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Urbem adornare: Die Stadt Rom und ihre Gestaltumwandlung unter Augustus

July 2011 (115.3)

Book Review

Urbem adornare: Die Stadt Rom und ihre Gestaltumwandlung unter Augustus

By Lothar Haselberger. Translated by Alexander Thein (JRA Suppl. 64). Pp. 288. Journal of Roman Archaeology, Portsmouth, R.I. 2007. $99. ISBN 978-1-887829-64-9 (cloth).

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In Urbem adornare, Haselberger takes another look at the buildings of the Emperor Augustus and his family. The changing cityscape of Rome under Augustus has been worthy of much comment and study, both in antiquity and today. This is true in part because there was, and is, a shared belief that a city’s form and the society it contains are closely related (24); it is also true because public building at Rome presents perhaps the most obvious signs of the arrival of monarchy at Rome—over the decades of Augustus’ sole rule, the members of Rome’s aristocracy were squeezed out of their traditional roles as builders to make room for the princeps and his family. Urbem adornare is clearly associated with Haselberger’s earlier work, Mapping Augustan Rome (JRA Suppl. 50 [Providence, R.I. 2002]), which covers the same materials. However, where Mapping Augustan Rome provides a topographically based view of the Augustan city, Urbem adornare takes a chronological view that describes the process and order of Augustan building. In this, Urbem adornare participates in the recent trend to unpack the long revolution of Augustus into individual steps, trials, and errors to present a developmental, rather than static, view of the earliest Roman monarchy.

Again, unlike Mapping Augustan Rome, this volume presents an interpretation of the development of the Augustan city. Starting from the agreed-upon belief that before Actium, Rome was not a jewel among cities, Haselberger argues that Augustus set out to monumentalize certain portions of the city where the opportunity for planning and rebuilding existed (Campus Martius, Palatine, Transtiberim) and ignored others (Forum Boarium). In particular, Haselberger thinks Augustus chose one specific area of the city, the Campus Martius, for his attention. Haselberger argues that the Campus was the only part of the city that was unbuilt enough where Augustus could construct a completely new vision of Rome. That the Campus Martius was significant, or even preeminent, in Augustan building is not a new idea, but Haselberger sees it as the main focus of Augustus’ building between 29 and 7 B.C.E. To Haselberger, it seems, the Campus became an ideal city in miniature, perfectly planned and executed, almost a visual synecdoche for the whole city. He probably pushes his evidence too far: other areas of the city were developed, and the Palatine and Forum remained the centers of political power. Nevertheless, Haselberger’s chronological discussion of public building in this period is extremely valuable and undoubtedly now provides the starting point for those interested in the chronological context of Augustan building. To support this, there is an incredibly useful list of buildings collected in chapter 6.

Haselberger has another entirely interpretive point to which he devotes a short chapter (ch. 4). He argues that when Augustus reformulated the city into 14 regions, he also created a new kind of “open city,” the spatium urbis. The regions merged space inside and outside the city walls—which were already obsolete—to create a unique presentation of a city confident in its lack of defenses and open to the world. This chapter is too short to fully examine this interesting idea, but it does point out correctly that 7 B.C.E. marked the completion point of most of Augustus’ reworking of the city (though the Forum Augustum with its Temple of Mars Ultor was yet to come).

Overall, Urbem adornare emphasizes the visible public city—that is, large public buildings—almost entirely. Haselberger acknowledges what is probably the primary limitation of this kind of study: cityscape is not independent of social activities such as urban administration or religious ceremony (23). It is especially important to keep in mind that the experience of a building is not wholly dependent on the building’s physical nature; it depends as well on the viewer’s understanding of intangible details such as neighborhood history. One important final note: the main text is presented in both German and English (on facing pages); the extensive notes are only in German. Taking the easiest road, the reviewer read the English text and German notes. The translation seems excellent, to the limited extent that I can judge.

John Bert Lott
Greek and Roman Studies
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, New York 12604-0244

Book Review of Urbem adornare: Die Stadt Rom und ihre Gestaltumwandlung unter Augustus, by Lothar Haselberger

Reviewed by John Bert Lott

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 3 (July 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1153.Lott

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