Garden of the Mausoleum of Augustus
Mausoleum Augusti (Pleiades)
- altar (religious fixture)
- ambulatio (portico)
- marble (decorative element)
- nemus (grove)
- (orthostat) cippus
- sculptural relief
- ustrinum (crematory)
The Mausoleum of Augustus was located in the northern Campus Martius between the Via Flaminia and the Tiber. The exact bounds of the park are unknown, but they stretched from north of the Mausoleum of Augustus to south of the Horologium and the Ara Pacis, which was located along the Via Flaminia.
Between 28 and 23 BCE, the emperor Augustus erected his Mausoleum in the northern Campus Martius within a public park composed of trees (silvae) and walks (ambulationes) (Strabo 5.3.8; Suet. Aug. 100 | Trans.; Cassius Dio 53.30.5 | Trans.). Excavations of the Mausoleum were carried out in 1869, 1871–1872, 1907–1908, 1916–1930 and 1934–1938. During the excavations conducted under Mussolini (1934–1938), all post-antique structures associated with the Mausoleum were removed. These excavations did not reveal additional information about the plantings and nature of the summit of the Mausoleum.
Reconstructions of the Mausoleum vary with regard to the depiction of the trees and summit of the mound. According to Strabo (5.3.8), evergreen trees (ἀειθᾶλής) were thickly planted on the vault of the Mausoleum up to the summit, where a bronze statue of Augustus stood. Most reconstructions place Italian cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) atop the structure, and cypresses are planted on the remains of the Mausoleum today. L. Richardson rejected this idea in favor of smaller trees, such as junipers (Juniperis communis), on the basis of the structural damage that the cypress roots would have caused. However, Romans routinely manipulated trees and plants in an art form known as ars topiaria; therefore, ancient gardening techniques would have permitted the cypresses to be dwarfed and adapted for this type of planting (Plin. HN 16.139–42). Moreover, cypress trees were often planted in funerary contexts, making them a suitable choice for the Mausoleum (Plin. HN 16.139–40). Without additional evidence, however, it is impossible to confirm which type of evergreen was planted upon the funereal mound. Some reconstructions place a circular colonnade on the summit as a base for the statue. While there is no mention of such a structure in the ancient sources, the statue must have been placed on some sort of elevated mound in order to be visible above the trees, since the Mausoleum was visible from the Tiber (Strabo 5.3.8; Tacitus Ann. 3.9).
Silvae et Ambulationes
Surrounding the Mausoleum were trees (silvae) and walks (ambulationes). Strabo referred to this region as a precinct or grove (ἄλσος) with pleasant walks (περίπᾰτος). Bounded by the Tiber and the Via Flaminia, the park was open to the public in 28 BCE (Suet. Aug. 100). No archaeological excavations illuminate the layout of these walks or the trees planted. These gardens also held many altars, including the Ara Pacis.
Between 13 and 9 BCE Augustus initiated the building of the Ara Pacis; during the same period, he also erected the Horologium Augusti, a sundial. The Mausoleum and its grove were connected to the rest of Augustus’s park by the Horologium. Begun in 10 BCE and dedicated in 9 BCE, the sundial was a celebration of Augustus’s Egyptian victory. The red granite Egyptian obelisk (30 m. H.), known as the Montecitorio Obelisk, was brought as booty from Egypt by Augustus. It served as the gnomon for the sundial, casting its shadow on the monumental travertine plaza inlaid with bronze notations. Novius Facundus designed the Horologium and modified the obelisk to have a rounded globe at its peak in order to cast precise shadows (Pliny HN 36.72–76).
In 1976, E. Bucher proposed that the gnomon cast a 150 m. shadow directly across the altar of the Ara Pacis on September 23, Augustus’s birthday. In the cellar floor of no. 48 Via di Campo, he uncovered what he believed to be part of the Meridian line of the sundial (although the phase he discovered dated to the Flavian era) with cross bars and signs of the zodiac in Greek, showing how the sundial worked as a calendar and wind index. Using digital reconstructions with shadow and light simulations in combination with further archival work and archaeological coring in the Campus Martius, a team of scholars working under the direction of B. Frischer has demonstrated that, in fact, there were many solar and shadow alignments between the obelisk and the Ara Pacis (on 238 days of the year). These alignments would have played into Augustan themes of peace, family, stability, and fertility, as well as the triumphal victory over Egypt.
Ara Pacis Augustae
The Ara Pacis is the most famous piece of Augustan monumental sculpture in Rome. Dedicated in 9 BCE on Livia’s birthday, the Altar of Peace was a celebration of Augustus’s Pax Romana. Located adjacent to the Via Flaminia, there is no specific evidence for its park setting; however, the sculptural reliefs, especially the vegetation depicted in the lower register of the marble wall that encloses the altar, contributed to the overall themes of the Augustan campus that celebrated fertility, family, and peace, among other themes. It was reconstructed in 1938 from fragments, after which Mussolini moved it from its original location, just west of the Via Flaminia, and placed it next to the Mausoleum of Augustus.
Strabo (5.3.8) also described Augustus’s funeral καῦστρα (or crematorium), which scholars traditionally called the ustrinum, as enclosed by white marble walls surrounded by black poplars (Populus nigra / αἴγειρος) and then by a circular iron fence.
Six large travertine slabs with inscriptions that refer to different members of the imperial household were discovered in 1777 in the area of Piazza S. Carlo al Corso, near the Mausoleum of Augustus (CIL VI 888–93). Three of these stones— interpreted either as orthostat cippi or as paving stones— are inscribed with the phrase HIC CREMATVS EST. Based on these inscriptions, scholars assumed that this was the ustrinum described by Strabo where Augustus’s body was cremated in 14 CE. V. Jolivet has since demonstrated otherwise. In 1937, remains from the 2nd C CE were unearthed, demonstrating that the circular structure described by Strabo is, in fact, too far north to be in the middle of the plain as he described it. The cremations of other important Julio-Claudians, including the three children of Germanicus who died as infants during the reign of Augustus, and the elder brother of the future emperor Gaius (Suet., Calig. 7.1,8.2), were commemorated here. While these remains are post-Augustan in date, they are associated with the cremation of members of the imperial household- which underscores the imperial overtones of this part of the Campus Martius. The location of Augustus’s funeral pyre remains unknown.
The park in which the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Ara Pacis, the Horologium, and several other altars were located, transformed the entire northern Campus Martius into a celebration of Augustus’s life, achievements, and death.
between 28 and 23 BCE
1869, 1871–1872, 1907–1908, 1916–1930, 1934–1938
- E. Buchner, Die Sonnenuhr des Augustus, Mainz, 1982. (worldcat)
- D. Castriota, The Ara Pacis Augustae and the Imagery of Abundance in later Greek and Early Roman Imperial Art, Princeton, 1995. (worldcat)
- H. von Hesberg and S. Panciera, Das Mausoleum des Augustus: der Bau und seine Inschriften, Munich, 1994. (worldcat)
- V. Jolivet, “Les Cendres D’ Auguste: note sure la topographie monumentale du Champ de Mars septentrional,” Archeologia Laziale 9 (1988), pp. 90-6. (worldcat)
- E. La Rocco, Ara Pacis Augustae: in occasione del restauro della fronte orientale, Rome, 1983. (worldcat)
- B. Frischer et al. “New Light on the Relationship between the Montecitorio Obelisk and the Ara Pacis of Augustus,” Studies in Digital Heritage (1:1), 2017, pp. 1–105. (worldcat)
17 April 2021