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The Age of Augustus

The Age of Augustus | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The Age of Augustus | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The Age of Augustus | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The age of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor (27 bc–ad 14), represents the coming of age of Roman architecture. During the late Republican period ideas flooding in from Greece and the East altered the appearance of Roman buildings, but their basic layout changed little. It was not until the time of Augustus that these contradictory elements were fused together into a single style of architecture identifiably Roman in character, forged in the massive building programme Augustus undertook in the centre of Rome. However, he was not the first to realise the importance of buildings as a permanent reminder of his achievements. Before turning to Augustus a word should be said about the three great leaders who shaped Rome’s destinies in the earlier first century bc, and who to some extent anticipated Augustus in the imprint they made on the fabric of Rome.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla was appointed dictator with no time limit in 82 bc. It was unusual for the Romans to give so much power to one man, and the appointment set the precedent for the dictatorship of Julius Caesar. With Sulla a new phase in Rome’s building history began, one which foreshadowed the grand building programmes of the emperors.

Now that Rome was under the control of a single individual who had amassed a considerable fortune as a result of his eastern campaigns, a start could be made of redesigning the city as the worthy capital of a great empire. Sulla’s focus was the heart of Rome, the Capitol and the Forum. During the civil wars in 83 bc the Temple of Jupiter had been destroyed and Sulla brought marble columns from the unfinished Olympieion in Athens for the temples on the Capitol (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 36.5.45). Sulla did not live to see the completion of the great temple, which was finally consecrated by Q.

Lutatius Catulus in 69 bc. Sulla also planned to unite the two peaks of the Capitol by building the so-called Tabularium which still dominates the Roman Forum (Figure. 3.1 and 12.2). It was 70 metres high, built of Gabine stone with superimposed orders and with pavilion vaults used internally. It too was left for Catulus to complete. Sulla also restored and enlarged the old Curia Hostilia in 80 bc (Dio, 40.50.3).

After the death of Sulla in 78 bc Pompey began his rise to power and by 70 bc was all powerful in Rome. In 55 bc, after years of senatorial opposition to permanent theatres, the Theatre of Pompey was completed, its opening accompanied by lavish games. It was a new type of civic building, a totally integrated and unified structure, independent of its surroundings because of its exploitation of concrete vaulting.1 It belonged to the largest category of theatre, 150 metres (500 Roman feet) wide, a size never subsequently exceeded. One of the methods Pompey used to disarm the criticism of his opponents was to place the theatre under the protection of Venus Victrix, whose temple he built at the top of the cavea (seating area), claiming that the cavea was merely seating subordinate to the temple (Tertullian, de Spect. 10.5). The cavea seems to have been supported on alternately annular and radial vaults like the later Theatre of Marcellus. Today it is entirely embedded within the later fabric of Rome,


Figure 3.1  Rome, Tabularium, c. 78 bc

although its outline is visible from the air. Some of its passageways are accessible from the basements of the buildings later incorporated into it. The complex is known to have been lavishly decorated with statues, especially the enormous quadriporticus behind it, measuring 180 × 135 metres, which was filled with famous paintings by Greek artists (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 35.11.40). Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 bc in a hall opening off this portico (Suet., Caes. 80). The theatre and quadriporticus together covered an area greater than that of the Forum of Trajan. Perhaps this was what Tertullian meant when he said that ‘only his theatre was greater [than Pompey]’ (Tertullian, de Spect. 10.5). Even after two other large theatres had been built in Rome the Theatre of Pompey remained the largest and most celebrated, sometimes being referred to simply as ‘the theatre’.

Julius Caesar defeated Pompey in the Battle of Pharsalus (48 bc) and as a result was appointed dictator for ten years. He was the first to have had an overall vision for Rome and to have made the first ambitious plans for its urban development. Little of that vision was realised because of his untimely assassination in 44 bc, and as a result many of his projects were completed by his adopted son, Augustus. One of his unaccomplished projects was to divert the Tiber from the Pons Mulvius (Milvian bridge) along the Vatican Hill and to build over the Campus Martius. The Vatican plain was to be a sort of Campus Martius (Cicero, Att. 13.33a). In 54 bc he planned to replace the old voting place in the Campus Martius, the Ovile (‘sheep pen’), with a grand new building, the Saepta Julia, with a colonnade a thousand paces long (Cicero, Att. 4.17.7). He also had plans to drain the Pontine marshes and to build a new theatre rising up to the Tarpeian rock. The Circus Maximus, which must have been a very simple affair in the Republican period, may have been given its canonical shape with two long sides and a semicircular end (sphendone) by Julius Caesar (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 36.24.102). In 33 bc Agrippa added the eggs and dolphins to count the laps (Dio, 49.43.2).

