The New Order of the Augustus Era – Art, Structures and His Rise to Power

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The New Order of the Augustus Era – Art, Structures and his rise to power

Augustus Caesar, who had previously gone by the name Gaius Julius Octavianus rose to power as a young man in a process that was swift and powerful, advancing into office at an age that was usually seen as legally unqualified, taking consulship at the age of twenty. With a successful military history, participating in five civil wars, along with his political ideology being influential in his rise to power, Augustus introduced legislations rewarding family, such as the birth of children and positive unions between men and women as well as holding festive observances and revitalised Roman traditions, making him seem easier to access and easier to understand as a person for the plebeian, or common people[1].

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Despite Augustus having successful military and political careers, while winning over the people with legislation and laws, the use of imagery and iconography during his reign was important to his rule.   It was in the form of art, money and iconic architecture (buildings etc.), a propaganda tool that shows Augustus as a hero, with “all the right attributes…a constant reminder of the man who had brought peace to Rome”[2]

The political campaign for Augustus relied heavily on building his image, with a heavy emphasis on restoring the Roman traditions.  One example of Augustus bringing back some of these older Roman traditions can be seen in the annual cavalcade, a grand parade of soldiers and horses from the equestrian order, whom marched through the city, allowing the soldiers to display their commendations earned through their time in service[3].  Structures and statues of generals were also repaired and built to honour these men, with the likes being placed in public forums to help build a desire in the general public to want to imitate and follow in these examples set by the generals[4].  The importance given to such statues and structures played a big part in Augustus’ restoration of a traditional Rome.

Roman culture was fundamental in establishing Augustus’ political ideologies, playing an important role in the Augustan revolution. The use of culture was effective and beneficial in Augustus’ rise to power and help him achieve his popularity and his rule over Rome.  Visual imagery helped Augustus convey his authority over Rome.  Augustus took over the civic art production throughout Rome and commissioned an exuberant number of portraits of himself with a very romanticised style to be displayed across Rome[5].

The importance of this propaganda was such that the repetitive nature of his portraits being on display helped with his political push while being persuasive in their nature towards Roman citizens[6].  Other uses of traditional Roman culture that Augustus used for political motivation was through the use of mythical figures who Romans honoured through folk tales, and religious beliefs.  By drawing parallels to mythical symbols, Augustus could influence the people of Rome by ascertaining that his values of courage, nobility and devoutness were shared with such important and culturally significant figures and incorporate their ideals into the deeds and ideas that he implemented.  Through this association, Augustus would also erect structures and intricate and well-crafted statues of these mythical figures.   Syme  further discusses the significance of Augustus’ association with figures and suggests that the importance of these figures would see the statues being copied onto items such as oil lamps which can be seen as proof of their admiration, also allowing the stories and their importance Virtus (Virtue) and Pietas (Piety) within the Roman peoples consciousness[7], also maintaining an almost duel-personality between these figures and Augustus which would have the citizens see parallels for the better in him, which would seem to be his goal. Stevenson believes that certain figures in the Ara Pacis, an altar in Rome dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace that included Augustus were symbolic of many values held by the general Roman public such as fertility, regeneration, epic ancestry and divine patronage[8].

 As part of Augustus’ strategy to ensure his political image was to his liking, coins were also used to portray and commemorate significant figures and events.  While early examples of Roman coinage issued during Augustus’ leadership show imagery depicting Caesar on the silver denarius for example, it was between 38BCE and 31BC that Augustus became the focus on the currency, with the image of the divine Venus Victrix being maintained on the back[9].  Prior to the Julian Empire,  the appearance of empires, or people in power were not included on coins, but as Augustus spread his portraiture to over two hundred cities across Rome, the coins were slowly replaced with the portrait of Augustus on them, which Burnett describes as being probably this way to keep a stronger focus on the emperor of Rome[10].  The face on the coin not only acts as a way to show the successes that Augustus had achieved throughout his reign, but also would keep Roman citizens appeasing him and showing him respect[11]. Tacitus also noted through his remarks  that Augustus “chose to be himself worshipped with temples and statues, like those of the deities[12], which is similar to what Torelli noted when he affirmed that the structures Opera Triumphalis and Mars Ultor where not only placed within the same forum as statues that were themed around Augustus, but were also used as a means and way to highlight the mythological and historical ancestry of the image that Augustus himself wanted portrayed, which was his way of trying to force an association between himself and his image with that of Rome’s historical fortunes[13]. It was through his overly vigorous persuasive nature with his face on coins, and statues and structures erected in his honour that Augustus was able to push himself into the minds and eye of the people as a legitimate and worthy successor to his adopted father Julius Caesar, therefore imprinting himself into the legacy that Julius himself had left behind, enhancing his own claim to power through validity of his own accord to be the ruler of Rome.  The persuasive actions of Augustus were also seen within the coins in which he fortified his virtues to maintain the support of the people of Rome.  From around 27BC, these virtues were inscribed into the coins such as “Ob Civis Servatos” and “Caesar cos. VIII civilitus” being the main two used.  Richardson discusses how these coin inscriptions were the way in which Augustus could remind the citizens of Rome persistently of momentous service to Rome and his empire and all those citizens he has saved over time[14].

