Forum of Augustus
History and museums
The Forum of Augustus is one of the Imperial forums of Rome, Italy, built by Augustus. It includes the Temple of Mars Ultor.
The triumvir Octavian vowed to build a temple honoring Mars, the Roman God of War, during the battle of Philippi in 42 BC. After winning the battle, with the help of Mark Antony and Lepidus, Octavian had avenged the assassination (murder) of his adoptive father Julius Caesar. He became the Princeps of Rome in 27 BC under the name Augustus, and planned for the temple to be built in a new forum named after himself. Augustus used social propaganda by continuing Julius Caesar's will to create a Temple to Mars Ultor "greater than any in existence", by placing it within the Temple, linking himself to his divine adopted father, obtaining a strong link to the Roman population through their love for the deceased dictator.
The land the Forum was to be built on was already owned by Augustus himself. However, the initial plans called for more space than he had. In order to keep those on the land he would need to purchase to build upon, the plans were altered slightly, so some asymmetry is apparent, especially in the Eastern corner of the precinct; for which Suetonius states that Augustus did not want to take the houses of the nearby owners by force. This self-proclaimed good deed was more than likely just a ploy to save Augustus money and trouble. These land issues, as well as numerous architectural mishaps, prolonged construction. The incomplete forum and its temple were inaugurated, 40 years after they were first vowed, in 2 BC. In 19 AD Tiberius added two triumphal arches either side of the temple in honour of Drusus the Elder and Germanicus and their victories in Germania.
With the dedication of the Forum of Trajan in 112, the number of inscriptions found in the Forum of Augustus decline, which suggests that many of its functions were transferred to the new venue, although Hadrian made some repairs. The educational and cultural use of the exedrae were recorded in the late antiquity. The last notice of the forum was given in 395. Archeological data testifies to the systematic dismantling of the structures in the first half of the 6th century, probably because it was seriously damaged in an earthquake or during the wars. The Forum of Augustus was among the first of the great public buildings of Rome which disappeared that also explains the rapid loss of the memory of its original name. In the 9th century a Basilian monastery was erected on the podium of the ruined temple.
The Forum of Augustus was built to both house a temple honouring Mars, and to provide another space for legal proceedings, as the Roman Forum was very crowded. Before battle, generals set off from the Temple of Mars, after attending an inaugural ceremony. Other ceremonies took place in the temple including the assumption of the toga virilis by young men. The Senate met at the Temple when discussing war and the victorious generals dedicated their spoils from their triumphs to Mars at the altar. Arms or booty recovered from battle were often stored in the Forum as well. Another use that Augustus made of the Temple was to store the standards taken by the Parthians from Crassus during his failed campaign, after their retrieval through Augustus' diplomacy in 20 BC, as depicted by the Augustus of Prima Porta. Three Aquilae were lost in 9 AD in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest of the Legions Legio XVII, Legio XVIII and Legio XIX; all three were recovered-one in 14 AD from the Marsi and one in 15 CE from the Bructeri; the 3rd was recovered in 41 AD from the Chauci-and all three placed within the Temple of Mars the Avenger.
The Forum was filled with a rich variety of different statues. Most notable were the statues of Augustus in full military outfit in the center of the Forum, and of Mars and Venus in the Temple. In total, there were 108 portrait statues with inscriptions of each individual’s achievements, providing an important idea of how Augustus viewed his role within Roman history. The inscriptions are called elogia by modern scholars. In addition to statues of all the Roman triumphatores, which were either made of bronze or marble and were placed along the left side of the Forum and in the left exedrae, the entire right side and right exedrae were full of statues of men in the Julian-Claudian family. They trace Augustus’ lineage back through the fourteen Alban kings to the founding ancestors Aeneas and Romulus. These figures reinforced the importance of both Roman lineage and also of the prestigious lineage that Augustus himself held. By advertising this lineage, he reinforced his power and authorities as a leader. Also, by placing himself amongst great figures and heroes, he further portrayed himself and his own importance. He paints himself as one of ‘the greats’ worthy of the power he held. Whilst all the elogia record the deeds of these great men, Augustus’ Res Gestae Divi Augusti acts as a direct parallel.
The statues in the forum provided excellent reasoning for Augustus to claim his restoration of the Republic. Not only were the great men of Rome’s past being honored through their busts, but Augustus was also establishing his ancestry to these men, either by blood or by spirit. This provided Augustus with another connection between himself and the old Republic, an era of Roman history he continuously tried to invoke during his reign.
Other statues included an ivory Athena Alea, sculpted by Endoeus, which Augustus took from its temple in Tegea, in Greece.
The forum is made of ashlar blocks of peperino tufa with Carrara marble. Its construction also includes colonnades made of giallo antico, from Numidia, with the second storey of colonnades made from africano and pavonazzetto. Interestingly these materials are from all over the Empire,but the enclosing walls were made of local Roman stone; although the different coloured stone would create a visual spectacle they also symbolize that the empire might be built from many different nations, but they are all defended and kept by Rome.