Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Rome under Augustus

A reconstruction of the Forum of Augustus,
showing the Temple of Mars the Avenger

One of Augustus's most remarkable achievements was to change the face of Rome. He faced a double challenge:
  1. to bring the population under control
  2. to turn the city into an architectural show place.

Relief showing the Praetorian Guard
under Augustus
  1. Rome was divided into 14 regiones and 265 vici- these were run by leading tradesmen, often freedmen, thus giving them a stake in government they had never had before. The regiones still survive in modern Rome as Rioni.
  2. Seven separate local fire stations were set up under the command of seven aediles. But the command structure was inadequate and the fires continued to blaze.  In AD 6, a paramilitary force of freedmen, 7000 strong, the vigiles were founded, under the control of a Prefect. Fully equipped with axes and buckets and the legal right to enter households.
  3. In AD 8 the provision and distribution of grain were organised under a military Prefect with staff.
  4. A police force - the urban cohorts - was set up. This was controversial because it went against the ideology of the city-state. However by the end of his reign the 3000 Urban Cohorts were a permanent institution.
  5. The Praetorian Guard were the only troops stationed in Italy. Initially, they were responsible for crowd control - then they became the personal guard of the Princeps. In 2 BC they became a separate command structure under the two Praetorian Prefects.
Augustus's reforms made Rome more efficient. They also introduced a new element of professionalism and specialisation- a move away from the previous self-help pattern of both Greece and Rome.

Rome had a population of one million and was by far the largest city in the ancient world (Pompeii had a population of 20,000). However, the urban centre was small - only 2.5 miles square. Rome was a city of contrasts, ranging from the Gardens of Lucullus to the 'island' tenements of the poor (insulae). The numerous temples and interests of private owners and developers were formidable obstacles to any major building programme.

The most important part of the city was the Forum. All Roman towns were centred on a forum that was often the only open space available. The forum was a place where a politician met his clients, a place where the people assembled to hear a magistrate's decision, a place to gossip.

The old Republican Rome had grown up unplanned over the centuries. Even the greatest buildings of the late Republic, such as Pompey's theatre, a gigantic stone leisure complex, were only isolated monuments.  Julius Caesar began his own forum with the temple of Venus Genetrix, but he did not live to see his buildings completed. It was Augustus who initiated a massive building programme that transformed the life of the city.

Augustus concentrated on public architecture, much of it commemorated on his coins. The purpose was political propaganda not social reform. According to the historian Suetonius, he claimed that he had found Rome brick and left it marble. This must not be interpreted too literally. He did not plan any slum clearance, and most buildings were of brick faced concrete (the new building material). However, the major temples and squares were built of Carrara (Luna) marble (the quarries had recently been opened).

The Roman Forum
Augustus's main concern was with the temples, which had decayed during the civil wars. He claimed that he had rebuilt 82 in one year alone. The Roman historian Livy refers to him as 
'the founder and restorer of every temple.  
The Forum was the historical heart of Rome, and because Augustus claimed to be restoring the Republic, it had to be the focus of his building programme. He was adept at faking tradition – for example, he revived the 'forgotten' ritual of closing the brazen gates of the temple of Janus when the world was at peace. By this, and by his new buildings, he made the Forum the monument to a single man and his family. He transformed republican space into imperial space.

The Temple of the Deified Julius
By the end of his reign, the monuments of the Julian family were all around. The temple of the Deified Julius dominated the central axis. In the front of the temple were the bronze beaks of Antony' s ships at Actium. At the side, spanning the Via Sacra (Sacred Way), one or possibly two arches were erected to Augustus. The earlier may have been 29 BC and the later 19 BC, after the return of the standards from the Parthians. . 

The Basilica Julia
On the two sides of the Forum stretched the two largest public administrative buildings. Caesar's Basilica Julia (begun in 46 BC) was completely rebuilt after a fire, and named after his grandsons, Gaius and Lucius. The much older Basilica Aemilia was rebuilt after a fire in 14 BC.  It was masked by a portico also named after Gaius and Lucius. Thus, three generations of Caesars were commemorated.  At the other end of the forum, the Rostra acquired a new facade and a golden equestrian statue of Augustus. The Senate House was renamed the Curia Julia, and bore Augustus's name prominently on its facade. Inside was a statue of Victoria and a golden shield, with a flying victory, commemorating the virtues of Augustus.   

The Temple of Concord was restored between 6 and 10 AD by Augustus’ heir, Tiberius.  

The Forum of Augustus 
The ruins of the Forum of Augustus,
showing the Temple of Mars the Avenger
Julius Caesar had begun his own Forum, which was dominated by the temple of Venus Genetrix, but he did not live to see its completion. Augustus built his Forum alongside the old, on a piece of land he purchased at great expense. Thus he could plan from anew and create a much greater architectural unity, with a curtain wall separating it from the slums of the Suburra district beyond. Only a portion of its original space survives - even so, it is intensely dramatic and powerful - some have described it as oppressive. The statue of Augustus Pater Patriae, put up at state expense after the Senate voted him the title, stood in the centre in a chariot. The great Romans of the past stood in the porticoes on either side. The Temple of Mars the Avenger at the end was flanked statues of by cult statues of Venus Genetrix and Julius Caesar.

The Campus Martius 
This was a green field site - a grassy meadow outside the city boundary in the flood plan of the Tiber, a place for army exercises. Before Augustus' s day the most impressive building was the great Theatre of Pompey. Augustus paid for extensive repairs and allows others to extend the entertainment facilities in this area. In 13 BC he put up the Theatre of Marcellus in honour of his nephew. Alongside the theatres, new temples and porticoes  grew  up,  most  notably the portico of Octavia. Octavia later added a library in honour of her son.

Some of the most extensive development on the Campus was the work of Agrippa. His Pantheon was later altered dramatically by Hadrian. He also, by importing a fresh water supply in the Aqua Virgo, gave Rome its first public baths. (There will be more about this in a later post.)

In 28 BC Augustus began the Mausoleum, a memorial to himself and his family. This was a circular construction with a conical tumulus. In front of it later were set up two bronze pillars on which were inscribed the Res Gestae. Near the Mausoleum stood the Altar of Peace, set up after a Senate vote in 13 BC (and reconstructed in 1937). (This will be looked at in more detail later.)

Augustus’s strategy was to avoid the conflict that had been the undoing of Julius Caesar. Under the pretence of restoring the Republic he controlled the magistracies and confined the senators in a gilded cage. 
Tacitus (AD c.56-c. 120) wrote: 
‘Little by little he began to enlarge his powers, to encroach on the proper functions of the Senate, the magistrates and the laws.’
Cassius Dio (AD 150-235): 
‘Nothing was done that did not please Caesar.’