BMCR 2007.08.21

Imperium and Cosmos. Augustus and the Northern Campus Martius. Edited by John G. Younger

, , Imperium and cosmos : Augustus and the northern Campus Martius. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. 1 online resource (xxiv, 222 pages, 33 unnumbered pages of plates) : illustrations.. ISBN 9780299220136. $60.00.

Table of Contents

With the untimely death of Paul Rehak (R.) in 2004, his study of the major Augustan monuments on the northern Campus Martius (specifically, the Mausoleum and Ustrinum Augusti, “Horologium-Solarium”, and Ara Pacis) was left unfinished. The task of bringing this work to light fell to his colleague and partner John G. Younger, who undertook responsibility for editing R.’s manuscript and shepherding it through to publication. This act of pietas is to be commended as a genuine service to scholarship; R. has original and interesting things to say (especially about the Ara Pacis), and we should be glad that his ideas will receive a wide audience.

The reason I call attention to the circumstances surrounding this volume’s publication at the outset of my review is that I think they may help explain some of the weaknesses that regrettably remain. Imperium and Cosmos is an ambitious and extensively researched piece of scholarship. On balance, it represents a welcome addition to the field of Augustan studies. But there are also a number of mistakes, unresolved problems, and missed opportunities that must be pointed out. The chore of identifying flaws in a work such as this is necessarily fraught. Reviewers are routinely admonished to forebear from criticizing books that are not the ones they would have written. In this case, however, one might legitimately wonder if the book being reviewed is what the author would have produced if he had completed it himself.

Following the preface, an extensive chronology (of events between 100 BCE and 68 CE, and two genealogical charts (of Julio-Claudians and the descendents of Mark Antony), the text is arranged into six chapters, with Chapters 1 and 6 representing the introduction and conclusion to the argument. The discussion of the four central chapters proceeds chronologically, tracing the evolution of the topography—first of the Campus Martius as a whole (Chapter 2), then of the area at its northern extreme that forms the focus of this study. Chapters 3-5 deal with the Ustrinum and Mausoleum, the Horologium, and the Ara Pacis; their arrangement apparently is meant to follow the dedication dates of the individual monuments.

The brief introductory chapter, “Brick into Marble: Metaphor and Reality,” places the development of the northern Campus Martius within the context of Augustus’ famous claim about finding Rome a city built of one material and remaking it in the other. R. makes some bold claims of his own about the significance of the monuments he has chosen to discuss: “the complex in the northern Campus Martius, I argue, represents something fundamentally different from the Augustan projects in all other parts of the city and conveys a set of messages that focuses on the person of Augustus himself” (p. 7). Because of their monumentality, novelty, and gestures towards cosmic notions of time, R. suggests that these structures “convey messages that are unabashedly monarchical” (p. 8) and thus represent a fundamentally different view of the nature of Augustus’ power from that found, e.g., in the Res Gestae, where the princeps is at pains to stress the traditional framework within which his dominance was exercised.

R.’s claim that “his (sc. Augustus’) buildings tell a far different story” (p. 8) from the professed traditionalism and constitutionalism of the Res Gestae is certainly worth considering, but such a claim is undermined, or at least complicated, by the fact that the text of the RG itself became part of the monumental landscape of the northern Campus Martius when it was inscribed on bronze pillars and set up in front of the Mausoleum after Augustus’ death. If R. is correct that the primary message of the Mausoleum was one of dynastic and monarchical power, how were ancient viewers supposed to reconcile the tension between what they saw in the monument and what they read in the inscription? R. does not attempt to resolve this issue, nor does he address it when he discusses the presence of the RG in front of the Mausoleum in chapter 3 (pp. 54-8).

Chapter 2, “Field of Dreams: The Campus Martius,” surveys the history of the plain during the Republic and its development as an area for aristocratic self-presentation and competition through the construction of temples and porticoes to benefit the populace who gathered once a year in the Campus Martius to elect magistrates. R. traces the gradual expansion of the urban fabric in this region, starting with the districts close to the Capitoline hill (Circus Flaminius and Villa Publica), spreading north and west with the addition of victory temples in and around the modern Largo Argentina, and culminating in the Republican period with Pompey’s enormous theater and portico complex and Julius Caesar’s project to rebuild the Saepta. In addition to these euergetic projects, R. also calls attention to some of the other functions of the Campus Martius that are thematically relevant to the monuments he will discuss in the other chapters, specifically its role as a site for public burials (like Sulla’s) and as the location for the celebration of a large portion of the ludi Saeculares.

