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Chapter XIX

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Rome
by
Tenney Frank

published by
Henry Holt and Company
New York 1923

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter XXI

 p355  Chapter XX

Government, Arts, Religion

The Government. Before we proceed with the narration of political events it may be well to take a brief survey of the Roman world to see how it was governed under the new order, how it lived, and worked, and what it accomplished. The republican machinery as such survived and performed its usual functions, though in a restricted sphere. The two consuls, the Senate, the praetors, aediles, tribunes, quaestors, the minor officials, and the popular assembly still had many tasks to perform. The consuls, like the other magistrates, were elected annually by the assembly — the centuriate had now been completely merged with the tribal assembly — but the princeps usually let his preference for the most important offices be known, and his candidates were always elected. Indeed by use of the tribunician veto he could have prevented the election of any candidate who did not meet with his approval. The consuls, however, had little independent power, since Augustus had charge of the armies, and even in the administration of Rome and Italy they proposed no important measures without consulting him.

The Senate continued to be a body of ex‑magistrates, though Augustus freely exercised the censorial privilege of excluding the unfit. In function it nominally had work of a wide scope, for contrary to the customary practice of Caesar, Augustus treated it as a competent legislative body; that is to say, when a senatus consultum had been passed Augustus seldom took the trouble to carry it to the assembly. He put it into force at once. Thus the assembly gradually came to be merely an elective organ, and the Senate  p356 inherited its legislative power. Augustus also recognized the old‑time judicial claim of the Senate that it was competent to serve as a court. It was a convenient body before which to try cases involving important political persons, and as Augustus was a member and voted first, his judgment usually prevailed. It would have been more difficult to impress his judgments gracefully on the regular jury courts. On the other hand, the Senate's scope of activity was greatly reduced by the fact that it no longer controlled the frontier provinces. It no longer assigned men to important fields of activity, it did not determine Rome's foreign policy; envoys from subject states usually appealed directly to Augustus, not to the Senate. It did retain a nominal control of religious cults, it was supposed to be responsible for administrative measures, in Rome and Italy, and it appointed the governors of the senatorial group of provinces. Finally, except for Egypt, senators alone were chosen by Augustus as governors of his provinces. The tribal assembly continued through the rule of Augustus as an electoral body, but after his death this function also fell to the Senate, and the assembly disappeared.

Praetors performed their usual functions as judges of the regular standing courts (quaestiones perpetuae), though it must be added that Augustus carried several cases directly to the Senate, and even assumed judicial functions himself by inviting a hearing before himself and his bench of chosen jurists (his consilium). Hearings before the emperor may at first have been considered as belonging to censorial or martial procedure. At any rate no one ventured to question their legality, and the practice became more and more common in the Empire. In the praetors' courts we are surprised to see that Augustus reverted to a Gracchan practice of making knights instead of senators jurymen. His purpose, however, was not to belittle the Senate. As provinces were now governed there was little room for the old‑time antagonism on this score. Finally, praetors continued  p357 to serve as provincial governors and were also called upon more and more for civil service offices. So, for instance, Augustus for a while placed praetors instead of quaestors in charge of the state treasury (aerarium Saturni).

The aediles for a while had to bear increased burdens, for Augustus organized a regular police department as well as a public fire department (vigiles). Since, however, the inexperienced officials who held office for but a year proved to be inefficient administrators of these permanent bureaus, Augustus in 6 B.C. organized these departments, detailing to them seven cohorts of about 1,000 men each under military discipline and placed over them a permanent praefectus vigilum of equestrian rank who was directly responsible to the emperor. Similarly he created a department of the food supply, for the supervision of which he appointed a praefectus annonae. This department continued to provide cheap grain to about 200,000 of the poor, and Augustus personally assumed the burden of expense, paying the costs from profits accruing from his provinces. Agrippa took personal charge of the water supply, restoring the old aqueducts and building a new one (Aqua Virgo, 19 B.C.) at his own expense. After his death a water department (cura aquarum) was also organized under imperial supervision. Thus we can understand that the aediles came ultimately to look upon their position as a sinecure.

