The Augustan Program of Cultural Renewal (part two)

Paul Zanker


The humble image of Augustus as the togatus making a sacrifice, however, does nothing to conceal the notion that he enjoyed divine powers. This is evident in the statuettes of his Genius, which were worshipped all over in public and private shrines (cf. fig. 26). The Genius of Augustus was also represented as a togatus capite velato. In earlier times the Genius of the pater familias had been thus worshipped in family shrines, so it was natural that this paternalistic ruler should be honored in the same form. In 2 B.C. the Senate and people officially conferred on Augustus, now over sixty, the title pater patriae, at the dedication of the Forum of Augustus. His example set a precedent: princes, aristocrats, worthies in the provincial cities of Italy, freedmen, even outstanding slaves all adopted the image in the pose of sacrificer as a standard type of honorary statue. In the future, the emperor and his family were always the model that inspired imitation.

The new style of Augustan rule was beginning to prevail. The pyramid that was Roman society had a clear and undisputed pinnacle. The emperor and his family set the standard in every aspect of life, from moral values to hairstyles. And this was true not only for the upper classes, but for the whole of society.

The most ambitious from all classes began actively to pursue religious offices. In the new or revived cult activities there were ample opportunities for self-promotion and, at the same time, for showing solidarity with the new state. The princeps need only distribute and regulate the various religious responsibilities. To the equites, for example, he assigned the ancient but now meaningless cult of the Lupercalia.

In this ritual, which was originally meant to insure the protection and fertility of the flocks, a dog was slaughtered and priests, dressed only in a short skirt, ran a course around the Palatine, incidentally beating women with a whip made of goatskin. It is easy to see how this archaic fertility ritual might have seemed ridiculous in a cosmopolitan environment, and, understandably, Augustus forbade adolescents from being present at this event. Here too a priesthood brought with it social recognition. Only recently have honorific statues of luperci from the early Imperial period been identified, combining a classical seminudity, the short skirt, and goatskin whip into a public image that conforms to classicizing aesthetic standards (fig. 21).

fig. 21. Statue of a Lupercus. These priests conducted an archaic ritual clad only in a short skirt and holding a whip made of goat's hide.


Leading freedmen (liberti) found an opportunity for recognition through religious responsibilities in the cultic shrines of their various guilds, but even more importantly as magistri in the cults of the Compitals in the 265 vici (city districts) created by Augustus in 7 B.C. as new administrative units. Earlier, worship at cultic shrines in the individual vici was centered around the Lares, old agricultural tutelary spirits, which were now depicted dancing and holding a cornucopia and were worshipped in pairs as the Lares of the district. Between the two, however, was soon added a togate statue of the Genius Augusti, to which the cult was now primarily directed. Indeed he was the actual preserver and protector of the state. It was not only through his administrative reforms that Augustus was able to revive and systematize the cult of the Lares. He had rebuilt the principal temple of the Lares on the Velia as a model and probably then encouraged the introduction of new cults of the Lares at the central crossroads of the new vici. But the actual construction was undertaken by the inhabitants of each district, particularly by the four magistri and four ministri who were each elected to a one-year term.


The extraordinary achievements of some of the magistri of individual compita in this regard are illustrated by the lavishly decorated marble fragments of a building found in 1932 during construction of the Via dei Fori Imperiali (fig. 22). Built in 5B.C. as the Compitum Acili, as the magistrates who dedicated it proudly refer to themselves, the sanctuary has a dedicatory inscription on which Augustus is named as consul. On the architrave the magistri proudly record their sponsorship of the building (fig. 23).

fig. 22. Compitum Acili. Example of a shrine of the Lares. Reconstruction of the small aedicula.


fig. 23. Compitum Acili. Marble entablature. On the architrave, the names of the dedicators.


In the years just after the founding of these small sanctuaries the magistri seem often to have endowed altars as well and to have used the occasion to include pious images of themselves performing sacrifice. On the Lares altar of the Vicus Aescletus (A.D. 2), now in the Conservatory Palace, the four rnagistri are represented on the most prominent side, at the moment of sacrifice (fig. 24). To the accompaniment of flute players they pour their libations simultaneously over the altar. Bull and boar stand ready for sacrifice, made absurdly small by the sculptor to emphasize the magistri. A lictor alludes to the pseudomagisterial rank of these local magistri. At cultic ceremonies they were entitled to be attended by one lictor; consuls were accom-panied by twelve, the praetors by six.


fig. 24 and 25. 24 (left) Altar of the Lares from the vicus Aescletus, representing the four vicomagistri at a joint sacrifice. 25 (right) Altar of the Lares. Cultic setting; Augustus (?) handing over the two statuettes of the Lares to the ministri of a compitum. Behind Augustus are probably the two princes.

Worthy slaves also served at the same shrines as rninistri. They too won thereby the status of holding public office within the community of their local district, and could show off their status on such occasions as public processions on imperial feast days (fig. 26). They too dedicated offerings and altars in their capacity as public officials. On one such altar are depicted three rninistri, modest in scale and wearing slave dress (a shirtlike garment), receiving reverentially the statuettes of two Lares from the hands of a much larger togate figure (fig. 25).

fig. 26. Excerpt from a large sacrificial procession. Ministri of a sanctuary of the Lares carry the statuettes of both Lares and of the genius Augusti. Early Imperial.

Probably the togatus is none other than Augustus himself, accompanied by the two princes Gaius and Lucius. The fact that the two Lares alone are depicted, but not the Genius of Augustus, also supports this interpretation, since Augustus could not be handing over the statue of his own Genius.


Thus even slaves could contribute to the pietas of the new age, and even their humble dress received official recognition in the service of the gods. Augustus’s relations with his fellow Romans revolved to a great extent around this exemplary and didactic pietas, as is most evident in the worship of his Genius in the Lares shrines and in his reaction to the honors accorded him. His response always took the form of more new ceremonies and forms of devotion. Ever since 28 B.C., when he had all the silver statues of himself melted down and with the proceeds dedicated golden tripods to Apollo, he surpassed all others in his dedication of offerings and cult images. There developed a rather charmingly old-fashioned system of gift and countergift, which was expressed exclusively in visual imagery. A good example are the New Year’s gifts:

All classes (ordines) threw a gold piece every year into the Lacus Curtius (in Augustan times a dried-up sacred pond in the Forum). In so doing they renewed and fulfilled a vow on behalf of his [Augustus’s] health. They also presented him with a New Year’s gift on January 1, even when he was away. He always used these gifts to purchase the most expensive images of the gods and set them up in the various districts of the city (vicatim), for example an Apollo Sandalarius and a Jupiter Tragoedus.

(Suetonius Augustus 57)


This account is confirmed by several inscriptions, for example on bases from statues of Mercury, Vulcan, or Lares Publici dedicated by Augustus. We may suppose that such statues of divinities were about equally divided between public sanctuaries, district shrines, and the shrines of individual guilds.

