Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Visual & Performing Arts; College of Arts & Sciences
The assassination of Julius Caesar changed the course of Roman history. Augustus Octavian, Caesar’s adopted heir, inherited the unstable political and cultural situation following Caesar’s rule. As Caesar’s heir, Augustus was thrust into an autocratic position, but after Caesar’s abuse of power the Romans sought a return to a Republican government. Augustus understood that the people would reject a sovereign, but also knew that Rome’s instability did not allow the return to a Republic. He resolved to become the highest authority in Rome and have the Senate function as a political figurehead, thus maintaining the façade of a Republic. He gained the power of an emperor without ever referring to himself as such. In order to further his strategy, Augustus utilized the visual arts to promote his authority. The pre-existing visual traditions of Roman art provided a pervasive means for Augustus to communicate ideas to the people. He developed a consistent pictorial canon for his likeness that embodied the characteristics of an ideal leader such as strength, wisdom, divinity, and humility. Once Augustus achieved political and cultural stability, he refocused his campaign to consider Rome’s future. The visual imagery that focused solely on Augustus’s authority now emphasized his descendants. He began requesting representations of his family to re-enforce the lineage responsible for the future stability of Rome. Augustus applied the positive symbolism of the portrait archetype to his family to demonstrate that Rome would be left in capable hands. By slowly introducing his family to the public and only representing them in positive ways, Augustus laid the foundations for the acceptance of a familial dynasty in a once Republican nation. Augustus’s exploitation of the visual arts facilitated the political transition from Republic to Empire.
Santangelo, Max, "Augustus’s Portrait Archetype: The Role of the Visual Arts in the Transition from Republic to Empire" (2017). Senior Capstone Theses. 28.