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Category Archives: Architecture

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The 13 Most Important Buildings in Ancient Alexandria, Egypt

by May 27, 2019

An important center of Hellenistic civilization, Alexandria was the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt, Roman and Byzantine Egypt for almost 1,000 years. The city was founded around c. 332 BC by the Macedonian King, Alexander the Great, during his conquest of the Achaemenid Empire.
A famous Macedonian drinker

Mosaic of Alexander the Great

At one point, Alexandria became the largest city in the world and, for some centuries more, was second only to Rome. It became Egypt’s main Greek city, with Greek people from diverse backgrounds, as well as the largest urban Jewish community in the world.
Estimates of the total population range from 216,000 to 500,000 making it one of the largest cities ever built before the Industrial Revolution and the largest pre-industrial city that was not an imperial capital.
As one can imagine, such an important and large ancient center warranted important and large structures! Fortunately for us, the historian Strabo described the principle constructions, as seen from a ship entering the great harbor.
Harbor of Alexandria, Egypt

Artist rendition of ancient Alexandria, Egypt

So without further adieu, here are the 13 Most Important Buildings in Ancient Alexandria, Egypt:
1. The Royal Palaces. They filled the northeast part of town and occupied the ridge of Lochias, which shut in the Great Harbor on the east. Lochias (the modern Pharillon) has almost entirely disappeared into the sea, together with the palaces, the “Private Port,” and the island of Antirrhodus. Unfortunately this is the result of land subsidence and massive sinking which occurred throughout the northeast coast of Africa.

2. The Great Theater. This was used by Julius Caesar as a fortress, where he withstood a siege from the city mob after he took Egypt after the battle of Pharsalus.

Map of the city

Map of Ancient Alexandria, Egypt

3. The Poseidon, or Temple of the Sea God, close to the theater.
4. The Timonium built by Marc Antony.
Bust of Marc Antony

Bust of Marc Antony

5. The Emporium (Exchange).
6. The Apostases (Magazines).
7. The Navalia (Docks), which were west of the Timonium, along the seafront.
8. Great Caesareum, behind the Emporium by which stood the two great obelisks, which become known as “Cleopatra’s Needles.” (These were eventually transported to Paris, New York City and London). This temple became the Patriarchal Church, however some ancient remains of the temple have been discovered. Parts of the actual Caesareum that were not eroded by the waves are under the houses, lining the new seawall.
Cleopatras Needle

The “Cleopatra’s Needle” in London, Cleopatra’s Needle, Central Park, New York City, Cleopatra’s Needle, Paris, France

9. The Gymnasium and the Palaestra are both inland in the eastern half of the town; sites unknown.
10. The Temple of Saturn; alexandria west.
11. The Mausolea of Alexander (Soma) and the Ptolemies in one ring-fence, near the point of intersection of the two main streets.
12. The Musaeum with its famous Library of Alexandria (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) and theater in the same region; site unknown.
Library of Alexandria

Illustration of what might have been the Musaeum.

13. The Serapeum of Alexandria, the most famous of all Alexandrian temples. Strabo tells us that this stood in the west of the city. Recent discoveries place it near “Pompey’s Pillar,” which was an independent monument erected to commemorate Diocletian’s siege of the city.
While a few other public buildings on the mainland are known, there is little information as to their actual position. None, however, are as famous as the structure that stood on the eastern point of Pharos island. The Great Lighthouse, another of the seven wonders of the ancient world, stood at 138 meters (453 feet) high. It took 12 years to complete and served as a prototype for all later lighthouses in the world.
Lighthouse of Alexandria

Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt

The Pharos lighthouse was destroyed by an earthquake in the 14th century, making it the second longest surviving ancient wonder, after the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World “Reconstructed” with GIFs

by May 7, 2019

Finally technology is being put to good use!
The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World was a list of must-see sites for Ancient Greek tourists. Compiled by Antipater of Sidon, a poet in 2nd-century-BCE Greece, with later contributions by figures such as the mathematician Philon of Byzantium, the list remains an important piece of intangible heritage today.
Sadly, only one of those ancient wonders is still standing. Fortunately technology has come to the rescue so that modern classics-lovers can have the chance to visit the structures that Antipater first recommended.
Check out the reconstructed the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, so you can see how the ruins originally looked:
A feat of ingenuity and engineering and served as a Rhodian symbol of victory. The Colossus of Rhodes was erected in 280 BCE but was toppled by an earthquake in 226 BCE.
2. The Great Pyramid of Giza
The oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex bordering present-day El Giza, Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact.
3. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
An ascending series of tiered gardens containing a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and vines, resembling a large green mountain constructed of mud bricks, and said to have been built in the ancient city of Babylon, near present-day Hillah, Babil province, in Iraq.
4. Lighthouse of Alexandria
A lighthouse built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom, during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (280–247 BC), and was estimated to be 100 metres (330 ft) in overall height. For many centuries it was one of the tallest man-made structures in the world.
5. Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
A tomb built between 353 and 350 BC at Halicarnassus (present Bodrum, Turkey) for Mausolus, a satrap in the Persian Empire, and his sister-wife Artemisia II of Caria. The structure was designed by the Greek architects Satyros and Pythius of Priene.
A giant seated figure, about 13 m (43 ft) tall,[1] made by the Greek sculptor Phidias around 435 BC at the sanctuary of Olympia, Greece, and erected in the Temple of Zeus there. It represented the god Zeus on a cedarwood throne ornamented with ebony, ivory, gold and precious stones. Lost in the 5th AD.
7. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
A Greek temple dedicated to an ancient, local form of the goddess Artemis (associated with Diana, a Roman goddess). It was located in Ephesus (near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey). It was completely rebuilt three times.
Pretty exciting results!
Of course to get these excellent images, researchers commissioned by budgetdirect had to find extensive visual and written information on each wonder; including when it was built, which civilization built it and for what purpose. They gathered information around the specific features of each wonder; such as building materials, measurements and key architectural features. These details were then backed up with hi-resolution images of drawings, sketches or any other available imagery in the archives. Once this research was compiled, it was passed along to architectural design duo Keremcan Kirilmaz and Erdem Batirbek, under the guidance of NeoMam’s art director.
The final Photoshop files were sent to motion graphics artist Fractal Motion, who were in charge of creating the animations. This complex process involves dividing up the images, then animating them using a tool in Cinema 4D software called Polyfx before refining it all in After Effects.

The Best of Roman Architecture

by March 27, 2019

By Mark Miller, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins
Ancient Rome borrowed from ancient Greece for architecture, among other things, but then innovated and invented its own architectural features and building types. Roman architecture made a statement with its imposing public edifices: We are a world power, and we have the wealth, technology and manpower to dominate in culture as well as politics.
The Romans used new construction techniques and materials and their own designs along with existing architectural ideas to come up with a new catalog of structures. They invented the triumphal arch, monumental aqueduct, the amphitheater, basilica, granary building, and residential housing block.
The Pantheon

The Pantheon is an iconic example of beautiful Roman architecture.

History of Roman Architecture
The Roman state, both the republic and empire, backed, financed, and organized many such buildings around the Roman sphere of influence around 2,000 years ago. The edifices were built so well, with such durable materials, that many of these beautiful structures still stand.
People still marvel at the Roman architecture examples of the Pantheon, the Roman Colosseum and other such spectacular places, wonderfully constructed aqueducts in Spain and Italy, 200-some amphitheaters in many old cities, and a multitude of other edifices stretching from Spain to Egypt and across northern Africa.
The Colosseum

A 4×4 segment panorama of the Colosseum at dusk.

In many of their buildings, the Romans used columns and arches instead of post-and-beam construction. Arches could bear more weight, so the buildings were bigger than their Greek or Egyptian counterparts, for example.
Roman Columns
The Romans borrowed the classical orders of the Greeks: Corinthian, Doric and Ionic. The Romans favored Corinthian even very late in the Classical period. Thus, many of their buildings had a classical Greek look. But the Romans would make the capital at the top of the column even more decorative than the Greek capital. They also made more decorative cornices.
Roman Columns

Types of columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

The Romans also made a composite capital out of Ionic and Corinthian designs. They innovated the Tuscan column, which fused Doric with a small capital, slenderer shaft and a molded base. The Romans used the Tuscan columns in their homes and verandas.
Roman columns were monolithic. The Greeks, on the other hand, used several stacked drums. Columns were an important aspect of Greek and Roman architecture because they often fronted buildings. When a person approached many structures and monuments, the first thing he saw was an expanse of columns across the front. Romans even used columns when they had developed technology that made them obsolete. An example of this type of building is the Pantheon.
Interior of the Pantheon

The interior of the Pantheon in Rome, a concrete mausoleum with a beautiful dome and rows of columns.

