Back to top

Death and the Emperor

Death and the Emperor
Roman Imperial Funerary Monuments from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius

The role of monuments in the Roman imperial cult.

March 2004
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
Add to cart
281 pages | 7 x 10 | 117 b&w photos and line drawings |

The role of monuments in the Roman imperial cult.

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Monuments
  • 2. An Image of Things Achieved
  • 3. An Imperial Cosmos: The Creation of Eternity
  • 4. Fire, Fertility, Fiction: The Role of the Empress
  • 5. The Dynamics of Form
  • 6. The Power of Place
  • Conclusion
  • Abbreviations Used in Notes
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Penelope J. E. Davies is Associate Professor of Roman Art and Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book Death and the Emperor was first published by Cambridge University Press in 2000. It won the Vasari Award, sponsored by the Dallas Museum of Art.


Between the years 28 B.C. and A.D. 193, eighteen rulers acceded to the Roman imperial throne. Of these, seven left behind magnificent monumental memorials in Rome; others were buried in existing dynastic sepulchers, while others still were cast into official oblivion by senatorial decree, their bodies mutilated, thrown into the Tiber, and washed out to sea. The body's final resting place was as important in antiquity as it is today, if not more so: the souls of the unburied were believed to wander interminably in a cruel limbo of mythology's making. For the ruling family, however, even more was at stake: the future of the living was dependent, to a large degree, upon the honors (or lack thereof) bestowed upon the dead. This dependency is visible in the design of imperial memorials.This book analyzes the funerary monuments of the Roman emperors as a genre for the first time, beginning with the Mausoleum of Augustus and concluding with the Column of Marcus Aurelius. Its aim is to uncover political or ritual motivation behind their design, decoration, and location. In doing so, this study brings together two different kinds of funerary monument: the tomb proper and the commemorative monument erected after an emperor's death.The latter has proven hard to define; for some, it is a cenotaph; for others, a public memorial. The monuments I discuss in these pages were erected in the city of Rome to commemorate a deceased emperor, and they refer in their decoration, either explicitly or implicitly, to his change of state from mortal to immortal. They are therefore occasioned by the emperor's death, even if he was buried in an existing imperial tomb to stress his dynastic affiliation. In this work, I term them both commemorative monuments and funerary monuments.


None of the imperial funerary monuments is unfamiliar to scholars of Roman art; few, indeed, are unknown to tourists in Rome. The Mausoleum of Augustus still stands, derelict, the haunting focus of Mussolini's Piazza Augusto Imperatore in the heart of historic Rome; Hadrian's tomb, of similar form, was a jealously guarded fortress in medieval times and, renamed Castel Sant'Angelo, became the seat of Renaissance popes and the stronghold of Vatican City. The Arch of Titus, for its part, rightly admired for its harmonious proportions, crowns the Velian ridge now as it did in antiquity, visually defining the eastern side of the Roman Forum. The Columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius have weathered landshifts and world wars, and survive to be lauded as landmarks of the modern city and Western art alike. And newly restored and relocated in the Cortile del Belvedere, the Column base of Antoninus Plus is one of the first sights to welcome a visitor to the Vatican Museums. Only the Temple of the Flavian Dynasty is mostly lost to us, destroyed and buried beneath the streets of modern Rome.


Not only well known, these monuments have been extensively excavated, and their architectural forms and sculptural decoration comprehensively documented. Yet for the most part scholars have examined them in isolation from one another and often from a limited number of perspectives; generally speaking, dominant concerns have been to establish a monument's original appearance and to identify its prototype. Another approach has been to discuss the funerary monuments individually or in small groups in studies on specific monument types, or to view the monuments within the wider context of the artistic production of their day. The Columns' sculptural friezes lie at the heart of any discussion of the development of pictorial narrative, and the sepulchers naturally find their way into works on Roman tombs or tomb architecture throughout history and general works on Roman art and architectures While each of these approaches is valid in its own right, they have the collective effect of blurring links between monuments of different types. This study, in contrast, analyzes the monuments as a group, despite their diverse forms and decoration. I treat architectural and sculptural form in a single sweep, dissolving the conventional barrier between the two media; I justify this unusual approach for this body of material on the assumption that the tomb, as a monument, belongs properly in neither category and might usefully be considered monumental sculpture even at its most architectural. This characterization finds ancient corroboration in the writings of Petronius, who describes a tomb designer and builder not as an architect but as a lapidarius, or monumental mason.


