Rome’s First Emperor Augustus 2000 years and counting

I’m love a bit of history. I love the stories. I’m living in the right place. But the problem is once I’ve read or watched something, I instantly forget it. So I have to keep revisiting. But that means that every time I do so I discover something new. And then sometimes an opportunity comes along and all the bits come together. The Augustus exhibition, Augustus Inventing the Empire, reminds me that the story of Rome is constantly retold and waiting, there to be discovered. 

    When we think about ancient Rome, we often think of its main players as Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra. However, it is the man who followed them Octavian, who on becoming Rome’s first emperor Augustus ushered in a new golden age of peace and prosperity; one that left its mark on Rome, western civilisation and our perceptions of the ancients for centuries. 

   To mark the 2000 anniversary of the death of Augustus, an exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale commemorates his life and impact, revealing the political genius, the reformer, the builder and the patron of the arts; bringing together rare pieces on loan from museums across the world, some never before seen in Italy.

Bust of Augustus

   Caius Octavius, or Octavian was born in 63 BC and became the adopted son of Julius Caesar (he was his great-nephew). Octavian brought an end to years of civil war and embarked upon a new age of empire. As reward, Octavian received the title of Augustus from the Senate, meaning worthy of veneration as a god or divine. No mean feat for a man whom Mark Antony described as “the boy who owes everything to his name”. After defeating Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium in 31BC, Augustus began a 40 year reign, the longest in Roman history. Augustus oversaw the expansion of an empire the size and scale of which had never been seen before. The Medinaceli frieze never previously reconstructed (taken from collections in Hungary and Spain) tells the story in incredible detail, imagine a 2000 year old marble of the Bayeux Tapestry and you get the idea.

Wikipedia Commons via Till Niermann

   The quality, and quantity of statues is remarkable. The amount of Italian luna marble on display is extraordinary. Two thousand years of survival mirroring the survival of Augustus and his historical reign. The number of pert marble bottoms and rippling muscles is also quite something to behold.

   One of Augustus’ great boasts is that he turned Rome from a city of brick into one of marble. You can still see examples of the mark that Augustus made in Rome today. 

Poppies at the Forum of Augustus

   Parts of his magnificent Forum still survive, the Ara Pacis the marble altar dedicated to Pax Augusta (the peace brought by Augustus) has been reconstructed next to the Mausoleum of Augustus and Teatro Marcello, built as a tribute to his favourite nephew after his early death, is still standing and unbelievably still in use as apartments.

Teatro Marcello Jukk_a via Flickr

The exhibition continues until the 9th February.
A longer version of this article can be found at


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