Today we talked about the transition from the Republic to the Empire in the context of political and social considerations. We also went to the Palazzo Massimo, a large museum that we only saw bits and pieces of. When there, we discussed Roman portraiture, among other things.

Walls of Rome

  • Servian wall: 4th century BC
  • Not actually built in the Regal period by Servius Tullius.
  • Rome won’t have a wall again until 700 years later.
  • Imagine the change in circumstances that prompts a city without any wall at all to build the massive Aurelian walls!

Republic to Empire

Octavian defeats Mark Antony

  • Yesterday: the effect that the transition from Republic to Empire had on the fabric of the city.
  • Today: the political and social implications of this same transition.
    • Big ramifications for Rome for centuries.
  • Julius Caesar gathers lots of power, but there was the latent anti-monarchial sentiment. He was assassinated in the curia of Pompey.
  • Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) – a trusted military subordinate of Caesar – thinks he will be Caesar’s heir.
    • Goes into the house of Vestal Virgins (where wills were often kept) to retrieve the will of Julius Caesar.
  • Without reading it, Antony gathers everyone, expecting to be named Caesar’s heir.
  • But Octavian, Caesar’s nephew, 19 at the time, is named Caesar’s primary heir.
  • Octavian does what would seem to be impossible. At 19, he outmaneuvers many older and more experienced Senators and other leaders.
  • Octavian has a rocky relationship with Antony.
    • Second Triumvirate: Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus.
    • Carve up Mediterranean: Antony in the East, Octavian in the Italian peninsula and the West, and Lepidus in North Africa.
    • Lepidus is quickly shunted aside: he was only used for his money.
  • Antony spent much of his time with Cleopatra VII in Egypt. (Interestingly, Julius Caesar had already fathered a child by Cleopatra).
  • Octavian and Antony try to work together. Octavian even marries his sister to Antony (not that it phased his attachment to Cleopatra, as it seems).
  • Antony and Cleopatra have three children.
  • Octavian’s account – which is somewhat suspect since winners write history – is that Antony and Cleopatra were planning to take over the whole Mediterranean and instill their children. So Octavian is forced to take action: another civil war.
  • Battle of Actium: 31 BC.
    • Naval battle.
    • Octavian sits out the whole battle comatose after having a fit of some sort. Marcus Agrippa, Octavian’s trusted general and friend, defeats the forces of Antony and Cleopatra. Neither Antony nor Cleopatra is captured or killed, but it was a decisive defeat for them.
  • Later, Octavian besieges Alexandria; Antony and Cleopatra commit suicide.
  • Egypt is made a province of Rome… Octavian’s province directly. Egypt was very important because of its grain, which the Romans were highly dependent on.

Marcus Agrippa

  • An enigmatic figure: why did he stay loyal to Augustus and end the cycle of perpetual civil wars?
  • From a less powerful Aristocratic family than the Julii. Perhaps he knew that he did not have the bloodlines to cut it with the Senate?
  • Also perhaps did not have the patience and the savvy to hand the political maneuvering side of things?
  • A very good general, tactician.
  • Also very good at practical things:
    • Cleaning the sewers.
    • Clearing the channel of the Tiber.
    • Etc.
  • Loyal to Augustus throughout his whole life.
    • Even upends his personal life in loyalty to Augustus. (Divorces his wife to marry Julia on Augustus’ wishes).

Octavian’s PR campaign

  • Octavian takes on the title Augustus as part of his PR campaign.
  • Augustus proceeds to make the charade of restoring the Republic. We know this from the wording of coinage from the period, among other evidences.
  • How does he do this?
    • Takes on Tribunicial powers by consent of the people and the Senate.
    • However, unlike in the Republican system, he stood alone with no one to veto him.
  • Augustus allows for other people to run for offices (e.g., consul), but they are only figureheads. Augustus had all the real power.
  • Title: princeps. Most respected member of the Senate who was always able to speak first on issues.
    • Initially/traditionally, the post was one of “first among equals.”
  • In short, Augustus took control of the whole state, placing himself at the top, but clothed the whole thing in the guise of Republican ideals.

Aftermath and discussion

  • Both Caesar and Augustus become titles within the imperial framework.
  • The empire is never called the empire by the Romans, but the principate. Cf. princeps, above.
  • Julius Caesar was deified after the people saw a comet and identified it as his ascension to godhood.
    • Augustus picks up on this quickly, and uses the propaganda of divi filius (“son of god”) to his advantage.
  • The transition from Republic to Empire marked a monumental sea change.
    • Societal organization becomes pyramidal.
    • Large buildings now come from the hand of emperors.
  • Pax Augusta
    • After 70 years of civil war, this is what the people longed for.
    • Lasted for around 200 years, with a couple hiccups here and there.
    • Augustus realizes that this is the key. He was a populist just like Julius Caesar before him.

Palazzo Massimo

Statues had color in antiquity

  • We have a tendency to assume that ancient Greek and Roman statues were just white (marble). However, this was not the case.
  • Hair, eyes, clothes, were painted. Anything that would need to stand out.
    • Garish colors, perhaps, to our tastes.
  • Over time, the pigments were worn down, and the color was lost
  • Renaissance sculptors, fond of gleaming marble, helped perpetuate the false idea that ancient statues were without color. This was simply not the case.
  • Almost all the polished marble statues that we see today would have had color in antiquity.
    • The colors would have made the statues far more lifelike.

Statue of Minerva

  • A good example of polychromy.
  • This one: made of polychromatic marble.
  • “Piece work”
    • Pieces carved separately and then assembled.
    • Can achieve the same effect by carving a statue out of a single block and then painting it with pigment. But this is nowhere near as long-lasting.
  • Females portrayed as white – sometimes marble could be left without color, since females with extremely pale (~white) skin was an established artistic form. Cf. the Monterozzi frescoes. Paleness was a sign of status.
  • This is a statue of Minerva. Aegis on cloak. Head of Medusa = apotropeic.