By the Augustan period the Circus Maximus measured 621 × 118 metres and could hold 150,000 spectators (Dion. Hal., Ant.Rom. 3.68.2–3).

Julius Caesar also began extensive alterations to the Forum. The monumental centre of Rome had grown haphazardly for the first three centuries of the Roman Republic and gradually two distinct areas evolved (Figure 1.14): the Forum, a long tapering rectangle running roughly east/west, whose sides were defined by the Basilica Fulvia/Aemilia (179 bc) and the Basilica Sempronia (169 bc), and a smaller area to the north around the Comitium and Curia (senate-house). The Comitium, where the popular assembly met, was an open area dominated by the Curia Hostilia and nearby was the Basilica Porcia built in 184 bc.

The Rostra, on which were hung the prows of the ships captured at the Battle of Antium (338 bc), faced both the forum area and the comitium. In a letter written to Atticus in 54 bc (Att. 4.17.7) Cicero mentions that Caesar had recently spent 60,000,000 sesterces acquiring land to lay out a new forum (Figure 3.2). The Forum Julium is a rectangular enclosure, dominated on its NW side by the temple of Venus Genetrix, the mother of Aeneas and founder of the Julian family (Figure 3.3). Architecturally the forum is a fusion of Hellenistic and Roman.

The open space, measuring 45 × 124 metres, surrounded by an E-shaped stoa 16 metres wide, was inspired by Hellenistic civic architecture of the type found in the Sanctuary of Athena at Pergamum (Figure 11.7) and the North Agora at Miletus (Figure 11.8). The main difference is that, unlike in Hellenistic complexes, the temple was axially dominant. As the complex encroached upon the area of the comitium, Julius Caesar began to build a new senate-house, to be called the Curia Julia, south of the old Curia Hostilia which had burnt down in the riots of 52 bc (Dio, 44.5.1–2).

In conjunction with this he rebuilt the Rostra, inaugurated in 44 bc, in a new position at the west end of the Forum (Figures 3.4 and 3.5). On the south side of the Forum he began building the Basilica Julia to occupy the site of the Basilica Sempronia. On the north side of the Forum the aedile L. Aemilius Paullus used money from Caesar to begin rebuilding the Basilica Fulvia, henceforth called the Basilica Paulli. The work was well

Figure 3.2  Rome, Imperial fora: plan.


Figure 3.3  Rome, Forum of Julius Caesar, showing the columns of the flanking porticoes, and three columns of the Temple of Venus Genetrix. Planned c. 54 bc and completed by Augustus. Rebuilt by Trajan.

Figure 3.4  Rome, Forum Romanum looking SE. From left to right:

(foreground) Arch of Septimius Severus, steps of the Rostra with the column of Phocas behind, Basilica Julia, Temple of Saturn and Temple of Vespasian and Titus; (middle distance) the podium of the Temple of Deified Julius Caesar; (to the right of it) the three columns of the small circular Temple of Vesta, the three columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Palatine Hill; (far distance) the Arch of Titus.

Figure 3.5  Rome, Forum Romanum: plan.

advanced by 54 bc (Cicero, Att. 4.17.7), but it was dedicated only in 34 bc by his son, Lucius Aemilius Lepidus Paullus, who was consul that year (Dio, 49.42.2).

Gaius Octavius, born into a wealthy equestrian branch of the gens Octavia in 63 bc, was the great nephew of Julius Caesar. He was adopted into the Julian family upon the death of Julius Caesar and became known as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. After their victory in the Battle of Philippi (42 bc) against the conspirators who had killed Julius Caesar, Octavian and Mark Antony became the two most powerful Romans. However, Antony’s involvement with Cleopatra brought about a split between the two victors, and the defeat of Antony at Actium in 31 bc assured Octavian unchallenged control over Rome’s destinies. After his triumphant return to Rome in 29 bc he set about establishing that control on a more permanent footing, yet avoiding the overt dictatorship which had cost Julius Caesar his life. He claimed to have restored the Republic (Mon.Anc. 34) and chose to be called ‘princeps’, or first citizen, while subtly concentrating all power into his own hands. After taking the honorific title Augustus, in 27 bc he dominated the Roman state until his death in ad 14. He was later honoured as the first Roman Emperor, having established a system of government that was to last for more than 300 years and endure in one form or another for nearly one and a half millennia.

