth,6 fruitful in crops and cattle,
Crown Ceres' forehead with a wreath of wheat-ears,
And dews and rains and breezes, God's good agents,
Nourish whatever grows.
Sun-god, put by thy bow and deign to listen
Mildly and gently to the boys' entreaties.
Moon, crescent sovereign of the constellations,
Answer the virgins' prayers.
Rome is your handiwork; in your safe-keeping
The Trojan band reached an Etruscan haven,
That remnant which, at your command, abandoned
City and hearth to make
The auspicious voyage, those for whom pure-hearted
Aeneas,7 the last pillar of royal manhood
Left standing in burnt Troy, paved paths to greater
Fame than they left behind.
Gods, by these tokens make our young quick pupils
Of virtue, give the aged peace and quiet,
Rain on the race of Romulus wealth, offspring,
Honours of every kind;
And when, tonight, with blood of milk-white oxen
The glorious son of Venus and Anchises8
Invokes you, grant his prayers. Long may Augustus
Conquer but spare the foe.
Now Parthia fears the fist of Rome,9 the fasces10
Potent on land and sea; now the once haughty
Ambassadors from the Caspian and the Indus
Sue for a soft reply.
Now Faith and Peace and Honour and old-fashioned
Conscience and unremembered Virtue venture
To walk again, and with them blessed Plenty,
Pouring her brimming horn.11
Apollo, augur, bright-bowed archer, well-loved
Music-master of the nine Muses, healer
Whose skill in medicine can ease the body's
Ills and infirmities.
By thy affection for the Palatine altars
Prolong, we pray, the Roman State and Latium's
Prosperity into future cycles, nobler
Eras, for evermore.
Diana, keeper of the sacred hilltops
Of Aventine and Algidus, be gracious
To the prayers of the Fifteen Guardians, to the children
Bend an attentive ear.
That Jove and all the gods approve these wishes
We, the trained chorus, singers of the praises
Of Phoebus and Diana, carry homewards
Happy, unshaken hope.
1 On the breastplate or cuirass of the Augustus of Primaporta, Diana and Apollo are shown flanking the return of the Parthian standard.
2 Rome is the city of the seven hills
3 Again see the breastplate of the Augustus of Primaporta with the sun-god Sol appearing at the top riding his four horse chariot.
4 Expansion of the Roman population was a central issue in Augustus' political agenda. Note the inclusion of children in the Imperial Procession on the Ara Pacis.
5 The Secular Games were to mark the end of a saeculum and the beginning of the next. A saeculum was calculated as a period of 110 or 100 years.
6 The figure of Mother Earth or Tellus appears at the bottom of the cuirass of the Augustus of Primaporta and is also one of the panels on the Ara Pacis.
7 Horace like Virgil in the Aeneid sees the Trojan prince Aeneas as the direct ancestor of Augustus.
8 Aeneas was understood as the son of the goddess Venus and the mortal Anchises. The detail of the cupid riding on the back of the dolphin on the Augustus of Primaporta is understood as a reference to this, and thus establishes the divine lineage of Augustus.
9 The next major victory for Augustus after the battle of Actium was the surrender of the Parthians. In 53 BCE, Crassus had suffered a humiliating defeat to the Parthians with the Roman standards being captured. In 20 BCE Augustus was able to secure the surrender of the Parthians and the return of the lost standards. This peaceful use of the Roman military was understood to mark the era of Pax Romana or Pax Augusta. This return of the standards is the central detail on the cuirass of the Augustus of Primaporta.
10 Fasces are a bunch of 12 wooden sticks with an axe in the center. This is a traditional symbol of Roman power and jurisdiction. Fasces were carried by attendants or Lictors who protected Roman magistrates. This is one of the many Roman symbols that has been incorporated into our American symbolism. Fasces flank the Speaker's chair in the Hours of Representatives.
11 Reference to the cornucopia or the horn of plenty, a regular symbol in Roman art. The Tellus figure on the cuirass of the Augustus of Primaporta holds a cornucopia.
For a recent study of the Horace's text see the book by Michael Lipka, entitled: Roman Gods: a conceptual approach. It is available as an electronic book through the library's webpage. See especially Chapter 3, pp. 147 ff.