An Augustan votive altar in the Capitoline Museum (fig. 27) probably depicts Augustus himself handing over a statue of Minerva to the ministri of the cult of the woodworkers’ guild. The princeps towers above the ministri as they approach in their slave garments. On the other long side of the altar one of the magistri is shown making an offering to the same statue. On the narrow end we see the woodworkers’ tools, saws and axes, as well as helmets, because the members of this guild also served as fire fighters. Mixed in with these professional tools, but larger and more prominent, are various cult objects: lituus, galerus with apex, and a large sacrificial knife. As on the relief discussed above (cf. fig. 18), these are not related to a specific religious ritual, nor do they have anything to do with the guild’s cult of Minerva. Rather, they are to be understood as generalized symbols of pietas. Even craftsmen and their activities assume their real worth only in the context of religion.

fig. 27. Votive altar from the sanctuary of a collegium of woodworkers. Augustus hands over a statue of Minerva to the magistri of the collegium.


The pattern is typical: a guild of craftsmen, caught up in the general mood of pietas, organizes a new cult, the princeps contributes the cult statue or a votive statue in the little sanctuary, and the magistri or ministri respond with the dedication of a votive altar or yet another statue of a god or goddess. The latter is frequently a personification of political significance, such as Concordia, Pax, or Securitas. Inevitably these are combined with the epithet Augustus or Augusta, as an explicit way of honoring the princeps. We have, for example, no fewer than three dedicatory statues—to Venus Augusta (fig. 28), Mercurius Augustus, and Hercules—erected by one N. Lucius Hermeros Aequitas, during his several terms as magister of a sanctuary of the Lares. This religious give-and-take created a direct link between ruler and plebs, one in which the more ambitious of the lower classes, even slaves, could participate.


fig. 28. Base from a votive of the magister N. Lucius Hermeros to Venus Augusta.


In earlier times the district and guild cults had sometimes degenerated into unruly mobs. As late as 22 B.C. Augustus had issued a ban on them, but by 7 B.C. the reconstituted religious associations had become the focal point of communication, along lines of cult, between the ruler and his people. The cults of the compital, at the busiest intersections and squares of the various districts, became the centers of social activity for the local population. The effectiveness of the new visual imagery found its principal out-let here in the many rituals and public festivals.




But I observed that you cared not only about the common life of all men, and the constitution of the state, but also about the provision3 of suitable public buildings; so that the state was not only made greater through you by its new provinces, but the majesty of the empire also was expressed through the eminent dignity of its public buildings....Since, then, I was indebted to you for such benefits that to the end of life I had no fear of poverty, I set about the composition of this work for you. For I perceived that you have built, and are now building, on a large scale. Furthermore, with respect to the future, you have such regard to public and private buildings, that they will correspond to the grandeur of our history, and will be a memorial to future ages.

Vitruvius On Architecture

"The Roman people hate private luxury, but love richness and splendor in their public buildings (publica magnificentia)." This is how Cicero once described an ideal of the old Roman way of life, but in his own time exactly the reverse obtained, the state projecting an image of impoverishment, while private wealth was all too ostentatiously displayed. Fierce criticism of Late Republican society was further sharpened by emotional sloganeering. Clearly the princeps would have to take a stand. It was obvious that in the "restored Republic" the mansions with enormous atria and extensive horti (i.e., gardens—an archaizing and euphemistic name for the luxurious villas on the outskirts of the city) still dotted the hillsides of Rome. Only the names of their owners had changed, to those of Augustus’s principal supporters, who amassed vast fortunes in his service and lived like princes in Rome, their wives decked out in millions of sesterces worth of jewelry. A major change in the distribution of wealth was unthinkable, but the princeps could put up splendid recreational buildings for the Roman people and at the same time make statements as to the immorality of privata luxuria. The tentative sumptuary legislation, with which he tried to curb the extravagance of banquets and even women’s clothing, naturally had no real effect, but only served to improve his image. Yet certain other actions and types of visual symbolism in the city of Rome do seem to have had a profound impact.



In the year 15 B.C. Vedius Pollio, a man from a family of freedmen who was later promoted to equestrian status, died and, as was a common practice, bequeathed to Augustus a portion of his vast estate (including his mansion in Rome), with the wish that he use it to erect a splendid building for the people of Rome. Vedius had served Augustus well as financial adviser in the economic reorganization of Asia Minor, but in ethical matters he had a dubious reputation. It was even rumored that he punished slaves by feeding them to his man-eating pet fish. His city mansion, in the crowded Subura (Esquiline), described by Ovid as "larger than many a small city," was a conspicuous example of private luxuria. Here was a perfect opportunity for a significant and visible gesture. The entire palace was leveled to the ground then "returned to the people," and in 7 B.C. Livia and Tiberius built on the site the spectacular Porticus Liviae. Even the onerous association with Vedius Pollio would be consigned to oblivion. "Thus is the office of censor carried out, thus are exempla created," commented Ovid (Fasti 6.642). Not far from the new porticus were the extensive Gardens of Maecenas, whose exquisite refinement and taste for luxury no longer suited the princeps’s new image. The contrast helped heighten the effectiveness of Augustus’s gesture.


The Porticus Liviae is represented on a fragment of the Forma Urbis, the marble plan of Rome from the time of the emperor Septimius Severus (fig. 29). The huge structure, measuring about 115 by 75 meters, lay in the midst of a warren of irregular streets in the old quarter. Here we can gain a clear impression of the size and conspicuous location of Vedius’s palace, how recklessly he built over the old streets, even setting one corner of it on a main thoroughfare.

fig. 29. Rome, Porticus Liviae. Ground plan, on fragments of the Forma Urbis (3rd C. CE). This huge structure arose on the site of the palace of Vedius Pollio, torn down by Augustus, in the midst of the mazelike ancient city.

The Porticus Livia occupies the entire site of Vedius’s palace, but the imperial architect did not interfere with the existing network of streets. The district retained its old character, and the ostentation of publica magnificentia was here limited to the building itself.


Augustus’s reuse of the four columns from the atrium of M. Aemilius Scaurus’s luxurious palace was a gesture of a different sort, but no less effective. The columns, unusually large and expensive, had been brought from Greece for Scaurus when he was aedile in 58 B.C. Together with other works of art they once filled the scaenae frons in his famous wooden theater, as advertisements for his reelection campaign, though later he had them incorporated into his private palace. Again the princeps had part of the palace torn down and returned the offending columns to the Roman people by setting them up in the central arch of the scaenae frons in the Theater of Marcellus, where they were both impressive and a constant reminder to the people of Augustus’s benefaction.