I have taken several different approaches to the monuments, and always with the firm conviction that each one can bear numerous meanings. Roman art is by nature polysemous, but in few areas are there greater possibilities for mixed significances than in the funerary, where beliefs are often confused and illogical; in few areas is there greater possibility for accrual of meaning than in ritual practice, funerary or otherwise, since a pervasive conservatism allows rituals to persist long after their original meanings have been lost, necessitating the post facto creation of new meaning. Different levels of meaning for a symbol or practice, then, might appear contradictory, but we should not for that reason alone consider them mutually exclusive. This conservatism, in turn, renders less hazardous an attempt to draw comparisons between monuments at the beginning and end of the two centuries under scrutiny.


Alongside the funerary monuments that are my primary focus, I discuss a select group of other works when their association with a funerary monument, topographical or otherwise, implicates them either as part of a program or as necessary comparanda to tease out meaning. I have not, however, set out to do this exhaustively here; thus I discuss the Ara Pacis and the Solarium in some depth as part of Augustus's Campus Martius complex, but I have not attempted a thorough reading of the Basilica Ulpia (for instance) in the light of Trajan's Column as a tomb. Similarly, I discuss the Apotheosis of Sabina panel in some detail alongside the apotheosis relief on the Column base of Antoninus Pius, but I do not include an analysis of the full range of commemorative coins struck or altars erected in honor of deceased empresses. I stress that this book does not aim to be an exhaustive overview, and most emphatically I do not claim to offer the definitive reading of these monuments; on the contrary, many of the ideas I present here are highly speculative. I hope only to suggest ways in which we might reach beyond the archaeological data, primarily by moving within the monuments themselves, and inevitably my suggestions are tempered i£ not entirely formulated by my own experience of space. As William MacDonald so aptly puts it: "architecture, through its unavoidable imagery, is like the other arts an affective one: the sense and memory are strongly engaged. Awareness of historical continuities and sensory factors is essential to the understanding of Roman architecture and the construction of an approximate definition of it; the scholarly tradition of authorial non-involvement, in matters of judgement, should be reconsidered."


I direct my inquiry toward uncovering ideological or ritual motivation behind imperial funerary monument design. I have not focused on assessing them as expressions of individual eschatological views, not because they are devoid of such intent but because it is notoriously difficult to penetrate Roman belief systems and to separate temple from state, let alone to assess the emperor's personally held creed when so many options were open to him. Pontifex Maximus, head of the state religion (after 12 B.C.), he could also elect to be initiated into mystery cults promising salvation; Augustus, for instance, like Hadrian, took the Eleusinian vows of silence and perhaps the Samothracian ones too. Yet how deeply he or any initiate believed he or she would inherit eternal life is open to debate, and in Augustus's case participation may have been a spiritual or a political act or both. Adherents to philosophical doctrines contemplated a different form of afterlife in the soul's separation from the body and existence elsewhere. Augustus rubbed shoulders with one Stoic of note, his tutor Athenodorus of Tarsus, and a work probably advocating Stoicism, the Hortationes ad Philosophiam, is even attributed to the future emperor. Hadrian, for his part, fraternized with philosophers such as Epictetus and Heliodorus, and claimed to see a new star when Antinous died, which may indicate familiarity with the concept of astral immortality; all the same, no single doctrine appears to have claimed his exclusive attention. Not so Marcus Aurelius, whose musings on Stoicism survive as his Meditations; yet even in the face of his personal testimony there is no guarantee that Commodus respected his father's beliefs when designing his column. Despite the range of possibilities, Romans on the whole appear to have held out no great hope for an afterlife. Indeed, few early imperial epitaphs express more than an open question: "If there is something else......