Quintilian,Institutio Oratoria 12, 1:28. Also, would not the orator I am trying to form, if he were on the field of battle and his soldiers needed to be encouraged to engage, draw the materials for an exhortation from the most profound precepts of philosophy? For how could all the terrors of toil, pain, and even death be banished from their breasts unless vivid feelings of piety, fortitude, and honor were substituted in their place? 29. He doubtless will best implant such feelings in the breasts of others who has first implanted them in his own, for simulation, however guarded, always betrays itself, nor was there ever such power of eloquence in any man that he would not falter and hesitate whenever his words were at variance with his thoughts. 

Virgil, Aeneid: Just as often happens when in a great nation turmoil breaks out and the base masses go on a rampage: firebrands and stones fly, and madness supplies the weapons: then, if they have caught sight of some man who carries weight because of his public devotion and service, they stand silent, their ears ready to listen. Then he prevails in speech over their fury by his authority, and placates them. Just so, the whole uproar of the sea died down, when the father of the seas looked upon the waters. The sky cleared, Neptune turned his horses around, and flying onward, gave free rein to his compliant chariot (I.148-156)

Virgil between 29 BCE and his death in 19 BCE was working on the Aeneid probably under the patronage of Augustus. In this national epic clearly based on the tradition of Homer's epics, Virgil adapts the story of Aeneas to the ideology of Augustus. See excerpt.

Consider also the following gallery of portraits of Augustus:

Coin of Octavian, c. 38 BCE. Obverse: Octavian, Caesar Divi Filius; Reverse: Divus Iulius


Augustus as Pontifex Maximus (he became Pontifex Maximus in 12 BCE)

Detail of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus.

(Note how the head is done as a separate piece from the body. The body is done in Luna marble, while the head is done in the costlier Greek marble.)

Augustus wearing Civic Crown (Louvre). The Civic Crown was Rome's second highest honor. It was awarded to someone who has saved the lives of fellow citizens from an enemy.

Augustus wearing Civic Crown.

Statue of Augustus from Egypt.

Augustus as Magistrate. Louvre.

Augustus as God.

Gemma Augustea, early first century AD. Augustus is shown seated in the guise of Jupiter. To his left sits Roma, probably with the likeness of his wife Livia. Between Roma and Augustus appears the zodiacal symbol for Capricorn, Augustus' birth sign. Augustus is being crowned with the civic crown (corona civica) by the personification for the civilized world, Oikoumene. Tellus or Italia, holding a cornucopia, is shown seated in the foreground with two babies. The male figure between Tellus and Oikoumene has been identified as either Neptune or Oceanus. On the left, Tiberius, Augustus' successor, descends from a chariot with a Nike figure. While not certain, this is possibly a reference to the victories of Tiberius in Germany. The youthful figure wearing a cuirass is usually identified as Germanicus, the emperor's nephew. The upper register, therefore, states Augustus' rule over the earth and civilized world, and his establishment of a dynasty.

The lower registers show soldiers raising a battlefield trophy with captive barbarians at their feet.



Another major monument we will be considering will be the Ara Pacis, done between 13-9 B.C.


for additional images of the Ara Pacis

The Ara Pacis was constructed in the Campus Martius or the Field of Mars outside of the city of Rome. The Campus Martius represents the boundary between the military and civic authority in Rome. The altar was instituted on July 4, 13 B.C. and dedicated on January 30, 9 B.C (the birthday of Livia, the wife of Augustus). Augustus had returned from a three-year campaign in Spain and Gaul on July 3, 13 B.C. Augustus refused to have a triumph to mark his return and he also refused the Senate's offer to build an altar in the Senate chamber. These decisions were undoubtedly to avoid accusations of over-reaching. The altar was positioned to be a part of a gigantic sundial, whose gnomon was a hundred foot obelisk, which commemorated the conquest of Egypt and was dedicated between June 10 B.C. and June 9 B.C. The obelisk cast its shadow on an elaborate series of bronze lines that were set into the stone pavement. It has been argued that the obelisk's shadow was aligned to point directly to the center of the altar of the Ara Pacis on the fall equinox which was the birthday of Augustus. This alignment with the heavens was undoubtedly intended as part of the claim of universal domination of Augustus.

