Augustus is dead, long live Augustus!

So this is it – the day itself. It is exactly two thousand years to the day since Augustus died. And, as it happens, 2042 since he took up his first consulship as well.

That second anniversary in itself tells us quite a lot about the sort of man we are commemorating today, because it was not normal for consuls to take up their office in mid-August. Conventionally, consuls entered office on January 1st, and they were supposed to be over forty years old when they did so. Augustus took up his first consulship at the age of nineteen, after the two elected consuls had died in battle alongside him, and he had co-opted their legions, marched at their head to Rome and put himself forward for one of the vacant offices. It’s not that he took it by force. He was very careful to ensure that he was properly elected. But eight loyal legions hanging around the city are hardly conducive to free and fair elections. In fact, Suetonius claims that one of his centurions openly declared that his sword would make Augustus consul if the senate would not cooperate.

This is the man we are dealing with, then – audacious, opportunistic, unafraid to wield force and bend rules, and yet quite well aware of how crucial it was to position himself within a framework of legitimacy and consensus. The same boldness and astuteness can be traced throughout his career, even if he was able to dial back a little on the wielding of force once he had done it enough to wipe out his major political rivals. Sometimes things came close to falling apart for him. Pliny gives a great list of his mishaps and close shaves, several of which could very easily have ended in his death or political overthrow – and history would certainly be quite different if they had. But the risks don’t seem to have put him off, and as things turned out his gambles by and large paid off. He was able to die peacefully in his bed at the age of 75, surrounded by his family, widely believed by contemporary Romans to have saved the state from chaos and already regarded by many provincials as a god.

Whether his life and career can be judged ‘good’ or ‘bad’ overall depends entirely on perspective. In other words, good or bad for whom? A lot of the contemporary expressions of admiration seem to me to be very genuine, but it’s also clear that not everyone loved him, even in his own day. We can see that from the political opposition and conspiracies alone, and of course there must have been many others who resented or even despised him, but were powerless to do anything about it and whose voices are now lost to history.

This is why I called my project from the start ‘Commemorating Augustus’ rather than (for example) ‘Celebrating Augustus’. But the more I have read and thought about memory and commemoration, the more I have realised that even a ‘commemoration’ is not a neutral act. This is clear above all from the sort of people who don’t get commemorated. I noticed two years ago that people were hardly going crazy for the bimillennium of Caligula’s birth, and similarly the only people who ‘commemorated’ the 100th anniversary of Hitler’s birth on 20th April 1989 were a small number of neo-Nazis. In fact, the town council of Braunau in Austria, where he was born, marked the event by erecting a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in front of the family house instead, with an inscription reading “For Peace, Freedom and Democracy. Never Again Fascism. Millions of Dead Remind [us]”. It is an exhortation to remember, then, but one which turns the act of commemoration around, and ensures that it reflects on Hitler only in an utterly negative manner.

Set against those sorts of examples, it becomes clear that if we in the twenty-first century are ‘Commemorating Augustus’ – and we are, on an epic scale – we are saying that he is worth remembering. It is an acknowledgement that he is important to us, and a tacit agreement that it is reasonable for him to be important. But I think I am comfortable with that – and it is engaging with his reception history in the course of this project which has really made me so. The Augustus we think we know is not a real historical individual from 2000 years ago, but an echo mediated to us through multiple centuries of re-imaginings, starting in his lifetime and continuing right up to the present day. This means that when we commemorate Augustus, we are actually commemorating an evolving tradition which has retained its currency for (over) 2000 years, and all the many people who have sustained and transformed it along the way. The tradition in its own right is fascinating and worth commemorating, and that’s what I hope we will be doing at the Commemorating Augustus conference all day today.

When exactly did Augustus die?

Today marks exactly one week left until the big day – the bimillennium of Augustus’ death. One thing you may want to know as the day approaches is how we know when he died, and how the ancient evidence can be converted into modern terms.

The date of Augustus’ death is not controversial. Multiple ancient sources tell us when it happened, and the date is easily convertible into modern terms. Starting with the year, Velleius Paterculus (who was alive at the time), Suetonius and Cassius Dio all place it in the consulship of Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Ap(p)uleius. Using a table of Roman consuls with the years of their offices converted into modern terms such as this one, we can easily equate this to the year which we call AD 14.

As for the calendar date, it was known to the Romans as ante diem xiv kalendas septembres (fourteen days before the Kalends (or first) of September), which is what we call August 19th (a simple Roman to modern calendar date converter is here). This is also given by Suetonius, but we don’t have to rely on him alone, because as an important event in the history of the ruling imperial family, Augustus’ death was written up into the public calendars as soon as it happened. For example, the Fasti Antiates Ministrorum Domus Augustae (CIL 10.6638), a list of magistrates from the years AD 31-51 with a calendar underneath, marks that day with the words ‘Augustus excess(it)‘ (‘Augustus died’), while the Fasti Amiternini (Inscr.It. 13.2.186ff.), dating from the reign of Tiberius, labels it simply ‘dies tristissi(mus)‘ (‘a very sad day’).

I’ve managed to track down images of both of those calendars, so we can see the entries for ourselves. Note that, as it happens, both calendars preserve the months of July to December only, and both break off somewhere around the 17th to 20th of each month, so that 19th August in each case falls towards the ‘bottom’ of each calendar:

Fasti Antiates Ministrorum Domus Augustae bw photo main section Aug outlinedThe Fasti Antiates Ministrorum Domus Augustae, with August outlined in red. See below for a detailed view of that section.

Fasti Antiates Ministrorum Domus Augustae August close-upClose-up drawing of the month of August from the Fasti Antiates Ministrorum Domus Augustae. 19th August is the last but one entry from the bottom, labelled with a letter ‘G’ (showing its place in an 8-day market cycle) and followed by XIV, indicating ante diem xiv kalendas septembres. The calendar then informs the reader that this day is the VIN(alia), a festival of wine, and F(astus), meaning that business was allowed on that day, followed by the information ‘Augustus excess(it)‘ (‘Augustus died’).

Fasti Amiternini labelledThe Fasti Amiternini. See below for the section enclosed in the rectangle.

Fasti Amiternini dies tristissiClose-up of the enclosed section (in colour!). See bottom left for ante diem xiv kalendas septembres (again identifiable from the letter G followed by XIV and VIN). This time the day is labelled ‘dies tristissi(mus)’ (‘a very sad day’).

That’s pretty solid, then. Insofar as we can be sure of anything, we can be sure that Augustus died on August 19th, AD 14. But wait! There have been adjustments to the calendar between then and now, haven’t there? Did August 19th AD 14 take place at the same point in the solar year as August 19th 2014? Well, thankfully, dates from this period of history pretty much did.

Here’s how it goes. In the late Republican period, the Roman calendar consisted of 12 more-or-less lunar months of 28 or 29 days each. This, of course, wasn’t enough to supply the 365 days (roughly) needed to fill a solar year, so the priests were supposed to insert an extra (usually quite short) month known as an intercalary month as and when needed to make up the difference. By the time of Julius Caesar’s dictatorship in the 40s BC, though, it had become very apparent indeed that they were not doing it properly. December was happening in the early autumn – that sort of thing. So Julius Caesar appointed a panel of astronomers and mathematicians to sort the whole thing out. They came up with the system known as the Julian Calendar, consisting of 12 longer months plus a single leap day every four years, and this was introduced after an extra-specially long year of 445 days in 46 BC designed to get the calendar year back into sync with the solar year.