The Porticus Liviae must have been a most welcome landmark for the residents of the Subura, who could leave behind their dark houses and the chaos of the narrow little alleys to enjoy the glorious colonnades, filled with works of art, the light and fresh air, fountains and grape arbors. Other such complexes had always been in the Campus Martius, near the Circus Flaminius, but now the imperial house had made the pleasures of the aristocracy available to the common man. Like all earlier porticoes this one was also a reflection of the patron, but the style of this one had a new element, exemplary and didactic. In this otherwise secular structure Livia dedicated a sanctuary of Concordia, deliberately initiated on the feast day of the mother goddess Mater Matuta (June 11). Unlike in her cult in the Forum, Concordia was to be worshipped here as a goddess of family happiness, and the imperial family as the model of marital harmony. In later years young married couples would make an offering before a statue group of the emperor and his wife in the guise of Mars and Venus.




Augustus beautified the city, whose appearance had in no way reflected its greatness and glory and was besides constantly plagued by floods and fires, and so utterly remade it, that he could justly boast that he found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble.

(Suetonius Augustus 28)

Along with the new temples, it was primarily the buildings for entertainment and recreation that transformed the face of Rome. But whereas Augustus personally took charge of building the sanctuaries, for secular projects he let himself be assisted by both family members and by friends, among whom the most important was Agrippa. In his unwavering loyalty Agrippa was again ready to be Augustus’s right-hand man. He dedicated both his organizational talent and his huge fortune to the rebuilding of the city.

In the years after Actium he fulfilled, one by one, all the extravagant promises made in 33 B.C. His first project was the complete reorganization of the water supply. Soon fresh water flowed into the city in abundance through repaired or newly built aqueducts, into 130 reservoirs and hundreds of water basins (lacus; according to Pliny 700 new ones were built). The mighty arches of the aqueducts helped shape the image of the city and, together with the hundreds of new fountains, proclaimed the blessings of fresh water to every dank corner of the metropolis.

The new Aqua Virgo, dedicated in 19 B.C., fed the baths built by Agrippa on the west side of the Campus Martius, near the Pantheon, the first public baths in Rome (fig. 30). Compared with those of later imperial baths, the sauna rooms and warm-water baths here look rather modest. With its extensive gardens, artificial lake (Stagnum Agrippae) serving as a natatio, and athletic facilities, the whole complex recalls the gymnasia of Greek cities. This was deliberate, even if the name itself was not borrowed, as is apparent from the Apoxyomenos of Lysippus (Pliny N.H. 34.62), which Agrippa set up in the main building. In the creation of the new Rome, one more impor-tant gap had been filled.

fig. 30. Rome, Campus Martius at the time of Augustus.

The baths lay in the middle of the monumenta Agrippae. To the east were the Saepta Julia, to the north the Pantheon. Further east, beyond the Via Lata (the present-day Via del Corso), lay the Campus Agrippae, a park renowned for its beautiful laurel trees, and the Porticus Vipsaniae, named for Agrippa’s sister. To the west was Agrippa’s villa, together with race courses and a training ground for the horses. There was plenty of room for all this on Agrippa’s personal property—most of which had previously be-longed to Marc Antony and, before that, to Pompey.

The huge recreational area before the walls served as a kind of villa for the common people. At any rate, they could enjoy here all the pleasures traditionally associated with aristocratic villas: parks, promenades alongside flowing streams (euripus), warm baths, exercise areas, and, scattered throughout, masterpieces of Greek art. Agrippa decorated his springs and fountain houses with Greek columns and statues, including the famous "Hydria" in the Forum (Pliny 36.121). This accorded with his programmatic address of 33 B.C. "on the need to display publicly all Greek statues and works of art." Pliny, who knew the speech, called it "magnificent and worthy of the finest citizen," clearly contrasting its vision with the exilia of works of art in the villas of the rich that had been the rule up to then (Pliny 35.26). The term exilia (exile) had often been employed in attacks on the Late Republican aristocracy, and the princeps and his friends were conspicuous in their opposition to it. There was of course no question of a systematic appropriation of art works in private hands; only a few significant gestures needed to be made. It was not so important that more art actually be made available to the public than ever before, but only that this seem to be a matter of policy. The "policy" apparently worked, for the people really did feel as if they owned these great works. This was made clear in the (successful) outcry of the plebs when Tiberius tried to move the Apoxyomenos of Lysippus into his own palace (Pliny 34.62).

The centerpiece of Agrippa’s building program, the predecessor of the Hadrianic Pantheon, was another reminder of the ruler even here in this recreational area. Originally a statue of Augustus was meant to be displayed among those of his patron deities in the temple cella, for in keeping with Hellenistic tradition the Pantheon was conceived for the cult of the ruler and his gods. But after the constitutional watershed of 27 B.C. Augustus required a change of plan to accord with his new image. His statue could not stand beside the gods, but would have to be moved into the pronaos, alongside that of Agrippa himself. But in the end this gesture did not alter the purpose of the building. The pediment was probably decorated, like that of the later Pantheon, with Jupiter’s eagle holding the corona civica.

The building which underwent the greatest expansion in Rome was the Saepta, a voting place for the plebs which had been planned already by Julius Caesar and was carried out by Agrippa along with his other projects (fig. 30). The actual voting area was now paved in marble and was framed by two marble colonnades 300 meters long and a 95-meter-wide building for the tallying of the votes (diribitorium). In 26 B.C. Agrippa dedicated the building as the "Saepta Iulia."

The structure became a vast monument to the dignity of the Roman people, although in fact they were summoned to the balloting urns increasingly seldom and soon not at all. Indeed, the Saepta was later used as a setting for games (gladiatorial combats and mock sea battles are attested). But the imperial house also enjoyed inviting the people here for grand ceremonial events. So, for example, Tiberius received an enthusiastic reception here after his victory in Illyria.

Like many other colonnades, the Saepta was also taken over as a bazaar by all sorts of merchants and was frequented all day long by those with nothing better to do, who could take in the famous works of art. Among others, Agrippa set up here two Hellenistic statue groups that are known in multiple copies: the centaur Chiron instructing his pupil Achilles and Pan teaching the young Olympus to play the syrinx (Pliny HN 36.29). Perhaps the two pairs of teacher and pupil allude to the lessons which surely also took place in the area of the Saepta. That Agrippa’s taste in art was not constrained by moral strictures in the choice of subject matter is evident from the homoerotic nature of the Pan and Olympus group (fig. 31).

fig. 31. Pan with Olympus or Daphnis. Marble copy of Imperial date after the Hellenistic original once exhibited in the Saepta Iulia. Here in a drawing of Poussin (ca. 1620).

Agrippa modestly referred to his own achievements only rarely. The fresco cycle of the Voyage of Argo in one of the long colonnades and the name Basilica Neptuni probably contain an allusion to his service as admiral, for which Augustus had already bestowed on him a corona rostrata adorned with ships’ prows after the Battle of Naulochoi. But it is significant that Agrippa did not give the building his own name, but instead named it Saepta Iulia.

