From Republic to Empire: Augustus (27 BCE-14 CE)
The final round of civil wars that followed Caesar's assassination culminated in the battle of Actium in 31 BCE, and victory for Caesar's great-nephew and heir, Octavianus Caesar. Octavian had became sole master of the Roman world, but he wished to rule legitimately. In 27 BCE Octavian formally renounced his supremacy, but was granted perpetual imperium by a Senate and Roman people grateful for the new peace. Significantly, the Senate also granted Octavian tribunicia potestas or the powers of a tribune, enabling him to claim authority as the protector and champion of the Roman people. The Senate also gave Octavian the new name of Augustus, an honorific with holy connotations. Thus Augustus became, in effect, the first Roman emperor (imperator), but he could claim that his power was legitimately bestowed by the Roman Senate and people. Nonetheless, Augustus remained sensitive to Republican sentiment, and was careful to style himself simply as princeps or "leader." By the time of his death in 14 CE, Augustus had fashioned a new imperial system for Rome; one which respected Republican traditions and Senatorial prerogatives, but which concentrated the most important functions of the magistracy in the new supreme office of emperor. Thus, Augustus and his successors slowly accustomed the Romans to the institution of monarchy, transforming Rome from a Republic into an Empire.
[Right image: Ara Pacis Augustae, Rome]
The Imperial Image of Augustus
In keeping with the new era, Augustus and his successors set about transforming the city of Rome into a capital worthy of its Empire. In his autobiography, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, or Achievements of the Divine Augustus, Augustus proudly listed his public works at Rome. Chief amongst them were those buildings that promoted the new Augustan order. The Forum of Augustus celebrated the avenging of Caesar's assassination, as well as Augustus' own triumphs. The statuary of the Forum depicted Augustus as the culmination of his ancestors, the Julii, and of Roman history. The theme of the new dynasty was further reinforced by the massive Mausoleum of Augustus on the Campus Martius. Nearby stood the great Horologion or sundial, which celebrated Augustus' conquest of time and of Egypt. Adjacent was the Ara Pacis Augustae or Altar of Augustan Peace. The Altar celebrated the theme of the peace brought by Augustus, and its associated prosperity and abundance. The historical friezes of the altar enclosure celebrated the concord and piety of Senate, People, and the new ruling family, but the mythological reliefs promoted the rightful claim of Augustus to rule. One relief depicted Aeneas, the father of the Roman people, and also the legendary ancestor of the Julian House. The same theme was taken up by the poet Virgil in the Aeneid, which depicted Augustus as predestined by the gods to rule the world. This image of Augustus as divine imperator is also found in the Prima Porta portrait, which represents the emperor as the savior of the Roman world.
[Left image: Augustus of Prima Porta, Rome, Vatican; Right image: Head of Augustus, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art 07.286.15]
Small Statuette of Venus (Aphrodite) GenetrixSIIAS A 70.7.37; Height 9 1/2 inches
White marble, 1st-2nd century CE
Venus Genetrix holds her garment against her body with her left hand and probably held part of it with her raised right hand. Her son Cupid (Eros) sits on her left shoulder. The incarnation Genetrix was identified with marriage and ideal love. Venus Genetrix was claimed as the ancestral goddess of Augustus, since her son was Aeneas, the legendary founder of the Julian House. Julius Caesar had built a temple dedicated to Venus Genetrix in his new forum, the Forum Iulium. The SIIAS statuette is a miniature version of a type popular in the early empire. A different type of Venus Genetrix is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The Pax Romana: Life in the Roman City
The Pax Romana or Roman Peace maintained by Augustus and his successors was to endure unbroken for nearly 200 years, bringing a new stability and prosperity to the Roman World. The economy of the Empire was overwhelmingly agricultural, and the security of the Pax Romana fostered an expansion of cultivated land unparalleled in some regions until the nineteenth century. At the same time, the unification of the Empire into a single market encouraged manufacturing in glass, ceramics, and other goods, and the development of long-distance trade that transported these goods all over the Empire. These trends encouraged a general increase in population and wealth, but particularly the growth of cities and the prosperity of their elites. Greco-Roman civilization was primarily an urban civilization, and during this period the Greek-speaking polis (cities) in the East and the Latin-speaking civitas (cities) in the West were to flourish as never before. The imperial government ruled the Empire through this network of cities, with imperial or senatorial governors and their staffs residing in the chief city of a province, accompanied by detachments of imperial troops. In the Latin-speaking West cities were founded in newly conquered regions to cement imperial control and to further the process of Romanization. Local adminstration was left largely in the hands of aristocratic landowners, whose families had dominated local affairs for generations. These aristocrats served as decurions or senators in their local city council (Latin curia or Greek boule), and were expected to act as patrons of their cities. Prominent aristocrats endowed their cities with magnificent buildings and amenities in order to win local prestige and to earn the favor of the emperor.