This isn’t quite the end of the story. A few decades later, it was recognised that the extra leap day had been being applied every three years, instead of every four as it should have been, and Augustus himself stepped in to correct this. Censorinus says that this happened in the 20th year of the Augustan era (i.e. 8 BC), and although there is some debate about exactly when the newly re-corrected system came into play, it had certainly happened before Augustus died in AD 14 – which for our purposes is good enough. It means that in AD 14, the calendar had very recently been reset to match up with the solar year, and leap years were being applied correctly. So the day in AD 14 which was called ante diem xiv kalendas septembres should fall at pretty much exactly the same point in the Earth’s revolution around the sun as the day which we call 19th August in 2014.

This means that the fact that the Julian-Augustan leap year system still wasn’t quite right, because it results in years an average of 365.25 days long, when the solar year is actually closer to 365.2425 days, and the fact that this also had to be corrected 15 centuries later by the introduction of the Gregorian calendar doesn’t really matter to us. Augustus’ death happened very shortly after a calendar reset, so it isn’t subject to the sort of calendar ‘drift’ which had built up by the 16th century, and affects dates in the period shortly before the reform. Phew!

Meanwhile, going back to Augustus, it happens that Suetonius also tells us the exact hour of his death:

He died in the same room as his father Octavius, in the consulship of two Sextuses, Pompeius and Appuleius, on the fourteenth day before the Kalends of September at the ninth hour, just thirty-five days before his seventy-sixth birthday.

I’m prepared to trust Suetonius on this detail, since he was working as an imperial secretary at the time when he wrote his Life of Augustus, and clearly had access to contemporary primary documents such as letters from the imperial archives, several of which he quotes in the work. So it’s perfectly likely that he had seen an official report stating the exact time of Augustus’ death.

Translating that time into modern terms, though, is complicated, because the Romans used a completely different system from us for numbering their hours. Rather than divide the full day into 24 hours, starting at midnight, the Romans didn’t really bother counting the hours of darkness. Instead, they divided the period of daylight into 12 equal hours, starting with the first hour in the morning, and ending with the twelfth hour which finished at sunset. So when Suetonius says that Augustus died ‘at the ninth hour’, he doesn’t mean anything like what we mean when we say ‘9 o’clock’. He means during the ninth hour of daylight between sunrise and sunset on August 19th, AD 14.

This seems like a really weird and complicated system to us, because we are used to all hours being exactly 60 minutes long. We also know that the length of time between sunrise and sunset varies according to the time of year, so when we look at the Roman system for measuring time, we find ourselves faced with a culture whose hours must have varied in length through the seasons like the folds of a concertina – twelve shorter hours in the winter, and twelve much longer ones in the summer. “Weird!” we think. “Didn’t they get hopelessly confused?”

Well, no, because to them it was a very simple and naturalistic system, which basically boiled down to using the same sundials all year round. This page explains pretty clearly how Greek and Roman sundials worked, and how they related to seasonal hours, while this page has some great pictures of the kind of sundial used. Known as a scaphe dial, a hemispherical sundial or hemicycle, the basic principle is that it allows you to divide your day into twelve equal segments, no matter how long the day itself is. So if you use this kind of sundial, the Roman twelve-hour ‘concertina’ system seems natural and easy. It is only when you try to convert their time into our rigid, unchanging hours that everything gets complicated.

If you want to make that conversion, what you have to do first is establish the time of sunrise and sunset for the place you are interested in at the correct time of the year. In our case, that’s Nola in Italy, and this page shows us the correct times for sunrise and sunset on 19th August: 06:16 and 19:54 respectively in local time. That means the total length of the day will be 13h 38m (or 818 minutes) in our terms. To work out the length of a Roman ‘hour’ on that day, we simply need to divide the full day into 12 equal segments, which gives 68.2 minutes.

The next stage is best conveyed by means of a diagram, which I have provided below. It shows the hours of daylight in Nola on 19th August divided into 12 equal segments, with the ninth segment coloured in red (click to enlarge):

At the ninth hourI have included the local time at which each Roman ‘hour’ begins and ends at the top of the diagram, so we can now see that the ninth hour in Nola on 19th August will begin at 15:21 local time, and end at 16:29. If you happen to be in Italy, then, that’s it – job done. You can mark the very moment of the bimillennium of Augustus’ death, as near as we are able, somewhere between 15:21 and 16:29 on 19th August.

If you live elsewhere, though, you may want to convert this to your own local time-zone, so that you can mark the exact time in your country when two thousand years have passed since the death of Augustus in Nola. Right now (and this will still be true on 19th August), Italy is on Central European Summer Time, which is equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time plus two hours. So in the UK, currently on British Summer Time (GMT+1), we are one hour behind Italy, which for us means the time of Augustus’ death equates to between 14:21 and 15:29 our time. If you want to convert it to your own local time-zone, you can do so here.

I will personally be running a conference at the exact moment of the bimillennium, and as we have such a packed programme I decided some time ago not to try to carve out a space within it at the moment of the ninth hour, but to get on with the papers – surely an appropriate tribute to Augustus in themselves! Besides, I have some special things up my sleeve for the evening of 19th August, when the conference delegates will be gathering together for a Commemorative Dinner in honour of our man. His passing will not go unacknowledged in Leeds.

But how about you? Do you have something planned for the very moment of his death? Comment to tell me about it if you do!

Augustus’ final journey

Today marks exactly one month until the bimillennium of Augustus’ death, and thus also to the middle day of my Commemorating Augustus conference. For a couple of years now I have been tweeting Augustus-related events which can be dated exactly 2000 years ago to the day using the #Aug2K hashtag, and naturally I’d hoped that these would intensify in the run-up to the big day. I was certainly aware that we know quite a lot about Augustus’ comings and goings during the last few weeks of his life, and it didn’t seem unreasonable to hope that some of them would be datable – especially since one was a public appearance at a major festival in Naples. Frustratingly, though, I’ve discovered that in spite of how much we know, we can’t actually put a precise calendar date to a single thing Augustus did between holding a lustrum with Tiberius on May 11th and his death on August 19th. So this post sets out what we do know, what we don’t, and what we can guess.

The major historical accounts

In chronological order of their composition, the major accounts of Augustus’ final days are:

All basically agree that Augustus died in a family villa near Nola, and that he was in this area partly because he had just attended a festival held in his honour at Naples, and partly because he had been accompanying Tiberius on the first leg of a journey towards a military posting in Illyricum (or strictly, by that date, Dalmatia). All this is the sort of information we can usually be relatively confident in from ancient historical texts, since it would have been a matter of public record, and any author wishing to appear credible would therefore need to stick to it.