Those with time on their hands could also contemplate the map of the world which was commissioned by Agrippa and later transferred to the Porticus Vipsaniae. It was intended to give the Roman people an idea of "their" empire and heighten their awareness of being princeps terrarum populus (Livy Praef.). We need only think of the impressive marble plan of the Imperium Romanum which Mussolini had placed on the ancient ruins along the Via del Impero. In 20 B.C., as part of his program of road building, Augustus had placed a gilded milestone (Milliarum aureum) near the time-honored monuments of the Forum Romanum, symbolizing Rome’s position as the center of the world.

It was Agrippa’s wish that even the import of grain into Rome serve to remind her people of their position of power. The Horrea Agrippiana behind the Forum, only recently fully studied and reconstructed, was built only of travertine, but with strikingly impressive decoration, even including Corinthian columns. No one implemented the idea of publica rnagnificentia more fully or consistently than Agrippa (Seneca De ben. 3.32.4). After his death a well-organized force of 240 men was put to work by the state just for the maintenance of the water supply system he created (Frontinus De Aquis 116).



Some buildings he put up in the name of others, for example his grand-children, his wife, or his sister, such as the Porticus Gaii et Luci Caesaris (in the Forum), the Porticus of Livia and that of Octavia, and the Theater of Marcellus.

(Suetonius Augustus 29)

Augustus himself was the only rival to Agrippa in matters of publica magnificentia. But his secular buildings served a more immediate political purpose. He completed Caesar’s major projects (the Basilica lulia and Forum Iulium), restored at great expense the Theater of Pompey and such smaller buildings as the Porticus Octavia, laid out the park around his Mausoleum, created an artificial lake for naumachiae in the midst of the Nemus Caesarum (in present-day Trastevere), paid for the new markets on the Esquiline (Macellum Liviae), and much more.

The gigantic Solarium Augusti, dedicated in 10 B.C., lay north of Agrippa’s building projects, perhaps within the park surrounding the Mausoleum (fig. 32). It was the largest sundial ever built. A 30-meter-tall Egyptian obelisk served as pointer (gnomon), casting its shadow on a distant network of markings which probably functioned equally as clock and calendar (fig.33)

fig. 32. Rome, Solarium Augusti, ca. 10 BCE. Reconstruction by E. Buchner. On Augustus' birthday, the obelisk cast its shadow toward the Ara Pacis Augustae.


fig. 33. Obelisk in front of the Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome. The obelisk was carried off by Augustus from Egypt and used as the pointer for the monumental sundial.

The inscription on the base of the obelisk contains a reference to the "victory over Egypt" twenty years earlier. Interestingly, the obelisk was also a dedication to the sun god Sol. It was so contrived that on Augustus’s birthday the gnomon pointed to the nearby Ara Pacis Augustae, recalling that at his birth the constellation of stars had already determined his reign of peace: natus ad pacem. The sundial was an incredible monument, and one can easily imagine what fun it must have been to stroll around its huge network of markers. The inscriptions were also given in Greek, apparently as a gesture to the many residents and visitors to Rome from the East.

South of the buildings put up by Agrippa, above the Circus Flaminius, were the temples and porticoes erected by triumphators of the second cen-tury B.C. (fig. 34). These were taken over and restored as monuments to the imperial house, the memory of their original Republican patrons largely disappearing in the process. The Porticus Octavia, for example, had been erected in 168 B.C. by Cn. Octavius after his naval victory over the Macedonian king Perseus. It was especially famous for its lavish bronze capitals. Augustus restored the building at his own expense, and this was one case where the "modest" refusal to rename the building after himself was no hardship (Suetonius Augustus 31; Res Gestae 19), since it already bore his name. In the restored colonnade he displayed the standards he had recap-tured from the Dalmati and in the Illyrian Wars.

fig. 34. Rome, porticoes and temples at the Theater of Marcellus. After fragments of the Forma Urbis.

Similarly, the Porticus Metelli, built in 147 B.C. by Q. Caecilius Metellus, another victor over the Macedonians, had to make way for the Porticus Octaviae. Augustus financed the rebuilding in honor of his sister, who later endowed here a schola and library in memory of her son Marcellus, after his death in 23 B.C. (Augustus had married his only daughter Julia to Marcellus and from 29 B.C. on treated him as his successor.) In the changeover, the famous works of art also dedicated by Metellus automatically adjusted themselves to the new Augustan program. Statues of Venus and Eros, as well as a multifigure equestrian monument by Lysippos depicting Alexander and his twenty-five companions at the Granicus, could all be seen as references to Augustus. After all, he adorned many of his own monuments with images and reminders of the great Macedonian and even used Alexander’s likeness as his seal.

The Porticus Metelli was surely only one example among many. Augustus called the tune, and all Rome now danced to it.



Two new theaters went up in the immediate vicinity of the porticoes: the Theater of Marcellus, built by Augustus (fig. 35), with about twelve to fifteen thousand seats, and the somewhat smaller theater of the Younger Balbus. With the renovated Theater of Pompey, a total of at least forty thousand people could be accommodated at one time, on special occasions when all three theaters were in use. In addition there were two other theatral areas nearby, the Saepta and the Amphitheater of Statilius Taurus. In the course of fifteen years a virtual entertainment center had arisen in the Campus Martius.

fig. 35. Rome, Theater of Marcellus. Model. In the center of the stage backdrop Augustus had the Greek columns from the house of Scaurus set up.

The prospect of the Roman populace sitting in the theater did not worry Augustus as it had the Senate. On the contrary, he welcomed this opportunity for contact. The greetings and applause he received expressed the general mood of support and were a vivid confirmation of his power. Even the occasional protests against specific measures—the Equestrians opposing the financial restrictions of the marriage law of A.D. 9 or the people protesting the removal of Lysippus’s Apoxyomenos—were regarded as a healthy way of blowing off steam. They gave the appearance of a real "dialogue" between the ruler and his people. It has been rightly observed that such political statements in the theater during the Empire to a great extent took the place of popular assemblies or elections and in a symbolic way expressed the popular consensus in support of the Principate. The masses were delighted when Augustus shared their entertainment and watched even the most tedious routines with evident interest, or made apologies when he could not attend (Caesar, on the other hand, had answered his mail during these shows).