For a more complete discussion, see the section dedicated to the Ara Pacis that I have included on the web page discussing Roman Imperial sculpture.

For the connection between Augustus and Aeneas see the excerpt from Vergil's Aeneid.


Augustan Architecture

Reconstruction of the Forum of Augustus with the Temple of Mars Ultor, late 1st century B.C.

Remains of the Temple of Mars Ultor

This relief from Algiers is probably based on the images in the cella of the Temple of Mars Ultor. The figure on the left is Venus with Mars in the center and the divine Julius on the right. Note how the style of the drapery of the figure of Venus comes very close to that used on the figure of Aphrodite on the Parthenon. The dress and physical characteristics of the divine Julius is borrowed from Greek images of the gods, like the 2nd century BCE figure of Poseidon. The contrapposto pose and cuirass of the image of Mars clearly echoes the cuirass statue type like the Augustus of Primaporta.

Statue of Mars from about 90 AD that is based on the cult statue of Mars in the Temple of Mars Ultor.

This is a surviving fragment of the decoration of the second story of the portico that flanked the temple of Mars Ultor. The caryatid figures are direct quotations of the caryatids from the Porch of the Maidens of the Erechtheum on the Acropolis. The shield representing Jupiter is a possible reference to the shields Alexander the Great hung in the Parthenon after his victory at Granikos.

Caryatid from the Porch of the Maidens.

Maison Carrée, Nîmes, 19 B.C.

Pont du Gard, late first century B.C.

Boscoreale Cup 1: Augustus receiving the surrender of barbarians. Augustus's open hand signifies his clemency.

Boscoreale Cup 1: Augustus as world ruler: Augustus sits on a curule chair, the symbol of Roman magistracy. He holds a globe in his hand and receives a Nike figure from Venus who is followed by the infant figure of Amor or Cupid, the goddess Roma, and the Genus Populi Romani. To his left appears Mars leading a group of personifications representing the seven provinces.

Boscoreale Cup 2: Tiberius in Triumph. Kleiner, A History of Roman Art , p. 105: "The Tiberius cup shows on one side the emperor-to-be riding in a triumphal quadriga holding a laurel branch and an eagle-tipped scepter. Behind him is a state slave who places a wreath on Tiberius's head. The slave's job was also to whisper an admonition in the victorious general's ear as he paraded though Rome in glory as a Jupiter-like figure: "Remember, you are only mortal."

Boscoreale Cup 2: Sacrifice in front of the temple of the Capitoline Jupiter either marking the departure on a military campaign or culminating the triumphal procession.


44 BCE, Ides of March Assasination of Julius Caesar
42 BCE Defeat of the Assassins of Julius Caesar at the Battle of Philippi by the so-called "Second Triumvirate": Octavian, Lepidus, and Mark Antony
42 BCE Julius Caesar granted the title of divus or divine. Octavian thus became divi filius, or son of a divine.
31 BCE Octavian defeats Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium. This battle marks the end of the period from about 100 BCE that was marked by civil wars to gain control of Rome.
27 BCE Octavian granted the title of Augustus by the Roman Senate. This can be understood to mark the beginning of the Empire.
27 BCE Work begins on the Temple of Mars Ultor and the Forum of Augustus. Octavian had promised to dedicate a temple of Mars when he sought the war gods aid before the battle in 42 BCE to defeat the assassins of Julius Caesar.
20 BCE Parthians surrender and return the standards that had been lost by the Roman general Crassus in a battle in 53 BCE
19 BCE Death of Virgil who had been working on the Aeneid probably commissioned by Augustus since about 29 BCE. See excerpt from the Aeneid.
17 BCE Augustus reinstitutes the Secular Games. See Horace's Carmen Saeculare above.
13 BCE, July 4 Augustus inaugurates the construction of the Ara Pacis. Augustus and Agrippa return from the provinces and proclaim an era of peace (Pax Romana or Pax Augusta).
12 BCE Augustus assumes the title of Pontifex maximus
9 BCE Augustus dedicates the Ara Pacis on Livia's birthday



Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory.