Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.21

Martin Spannagel, Exemplaria Principis. Untersuchungen zu Entstehung und Ausstattung des Augustusforums.   Heidelberg:  Verlag Archäologie und Geschichte, 1999.  Pp. 462, pl. 24.  ISBN 3-9804648-4-9.  DM 120.  

Reviewed by J. W. Rich, University of Nottingham (
Word count: 2996 words

The Forum Augustum with its temple of Mars Ultor was the supreme architectural statement of the ideology of the Augustan regime, and as such it has been intensively studied, with a huge bibliography accumulating. However, the present work, a revised and expanded version of the author's unpublished 1984 dissertation, examines the inception and evolution of the monument and the statue gallery and its programme with unprecedented thoroughness and detail. The result is a penetrating study which offers important new interpretations.

Works which appeared too late for Spannagel to take into account include my own article, 'Augustus' Parthian honours, the temple of Mars Ultor and the arch in the Forum Romanum', PBSR 56 (1988), 71-128. It is a pleasure to find that we have independently arrived at similar conclusions on some key issues. I hope readers will forgive me for devoting some space below to noting points of agreement and considering issues on which our treatments differ.

(1) The inception and dedication of the Forum Augustum and the temple of Mars Ultor. S. begins with the dedication of the temple and forum. The temple was dedicated in 2 BC, in Augustus' thirteenth and last consulship, during which Lucius Caesar had assumed the toga uirilis and received the title of princeps iuuentutis and other honours, while Augustus himself had finally accepted the title of pater patriae. It is known that the forum was opened and made public property earlier, and S. (p. 20) may be right to conjecture that this had taken place in 5 BC, when Augustus had taken his twelfth consulship and Gaius Caesar's maturity had been celebrated in the same way. S., who holds that one of the main purposes of the forum complex was to further Augustus' dynastic ambitions, rightly stresses the role of Gaius and Lucius in the celebrations of the temple dedication. However, his claim (pp. 35-40) that it was they who dedicated the temple is more problematic. Dio's statement that Augustus dedicated the megaron (55.10.6) is, in the context, naturally taken to refer to the temple, and S.'s claim that the reference is to another part of the forum complex seems strained.

The inception of the forum complex poses notorious problems. Suetonius (Aug. 29.2) says that Augustus vowed the temple of Mars Ultor at Philippi, in 42 BC. This is confirmed by Ovid, but he adds that the god won his title Avenger a second time through the recovery of the Parthian standards (Fasti 5.569-96). The temple did indeed become the repository of the standards (RG 29.2). However, Dio (54.8.3) tells us in his account of the recovery of the standards in 20 BC that a temple of Mars Ultor on the Capitol, in imitation of that of Jupiter Feretrius, for the reception of the standards, was built on Augustus' orders, and this Capitoline temple must be the round temple of Mars Ultor accompanied by standards shown on coins issued at various mints in and around 19/18 BC. Most scholars suppose that a round temple of Mars Ultor was built on the Capitol about the time of Augustus' return from the East in 19 BC and housed the standards until the dedication of the great temple in the Forum Augustum in 2 BC. However, it has in recent years been argued vigorously, notably by C. J. Simpson, that the temple in the Forum Augustum was the only temple of Mars Ultor ever built.1 Like me (art. cit. 79-86), S. enrols with these sceptics (pp. 41-72). The case is surely overwhelming, and it is to be hoped that it will soon become generally accepted. It is altogether unlikely that a temple should have been built on the Capitol to house the recovered standards only to be denuded after a few years by the transfer of the standards to a new temple to the same god only a short distance away. The coins show only that a round temple was decreed, not that it was built. As S. recognises, the best way to account for both the coin evidence and Dio's statement is to suppose that a Capitoline temple of Mars Ultor was indeed decreed, but a subsequent change of plan led instead to the building of a much grander temple in Augustus' new forum.2

S. (pp. 79-85) ingeniously identifies a possible occasion for the announcement of the change of plan. Under 17 BC Dio (54.18.2) reports that Augustus 'instructed those who held triumphs to undertake some public work out of their spoils'. This ordinance will have been primarily directed at the two proconsuls who had recently triumphed from Africa. However, although he had triumphed as long ago as 29, Augustus himself had yet to conform to the ruling: he had earlier used his spoils on road-building, but the Forum Augustum and its temple are the only buildings which he erected ex manibiis (RG 21.1). It is thus an attractive suggestion that, when he issued his instruction to other triumphatores, Augustus also, by way of setting an example, announced this major project to be undertaken from his spoils. In S.'s view, it was then too that he declared that the temple was to serve not only as the repository for the recovered standards, but also as a thank-offering for Philippi, reporting for the first time and very likely inventing his battlefield vow. Thus in his view the inception of the whole forum project may be dated to 17. That year also saw Augustus' adoption of the infant Gaius and Lucius as his sons, and S. conjectures that from the outset the project was bound up with his hopes for the boys.