The only major area of disagreement is whether or not Tiberius, who continued towards Dalmatia when Augustus took to his bed but was summoned back once it became clear that this was his final illness, had time to get back to Nola before Augustus actually died. Velleius (a direct contemporary but also a strong partisan of Tiberius) is adamant that he did and Suetonius also takes it for granted, but Tacitus sows doubt on the matter (without actually saying that he definitely didn’t), and Dio (now writing some 200 years later) has come across both stories and is inclined to trust those who say he didn’t. Here, we’re dealing with the sort of historical issue we can’t really resolve – a private matter the truth of which would have been known only to people actually present at Augustus’ death-bed, and a highly politically-charged one to boot, since Tiberius as heir would have every reason to want to say he was there in Augustus’ final moments to receive his blessing, while his enemies would wish to say the opposite. That said, Carter 1982: 204 argues that Tiberius’ position was strong enough by AD 14 to mean that he did not need to pretend Augustus was still alive when he got to Nola in order to ensure his succession, which is the motive suggested by Tacitus. Also, the very fact that Tacitus merely says no-one knows whether Tiberius made it back in time, rather than stating as a fact that he didn’t, reveals the suggestion as a typically Tacitean slander. So, on the whole, I’m willing to believe Velleius and Suetonius here – and in any case, Tiberius’ presence or absence at the death-bed doesn’t make any real difference to Augustus’ own time-line.

Suetonius’ account

What should give us more pause for thought is the fact that of our four accounts, only Suetonius gives any kind of detail about Augustus’ final journey – and his account is clearly a carefully-crafted literary set-piece, rich with resonances and symbolism about Augustus’ style of leadership. Indeed, two of the papers at my conference will analyse Suetonius’ account in exactly these sorts of terms. In her paper, ‘The last days of Augustus’, Alison Cooley will show how Suetonius uses the Bay of Naples setting to add meaning to Augustus’ death-scene and anticipate his deification, while Trevor Luke in his paper ‘ A Gift for the Princeps: Suetonius on Augustus’ Final Journey’ will show how the account works as a Menippean satire with Saturnalian motifs.

None of this necessarily means that the journey as Suetonius describes it didn’t happen. He may simply be the only author to cover it in detail because a) he had access to imperial records about it which other writers did not and b) he found those details interesting and worth including from his perspective as a biographer. For Suetonius, the final journey and death are the grand climax to his exploration of Augustus’ life and character; for Velleius and Tacitus in particular it is something they need to deal with briefly in order to get on to the events which follow, and which are their real focus of interest. (Dio gives it more space, but is still basically interested in it as a historical event, rather than a way of revealing character.) So Suetonius could well have worked up the skeleton of a real journey into a richly evocative literary set-piece. But we do also need to bear in mind that he may have invented some of the details, and especially those which work to create the literary effects he is after. The only points in the journey which we can really be confident of are Rome, Naples and Nola.

That said, this is the itinerary which Suetonius gives us:

    • May 11th – Augustus and Tiberius complete the lustrum in Rome.
    • After some considerable delay, Augustus leaves Rome in order to accompany Tiberius as far as Beneventum on his way to his military posting in Illyricum (aka Dalmatia).
    • Augustus travels by road to Astura, and then boards a ship.
    • Augustus sails along the coast towards Campania and the Bay of Naples. The first symptoms of his illness, a stomach / bowel disorder, appear.
    • As he passes the gulf of Puteoli, he talks to sailors on a ship which has just arrived from Alexandria, and gives his companions money to buy goods from them. This means they must stop and dock alongside the Alexandrian ship.
    • The party arrives at Capri and spends four days there. Augustus is in good spirits, giving out presents, watching gymnastic exercises, hosting a banquet, indulging in jokes and making up poetic verses.
    • Augustus crosses to Naples, where he attends a festival which had been established in his honour.
    • After the games, Augustus starts to journey inland with Tiberius towards Beneventum.
    • But his illness becomes worse and he and stops off at his villa at Nola.
    • Tiberius initially continues onwards with his journey, but is recalled when it becomes clear that Augustus is dying.
    • Augustus has enough time on his death-bed to engage in conversation with the people around him, including Livia, various companions and (according to Suetonius) Tiberius.
    • August 19th – Augustus dies at the ninth hour.

That’s detailed enough for us to be able to plot it on a map, as follows (with red representing travel by road, blue representing travel by sea, and a dotted line for the final part of the journey which Augustus planned but did not complete):

Augustus final journey

We could also come up with plausible estimates for how long Augustus took to move between each point on the map. Here, a passage from Suetonius on Augustus’ normal travel habits guides us:

He travelled in a litter, usually at night, and by such slow and easy stages that he took two days to go to Praeneste or Tibur; and if he could reach his destination by sea, he preferred to sail.

That would surely go double for this final journey, when he is elderly and increasingly infirm, so we might sketch out something like the following:

      • Rome to Astura (by road) – 3 days
      • Astura to Puteoli (by sea) – 2 days
      • Time spent in Puteoli, then travel onwards to Capri – 1 day
      • Time spent on Capri – 4 days (explicitly stated by Suetonius)
      • Crossing to Naples and time spent at the festival – several days (more on this below)
      • Naples to Nola (by road) – 2 days
      • Time spent in bed at the villa – sounds like at least a week
      • August 19th – death.

And that would be enough to build a framework of dates around… if only we had any more to hang it on than the final date, Augustus’ death. But we don’t. We don’t know exactly when he left Rome (only that it was probably quite some time after May 11th), and nor do we know the date of the festival which he attended at Naples. And this is the bit which really frustrates me, because at the time everyone must have known when that festival took place. But I have read up on the matter quite extensively, and that date remains just out of our historical reach.

The Sebasta at Naples

Here’s what we know about the festival at Naples, much of which is covered in this excellent article in Archaeology online. It was a set of games voted in Augustus’ honour by the people of Naples in 2 BC, but probably took place for the first time in AD 2. They were Isolympic games, which means that, like the Olympic games, they took place once every four years. They were officially known as in the local Greek language as the Italica Romaia Sebasta Isolympia, i.e. Italian Roman Augustan Isolympic games (Sebastos being the Greek equivalent of Augustus). However, they are often also referred to as the Augustalia – rather confusingly, because there were multiple festivals in the ancient world with that name. They involved athletic contests such as foot races, chariot races, boxing, wrestling and a pentathlon, followed by artistic contests in music, literature and drama. They crop up quite a lot in literary sources, which mention some of their most famous participants (e.g. Claudius, Nero and the poet Statius). Some of the rules and events held and the names of many humbler victors are also recorded in one inscription now on display in Naples Museum and discussed in Geer 1935 (sorry, JSTOR link – it’s not publicly available) and another recently-discovered one which the article in Archaeology reports on. And a letter from the emperor Hadrian, discussed in detail in Jones 2007 (sorry, JSTOR again), which came out of a meeting held at the 34th Naples Sebasta in AD 134, gives a detailed account of the cycle for all of the various contemporary isolympic games, including the Sebasta, and agrees to changes to the dates of some of them.