Even if his beliefs were known, evidence for the emperor's level of engagement, as patron, in the design of a funerary monument is exceedingly sparse. All the same, I argue that an imperial funerary monument was not just a burial marker but an accession monument as well, and it is hard to imagine that the emperor, the incumbent, or other members of the imperial family did not take an active role in the design of such a critical work. Since several of the monuments were private commissions funded by the emperor and sometimes built on imperial land, the Senate as a body presumably did not have the final say over blueprints. Evidence concerning other posthumous honors, though admittedly tangential, seems to support such a notion. It was commonplace, for instance, for a Roman of any rank to specify the format of his funeral in his will. Drusus read Augustus's mandata de funere to the Senate after his death; Nero instructed that his body should be cremated and saved from mutilation; Otho that he should not be decapitated. Moreover, the Tabula Siarensis, bronze inscriptions preserving parts of the senatus consulta for Germanicus, indicate that, though the Senate was in charge of his honors after his death in Syria in 19, they made sure to include Tiberius, Livia, Drusus, and Antonia in their deliberations. In the Satyricon, Trimalchio's dinner conversation with Habinnas presupposes an ongoing discussion between the two concerning the appearance of Trimalchio's tomb, and Trimalchio states his desires with the apparent expectation that they will be fulfilled. All the same, such instructions were not necessarily followed verbatim. Sometimes they might be embellished; as senators such as Asinius Galo and Lucius Arruntius vied to heap honors upon Augustus, the Senate added its own flourishes to his funeral, such as parading his body beneath the Porta Triumphalis and including at the head of the procession tituli with the laws he had passed and the names of nations he had conquered. At other times, they were simply disregarded: in the interest of public safety the Senate had prevailed over Sulla's expressed wishes to be inhumed and arranged instead for his cremation. At the least one might posit a design committee for an imperial funerary monument, such as the board Frank Lepper and Sheppard Frere suggest for Trajan's Column, possibly headed by the emperor but certainly partisan to the monarchy's cause; the committee for Augustus's Mausoleum, for instance, probably included Agrippa as well as an architect.


Logic suggests that each case was quite individual. Scholars usually conclude that Augustus played a relatively active role in determining the design of monuments that he commissioned, and likewise those dedicated to him by the Senate and People of Rome; if, as I argue in Chapter 2, the Mausoleum relied on Egyptian construction techniques and models, then the emperor's (or Agrippa's) firsthand knowledge of Egypt must have been a forceful factor in its design. The same is true of Hadrian, whose renowned interest in all the arts and sciences was amply matched, by all accounts, by his determination to engage with the experts; ancient sources speak repeatedly of his aggressive demand to be heard in discussion with professionals of all sorts. He harbored personal ambitions as an architect, and although scholars generally discredit Cassius Dio's report that the demise of Trajan's architect Apollodorus was a direct consequence of his criticism of Hadrian's blueprints for the Temple of Venus and Roma, the anecdote, and Apollodorus's snide comment that Hadrian should go back to drawing his pumpkins, reveal that the emperor at least dabbled in architectural design. Many buildings in Rome and elsewhere are firmly linked with his name, and it is fair to suppose that he was closely involved in the monument that would hold his mortal remains in perpetuity and would inaugurate his dynasty; indeed, the Scriptores state as much unequivocally: fecit et sui nominis pontem et sepulchrum iuxta Tiberim ("he also built the bridge bearing his name and a tomb next to the Tiber"). Perhaps he also chose the site for his tomb, for Hadrian was no novice when it came to topographical reasoning: he may have commissioned or even written a topographical study of Rome, "On the Places in Rome, and the Names by Which They Are Called," attributed to his freedman P. Aelius Phlegon.


The role of other emperors is harder to gauge. A ferocious patron of building activity in Rome, Domitian raised so many arches that "somebody scrawled on one of them 'arci,' meaning 'arches,' spelling out the Greek word for 'enough!' in Greek letters." Could he conceivably have overseen the design of all of them personally, even one--ostensibly at least--dedicated by the Senate and People of Rome? On the other hand, the Temple of the Flavian Dynasty was so intimately bound up in its very conception with the emperor's person that Domitian probably had a hand in its design, perhaps hiring Rabirius as architect, as he did for his Palatine residence and many other buildings in Rome. Trajan may have relied heavily upon his architect. His Column is the work of an unknown artist whom Ranuccio Bianchi-Bandinelli nicknamed "The Maestro," yet there is good reason to believe that he may have been Apollodorus, architect, engineer, and praefectus fabrum (minister of works) who accompanied Trajan across the Danube and indeed made his crossing possible by constructing the pontoon bridge pictured prominently on the Column's frieze. His talents were famous in antiquity and his name has long been associated with Trajan's Forum and adjacent markets; the subtle engineering of the Column stands on a level footing with these. He may have designed the frieze too. On the whole, however, architects are difficult to identify, and no names of master architects after Apollodorus are known to us. For the Columns of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius one must proceed on guesswork alone.


Despite its obviously innovative quality as the first imperial tomb, the Mausoleum of Augustus emerged against the backdrop of an established Republican tradition of tomb building in Rome and beyond. It began as early as the sixth century B.C., when loosely scattered cemeteries started to spring up outside the city gates, and the practice remained more or less consistent until the third century. Mainly earthen mounds or subterranean chambers carved out of the living tufa, these early burials lacked extravagant external markers, perhaps because of archaic sumptuary laws restricting lavish expense for funerary arrangements. The Tomb of the Scipios on the Via Appia is the best-known example, a hypogeum with four subterranean galleries arranged in a quadrangular plan with two intersecting corridors in the center, whose first phase of construction, attributed to L. Cornelius Scipio Barbatus (cos. 298) or his son, dates to the first decades of the third century. In the fourth and third centuries, members of the elite developed another type of monument, exemplified by the Esquiline Tomb associated with Q. Fabius, which consists of a masonry tomb sunk into the earth and painted on the walls. Interspersed with these grander tombs were the humbler burials of the nonelite, and the poor found burial in mass graves.


It was in the second century that a first step toward the conspicuous monumentality that characterizes the imperial funerary monuments occurred, when newfound prosperity from foreign campaigns led increasing numbers of elite families, as well as nonelite men with military careers, to build tombs, and the external appearance of the tomb became increasingly important. A second construction phase at the Tomb of the Scipios illustrates this well. In circa 150-35, Scipio Aemilianus built subsidiary galleries for additional burials in the tomb of his forebears; more notably, he expressed his status, wealth, and philhellenic leanings by adding to it a monumental tufa facade with engaged Corinthian columns. Paintings on the base represented scenes of warfare, and in niches, statues of Scipio Africanus, Scipio Asiaticus, and Ennius placed new emphasis on the individuals interred within and their learned associates.This incipient trend toward conspicuous display and self-representation went hand in hand with the expansion of the Roman Empire and a developing rivalry for positions of political prominence in its capital.


By the end of the second century, the art of ostentatious tomb construction was flourishing. With escalating social unrest in Italy, a tomb became a means to express status publicly yet through private means, to establish one's position, not merely in relation to one's peers, but also in relation to members of other social ranks. More and more families erected tombs in ever more varied form. The familiar earthen tumulus took on architectonic articulation, as seen in Casal Rotondo on the Via Appia (third quarter of the first century), where a high stone socle serves as a monumental base, and the earthen tumulus is reduced almost to a crowning element (fig. 1). Circular tombs of this sort jostled for attention with altar tombs, such as the Tomb of consul C. Sulpicius Galba by the Horrea Galbana and aedicular tombs such as that on Via Salaria; other patrons selected exedra tombs on the Via Appia. More playful were the variations on themes, such as the so-called Tomb of the Curatii and the Horatii on the Via Appia outside Albano. With four conical pyramids on a high base, the tomb is reminiscent of descriptions of the Tomb of Porsenna in Chiusi. Types intermingled to produce hybrids and dimensions escalated dramatically: routinely 10 meters in diameter, tumuli built by prominent families reached 34 meters (in Magliana, west of Rome), and all types of tomb stood on tall bases to increase monumentality. Subsidiary architectural elements, such as columns, and contrasting materials and lavish sculpture, were increasingly coopted to draw a passerby's attention. In contrast to the third and second centuries, when tombs were oriented vaguely toward roads, now the tomb's facade was aligned with the edge of the road for maximum impact on a passerby, and families vied for prominent locations at gateways or major junctions. A single motive appears to have driven all of these changes: to promote a gens, helping to establish or maintain its position in the social and political order. Although privately funded, then, late Republican tombs took on an increasingly public role, and inscriptions and statuary emphasized, not intimate tidings of farewell, but biographical and genealogical details.


