Rome Reborn

Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities

Rome Reborn

Additional source material

  • Ancient Library Sources (from Peter Aicher, Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, vol. 1, Bolchazy-Carducci: 2004) [Works cited]

    58. Overview of the Palatine Hill. Commentary.

    The pre-urban topography of the Palatine, like the Capitoline's, is lost to us, having undergone a far greater transformation than even Propertius could envision when, although writing before the imperial palaces took over the entire hill, he marveled at Rome's urbanity.

    Although most of the hill looks today as if it has reverted to the conditions of Evander's day (with herds of a different species), the greenery is deceptive, rooted on platforms and debris several stories above the natural bedrock in some places.

    Much of the Palatine has remained unexcavated, but there is one part of the Palatine—the corner of the hill closest to the Tiber, overlooked by the southern balcony of the Farnese Gardens—that not only has been plundered and excavated down to very early levels, but which contains the core sites that determined the hill's later imperial makeover. Here in close proximity to each other are the houses of Augustus's compound [62.], with the Temple of Apollo [63.] on one side of them and the older temples of Victory [60.] and the Great Mother Goddess [61.] on the other. In meaningful proximity to Augustus's residence was the Hut of Romulus [62.], and further down the slope of the hill here was the Lupercal cave [59.]. Admittedly none of these remains is impressive. Some attractive frescoes are preserved in the House of Augustus; the temples have mostly disappeared, and the exact locations of the Hut of Romulus and the Lupercal cave are not known. But if the ruins of this zone are surpassed by both the ruins and the lurid stories of the subsequent palaces, it is the richest section of the Palatine for the intersection of archaeology, legend, and history.

    62. The House of Augustus (Casa di Livia). Commentary.

    Between Domitian's palace and the Temple of Victory the remains of two residences can be seen today. The one to the north, abutting the Farnese Gardens, is traditionally ascribed to Augustus's wife Livia and called the Casa di Livia, and the other was traditionally assigned to Augustus himself. Although the division between separate spousal quarters is no longer accepted, together they formed part of the imperial compound Augustus gradually assembled on the Palatine, and the “Casa di Livia” may indeed have been the refurbished home of Hortensius that Augustus bought before he became sole ruler [62.1].

    Although this whole area was a nice neighborhood in any event, there were some features of this part of the hill that, if they didn't determine Augustus's purchase, were nonetheless significant for his developing image. Nearly contiguous with the back of the house was the Temple of Victory, a goddess much esteemed by Caesar's heir [28.4]. Also somewhere nearby was the Hut of Romulus, held to be a facsimile of his simple hut on its original site. Directly in front of the temples of Victory and the Great Mother, in fact, archaeologists have discovered post-hole traces of Iron Age huts, and a small enclosure there may have contained the dwelling that the Romans preserved and honored as their founder's (oddly, another was preserved on the Capitoline; 9.7). At any rate, we gather elsewhere from Suetonius that Augustus, as a sort of second founder of Rome after the chaos of the civil wars, cultivated a connection with Romulus, and was even close to receiving “Romulus” as a title instead of “Augustus” (Suetonius, Augustus 7.2, 95.2). As so often in Rome but rarely with a finesse equal to Augustus's, topography came to the aid of topology, and did the same work as an overt title, with much more subtlety.

    With Victory and Romulus behind the house, that left the front for an even bigger message, and it was here, in the space between his house and the later Palace of Domitian, that Augustus built the famous Temple of Apollo on land that he had personally owned but then made over to the public (thereby both allowing for a temple, which could be built on private land, and yet closely tying it to his person). It is not clear how this temple precinct included a large portico as well as two libraries—possibly on a platform in the direction of the Circus Maximus; the portico may also have surrounded the temple on three sides.

    Ancient accounts refer to the splendor of this temple. Augustus's own private residence, remaining simple, allowed him to project a character of frugal Republican virtue, while the precinct in front, separate and yet part of his compound, could be lavish to a remarkable degree, justified as an expense for the god even as it projected in no uncertain terms Augustus's own economic and political power.

    The temple was vowed five years before the sea-battle at Actium in 31 BC, in which Augustus defeated Antony and Cleopatra, but it was finished afterwards, and the passage by Virgil shows that the presence of a temple to Apollo on the heights at Actium was a serendipity that didn't go to waste. The sculptural program described by Propertius may also be significant reminders of Rome's (Augustus's) victory over the wild forces of Antony and Cleopatra in the East: the daughters of Danaus murdered their aggressive cousins from Egypt, and Apollo himself had a hand in punishing the recklessness of the Gauls and Niobe.