Tribunes also found less to do after Augustus assumed the tribunicia potestas. These young officers hereafter ventured neither to propose nor to veto bills, and their position came to be an empty honor after the assembly lost its functions as a legislature.

Quaestors lost control of the treasury and of most urban tasks, but with the increase of care in the administration of provinces, they found occupation as financial agents of the provincial governors abroad.

We find then that the offices of the old cursus honorum  p358 provide a large senatorial class interested in affairs of state and trained by diverse duties for civil service. Indeed, he added to the formal dignity of the cursus by insisting that young men should, before standing for the quaestorship, be tested out by service on one of the four lesser boards; these were the decemviri stlitibus judicandis (the ten men who presided over the lowest court), the tresviri monetales (officials of the mint), tresviri capitales (who executed capital sentences), and quattuorviri viis in urbe purgandis (commissioners of city streets).

Thus far we have spoken of the survival of the republican governmental machinery, and have noticed that there was a constant tendency for this to yield to the rival power in the dyarchy, the princeps and his retinue. We must now examine the position of the princeps. As proconsul of the frontier provinces — and after the year 23 he had this office renewed for successive terms of five or ten years — Augustus had charge of most of the army, and of the provinces which, in point of fact, brought in the best revenues. As holder of the tribunicia potestas he could completely control legislation; hence he could, de facto, accept senatus consulta as the equivalent of laws, and he could also issue administrative decisions, rescripts, and edicts with sufficient assurance that no one would question their validity even if he did not submit them to the Senate. It is probable that he rested the question of their validity on the general order issued more than once by the Senate that Augustus' edicts did not need senatorial validation. But it is also necessary to bear in mind that during three centuries of the principate the validity of the prince's unsupported acta ceased at the death of the prince unless they were validated by the Senate. To such an extent was the government not yet an absolute monarchy.

In view of his constantly enlarging administrative powers the princeps, like the Senate, had a retinue of civil servants. This group came to be very elaborately organized later.  p359 For the present the foundation of the system was being laid. To conduct important wars Augustus appointed senators of high reputation, usually members of his family, like Tiberius and Drusus, his stepsons, or his able friend and assistant Agrippa (who had married Julia). As legati of his own provinces he invariably chose senators, except in Egypt, where some knight was always sent as prefect. The ancient explanation for this exception was that he dared not permit a representative of a noble family in that position. We may suspect that he also took into consideration the fact that the prefect of Egypt would presumably be engaged chiefly in looking after the vast financial concerns of the state monopolies, so that knights, because of their experience in business, seemed preferable to senators for the post. For the bureaus which he gradually organized at Rome (water, police and fire, grain, etc.), he invariably chose the prefects from the equestrian class. Finally, he drew a line between the state treasury (aerarium) and his own, a thing that Julius Caesar had neglected to do. The state treasury was again put under the charge of the Senate, and to that flowed, of course, the revenues of the senatorial provinces. Augustus, on the other hand, had charge of the funds that came from Egypt, a very profitable possession, and from the other frontier provinces. It was this imperial treasury that soon came to be called the fiscus (the basket). Its resources and liabilities were very much larger than those of the aerarium. And we may add that since Augustus was more apt to have a surplus in the fiscus than the Senate in the aerarium, he frequently made subventions from it to the state treasury and constantly assumed new liabilities against it. Indeed, he freely made subventions also from his own private accounts (the patrimonium, and the res privata), which were exceedingly large, since men of wealth often left him generous bequests at death (such bequests amounted, it is said, to about 70 million dollars). There was of course no authority that could audit his records  p360 of imperial moneys. According to the eastern theory of sovereignty now generally accepted at Rome, the provinces were his by right of conquest. In fact, his own bookkeepers and personal financial agents, all trusted freedmen of his own household, managed the affairs of the res privata for him.