The style in which the emperor is said to have lived was simple, if not austere (Suet., Aug. 73). To the amazement of Suetonius he reputedly slept in the same room for 40 years and when he wanted to be alone retreated to his study, which he called ‘Syracuse’ because Archimedes had a similar one. At first he lived near the Roman Forum in the house of the orator Calvus and later moved to a modest house on the Palatine that had formerly belonged to the orator Hortensius, which he acquired in 41–40 bc (Suet., Aug. 72). This may be the house commonly called the ‘House of Livia’, which had an atrium on the SE side with small cells underneath for the household slaves and four rooms on the NW side, all with frescoes belonging to c. 30 bc. On the other side of the street running along the SW side of the house are the remains of a small tufa peristyle. Below is a lower terrace with a complex of rooms, decorated in the Second style, which are older than those in the ‘House of Livia’. Augustus bought further land intending to extend the house, but because it was struck by lightning after the Battle of Naulochus against Sextus Pompey (36 bc) he vowed to build a Temple of Apollo there. Completed in 28 bc (Dio, 53.1.3), the temple was considered one of the most magnificent Augustan buildings (Velleius Paterculus, 2.81). It was hexastyle pseudo-peripteral with Corinthian columns of white Carrara marble almost 50 Roman feet (14.85 metres) high, standing on a podium measuring approximately 24 × 45 metres. Nearby was a portico of Numidian marble with statues of the 50 Danaids, and opposite a Greek and a Latin library large enough for meetings of the senate (Suet., Aug. 29).

The emperor’s activities spanned practically every aspect of Roman life, but like Sulla, Pompey and Julius Caesar before him, he recognised the importance of buildings as permanent reminders of his legacy. As a result he did more than any of his predecessors to add to the splendour of the capital. His building programme is described in the Res gestae, an account of the achievements of his reign, which was inscribed on two bronze pillars set up in front of his mausoleum. The pillars have long gone, but a copy was engraved onto the walls of the Temple of Augustus and Rome at Ancyra (Ankara). In it he records:

I built the Curia [Julia, 29 bc] … the Temple of Divine Julius [29 bc] … I completed the Forum Julium and the Basilica [Julia] … I rebuilt eighty-two temples of the gods in the city during my sixth consulship [28 bc] in accordance with a decree of the senate … On [my] private land I built the Temple of Mars Ultor and the Forum of Augustus from the spoils of war … I built the theatre which was to bear the name of my son-in-law M. Marcellus.

(Mon.Anc. 4.19–211)

During the 40 years of his reign Augustus practically rebuilt the monumental centre of Rome, and his ambitious building programme almost certainly resulted in a major influx of foreign craftsmen and architects.

The old Republican magistracies, such as the censorship, were unsuited to carrying out Imperial building projects because the terms of office were too short to plan large-scale works. Besides, the censors were amateurs without a professional staff of advisors.2 In order to implement his programme Augustus had to make a number of administrative reforms. He created the 14 regions of Rome and placed a magistrate in charge of each. In 31 bc he personally took charge of the road building programme, and in 20 bc, to mark the terminus of all roads, had the Golden Milestone (miliarium aureum) erected near the Temple of Saturn in the Forum (Tacitus, Hist. 1.27). It was a column sheathed in gilt bronze on which the names of the principal cities of the Empire and their distance from Rome may have been inscribed. In the same year he set up the first of his curatorial boards, dealing with roads. He also established a board of commissioners to administer Roman construction, as well as commissioners of public buildings and sacred shrines, of aqueducts, and for the upkeep of the banks and bed of the Tiber (Suet., Aug. 37). The emperor was also concerned about fire danger (Suet., Aug. 30.1) and established a new height limit of 70 feet (20.72 metres) for buildings erected along the public ways (Strabo, Geo. 5.3.7). In 6 bc he appointed street commissioners and put them in charge of the slaves who had formerly worked under the aediles to put out fires

Figure 3.6  Rome, Forum Romanum, looking north. From left to right: (foreground) Basilica Julia, the three columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, Temple of Deified Julius Caesar, with the small circular Temple of Vesta in front, and the Regia, under the roofing; (middle ground) Arch of Septimius Severus, Curia Julia, Basilica Paulli, part of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina; (in the distance) Trajan’s Column (behind the Curia), three columns of the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus.


(Dio, 55.8). He cleaned the Tiber channel which had been choked by rubbish and encroaching houses (Suet., Aug. 30.1), and paved the Via Flaminia as far as Ariminum (Rimini), encouraging others to follow his example.