The public role of these privately funded monuments became all the more intense with Augustus. Constitutionally speaking, to be sure, he was a private citizen at the time of his mausoleum's construction. Yet the reality was that with Mark Antony dead and Lepidus ineffectual, he was the de facto ruler of Rome and his person was anything but private.The ambiguous if not outright paradoxical nature of his position plays itself out even in the location of his tomb on public land, along with monuments for public use; its construction also marked the end of a public disaster, civil war. At some level, it must have called to mind the public burials on the Campus Martius that the Senate and People of Rome granted to Rome's summi viri, including Sulla, the consuls A. Hirtius and C. Vibius Pansa, and Julius Caesar. More than that, though, like the Late Republican tombs it belongs in the context of a general tradition of commemorative monuments dedicated by the Senate and People of Rome or by private individuals to acknowledge civic benefaction, especially military virtue on behalf of the state. While many of these took the form of statues (so many, indeed, that a law was passed to restrict their numbers), grander monuments included statue groups dedicated on elaborate bases, such as the Base of Marcus Antonius on the Circus Flaminius, columns (such as the columna rostrata erected in the Forum by the state to honor C. Duilius in ca. 260 for his victory over the Carthaginians), or arches (such as those in the Circus Maximus and the Forum Boarium celebrating L. Stertinius's success in Spanish campaigns). These monuments were unabashedly propagandistic; for the most part, their raison d'Ítre was to promote an individual and his family, proclaiming their message through inscriptions, sculpture, and sheer physical presence. Even when a monument took the form of a votive offering to a patron god, political intention rang through; when Marcus Antonius, for instance, dedicated his statue group to Mars and Neptune for their part in his victories over Cilician pirates and erected it between their temples, he must have recognized that the tutelage of a god implied divine favor, which was politically expedient. Moreover, the incorporation of a Hellenistic marine thiasos relief emphasized through physical spoliation the highpoint of his military career, the triumph he celebrated late in 100. In their grandest incarnations these commemorative monuments became entire architectural complexes, and this was the intention behind Pompey's triumphal complex on the Campus Martius, dedicated in 55 B.C., where a monumental trophy stood side by side with a stone theater, a huge portico, a Curia, and a Temple to Pompey's guiding goddess,Venus Victrix. The vast scale of this complex, and of Julius Caesar's Forum after it, tellingly reflects the faltering hold of the Republic's ideals and the concurrent rise of prominent individuals to positions of sole leadership. Standing proud on the northern Campus Martius, the Mausoleum of Augustus relates as closely to these overwhelming monuments to victory as it does to the tradition of Late Republican tombs that it brings to a close.




As we have seen, it was customary for an emperor (and indeed for any Roman, regardless of social standing) to prescribe in his will the manner in which he wished his funeral to be conducted, and the Senate might choose, as it did with Augustus, to add its own honors to his instructions. Literary sources on imperial funerals are relatively detailed; Cassius Dio, Suetonius, and Tacitus report on Augustus's funeral, while Cassius Dio recalls that of Pertinax, and Herodian describes that of Septimius Severus. Their accounts indicate that an imperial funeral followed the broad lines of the public funeral, funus publicum, initially a burial at public expense for foreign dignitaries or for those, like Valerius Poplicola, Agrippa Menenius, and Siccius Dentatus, who had earned spectacular funerary ceremonies but had left insufficient funds. Sulla was the first to receive a public burial as an extravagant state honor after his death in Campania in 78 B.C., by his own testamentary instruction and by request of the consul, Q. Lutatius. Appian describes how a magnificent procession accompanied his embalmed body to Rome, resting on a gilded couch or Wine, and presumably on a chariot. Standard-bearers and lictors led the procession, and after the body came trumpeters, dancers, mimes, and armed soldiers interspersed with veterans; crowds of people brought up the rear. Once the cortège passed beneath the city gates, the trumpeters moved to the front, intoning dirgeful music to herald their arrival. Behind the corpse were gifts, including two thousand crowns of gold from cities, friends, and soldiers, as well as six thousand beds (perhaps for celebrants of the funerary banquet); from married women there were enough aromatic offerings, according to Plutarch, to fill two hundred and sixty fercula (trays for spoils) and to allow for a sculpture of the dictator with a lictor to be carved from the wood of frankincense and cinnamon trees. Priests and Vestal Virgins came next in the procession, followed by senators, magistrates, the equites, and the legions.The parade proceeded to the Curia, where a cry or ordered greeting, a condamatio, took place.