S. devotes less attention to the question why the Capitoline project was taken up only to be abandoned so quickly. He assumes that the building of the temple on the Capitol was decreed at Augustus' instance and argues that the decree was passed after mid 19 BC and probably after Augustus' return to Rome on 12 October 19 (pp. 64-5 n. 313).3 It is more likely that, as is usually supposed, the Capitoline temple was decreed, along with the other items mentioned in Dio 54.8.3, in 20 BC, when the senate received the news of the recovery of the standards. This raises the possibility that, as I have suggested (art. cit. 84-9), the proposal that the temple should be built on the Capitol and 'in imitation of that of Jupiter Feretrius' came not from Augustus, but from the senate.4 The honorific process, as often elsewhere, may have been a negotiation between those conferring the honours and their imperial recipient.

These conclusions are not incompatible with the attractive suggestion recently put forward by Schäfer, that the round temple of Rome and Augustus on the Athenian Acropolis, built c.19 BC, was modelled on the Capitoline temple of Mars Ultor. As the coins show, news of the planned temple was widely diffused, and so it could well have served as the model for a temple voted by the Athenian people in commemoration of Augustus' Parthian success and his visit to the city on his way home.5

(2) The Aeneas and Romulus sculptures. The central niches of the semi-circular exedrae which flanked the temple of Mars Ultor contained sculptures depicting Aeneas and Romulus performing notable actions. On the north side Aeneas was shown escaping from Troy, holding Ascanius by his right hand and carrying Anchises on his left shoulder, while Anchises carried a box containing the penates. On the south side Romulus was shown as the first winner of the spolia opima, spoils taken by killing an enemy commander (in this case Acron, king of Caenina), carrying his spear in his right hand and with the spoils as a trophy over his left shoulder. S. devotes the second part of his work to these sculptures.

S. begins with a valuable discussion of what can be established about the appearance of the sculptures from the surviving works in various media which derive from them, of which he supplies an admirable catalogue (pp. 90-111, 132-7, 365-400). He argues cogently (pp. 103-11) that, while Aeneas carrying Anchises was a well-established motif, this is likely (contrary to what has often been supposed) to have been the first time that all four elements (Aeneas, Anchises, penates, Ascanius) were combined in art, and the composition was probably a conscious evocation of the distinctive account of Aeneas' flight given by Virgil (Aen. 2.707 ff). As earlier scholars have recognized, this was the first depiction in art of Romulus as winner of the spolia opima. S. shows (pp. 132-6) that the well-known Pompeian painting is not the most faithful reflection of the Romulus sculpture: in the painting Romulus is shown with his left arm forward, whereas in other versions his right arm is forward, and the closest reflections of the original are probably the gems in which he is shown frontally.

After consideration of the Aeneas and Romulus myths, S. passes on to a perceptive discussion of the significance of the sculptures in the overall programmatic scheme of the Forum Augustum. The visitor was evidently intended to envisage Augustus as the successor of both Aeneas and Romulus, and the explicit reference to their reception among the gods in the accompanying elogia (known from copies at Pompeii and Mérida) unmistakeably hinted at his eventual deification. As has often been observed, the feats which the sculptures depicted exemplified virtues -- Aeneas' pietas and Romulus' uirtus -- both of which were among the virtues attributed to Augustus on the golden shield set up in the senate-house.

S. lays particular stress (see especially pp. 204 ff.) on the importance for the overall programme of the Forum of the connection between the scenes depicted by the sculptures and the two acts of avenging which Augustus claimed as his reasons for the building of the temple of Mars Ultor. In avenging Caesar's murder he had equalled Aeneas in pietas towards his father. After winning the spolia opima, Romulus had built a temple to Jupiter Feretrius to receive his spoils and those of others who should perform the same feat. Similarly, Augustus' new temple of Mars Ultor was to house his exceptional spoils, the recovered standards, and the temple law prescribed that others recovering standards should in future dedicate them in the temple (Dio 55.10.3). This is another point on which we have reached independent agreement (cf. Rich, art. cit. 96-7). As S. recognizes, the parallel between the functions of Romulus' temple of Jupiter Feretrius and Augustus' temple of Mars Ultor is a feature which has been taken over from the abandoned Capitoline project. In my view, the parallel was originated not by Augustus himself but by those senators who proposed the Capitoline location.