Augustus' standing army usually counted about eighteen legions, plus their full quota of auxiliaries. Four legions were stationed in Syria to guard the East; six legions guarded the Balkan frontiers; three stood on the Rhine, three in northern Spain, one in Numidia, and one in Egypt. None were needed in Asia Minor, since the client kings of Cappadocia and Galatia protected that reign. Ex‑praetors and ex‑consuls commanded the armies, but the other officers, the tribuni militum and the praefecti of the allied auxiliaries were all drawn from the equestrian rank. Indeed, it was to supply a reliable officers' corps that Augustus honored and carefully watched over the semi-noble rank of the knights.

In the government of the provinces Augustus made many improvements that the Senate followed in time, though very reluctantly. He did away with many abuses of the contract system that had in the past led to so many grievous exactions. In the place of the equestrian publicans, he set his personal procurators to collect the tribute, and these men were carefully held to account for any wrongdoing. The provinces were duly grateful for the protection they had so long desired. His provincial governors, though senators, were legati of the emperor, and constantly under his eye. The crimes of a Verres could not now be committed in the provinces under his charge, and he was not so busy that he did not also keep an eye on the senatorial proconsul and call the Senate's attention to any act of misgovernment that might be committed.

The emperor's relation to the province of Egypt was peculiar. The administration was in the hands of a prefect  p361 who was appointed by Augustus. Private property in land in a strict sense of the term was unknown. Since land had little value except in so far as it was watered and fertilized by the Nile and the canal system controlled by the kings, the kings had "owned" all the land of Egypt. When Augustus took the kingdom he naturally fell heir to this property and became the legal owner. On wheat lands he, like his predecessors, charged in rental from one to three bushels per acre, according to the productivity of the soil. For oil‑producing crops a certain percentage of the yield was charged; the state bought all of it at a fixed price, manufactured the edible products from it in state factories, and distributed these products to small agencies to be sold at fixed prices. This is an illustration of what took place with almost all products. Augustus not only owned the land, and controlled the production, but converted the raw materials in state factories and sold the finished products. It was he accordingly who regulated the manufacture and sale of flax, hides, salt, oil (the butter of the ancients), honey (their sugar), natron (their soap), brick, timber and much else. This enormous business establishment brought the imperial fiscus of Augustus a revenue of about ten million dollars per year. And yet Augustus required only one legion to hold this province.

Such in brief was the government that Augustus devised by the amalgamation of the fragments of a republic and a repudiated monarchy. We know now that it failed. Later emperors, drunk with power, encroached upon the Senate, while the Senate, drawn apparently from an anaemic stock, neither performed its share efficiently nor withstood encroachments. Yet Caesar's type of autocracy, given men like Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, would certainly have been worse. Augustus' experiment was worth a trial. It at least gave the Republic another chance to make good by keeping its machinery intact. It was partly his fault that the best blood of the senatorial aristocracy had been wasted  p362 in the proscriptions of the triumvirate, but no deed of his during his long régime as princeps can be blamed for the failure of the generous plan of government that he shaped so patiently and tactfully.

Augustan literature. The influence of Augustus made itself felt even outside of political life. He had for instance learned from Julius Caesar that it was good policy as well as a duty for a political leader to encourage literature. It would be an overstatement to say that Augustus directed the trend of literary art by his criticism, though he had clearly conceived views that were well-known. What was more serviceable, he helped dignify art in the general estimation by encouraging the better poets, and he made it possible for his friend Maecenas to divert property, by way of a state pension, to some of them. When one remembers that writers could not draw any adequate compensation from their productions, since all books had to be copied by hand, and unauthorized copying could not be prevented by any copyright law, one sees that patronage was absolutely necessary if literature was to flourish. This Augustus went very far to provide, and it is not apparent that either he or Maecenas imposed their own judgments in return for aid. It is not an accident that the phrase "Augustan age" of literature has come to be nearly synonymous with "Golden age."