Plutarch's account suggests that a passage of time may have elapsed between this translatio and the day of cremation, when Sulla's body was transported from the Curia to the Rostra in the Forum, and there, since his son was too young, the most talented orator of the day pronounced the eulogy, or laudatio, over the body. At about the ninth hour (approximately 3 P.M.), the strongest of the senators carried it to the Campus Martius where, in a strong wind and driving rain, body and statue were consumed by flames, amid a procession of cavalry and infantry. The ashes were taken to a tumulus on the Campus Martius that the Senate had provided. After his death, as a response to the state of emergency and to prevent an outbreak of civil strife during the power transition, there followed a period of iustitium, during which normal duties were suspended; baths and taverns were closed, spectacles and banquets ceased; and women grieved for a year. This practice eventually became an expression of homage.


Although the funerals of the elite formed the broad basis of this funus publicum, the extravagance of the trappings, along with certain notable differences in procedure, signal an incipient inclination to treat the deceased as a divinity, an inclination that finds fuller development in Julius Caesar's funeral. Indeed, the magistrates and ex-magistrates (not family members, as was customary) conveyed Caesar's body concealed within a couch of ivory with coverlets of gold and purple. A wax image represented the dictator. The procession progressed from the domus publica at the Regia to a shrine on the Rostra modeled after the Temple of Venus Genetrix, to suggest that Caesar had joined his progenitress in immortality. Gladiatorial contests were held, and Mark Antony, rather than a member of the family, delivered an oration. Moreover, though a pyre had been assembled on the Campus Martius next to the tomb of his daughter Julia, frenzied crowds of mourners seized Caesar's body on their shoulders and carried it to the Capitol, where they intended to cremate and bury it in the cella of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, where he would take his place among the gods. Upon the priests' refusal, they cremated him instead on an improvised pyre in the Roman Forum before sealing his ashes in Julia's tumulus on the Campus Martius.


Imperial funerals followed a similar outline, with additional participants and representations, such as personifications of subject nations. The translatio normally processed from the emperor's Palatine residence to the Rostra, by way of the Sacra Via, with the successor behind the bier. There, like Caesar's, the body was placed in a shrine, a baldachino composed of columns and a roof, as was the custom in the East for shrines of gods and kings and as described as having been on Alexander the Great's funeral carriage. Cassius Dio reports that, like Caesar's, Augustus's body, and Pertinax's too, were represented by waxen images; this may have been true for other emperors as well. After the oration the body was conveyed to the imperial ustrinum or pyre on the Campus Martius for cremation which, real or simulated, was essential for divinization and persisted for emperors long after other Romans had begun to favor inhumation. The pyre itself, apparently modeled on Hellenistic examples, and especially that erected in Babylon for Alexander the Great's friend Hephaistion in 325, appears to have become more elaborate with passing time. Coin depictions survive from the time of Faustina the Elder's death and after, and mesh well with literary descriptions. An eyewitness, Cassius Dio, recalled Pertinax's pyre as a towerlike structure in three levels, adorned with marble and gold and a series of statues. On top was a figure of Pertinax driving a gilded chariot. Herodian, though not present at Septimius Severus's funeral, describes a building of many levels, decreasing in size toward the top like a lighthouse.The body was lodged on the second storey, and the inside, he states, was filled with wood. The exterior was hung with tapestries woven in gold, and adorned with marble statues and paintings of various sorts; the upper levels had doors and windows. Bystanders, he records, scattered incense of all sorts and piles of fruit and herbs, and poured on aromatic liquids.


Cremation often led to apotheosis, on the models of heroes such as Romulus and Hercules. Many believed Caesar's soul to have departed his body immediately after his assassination in the Curia Pompeiana, and during the games after his death a comet shone in the sky for seven days; the people interpreted this omen to mean he was divine. Seizing advantage of this response years later, Livia paid one Numerius Aticus to claim to have seen Augustus's spirit rise to the heavens. By Cassius Dio's account written some two centuries later, when soldiers set fire to Augustus's pyre, an eagle soared up from it into the sky; recording a similar phenomenon at the funeral of Pertinax, Dio interjects, "and thus Pertinax became immortal." Though featured in visual representations of or allusions to the emperor's apotheosis from the early empire, the event is absent from other earlier accounts of Augustus's funeral by Suetonius and Tacitus. It appears only to have entered official ceremony in the second century, perhaps from the East, as an abstract means of expressing the soul's liberation from the burning body.