Quite a lot of information, then! But still what survives of the inscriptions and Hadrian’s letter does not give the actual date when the games took place. The letter places it in a cycle relative to other games, but even this only tells us that it fell after the Capitolia (May-June) and before the Actia (September 23rd, Augustus’ birthday). All that really does is confirm what we know from the accounts of Augustus’ death – that the Naples Sebasta took place not long before August 19th. We know from Strabo that they lasted several days, and the inscriptions confirm this, showing that the athletic events took place first, and were then followed by musical and literary events on their own days. But that is where the trail grows cold. The actual calendar date for any of this remains just out of reach.

That’s not to say we can’t put forward a guess. A very plausible one is offered on p. 253 of P. Herz 1997, ‘Herrscherverehrung und lokale Festkultur im Osten des römischen Reiches (Kaiser / Agone)’ in H. Cancik and J. Rüpke, eds. Römische Reichsreligion und Provinzialreligion (Tübingen); pp. 239-64. Herz argues that the most likely date in that vicinity would be 1st August, which was the anniversary of the day on which Augustus had occupied Alexandria and thus brought the civil wars to an end in 30 BC. The principle which Herz is following here is the same one applied to the isolympic games at Actium, which also opened on an important Augustan anniversary – in that case, Augustus’ birthday. 1st August was certainly in the same sort of league. It is marked up as a major anniversary in several ancient calendars (scroll down for August 1st), and was also the day of another important Augustan religious festival – the annual gathering of representatives from across Gaul at the Altar of Roma and Augustus at Lugdunum (Lyon). So it has the ring of truth about it that the Sebasta at Naples should also open on the same auspicious day.

Back to Suetonius

A date of 1st August for the Sebasta at Naples would fit neatly into Suetonius’ narrative, too. If the festival opened on 1st August and lasted for ‘several days’, and then Augustus took another two days to travel from Naples to Nola before taking to his bed, that would leave something of the order of another 10 days of illness in the villa before his death on August 19th. That’s very plausibly long enough for the sorts of death-bed scenes which our ancient authors describe, and particularly for Tiberius to carry on for a bit, maybe even make it to Illyricum, and still just about have time to get back before the end.

Counting back from the opening of the games, we can also make a stab at roughly when Augustus left Rome. In fact, 1st August for the start of the games, minus about 10 days spent travelling from Rome and larking around on Capri means he would have left Rome about now… or about now 2000 years ago, that is.

Alas, I can’t be sure of that, and of course nor can I be sure that the journey as Suetonius describes it really happened. But it’s about the best we can do. It’s certainly how I’ll be imagining Augustus spending his time for the next month on the parallel time-track which he occupies, exactly 2000 years ago.

Augustus in CA News

The latest copy of Classical Association News soared through my letter-box this morning, complete with a little article which I wrote for it about the Augustan bimillennial commemorations going on across the world this year:

My CA news articleThis is very welcome timing, because it means this piece has reached its readers just in time to alert them to one of those events – my own Commemorating Augustus conference – with two days still to go before late booking fees kick in. If you haven’t booked your place yet and would like to do so, you have until midnight on 16th July to get yourself set up! Full registration and payment details are available here.

As for the article, if you’d like to read the whole thing, you can take out membership of the Classical Association, which includes a twice-yearly copy of CA News, here. I would highly recommend CA membership anyway as a great way to keep in touch with new developments and events in the world of Classics, and with other people who share the same interest. But obviously I have a particular vested interest in recommending it just now! I’d also like to thank the CA News editor, Tony Keen,for escorting my article into print, and for providing the excellent accompanying image.

Conference booking open

The main event of the Commemorating Augustus project this year will be its conference. In line with the project as a whole, the conference deals with receptions of Augustus across the 2000 years between his death and the present day, and it takes place in Leeds right over the very date of Augustus’ bimillennium, from Monday 18th to Wednesday 20th August 2014. We have a great line-up of speakers from across the globe, offering papers which cover the full span of the 2000 years at stake, so it promises to be a very exciting event.

On other parts of the project website, you can find full details of the conference programme, including speakers, titles and abstracts, and details of how to register, including the various different packages and options available.

But the main purpose of this post is to make sure that followers of this blog know that booking is open, and also that a late fee of £25 will apply to any bookings made from 17th July onwards. This means that there is just under a month remaining to make a booking without incurring the fee. Booking closes entirely on 1st August.

Meanwhile, this is also a good time to mention that I am giving a free talk for the general public entitled ‘2000 years of Augustus: the world view’ next Thursday, 26th June, at Leeds City Museum. The talk runs from 13:15-13:45, and is part of the popular Classics in our Lunchtimes series. Full details are available here.

Fancy taking part in some Augustus-related research?

As regular visitors to this web page will know, a major element in the Commemorating Augustus project is the conference on receptions of Augustus which will take place this August, over the bimillennium itself. Loads of really exciting papers are lined up for the conference, and I’m currently working on organising them into themed panels so that we can put the programme and abstracts up on this site.

For the time being, though, two of the conference speakers need your help. Melissa Beattie and Amanda Potter will be giving a paper on audience responses to the characters in HBO’s Rome, and would like to interview anyone who has seen the series.

Octavian triumph

You don’t have to be an expert on Roman history, Augustus, or television drama, or even to have a particularly in-depth knowledge of the show, to help with this. As far as I know, it doesn’t matter what country you are based in either. They are simply interested in exploring what viewers of all kinds made of what they saw.

This is Melissa’s call for participants, with details of what to do if you’re interested:

Did you watch the BBC/HBO series Rome? If so, would you be willing to take a short interview by email (around 30 minutes) for a research paper? Please contact Melissa at for details. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated and your identities and responses will be kept strictly confidential.

Do get in touch with her if you fancy a nice chat about the series!

Exhibition review: Augusto at the Scuderie del Quirinale

Earlier this month, I spent a few days in Rome, mainly so that I could visit the Augusto exhibition currently showing at the Scuderie del Quirinale. It’s no coincidence that this exhibition is happening now. It is specifically tied in with Augustus’ bimillennium, which of course makes it of great interest to me. It’s clearly a hit with the general public too, since it was packed out on the day when I visited, and has apparently been attracting long queues for its free evening viewings. After visiting the exhibition itself, I was lucky enough be able to interview two of its curators, Annalisa Lo Monaco and Claudio Parisi Presicce, who kindly took me for lunch in the Capitoline Museum, put up with my terrible Italian, and answered all my questions about how the exhibition had been put together and what they hoped visitors would get out of it.

The focus of the exhibition rests squarely on Augustan art, and the themes which characterised it: for example, the usage and adaptation of Greek models, or the rural-idyllic and mythological motifs associated with the idea of the Golden Age. But the curators have also put a lot of thought into the bimillennial context of the exhibition, and especially the particular occasion which it commemorates: Augustus’ death, and his subsequent deification. References to this ‘book-end’ the exhibition, so that visitors begin and end their journey through Augustan art with the event that gave rise to the show in the first place. It’s a great example of how anniversaries can act as a conduit into the past.