Vergil. P. Vergilius Maro was of course the first poet of this age. As a boy he had been brought up in the sound traditions of the Cisalpine province, his ancestors being presumably of the large group of frontier folk who went north to find new homes in the second century when large plantations and slaves crowded free citizens out of Italy. He was thoroughly schooled in Greek and Latin at Cremona, in rhetoric and law at Rome, he served as a soldier under Caesar in the civil war till his health was broken, then his enthusiasm for Lucretius carried him to Naples to study philosophy under the Epicurean masters there. His early work, which he suppressed during his life-time, shows  p363 the marked influence of Lucretius and of the romantic poets belonging to Catullus' group. What brought him fame was a collection of ten pastoral poems, the Eclogues, in which he pictured the idyllic life of the simple Greco-Campanian shepherds and peasants about Naples at the very time when these people were being evicted by the Triumvirs to make place for soldiers. This work attracted the attention of Octavian and Maecenas, who restored the properties he had lost in the confiscation and made it possible for him to continue his writing at leisure. Next the farmer's son wrote a didactic poem on the art of agriculture, the Georgics, a work suffused with a romantic love of nature which grew partly out of the simple animism still alive in rural Italy, partly out of Lucretius' energistic philosophy.

Vergil's greatest work is of course the Aeneid. It was a happy thought that led him to choose Aeneas as hero, the mythical founder of Rome's government, for it enabled him to call men's attention away from the disastrous wars of the immediate past to the story of those sturdy ancestors who could be represented as typical of the qualities that had made Rome. By a skilful use of the mantic cave at Avernus he could pass in review the conspicuous characters of Rome's history. The Aeneid thus became a national epic in the truest sense. As a national epic it has a story which cannot now carry the interest that it did to the Romans. But we can still feel the compulsion of its stately and sonorous hexameters, the genuine humanity of its essential philosophy, the play of romance about its theme and its characters, and we can appreciate its adequacy as an epitome of Roman culture.

Horace. One of Vergil's most intimate friends was Quintus Horatius Flaccus, who had also lost his property by eviction, more deservedly perhaps than Vergil, since he had been an officer of high rank in Brutus' army at Philippi. Living in poverty and in disappointment at the turn of political affairs he wrote satires in his spare moments. Vergil  p364 discovered him and on his behalf appealed to Maecenas, who secured him a farm in the Sabine mountains in return for the property he had lost. Leisure and a competence restored his temper, and after a decade there appeared the three books of odes which have secured his fame. Horace did not follow in the steps of Catullus. Harrowing experiences and many years of battling with actuality, not to mention a severe literary training at Athens, had removed him far from romantic illusions. The simple artlessness of Catullus' first style seemed to him too naïve, and the Alexandrian sentimentalism of the later pieces offended Horace's sense of the dignity of poetry. When Horace began to write lyrics his youth and impulsive passions were but sad memories which he blotted out. Friendship and loyal comradeship, good cheer and song seemed to him the essence of life. Of such themes he chose to write in verses perfected to the very last requirement of a meticulous taste. As a result he has produced a group of poems which has ever since been a touchstone of art to poets who have cared for classic grace and finish. In his later days he wrote in easy hexameters a series of epistles that embody the poet's principles of conduct, an unaffected, gentlemanly, and wholesome code, and in this series he included the famous "Ars Poetica," giving expression to the sound poetic principles which he had imposed upon his age in the face of the disheveled art that he found popular in his youth.

