Palatium: House of Augustus

The House of Augustus (Domus Augusti) was the home of Rome’s first emperor and was located on the most sacred area of the Palatine next to the Temple of Apollo. In fact, the house must have stood above the Lupercal, the sacred cave where, according to legend, the twin founders of Rome were suckled by the she-wolf. Augustus’ domus, comprising two levels, served as his primary residence during his reign. Despite its relatively small size, the House of Augustus is celebrated for its lavish Second-Style Pompeian frescoes which rank among the best in the Roman world. The Second Pompeian style, or “Architectural Style”, began in Rome in the early years of the 1st century BC and evolved during the reign of Augustus. This period saw a focus on architectural features and trompe-l’oeil compositions.

Augustus originally obtained the property from the orator Quintus Hortensius. He expanded the layout after his victory at Actium. Some of the rooms containing the most spectacular wall paintings are known by their recurring motifs: the “Pine Room” (room 6), the “Room of the Masks” (room 5), the “Room of the Perspective Paintings” (room 11). The first two rooms were domestic cubiculae (bedrooms). They occupied the western section of the house. The third room, identified as an ala (wing) flanking the tablinum (of which nothing of its decoration is preserved), served a more overtly public function and was located around the northern peristyle courtyard. But the most refined and elegant decoration can be seen in the so-called “Emperor’s Study” (room 15) which has no equal anywhere else in Rome.

Plan of the House of Augustus.
Plan of the House of Augustus.

The tour of the domus begins with the two cubiculae in the domestic section of the house (rooms 6 and 5). The “Pine Room” has a simple architectural scheme with pine festoons over the top of which are porticoes with Doric columns. The “Room of the Masks”, located just behind the “Pine Room” and slightly larger in size, is one of the finest in Augustus’ house. It has more elaborate perspectival Second-Style paintings incorporating tragic and comic theatre masks.

Next to the two cubiculae is a series of five rooms of various sizes arranged along the north side of the western court. The rooms include two libraries (or maybe rooms to display artworks), and a tablinum (where Augustus would receive guests) flanked by two alae (wings) on either side. One of the two alae, dubbed “Room of the Perspective Paintings”, has vividly-coloured frescoes on its north wall depicting a two-storey architectural facade in blue, white, yellow and red.

The path continues with the visit of the eastern section of the house, where rooms are preserved on two storeys. The upper room was originally joined by a corridor ramp (room 12). The most striking feature of the so-called “Ramp Room” is the painted vaulting in imitation of real coffering which is decorated with a painted pattern of rhomboidal and square coffers containing rosettes.

The next room is the so-called “Large Oecus” (room 13) with architectural wall paintings with four pedestals for columns of piers (oecus tetrastilus – supported by four columns). Among other functions, the room served as a salon where elaborate dinner parties were staged.

The final room, a cubiculum known as “The Emperor’s Study”, where the Emperor used to retire when he did not want to be disturbed. It is located on the highest level of the house. Today, it is accessed by climbing a modern steel staircase and can be viewed by peering through a protective glass. The exceptional decorative elements were inspired by Egyptian-Alexandrine models, typical of the art of the Augustan period after the recent conquest of Egypt.

Following recent conservation work, a visit to the House of Livia and Augustus can now be booked with Coopculture.it and by purchasing the new S.U.P.E.R. (Seven Unique Places to Experience in Rome) Ticket.

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The Pine Room: decoration with pilastered portico and pine festoons.
The Pine Room: decoration with pilastered portico and pine festoons.
The Pine Room. The Pine cone was the symbol of Cybele (or Magna Mater) whose temple was located on the Palatine next to Augustus’ house. The temple burned on two occasions in the early Imperial era and was restored each time by Augustus.
The Pine Room. The Pine cone was the symbol of Cybele (or Magna Mater) whose temple was located on the Palatine next to Augustus’ house. The temple burned on two occasions in the early Imperial era and was restored each time by Augustus.
South wall of the Room of the Masks, 2nd Pompeian style.
South wall of the Room of the Masks in the Second Pompeian style.
The architecture depicted in the Room of the Masks is a one-storey structure with a central recess and narrow side-doors on each side, probably evoking a scaenae frons, a wooden theatre stage building.
The architecture depicted in the Room of the Masks is a one-storey structure with a central recess and narrow side-doors on each side, probably evoking a scaenae frons, a wooden theatre stage building.
Detail of South wall of the Room of the Masks.
Detail of South wall of the Room of the Masks.
North side of the western court with a series of five rooms including two libraries and a tablinum flanked by two alae.
North side of the western court with a series of five rooms including two libraries and a tablinum flanked by two alae.
The tablinum of the House of Augustus of which only slight traces of decorations have survived.
The tablinum of the House of Augustus of which only slight traces of decorations have survived.
The Room of the Perspective Paintings: architectural composition with perspective rendition of colonnades.
The Room of the Perspective Paintings.
The Room of the Perspective Paintings: architectural composition with perspective rendition of colonnades.
The Room of the Perspective Paintings: architectural composition with perspective rendition of colonnades.