Roman Architectural Material
The Romans most often used stone, several types of marble, and concrete in their structures. Their concrete was of a special type that has lasted two millennia. Some modern concrete has not lasted nearly as long. Ancient Origins published an article on Roman concrete in December 2014 titled “Researchers discover secret recipe of Roman concrete that allowed it to endure for over 2,000 years.” The article stated:
“It’s been known for a while that the volcanic sand used in Roman concrete and mortar made their buildings last for so long. Now a new study by a group of engineers and engineering researchers has discovered the precise recipe that made the Roman concrete endure much longer than concrete used today.”
Roman Concrete

Looking at Roman concrete close up.

The Roman Forum
The Romans built many public and civic buildings and monuments around a forum, which was a paved public square. Some larger Roman cities had more than one forum.
An interesting type of public building the Romans built there were the bath complexes, large structures with domes, columns, pools, and open spaces. They also built smaller baths at villas, townhouses and forts. The public baths had three big rooms, the frigidarium or cold bath, the tepidarium or warm bath, and the caldarium or hot bath. Some of the imperial baths or thermae also had steam baths and sauna-like rooms.
Bath Baths

View of the Great Bath, part of the Roman Baths complex, a site of historical interest in the city of Bath, England. The baths, based on the local hot springs, were built during the Roman occupation of Britain and have become a major touristic site.

Fantastic Structures of Ancient Rome
The fantastic structures of ancient Rome have been a testament to their people’s power and wealth. Roman architecture was meant to convey Rome’s dominance and cultural superiority. Rome was saying it had the wealth, technology, and manpower to build such huge, wonderfully constructed edifices. The Romans built audacious structures that no modern architect or construction company would attempt and no government agency would approve.

Not Just Another Column

by December 7, 2018

What’s in a column? To the Ancient Greeks, the standing pillar was more than just a way to hold up the roof. Every section, from capital to base, was integral to the entire structure. It was a piece of art that followed very detailed specifications, an architectural order. In fact, you only need a fragment of molding to recreate a whole building.
The ancients weren’t just constructing a safe place in the rain, they were attempting to achieve perfection in architecture.
This meant nothing was left up to chance. It was never, Kyriakos – the average workman and heavy, choosing to put the pediment a “little the right”. The buildings were carefully designed using principles in harmony and symmetry and all overseen by a respected architect. The man in charge presided over every detail, from materials selected to choosing expert sculptors.
The order of the universe, believed so fervently by the Ancient Greeks, was reflected in the buildings themselves.
In fact, this is no exaggeration. The proportional ideals employed by these mathematical architects was the so-called Golden Mean, a ratio also found in natural spiral forms like Nautilus shells and fern fronds.
Here is the actual formula cherished by those men of yore:
Formula for the Golden Mean
Creating a perfectly proportional building had other desired consequences. It created an optical illusion. The end goal was, after all, how the building looked. They wanted perspective and concave results. Consequently, the major lines in the structure were rarely straight. This is most obviously seen in all the different columns’ profiles, whether they be Doric, Ionic or Corinthian.
But let us quickly review those three, very distinctive, major architectural systems, called orders.
Comparison of Ancient Greek Architectural Orders

Comparison of Ancient Greek Architectural Orders

The first and most primitive order is termed ‘Doric’. It is the serious, manly system that originated from wooden structures. It follows basic rules of harmony. Each column has to bear the weight of the beam laid across it. All the Triglyphs, or vertically channeled tablets, are arranged regularly. The columns themselves, short and stocky, stood initially without a base, and at a height of about six or seven times the diameter. The capital on the top of the pillar is basic.
The next architectural order is referred to as Ionic, due to its origination in Ionia (present day Turkey) in the mid-6th century BC. The southwestern coastline and islands of Asia Minor had been settled by the Ionic Greeks, who were distinguished from the Doric greeks by their Ionian dialect.
The Ionians’ more effeminate column design, however, proved popular amongst all the Greeks as evidenced by their construction on the mainland in the 5th century BC.
Ionic columns are most often fluted, and usually numbered at 24. This standardization was quite handy as it kept the fluting in a familiar, almost fragile, proportion to the diameter of the column… and at any scale. The system as a whole is characterised by its continuous freezes, and the scroll-like capitals, called volutes.
Corinthian Capital

Corinthian Capital

The third and final architectural order is termed Corinthian, from the ancient city of Corinth. It is the most elaborate and engraved system of architecture, distinguished by the stylized acanthus leaves and stalks found in the Corinthian capitals. These columns appeared much later and were more popular in subsequent periods than its own.
Overall, the disciplined and ordered approach to architecture was clearly effective … as it has been a major influence for the past two millennia. All three major architectural orders, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian can all still be seen in buildings, both public and private, throughout the world today.
But these systems of architecture did more than just beautified edifices globally. The western world also inherited from those brilliant mathematical architects the idea of a building as more than a space to live or worship. It can have another function: To be beautiful through harmony, balance and proportion.