The sentimental school, however, persisted despite the classical reaction to which Horace contributed. Cornelius Gallus, a wealthy young Celt whose father may have received Roman citizenship from Caesar, carried the Catullan traditions into new and fruitful forms. Falling in love with a well-known actress of the day, and presently deserted by her, as he might have expected, he impulsively sang of his own gift as Catullus had done before him. The form he adopted was the elegiac couplet adapted to pastoral song, and because of his success this form was henceforth adopted  p365 by Roman poets in the writing of subjective lyrics. Augustus, perhaps in order to encourage Gallus, employed him in high offices of state, choosing him in fact for his first prefect of Egypt — which of course was the end of his poetry. Why Augustus should have selected of all men a romantic verse-writing Celt for this astounding task of organizing a vast monopolistic empire, of digging canals and superintending oil, beer, and clothing factories is beyond comprehension. Memories of school day versatility — for they had been schoolmates — may have influenced him. At any rate it was the poet's undoing. He vaunted his military successes, lost whatever control over himself he may have had, and, offending Augustus deeply, he was recalled. The shock of this disgrace was more than his delicate sensibilities could endure, and he took his own life. His literary type — the subjective elegy — was inherited by Propertius, an exile from Perugia with boyhood memories of the awful destruction of his native city during the Perusine war. The poet, imaginative and morbid, passionate and self-centered, spent the few years of his youth ringing all the changes on the theme of unrequited love. At his early death he left five books of brief elegies. A man of sunnier nature who carried the elegiac form into a more idyllic setting was Tibullus, a poet of quieter imagination and temperament. Tibullus died the very same year as Vergil, Propertius survived them about three years.

Shortly before these poets died, Ovid began to write for the court-circles that craved entertaining stories and ennui-dispelling amusements. His early books of Amores are elegiac lyrics of the Tibullan type, more facile indeed, but less sincere. His Art of Love was a daring challenge to Augustus' social reforms, which it wholly disregarded. The Metamorphoses, which performed the inestimable service of transmitting practically all the fanciful Greek myths to the medieval and modern poets, is a work of remarkable brilliance. Here swift facility in the narrative art is combined  p366 with imaginative vividness and sure judgment in the choice and combination of stories. Ovid was very popular in the younger profligate set of the court, and he reflected all too faithfully its tone and spirit. When late in life Augustus had to banish his own granddaughter Julia because of her conduct, several of her intimates were also exiled, and Ovid suffered with the rest. He was sent to Tomi on the Black Sea never to be recalled.

Among the many poets whose works have been lost we may mention C. Asinius Pollio, who as legatus of Mark Antony was instrumental in bringing the triumvirs to a peaceful compromise after the Perusine war, and was for this deed lauded by Vergil in his fourth Eclogue. Pollio had to his credit many tragedies that were highly praised in his day. Another writer of tragedies was Vergil's fellow townsman and life-long friend, Varius Rufus. A score of other poets of this time are known to us only by the bare titles of works now lost.

Prose. We have suffered even heavier losses in prose. Pollio's great history of the civil wars through which he lived would have been of inestimable service had it survived, for he had taken an important part in them, he wrote brilliantly, and he had the moral courage to be fair to both sides. His many orations also would have been appreciated now, for he was considered by many a worthy rival of Cicero himself.

Of Sallust's histories we possess only two pamphlets, the Catilinarian Conspiracy, a youthful and rather amateurish booklet with a democratic bias but written in a pleasingly concise style, and the Jugurthine War, which seems to be more reliable. His later work, an extensive history of the Sullan period, is to our great regret lost except for quoted fragments.

Of Livy's great Roman history we have only thirty-five of the original one hundred and forty‑two books. Considering that the complete work was about twelve times the  p367 size of the book before you, we are not to suppose that the whole rested on first‑hand research in the archives. Indeed modern historians have been able to find in it many traces of hasty work. But though Livy usually relied upon secondary materials he knew which of his predecessors were the most trustworthy and he generally knew how to counter the bias of apologetic biographers. He also had the courage to do justice to the republican cause though writing for the Augustan public. In a work written for the general reader, he avoided, more than we should prefer, giving full details of constitutional changes, and in attempting to visualize the important scenes without the aid of illustrations, such as modern histories use, he dwells upon picturesque and dramatic occurrences more than it is now customary to do. Granting his aim and his public, however, the work constitutes one of the great feats in literature. Livy's characterizations of historical persons by means of the spoken words put into their mouths make them dramatically real, his portrayal of the mood of the crowd or the army at a critical moment reveals a sympathetic imagination of the highest order, and his swift, easy, exuberant and malleable style has seldom been matched. His history was brought down well into Augustus' reign. It is not an exaggeration to say that if the last ninety-eight books of this work were to be found not one page of our histories from the Third Punic War to the beginning of the Empire would escape revision.