Illusionistic painted coffering on the vault of the “Ramp Room”, the painter emphasized the depth effect by using appropriate shading.
Illusionistic painted coffering on the vault of the “Ramp Room”, the painter emphasized the depth effect by using appropriate shading.
The ceiling is decorated with a painted pattern of rhomboidal and square coffers containing rosettes, whose relief was suggested by the use of shading as well as by means of perspective. The frames were rendered in shades of red, yellow and white, the inner moulding in orange, yellow, blue and green, and ornaments of the coffers in purple, black, white and yellow.
The ceiling is decorated with a painted pattern of rhomboidal and square coffers containing rosettes, whose relief was suggested by the use of shading as well as by means of perspective. The frames were rendered in shades of red, yellow and white, the inner moulding in orange, yellow, blue and green, and ornaments of the coffers in purple, black, white and yellow.
South wall of the “Large oecus” with architectural wall painting of the Second Pompeian Style.
South wall of the “Large oecus” with architectural wall painting of the Second Pompeian Style. The fresco located on the south wall has a monumental Corinthian tetrastyle structure resting on a podium topped with an elegant frieze.
The theatrical inspiration is underlined by the presence of a mask crowned with vine leaves.
The theatrical inspiration of the wall paintings of the “Large oecus” is underlined by the presence of a mask crowned with vine leaves.
North wall of the “Large oecus” with wall painting imitating marble wall-facing.
North wall of the “Large oecus” with wall painting imitating marble wall-facing.
North wall of the “Large oecus” with wall painting imitating marble wall-facing.
North wall of the “Large oecus” with wall painting imitating marble wall-facing.
South wall of the “Large oecus” depicting a stage-like structure with human figures standing inside the central recess. One of the female figure wears a clock as well as a rich diadem and necklace while others are carrying votive offerings.
South wall of the “Large oecus” depicting a stage-like structure with human figures standing inside the central recess. One of the female figure wears a cloak as well as a rich diadem and necklace while others are carrying votive offerings.
North-east corner of the Lower cubiculum with architectural decoration.
North-east corner of the Lower cubiculum with architectural decoration.
North wall of the Lower cubiculum with architectural decoration.
North wall of the Lower cubiculum with architectural decoration.
The upper cubiculum so-called “Emperor’s Study”.
The upper cubiculum so-called “Emperor’s Study”. The walls are beautifully decorated with stylized winged obelisks, gryphons, sophisticated interweaving of floral elements (lotus leaves, flowers and aquatic plants) and objects such as vases and candelabra in powerful contrasts of red, black, green and yellow.
The ceiling decoration in the “The Emperor’s Study” also reveals the influence of Alexandria with lighter colours.
The ceiling decoration in the “The Emperor’s Study” reveals the influence of Alexandria with lighter colours.
The upper cubiculum so-called “Emperor’s Study”: painted frieze on the ceiling with winged female figure, satyr’s head and plant-shaped motifs.
The upper cubiculum so-called “Emperor’s Study”: painted frieze on the ceiling with winged female figure, satyr’s head and plant-shaped motifs.
The dominant tones of the ceiling are pink and white with a range of shades of indigo, porphyry, violet, ochre and gold.
The dominant tones of the ceiling are pink and white with a range of shades of indigo, porphyry, violet, ochre and gold.

91s3h3xi3glUnfortunately, the exquisite beauty of these frescoes could not be perfectly rendered through my photographs due to the artificial lighting in the rooms and the protective glass. If you want to see magnificent illustrations of the highest quality, I strongly recommend that you buy the magnificently illustrated book “The House of Augustus: Wall Paintings”. The book features all the wonderful fresco cycles covering the walls, from the general composition to the smallest detail.

You can buy the book on amazon.com or amazon.co.uk.