The games themselves were a major part of Augustan publica rnagnificentia. "He surpassed all his predecessors in the number, variety, and splendor (magnificentia) of his games" (Suetonius Augustus 43). A distinction was drawn between the annually repeated games, which formed part of the religious calendar, and the extraordinary ones. In the time of Augustus the days with regularly scheduled games numbered sixty-seven. These were the responsibility of certain officials, who could add up to three times the publicly budgeted sum from their private funds. Not infrequently Augustus himself made up the difference for those who were not so wealthy. In his autobiography he claims to have given gladiatorial games eight times, with a total of ten thousand combatants, and animal games twenty-six times, with thirty-five hundred animals killed in all (Res Gestae 22f.). Together with horse races in the Circus these were the most popular games. The figures, however, belie the fact that in reality Augustus was not that enthusiastic about such mass entertainment. Trajan, by contrast, sponsored more games on his own initiative than took place during the entire forty years of Augustan rule. A large stone amphitheater is conspicuous by its absence from the many public buildings erected by Augustus (the small Amphitheater of Statilius Taurus is earlier and apparently not part of the Augustan building program). It was not until the reign of the otherwise parsimonious Vespasian that the Colosseum was built to house mass entertainment in the form of gladiatorial and animal games. This cautiousness, however, seems to have been due to the special status of Rome itself. In the planning of Augustan coloniae, as at Emerita Augusta (Merida, in Spain), an amphitheater was included from the very beginning.

But there were certain occasions when the princeps did pull out all the stops. For the dedication of the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Mars Ultor, for example, he put on circus games in which 260 lions were killed, as well as the Trojan Games in the Forum, in which the prince Agrippa Postumus participated, gladiatorial combats in the Saepta, and a hunt featuring thirty-six crocodiles in the Circus Flaminius. For the same occasion he also created a huge naumachia on the other side of the Tiber and staged a reenactment of the Battle of Salamis between Athenians and Persians, with a total of three thousand combatants, thirty large ships and many smaller ones, all to commemorate his own naval victory at Actium. For such ideologically important public events the princeps spared no expense "to fill the hearts and eyes of the Roman people with unforgettable images" (Velleius Paterculus 2.100.2).

But in general Augustus gave most support to the theater, which besides serving as a point of contact between princeps and people also had an important cultural and didactic function. The new Rome had to have impressive theatrical performances above all because the dramatic stage had been such an important element in the Greek cities, especially in Classical Athens. Without theater, Rome’s claim to being the cultural center of the Empire would carry little conviction. Behind the lavish support for the theater surely lay the desire to equal the Greeks, and the great athletic games in Greek style staged three times by Augustus could be similarly understood. Augustus boasts of these in the Res Gestae (22), although they were even less compatible than the theater with the traditions of his Roman forefathers.

We know that the works of patriotic Roman poets were performed in public theaters, that Augustus awarded prizes to certain favorite plays, such as the "Thyestes" of Varius, and that Vergil was especially honored. It would be fascinating to know what other plays were performed, in order to see to what extent the dramatic reworkings of Greek myth were politicized. But this aspect of Augustan imagery is almost entirely lost to us. We may be sure, however, that the pretensions of "high culture" did not last long in the theater and that burlesque and pantomime soon took over.

The new theaters also contributed significantly to the consolidation of the new social order. Here the Roman was made aware of the organization by rank of his entire society, and on each visit he saw clearly his own place in it. As early as the second century the Senate had reserved for itself the front rows (i.e., the orchestra), then later alotted the next section to the Equestrians. Segregation of undesirables in the theater was already practiced in the Late Republic, for Cicero (Phil. 2.44) reports that there was one section where all who were broke had to sit. Augustus then expanded this principle in his lex Iulia theatralis. This apparently designated all the rows and seats, giving preferential seating to some and discriminating against others. Senators sat in the orchestra, among these priests and magistrates in places of honor. Then followed Equestrians with a net worth of over 400,000 sesterces. Then came free Roman citizens in the broad middle section, arranged by tribe, as in the distribution of grain: panem et circenses. At the rear sat noncitizens, women, and slaves, when they were permitted to attend the theater at all. Unfortunately the details are not fully and unambiguously recorded, but we do know, for example, that soldiers and civilians sat separately and that adolescent boys had rows set aside for them and their guardians. Thanks to Augustus’s laws on marriage, those who were married with many children were entitled to better seats, while recalcitrant bachelors were sometimes banned from the theater altogether. The various guilds also seem to have had their own sections.

Given the tremendous social importance of the games, these forms of favor or discrimination, of mingling or separation, were crucial in defining how every Roman citizen saw himself. The clear differentiation of seats, which was recognized by everyone in the audience and enforced by a kind of mutual surveillance, insured that the system worked smoothly. Outside the theater as well, the princeps carefully observed distinctions of social rank, as for example in his invitations to dine with him (freedmen were never included). But at the same time, he made sure that every social class had its particular responsibilities and honors, so that upward mobility was always possible. For this reason the rigid pyramidal structure of Roman society was to a great extent accepted by its members. The common experience of rituals and festivals, which brought all Romans together, was essential in imbuing each individual with a sense of the social order.

Even the architecture of the theater helped to inculcate and make visible the principles of social stratification. In the course of renovation and new construction the different sections were demarcated more clearly than before, and this was not just a visual effect. The cleverly contrived substructure beneath the semicircular cavea (auditorium) became an instrument of social classification. The network of arched passageways and staircases served not only to insure an easy flow of traffic in and out of the theater, but to separate the audience according to rank. Thus the "better" sort needed to have no contact at all with the common folk, whose seats were at the very top, just as in the opera houses of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie. In Vespasian’s Colosseum this system can be observed in its most perfected form (fig. 120).


fig. 36. Rome, Colosseum. Begun after 70 CE. By a complex system of aisles and stairways the visitors to a Roman theater or amphitheater were conducted to seats assigned according to social standing.

As the seating arrangement in the Augustan theater shows, the creation of a monarchy in Rome did nothing to alter the pyramidal stratification of society (fig. 121). Indeed, class distinctions became even more rigid under Augustus. The economic basis upon which an individual’s wealth was measured was, as it always had been, land, together with agricultural produce. The prerequisite for membership in the three ordines that constituted the upper class—Senators, Equestrians, and the local aristocracy of cities outside Rome (decuriones)—was a fortune of a certain size. Occasionally Augustus would even help out a Senator by making up the difference, to insure the continuity of the highest class. But wealth was not the sole ingredient in determining social status; family background and respect (dignitas) were equally important. The aristocratic principle was thus maintained, and the Roman "revolution" kept its conservative stripe.

fig. 37. The pyramidal structure of Roman society in the Imperial age.

The boundaries between upper and lower class, between those in the top three ordines and the rest of the population, were essential to upholding social dignitas, even more than economic prosperity. So, for example, a man who was not freeborn, no matter how wealthy, was excluded from certain state and local offices and thus from one of the ordines. In the theater, even the wealthy freedmen sat in the back rows. It was virtually impossible to make the transition from lower to upper class in a single generation, but for the sons and grandsons of a prosperous slave it was different. Here wealth was the principal determinant.

If the monarchy served to consolidate the old class distinctions, it nevertheless created new outlets to ease social tensions and opened new paths to social advancement, thus bringing about a gradual transformation of society.

