Augustus of the Prima Porta

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Edict of Thessalonica

The statue of Augustus Caesar, Augustus of the Prima Porta.

Possibly the most famous statue of a Roman leader, the "Augustus of the Prima Porta" is a statue that was discovered in the villa of Livia, the wife of Augustus, in Prima Porta. It is now displayed in the Vatican Museum.


The statue, although dated to later in Augustus' reign, is the typification of the image that Augustus sought to project following the Constitutional Settlement of 27 B.C., and in fact the portrayal of Augustus' facial structure informs modern knowledge of all portraiture of the "Augustan Age." It marks the shift from the portrayal of Augustus as the boy Octavian - emphasizing his youth, purity, and linkage to the "deified Julius Caesar" - to a portrayal of the strong, powerful young man that would rule the first years of the Roman Empire. Prima Porta-style portraits can be seen on the Ara Pacis Augustae and almost any coin minted by Augustus after 27 B.C.., underscoring its importance.


Augustus' hair is styled in the typical Greek fashion, a departure from the Roman ascetic ideal pushed by both Cato the Elder. It is somewhat of a concession to Hellenism and its rising influence on Roman culture, and as such is typical of Augustus' (limited) adoption of Hellenistic art and architecture.[1] This is the hairstyle, for instance, which Alexander the Great is depicted with. The similarity cannot be coincidence.

The metal cuirass emphasizes Augustus' military prowess - questioned during the Battle of Phillipi, but seen as vindicated after the Battle of Actium, a legacy and image that Augustus deliberately perpetuates with the cuirass' usage. It portrays several significant events in the Augustan era - first and foremost, the return of the Partian Standards, a crowning moment of Augustus' later reign.


Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus

  1. cf. the Palatine Complex, contra the Hut of Romulus