 

Augusteum of Narona

Narona was an ancient city located in the Narenta Valley in present-day southern Croatia near the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina. The valley, home to the ancient Illyrian tribe, served as the route for the exchange of goods between the Mediterranean, the Adriatic Sea and the Illyrian hinterland. Narona became a major Roman stronghold and had a Roman temple building dedicated to Augustus known as an Augusteum.

Coordinates: 43°04’49.4″N 17°37’41.4″E

The harbour settlement of Narona began its life in the Late Classical period. It was first mentioned by the Greek geographer Pseudo-Skilak in the 4th century BC who mentions an emporion 80 stadia from the sea.

And from Nestians is the Naron river: and the voyage into the Narona is not narrow: and even a trireme voyages into it, and boats into the upper trading town, being distant from the sea 80 stades.” – Pseudo-Skylax, 24.

Narona developed into an urban settlement in the Late Republic and remained an administrative centre until its abandonment in the 7th century following the Avaro-Slavic invasion. It served as a centre for several Roman military campaigns against the Delmatae and other Illyrians whose trading community was established there since the late 2d century BC. Narona became part of the Roman province of Dalmatia and reached its peak of prosperity and strategic importance in the Augustan age when it became a major Roman stronghold and received the status of Colonia (Colonia Iulia Narona).

Archaeological research conducted in 1995 and 1996 led to a sensational discovery of the remains of a Roman temple – the Augusteum – and seventeen monumental marble sculptures of Roman emperors and their family members. The Augusteum seems to have been built in about 10 BC and was later dedicated by Publius Cornelius Dolabella, the governor of the province of Dalmatia.

Reconstruction drawing of the Augusteum.
Reconstruction drawing of the Augusteum.

The Augusteum had four columns across the front supporting a triangular pediment and a single chamber (cella) with a mosaic floor. At the beginning of the temple history, the Augusteum had only a small podium on which were placed statues of Augustus and his wife Livia (and perhaps Agrippa, Augustus’ right-hand man). After Augustus’ death in 14 AD, Publius Cornelius Dolabella, the governor of Dalmatia, added two more statues of the imperial couple, as well as one of the new emperor Tiberius. There were further additions over the next decades (Claudius, Vespasian) and the podium was extended along two more sides of the cella. The heads of most of the statues are missing but those of Vespasian and one of the Livia still survive. The head of Livia was acquired by British archaeologist Arthur Evans in 1878 who carted it back to the Ashmolean Museum (see picture here). The head was re-united with its body at an exhibition in Oxford in 2004 (source: Guardian). The statues were vandalized in the 4th century when Christianity replaced paganism as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The remains of the Augusteum with its gallery of imperial sculptures became the core of the Narona Archaeological Museum. Built on the ruins of the ancient town, the museum opened to the public in 2007 and is first museum in Croatia located in situ. The museum contains other finds discovered during the excavations in the area around the temple; sculpture fragments, coins, glass, metal and bone artefacts, pottery and oil-lamps. The exhibition includes a total of roughly 900 finds allowing us to track the city’s history from the end of the 3rd century BC through the 15th century AD.

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The remains of the Augusteum and fifteen marble sculptures exhibited on a platform.
The remains of the Augusteum and fifteen marble sculptures exhibited on a platform.

 

 

Inscription honoring the emperor Augustus, erected by Publius Cornelius Dolabella, the governor of the province of Dalmatia, 1st half of 1st century AD.
Inscription honoring the emperor Augustus, erected by Publius Cornelius Dolabella, the governor of the province of Dalmatia, 1st half of 1st century AD.
From left to right: Lucius Caesar, Gaius Caesar, Julia, Agrippa and Antonia Minor.
From left to right: Lucius Caesar, Gaius Caesar, Julia, Agrippa and Antonia Minor.
From left to right: Germanicus, Drusus, Claudius, Agrippina the Elder, Agrippina the Younger, Vespasian.
From left to right: Germanicus, Drusus, Claudius, Agrippina the Elder, Agrippina the Younger, Vespasian.
Honorary inscription for the emperor Vespasian.
Honorary inscription for the emperor Vespasian.
The mosaic floor of the Augusteum's cella.
The mosaic floor of the Augusteum’s cella.
The remains of the Augusteum and fifteen marble sculptures exhibited on a platform.
The remains of the Augusteum and fifteen marble sculptures exhibited on a platform.
Archaeological museum of Narona at Vid, Croatia.
Archaeological museum of Narona at Vid, Croatia.
Archaeological museum of Narona.
Archaeological museum of Narona.

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