The Age of Augustus

Module code: AH2023

  • How was Rome transformed under Augustus, the first emperor?
  • Was Augustus’ rule a Roman Golden Age, or a totalitarian tyranny?
  • What can poetry, architecture and religious ritual tell us about this period?

Under Augustus (31 BC – 14 AD), Rome surfaced from the civil wars that had swamped the Republic for almost a century. Following his victory over Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium, Augustus created a new empire or Principate, and placed himself at its head. His rule was widely celebrated as a glorious period. In his words, he transformed Rome from a city of brick to a city of marble, witnessed the emergence of the greatest poets in Latin literature (Virgil, Propertius, Ovid) and brought peace to a world ravaged by war. But what was the cost of this transformation? Did Augustus destroy the liberty of the old republic? Did he lay the groundwork for rule by a succession of lunatics and incompetents? And did some of the writers of the period express their hostility to his rule through subversive poetry?

In this module we will investigate Augustus and the world that he helped to create. We will look at contemporary poetry and prose, architecture and archaeology, sculpture and scurrilous gossip to piece together an image of Rome at the moment of its greatest transformation. We will pay particular attention to primary materials in translation, including passages from some of the most important works in world literature.

Topics covered

  • Actium and its aftermath
  • Poetry and the princeps
  • Building the city
  • War (and what it was good for)
  • Augustus’ political reforms
  • >Sex and plotting in Julia’s entourage
  • Religion and the Golden Age
  • The legacy of Augustus
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