The interventions of Agrippa, which included porticoes, a public bath complex (supplied by the newly constructed Aqua Virgo), extensively landscaped parks to the north of Pompey’s theater and east of the via Flaminia in the so-called Campus Agrippae, and, of course, the Pantheon, are included in this chapter, as are other Augustan-era projects in the southern zone of the Campus Martius. This arrangement evidently reflects a deliberate attempt to set Agrippa’s works apart from what R. sees as the more precisely “Augustan” (i.e., Augustus-authored) projects that lay further north. The resulting impression is somewhat misleading, however. The northern corner of the Campus was not so divided off from the rest of the plain as to justify treating it in isolation from contemporary developments to the south. In fact, a case could be made that Agrippa’s monuments reinforced the messages articulated by the ones Augustus built.

For example, Agrippa’s Pantheon had a statue of Augustus on the porch and apparently was round in form and open to the sky inside. Such a monument might seem relevant to the issue of the emperor’s relationship to the circle of the heavens. It therefore is frustrating to find that this temple has been excluded from the discussion when R. considers the cosmic implications of monuments that lay just a few hundred meters to the north. While R. does notice that Agrippa’s Pantheon probably faced out over an open field in the direction of the Mausoleum, he prefers to call attention to the fact that the two monuments are not “precisely aligned” along a N-S axis, and thus dismisses any attempt to draw a connection between them (p. 22). Other possible connections, like the one between the geography of conquest described in the RG and the map of the world on display on the wall of the Porticus Vipsania in the nearby Campus Agrippae, are not even considered.1

Chapter 3 examines the first major monument in the northern Campus Martius, Augustus’ enormous Mausoleum, together with the Ustrinum, the site of his cremation. R.’s discussion of the Mausoleum provides a useful survey of recent scholarship, but little in the way of novelty. After an exhaustive catalogue of possible Italic, Greek, and Hellenistic precedents for the Mausoleum, R. concludes that it was designed as “an eclectic but clear statement of power unparalleled in its entirety in earlier Greek and Roman tombs” (p. 61). One possible parallel that R. finds intriguing—that with the σῆμα of Alexander the Great—is difficult to assess.2 The fact that Augustus visited this tomb when he entered Alexandria after Actium is duly noted (pp. 50-51), as is the ideological significance of the Mausoleum in the context of the revelation that Antony intended to be buried with Cleopatra in Egypt (pp. 36-37). While R. calls attention to the two small obelisks that flanked the entrance to the Mausoleum, the precise nature of the Alexandrian influence on the design of Augustus’ tomb is not clearly articulated. Nor is any mention made of the significance of these touches in light of the proximity of the great Isaeum in the middle of the Campus Martius, clearly an important locus for the transmission of Egyptianizing influences in Rome at this time.3

More problematic is the discussion of the connection between Augustus’ tomb and his ustrinum. Following Jolivet, R. locates the crematory several hundred meters to the south of the Mausoleum in the vicinity of present-day Montecitorio, where the sites of later Imperial ustrina have been identified.4 As R. points out, this location is not far from where Romulus was said to have ascended to heaven, and it may be that Augustus saw this as an appropriate setting for his own anticipated apotheosis. The idea is appealing, but there is an unresolved issue of chronology. R. implies that the place for Augustus’ Ustrinum was chosen at the same time that work began on the Mausoleum. This is far from evident. Despite R.’s claim that Strabo wrote his description of the site “sometime before his (sc. Augustus’) death” (p. 33), we do not know when this location was established. In fact, Strabo (who refers to the monument as a καύστρα) may be describing a monument set up by Tiberius on the site after Augustus’ body was cremated.

Chapter 4 deals with the “Horologium-Solarium,” an immense solar calendar that used an Egyptian obelisk as its shadow-casting gnomon. Since the studies of Buchner, classical scholars have tended to view this monument as part of an integrated complex with the Ara Pacis that signaled a connection between the emperor and peace by casting its shadow towards the altar at sunset on Augustus’ birthday.5 R. follows this line quite closely, even providing a point-by-point refutation of the criticism brought by Schütz against Buchner’s reconstruction (pp. 81-85). The present writer is more inclined to skepticism, but R. does not stray far from the communis opinio in seeing this sundial as communicating a link between the cosmic order of the seasons and the new era of peace heralded by Augustus’ rise to power.6 In any case, the real contribution here is the stress R. places on the monumentality of this sundial and the attention he brings to the care and planning that must have gone into the transport of the obelisk (together with its twin, which was set up in the Circus Maximus) from Heliopolis to Rome. Whatever the cosmic implications of the calendrical tinkering that stood behind the working of this “time machine,” it is helpful to be reminded that the very existence of this monument was also a clear statement of the real, material power that the princeps was able to bring to bear in the terrestrial realm.

