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HIST2075 Creating an Imperial Image: Augustus

Module Overview

This module explores the life of Gaius Octavius (63 BC to 14 AD), more usually called Octavian and known in later life as Augustus. Having been named at the heir of Julius Caesar in 44BC he steadily came to power as a member of the Second Triumvirate, along with Mark Antony and Lepidus. Three years after defeating Antony at the battle of Actium in 31BC, Octavius was given the title Augustus (meaning ‘by the grace of God’), the Republic was restored and the Principate was established. He gradually formalised his position as Princeps, (the first man) and developed his power and authority by creating a party, or body of support, through his use of patronage, his control of the army, his private wealth, and his relationship with the senate. Augustus Caesar was the first Roman emperor. His period of rule is often seen as being a period of peace to Rome so allowing for the expansion of the empire and increased prosperity and stability. He shaped his image in a variety of ways to reflect different aspects of his imperial role. First, he was elected as pontifex maximus (chief pontiff) as part of his policy to restore religion and traditional values In addition the cult of his guardian spirit was established in many temples throughout the empire, so elevating him to divine or semi-divine status. Second, as a patron to writers such as Virgil and Horace, Augustus sought to use literature to support and reinforce his policy of peace and the process of reform. Third, he initiated a spectacular building programme intended to transform Rome and confirming his claim ‘that he found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble’. His architects incorporated Eastern influences in terms of materials and designs in order to create a distinctive, new, Roman style. As a result, Augustus has been seen as a skilled manipulator of the political and military environment, as well commissioning the leading artists and writers of the time to create an image of himself that would shape how subsequent Roman emperors presented themselves.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

- Introduce you to the political, social and cultural life of Rome and the Roman Empire though the life of a single figure, Augustus Caesar - Develop insights into how he came to power - Develop awareness of what was distinctive about the Augustan Respublica and consider why he was described as the ‘restorer of the Republic’ - Encourage you to reflect upon the Augustus’s legacy and how artists, writers, and architects shaped his image - Provide an overview of some of the key historigraphical debates relating to the image of Augustus

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • How Octavian came to power and how he kept it
  • What the key features of the Principate were and how it differed from the Republic
  • Who the key writers, artists and architects were who helped shape how we think about Augustus and Augustan Rome
  • How Augustus made the transition from princeps to emperor and a god in his own lifetime
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse critically a range of primary sources including written texts (poetry, history) and visual sources (sculpture, coinage, architecture)
  • Engage constructively in discussion about ideas presented by the primary source material and link them to the historiographical debates
  • Undertake reading and research in preparation for sessions and assignments
  • Work independently and in groups in preparation for taught sessions
  • Communicate effectively in group discussion and on paper
  • Develop your time management skills
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Assess how and why Augustus ‘re-invented’ his image
  • Evaluate how far Augustus’ use of art, architecture and literature can be described as ‘propaganda’
  • Assess how far Augustus became a model for later emperors


The module will cover a range of themes and in doing so it will provide you with the opportunity to engage in detailed examination and analysis of a core primary source each week. The themes include Augustus’s rise to power, his military career, his promotion of peace, his role as pontifex maximus (chief priest) and the significance he attached to the role of religion and morality, his political role as pater patriae (father of his country), his legacy and divinity. Potential sources (including English translations) include: - Augustus, Res Gestae Divi Augusti - Suetonius, Life of Augustus - Cassius Dio, Roman History - Tacitus, Annals of Imperial Rome - Virgil’s Georgics and Aeneid, Horace’s Odes - Head of a status of the young Octavian from La Alcudia, Majorca, c. 35-30 BC - Statue of Augustus from the villa of Livia at Prima Porta, c. 20-17 BC - Statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus, Museo delle Terme, Rome - A selection of coins and cameos from throughout his political career - The Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) - The forum of Augustus in Rome including the temple of Mars the Avenger

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - Short introductory lectures which may include some group work/participation - Seminars focusing on the detailed reading and analysis of primary sources – these could be texts, images or objects Learning activities include: - In depth analysis of primary sources - Preparatory reading and individual study - Individual participation in seminars, group work and short presentations on seminar themes Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your ideas on a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument. This module, like all of the 15 credit History modules offered to second year students, will be research led and it will focus heavily on primary sources. You will study an individual source in depth each week. As such, this module will provide you with a sound preparation for the source-based work undertaken in year 3 during the Special Subject and the dissertation.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

A. H. M. Jones (1970). Augustus. 

F. G. B. Miller (1967). The Emperor in the Roman World. 

S. Walker and A. Burnett (1981). The Image of Augustus. 

F. G. B. Millar and E. Segal eds. (1984). Caesar Augustus: Seven Aspects. 

R. Syme (1939). The Roman Revolution. 


Assessment Strategy

The weekly seminars will provide you with a forum to discuss the primary sources and relate them to the historical context and the historiography. They will also allow for the development of interpersonal skills; through the use of class presentations you will be able to develop your knowledge and understanding of particular subject areas and to enhance your oral communication skills. The essay and exam will test your knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, your capacity to deploy interdisciplinary approaches and to develop a coherent written argument. In addition, the source-based focus of the essay and the exam will prepare you for the Special Subject and Dissertation in the third year.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Exam  (2 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Assessment 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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