Roman Concrete: A Forgotten Stroke of Genius

by July 15, 2016

I can hear some of you thinking now: Concrete? Is she really writing about concrete?
Believe me, reader, the same sort of thoughts passed through my mind when I began to do my research for this article–but let me ask one question (especially to those of you lucky ducks who have gotten to visit Italy): Is there anything more impressive than to turn a corner in Rome and come face to face with an incredibly ancient structure that, somehow, is still standing after thousands of years?
There’s just no doubt: Ancient Roman architecture holds a gold medal for durability. Despite some crumbling here or there, there are so many structures–particularly harbors–that continue to stand soundly unbroken and un-ruined after two thousands years or more. They’ve largely withstood wars and earthquakes and encroaching modernity. But how?
One of the reasons is simply that many of these structures were made entirely or partly out of concrete–but it’s not just the presence of concrete that helped. We know from experience in modern times that concrete is strong but not infallible, and certainly not capable of withstanding two thousand years of wear and tear! No, it wasn’t the presence of concrete necessarily–instead, it was the type of concrete.
Just Add (Salt) Water
For many years, the durability of Roman concrete baffled historians and scientists alike. In particular they were perplexed by the concrete that had been used to construct ancient harbors–even after two thousand or more years of being pummeled by saltwater, the harbors were largely intact.
To put this into perspective, Portland cement, which is the most commonly used concrete blend today, is serviceable for only about fifty years if exposed constantly to saltwater. Not a small difference!
What, then, made Roman concrete so different? The answer wasn’t found until recently, when, a few years ago, researchers began to take an interest in the subject. Research teams led by both Italian and American scientists collected samples of ancient Roman concrete from a breakwater in Pozzuoli Bay, Italy. The concrete was analyzed in state-of-the-art facilities in Italy, United States’ U.C. Berkley, Germany, and even Saudi Arabia, where Advanced Light Source technology allowed researchers to analyze the structure of the concrete at a miniscule scale.
Concrete fragmentSample of Roman concrete
What they found was incredibly exciting: instead of fighting to create a substance that could withstand the eroding force of the sea, ancient Romans had harnessed that force and incorporated it into their concrete making process. They mixed lime and volcanic ash and, after packing the mixture into wooden molds, they submerged it all in seawater. The saltwater then set off a chemical reaction–it hydrated the lime in such a way as to make it react with the ash, which ultimately formed an incredibly sturdy, solid bond.
(For all you chemists out there, this was apparently a C-A-S-H bond, or calcium-aluminum-silicate-hydrate)
It’s largely for this reason that ancient Roman concrete was so incredibly durable–especially when exposed to saltwater.
A Better Alternative?

One of the most important aspects of this super-strong ancient concrete, besides its durability, is its overall carbon footprint.

Though Portland cement–our modern concrete–has been in use now for nearly two centuries, it can’t really hold a candle to Roman cement when it comes to the issue of environmental impact. The cement industry (cement being a major component of concrete) is, worldwide, a primary producer of carbon dioxide, which is an atmospheric pollutant and greenhouse gas. Apparently, the cement industry alone accounts for approximately five percent of all carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, which is a staggering amount for one industry.
Much of this cement is produced specifically for the manufacturing of Portland cement concrete mix. In fact, according to researchers, roughly nineteen billion tons of Portland cement are used every year.
The biggest problem with the production of this cement is really the production methods themselves. To make the cement, a mixture of limestone and clays has to be heated to 1,450 degrees Celsius (2,642 degrees Fahrenheit), and it’s this process–which burns up so much fossil fuel and burns it so hot–that produces the majority of the carbon dioxide.
Roman concrete, on the other hand, because of its unique ash mixture, uses far less limestone and only requires that the limestone be baked at 900 degrees Celsius (1,652 degrees Fahrenheit)–which uses only a fraction of the fossil fuels used to make Portland cement and results in fewer carbon dioxide emissions overall–and the finished product is hundreds of times stronger.
Clearly, the carbon footprint of our modern concrete is not so great–at the end of the day, we are causing more environmental damage to produce a concrete that just doesn’t bind nearly as well as Roman concrete.
Can we bring this dead secret back to life?