The distribution of old and new priesthoods, usually associated in some way with the ruler cult, illustrates how a bond was created between the emperor and all social classes. Of course this meant primarily the most outstanding members of each class. Their services to the emperor led to social recognition and thus to the opportunity for advancement. Equestrians had major responsibilities in the administration of the provinces and in the army, which could ultimately gain them admission to the Senate. The local Decuriones, through similar service in their own communities, could rise to positions in provincial administration and to the Senate, whose composition shifted first in favor of Italians, then of provincials. Imperial slaves and freedmen naturally enjoyed a status far above that of other members of their class. These were roughly comparable to the wealthy freedmen in the cities of Italy, known as "Augustales" (again in the service of the ruler cult), who succeeded in creating for themselves a new social class, between decuriones and populus. We shall see how these groups striving for social advancement are reflected in the visual arts and how they too helped spread the new pictorial imagery.




The large theaters were conspicuous hallmarks of Augustan Rome, and for the theatergoer both the Theater of Marcellus and that of Balbus evoked most impressively the pietas and publica magnificentia of the renewed city. The two semicircular auditoria were so situated that those who strolled through the outer walkways during intermission, or looked out the windows on the second floor, enjoyed a view out over an extraordinary city-scape, composed entirely of marble sanctuaries and lavish secular buildings (fig. 38). From the Theater of Marcellus one could see the renovated porticoes of the second century B.C., with their temples and gardens, the Circus Flaminius, with its honorific monuments, Sosius's new Temple of Apollo, and the Temple of Bellona, so close that from the arcades one could almost reach out and touch it, and, when one moved farther along, towering in the distance, the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. From the passageways of the Theater of Balbus could be seen the temples in the "Area Sacra" (the present-day Largo Argentina). These were views to warm the heart of the princeps.

fig. 38. Rome, southern part of the Campus Martius. Temples with porticoes next to the Theater of Marcellus. In front lay the Circus Flamininius.

Interestingly, fully a third of Strabo’s description of Late Augustan Rome is devoted to the Campus Martius. This eyewitness observer from the Greek East was more impressed by the marble pleasure palaces than by the fora, the new temples, the Capitol, or the Palatine.

The size of the Campus Martius alone [he means the northern part] is astonishing. It is spacious enough to allow chariot races and at the same time all other equestrian sports without any interference. Nearby are hordes of wrestlers and others playing ball or with hoops. Works of art adorn all the paths, and the lush gardens are in bloom at every season. The hilltops, which stretch to the Tiber, create a remarkable cityscape, a pleasure of which the eye never tires. Nearby is a second field [the southern part of the Campus Martius], in which the many porticoes, sacred groves, lavish temples, three theaters, and one amphitheater are all laid out in a semicircle. Here everything is so crowded, one upon another, that the rest of the city seems only incidental.

(Strabo 5.3.8)

Strabo saw Augustan Rome when most of the building program was already finished, but contemporary Romans watched it being built. Vergil’s description of the building activity in Dido’s royal city of Carthage (Aeneid 1.41 8ff.) mirrors the feeling of excitement and optimism that must have permeated Rome in the 20s B.C., with new buildings going up all over. It was a community effort, as in a beehive, industrious craftsmen everywhere at work. The essential mandate, that the majesty of the Roman Empire must be reflected in public architecture (Vitruvius Praef.), was realized before one’s very eyes. The emotional impact of this experience can hardly be overestimated.

But in spite of its marble temples and extravagant recreational buildings, the new Rome did not look like a Hellenistic city. This had been Julius Caesar’s intention. If his plans had been carried out, the course of the Tiber would have been altered, and on the thus enlarged Campus Martius a pre-planned city constructed, with a network of streets all at right angles and carefully proportioned insulae. From a huge theater on the slope of the Capitol one would have looked out on this perfectly organized new city. Later Nero would have a similar dream, but this was not Augustus’s way. A radical remaking of the city would have contradicted the principal themes of his program. Pietas required that the old cult places be respected, his political style precluded interfering with private property, and the mores maiorum dictated the simplicity of residential neighborhoods.

The result was that the street system remained unchanged in many places. Tiny streets and alleys, which had grown haphazardly over centuries, are still quite evident in the Forma Urbis (third century A.D.), especially in the densely populated old residential quarters, as we have already seen in the area of the Porticus Liviae (cf. fig. 29).

The princeps did, however, reorganize the city, though on a different level. Rome was divided into fourteen regiones and 265 vici (districts). Each vicus elected its own "administration," made up of the magistri and ministri whom we discussed in connection with the Lares cults and the worship of the emperor. They also were in charge of other modest security measures, helped in fighting fires, insured peace and quiet, and supervised the building codes formulated by the princeps. Houses could be no higher than seventy Roman feet (about twenty-one meters), and probably such requirements as the thickness of supporting walls were also specified. The principal dangers in the old residential quarters were fire and flood. The princeps tried to alleviate these problems by creating his own fire department organized along military lines—seven cohorts of one thousand men each—and by attempting to shore up the banks of the Tiber. Order and security, also in the matter of insuring the regular supply of grain, did much to improve the "quality of life" in the various districts. The Compital cults of the vici, with their New Year’s and Summer festivals, developed into social centers and true neighborhoods, which in turn facilitated a kind of mutual sense of protectiveness.

All these measures no doubt contributed to a better life for the inhabitants of Rome, but they did nothing to alter the essentially primitive appearance of the residential districts. Strabo was in fact right, that from an aesthetic viewpoint the old-fashioned residential Rome seemed like a mere appendage of the new marble city. And this was exactly in keeping with the ideology of Augustus’s regime, as is illustrated, for example, by the great wall surrounding the Forum of Augustus, a remarkable monument which has justifiably continued to astonish ever since it was built (fig. 39).

fig. 39. Rome, Forum of Augustus. The enclosure wall (H: ca. 30 m) protected the building from fire and at the same time marked a symbolic boundary. L. Rossini, ca. 1810.

Today one can still observe how this enormous wall, made of finely carved and ingeniously layered blocks of tufa and in places reaching a height of thirty-three meters, towered even above the roof of the Temple of Mars Ultor. From the streets and houses of the nearby Subura one could see nothing whatever of the spectacular marble buildings in the Forum. Although from inside the Forum one scarcely noticed the wall, its monumental barrier blotted out all the residential houses. Of course the wall also served a practical purpose, to protect the precious sanctuary from the frequent outbreaks of fire in the Subura. But its very form, both monumental and old-fashioned in character, took on an unmistakable symbolic importance within the plan of the entire city.

The wall was like a dividing line between the simplicity of residential neighborhoods and the maiestas and magnificentia of temples and other public buildings. In another way it also made visible one of Augustus’s tenets: its irregular course, with many twists and turns, is evidence of the painful precision with which he avoided trespassing on private property. "He built his Forum somewhat smaller than originally planned, because he did not dare encroach on the property of neighboring houses" (Suetonius Augustus 52.2). Naturally the princeps could easily have acquired the pieces of property in question. But he was more concerned to set an example and to show that Augustus himself was bound by the same laws that he required his "fellow citizens" to obey. If we look back to the Rome of the Late Republic, the transformation of the city within the span of a single generation is almost incredible. Perhaps nothing had so powerful and positive an impact on the Roman people as what was accomplished here. Following this example, the creation of hundreds of Roman cities in the Western half of the Empire gave visible form to the spread of Roman culture.



