The Age of Augustus | Roman Architecture | Second edition | (Part-02)

The Age of Augustus | Roman Architecture | Second edition | (Part-02)

The Age of Augustus | Roman Architecture | Second edition | (Part-01)


In 28 bc at a time when he was much influenced by the trappings of Hellenistic monarchy Octavian, as he then was, began building his own mausoleum, an enormous cylindrical structure, 87 metres in diameter and about 45 metres high, covered with a mound of earth (tumulus). The burial chamber, formed by the innermost of five concentric walls, held the cinerary urns of Augustus, his relatives, and friends. The mausoleum is described as having a bronze statue of Augustus on top with a large grove behind (Strabo, Geo. 5.3.8). It stood in an isolated position with 300 metres of open parkland between it and Augustus’ horologium (sundial) to the south. The gnomon of the sundial was the sixth century bc obelisk of Psammetticus II which now stands in front of Palazzo Montecitorio. Part of the meridian line which indicated the day of the month was discovered in a nearby cellar in 1979. The Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace), now re-erected on a new site alongside the Mausoleum of Augustus, was originally built adjacent to the Via Lata (Via del Corso) facing west towards the horologium. It was vowed in 13 bc on Augustus’ return from his successes in Spain and Gaul and dedicated in 9 bc. The altar itself stood inside a walled precinct. Flanking the west door, are panels showing on the north side the Lupercal with Mars, Faustulus, the twins and the wolf, and on the south Aeneas sacrificing to the Penates at Lavinium with his son Ascanius or Iulus. The processional scene on the south side shows Augustus preceded by lictors and followed by flamines. Then comes Agrippa, who was still alive when the altar was vowed in 13 bc, but died the following year. Next comes his son Gaius, who was to be the heir to Augustus, his daughter Julia, and his stepson Tiberius, the son of Livia, who was in fact to succeed him, and other members of the imperial family. The Ara Pacis is very Classical in feeling, especially the allegorical figures on the short ends, and its very form is inspired by altars like the Altar of the Twelve Gods in the Athenian Agora.

Another project was the completion of the theatre said to have been begun by Julius Caesar (Suet., Caes. 44.1) and built on part of the Circus Flaminius (Figure 3.9). With a diameter of 129.8 metres, it is smaller than the Theatre of Pompey. However, it was built on a restricted site near a bend of the river opposite the Tiber Island. The façade, 32 metres high,7  is of travertine and had 41 bays flanked by half-columns. The lowest storey is Doric, the middle Ionic, and the upper, now occupied by Peruzzi’s early 16th century Palazzo Savelli/Orsini, was a plain wall pierced by rectangular windows and flanked by Corinthian pilasters. This arrangement, with modifications, became the norm in countless theatres and amphitheatres, including the Colosseum. The cavea was supported on a series of alternately radial and annular vaults, which offered great structural stability as well as facilitating access to all parts of the seating. In 17 bc the ludi saeculares (games held once every century) were held there, although the theatre was not finished until 13 bc (Dio, 54.26.1) or 11 bc

Figure 3.9  Rome, Theatre of Marcellus, dedicated in 13 or 11 bc. To the right is the Temple of Apollo in Circo (Sosianus) begun 34 bc and finished before 20 bc.

(Pliny, Nat.Hist. 8.25.65). It was dedicated by Augustus to the memory of his son-in-law, Marcellus. The brick used in the radial passageways was probably Augustan and is one of the earliest examples of its use in the capital.

Outside influences, particularly Eastern and Greek, are a major factor in Augustan art and architecture. It seems that after an early experimental period at the beginning of his principate Augustus had determined that Classical and Hellenistic architecture and art was to be his model. One reason for the powerful influence which Augustan architecture exerted upon later periods is that Augustus used only the best materials for his building programme, which may explain his boast that he ‘found Rome of brick and left it in marble’ (Suet., Aug. 28.3). Under Augustus a flourishing marble trade was established and it soon extended throughout the Empire. The trade, not only in marble but also in statues and architectural elements, explains the later rapid diffusion of sculptural and architectural styles throughout the Empire.

