Augustus II

ca. 14 AD


  • The Forum in ca. 14 AD. View from the south-east.
  • The Forum in ca. 14 AD. View from the east.
  • The Forum in ca. 14 AD. View from the north-east.
  • The Forum in ca. 14 AD. View from the north-west.
  • The Forum in ca. 14 AD. View from the west.
  • The Forum in ca. 14 AD. View from the south.
  • The Forum in ca. 14 AD. Topographical overview.
  • The Forum in ca. 14 AD. View from an ancient viewer.
  • The Forum in ca. 14 AD. View from an ancient viewer.
  • The Forum in ca. 14 AD. View from above.

When Augustus died on August 19th in 14 A.D., the Forum Romanum had acquired a whole new physiognomy. Only very little brought the Forum’s old appearance of the 40s and 30s of the 1st century B.C., when Augustus had first entered the political stage, to mind.

Almost all of the buildings of the surrounding architecture now shone in new splendor; the structural predecessors had, in most cases, been replaced by new buildings with a more magnificent and towering architecture and were composed not of travertine and tuff, but of shining marble, the new building material of Augustan Rome. Numerous honorific monuments were also added, which constituted a new aspect of the Forum and displayed the Princeps as the omnipotent ruler of Rome together with his military victories. After all, nearly every building which surrounded the Forum was connected with the Emperor and his family in some way or other: Either they were financed by Augustus or members of his family; or they were built at the behest of the Senate and people in honor of Augustus and his family; or their decoration referred to the achievements of Augustus. All in all, the reign of the Julii dominated the Forum as a new presence – and life on the Forum unfolded symbolically under the eyes of the new Princeps, his sons (who had been elected to be his heirs to the throne) and his adoptive father Caesar (who had been deified). With good reason, the Forum is commonly seen as the new space of representation for the Julii in the Late Augustan Period.

But what seemed, at the time of the death of Augustus, to be a comprehensive plan to reshape the Forum with the aim of representing the new power structures in Rome’s public center and making the transformation of the political system noticeable within the urban landscape of the Forum, was far from a plan that was thought through from the beginning. Instead, the Forum, which was radically transformed under Augustus’ reign, must be regarded as the gradually developed outcome of separate random processes. For Augustus in about 27 B.C., when he was officially made the head of the Roman state as Princeps and de facto converted Rome into a monarchy, such a transformation of the Forum must have been unimaginable. At that time his construction policy for the Forum still stood in the tradition of Sulla and Caesar, because he used only  a few, nevertheless central buildings to occupy the political stage of the Forum (he financed the Curia Julia and the Rostra Augusti as well as the Temple of Caesar). Also the honorific monuments, which the Senate and people had paid for, remained within the scope of former practices of honoring political figures publicly on the Forum (Columnae rostratae, arch monuments for (possibly) Naulochos and (certainly) Actium, later for the victory against the Parthians, the equestrian statue on the Rostra).

The fact that the complete Forum area underwent an “Augustan” modernization, however, has two reasons: First, the wide ranging devastation that was caused by a fire on the Forum in 14 B.C. (a further fire had perhaps occurred in 9 B.C.), which destroyed several buildings such as the Basilica Julia and Paulli, made it necessary to restore several of the Forum’s monuments; second, Augustus’ endeavored to present his chosen heirs to the throne on the Forum (although the early death of his favored heirs, C. and L. Caesar, resulted in the fact that Tiberius had to be installed as the new heir).

