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Studying for a test? Prepare with these 5 lessons on Ancient Mediterranean: 3500 B.C.E.-300 C.E. .
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Video transcript
Many people have portraits of their husband. That's true, and this was found in the villa of Livia, and Livia was Augustus' wife. And it was found in her villa, the villa at Primaporta. Most people now have just a photograph of their husband in their home, not a full-scale marble sculpture! --Not usually But that's exactly what Livia had. Except that, although this was found there, in her home, these sculptures had enormous political significance: I mean, they were filled with Roman political ideology, as was so much ancient Roman art. Well, this was probably a copy of a bronze, which would have been used In a much more public environment. --And, probably, many many copies were made and this is just one that has happened to survive. It was important for the emperor to distribute his image throughout the empire, and so many copies were made of images of the emperor. Well, this is long before photography, of course, and most people would never get to see the emperor-- so you distributed the likeness, and in a sense, the attributes of the ruler through sculpture and through painting. 'Likeness' is a good word, because it is 'like' Augustus, but not exactly Augustus because, surely, this is idealised: he is made to look younger, handsomer, more athletic, but we can still identify his features across many different sculptures Augustus is a complicated figure. He says that he is re-establishing the Senate but he does that as a strategy to, in fact, consolidate power--to become Rome's first true emperor. That's right, and he does that at quite a young age, whereas the rules of the ancient Roman Republic were old, experienced men. There was an age requirement for holding office during the Republic. In this new era, ushered in by Augustus, of the Empire, he wants to communicate a very different image, one where he is more godlike; he is more youthful, more transcendent. So, we have the new ruler of the Empire, who is using this sculpture as a way of communicating how he wants to be understood, what he wants to represent to his public, to those that he rules. The identity that he wants to portray and communicate is god-like and very much recalling the ancient Greeks-- the Golden Age of Pericles, of 5th century BC in Athens. So, how does he do that? For one thin, the proportions of his body follow the Canon-- that is, a sculpture that we now call the Doryphoros by Polykleitos from ancient Greece, a sculpture that showed the beauty of the body. So he takes on a Greek ideal. In a way, he is saying, 'I am going to create a Golden Age, just like the Golden Age of 5th century BC Greece. So I am going to show myself as the famous sculpture from that age.' Then he shows us that he has what it takes to do that: For one thing, down at his ankle, pulling at his hem, is Cupid. Cupid was the son of the goddess Venus. Augustus traced his ancestry back to Aeneas, the founder of Rome, and son of Venus. So, by putting Cupid down there, we are meant to remember that Augustus is descended from a Goddess. He is saying that he is, in fact, part divine. Also, not only did he say he was descended from Venus, he also said he was the son of the god Julius Caesar, an actual human being, who has been deified--made into a god--subsequently by Augustus. So he has 'God' written all over him. In fact, he literally does on his breast plate, where we see the god of the sky, and the goddess of the earth. So, all of the divine forces come together here for Augustus' rule. The breast plate is probably a thick leather cuirass that is embossed with scenes that are almost a kind of personal resume. The most important scene shows the Romans reclaiming ther standards from the Parthians. Augustus had defeated the older enemy of Rome, who had taken their standards in an earlier battle. So the fact that the Parthians are shown here returning the standards is a significant gesture of defeat and acknowledgement of the power of Rome. So, we have a man that is of divine origin, that is a brilliant military leader, that is shown ennobled in the tradition of the great ancient Greeks. This is a tremendously powerful visual propaganda.