Augustus’ greatest monument in Rome, the Forum Augustum (Figures 3.2, 3.10, and 3.11), was the second of the Imperial Fora, dominated by the enormous Temple of Mars Ultor and paid for ex manubiis (Figures 3.2, 3.10, and 3.11). It was finished only in 2 bc, although it was vowed at the Battle of Philippi in 42 bc (Suet., Aug. 29.2). According to Macrobius (Sat. 2.4.9), Augustus himself joked about the slowness of the architect. When the forum was actually started is a matter of debate. As it was built ex manubiis, it has been argued that it must date to after his Spanish and German Wars. A date in the last decade bc, suggested by Strong, is an attractive one because the architectural details of the forum are in very much the same style as the Ara Pacis, which was inaugurated in 9 bc.8 He is said to have built it because the existing two law courts were unable to cope with the increasing number of lawsuits caused by population increase. Public prosecutions as well as the selection of jurors

Figure 3.10  Rome, Forum of Augustus, showing the surviving columns of the Temple of Mars Ultor.

also took place there (Suet., Aug. 29.1). Because it was dominated by the Temple of Mars the senate met there to decide upon declarations of war or claims for triumphs (Figure 3.11). It was also the place where military governors set off and where they deposited triumphal trophies when they returned. Like the Forum Julium the open space is bordered by colonnades, except that in the Forum Augustum the 115-metre-long long colonnades run along two sides only and have no columns down the middle. The open space is 50 metres wide, compared to the 45 metres of the Forum Julium, but only 78 metres long from the foot of the staircase to the end wall on the SW side, compared to c. 110 metres in the case of the Forum Julium. This may explain the statement that the forum is rather constricted (angustius) because Augustus was unable to purchase all the land he wanted in order to lay it out (Suet., Aug. 56.2), although the statement is usually explained in terms of the irregularities on the NE side behind the Temple of Mars Ultor. Augustus did not want to offend people by demolishing private property as Julius Caesar had (Dio, 43.49). That did not, however, prevent him from building the high wall of Gabine stone behind the Temple of Mars Ultor, which is such a striking feature of his forum today.

The colonnades each side of the forum were supported by cipollino columns, 9.5 metres high with white marble Corinthian capitals and entablature. In the attic were copies of the caryatids of the Erechtheum at Athens, and between each pair were shields with heads of Jupiter Ammon and other divinities (Figure 3.12). The Erechtheum underwent drastic repairs in 27 bc and the circular Temple of Rome and Augustus on the Acropolis, built a few years later, was heavily based on the Erechtheum in its capitals and other details. It would be no surprise if some of these same craftsmen were at work on the Forum of

Figure 3.11  Rome, restored view of the Temple of Mars Ultor, dedicated in 2 bc, and part of the Forum Augustum. (After A. Boethius and J. B. Ward Perkins, Etruscan and Roman Architecture [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970].)


Figure 3.12  Rome. Forum of Augustus, c. 10–2 bc: Caryatids from the flanking colonnades. Photo © Deutsches Archaologisches Institut, Rome/ Hartwig Koppermann. D-DAI-ROM-61.1059.

Augustus. Cipollino half-columns flanked a row of niches in the back wall of the porticoes and around two curved exedras, 40 metres wide. In the niches of the NW exedra stood large statues of Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius, and in the opposite exedra was a statue of Romulus. In the niches on Aeneas’ side were statues of members of the Julian gens and the kings of Alba Longa, while on Romulus’ side were great men of the Republic. Augustan propaganda was, as ever, stressing the duality of Rome’s foundation by Romulus, prefigured centuries before by Aeneas, and their divine links with Mars and Venus, foundress of the Julian gens. Thus the Empire under Augustus was the logical conclusion to the Republic. Augustus himself presided over this portrait gallery in the form of a bronze statue on a pedestal in the middle of the forum. The two curved exedras provided a ‘discreet cross-accent’9 shown to be less discreet by the latest excavations (1998–2000), which seem to have turned up evidence for another exedra on the NW side, 30 metres wide. Meneghini has supplied a corresponding one on the SE side.10

The forum was dominated by the enormous Temple of Mars on its NE side, measuring 36 × 50 metres overall, with 8 × 8 white marble columns, 17.8 metres (60 Roman feet) high, the largest class of Roman column. The columns did not run around all four sides of the temple because it was built against the back wall of the forum. Even in the Temple of Mars Ultor the Corinthian Order has not yet achieved full orthodoxy. The modillions still have a Hellenistic S-shaped profile (Figure 3.13b). In the pediment was a statue of Mars flanked to left and right by Venus and Fortuna; in the left corner was a seated Romulus and a reclining personification of the Palatine; and in the right corner was the goddess Roma and the Tiber god. A double order of columns lined the walls of the cella and the floor was richly paved in pavonazzetto, africano, and giallo antico. At the end was an apse in which stood statues of Mars, Venus and perhaps Divus Julius. Augustus placed the Parthian standards in the temple and later a colossal statue of Nero the same size as that of Mars was put there to commemorate his successes against the Parthians (Tacitus, Ann. 13.8.1). Not surprisingly, the Forum Augustum was regarded by Pliny as one of the three most beautiful buildings in Rome (Nat.Hist. 36.24.102).