Arles_statue_augustusAt the beginning of the exhibition, the first major piece to greet the visitor is an over-life-size statue of Augustus from the theatre at Arles (left). As the caption explains, this was made after his death, and shows him semi-nude in the manner of Zeus or Jupiter: i.e. in a quasi-divine guise. The point is reinforced by the other pieces in the same room: a statue of Livia in the orans (praying) pose, standing angled towards the emperor, and the Belvedere altar, with its scene of apotheosis (though not Augustus’) facing forwards. So our first encounter with Augustus is strongly framed in terms of his posthumous deification. The person we are meeting is no ordinary mortal.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the exhibition, the grand climax and one of the show’s greatest tours de force is the collected ‘Medinaceli reliefs’ – a series of whole and fragmentary panels, originally discovered somewhere near Naples, which depict key moments in Augustus’ political career. These are usually spread across two different museums in Spain and a third in Budapest, so the exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see them all at once, and to get some sense of how they might originally have worked together. Like the Arles statue, the monument which they came from was clearly posthumous (probably Claudian), since as well as depicting events from Augustus’ lifetime, like the battle of Actium and the triple triumph of 29 BC, it also references his deification. The reference is indirect – what we get is a tensa, which was a special carriage used to carry images of the gods into the Circus Maximus so that they could ‘watch’ the races. But since this particular tensa is decorated with an image of Aeneas carrying his father Anchises, it is a pretty safe bet that it belongs to the deified Augustus.

So the Medinaceli reliefs themselves and the exhibition as a whole follow a similar narrative trajectory: tracing the major events of Augustus’ earthly career, but climaxing with his death and deification. For the exhibition, though, prefacing that narrative with the posthumous, quasi-divine statue from Arles seemed to me to lend a particular resonance to what followed. In fact, it reminded me of nothing so much as the effect created by the full title of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti: ‘The Achievements of the Divine Augustus’. In this context, it is often pointed out that because we learn from this title that the man whose words we are about to read has already been deified, our reading of what follows is shaped by that knowledge. It encourages us to take the deification for granted, and to approach the text with the expectation of finding out what he did to justify it. It also predisposes us to accept actions which might otherwise seem troubling, like raising an army without the authority of the senate, because we already know the end result – a grateful senate granting Augustus the ultimate seal of approval by deifying him after his death.

A couple of other things about the Augusto exhibition reminded me of the Res Gestae, too. One was the treatment of Lepidus, Sextus Pompeius and especially Mark Antony. Straight after the Arles statue, visitors enter a room which covers Octavian / Augustus’ rise to power, and contains an incredible collection of contemporary portrait heads. Crassus, Pompey and Caesar all appear, representing the precedents for Oct / Aug’s career in the previous generation, but Octavian’s own rivals and fellow-triumvirs are notable only by their absence. For Lepidus and Sextus Pompeius, this is entirely reasonable, since no securely-attested portrait busts of them survive, but this isn’t true for Mark Antony. Cleopatra, too, was present only obliquely, through a portrait which may (or may not) have been her, and a bronze crab support from one of her ‘needles’ in Alexandria.

Clipeus_virtutis_-_Augusto_-_ArlesJust as striking was the presence of the amazing marble copy of the Clipeus Virtutis (above), also from Arles, in the final room, just next to the Medinaceli reliefs. The original golden version of this shield was (probably) awarded to Augustus in 27 BC, while the marble copy is definitely dated to 26 BC. So in a strictly chronological narrative it would belong closer to the start of the exhibition than its end. But for me its placement in the final room recalled Augustus’ decision to describe the same shield in the penultimate chapter of the Res Gestae. In both contexts, the effect is to remind us of his worthy qualities (through the virtues listed) and of their widespread recognition (through the fact of the shield’s award), just as we are reaching the end of his story. Our closing impression is very much that we have been in the presence of a Great Man.

But in the end the exhibition is not the Res Gestae. Its concern is with the art of the Augustan era, and the sheer mass of pieces which it has brought together allows the opportunity for some really valuable comparisons and contrasts which have never been possible before.

Perhaps most excitingly, the curators have succeeded in bringing together the eponymous exemplars of all the major known Augustan portrait types: Béziers, Spoleto, Alcúdia (also known as the Actium / Octavian type), Lucus Feroniae, Louvre MA 1280 (now taken as the apogee of the Forbes type), and of course the Prima Porta statue. (Augustus’ portrait types are discussed in this seminal article by R.R.R. Smith, but I can’t find a good basic introduction to the topic online). Though the Prima Porta has its own special space later in the exhibition, the rest are presented directly alongside one another, so that for the first time ever visitors can compare and contrast not casts or pictures but real originals, taking in the fine details of hair-style, expression and facial roundedness which scholars have used to differentiate and classify them.

I certainly found myself more convinced than I have ever been before that the traditional groupings really are both consistent and different from one another, and I was particularly struck by the differences in the portraits dated to the triumviral period. I have tended to focus on the Lucus Feroniae and Alcúdia style portraits when thinking about this period, with their hard, determined look conveying Octavian’s role as the stern, no-nonsense politician and unflinching military leader. But the Béziers and Spoleto portraits are incredibly different – idealised, impassive and very Hellenistic-looking with their youthful, full faces and bouffant hair. There was clearly more experimentation with Octavian’s public image going on during this period than I’d really recognised before, and I’ll be sure to remember that in future.

The portraiture of Augustus’ family is also very well-represented, with busts for every possible relative, and two each for both Livia and Gaius (one as boy, one as a young man with his first beard). Again, the particular busts on display are the best known examples, collected from museums all over the world, and the effect of being able to see them all in one place was really worthwhile. Of course I already knew that the visual iconography of the imperial family was calculated to emphasise family resemblances, even where there was no blood connection, thus creating the impression of a coherent regime. But seeing their similarities carved into marble across a full three-dimensional set is again quite different from noting it in pictures. I came away feeling like I had experienced something of the original impact of contemporary family groupings from places like basilicas, cult buildings or monumental arches.

Prima Porta waist upAs for the Prima Porta statue (left), I’m afraid that for me the effect of placing it right next to the Naples Doryphoros was to make me think that the resemblance between them is perhaps not that strong after all. Nonetheless, I loved being able to walk right round it, and examine it in close detail. Though I have seen it before in its usual home in the Vatican Museum, I noticed new things about it in the exhibition which I hadn’t picked up on before. In particular, looking at the traces of original paint in the statue’s eyes, I realised one interesting effect of the direction of his gaze. If you stand a few metres in front of the statue, it appears to be looking directly at you: perhaps addressing you with the grand adlocution which its raised-arm pose evokes. Yet the carving on the cuirass is executed in very fine detail, suggesting that it was intended to be examined at close range; and once you have stepped up close to the statue in order to do this, a glance up at its face reveals that the emperor’s eyes are now gazing outwards, above and beyond you. That is, at the moment of taking in the central scene of Augustus’ great achievement, you are simultaneously reminded of your own insignificance, and the much wider horizons of the princeps‘ concerns. Or that’s how it felt to me, anyway.

Meanwhile, the exhibition itself is its own art-form. I’ve already spoken about how it opens with the over-life-size Arles statue, but what I haven’t mentioned yet is how the impact of this piece is enhanced by its placement, facing the visitor through a framing doorway. The effect is to invite us forward for our first encounter with Augustus, and it is followed by a similar sequence of framing devices which keep on drawing us through the exhibition space. From in front of the Arles statue, a turn to the left reveals not only a magnificent bronze equestrian Augustus in the next room, surging forward to greet us at the head of a sea of portrait busts, but at the other end of the gallery the star attraction of the Prima Porta statue. Similarly, on the floor above, the Medinaceli reliefs are constantly visible as we work our way through the four rooms which precede them, helping to build anticipation for the moment when we get to see them in their full glory.