Concerning prose style in general it may be said that this was a period of transition. Cicero's Philippics were the last examples of the rotund and periodic style that had flourished in the senatorial circles of the free and leisurely Republic. Pollio and Messalla, the foremost speakers of the Augustan day, practised the direct and businesslike mode of speech which recognized that persuasion no longer came by word of mouth but by brief imperial notes. Augustus, Agrippa, and Tiberius spoke openly in favor of the matter-of‑fact style, though Maecenas in the fragments of his prose  p368 that have survived reveals a peculiar love for an ornate and indeed meretricious style. His sentences might indeed be called a kind of "imagist" and "polyphonic prose." The schools were at a loss what to teach. They pretended still to be preparing their pupils for a public career through the art of declamation when everyone knew that a public career depended now more on judicious silence than on volubility. Perhaps they harbored the hope that the Republic would return. Meanwhile they attempted to make an art out of the terse style by insisting upon verve, point, and vivacity. Thus the prose of the schools came in time to be excessively and unnaturally pithy and epigrammatic, and in the hands of tasteless writers it took on forced conceits and far‑fetched antitheses. It was in these schools of rhetoric that Seneca learned to write.

Art. In the arts other than that of literature the greatest progress was made in architecture, and this was induced by the demand for temples, theaters, and public buildings of a larger size than the Greek cities had needed. Architectural form was to a large extent determined by the building material available in Latium. Rome, for instance, had no marble within hundreds of miles. The volcanic tuff which lay everywhere was usually an extremely ugly tobacco-brown, while the travertine — a calcareous deposit from the warm springs below Tivoli — seemed too porous to be very serviceable. It was indeed coming into use, but it was only later that the finer grades were discovered. On the other hand Rome was fortunate in having near at hand inexhaustible quantities of volcanic ash which when mixed properly with lime made a very strong cement. By throwing crushed stone into this a concrete of remarkable durability was made. But this too was ugly and had somehow to be veneered. In the Augustan period it was therefore customary to make the walls of large blocks of tuff or of concrete lined with neatly cut lozenges of tuff, and coat the whole with stucco. If the stucco was to be very fine it was  p369 made of lime and powdered marble. Finally for the more splendid buildings the facing was made of slabs of marble clamped firmly to the concrete. The various kinds of marbles were very expensive, however, since they had to be transported long distances, and hence they were used chiefly as a veneer, as in the interior of the Library of Congress at Washington. But great care was used in attempting to secure effective color schemes. The dull golden marble of Numidia (giallo antico), the fine white marble with purple veins of inner Asia Minor (pavonazzetto), the serpentines and dark red porphyries of Africa were the favorite decorative marbles, but there were varieties to the number of 500 of which specimens have been found.

For the roofing of large spaces new methods had also to be discovered. The cantilever principle had already been used in making wide spans for roofs, but, not having sufficient water pressure, the fire brigade had difficulty coping with fires which destroyed timbered roofs. Free stone arches were liberally used over smaller spaces, even the straight arch was invented to take the place of wooden architraves, but the arches when thrown over large spaces exerted a thrust with which it was difficult to deal. Hence the solid concrete dome was invented. A temporary domed ceiling of timber was first constructed on scaffolding, then brick arching laid over this, after which layer upon layer of concrete was spread. This concrete hardened into a solid cap as firm as metal and with no outward thrust. It bore straight down upon the solid walls. Then of course the temporary wooden ceiling was removed and the inside of the dome was stuccoed with suitable patterns. The interiors of such buildings were impressive for their spacious majesty even though the exteriors too often gave a sense of mere bulk. The massive dome of the Pantheon still standing at Rome (as rebuilt by Hadrian) has a diameter of over 140 feet with a height equal to the diameter. The chief criticism of a structure so roofed would be that the  p370 decorative columns and cornices were not an integral part of the structure but had to be fitted into it afterwards. This flaw, however, is due to the mass of the structure and rigidity of the material, and it is the same criticism that has to be faced by the modern architect who is forced by needs of great modern cities to use iron, an equally ugly and rigid material. It must be admitted that the Romans solved with great skill the new problem of building dignified structures for large gatherings out of what would seem to be very refractory material.