Whereas Hellenistic Greece had been a powerful influence in late Republican architecture11  fashionable Augustan buildings incorporated ideas first from Egypt and later on from Classical Greece. Hellenistic Greek orders had been used in Roman buildings since the late second century bc, and even in the early Augustan period Vitruvius could recommend either a Doric or Ionic entablature above a Corinthian column (de Arch. 4.1.2), seen, for example, in the Arch of Augustus (25 bc) at Augusta Praetoria (Aosta), with its Doric entablature over Corinthian columns. However Vitruvius was a traditionalist and his book does not take into account the changes that had been taking place in the 20 years before he published it. Some early Augustan buildings featured a Corinthian entablature based upon the Ionic but with a bracket or modillion placed under the cornice, an early example being the Arch at Ariminum (Rimini) of 27 bc. However, the modillion had appeared in the early first century bc in Roman stucco and wall-paintings, such as those in the House of the Griffins on the Palatine. According to D.E. Strong, the orthodox Corinthian entablature was created by an architect or architects working on Julius Caesar’s building programme or shortly afterwards:

The general form of the entablature which was to become the orthodox Corinthian of the Roman Empire was … created, like so much more in Roman art and architecture, between the death of Julius Caesar [44 BC] and the Battle of Actium [31 bc].12

Although the general form of the Corinthian entablature had been created in the first century bc, the refinement of the order continued throughout the Augustan period. Strong

Figure 3.13  Modillions: (a) the lower order of the Basilica Paulli, Rome; (b) the Temple of Mars Ultor, Rome; (c) the Temple of Concord, Rome; (d) the north doorway of the Erechtheum, Athens.


Figure 3.14  The Corinthian Order of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, Rome. (A. Desgodetz, Les édifices antiques de Rome, Paris, 1682, p. 129).

Figure 3.15  Rome, Temple of Concord, dedicated in ad 10; cornice fragment, now in the Tabularium.

common feature in the Republic, but by the end of the Augustan period they were usually carved from one block. The lower half of the bell was decorated with a row of 16 acanthus leaves alternately high and low. The overlapping lobes of the leaves formed pear-shaped cavities, while in later Corinthian capitals the cavities became wedge-shaped and near vertical. From the leaves sprang the cauliculi to support the volutes which ran up to the corners of the abacus. From the same cauliculi sprang the helices, which were unusual in this case because they interlocked. The abacus was decorated, a fairly uncommon feature later on, but frequent in this period. It is worthwhile to examine the entablature too, as the temple of Castor may be regarded as the first fully orthodox Corinthian Roman temple. The architrave was divided into three horizontal fascias by elaborate mouldings. Above the plain frieze were the dentils, framed by egg-and-tongue below and cyma reversa above. The corona, supported by the scrolled modillions, was richly decorated and capped by an unadorned sima with lions-head spouts at intervals along its length.

The Temple of Concord is the last great monument of the Augustan period. First built in 367 bc to celebrate the reconciliation between patricians and plebeians, Tiberius undertook in 7 bc to rebuild the temple with the spoils from Germany (Dio, 55.8.2). However, it was built so lavishly that it was not completed until ad 10 when, like the Temple of Castor, it was dedicated in the name of Tiberius and his brother, Drusus (Suet., Tib. 20). It occupied a cramped site at the foot of the Capitoline hill with the result that it had a transverse cella with a porch of six columns facing towards the Forum (Figure 3.5). The cella measured 43.40 × 22.7 metres, almost a double square. Windows in the walls provided good lighting to show off Tiberius’ collection of famous Greek sculptures which filled the temple. Part of the cornice, now housed in the Tabularium (Figure 3.15), shows how rich the mouldings were, so rich that for a time they were thought to have belonged to a later rebuilding. Above the architrave and frieze was a row of dentils capped with an egg and tongue moulding. The corona was supported by richly decorated double-scroll modillions with coffered panels in the soffit between (Figure 3.13c). The sima in this case was decorated with a rich acanthus leaf pattern. The capitals and entablature of both temples came from the same workshop, although a distinction must be drawn between architects, masons and sculptors.14

To recount all the influences of the Augustan period is beyond the scope of this book. Suffice it to say that in this highly formative period of Roman architecture much more was achieved than the evolution of a new architectural order. The sound proportions, good materials and high level of workmanship in Augustan buildings established a tradition of fine building which was to endure until the end of the Roman Empire and beyond.



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