 Physical structures, such as statues and buildings as already discussed was effective during the establishment and running of Augustus’ new order due to its accessibility, as it was everywhere across Rome, and was consumed by everyone across the empire.  It is argued that Augustus used subluminal symbolism through statues of his likeness – drawing on the prima porta and the way it depicts a martial Augustus, which can be interpreted in a number of ways. The likeness of the statue is a very calm and together Augustus with depictions of Apollo, Caelus, Diana, Sol and Diana on the breastplates[15].  The use of the Gods on this statue was probably extremely intentional in that it would conform with the superstitious beliefs of the Roman people with its direct correlation to the sun, moon, earth, music and sky and would garner their full support.  The religious connections to the toga, as seen on Pontifex Maxumus’ portrayal of Augustus would have had the same effect of a persuasive push on the people of Rome who saw these types of statues all across Rome.

Augustus’ use of cultural structures throughout Rome as part of his propaganda machine went beyond that of buildings and statues.   Of what Werner pertains is the “architectural heart of Rome[16], the Forum Romanum was one such structure.  This structure originally had no connection to Augustus, it slowly was changed over time to include his ideals and depictions of himself and his family; gradually changing to represent Augustus and his Rome.  Yet another example of this is with the Ara Pacis in which it was placed in such a way that on Augustus’ birthday, the Autumnal Equinox, the line from the Solarium Augustii would “pass through the centre of it[17].    It is clear by making his presence known through the use of cultural structures, coins, calendars, and more that the creation of his new order was successful due to the well placed use of his image in the Roman public’s consciousness, while being able to reinforce and stabilise his political agenda and the persona he wanted to portray to all corners of Rome.

As well as structures, coins, and other items well placed around Rome, the use of literature was an effective tool that Augustus used to ensure his reign and his right to rule Rome ensuring the general Roman public were complicate and happy to have him rule over their lands.  With an efficient mix of self-promotion via the Divine Julius cult, Augustus established the Divus Filius ideology which he circulated throughout his empire.  Though literature, Augustus was able to push his agendas through-out Rome and quickly styled himself “Imperator Caesar Divus Filius” with divus filius meaning ‘son of god.’ It was through the use of this name that it is believed that Augustus started to establish his direct connection with the imagery and political styling and history of his adoptive father[18].   The lengths that Augustus went to with the use of promotion through literature was seen to be successful through the delivery of written bodies of propaganda through the entire system during the revolution; this was about Augustus sure, but it went much further and promoted the entire state which he promoted heavily.  Augustus would not censor any of the work of writers even if some writers did not agree with or write positively of his work and life and rule of Rome.  Such work as Virgil’s “First Eclogue” is cited as being one such work that did not respond positively to Augustus’ rule and heavily critiqued the current position of the country of Rome[19].  In many aspects, Augustus was smart in allowing these uncensored documents to be seen by the general public as it showed them that he had a willingness to right wrongs of things people were not happy with, and was also open to critics, lining up well with the message he was trying to portray both politically and personally about his own imagery.

The new order that Augustus created was heavily reliant on the use of imagery and structures, which he achieved through the use of mythical concepts, Roman history and culture and positive portrayal that he delivered in a very specific way to the public.  He achieved this heavily due to being able to use the beliefs of the Roman public, such as their superstitious, religious and traditional beliefs to his advantage, and feed this back to them in a well-planned, and heavy handed way through the very visible statues, structures, coins, documents, paintings and structures of importance to keep him and his ideals and achievements strongly in the publics face.  By adhering to the traditional values of the likes of Virtus and Pietas during his political campaign, he was able to strongly influence the citizens into believing he was the right emperor for them and for Rome.

With the use of structures, art pieces and everyday items such as the coin, Augustus had a strong leadership and empire at his feet.  It is worth nothing that it would have been a difficult battle for Augustus to maintain his hold on power throughout the land of Rome and the people in it, as it was his ability to use effective association and persuasion through means at his fingers to push his propaganda on everyone and without this it is possible that he would have struggled to keep the people of Rome happy and under his thrall, and would have potentially lost his rule a lot sooner like many others before him.