The new construction measures also concerned the four biggest and most monumental buildings on the Forum – this clearly indicates that these changes, which were part of the new construction policy, were not of a mere pragmatic nature, but served to strengthen the representation of the individuals who financed them. As the two figures who financed the Basilica Julia in the south, the adoptive sons of Augustus – C. and L. Caesar – presented themselves on the Forum (the inauguration of the building was held in 12 A.D. in honor of the late prince). Next to the Basilica Paulli on the opposite, northern side the Porticus Cai et Luci was erected (most likely to be identified as the porticus that stood before the basilica), dedicated by the Senate in 3/2 B.C., also in honor of the first two heirs to the throne. Tiberius, who was chosen as heir after the deaths of C. and L. Caesar, was represented as the individual who built and financed the Temple of the Dioscuri in the south-east corner and the Temple of Concordia on the west side – both temples were dedicated by him as well as in the name of his deceased brother, Drusus: The Temple of the Dioscuri was finished in 6 A.D., the Temple of Concordia in 10 A.D. These four buildings comprised the group of structures that had the most impressive, towering and magnificent architecture on the Forum; thus, almost every part of the surrounding architecture of the Forum consisted of buildings erected by the Julii and this omnipresent claim to power of the Julii was extended to the next generation.

The reshaping of the Forum after 14 B.C. was not solely confined to the surrounding architecture. The actual surface of the Forum was also remodelled under Augustus and seemed to have undergone fundamental changes. In the year 12 or 9 B.C. the Forum square was paved with travertine plates and contrasted with the roads located sideways of the Forum. This concept of the square as a prominent “island”, which was markedly separated from the roads that surrounded it, is something that we commonly see in our modern cities, but at the time it seems to be an entirely unique concept for Roman fora – clearly, the area located front of the speaker’s platform that Augustus had newly erected (Rostra Augusti) was supposed to stand out as a distinctive space where the Roman people would gather.



Printed Version

Cited as: Muth, Susanne. „Augustus II“, digitales forum romanum, (downloaded on the day/month/year)


Selected Bibliography

F. Coarelli, Il Foro Romano II. Periodo repubblicano e augusteo (Rom 1985) 258-324.

D. Favro, The urban image of Augustan Rome (Cambridge – New York 1996) 195-200, 273-276.

K. S. Freyberger, Das Forum Romanum. Spiegel der Stadtgeschichte des antiken Rom (Mainz 2009) 58-83.

L. Haselberger, Urbem adornare. Die Stadt Rom und ihre Gestaltumwandlung unter Augustus (Portsmouth 2007) 57-59, 73-77, 81, 181, 211-219.

L. Haselberger (Hrsg.), Mapping Augustan Rome (Portsmouth 2008).

T. Hölscher, Das Forum Romanum – die monumentale Geschichte Roms, in: E. Stein-Hölkeskamp – K.J. Hölkeskamp (Hrsg.), Erinnerungsorte der Antike. Die römische Welt (München 2006) 100-122 (113-116).

H. Knell, Bauprogramme römischer Kaiser (Mainz 2004) 36-50.

F. Kolb, Rom. Die Geschichte der Stadt in der Antike (München 1995) 350-358.

S. Muth, Seiner Zeit voraus? Wie das Forum Romanum zu einer neuen Platzstruktur fand, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin Jahrbuch 2007/2008, 2009, 324-346 (341-345).

S. Muth, Reglementierte Erinnerung. Das Forum Romanum unter Augustus als Ort kontrollierter Kommunikation, in: F. Mundt (Hrsg.), Kommunikationsräume im kaiserzeitlichen Rom, Topoi. Berlin studies of the ancient world 6 (Berlin – New York 2010) 3-48.

S. Muth, Historische Dimensionen des gebauten Raumes. Das Forum Romanum als Fallbeispiel, in: O. Dally – T. Hölscher – S. Muth, R. Schneider (Hrsg.), Medien der Geschichte – Antikes Griechenland und Rom (Berlin – New York 2014) 285-329 (296-320).

N. Purcell, Forum Romanum (the Imperial period), in: E.M. Steinby (Hrsg.), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae II (Roma 1995) 336-342 (337-339).

Th. Schäfer, Spolia et signa. Baupolitik und Reichskultur nach dem Parthererfolg des Augustus, Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen. Philologisch-Historische Klasse 1998, 45-123.

J.E. Stambaugh, The Ancient Roman City³ (Baltimore – London 1990) 116-119.

P. Zanker, Forum Romanum. Die Neugestaltung durch Augustus (Tübingen 1972) 8-25, 42-49.

P. Zanker, Augustus und die Macht der Bilder (München 1987) 85-87.