The Senate's official declaration of apotheosis, or consecratio, occurred after the funeral, generally at the successor's instigation. Tiberius, for instance, addressed the Senate to plead for a public funeral for Augustus, at which point the late emperor's Res Gestae and other writings were recited; after the funeral the Senate met again and conferred the decree of apotheosis.The decree may have had little to do with religion and most to do with politics and the Senate's approval of the emperor's policies; in any event, the emperor's consecration rapidly became an expected consequence of his lifetime achievements or virtue on behalf of the state; an alternative was his damnatio memoriae, or condemnation of memory for bad government, as was the posthumous fate of Nero, among others. By the second century, apotheosis was becoming more and more of a formality (Simon Price calculates that thirty-six of the sixty emperors from Augustus to Constantine received the honor, along with twenty-seven members of their families), and the official decree came in some cases to precede the funeral; the funeral, in turn, focused increasingly upon the moment of cremation and the magnificence of the pyre, as the pyre and its lighting became the spectacular enactment of apotheosis.


Upon apotheosis, the new divus was entitled to the trappings of a cult, such as a temple (sometimes shared with already deified members of the imperial family), a flamen, and a pulvinar, or cushion used in rituals and festivals. After Julius Caesar's funeral, the people established a cult where his pyre had stood in the Roman Forum, probably administered by Mark Antony; the Senate and people decreed his official consecration in January of 42, and Augustus began construction of a temple to him on the site in circa 36 B.C., dedicating it after his Actian triumph on August 18 of 29. Caligula completed a temple to the Divine Augustus on the edge of the Roman Forum, and Agrippina began a temple to the Divine Claudius on the Caelian Hill, which Nero promptly expropriated as a monumental nymphaeum within his Domus Aurea and which Vespasian later completed. Domitian built a temple to his divine father, Vespasian, and brother Titus at the west end of the Roman Forum, and additional shrines in their names were attached to the Porticus Divorum on the Campus Martius; the cult of Divine Trajan and Plotina was centered in the temple in his forum. Antoninus Plus dedicated the Hadrianeum on the Campus Martins for Hadrian in 145, after he had managed to secure his apotheosis from a reluctant Senate; still partially preserved within the Borsa in Piazza di Pietra, it stood alongside Hadrian's temple to his mother-in-law, Diva Matidia, with its basilicas to Matidia and her mother, Trajan's sister, Diva Marciana. At Antoninus Pius's own death, his cult joined that of his wife Faustina in a temple built in 141 in the Roman Forum. Marcus Aurelius's temple is known from literary sources and the Regionary Catalogues, and probably stood within a spacious courtyard surrounding his column on the Campus Martius.


The name of the new divus was evoked in prayers and formulae, and on the anniversary of his natalis or birthday, games were held and prayers recited to the emperor as god. On days when games were not specifically in honor of the divus, his statue took its place among those of other gods. Augustus's statue, for instance, was paraded around the circus in a chariot drawn by elephants. The image and memory of a divus were correspondingly removed from the context of mortal ancestors, as exemplified by the exclusion of Julius Caesar's image from the crowd of illustrious predecessors imitated by actors at Augustus's funeral.




“Davies sets out to ask, How did the Romans bury Caesar? And with what monuments did they sing his praises? . . . The architectural elaboration of these structures, their siting in the capital, the lines of vision and approaches that exposed them to view, the paths their complex outworks formed for visitors to walk, are all picked out with skill and presented with care in Death and the Emperor.”
Times Literary Supplement

“This concise and lucidly written book is a very valuable new contribution to the studies of Roman imperial cult, political propaganda, and topography, and has the added benefit of discussing complex scholarly disputes in a manner that the non-specialist will probably follow with ease. . . . There is material in this volume that will be immensely useful to researchers in many areas: archaeology, history of architecture, iconography, history of religion, and Roman political propaganda, to name just a few. I strongly recommend it to scholars interested in any or all of the above topics.”
Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“Even though its focus is on only seven specimens of architecture, the book touches upon a broad array of aspects of Roman imperial culture. Elegantly written and generously illustrated . . . this book should be of great interest to the general public as well as to the scholarly community.”
American Journal of Archaeology


Available for Kindle
Available on Google Play
Available on Kobo
Available for Nook
Available on the Apple Store

This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca