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Seminar 6 - Images of Augustus

Seminar debate:

Do the images of Augustus make him appear ‘first among equals’?

This seminar is designed to help you engage with works of art, notably portraiture. The purpose of this seminar is to look at different images of the first emperor, Augustus, and to consider the following questions:

  • How does Augustus’ portrait differ from what had gone before? Why?
  • In what different ways was Augustus represented?
  • How do these fit in with the ideals of his reign, and the representations of him in contemporary poetry, and monumental art and architecture?
  • What was the function of these images?
  • Does the context of the image (e.g. its findspot, intended audience) make a difference to the way in which Augustus is represented?
  • When was the image created?

Section A: General Bibliography

Everyone should read at least ONE of the following, to get a flavour of the period, and use it to reflect on their chosen image:


  • A. Wallace-Hadrill, Augustan Rome (1993) [DG279.W2]
  • P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (1990), chapters 1, 3-5 [N5760.Z2]
  • W. Eck, The Age of Augustus (2003) chapters 7-9 [DG 279.E2]
  • @A.K. Bowman, E. Champlin, A. Lintott (eds) Cambridge Ancient History X (2nd edn, Cambridge University Press: 1996) chapter 3 [D 57.C2 + e-book]
  • @Galinsky, K. The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus chapters 1-2 [DG 279.C2 + e-book]
  • N.H. and A. Ramage The Cambridge Illustrated History of Roman Art (1991) chapter 3 [N 5760.R2]
  • D.E.E. Kleiner Roman Sculpture (1992) chapter 2 [NB 115.K5]

Journal articles (Arts Periodicals section on 3rd floor of the library; also electronically on JSTOR):

Read one of the following:

K. Galinsky Augustan Culture (1996) pp.164ff [DG 272.G2]
J. Tanner, 'Portrait, Power and Patronage in the Late Roman Republic' Journal of Roman Studies 90 (2000) 18-50 (skipping section II)
S. Walker, Roman Art (section on portraits) (1991) [N 5760.W2]
S. Walker, Greek and Roman Portraits (London, 1995). [N 7585.W2]

Section B: Images of Augustus

Choose ONE of the following sections, and develop a detailed knowledge of the context and historical background to your portrait.

1. Ara Pacis Augustae ('Altar of Augustan Peace'): Augustus (figure on far left side)

Other images from the altar:

Websites giving more background & pictures:


  • A. Claridge, Rome (OUP 1998) pp.184-89 [DG 65.C5]
  • M.G.L. Cooley, The Age of Augustus (LACTOR 17, 2003) A12.2 (Res Gestae), C12, C20, C40, K13 (Ovid, Fasti 1.709-22) [DG 279.A4]
  • A.E. Cooley, Res Gestae Divi Augusti (2009) commentary on 12.2
  • @J. Elsner, 'Cult and Sacrifice in the Ara Pacis Augustae' JRS 81 (1991) 50-61 [JSTOR]
  • K. Galinsky Augustan Culture (1996) pp.141ff [DG 272.G2]
  • D.E.E. Kleiner, Roman Sculpture (Yale UP 1992) 90ff [NB 115.K5]
  • N.H. & A. Ramage, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Roman Art (CUP 1991) pp.90ff
    [N 5760.R2]
  • @P. Rehak 'Aeneas or Numa? Rethinking the meaning of the Ara Pacis Augustae' Art Bulletin 83.2 (2001) [JSTOR]
  • M. Torelli, Typology and Structure of Roman Historical Reliefs (University of Michigan Press 1992), ch.2 [NB 133.T6]
  • P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (1990) see index 'Rome, Ara Pacis' [N5760.Z2]

Questions to think about:

  • What overall picture of Augustus and his family does the altar provide? How prominent is Augustus?
  • What's the atmosphere of the processional scene?
  • What is the relevance of the other mythological scenes at the ends of the altar?

2. Statue of Augustus from Villa of Livia at Prima Porta (now in Vatican, Rome), with breastplate closeup 


  • D. Kleiner, Roman Sculpture (1992) 63-7 [NB 115.K5]
  • J. Elsner, Art and the Roman Viewer (1995) 161-7 [N 5760.E5]
  • K. Galinsky, Augustan Culture [DG 272.G2] pp.155ff
  • P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus pp.98ff, 185ff [N5760.Z2]
  • Ramage, N.H. & A. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Roman Art (CUP 1991) pp.86ff
    [N 5760.R2]
  • @Rose, C.B. (2005) 'The Parthians in Augustan Rome', American Journal of Archaeology 109(1): 21-76 [JSTOR]
  • Cooley, M.G.L. The Age of Augustus (LACTOR 17, 2003) A29.2 (Res Gestae), E91.1, K18, N41 (Ovid Fasti 6.465-68), N42 [DG 279.A4]

Questions to think about:

  • Analyse the overall impression of Augustus given by this statue. How does it relate to Polycleitus' Spear-Bearer statue? What impression does it give you of Augustus?
  • What are the main characteristics of the portrait-head?
  • What is the significance of the scenes on the breastplate?

3. Bronze head of Augustus found at Meroe in Sudan (British Museum)

Click on 'History of the World in 100 Objects' no. 35


L. Burn, British Museum book of Greek and Roman Art (1991) [ N 5610.B8]
S. Walker, Roman Art p. 31 [N 5760.W2]
D. Kleiner, Roman Sculpture (1992) p.67 [NB 115.K5]
S. Walker & P. Higgs (eds) Cleopatra of Egypt [DT 92.7.C5]
Cooley, M.G.L. The Age of Augustus (LACTOR 17, 2003) A26.5 (Res Gestae); N33-35 (Strabo Geography 17.1.53-54) [DG 279.A4]

Questions to think about:

  • Outline where the portrait head was found, and what is its significance.
  • Analyse the main features of the portrait head.

4. Via Labicana Augustus (Rome) (close-up of portrait)


@Gordon, R. 'The veil of power' in Pagan Priests: religion and power in the ancient world, eds M. Beard & J. North (1990) [BL 727.P2 + online module bibliography]
Cooley, M.G.L. The Age of Augustus (LACTOR 17, 2003) A7, 9-12, 19-21 (Res Gestae)
@Scheid, J. 'Augustus and Roman religion: continuity, conservatism and innovation' in K. Galinsky, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus (ch.8) [DG 279.C2 + e-book]

Questions to think about:

  • In what role is Augustus being presented here, and how?
  • How important was this role to his overall self-representation?