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In a famous passage in his life of Augustus, Suetonius reflects on the extent of the transformation of Rome's cityscape under the princeps: in Suetonius' estimation, Augustus had 'so beautified [Rome]… that he could justly boast that he had found it built of brick and left it in marble'. Much has been written about the Augustan program of building and refurbishment in the area of the Fora, and in the Southern Campus Martius. In Imperium and Cosmos, Paul Rehak briefly discusses the process by which Augustus and other members of his family remodelled these public areas into Julian family monuments, excluding the great Senatorial families who had traditionally used them for competitive displays of power and wealth.

But Rehak's focus is on the Northern Campus Martius, and the complex of four monuments built by Augustus in the decades after Actium. These monuments – the Ustrinum (site of Augustus' cremation); the Mausoleum; the Horologium-Solarium (an enormous sundial); and the Ara Pacis Augustae (the Altar of Augustan Peace) – form a distinct part of Augustus' building program. Unlike the buildings of the Southern Campus Martius and the Fora, the Northern Campus Martius complex possesses none of the 'political, military, commercial or social functions' ordinarily associated with Roman public buildings. Rather, as Rehak argues, they were intended as expressions of monarchical and divine power, and stand in marked contrast to Augustus' preferred image of himself as first among senatorial equals.

Imperium and Cosmos provides a meticulous discussion of the monuments' structure and the imagery of their sculpture, contextualising Rehak's analysis of the overall ideological program behind the complex. Rehak mounts a compelling case for the complex as a 'cognitive map of cosmic imperium', intended to commemorate Augustus' life and achievements, to serve as the ground for his apotheosis and deification after his death, and as a 'declaration and definition of' the imperial role Augustus had come to play, a yardstick against which his successors would be measured. The complex resembles the monuments of Hellenistic ruler cults – and, as Rehak points out, this resemblance is no coincidence, given Augustus' veneration of Alexander the Great, and exposure to the royal sites of the East.

Far from emphasising continuity with the Republic, each of the monuments that make up the complex 'convey specific monarchical messages' to the viewer. The Ustrinum facilitated Augustus' apotheosis as his mortal body was destroyed by fire, while the Mausoleum – unmistakeably a dynastic tomb – provided a resting place for the new Roman Imperial family, and was surmounted by Augustus' deified figure, looking out over Rome from what must have seemed a heavenly height. The Horologium-Solarium 'elevate[d] Augustan time and the birth of the princeps to a cosmic level', stamping Augustus' conception, birth and life as events of immense astrological significance – the beginning of a new 'Golden Age' – and placing Augustus at the centre of the cosmos. Finally, the Ara Pacis served as a memorial to the peace Augustus had won, but also as a symbol of the new 'Golden Age', and a means by which Augustus could align his achievements with those of Rome's first kings, Romulus and Numa.

In Imperium and Cosmos, Rehak has comprehensively detailed the ideological underpinnings of these monuments, and their place as reflections of the evolution of Augustus' own conception of his role and achievements, not only in Roman politics, but in history. Like the Res Gestae – set up in bronze in front of the Mausoleum – the complex was a conscious attempt to define his place in world history, and enforce his self-assessment on generations to come; as Rehak puts it, a 'justification of apotheosis'.