Simplicity and self-sufficiency, a strict upbringing and moral code, order and subservience within the family, diligence, bravery, and self-sacrifice: these were the virtues that had continually been evoked in Rome with the slogan "mores maiorum," ever since the process of Hellenization began. Yet in reality this archaic society and its values were receding ever more rapidly. Nevertheless, the belief in the necessity of a moral renewal was firmly rooted. Without a return to the ancestral virtues there could be no internal healing of the body politic.Such dramatic appeals had surely been heard many times before, and, inevitably, they are vague, short-lived, and out of touch with reality. But despite this, their emotional impact can often be amazingly deep. They are an indispensable element in the eternal longing for a "brave new world."



"0 most immoral age! First you tainted marriage, the house, and the family. Now from the same source flows pollution over fatherland and people," lamented Horace (carmen 3.6) in 29 B.C. Along with godlessness, immorality was regarded as the greatest evil of the past and the reason for the collapse of Rome. Augustus believed that he could bring about a fundamental change in this area as well, and through rewards and punishment even improve sexual ethics and inspire upper-class Romans to produce more children. His first, unsuccessful attempt at such legislation was, significantly, directly linked with the program for pietas in 29/28 B.C. The famous laws on marriage and morals of 18 B.C. were to serve as ideological preparation for the Secular Festival of the following year, and were accompanied by a rigorous purge of the Senate. The Leges Iuliae, which prescribed criminal prosecution for adultery, major penalties for those who remained unmarried (e.g., in the disposition of their inheritance), as well as rewards and privileges for parents of several children, were conceived by Augustus as a key aspect of his program of renewal.

It was difficult to give visual expression to this campaign, but the princeps did what he could. Up to the end of his life he continued to search out effective exempla.

He did not hesitate to read to the Senate a speech of the censor Q. Metellus from the year 131 B.C., "On Increasing the Birthrate," "as if it had just been written" (Livy Per. 59; Suetonius Augustus 89). An especially fertile slave woman received a statue. An old codger from Faesulae, together with all sixty-one of his descendants, was officially received on the Capitol, made a sacrifice there, and the whole event was even recorded in the acta, the official records (Pliny N.H. 7.60). In A.D. 9, when the Equestrians protested in the theater against the (already modified) marriage laws, especially the tax disadvantages linked with them, "he [Augustus] had the children of Germanicus brought in, held one in his arms, and had the others sit in their father’s lap, and by his expression and gesture demonstrated that they should take the young man as their model" (Suetonius Augustus 34).

Poets in Augustus’s circle were also asked to contribute to the campaign. They were meant to show how closely the dawning of the new age was bound up with and necessitated improved moral conduct. Horace’s dry verses on the subject reveal how unwillingly he must have churned them out.


Now the bull pastures safely in the fields.
Ceres nourishes the soil and gives blessed harvest.
Ships fly over the peaceful sea,
And marital fidelity shrinks from guilt.The pure house is no longer sullied by adultery.
Law and custom have tamed unclean lust.
Mothers are proud of legitimate children.
Punishment follows on the heels of guilt.

carmen 4.5

Unlike the programs of religious renewal and publica magnificentia, the social legislation, with its penalties and pressure, was of course misguided. In particular, the call for more children, no matter how positively received, was a failure. Those whom Augustus particularly had in mind—the upper classes—simply shook their heads. There was much sarcastic comment, and people like Ovid could not resist the temptation of a little wicked parody. Basically, this attempt at regimentation and meddling in private affairs did not fit the style of the new regime. Augustus was trapped in his own sense of mission and in his vision of an inner renewal. It is a peculiar image: the cool, calculating realist turned indefatigable moral preacher, who at every opportunity recited exempla to be followed, which he had pulled out of ancient writers, then circulated them to his provincial governors (Suetonius Augustus 89). It was because he identified himself so fully with this program, which was nevertheless an utter failure, that he behaved so monstrously toward his daughter and granddaughter, the two Julias. Their loose living hit him where he was most vulnerable.

Those same artists who had so enthusiastically taken up the motifs of religious renewal apparently came up with nothing appropriate to this theme. Naturally on the Ara Pacis the children of the imperial family (unfortunately there were not many) were placed in the foreground (fig. 40), and later glass medallions with images of the imperial princes and their children were distributed in the army (fig. 41). But even this is deceptive. Themes like "the moral marriage" or "the blessings of children" could not be directly translated into visual terms. But, as we shall see, they did reappear in subliminal form in the imagery of the Golden Age, which would soon become so pervasive.

fig. 40. Rome, Ara Pacis. Antonia minor with Drusus maior and their children; behind other members of the imperial house.


fig. 41. Glass medallion for metal setting. Tiberius or Drusus minor with two princes. This military insigne refers explicitly to the next generation of the imperial family.


Augustus offered himself as the greatest exemplum and tried in his private life and public appearance to be a constant advertisement for the mores maiorum. If the reality did not match the image in him, then where else? His public style had a winning simplicity and dignity, from his gait to his manner of speech, from his friendly intercourse with the humblest people to his deference toward the Senators, and especially his discipline and self-control. Visitors reported on the simplicity and old-fashioned modesty of his private rooms at home. It was said that he had himself melted down the last gold dinner plate, and it was well known that he had no use for luxury villas (though he did, however, retain all of Capri as his private refuge). He also let it be known that his toga, simply tailored and reserved in its tokens of high rank, was woven by hand by his wife and granddaughter (amid hundreds of imperial slaves).

The modesty and simplicity of the princeps’s style are most evident with respect to the honors he continually received. We have already noticed how from ca. 20 B.C. virtually all monuments erected in his honor had a votive or religious character. The new style is especially striking in architecture. The modest proportions of the Ara Pacis Augustae (fig. 42) reproduce those of the Altar of the Twelve Gods in the Athenian Agora, of the fifth century B.C. The Ara Fortunae Reducis (19 B.C.) was probably smaller (fig. 43a, b), and other altars, erected later on, were certainly no larger. Yet these altars are the largest monuments erected by the Senate and people to honor Augustus after the "turning point." What a contrast to the Altar of Zeus in Pergamum, or to the emphatic self-aggrandizement of the divi filius in the 30s B.C.


fig. 42. Rome, Ara Pacis Augustae, 13-19 BCE. The actual altar is located in the interior of the marble enclosure.


fig. 43. a) Denarius of Q. Rustius, 19 BCE, Altar of Fortuna Redux, set up on the occasion of Augustus' successful return from the East. b) (right) Denarius of P. Petronius Turpilianus, Rome, 16 BCE. The unchaste Vestal Tarpeia is buried alive with shields. The image, in the context of Augustus' moral legislation, alludes to the mores maiorum.