Silver Denarius of the Emperor Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161)SIIAS A 70.7.50
Silver, Roman; said to be from Carthage
Obverse: ANTONINVS PIVS AVG., profile of young Marcus Aurelius wearing laurel wreath
Reverse: INDVLGENTIA AVG., Victoria(?) on a leaping lion
The Antonine dynasty of the 2nd century CE oversaw the final expansion of the Empire and its most prosperous period. The reign of Antoninus Pius was especially peaceful both at home and abroad, and has been regarded by some historians as the zenith of the Pax Romana.
The prosperity of the cities of the early Empire is well represented by objects of every-day life in the SIIAS@CSI Collection. These are largely artifacts that could be found in the well-to-do Roman home. It is difficult to speak of an "ideal" or "typical" house that was common to all Roman citizens. The scale of Roman homes varied according to a family's wealth; from the poorly built hovels of the poor, to multi-storey apartment buildings for urban workers, to the spacious villas of the rich. The atrium-style house was one of the most popular of these types amongst the well-to-do, with rooms arranged around a central court or atrium. Rooms that led directly off the atrium were usually the more public rooms of the residence, and usually included a triclinium or formal dining room in which to entertain family and friends. The more private rooms, such as bedrooms and other family rooms, were usually located to the rear of the complex.
Miniature statuette of Artemis/DianaSIIAS Ax 126.96.36.199
The goddess is depicted in pursuit of the hunt, and was originally armed with a bow, quiver and arrows. This miniature is a version of a statue known from many large scale copies. The production of copies of famous Greek originals was a veritable industry in the early imperial period, and attests to the cultivated tastes of Roman elites.
Statuette of Athena/Minerva or RomaSIIAS A 1752
The goddess is depicted standing, armed with a helmet, shield and spear, in a pose known from larger marble versions.
Fragments of an Egyptianizing Vessel (Situla?)SIIAS A 1718
This unusual vessel attests to the hybrid nature of Greco-Roman culture under the Empire. This vessel may have taken the form of ritual bucket or situla, since it had an open mouth and at least two internal handles on the inner rim. The rim of the vessel is edged with cockrels' heads, while the exterior bears protomes in high relief, taking the forms of male heads. The faces of these heads are in the Greco-Roman manner, but they wear Egyptian-style linen head-dresses. The forms of the male faces recall the Egyptianizing portraits of Antinous, the deified favorite of the emperor Hadrian (117-138). Their appearance on this vessel may suggest its association with the cults of the Egyptian gods in the Roman Empire, notably Isis, Serapis, and Harpocrates.
Appliqué DolphinSIIAS Ax 54-112.11.7
Bronze and iron, 1st or 2nd century CE
This small relief represents a leaping dolphin, a popular theme in Roman sculpture and decorative arts. The dolphin relief is an appliqué, being hollow-cast inside, and still bears traces of an iron dowel to attach it to a surface. It seems likely that this decorative feature was once attached to a piece of furniture, either of bronze or wood, that once graced a Roman home.
Glass bowlsSIIAS A 70-7.38, A 70-7.39;
Green and blue glass, 1st century BCE to early 1st century CE.
Roman glassware is particularly well represented in the SIIAS@CSI Collection. The collection numbers some 48 individual pieces, and spans the period from the 1st century BCE through the 7th century CE into early Byzantine times. Early Roman glass continued the Hellenistic tradition of casting glass vessels in molds. These two cast bowls are typical of their period, being thick-walled, squat vessels, with rod-handles applied to their lip and shoulder. Vessels such as these were used as dishes in Roman homes, and were regularly placed as offerings in graves.
Glass Plate, Flask, and CupSIIAS A66-2.1, .4, .5; Diam: 13 3/4 inches; Height 10 inches; H. 4 1/2 inches
Greenish and colorless glass, 3rd-4th century CE
Said to be from Syria
In the early 1st century CE the new technique of glass-blowing revolutionized the role of glass tableware in the Roman world. Glass-blowing greatly increased production, lowering the cost of glass vessels, and introducing glassware to a far wider market. Glass-making increased rapidly throughout the Empire, and the provinces of Palestine and Syria became major producers. The rich continued to dine off gold and silver plate, but glassware now joined pottery as regular tableware in a well-to-do Roman home. Like fine pottery, glassware immitated the shapes of vessels in other media, but the versatility of glass also enabled the creation of new types.