The question is: has all this new research led us to a grand solution for the issue of carbon emissions in the cement/concrete industry? Could it revolutionize the way we build, and the durability of our structures?

The tentative answer is yes…and no.
The famous Duomo is a solid shell of Roman concrete
According to experts, it’s a complicated issue. While the obvious answer seems to be that Roman concrete is a better, stronger, more environmentally-friendly option, many experts believe that it would be impractical to begin using it again, largely because of the setting time. In the modern world of construction, concrete needs to harden quickly and efficiently–something that seawater concrete can’t do (and we all know how our modern society values convenience and speed).
However, the discovery of this ancient “secret” to concrete production is having some positive benefits. Inspired by the ancient Romans’ use of volcanic ash, scientists have been experimenting with the use of fly ash (a waste product of coal-burning, which is readily available in large quantities in many countries) and even, again, volcanic ash (in those countries where fly ash is not so available) to produce stronger, greener forms of concrete.

According to some experts, a successful outcome to these experiments could lead to concrete mixes that utilize local resources intelligently and replace at least forty percent of the worldwide demand for Portland cement.
It’s just one more way in which our society is learning to look to the past, and learn from our ancestors. Sometimes, modernity doesn’t have all the answers after all–sometimes the answers were discovered and perfected long ago. All we have to do is rediscover them.

The Mausoleum of Augustus: Propaganda, Deification and Dynasty

by July 16, 2015

By Ben Potter
The story of Augustus (née Octavian) is one of those tales from the classical world familiar even to those whom do not routinely ‘leave the phenomenal world, and enter into the sublime’.
Though we’re all well aware of the impressive résumé of the protagonist of HBO’s Rome, let’s quickly recap a few of his highlights:
– Claims descent from the Trojan prince Aeneas and the goddess Venus
– Adopted son and heir of the murdered then deified Julius Caesar
– Avenged said father with the help of swaggering ladies’ man Marc Antony
– Defeated said philanderer and his Egyptian girlfriend, Cleopatra, for control of The Greatest Empire the World has Ever Known (TM)

Pretty impressive stuff. But what then? Prosperity, expansion, peace, stability, wealth, high morality, art, literature, incredible public services and, perhaps most importantly, a constant supply of food are but some of the boasts the princeps could make from his tenure as emperor.

