Tag Archives: Augustus

The Mausoleum of Caesar Augustus in Rome — Part 1

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” (Luke 2:1; NIV)

The life and rule of Caesar Augustus (r. 27 BC to AD 14) are well-known. On a trip to Rome in May 2022, we were able to visit a site that I had never entered. I had only seen it from the outside, from the building where the Ara Pacis is currently located (not the original location). The site is the Mausoleum of Augustus where the urns containing the ashes of the bodies of Augustus, family members, and other emperors such as Tiberius, Claudius, and Nerva were interred.

A model of the Campus Martius where the Mausoleum was/is located.

This is a model of the Campus Martius in the first century A.D.   The view is looking south-southwest.  In the foreground, on the north side of the CM is the circular Mausoleum of Augustus.  A long white street leads to the (well-known) Pantheon on the south side of the CM.  The Mausoleum is located 0.45 miles north of the Pantheon. The white street, perpendicular to the above, leads east to where the Ara Pacis originally was constructed.

The tree-lined square at the junction marks the spot where it is thought that the body of Augustus was cremated (ustrinum augusti).  At the midpoint between the Ara Pacis and the cremation spot, was a Horologium, the gnomon of which was an obelisk that had been brought from Egypt.

On the right (west) side of the image, the brown area indicates where the Tiber River was at that time.  On the left (east) side of the image the long white road was the Via Flaminia, today the Via del Corso—some slabs of the ancient road have been found beneath the modern road.

Although today the area of the Campus Martius is built up, in ancient times it was a large open space used for various activities: military exercises, sporting activities, etc.

A Model of the Mausoleum.

Augustus began the construction of his mausoleum in ca 28 B.C., soon after he defeated Anthony and Cleopatra.  It is a circular structure about 300 feet in diameter and about 140 feet tall.  It was composed of a number of concentric circular walls, the outer of which were filled in to provide support for the structure.  Only the lower third of the monument is preserved.

The focus of the mausoleum was a large, hollow, cylindrical column, on top of which a large statue of Caesar Augustus was placed—it is thought that the Prima Porta statue of Augustus is a small marble representation of this original bronze statue.  The Prima Porta statue was discovered on the Via Flaminia in the villa of the empress Livia.

The “Prima Porta Augustus”

This is the “Prima Porta Augustus” that is on display in the Vatican Museum in Rome.  Augustus is shown as the commander of the army addressing his troops.  He is in military dress and the breastplate commemorates the recapture of the “army standards” from the Parthians in 20 BC.  At his feet is a cupid, riding a dolphin, that alludes to the imperial family’s descent from Venus through her son Aeneas and grandson Ascanius.

It is believed that this is a smaller copy of a larger bronze statue of Augustus that was placed on the top of his mausoleum!

This statue, in marble, is about 6 feet 10 inches tall and weighs about 2,200 pounds.  It was discovered in 1863 in the villa of the empress Livia near Prima Porta on the Via Flaminia.

A 4-foot-tall copy of the “Prima Porta Augustus” that is on display in the Vatican Museum.

Next installment — The Mausoleum.


In the Fullness of Time (Galatians 4:4) and the Altar of Peace (Rome)

The Ara Pacis Augustae, (the “Altar of Augustan Peace”), commonly called the Ara Pacis, is not one of the places normally visited by groups that only spend a day or two in Rome.

It is interesting how the Ara Pacis illustrates at least one aspect of “the fulness of time.  Gal. 4:4 But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,

The Ara Pacis Augustae, (the “Altar of Augustan Peace”) is commonly called the Ara Pacis.  Please see below for two images of the altar that illustrate these “peaceful conditions.”

This altar was dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of peace in honor of the peaceful conditions that the Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D. 14) was able to bring to the Roman Empire. It was dedicated on January 30, 9 BC.  Thus, this altar was over 60 years old by the time Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner!

This Augustus is the same Roman Emperor who is mentioned in

Luke 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D. 14) could write about himself

I extended the borders of all the provinces of the Roman people which neighboured nations not subject to our rule. I restored peace . . . with no unjust war waged against any nation.

It is interesting that Paul wrote in the book of Galatians

Gal. 4:4 But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under 1the Law,

During the years following Augustus—ca. First Century A.D.—it was relatively safe to travel by land and by sea, the Greek language was understood and spoken by many, and peaceful conditions prevailed.