Introduction to portraiture

Modern portraiture

  • Idiosyncracies
  • Specific distinguishing features
  • The subject of the portrait is clearly recognizable

Greek portraiture

  • Highly idealized: subjects made to look more perfect than in reality.
    • “Airbrushed”

Roman portraiture

                       Figure 1: These images are all examples of Roman portraiture.

Figure 1: These images are all examples of Roman portraiture.

  • The Romans were veristic
    • All of their flaws, wrinkles, and warts are replicated in their sculpture.
  • Needed people to be able look at them and know who they were.
    • Recognition of portraiture plays into the political system of public benefaction.
  • But not 100% authentic
    • Romans lied about their age: said they were older than they really were. This is because age is associated with experience, wisdom, authority.
  • The Tivoli General: an example of the hellenization of Roman sculpture
  • Portrait: c. 100–70 BC.
  • Last generation of the Republic.
  • Found at Tivoli
  • Called the Tivoli General. Draped around him: the cloak of a general. We don’t know his name.
  • Face: veristic, aged. Body: idealized.
    • Face and body don’t seem to go together.
    • But testing has confirmed that they do.
  • Context in which statue was made: conflicting cultural trends:
    • Roman trends
    • “Invading” hellenic trends
  • Veristic and idealized are “languages:” they communicate ideas.
    • Veristic: wisdom, experience, authority.
    • Idealized: same things but on a grander scale. Heroes and gods are idealized.
    • Convey much the same message in two different ways.

Terme bronze statuary

  • Statue of Greek ruler: “Terme Ruler”
  • Put on display as spoils of war.
  • Imagine statues like this pouring into Rome, competing with the traditional (Roman) clothed veristic. This may very well be one of the sculptures helping to push tho Romans towards the idealized form.
    • Physically “how” hellenization happened.
  • Above the belly-button: an inscribed number.
    • A catalog number, hundreds of bronze statues brought to Rome.
    • It is thought that the number was to help with organization.
  • Twisting of his body, torsion: encourages viewer to walk around the statue.
  • Statue of Greek boxer: “Terme boxer”
  • Broken nose
  • Cuts on face, inlaid copper = blood.
  • Gloves worn to maximize damage.
  • Not a portrait, but as a general image of an athlete.
  • Work of hellenistic art, final form of Greek art. A Greek original, like the Terme Ruler.
  • Older: boxer past his prime.
  • Typical for statues to be of victor. This appears to be a statue of a defeated athlete (you can tell this from the slumped position).
  • The turned head encourages the viewer to walk around to view the boxer’s face.
    • When you do: you look down into his face… and in this position you are in the position of the victor!

The Labicana Augustus

  • Labicana = street in which the statue was found.
  • Augustus faced a problem with portraiture.
  • Too young in the beginning to really make use of a veristic style that presents him as old and experienced.
  • Doesn’t want the idealized associations that the warring, powerful generals of the civil wars used.
  • Toga: traditional Roman clothing for statues.
  • Classicizing
    • Not classical: too much verism (pointy chin, ears, etc.).
    • But classical elements: emphasizes youth and absolute serenity
    • Romans look back to 5th century Greece as a golden age.
    • Augustus taps into the idea of this golden age.
  • The way he is wearing his toga – pulled up over his head – indicates that he is involved in some form of religious ritual. The Romans thought that is was improper to show the top of your head to the gods.
  • Dated to 12 BC because that is when Augustus became the chief priest of the Roman state. This may not be right.
  • Art and politics were intertwined in a way that is difficult for us to fathom in our very different world.
    • Styles and forms to communicate an idealogical message.


  • Very much a Greek art form. One which the Romans embrace enthusiastically.
  • Tesserae: cubes of stone that make up mosaics.
    • Kink of similar to the modern concept of pixels.
    • Gaps between tesserae fade with distance.
  • Factions in chariot racing. Note that the tesserae are close to being indistinguishable at this distance. (The glare is unavoidable due to how the museum lights the mosaics…).
  • Mosaics don’t fade like pigments.
  • Floor mosaics fare better than wall mosaics (not dependent upon the building staying upright), but they too can get ruined by earthquakes, wear, etc.
  • Once a mosaic was placed, it was not moved.
    • Might be produced and carried to their final destinations.
    • Once set in mortar, relocation was simply not possible.

Opus sectile

  • “Cutwork”
  • Colorful stones and glass cut into specific shapes.
    • Not tesserae because not cubes.
  • Sometimes geometric, floral, animal
    • Figural is much more rare

Fresco from the villa of Livia

  • From what is thought to be the subterranean dining room in the villa of Livia, the wife of Augustus.
  • Romans developed 4 styles of wall-paintings.
    • This is an example of the 2nd style.
    • 2nd-style always wants to create the illusion of three-dimensional open space.
  • Illusion: foreground. Wicker fence, then tamed lawn, then stone fence, then some trees, then a mass of greenery.
    • But the whole thing is two-dimensional
  • The trees closer to us in the foreground are in sharper focus.
    • Atmospheric perspective.

Imperial scepters and imperial guard lances

  • Excavations, slope of Palatine hill
  • Found remains of imperial scepters and imperial guard lances.
  • These are the only imperial scepters and imperial guard lances that have ever been discovered (thus far, at least).
  • We know of these scepters and lances from other sources, but these are currently the only material objects (rather than indirect references to them).
  • 306 AD: the imperial regalia of Maxentius?
    • Thought that the imperial regalia was hidden to keep it away from Constantine.