But this is small fry… it seems clear that Augustus had big plans for himself, and indeed for Rome’s future. Plans that would only truly take seed on 19th August 14AD – the date on which Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus’ long and illustrious life finally came to an end.
What came next was Augustus’ crowning glory; deification and a hand-picked succession.
In the first part, deification cemented the emperor’s position as not merely one of the greatest men to have ever lived, but as something more: something eternal, ethereal, indissoluble and, literally, supernatural.
The second part gave Augustus what had been denied to that Macedonian meteorite, Alexander the Great: a dynasty! A dynasty not only in the sense of emperors, rather than senators, ruling Rome (the very hubris for which Julius Caesar had been assassinated), but also in that those emperors were of Julio-Claudian bloodline.
Though there were obviously many facets that went into securing this improbable and impressive duel feat, one of the finest examples of Augustus’ devotion to securing both his terrestrial and celestial legacies is his impressive Mausoleum.
The gargantuan structure (87 metres in diameter and 40 metres high) was built on the Campus Martius (field of Mars), and would have dominated the landscape of Rome from the Tiber to the Via Flaminia.
MausoleumWhat the Mausoleum would have looked like in its time
Almost everything about this impressive monument seemed designed to fulfill the two above goals – as well as reinforce the two invariable and continuous aims of the regime, i.e. to legitimize and glorify itself.
The location of the Mausoleum was no coincidence, but carefully planned to gain maximum effect. The Campus Martius was not merely an ancient and sacred area of the city, but was especially reserved as the final resting place of exceptional citizens.
In hindsight this seems the most natural place in the world for the first, and possibly greatest, Roman emperor to be buried, but ground was broken on the Mausoleum as early as 28BC, only three years after the battle of Actium (in which Antony was defeated) and, crucially, a year before Augustus became emperor – while he was still only Mr. Octavian, consul of Rome.
This bold move, a move that had unequivocal echoes of the thing Romans hated most of all, Hellenistic-style kingship, would have caused a bedewing of the armpits on even the most lightly-knit senatorial togas.
That such an abode was a fitting resting place for a god may well have been an instinctive reaction upon seeing it. However, the link to dynasty was a shade subtler as, though invariably referred to as the Mausoleum of Augustus, the tomb was in fact designed to house the entire imperial family. The significance of this is that anyone related to the emperor (by blood or adoption) would be automatically given a burial on a site previously reserved only for those who had made an outstanding contribution to the state.
MausoleumA diagram of the Mausoleum, viewed from above
The design of the building was also significant; not only in its regal and hubristic scale which would surely have delivered the message ‘I have conquered’ to the average awe-struck plebeian (and, indeed, senator), but also because it was, extremely unusually for the time, circular.
Though it’s possible the tomb’s style was a mere coincidence, a personal preference or a passing whim, it’s hard to imagine that a politician as adept as Augustus would have neglected the connotations such a building brings up.
It’s thought that the Mausoleum was round either to evoke Etruscan architecture and therefore possibly (and rather riskily) make an association to the old kings of Rome, or otherwise to reinforce the idea that Augustus was of Trojan lineage; an oblique nod to Homer’s Iliad in which such structures are mentioned.
MausoleumAll that is left of the Mausoleum today is its core
If it seems improbable that the Roman public could have swallowed such a flagrant piece of regal self-aggrandizement, it’s worth considering that they may have been placated by the notion that a king, if a Roman king, is still better than an Egyptian one.
Augustus’ daring decision to build a gigantic tomb for himself and his family while only in his thirties was a stark message that he not only intended to serve Rome during his life, but also to remain truly Roman after his death. This message of posthumous permanence and loyalty was in stark contrast to that of Marc Antony who stated in his will (illegally acquired and published by Augustus) that he wished to be buried alongside Cleopatra in Egypt.
Thus the tomb was not merely a symbol of loyalty, but also a contrast to the burial chamber of a vanquished and ‘foreign’ foe. It would have taken a very, very brave senator, especially if he’d previously been sympathetic to Antony, to raise his voice against this patriotic exhibition.
The question of loyalty would have been further forced home by the pair of pillars outside the entrance of the Mausoleum upon which were inscribed a copy of the Res Gestae. This was a self-penned manuscript Augustus wrote outlining his achievements (i.e. what he had done for Rome) as well as reminding everyone that technically he did not have any supreme power, but merely ‘surpassed others in influence’.
However, the icing on the cake was the Solarium, a gigantic sundial built next to the Mausoleum, the needle of which was an Egyptian obelisk – a blatant message to the people of Rome to remember upon which side their bread was buttered.
N.B. Another great work of Augustan propaganda, the Ara Pacis, would later complete this tripartite of imperial glorification. Unfortunately the eminently believable and utterly charming hypothesis that the dial cast a shadow on the Ara Pacis on Augustus’ birthday is unverifiable.
Though Augustus obviously wasn’t there to witness his own interment he probably had a pretty good idea of what went on, as he’d left three sealed scrolls with the Vestal Virgins (the same lovely girls from whom he’d purloined Antony’s will) giving instructions for the order of the day.
Though we’ve no idea if what occurred was in line with Augustus’ wishes, it seems more than likely that it was.
AugustusAlong with plenty of ivory, purple (the most precious thing in the ancient world) and gold, including a golden likeness of Augustus, almost everything at the funeral was contrived to ensure the deceased was seen as someone in mid-apotheosis – an eagle was even released from the burning pyre – and that his heir, Tiberius, would be next in line to the throne of Rome.
According to Tacitus, Tiberius himself was the one to ‘provide for the last honors of his father, whose body he could not leave’; an excellent image of power smoothly changing hands. Moreover, the fact that the two eulogies were read by Tiberius and his own heir, Drusus, shows a distinct hierarchy was already in place.
The Mausoleum was a monument of subtle balance, not necessarily architecturally, but in terms of the relationship between hated kingship – that which Antony had sought – and loyal and traditional Roman values – to which Augustus ‘aspired’.
The great success of the Mausoleum was that, for all of its regal evocation, it technically did not overstep that deplorable line. In contrast the towering Egyptian obelisk would have left no doubt as to Antony’s kingly intentions.
That such a vast and splendid structure could contain an iota of subtlety is testimony to the shrewd and fertile mind of Augustus, a man whose great intellect foresaw that ‘the hand that wields the knife shall never wear the crown’.
However, Augustus had no desire for the crown, only for the powers that went with it, the knowledge that they would be passed on to his chosen successor, and (because why stop when you’re on a roll?) that he would be able to oversee Tiberius from his lofty perch alongside the other gods of the Roman pantheon.