The Augustan system survived with modification throughout the Empire, but gradually more control came into the hands of the emperor. The growth of imperial palaces and villas meant that the emperors commanded an increasingly large staff of architects and masons to maintain them. From the time of Claudius, who took a personal interest in maintenance works, the boards operated with imperial rather than senatorial authority. Imperial control became even more direct under Nero, who took charge of the rebuilding of the city after the great fire. The Opera Caesaris, established under the Flavians, became a powerful office involved in the whole field of public works. Under Domitian, who built on an unparallelled scale, it became the dominating influence in Roman architecture. By the time of Trajan all building projects had to be referred to the emperor, who had a large staff to deal with all aspects of building and planning. The emperors had by then taken complete control of one of the most vital instruments of propaganda.

Augustus also urged leading citizens to embellish the city with monuments (Suet., Aug. 4–5). He himself restored the Theatre of Pompey, but stipulated that the name of Pompey was to remain, although usually a building was renamed after the person who paid for the restoration. In 42 bc the rebuilding of the Temple of Saturn was started by Munatius Plancus, an Antony supporter, in honour of his triumph over the Alpine people (Figures 3.4 and 12.2). In 36 bc C. Domitius Calvinus, who had supported Octavian, rebuilt the Regia, which had recently burnt down. In 34 bc the Temple of Apollo was rebuilt by G. Sosius, although he too had supported Antony. This was a particularly splendid temple whose cella could boast a statue of the dying children of Niobe, a work of either Scopas or Praxiteles (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 36.4.28). Statilius Taurus built the first stone amphitheatre in Rome, which he inaugurated in 29 bc. However, it was not used for great spectacles and Caligula found it inadequate, probably because it was too small (Dio, 59.10.5). It was burnt down in the fire of ad 64. Gladiatorial games were commonly held in the Roman Forum until fire damage caused them to be transferred to the Saepta Julia in 7 bc. Augustus projected an amphitheatre in the middle of the city (Suet., Vesp. 9.1), but he never built it, perhaps because he wanted to avoid large-scale confiscations of the type that Nero later made.3  In 33 bc L. Cornificius agreed to rebuild the Temple of Diana of the Plebs on the Aventine. It was an old temple and the most important on the Aventine, built in imitation of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Martial, Epigr. 7.73.1, 12.18.3). It is shown on the Marble plan (frag. 22) as octastyle dipteral and set within a temenos surrounded by a double colonnade.4  Asinius Pollio rebuilt the Atrium Libertatis, which contained the offices of the censors, and in it installed the first public library in Rome which contained a magnificent collection of statuary (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 35.2.10). L. Cornelius Balbus celebrated the dedication of his new theatre with spectacles (13 bc), but because the Tiber had flooded he was unable to enter it except in a boat (Dio, 54.25.2).

The Porticus Metelli, built after 146 bc to enclose the temples of Juno Regina (179 bc) and Jupiter Stator (131 bc), was rebuilt not long before 23 bc and named after Octavia, the sister of Augustus. This new Porticus Octaviae is not to be confused with the nearby (unexcavated) Porticus Octavia, which was originally built by Cnaeus Octavius in 168 bc and called the ‘Corinthian’ because of its double colonnade with bronze capitals (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 34.7,13). The Porticus Octaviae, measuring 119 × 132 metres, continued to enclose the two temples, both of which were rebuilt along with the porticus. The architects of the complex were two Spartans, called Sauras (lizard) and Batrachos (frog), and on the base of the columns they had a lizard and a frog sculpted (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 36.4.42). There is a space of only 2.4 metres between the porticus and the Theatre of Marcellus, showing that the theatre took up the maximum space possible. The surviving remains of the gateway, which had four freestanding and two engaged Corinthian columns, belong to a Severan rebuilding of ad 203. In 29 bc Marcius Philippus restored the Temple of Hercules and the Muses in the Circus Flaminius and built a porticus around it (Tacitus, Ann. 3.72). It is shown as being adjacent to the Porticus Octaviae on the Marble plan (frag. 31).5

Augustus went far beyond Julius Caesar in rebuilding the centre of Rome. The old Roman Forum had been transformed over the centuries from being the focus of a moderate-sized city to the hub of a great empire where all the main institutions of the city were concentrated (Figure 3.5). During the principate of Augustus this highly significant part of Rome was radically transformed. Early in his reign, he completed the Basilica Julia which Julius Caesar began in 54 bc (Figure 3.6). The basilica served as the court of the Centumviri, the Chancery court, whose 180 members sat in four panels and dealt with matters of wills and inheritance. The building was 101 metres long and 49 metres wide and its NE side opened onto the Forum. Internally it had a large central area surrounded on all four sides by two aisles. The central area was divided into four separate courts by partitions, which could be removed when a more important case required the whole area (Pliny the Younger, Epist. 6.33). The building was damaged by fire in 12 bc and had to be rebuilt once again. This time Augustus dedicated it in the name of his two grandsons, Gaius and Lucius, whom he hoped to be heirs to the Empire (Mon.Anc. 4.20). However, the old name, Basilica Julia, persisted.