Chalcedony Finger-ringA 70-7.41
Orange chalcedony, 1st-3rd century CE
This finger-ring gives some idea of the rich jewelry worn by the rich elites of the empire during the early Roman Empire. The ring is carved from the semi-precious stone chalcedony and has a plain bezel.
Piriform UngentariumSIIAS A 1747
Terracotta, red slip. 3rd-4th century CE
As their name implies, unguentaria were used for dispensing unguents or perfume suspended in oil. Their piriform shape, with bulbous bodies and slender necks, were so designed that Roman women could dab or sprinkle themselves with these precious toiletries drop-by-drop. A number of unguentaria of various sizes are represented in the SIIAS@CSI Collection. Some no doubt adorned the dressing tables of Roman ladies; others were probably placed in graves after being used to anoint the dead.
Mold-Made LampsHarold Rome Bequest
A modest collection of some 28 Roman lamps are included in the SIIAS@CSI Collection, spanning the period of the 1st through 6th centuries CE. Olive oil was the principal means of illumination, and so the mass-production of terracotta lamps constituted a major industry. Lamps were made in stone or terracotta molds, with a nozzle for the wick, and a filling hole for oil in the central cup or discus. The discus was often decorated with vegetable or abstract motifs but could also bear figural scenes in relief. That reproduced here depicts the Homeric hero Odysseus tied to the underside of a ram to escape the Cyclops Polyphemus. Lamps often bore the names or symbols of their makers on their bases.
Terracotta, 1st century CE?
This antefix, or finial, probably once edged the tiled roof of a Roman house. The antefix is mold-made and decorated with the grimacing face of the Gorgon Medusa. These gorgoneia were believed to act as apotropiac decorations, preventing the evil eye and misfortune from entering the home.
Mold-Made Lamp decorated with a Gladiatorial ContestSIIAS Ax56.30.28
Harold Rome Bequest
Terracotta, 1st-2nd century CE
The discus of this lamp depicts gladiators (literally "swordsmen") fighting in the arena. Gladiatorial combats appear to have been religious in origin, fought between prisoners-of-war during funeral games. Under the early Empire gladiatorial combats combined public entertainment and the penal system. Condemned criminals and war-captives faced either ritualized execution or could fight for their freedom. By these means, the Roman populace would be both appeased and gratified that justice had been done. Gladiatorial games and wild beast hunts were lavishly sponsored by emperors. The emperors Vespasian and Titus built the Flavian Amphitheater or Colosseum to stage these combats in Rome, and amphitheaters of the same design were built throughout the Roman provinces.
Mold-Made Lamps decorated with EroticaSIIAS Ax56.30.18; Ax56.30.23
Harold Rome Bequest
Terracotta, 1st-2nd century CE
The discii of these lamps are decorated with scenes of sex-acts. The appearance of these scenes on objects as common-place as lamps reflects the prominence of sexuality and its association with fertility in Greco-Roman culture. The worship of Dionysos/Bacchus and Priapus featured orgiastic fertility rites, while the cults of the Syrian deities Atargatis and Adonis practiced ritual prostitution. Such institutionalized promiscuity was to receive severe censure from Christian moralists, who urged Christian emperors to suppress the Pagan cults.
Statuette of a SatyrA 1688 [A54-112.11.6]
Satyrs were creatures of Greek myth, imagined with the upper body of a man and the lower body of a goat. Satyrs were depicted as wild and mischievous by temperament, often accompanying the fertility god Dionysos/Bacchus in his orgiastic revels. This statuette is solid-cast, and illustrates the skill of bronze-workers in rendering a small-scale work in such detail. This figure also illustrates the penetration of Hellenism into Etruscan and Roman culture.
Miniature Statuette of Aphrodite/VenusSIIAS Ax 54-112.11.8
This small figurine represents the goddess of Love emerging from her bath, with a garment covering only the lower part of her body from the hips down and her arms raised arranging her hair. As is so common in the Roman world, this figure combines two different images of Aphrodite/Venus: the Aphrodite Anadyomene who is nude and arranging her hair, and the Aphrodite of Melos, with half draped lower body.
Terracotta, 1st century BCE -- 1st century AC
Amphoras served as the standard transport and storage containers of Antiquity, and therefore constitute important evidence for the Roman economy. Amphoras are regular finds on Roman sites, and entire cargoes of amphoras have been discovered in shipwrecks all over the Mediterranean. The distribution of amphora types has been used to reconstruct trade routes and centers of production. Amphoras were used to convey oil, wine, foodstuffs, and other materials throughout the Roman world as well as the former Greek world.