(3) The statue gallery. The final part of S.'s work is concerned with the standing statues and their accompanying elogia which occupied not only the remaining niches in the exedrae but also niches extending down the main colonnades of the Forum Augustum. Apart from brief references in literary sources, our main evidence consists of the remnants of the elogia which survived on the site or elsewhere in Rome and copies from Arretium. For convenience I cite these elogia below by the familiar numeration of Degrassi's edition (Inscr. Ital. XIII.3). They have, however, now been republished with new fragments by G. Alföldy and L. Chioffi as CIL VI.8.3, nos. 40931 ff., and S. was able to consult this edition in proof.

In this section of his work S. deploys a range of ingenious and subtle arguments to construct a view of the statue programme which is radically different from usually accepted views, and in particular the account of P. Zanker, Forum Augustum (Tübingen, 1970). Of necessity, his case involves a good deal of speculation, but it merits very serious consideration.

Ovid (Fasti 5.563-4) tells us that the sculpture of 'Aeneas weighed down with his dear burden' was accompanied by 'so many ancestors of the Julian line' (Aenean oneratum pondere caro/ et tot Iuleae nobilitatis auos). During the 1924-6 excavations elogia were discovered in the north apse for three Republican members of the Julian gens and five pre-Romulean kings. Zanker held that a selection of Julii and of pre-Romulean kings occupied the fourteen niches on either side of the Aeneas sculpture. S. convincingly argues that there must have been more such statues than this permits, and, following Degrassi, supposes that niches in not only the lower but also the upper storey of the apse were filled with statues, making in his view a total of 31 niches available in each apse.

In a particularly ingenious treatment (pp. 267-87) S. argues that the pre-Romulean kings were presented as a sequence of seventeen statues in the upper storey of the north apse, starting with Aeneas himself at the east end and working round to Romulus as the final figure, and that these were all conceived as kings of the Latins and as members of the Julian family. Much of this construction is very plausible. Thus it is likely that the elogia followed the standard doctrine (from which Virgil had eccentrically departed) that the Latin race had been founded by Aeneas as a merger of the Aborigines and Trojans, and S. argues convincingly that the words '[Iuli ne]pos' must be restored on the elogium of Aeneas Silvius (no. 2) and so that the elogia must have opted for the version in which the kings of Alba were descended from Iulus and not from his half-brother. The other elogium including the name Aeneas (no. 1) can only refer to the founder of the line, and so it follows that Aeneas must have been represented among the standing statues as well as in the central sculpture group. Doubts remain in respect of Romulus and his wicked great-uncle Amulius. If Aeneas was represented twice, Romulus must have been too, but his standing statue seems more likely to have appeared in the south apse, at the head of the kings of Rome. Amulius' villainies will surely have barred him from inclusion, as S. concedes for Tarquinius Superbus (p. 329).

In Zanker's reconstruction the representatives of the gens Iulia occupied just the north apse, while the principes uiri of the Republic accounted for not only the south apse but also the niches on both sides of the main colonnade. S. (pp. 288-99) argues that even the 14 niches of the lower storey of the north apse, which on his view would all be available, would not have been enough for the Republican Iulii and proposes a radically different reconstruction, under which the principes uiri who could not claim kinship with Augustus were located solely in the south apse and colonnade, while not only the north apse but also the colonnade along the north side of the main forum was reserved for members of the gens Iulia and other relatives of Augustus. Two such relatives known to have been included are the emperor's stepson Drusus (no. 9, found in the north apse) and his nephew Marcellus (no. 8). S. argues that a typological distinction can be observed between the elogia of the principes uiri and those of Augustus' kin: while the principes uiri, as Degrassi showed, had two elogia each, one simply giving their name and offices and a larger one recording their achievements, Augustus' kinsmen, S. holds, were given a single elogium incorporating both offices and achievements (if any).6 The elogia for Drusus and for C. Iulius Caesar, father of the dictator (no. 7), were indeed of this latter type, and S. uses this observation to propose conjectural attributions of fragmentary elogia to Sex. Appuleius, cos. 29 and son of Augustus' half-sister, and M. Atius Balbus, Augustus' maternal grandfather (pp. 293-7).