The building was once again burnt by fire in ad 283 and the present brick arcading belongs to a reconstruction by Diocletian.

In 29 bc Augustus celebrated a triple triumph after the battle of Actium and dedicated the Curia Julia and the Temple of Deified Julius Caesar which had been vowed in 42 bc. Sulla’s curia had been replaced by his son, Faustus. That building too had been destroyed and the Curia Julia was begun by Julius Caesar to replace it (Dio, 44.5.1–2). The present building dates to the time of Diocletian, who rebuilt it in brick-faced concrete, but the original Curia Julia appears to have had a similar ground plan (Figure 3.6). As rebuilt by Diocletian, it is a very tall building externally, 31.6 metres high to the top of its gable, in which was placed a winged Victory on a globe. The lower part of the façade with its great bronze door in the middle was veneered in marble and the upper part with its three large windows was covered in stucco moulded to imitate marble ashlar masonry. Recent excavations have disproved the theory that the Curia formed part of a larger complex of buildings, but there does seem to have been a colonnade in front of the building. In the interior of the building, which measured 17.61 × 25.20 metres × 21 metres high, were three rows of broad shallow steps paved in pavonazzetto on each side, on which could have been placed seats for about 300 senators. At the far end was a podium for the speaker and a statue-base, presumably for the statue of Victory which Augustus brought from Tarentum and placed in the Curia (Dio, 51.22.1–2). The floor paving, in opus sectile, dates to the fourth century ad and is considered a fine example of its type.

The temple of Julius Caesar, begun in 42 bc (Dio, 47.18.4) and dedicated in 29 bc, was erected on the spot where Julius Caesar’s body was cremated in 44 bc (Figures. 3.4– 3.6). In the middle of the podium, which rose a sheer 3.5 metres from the ground, was a semicircular recess containing a circular altar which corresponded to the cremation place. As there was no frontal staircase, the podium was used as a rostra or speaker’s platform and hung with the prows of the ships captured from Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium (31 bc). This would have been the family rostra of the Julian family from which private funerary orations would have been given. It faced the public rostra, hung with the prows of the ships captured at the Battle of Antium (338 bc) at the other end of the Forum (Figure 3.4). This would have reminded the populace of the glories of the old Republic and the more recent triumphs of the restored Republic under its new leader, Augustus.

In 14 bc a fire consumed the Basilica Paulli along with the row of shops in front of it and spread to the nearby Temple of Vesta (Figure 3.6). Ostensibly the basilica was rebuilt at the expense of a certain Aemilius Paullus, but in reality the project was financed by Augustus and friends of Paullus (Dio, 54.24). Another Aemilius Lepidus Paullus undertook to restore and decorate the Basilica Paulli at his own expense in ad 22 (Tacitus, Ann. 3.72). This restoration seems to have consisted mainly of reinforcing the upper order with wooden beams from column to column. The nave columns on both levels were of africano or Lucullan marble, the lower order Ionic and the upper Corinthian. Sections of the entablature have been reconstructed and placed on view. The central nave was paved in Numidian yellow (giallo antico), Carystian green (cipollino), Phrygian white and purple (pavonazzetto), black, grey and red breccia (africano) and pinkish grey breccia (portasanta). There were also statues of barbarians, alternately in giallo antico and pavonazzetto. The building must have been an extremely rich one and this may be the reason that Pliny (Nat.Hist. 36.24.102) places it among the three most beautiful buildings of his day. The shops in front of the basilica, which were also burnt in the fire of 14 bc, were rebuilt as a magnificent two-storey porticus of 15 bays, dedicated in 2 bc to Gaius and Lucius, the grandsons of Augustus. The Doric arcade and triglyph frieze of the lower storey was drawn by Sangallo in about 1480 (Figure 3.7). The

Figure 3.7  Rome, Basilica Paulli, after 14 bc. Drawing by Giuliano da Sangallo. (By courtesy of the German Archaeological Institute, Rome).

porticus must have masked the basilica, although three doors connected the two buildings. At the SE end a small arch projected from the porticus towards the Temple of Julius Caesar on the opposite side of the Via Sacra. The large, beautifully lettered inscription naming Lucius presumably belonged to this arch.

