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Imperial Image (H408/22)

Podcast: The first emperor and the queen of inscriptions: Augustus in his own words

Prof Alison Cooley discusses Augustus’ account of his long reign.

During the last days of the Roman Republic, one man emerged victorious: Octavian, Caesar’s adoptive son, later called Augustus. After his ascent to power, he pacified large parts of the known world. In Rome, he kept the populace happy with bread and circuses, and slowly eliminated all opposition. Yet he also had to confront major set-backs. For instance, the scandalous infidelity of his daughter and granddaughter became the gossip of the empire.
Augustus built himself a massive mausoleum, and composed an account of his reign, which was placed onto pillars outside it after his death. It is the ‘queen of inscriptions’, and survives in three copies from Galatia, in central Turkey.
So who was this man who became the first emperor of Rome, and shaped history like few others? How did Augustus obtain and retain his colossal power for nearly half a century? And how does his account, recorded in the ‘queen of inscriptions’, differ from other historical sources?

Head of Augustus

[Source: BBC Radio 4 - A History of the World in 100 Objects, Empire Builders (300 BC - 1 AD)]

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Neil MacGregor concludes the first week of the second part of his global history as told through objects from the British Museum. This week he has been exploring the lives and methods of powerful rulers around the world about 2000 years ago, from Alexander the Great in Egypt to Asoka in India. Today he introduces us to the great Roman emperor Augustus, whose powerful, God-like status is brilliantly enshrined in a larger than life bronze head with striking eyes.
Neil MacGregor describes how Augustus dramatically enlarged the Roman Empire, establishing his image as one of its most familiar objects. The historian Susan Walker and the politician Boris Johnson help explain the power and methodology of Augustus.

The Fall of Sejanus

Prof. Kevin Butcher of the University of Warwick on the fall of Sejanus during the reign of the emperor Tiberius.

Caligula and his Sisters

Prof. Kevin Butcher of the University of Warwick on a coin representing Caligula and his sisters.

Nero and Agrippina

Prof. Kevin Butcher of the University of Warwick on what can be learnt of the accession of Nero from the study of a coin showing the emperor with his mother, Agrippina.

Nero Plays the Lyre

Prof. Kevin Butcher of the University of Warwick on the image of the lyre player on a Neronian coin.

Hadrian: The Power of Image

[Source: The British Museum]

For many years Hadrian was perceived as a peace-loving admirer of Greek culture and customs, a philhellene. But the one statue on which this long-standing perception was based is not all that it should be. British Museum curator Thorsten Opper and conservator Tracey Sweek investigate.