    Another side of Augustus's character and of his power to suppress is dramatically displayed in the passage by Ovid [63.7], who had been exiled to distant borders by Augustus in AD 8 because of a “poem and a mistake” offensive to the emperor (certainly the puritanical moral reformer must have been galled by Ovid's Art of Love). Later in his career, writing in exile, Ovid imagines one of his books as a visitor who has made it back to Rome. Displaying his creator's characteristic combination of humor with pathos and cheek with flattery, the walking, talking book goes around the Augustan city looking for lodging in one of its libraries, only to find out he has been banned from all of them, including the one at the Temple of Apollo.

    63. The Temple of Apollo. Sources.


    [After the war against Sextus Pompeius in Sicily, in 36 BC] Augustus returned to the city and announced that he was dedicating to public use those homes which he had purchased earlier through his agents to expand his own home. He also promised to build a temple to Apollo with a portico around it, a project he carried out with exceptional magnificence.

    Velleius, History 2.81.3


    Augustus built the Temple of Apollo on that part of his compound that, after lightning struck it, the soothsayers said was wanted by the god. He included colonnades with Greek and Latin libraries and when he was old often convened the senate here and reviewed the senatorial panels of jurors.

    Suetonius, Augustus 29.3


    [In 28 BC] Augustus finished and dedicated the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine, along with the precinct around the temple and the libraries there.

    Dio, History 53.1.13


    [The poet contrasts Cynthia's wild ways with his own upstanding use of time:]

    You wonder why I'm late, my love? The mighty Augustus

    Just opened Apollo's golden portico.

    Columns of African marble border the temple grounds,

    And the fifty daughters of Danaus stand between them.

    A marble Apollo seems to outshine the god himself,

    Lips parted to sing along with his silent lyre,

    And spaced around the altar, looking almost alive,

    Four bulls from the famous hand of Myron stand.

    Then, in the middle, a temple of radiant marble rises,

    A home more dear to the god than Delos itself.

    The chariot of the Sun is upon its pediment.

    The doors are Libyan ivory, finely wrought,

    One door lamenting the Gauls tossed from the peak of Parnassus,

    The other mourning the death of Niobe's children.

    Next, the god himself, between his mother and sister,

    The Pythian Apollo sings in a lengthy robe.

    I wish that you, in your free time, would stroll such grounds!

    Propertius, Elegies 2.31; 32.7-8


    Looking down from his temple above the battle of Actium,

    Apollo bent his bow, and all our eastern enemies

    from Arabia, Egypt, and India turned and fled in terror.

    The shield portrayed Augustus sitting on the snow-white threshold

    Of radiant Apollo, receiving the gifts of foreign peoples

    On the god's behalf and attaching them to the lofty door-posts.

    Virgil, Aeneid 8.704-6, 720-2


    After Augustus assumed the office of Pontifex Maximus [in 12 BC], he collected all the Greek and Latin prophetic writings in circulation that were anonymous or attributed to unqualified authors, and burned more than two thousand of them. He preserved only the Sibylline verses (though editing even these) and deposited them in two gilded cases beneath the pedestal of the Palatine Apollo.

    Suetonius, Augustus 31.1

    74. The Forum of Augustus. Sources.


    Augustus constructed numerous public works, among which the following are perhaps the most outstanding: his forum with its temple of Mars the Avenger, the temple of Apollo on the Palatine, and the temple of Jupiter the Thunderer on the Capitoline.

    Augustus built his forum because the two existing forums could no longer accommodate the increasing number of people and law cases, so that a third was thought necessary. Because of this need for space it was opened for business even before the temple was finished, and it was stipulated that the new forum be the venue for public trials as well as the selection of jurors by lot. He had vowed the temple to Mars during the battle at Philippi, which he fought to avenge the death of his father Julius Caesar. He decreed, therefore, that the Senate use the forum to deliberate on war and the awarding of triumphs, that those heading off to provinces with military command be officially escorted from here, and that those who returned victorious should deposit the insignia of their triumphs in his forum.

    Suetonius, Augustus 29.1-2

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