If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:4:54

Video transcript

DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: Many people have portraits of their husband. DR. BETH HARRIS: 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 Prima Porta. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: Most people now have just a photograph of their husband in their home, not a full scale marble sculpture. DR. BETH HARRIS: Not usually. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: But that's exactly what Livia had. DR. BETH HARRIS: 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. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: Well, this was probably a copy of a bronze, which would have been used in a much more public environment. DR. BETH HARRIS: And probably many, many copies were made and this is just one that has happened to survive. And it was important for the emperor to distribute his image throughout the empire. And so many copies were made of images of the emperor. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: Well, this is long before photography, of course, and so most people would never actually get to see the emperor. So you distributed the likeness, and in a sense, the attributes of the ruler through sculpture and through painting. DR. BETH HARRIS: And likeness is a good word, because it's like Augustus but not exactly Augustus. Because surely this is idealized. He's made to look younger, and handsomer, more athletic. But we can identify his features across many different sculptures. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: 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. DR. BETH HARRIS: That's right. And he does that at quite a young age, whereas the rulers 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 god-like. He's youthful, he's more transcendent. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: So we have the ruler of the empire, who is using this sculpture as a way of communicating how he wants to be understood-- in a sense, what he wants to represent to his public, to those that he rules. DR. BETH HARRIS: 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 fifth century BC in Athens. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: So how does he to do that? Well, for one thing the proportions of his body is following the "Kanon--" that is, a sculpture that we now call the "Doryphoros" by Polykleitos from ancient Greece, a sculpture that showed the beauty of the body. And so here he's taking on that Greek ideal. DR. BETH HARRIS: In a way he's saying, I am going to create a golden age just like the Golden Age of Greece from the fifth century BC. So I'm going to show myself like the famous sculpture from that period. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: And he's then moving on to show us that he has what it takes to do that. For one thing, down at his ankle pulling at his hem is Cupid. DR. BETH HARRIS: And Cupid was the son of the goddess Venus. Augustus traced his ancestry back to Aeneas, the founder of Rome. And Aeneas was the son of Venus. So by putting Cupid down there, we're meant to remember that Augustus is descended from a goddess. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: So Augustus is saying that he is actually, in part, divine. DR. BETH HARRIS: And also, not only did he say he was descended from Venus through Aeneas, but he also said he was the son of the god Julius Caesar. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: Where that's an actual human being who has been deified, made it into a god subsequently. DR. BETH HARRIS: Right, by Augustus. And so he's got god written all over him. And in fact, he literally does on his breast plate, where we see the god of the sky and the goddess of the earth. And so all of the divine forces come together here for Augustus' rule. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: This breast plate, it's probably a thick leather cuirass. It is embossed with scenes that are almost a kind of personal resume. The most important scene shows the Romans reclaiming their standards from the Parthians. DR. BETH HARRIS: Augustus had defeated this older enemy of Rome, the Parthians, who had taken their standards in an earlier battle. So the fact that the Parthia's are shown here returning the standards is a significant gesture of defeat and acknowledgement of the power of Rome. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: 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 tremendously powerful visual propaganda.
AP® is a registered trademark of the College Board, which has not reviewed this resource.