Augustus’s modesty and his continual references to the mores maiorum may have offered some reassurance to a few Senators, especially as there was no lack of indications that they would still have opportunities for fame and self-fulfillment beside the princeps in the res publica restituta. From 19 B.C. young aristocrats serving as mint master could again put the name and insignia of their families on coins. The praetor C. Naevius Surdinus could erect a huge inscription in the midst of the Forum recording that he had paid for the new pavement (ca. 10 B.C.). The impoverished M. Aemilius Lepidus was able, with financial help from the princeps, to restore the old Basilica of the Aemilii in the Forum, and Balbus the Younger was even permitted to celebrate a triumph and with the spoils build a theater, just like the princeps himself. (A Spaniard of undistinguished family, Balbus was clearly no competition.) Little wonder that men so privileged by Augustus reciprocated with appropriate acknowledgments. Lepidus decorated his basilica with defeated barbarians in expensive colored marbles, and most coins honored Augustus on both obverse and reverse.

One mint official even celebrated the new social legislation by depicting the unchaste Vestal Tarpeia, who betrayed Rome out of love for the enemy Sabine king, buried beneath the enemy’s shields (fig. 43b). The mint master did not, however, invent the motif, for it seems to have been known to the poets in the circle of Maecenas. At any rate, Propertius surprisingly dedi-cated an entire elegy to the story of the unhappy Vestal (4.4) and interpreted it in this way, as an explicit example of what happens when religion and morality are despised.

A new portrait of Augustus was probably created around the time of the Secular Games (fig. 44). The changes appear minor, but convey an inter-esting message. In place of the artfully constructed countenance and deliberately classicistic forms of the years around 27 B.C., there now appear more marked physiognomic traits, recalling the early portraits. In particular, the severe Polyclitan arrangement of the hair with forks and tongs is given up in favor of a more realistic coiffure. The beauty and agelessness of the face are preserved, but it is no longer that of an aloof, eternally youthful hero. The revised portrait was, however, only sporadically copied. Workshops continued to use the familiar type, for by then the aesthetically unsurpassed image of the eternal youth had precluded depictions of an aging and often sickly man.

fig. 44. Portrait of Augustus, after a prototype probably created about 17 BCE.


The desire for a more modest portrait must also be understood in the context of Augustus’s rejection of the old-style honorific statue in favor of one showing him veiled and togate. Even the handwoven toga was an acknowledgment of tradition, a promise to respect the res publica. For those who endowed such statues, it was a fulfillment of these expectations.



Augustus succeeded in making the toga a kind of unofficial Roman state dress and a symbol of the proper attitude, a reminder of their own worth to those who wore it on specific occasions. Horace goes so far as to mention the toga in the same breath with the sacred guarantors of the Empire (Odes 3.5.10f.).

In the Late Republic, the cut and design of the toga were essentially the same as those of a Greek himation. But now, probably due to the example of Augustus and his advisers (cf. fig. 20), more elaborate models became fashionable, which had to be worn differently, in a more complicated arrangement with sinus and balteus. This produced a much more impressive effect, but putting it on and wearing it correctly were rather laborious. Over the years artists evolved explanatory models of the proper way to wear such a toga. The voluminous material was shaped into an aesthetic structure, the play of folds entirely concealing the body beneath (figs.45, 46). The symbolic meaning of the garment became more important than its functional aspect or outward appearance.


fig. 45. Statue of one of the leading men of Formiae. A new, more voluminous toga was now in fashion.


fig. 46. Statue of a man with "Senator's shoes." He displays two wax ancestor portraits. He is most likely a novus homo.


Freedmen were among the earliest exponents of the new fashion, as their grave reliefs show. For them the toga was a sign of the citizenship they had struggled so hard for, the symbol of their success in life. But in general people were reluctant to wear this uncomfortable and easily soiled white outfit. Augustus had to give them a push.


He took pains to revive the dress and the form of public appearance of Rome’s forefathers and to honor them. When he saw a group of people at a public assembly wearing dark everyday clothes, he rose and cried out, "Look, the Romans, masters of the world, people of the toga" (Vergil Aeneid 1.282). He commanded the aediles to allow no one into the Forum or its vicinity unless he had removed his cloak and wore a toga.

(Suetonius Augustus 40)


The same rule obtained in the theater (Suetonius Augustus 44). But at least on certain official occasions the princeps was anxious that the actual appearance of the Roman people approximate the vision of the poets. As a result, the sight of the white togati in the theater and in the popular assembly must have been a proud one. And this in turn will surely have had an effect on the individual participants. The regulations on the wearing of the toga were only part of many similar measures. At the same time "true Romans" with full citizen rights received various privileges—in the theater, when there were handouts of money, and at the distribution of grain (membership in the plebs frumentaria was limited and strictly controlled)— which bolstered their pride in belonging to the populus Romanus.

In any event, the case of the toga offers a particularly instructive example of the varieties of interaction that gave rise to the rich vocabulary of the new pictorial language. First the poet evoked a suggestive image in his national epic. This led to a disturbing comparison with real life and in this instance provoked a political response from Augustus himself. In general, however, the process will have been more complex, the inspiration less poetic, and the intermediary stages more numerous.

Married women also had a special form of dress that was meant to reflect the new spirit of morality in Rome. This was the stola, a long, sleeveless overgarment with narrow shoulders, which probably carried woven stripes indicating the matron’s social status, as on the toga praetexta.

This garment is frequently found on honorary statues and portrait busts of the Early Imperial period (fig. 47), sometimes in combination with a woolen fillet (vitta) wound in the hair.

fig. 47. Statue with stola, the long over-garment with shoulder straps that designates married women and was supposed to "protect" them.

Originally the stola would have stood out from the tunica and mantle through the application of paint. In the context of the social legislation the stola became a symbol of female virtue and modesty. For the dignified matron, wearing the stola was not only an honor but a "protection from unwanted attentions." Ovid, who would later ruefully acknowledge himself the "teacher of hideous adultery" (obsceni doctor adulterii [Tristia 2.212]), wittily makes fun of this tacit significance of the garment. The first few verses of his "Art of Love" are full of ironic allusions to official morality as made manifest in the vitta and stola:

Away with you, fillets (vittae), you sweet tokens of shame;
Away with you, stola, trailing down to the feet.
I sing of carefree love, of legal thievery.


It must have been hard enough for upper-class women to exchange their elegant gowns of transparent fabric for the plain, shirtlike stola. Now too, as Ovid would have them say, with the new legislation of morality they must stay outside the bounds of the "art of love." The young man after an amorous adventure, according to Ovid, had to limit himself to lower-class women not legally married, young freedwomen, slave girls, or foreigners. Ovid was surely not the only one who drew the inevitable consequences of the morality laws.