I was impressed, too, by the used of curved or cylindrical pedestals, which besides serving the welcome practical purpose of allowing visitors to walk round the exhibits, also echoed the curving fronds of vegetation which are so central to Augustan art, and the curved shapes of the Scuderie’s ceilings and stairways to boot. All in all, I came away struck not only by how very important it is to view individual works of ancient art in real life, rather than just in pictures, but also by how much more there is to the spatial experience of an exhibition than the printed catalogue and a few photographs can ever convey.

Augustus’ stint in Rome is nearly over now, with the exhibition closing on February 9th. But if you’ve missed it, don’t despair: the same exhibition will also be shown at the Grand Palais in Paris from 19th March to 13th July. I can highly recommend a visit.

Augustus INSET day report

It’s a busy week here at Commemorating Augustus HQ. The abstract deadline for next summer’s conference is just two days away, and they are coming in thick and fast now. I’m happy to say that the quality of the submissions is very high, and I’m really looking forward to putting the programme together and making it all public.

Before that, though, I should write up a report of the Augustus INSET day in Manchester which I organised a couple of weeks ago with fellow JACT member Peter Liddel. JACT exists as an organisation to support the teaching of Ancient and Classical topics in schools, and one of the things we do is run regular professional training days. Often, topics like Ancient History and Classical Civilisation are taught in schools by people who aren’t subject specialists – for example, modern historians or English literature specialists who have chosen to branch out into ancient history or literature. And of course those who do have a Classics background like to keep up with the latest developments in the field and to learn new material and approaches. So that is where we come in, and what we aimed to do with our Augustus day on November 16th.

Planning the day

Augustus is a popular subject on both Ancient History and Classical Civilisation syllabuses, and if you add in Augustan literature the relevance extends to Latin as well. So we knew he would make a good topic for an INSET day at any time. But with his bimillennium coming up next year, it seemed the perfect opportunity to make sure that teachers were all set to make the most of the occasion in the classroom.

Thanks to Peter’s hard work in applying for and securing funding from the University of Manchester, we were able to offer the day for free to participants, who only needed to cover the cost of their own lunch. That made life simple for us as organisers, because we didn’t need to process booking fees, and obviously it also helped to ensure that we attracted plenty of attendees. Around 50 people came on the day, which is excellent for an event of this type – and I really cannot thank Stephen Jenkin at The Classics Library enough for helping to advertise it.

Meanwhile, as the Augustan expert on the team, my job was to put together a suitable programme of speakers and topics. We aimed for a mixture of academic lectures and interactive workshops, led by both academics and school-teachers, with the idea that participants would be able to benefit from the combination of new research input and direct classroom experience. We also organised the programme of workshops into two ‘threads’ – a historical one dealing with key sources and issues, and a literature / receptions one dealing with Augustan poetry and the responses of later emperors, so that people could choose what was most relevant to them and their teaching.

My own plenary: Commemorating Augustus’ bimillennium

It was also my honour to open the day with a plenary lecture entitled ‘Commemorating Augustus’ bimillennium’. The idea was to introduce the day by saying a little bit about why anniversary commemorations are so popular and how they tend to function, with a particular focus of course on examples from the Augustan period, from the bimillennium of his birth in 1938, and also looking ahead to what is coming up in 2014. The passage which I used as a lynchpin for my discussion was Tacitus Annals 1.9.1, which as it so happens is about discussions in the senate immediately after Augustus’ death:

Then tongues became busy with Augustus himself. Most men were struck by trivial points — that the same day [idem dies] should have been the first on which he assumed imperium and the last of his life — that he should have ended his days at Nola in the same house and room as his father Octavius.

In that passage, one of the ‘trivial points’ which the senators notice is that the date of Augustus’ death in AD 14 is also the anniversary of the date on which he took up his first consulship (i.e. assumed imperium) in 43 BC. It is the date which the Romans called “fourteen days before the Kalends of September”, but we call August 19th.

There is no ‘real’ relationship between these two occasions, of course – it is simply that the names or numbers used to date them look the same. But, as Denis Feeney has pointed out in his excellent Caesar’s Calendar, Tacitus’ Latin very clearly shows up how powerful that similarity can feel. His senators call the two dates ‘the same day’ (idem dies), as though they had somehow collapsed into one single moment, in spite of the fact that they were actually separated by no less than 56 years.

It is similar to our modern concept of ‘on this day in history’ – a sheer coincidence really, but one which it is very tempting to treat as a sort of worm-hole through time. Tacitus’ senators use their example as a prompt to think about the relationship between a past event (the start of Augustus’ political career) and a present one (his death), and about the span between the two. Similarly, we too use anniversaries today to think about what the past means to us; to discuss, debate and reinterpret it in terms which make sense to us in the present.

Augustus himself of course did this in a big way, writing imperial anniversaries into the Roman calendar on a scale which had never been seen before. And as I pointed out in my talk, he would very definitely have understood and applauded the idea of people commemorating his bimillennium. He, after all, made very canny use indeed of a round-number anniversary when he celebrated the Ludi Saeculares, and if later emperor Philip the Arab could proclaim that his own ludi saeculares marked a millennium since Rome’s foundation, then I’m pretty sure Augustus would have done so too, given half the chance.

Tips for marking Augustus’ bimillennium in the classroom

I finished my lecture with some suggestions for suitable ways of marking Augustus’ bimillennium in the classroom. My top tip, really, was simply for teachers to capitalise on the interest which the anniversary will raise in whatever way best suits them and their pupils. As for Tacitus’ senators, the anniversary is above all a good reason to think about Augustus and what his life and career mean for us today – and that thinking can take any form. But if I had to home in on one way of thinking about Augustus at the time of his bimillennium, I would suggest using it to weigh up the positives and negatives of his career, and to reach an overall evaluation of him.

This is partly because it suits the occasion which we are marking – his death, which also means the end of his career and the first chance to judge it as a completed whole. But also because it is an useful exercise to perform with Augustus anyway, and one which both school pupils and University students often struggle with. Was he the good guy who just wanted to bring about peace and prosperity? Or the bad guy who slaughtered his enemies in a ruthless quest for political power? The truth is that the material to support both arguments is there in the ancient sources – so what do we do with that?

Rounding off, I suggested a few ways of opening up that discussion, several of which take their cue from scenarios in the ancient sources. I will share those here for any teachers who are looking for ideas, but weren’t able to attend our event:

  1. Get your pupils to write a modern obituary of Augustus. How would we sum him up today?
  2. Going back to Tacitus, use the full text of Annals 1.9-10, where he reports a ‘pros and cons’ debate about Augustus’ career amongst the senatorial classes. You could get your pupils to re-enact that debate, arguing opposite sides and adding their own points to supplement the ones included by Tacitus.
  3. Hang the discussion on the question which Augustus himself asked on his death-bed: “Did I play my part well in this comedy called life?” (Suetonius, Augustus 99). Yes or no?
  4. Or you could adapt the basic scenario set out in Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis. In the original text, it is Claudius who finds himself up before panel of gods, tasked with judging whether or not he is worthy to become one of their number. But it would be very easy to adapt this idea, and have students playing a panel of gods judging Augustus instead. You could have Apollo singing his praises, but Hercules still boiling with anger at his treatment of Antony; Mars thrilled with his new temples, but Pluto unimpressed with the administrative burden caused by having to deal with so many deaths during the triumviral period. The possibilities are endless!