On the other side of the Temple of Julius Caesar stood the Arch of Augustus, built in 19 bc to replace an earlier arch built on the same spot in 29 bc after the victory at Actium. It celebrated the Parthian victory of Augustus in which he recovered the legionary standards lost by M. Crassus in the Battle of Carrhae (53 bc). Although the new arch (Figure 3.8) was larger and had three openings, it is unusual when compared to later triple arches, because the flanking openings had horizontal entablatures capped by pediments and only the central opening was arched. There were two statues of Parthians over the pediments, and a statue of Augustus in a quadriga over the central opening. Near the arch were found the Fasti Consulares or lists of Roman consuls dating back to the beginning of the Republic (now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome). They were engraved on marble panels which originally fitted into the sides of the minor openings of the arch. These lists emphasised Augustus’ claim that the Republic was being perpetuated under his rule. The positioning of these three monuments, the temple and the two arches, is not accidental.6 In the centre is the Temple of Julius Caesar, to whom Augustus owed his claim to power. On the SW side of the Temple is the Arch of Augustus, the present ruler, which shows his victory at Actium, his defeat of the Parthians and through the Fasti Consulares his position as defender of the Republic. Finally, on the NE side of the temple is the arch of Gaius and Lucius, the heirs presumptive.

Figure 3.8  Rome, Arch of Augustus, 19 bc: restored elevation.


Much of Augustus’ building programme was carried out by Marcus Agrippa, a close friend of Augustus who had fought alongside him in the civil wars. He later became his son-in-law when he married the emperor’s daughter, Julia, in 21 bc. After the Battle of Actium Agrippa was rewarded with an estate (horti) in the western part of the Campus Martius, which he linked to another estate he owned on the other side of the river by means of a bridge. On the Campus Martius estate he built a rambling bath complex, which measured a comparatively modest 70 × 120 metres. Its exact appearance is unknown because it was replaced by the present Severan structure of which the best-known element is the circular domed hall part of which survives in Via del Ciambello. He also drained the marshy land west of the Saepta, the Palus Capreae, where Romulus disappeared, and in its place built a lake (stagnum) supplied with water by the Aqua Virgo. Also on his estate he built the Basilica of Neptune and the first Pantheon (29–19 bc), facing each other across a circular pavement, parts of which have been found under the floor of the Hadrianic Pantheon. The Pantheon was perhaps a dynastic monument associated with the gens Julia because it contained statues of Mars, Venus and Divus Julius. The earrings of the statue of Venus were made from one of the famous pearls of Cleopatra. However, some think that Agrippa’s Pantheon was a temple of Mars, a twin of the Basilica or Temple of Neptune (Dio, 53.27.1, 66.24.2), which together represented Agrippa’s victories on land and sea. In 26 bc Agrippa completed and adorned with marbles and pictures the Saepta Julia in the Campus Martius, an enormous enclosure, 310 × 120 metres, designed to accommodate the lines of voters and to replace the old Ovile or ‘sheep pen’ (Varro, Rust. 3.2). Projected by Julius Caesar, but built by M. Aemilius Lepidus (Dio, 53.23.1), it could be used for gladiatorial games (Dio, 55.10.7). Immediately to the south was the Diribitorium, 120 × 43 metres, where the votes cast in the Saepta were counted. Begun by Agrippa and finished by Augustus in 7 bc (Dio, 55.8.3), it was one of the marvels of the city, the largest building in Rome with a timber roof (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 36.24.102).

Although he had already been consul some years before (Dio, 49.43), Agrippa was persuaded in 33 bc to stand as aedile by the then Octavian, who believed that the maintenance of public buildings was being neglected. Agrippa agreed and refused any remuneration. His programme was vast and included repairing the public buildings and the streets. For his work on the aqueducts alone he established a permanent staff which numbered 240 at his death. He repaired the channels of the Aqua Appia, Old Anio and Marcia, which had almost worn out, and provided the City with a large number of fountains (Frontinus, de Aquis 1.9). He also built the Aqua Julia, and the Aqua Virgo which supplied his own baths. He sailed down the cloaca maxima in a boat and did the necessary cleaning. When Agrippa died in 12 bc, he left his estates as well as his baths to Augustus, who opened them to the public.


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


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.