In the providence of God, it was during such an era that people such as Paul had the freedom to travel about to spread the “Good News”—the Gospel of Jesus Christ (but see note 1 below).

The following two images of the Ara Pacis exhibit the “peacefulness of the era”—think Royal (governmental) propaganda!

Harmony and peace surround either Pax herself, or Tellus, the earth goddess.  See below for a color representation of how it might have originally looked.

View of the upper left rear panel of the Ara Pacis with Tellus, the earth goddess—or possibly Pax, the goddess of Peace. Note the peacefulness of the image—Augustus had established peace in the Roman Empire (= pax Romana).

The two infants look so contented in the arms of the goddess.  The two semi-nude figures on the left and right of the goddess, with the billowing cloth, may represent the sky (on the left with the bird) and the sea (on the right with a tamed sea creature).  The sheep and the large ox seem very docile!

A procession of dignitaries processing to the dedication of the altar—including Augustus himself on the very left side of the image.

View of the upper south panel of the Ara Pacis.  Near the center of the procession is a child holding his father’s hand.  The father, tall, head–covered (like a priest), facing to the left of the image, is the son–in–law of Augustus, Marcus Agrippa.  The woman on our right of the child is Agrippa’s wife, Livia/Julia, daughter of Augustus, and the child is Gaius Caesar their offspring—an intended heir of Augustus.

On the left side of the image, there is a partial figure with a sharp vertical break.  This figure is that of Augustus himself!

The Ara Pacis was located in the Campus Martius, a large, formerly swampy, parade ground on the east side of the Tiber River—about 1 mi. northwest of the center of the Roman Forum.  Because of the flooding of the Tiber, it was buried in 12 ft. of debris and gradually fragments of it have been recovered.  It was reassembled in 1938.

Note the original location of the “Ara Pacis” on the left side of the Campus Martius.

Check Here to view additional images of the altar.

BTW — Ara Pacis was originally in full color:

Note 1 — obviously, in Judea and Galilee there was much discontent with Roman Rule during the first century A.D.

What was in the building where the Roman Emperors were honored/worshiped?

In the last two posts I described and shared some images of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship) that was found at Herculaneum (near Pompeii). Because of a Latin Inscription that was found there, we know that banquets took place in the room. Suprisingly, in Professor Tuck’s 30-minute talk on this room, he does not mention the contents (see below). So I had never given it much thought.

On our recent trip to the Naples Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli), Italy, our guide pointed out four large statues that were found in the Sacellum! Two of Augustus and two of Claudius! I was very surprised (and excited) to find this out, for although I had visited the museum a good number of times, but no guide had previously pointed these statues out. For me, it was a great experience to connect these statues with a place that has such importance for the topic of the Imperial Cult (aka Emperor Worship).

These four statues are part of the collection that is on permanent display in the large main room of the museum.

A bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.– A.D. 14) who is portrayed as the deity Jupiter (Greek: Zeus). Note that he is holding a “thunderbolt” in his left hand. The statue is about 7 feet tall.
A marble statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.– A.D. 14) who is portrayed as “Enthroned.”

Here, Augustus is semi-nude, as a deity, and is crowned with the Civic “Oak Wreath” Crown—a very special honor given to him for having “delivered/saved” his people

A bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Claudius (r. A.D. 41–54) standing.  He has a spear in his right hand and may have held a “thunderbolt” (as Augustus above) in his left hand.  He probably is being portrayed as a deity (Jupiter) or possibly as a hero.
A marble statue of the Roman Emperor Claudius (r. A.D. 41–54) who is portrayed as “Enthroned.” He is semi-nude, as a deity.
This is the Sacellum of the Augustales in Herculaneum, where these four statues were found.

It is amazing that a new religious movement that claimed that a poor Galilean carpenter, who was crucified by the Romans, believed to be the Son of God and raised from the dead could “compete” with the impressiveness of the well established Imperial Cult and and extensive/powerful Roman Kingdom.

For additional comments on these statues see here.

Steven L. Tuck “Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum,” Lecture 21 in Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City.  Produced by the Great Courses/The Teaching Company, Course No. 3742, 2010.