A round-up of the other sessions

Of course, the nice thing about giving the opening talk at an academic event is that you can then relax and enjoy the rest of the day. My first stop was a workshop on Augustan coinage given by Clare Rowan of the University of Warwick. Though we hadn’t planned it, there was some nice overlap between Clare’s session and mine, because she got us all looking at the coins minted for Augustus’ ludi saeculares. It was a really lively session, and I learnt plenty of new things from it myself. Sadly, I don’t have a time turner, so I couldn’t attend the parallel session on Augustus and the poets given by my Leeds colleague Bev Scott. But having seen Bev talk about Ovid’s Heroides in the past, I already know how brilliant she is at conveying the complex concepts involved in thinking about ancient literature in a really accessible and engaging way.

After lunch, it was time for the second plenary lecture: this time from Alison Cooley, also of the University of Warwick, about that most difficult but rewarding source for the age of Augustus: the Res Gestae Divi Augusti. Alison recently published a new edition, translation and commentary for this text (of which my copy is already very well-thumbed!), so she was in a perfect position to help our audience understand how to approach it and think about how to get the most out of it.

We then finished the day with two more parallel sessions, which again I had to (reluctantly) choose between. I went first to a session on Suetonius run by Sarah Holliday of Aylesbury Grammar School and Nina Wallace of Queen Mary’s College, Basingstoke – both JACT committee members like myself. Sarah and Nina teach in quite different types of schools, so they were able to share and compare perspectives on how to get their different groups of pupils interested in Suetonius, and what responses his Life of Augustus tends to provoke. For me as a University lecturer, I found this session especially useful for the insights into the practicalities of classroom teaching (which is useful for my role on the JACT committee), and for understanding where students are coming from when they arrive with us to begin their degrees. Meanwhile, another JACT committee member, Peter Reason of Gower College, Swansea, applied some of the models which Bev Scott had already set out in her earlier workshop to a particular Augustan poetry case-study: Horace, Virgil and the battle of Actium.

I had followed the historical thread up to this point, but I then switched to literature and reception for the final session, going to hear Manchester’s own Shushma Malik talking about how both Nero and then Vespasian had responded to Augustus’ legacy. Shushma did a brilliant job of getting everyone fired up and contributing to the discussion – not always easy for the last session of the day! – and really demonstrated how much we can get out of assessing Augustus’ impact not only during his lifetime, but long after his death. That, of course, is very much what my conference next year is all about, too. I was sorry to miss the parallel workshop by James Harrison of Bootham School York on ‘Augustus the contradiction’, especially since he was dealing with exactly the issue I had raised at the end of my own plenary – the difficulty of finding our way through source material which says such conflicting things about Augustus. But having talked through James’ material with him beforehand, and having seen how excited he was about it all on the day itself, I’m certain it was a great session.

Judging from the feedback forms which people completed on the day, the whole programme went down very well, with people feeling that they had both learnt new things about Augustus and picked up new practical tips for teaching him. That’s exactly what we were aiming for, so it’s satisfying to know that we hit the mark. I was particularly pleased myself to find two-thirds of our respondents saying that they were now planning to do something to mark the bimillennium in their own schools as a result of the day – and that of the remaining third, all but one already had similar plans in mind before they arrived. Given that part of the remit of my project is to encourage people to make good use of Augustus’ bimillennium, and to help support them in doing so, that is very pleasing indeed.

Augustus INSET day

JACT / University of Manchester Ancient History INSET

Augustus and his bimillennium: making the most of 2014

 Saturday 16th November 2013
Samuel Alexander Building, University of Manchester

As part of the Commemorating Augustus project we are pleased to offer this one-day INSET (IN-SErvice Training) event on teaching Augustus in the classroom

The day is aimed at established, new and prospective teachers of Ancient History and Classical Civilisation. It is designed to support those who already teach or would like to teach Augustan topics in the classroom: both historical and literary. It also looks ahead to the bimillennium of Augustus’ death in 2014, offering tips on how to get the most out of this occasion in a school setting.

Interactive workshop sessions will focus on working with historical primary sources and on the relationship between Augustus and the poets. Two plenary lectures will also offer insights into current research on Augustus. Dr. Penny Goodman (University of Leeds) will talk about Augustus’ coming bimillennium, while Dr. Alison Cooley (University of Warwick) will talk about her recent work on the Res Gestae Divi Augusti.

The event is FREE to attend, but participants should register their attendance on Eventbrite.

Two options are available for lunch:

  1. A buffet selection (including vegetarian and vegan options) available at the venue for a cost of £10, payable on the day.
  2. Local cafes and sandwich outlets.

You will be asked to indicate which you think you will prefer when you register your attendance with Eventbrite, so that we can plan approximate numbers for the buffet. However, this does not commit you to either option – you can still choose either way on the day.


10.00-10.30 – Coffee and Welcome (North Foyer, Samuel Alexander Building).

10.30-11.30 – Plenary Talk (Samuel Alexander Lecture Theatre): Commemorating Augustus’ bimillennium. (Penny Goodman, University of Leeds)

11:30-12:15 – Parallel Sessions (select one)

  • Workshop 1a (A 202): Coinage (Clare Rowan, University of Warwick)
  • Workshop 1b (A 214): Augustus and the poets (Beverley Scott, University of Leeds)

12:15-13:15 – Break for lunch.

13:15-14:15 – Plenary Talk (Samuel Alexander Lecture Theatre): The Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Alison Cooley, University of Warwick)

14:15-14:45 – Afternoon break.

14:45-15:30 – Parallel Sessions (select one)

  • Workshop 2a (A 202): Suetonius (Sarah Holliday, Aylesbury Grammar School and Nina Wallace, Queen Mary’s College, Basingstoke)
  • Workshop 2b (A 214): Horace, Virgil and Actium (Peter Reason, Gower College, Swansea).

15:30-16.15 – Parallel Sessions (select one)

  • Workshop 3a (A 202): Augustus the contradiction (James Harrison, Bootham School York)
  • Workshop 3b (A 214): Responding to Augustus’ legacy: the example of Nero (Shushma Malik, University of Manchester)

16.15 – Departure.

You can choose which of the parallel sessions to attend on the day.

One year today! A project update

Today marks exactly one year until the bimillennium of Augustus’ death. Put another way, he died 1999 years ago today.

That’s actually a rather neat illustration of how round-number anniversaries work. We are one year closer to the event in time this year than we will be next year, but there is still some strange sense that next year we will be closer. It is pure numerology really. Like any anniversary, it is really just about the resemblance between two dates. Simply put, 19th August 2014 matches up with 19th August AD 14 better than 19th August 2013 does.

