The Commemorating Augustus project was formally launched in May 2013 at a half-day colloquium held in Leeds. This event was designed to set out the project’s scope and its goals, build inter-disciplinary connections, bring participants and prospective participants from the 2014 conference together, and provide early feedback on some of its content. The colloquium announcement and abstracts on this page remain here for reference, and a write-up of the event can be found here.


Commemorating Augustus: 1st- and 20th-century perspectives
Friday 10th May 2013

This half-day colloquium will explore the two opposing ends of the two thousand year span between Augustus’ life-time and our own. Two papers will consider the closing years of Augustus’ life and the immediate aftermath of his death in AD 14. A second pair of papers will then trace changing responses to Augustus in the mid-20th century: a charged context encompassing both his natal bimillennium in 1938 and the outbreak of the Second World War.

The event is free to attend, and all are welcome. However, we do ask attendees to register in advance for catering and name-badge production purposes. You can register your attendance for free here.

Schedule and locations:
12:30 – lunch and registration in Parkinson Building room 119 (Classics department common room), University of Leeds.
1:30-5pm – papers in Michael Sadler room 101 (Classics department seminar room), University of Leeds.

1:40 Mary Harlow (Leicester) and Ray Laurence (Kent): Augustus and old age (paper to be presented by Mary Harlow)
2:20 Valerie Hope (Open University): Grieving for Augustus: emotion and control in Roman imperial mourning ritual
3pm Coffee break
3:30 Penelope Goodman (Leeds): Peace for our time? Commemorating Augustus in 1938
4:10 Martin Lindner (Göttingen): In search of a German Princeps: Günther Birkenfeld and his Augustus novels (1934-1962)
4:50 Closing discussion

The colloquium should be of interest to Classicists, historians of twentieth-century Europe, and anyone concerned with Augustus’ extensive reception history. Please direct any enquiries to Dr. Penny Goodman.



Mary HARLOW (University of Leicester) and Ray LAURENCE (University of Kent)

Augustus and Old Age

The final 10 years of Augustus’ long principate allow us to analyse the nature of old age in the Roman Empire. At the age of 66, it is clear that Augustus was definitely a senex and was also the ruler of the empire. The man with only a few rotting teeth could still make speeches, for example on marriage in AD 9. He might dream of retirement (Sen. Brev.Vit. 3.5), and be rarely seen in the senate after his 75th birthday, but there is no question even at this late stage in life that he was, with Tiberius, deciding the future of the empire (for example what was to be done about an adult Claudius in AD 12). Our paper will set out the actions of Augustus in his final stage of life and map these onto the characteristics of old age (for discussion of these see e.g. Cokayne, K. 2003. Experiencing Old Age). In so doing, we will analyse both the literary record found in Suetonius’ Life of Augustus, Tacitus’ Annals and Cassius Dio and also examine the Res Gestae. The latter will be evaluated as the action of an old man focussing on the past and to identify within this text elements or characteristics that were seen as characteristic of the elderly in antiquity. The paper as a whole will provide an overview of the social world of an old emperor that is written in juxtaposition to another elderly emperor – Tiberius, whose old age in contrast to his youth was spent in ignominy.

Valerie HOPE, Open University

Grieving for Augustus: emotion and control in Roman imperial mourning ritual

‘Real grief was not in the hearts of many at the time, but later was felt by all’, (56.43). This was the view of Cassius Dio following the death of the first emperor Augustus. Dio placed the death in the context of the continuum of Roman Imperial power. Grief was experienced less for the dead emperor, and more for what his demise symbolised: the continuation of rule by one man, namely Tiberius, who ultimately would cause more suffering than his predecessor. Augustus’s death, funeral and deification (and the stage management of these) were integral to the safe transfer of power, and demonstrations of grief, and public mourning, were aspects of this process. This paper will explore the extent to which public mourning for Augustus was related to Republican precedents or invented for Imperial times. How were different social groups expected to behave? How were the chief mourners (Livia and Tiberius) characterised? And, for comparison, how did members of the Julio-Claudian household mourn other deaths and in turn how were they mourned for? Reading of the surviving sources suggests that grief and mourning, emotional melt downs and stoical self control, were bound up with changing traditions and expectations, but also literary creations and evaluations of good and bad rule.

Penelope GOODMAN, University of Leeds

Peace for our time? Commemorating Augustus in 1938

The bimillennium of Augustus’ birth on 23rd September 1938 was celebrated in Fascist Italy by an extensive programme of events, including the reassembly of the Ara Pacis, the isolation of Augustus’ Mausoleum, the mounting of the Mostra Augustea della Romanità, various academic conferences and the issuing of stamps and coins. For Mussolini, these activities helped to further his association with an acclaimed predecessor while nurturing patriotic sentiments amongst the Italian people. But the Fascist commemorations were not just addressed to an Italian audience, and nor was Augustus’ anniversary marked only in Italy. Museums, academics and Classical societies elsewhere in Europe, America and Australasia engaged with the Italian programme, and indeed mounted their own commemorative events. Perhaps surprisingly in hindsight, international reactions to the Fascist commemorations were generally positive. In part this must reflect contemporary hopes that war could be averted: the Munich agreement was signed just days after the bimillennium in 1938. But as this paper will demonstrate, the occasion of the Augustan bimillennium offered particular opportunities for expressing and sustaining those hopes. Bimillennial exhibitions and commentators outside Italy consistently stressed Augustus’ role as a bringer of peace: a potent image in a world still recovering from one war even while fearing a second. Meanwhile, the Augustan consolidation of the empire and the proliferation of art and literature during his reign encouraged intellectuals to view him as the architect of a sophisticated, cosmopolitan culture, analogous to that which they evidently desired in the present. Indeed, the worldwide occurrence of bimillennial commemorations was itself treated as symptomatic of 20th-century shared global interests. Augustus’ natal bimillennium, then, served as a point of expression for a complex and precarious set of international identities and aspirations. This paper sets out and analyses the largely unrecognised contribution which those outside Italy made to this discourse.

Martin LINDNER, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

In Search of a German Princeps: Günther Birkenfeld and his Augustus novels (1934-1962)

Günther Birkenfeld (1901-1966) was a successful German scholar, writer and political activist, whose name is almost forgotten today. Although he was known as a competent translator and editor, his fame mainly rested on historical fiction novels, e.g. Die schwarze Kunst (The Black Art, 1936) about the life and work of Johannes Gutenberg. About two years earlier, Birkenfeld had published the first version of his Augustus novel, which he would rewrite several times during the following decades. Augustus – Roman seines Lebens (Augustus – The Novel Of His Life, 1934) was indebted to the spirit of its time in many ways. The author had aimed for a fast-paced narration about a destined ruler and beacon of morality, rescuing Rome from impending self-destruction. In 1941 Birkenfeld was drafted into the army and apparently used every free minute to work on his Augustus manuscript. The revised second version Leben und Taten des Caesar Augustus (Life and Deeds of Caesar Augustus, 1943) included more than 100 additional pages and countless alterations of the remaining text. Birkenfeld’s hero is still “a political genius with high ethical values”, but also faced with an impossible fight against all too human weaknesses within the society and his own family. The third version Die Ohnmacht des Mächtigen (The Powerlessness of the Powerful, 1962) strengthened this point further and shifted the style towards historical analysis. Even so, Birkenfeld remained confident that the Principate was more than just a historical episode. In his author’s notes, he suggested that Augustus should be taken as an example for securing peace and stability in the post-war democracies of the 1960s. Ironically, the posthumous reprints turned back the wheel, making use of the 1943 version again and thus giving the “search for a German princeps” yet another twist.

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