Zanker held that, as at Augustus' funeral (Dio 56.34.2), his adoptive father was excluded from the procession by reason of his divine status and that Divus Iulius made his appearance in the Forum Augustum not in the statue gallery but in the cult statue-group of the temple itself, alongside Mars and Venus. However, S. argues convincingly (pp. 300-16) that Divus Iulius will not have been included in this sculptural group and that he must have figured in the statue gallery, in some specially distinguished way. He accordingly makes the attractive suggestion that the colossal statue which stood against the north end wall of the north colonnade, in the richly decorated room known as the Sala del Colosso, represented Divus Iulius. This suggestion was once put forward by Lugli, but more recently consensus has formed that the statue was a posthumous representation of Divus Augustus. However, as S. shows, there are no compelling grounds for this identification, and his alternative has much to recommend it. As he notes, it offers an explanation for the lack of symmetry in the northern terminations of the two colonnades, usually but inadequately accounted for in terms of Augustus' reported difficulties in buying up private landholdings. S. conjectures (p. 329) that a statue of Pompey, less grand than that of his rival, was placed at the corresponding point in the south colonnade.

On any view, dynastic and republican elements were intertwined in the programme of the Forum Augustum, but, if S.'s reconstruction is correct, the dynastic element was given considerably greater prominence than has usually been supposed, and in his closing section ('Die Sicherung der Dynastie', pp. 345-58) S. perceptively explores the implications of this observation. Much, of course, remains necessarily speculative. Until now our knowledge has been hampered by the fact that the main body of the Forum has remained unexcavated. Important evidence may come to light through the new excavations underneath the Via dei Fori Imperiali: some preliminary reports speak of a second pair of apses (e.g. A. Wallace-Hadrill, Times Literary Supplement, April 28 2000), but no conclusions can be drawn until more definitive information becomes available. However, S.'s original and powerfully argued synthesis raises important questions about both the statue gallery and the overall programme of the Forum Augustum, which all those interested in the Augustan regime should ponder.


1.   For Simpson's discussions see 'The date of dedication of the temple of Mars Ultor', JRS 67 (1977), 91-4; >A shrine of Mars Ultor revisited', RBPh 71 (1993), 116-22 (the latter not cited by S.).
2.   Dio implies that the Capitoline temple was actually built, but at least one item in the same sentence shows him wrongly assuming that a decree was implemented: at 54.8.3 he tells us that on his return Augustus entered the city in ovation, but in fact, as Dio admits two chapters later (54.10.4), he slipped in by night; evidently, the senate must have voted him an ovation, which Augustus declined to accept. The evidence relating to the festivals of Mars, which has often been interpreted in terms of the supposed two temples, is also best interpreted on the assumption that only one temple of Mars Ultor was ever built. The festival of Mars Ultor on 12 May is the only one listed in the inscribed calendars, and Ovid gives his account of the temple in the Forum Augustum on that date. Dio's statement (60.5.3) that the horse-races held on 1 August commemorated not the birthday of Claudius, but the dedication of the temple of Mars, is probably erroneous.
3.   The cistophori with the round Mars Ultor temple reverse type are all dated on the obverse to Augustus; fifth tribunician year (i.e. June/July 19 to June/July 18), whereas coins with other reverse types in the same series are found from the fourth as well as the fifth tribunician year (RIC 505-510). S. takes this as showing that the Capitoline temple was not decreed until the fifth tribunician year (pp.64-5 n. 313). However, the rarity of coins with the dating to the fourth year suggests that the whole series only began towards the end of that year and that it is chance that none have yet been found with the Mars Ultor temple reverse (cf. Rich, art. cit. 82 n. 40).
4.   Dio may have had no more evidence for his statement that the Capitoline temple was decreed on Augustus' orders than for his claim that the temple was actually built.
5.   T. Schäfer, Spolia et signa: Baupolitik und Reichskultur nach dem Parthererfolg des Augustus (Nachrak Göttingen 1998 no. 2), briefly discussed by S. at pp. 65-6 n. 321. Schäfer, who holds that a temple of Mars Ultor was actually built on the Capitol, supposes that the Athenian temple was personally instigated by Augustus and may have served as a temporary resting-place for the standards during his stay in Athens (op. cit. esp. 49-59). However, Augustus can hardly have been overtly involved in the commissioning of a structure dedicated to his cult.
6.   The elogium of C. Iulius Caesar Strabo (no. 6) gives merely names and offices, but it may well have been felt preferable to pass over the actions of that controversial figure in silence. The elogium of C. Marius usually attributed to the Forum Augustum (no. 17) does not fit the bipartite pattern of a princeps uir, and so S. (pp. 318-20) argues that it was erected elsewhere.

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