But it’s also about the fact that we can’t think about everything all the time. This time next year I will be in the middle of running a big conference about Augustus, and the ways in which people have responded to him over the past two thousand years. I’m really looking forward to it and it’s definitely something worth doing – but obviously I couldn’t do that every single day. Round number anniversaries also work for us because they help us to focus our interests, spurring us on to do something appropriate on a designated occasion, but also making it OK not to do that every single day in between.

So I’m working on Augustus today, because that’s my main research project for the moment, and will continue to be until this time next year (and indeed a little beyond). But there’s no big event going on for this year’s anniversary. Instead, it seems like a good time to update this blog with a report on how the project as a whole is coming along.

The conference

This is what I’ll be doing this time next year for the bimillennium itself. I began circulating the call for papers in April, and I’ve been thrilled by the response. The deadline for abstracts isn’t until 1st December, but because I asked people to contact me in advance to discuss their topics (in order to prevent overlaps), I already have a good sense of how interested people are. At the time of writing, I’ve had offers for nearly 40 papers, covering almost all of the major topics I hoped would come up. Obviously no individual papers are confirmed yet. I will need to wait until the formal abstracts come in, review them carefully with the help of the conference committee, and then send out official confirmations. So as excited as I am about some of the proposals I’ve received, I can’t really share any details about them yet. But I can definitely promise a good spread of topics at the conference, covering Augustus’ death and its immediate impact, later Roman emperors, provincial responses, late antiquity, the Byzantine empire, early Christian thought, early medieval literature, early modern philosophy and literature, 20th-century literature, contemporary popular culture, political theory and Augustan monuments.

I am still keen to receive more proposals, though. My initial plan was to run the whole conference on a plenary basis – that is, not to have parallel sessions, but only a single session at any one time so that all delegates can attend all of the papers. But doing it that way does mean that only a limited number of papers can be presented in the time available. Meanwhile, earlier in the summer my colleague Emma Stafford ran an absolutely excellent conference entitled Hercules: a hero for all ages, and applied a genius solution to the problem of parallel sessions. She simply ensured that every paper was recorded (in audio format), and the recordings uploaded afterwards to a password-protected website. This means that all of the delegates now can listen to each others’ papers – and, as a bonus, the conference team was able to offer ‘virtual delegate’ status to people who couldn’t attend in person, but wanted to be able to listen to the papers presented.

So if the number and quality of the abstracts submitted in December mean that (at least some) parallel sessions will be needed to fit them all in, I will go with Emma’s solution of recording the papers, rather than having to turn down good proposals because there isn’t space for them on the programme. And that means there is definitely room for more material.

Some ‘hot topics’ which are really important for Augustus’ reception history, but which I haven’t had proposals on yet, include:

  • Augustus in medieval Christian legend
  • Dante
  • Petrarch
  • Early modern royalty (e.g. Charles II, Louis XIV)
  • Alexander Pope
  • Voltaire
  • Augustus in the visual arts

If you have anything to say on receptions of Augustus in any of those contexts, please get in touch with a proposal!

The monograph

And this is my own personal day-to-day research focus at the moment. While the conference deals with receptions of Augustus right from his death up to the present day, the monograph is a close study of his two big bimillennia: his birth in 1938 and his death in 2014. I’m studying them from a receptions perspective, in the sense that I am looking at what they reveal about the public perception of Augustus in each period, how he was used to serve contemporary agendas, and how looking at all this can help us to understand Augustus better for ourselves. But I’m also setting them in a wider framework of commemorative practices, and particularly anniversary commemorations. Here, I’m looking at how the commemorative context encourages or suppresses particular responses to Augustus, how his bimillennia compare with other round-number anniversary commemorations, and what difference it makes to commemorate an event which took place so long ago and in a culture of which no-one can now claim direct membership.

Obviously the 2014 anniversary hasn’t happened yet, so there’s not much I can study! But I’m pleased to say that a growing number of commemorations of various different kinds are emerging as we get closer to the date. I’ve put a list here of the ones which are already in the public arena, but actually there are about as many again which I know are being planned but which haven’t been publicly announced yet. So I am confident I’ll have plenty to talk about, and am looking forward to seeing as many of them as possible for myself and talking to the people involved.

Meanwhile, I’m concentrating on the first half of the monograph: i.e. the introductory material setting up the issues of anniversary commemorations and Augustus’ receptions, and the chapters covering the 1938 bimillennium and its impact. I reckon I have about 15,000 words of fairly solid academic prose in the bag now, which includes the two introductory chapters, and the beginnings of the third chapter. This is the exciting one, where I get into the 1938 bimillennium commemorations in real detail, and there is so much to say! As I’ve already indicated in my previous posts on my research trip to New York and the paper which I gave at the colloquium which launched the project in May, I have uncovered a whole world of commemorative events which extend way beyond the ones everyone knows about in fascist Italy, and I am enjoying teasing out what they can tell us about Augustus’ role in the discourses of the day, and how they help to illuminate the historical Augustus in the process.

Public talks

I’m also getting out and about and talking about my work to all sorts of different audiences. I’ve already blogged here about two of these talks: one at Leeds Museum on a survey about public perceptions of Augustus which I gave in January, and one about the 1938 commemorations which I gave at the project launch colloquium. Since then, I’ve also given a talk on how to get the most out of Augustus’ anniversary next year in a classroom context at the JACT annual general meeting. This was a great event, which was more a conference than an AGM really, and which one of the other participants, Prof. Kate Cooper, has blogged in full here. It included a fantastic keynote speech from the JACT president, Caroline Lawrence, about her famous Roman Mysteries series and the ancient theory of the four humours, which she has also published in blog form. And in fact Caroline also tweeted a picture of me giving my own talk, so you can see me in action here:

Anniversary talk at JACT AGMSource credit: Caroline Lawrence

The slide shown in the picture was my montage of logos from recent and forthcoming anniversary commemorations, which I used to explain how anniversaries work and why they fascinate people. But the real focus of my talk was on how to use the anniversary to help school pupils get to grips with some of the aspects of Augustus’ career which they often find difficult – especially trying to make sense of the very different responses, from flowing praise to attempted assassinations, which he provoked (both in his own lifetime and ever since). I’ve now written up my talk in the form of an article for the JACT magazine, The Journal of Classical Teaching, and that should come out in September.

Other upcoming Augustus gigs include:

  • 1st October: presenting my research on the 1938 commemorations in the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, Liverpool
  • 31st October: a talk on Augustus for pupils at Fettes College, Edinburgh
  • 16th November: a full day event on Augustus for current and prospective Classics or Ancient History teachers in Manchester
  • 26th June 2014: another talk at Leeds Museum on what people are doing to commemorate Augustus in his bimillennial year
  • 31st July 2014: two sessions on Augustus’ own use of anniversaries and varying responses to him through time at the ARLT summer school in Durham

Quite a busy schedule, then. Apart from the Fettes College talk, I believe all of those are open to anyone who wants to come – although obviously they are aimed at different audiences and the ARLT summer school charges a fee. So do come along and see me in action if you are interested!