In the sculptured decoration of such structures we also find a new note. Romans were intensely interested in their history and their national concerns. Domitius' altar​1 to Neptune (35 B.C.) was effectively decorated with sculptures and bas‑reliefs referring to his exploits on the seas: figures of marine divinities, a group of soldiers receiving their honors, the dignified offering of the suovetaurilia by the admiral. Similarly the magnificent Ara Pacis,​2 dedicated by Augustus in 9 B.C., portrayed in the impressive reliefs of its frieze processions of Roman dignitaries marching to the dedicatory sacrifices in honor of the eternal peace which was to be. The art is pleasing and correct and in a dignified classic spirit befitting the age of Horace and Vergil.

It was Augustus' boast that he had found Rome a city of unbaked brick and left it marble (Latericiam accepi, marmoream reliqui). This is acceptable as a general statement, though it would have been more to the point to say that he had found Rome built like a Latian town and left it with an architecture worthy of a world empire. The question was after all not so much one of the introduction of marble, as of great principles of building. Unbaked clay had not as a matter of fact been used for temples and public buildings for a long time. It had been and was still used under stucco for small private dwellings. The structures  p371 built by Augustus and Agrippa did very much to dignify the city — the great Apollo temple with its library, the Theater of Marcellus, the great Forum of Augustus with its temple to Mars Ultor and its sculptured epitome of Roman history, the temple to the Divine Julius, the Pantheon with the baths of Agrippa, in addition to the restoration of eighty‑two old temples. But this was not all. The Augustan reign was a period of great prosperity and of peace that gave many private citizens the courage to build themselves new palaces on the many hills of Rome. Everywhere men adopted the suggestions of Augustus' architects, and replaced their humble houses with lofty and spacious structures of concrete decorated with marble columns and capitals, and such private dwellings did perhaps as much to change the appearance of the city as did the personal undertakings of Augustus.

These private palaces of the wealthy in general followed the lines that we know from the larger houses of Pompeii. The front part embraced an atrium or court which was but partly covered, and into this opened several dwelling rooms. In the more spacious rear part the rooms similarly opened inward upon a quadrangular portico or peristyle that in turn surrounded a rather large garden. It was the fashion in the Augustan period to acquire the services of skilful painters who decorated the interior walls, while the stucco was still wet, with scenes from mythology, literature, or nature and with decorative arabesques in what has been called the "second style." Here again the aim of the architect was to enhance the beauty of the interior rather than of the exterior. Such houses usually spread along the ground, they seldom made much use of a second story since the inner garden was very important to them and must not be shaded by high walls. Humbler folk, however, who could not afford homes of this kind — and land inside the walls was naturally scarce and expensive — were more and more drifting to tenements and apartment houses built in  p372 blocks. And to meet the needs of the growing city, capitalists were now building a great number of these. The use of concrete had developed to the point where it was possible to construct huge apartment houses rising to six stories or more. These buildings resembled in all essentials the apartment houses found in every large city to‑day. There was, however, little attempt to beautify them, since they were meant for poor people who could pay but little rent. The rooms were small and not too well lit — some had only secondary light — and the ceilings low; but since the whole structure, even the staircase, was usually of concrete, such buildings were fairly sanitary and nearly fire proof.