References

  • Eck, Werner, Deborah Lucas Schneider, and Sarolta A Takcs. Age Of Augustus. Reprint, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2012.
  • Edmondson, J. C. Augustus. Reprint, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
  • Galinsky, Karl. The Cambridge Companion To The Age Of Augustus. Reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Marconi, Clemente. The Oxford Handbook Of Greek And Roman Art And Architecture. Reprint, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • Richardson, J. S. Augustan Rome 44 BC To AD 14. Reprint, Edinburgh: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.
  • Santangelo, Max, “Augustus’s Portrait Archetype: The Role of the Visual Arts in the Transition from Republic to Empire” (2017). Senior Capstone Theses. 28 Southern, Pat. Augustus, 1998. Print
  • Sharrock, Alison. “A. Powell (Ed.), Roman Poetry And Propaganda In The Age Of Augustus (London Classical Society III). Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1992. Pp. Ix + 181, 8 Illus. ISBN 1-853999-230-5. £30.00.”. Journal Of Roman Studies 83 (1993): 206-207. doi:10.2307/301002.
  • Stevenson, Tom. “The ‘Problem’ With Nude Honorific Statuary And Portraits In Late Republican And Augustan Rome”. Greece And Rome 45, no. 1 (1998): 45-69. doi:10.1093/gr/45.1.45.
  • Suetonius. The Lives Of The First Twelve Cæsars, Translated From The Latin Of C. Suetonius Tranquillus: With Annotations, And A Review Of The Government And Literature Of The Different Periods. By Alexander Thomson, M.D. Reprint, London: Printed for G.G. and J. Robinson, 1796.
  • Syme, Ronald. The Roman Revolution, 1960. Print
  • Tacitus, Cornelius. The Complete Works Of Tacitus. Reprint, Digireads, 2013.
  • Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew. “Image And Authority In The Coinage Of Augustus”. Journal Of Roman Studies 76 (1986): 66-87. doi:10.2307/300366.

[1] Karl Galinsky, The Cambridge Companion To The Age Of Augustus (repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

[2] Suetonius, The Lives Of The First Twelve Cæsars, Translated From The Latin Of C. Suetonius Tranquillus: With Annotations, And A Review Of The Government And Literature Of The Different Periods. By Alexander Thomson, M.D (repr., London: Printed for G.G. and J. Robinson, 1796).

[3] J. S Richardson, Augustan Rome 44 BC To AD 14 (repr., Edinburgh: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012).

[4] J. S Richardson, Augustan Rome 44 BC To AD 14 (repr., Edinburgh: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012).

[5] J. C Edmondson, Augustus (repr., Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014).

[6] Santangelo, Max, “Augustus’s Portrait Archetype: The Role of the Visual Arts in the Transition from Republic to Empire” (2017). Senior Capstone Theses. 28

[7] Syme, Ronald. The Roman Revolution, 1960. Print

[8] Tom Stevenson, “The ‘Problem’ With Nude Honorific Statuary And Portraits In Late Republican And Augustan Rome”, Greece And Rome 45, no. 1 (1998): 45-69, doi:10.1093/gr/45.1.45.

[9] Clemente Marconi, The Oxford Handbook Of Greek And Roman Art And Architecture (repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

[10] Clemente Marconi, The Oxford Handbook Of Greek And Roman Art And Architecture (repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

[11] Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, “Image And Authority In The Coinage Of Augustus”, Journal Of Roman Studies 76 (1986): 66-87, doi:10.2307/300366.

[12]  Cornelius Tacitus, The Complete Works Of Tacitus (repr., Digireads, 2013).

[13] Karl Galinsky, The Cambridge Companion To The Age Of Augustus (repr., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

[14]  J. S Richardson, Augustan Rome 44 BC To AD 14 (repr., Edinburgh: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012).

[15] Alison Sharrock, “A. Powell (Ed.), Roman Poetry And Propaganda In The Age Of Augustus (London Classical Society III). Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1992. Pp. Ix + 181, 8 Illus. ISBN 1-853999-230-5. £30.00.”, Journal Of Roman Studies 83 (1993): 206-207, doi:10.2307/301002.

[16] Werner Eck, Deborah Lucas Schneider and Sarolta A Takcs, Age Of Augustus (repr., Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2012).

[17] Werner Eck, Deborah Lucas Schneider and Sarolta A Takcs, Age Of Augustus (repr., Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2012).

[18] Santangelo, Max, “Augustus’s Portrait Archetype: The Role of the Visual Arts in the Transition from Republic to Empire” (2017). Senior Capstone Theses. 28

[19] Santangelo, Max, “Augustus’s Portrait Archetype: The Role of the Visual Arts in the Transition from Republic to Empire” (2017). Senior Capstone Theses. 28

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