“Marmoream relinquo, quam latericiam accepi” (I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble). According to the historian Suetonius, these were the final words uttered by the Roman Emperor Augustus as he lay on his deathbed. This month, the Eternal City of marble will mark the 2,000th anniversary of the death of its first emperor with a celebration of shows, exhibitions, debates and seminars.
Augustus, also known as Octavian, was the founder of the Roman Empire and brought peace and stability during his rule. Augustus’ 41-year reign, the longest in Roman history, was characterised as a period of relative peace known as the “Pax Romana“, in which the Emperor sponsored an explosion of creativity and innovation in architecture, law and literature whose effects were felt far beyond the capital. Monuments that endure to this day, including the Forum of Augustus, the Pantheon, the Theatre of Marcellus, aqueducts and his own massive family tomb were either built on his direct orders or were financed or encouraged by him.
To mark his achievements, a spectacular night-time light show has been commissioned to reconstruct the Forum of Augustus, while Google Earth and touch screen technology will allow visitors to roam through a virtual exhibition of Trajan’s Market – one of the world’s oldest shopping malls.
While the life of Augustinian Rome should be critical reading for Classicists and Ancient Historians, the legacy of Ancient Rome may be of interest to students of more recent history and politics – particularly thoselooking to study issues of power, leadership and memory.
Aside from the pomp and ceremony on show, the celebrations will also explore the darker side of Augustus legacy – one which inspired modern-day dictators, such as Italy’s own Benito Mussolini. Mussolini, who labelled himself ‘Il Duce’, followed Augustus in using grand architecture as a form of propaganda to consolidate his rule and famously modelled himself as a ‘reborn Augustus’, renovating the area around Augustus’ tomb as a shrine to Fascist values and urban order. In 1922 he claimed that ‘Much of what was the immortal spirit of Rome resurges in Fascism’.