Chapter 5, which covers the Ara Pacis, is where R. makes his greatest contribution. I, for one, find his reinterpretation of figural panel on the right-hand side of the western entry to the screen wall utterly convincing. Instead of Aeneas sacrificing the Lavinian sow and her thirty piglets (the traditional identification), R. sees the bearded figure as Numa, establishing peace through a sacrifice according to the fetial law, which he established. While R. has argued this case elsewhere, it nevertheless is useful to see it integrated into a fuller discussion of the monument as a whole.7 The beauty of this identification is that it brings balance and unity to the interpretation of the four figural panels of the Ara Pacis, and helps us to understand its implications for Augustan peace. The goddesses represented on the east side of the monument correspond to the exemplary kings on the west (Roma:Romulus and Remus :: Pax:Numa), and both sides can now be read as sending the same clear message—that the foundation of Rome was a precursor to the establishment of global peace. I wonder if it might also be possible to see the invocation of Numa’s exemplum as relevant to the interpretation of the nearby solar calendar, since Numa was credited with establishing the Roman religious calendar that the Julian reforms perfected.

Chapter 6 recapitulates the claims made in Chapter 1 and looks at how the meaning of the monuments around the Mausoleum was solidified after Augustus’ death and deification. Ultimately, however, the claim that “all the monuments … convey specific monarchical messages that are at variance with the emphases in the literary sources of the time and recent modern scholarship” (p. 145) fails to convince, because it is not clearly supported by the preceding text. Indeed, one of the things which R. repeatedly points out is that many of the features that he identifies as “monarchical” about these monuments were anticipated in the building program of Pompey the Great. But even Cato accepted Pompey as a champion of the republican cause.

For the most part, errors of fact are rare, as are misprints. There is, however, one confluence of these factors that I found particularly disturbing. It is twice stated that the location of the Mausoleum may have been influenced by that of a tomb thought to be that of Romulus (p. 11, 36). This idea is not supported by any evidence of which I am aware. In fact, the article that is cited to justify this claim is not actually about Romulus’ tomb, and has nothing to do with the site of Augustus’ Mausoleum.8

For the reasons set out at the beginning of this review, it is difficult to formulate a coherent final assessment of this work. I have called attention to some of the more obvious difficulties with the argument, but there are still more problems lurking for the unsuspecting reader. There are too many loose ends in the early chapters, and one sometimes has to struggle to make the author’s case for him. For those who are willing to read carefully, however, there are also a number of salutary observations and a few real insights waiting to be discovered.


1. See C. Nicolet, Space, Geography and Politics in the Early Roman Empire. (Ann Arbor, 1991), 95-122.

2. N. J. Saunders, Alexander’s Tomb. (New York, 2006) offers an engaging look at the epistemological vacuum that surrounds this monument.

3. See especially F. Castagnoli, “Influenze Alessandrine nell’urbanistica della Roma Augustea,” RFIC 109 (1981), 414-24.

4. V. Jolivet, “Les Cendres d’Auguste: note sur la topographie monumentale du champ de Mars septentrional,” ArchLaz 9 (1988), 90-96.

5. E. Buchner, Die Sonnenuhr des Augustus: Nachdruck aus RM 1976 und 1980 und Nachtrag über die Ausgrabung 1980/1981 (Mainz, 1982), but see also the criticisms of M. Schütz, “Zur Sonnenuhr des Augustus af dem Marsfeld,” Gymnasium 97 (1990), 432-57.

6. For more on the importance of notions of time and the Julian calendar reform in Augustan ideology, see D. Feeney, Caesar’s Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History (Berkeley, 2007), 184-211, A. Wallace-Hadrill, “Time for Augustus: Ovid, Augustus, and the Fasti,” in M. Whitby et al. (eds.), Homo Viator: Classical Essays for John Bramble. (Bristol, 1987), 221-30.

7. P. Rehak, “Aeneas or Numa? Rethinking the Meaning of the Ara Pacis Augustae,” Art Bulletin 83 (2001), 190-208.

8. J. Geiger, “The Tombs of Remus and Romulus: An Overlooked Source and its Implications,” Athenaeum 92 (2004), 245-54, cited by R. as “Geige 2004.”