Religious Cults. The Greco-Roman religion, still recognized by the state, the ceremonies of which the priests dutifully performed, had now but little influence. Augustus, however, insisted that all the old rites should be carefully observed, thinking perhaps that these at least helped to keep out foreign cults of questionable value, and that they gave the people a certain sense of security at times of excitement. He was very careful to keep all temples in good order, and to see that augural, fetial, and pontifical boards were filled by men of dignity. The Romans viewed these cults of Jupiter, Mars, and the rest very much as many Italians of to‑day view the rites of the church. Even though they may never attend mass, except at the time of marriage and at the death of a relative, they wish their children to attend and are ready to seek the consolation of the church in times of great distress. What the state had occasion to fear was the gradual increase of worshipers at the shrines of Asiatic and Egyptian deities. The devotees of Magna Mater, Mithras, and Isis were largely Syrian and Egyptian people who had come to Rome from the East as slaves and who when they were set free and became citizens began to exert pressure upon the state to let them have at Rome the rites to which they were accustomed. The faith  p373 in immortality and the practice of rites of purification, which these religions also brought, were perhaps beneficial. But there were also in some of them orgiastic mysteries and an over-emphasis upon the sexual element that displeased the Romans. Whoever wished, however, to perform such rites outside the walls was permitted to do so.

The simple folk of the country had never departed far from the animism of a primitive day. They still said their prayers to the unnamed spirits of the harvests, of the fields, and of the springs. A general name for the spirits of fields and homes was the word "Lares," good angels, as it were, that were satisfied with some slight token of devotion. "If when you pray to your 'Lares' you bring some salt and meal with a sinless hand it is enough," said Horace consolingly to the farmer's wife.

And here we come to a very strange innovation made by Augustus in the latter half of his rule. As we have seen he had, in 27 and 23, when he shaped his plan of government, definitely rejected Caesar's plan of accepting deification. Later, however, he did much to associate his name with religious rites in such a way that the Senate drew the desired inference and after his death recognized him as Divus. It is difficult to discover the reasons for this new policy; perhaps Augustus simply yielded to the inevitable wave of Orientalism that was now sweeping westward. We can easily trace the progress of this "Imperial cult." In the East the provincials had become so accustomed to "bowing the knee" before kings that they had even insisted upon kotowingº to Roman proconsuls. Caesar had made no effort to stop this custom during his dictatorship, nor had Antony after him. Augustus, though he made it clear in 27 that he desired none of it in Italy, had permitted the name of Augustus to be associated with the Goddess Roma in a state cult that rapidly sprang up all through the East. Then seeing that  p374 this cult might become a symbol of patriotism and devotion to the ruling city, he encouraged the rite in the western provinces though not in Italy.​3 Accordingly in Gaul and elsewhere provincial concilia were formed to which each tribe sent representatives whose chief function was to carry on this peculiar cult. Then the cult came into Italy in two modified forms. The prominent freedmen of the cities, who were generally Orientals, were organized, and six of the foremost (seviri) were each year selected as Augustales to remember the ruler in their devotions. This institution served the double purpose of providing offices of some dignify for an otherwise despised class, and of binding them directly to a state-cult which to them would seem natural. In the second form practised by other humble folk, both in the cities and in the country, the general devotion to the Lares was linked up with the name of Augustus. With the Lares of the street shrines was associated the "Genius Augusti," a spirit sufficiently indefinite to find a place in the pantheon without creating any religious shock. And thus it was that before his death, Augustus, who had at first refused to be a deity had practically become one by this association of his name with Oriental ruler-gods and Italian animistic cults. The imperial cult first recognized by Caesar had thus returned and remained throughout the Empire one of great significance among the people. It was not long till tyrants made it a weapon with which to test men's personal loyalty to the throne.


The Author's Notes:

1 Strong, Roman Sculpture, pp33 ff.

2 Ibid., pp40 ff.

3 There were also temples in Italy in the later years of his reign where Augustus was actually worshiped as a deity, but these temples had as a matter of fact been dedicated not to Augustus but to the "Genius Augusti."


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