Although Rome’s empire grew throughout the late republic — from the middle of the third century to the death of Julius Caesar in 44 b.c. — the first emperor, appointed by the Senate, was Augustus.
On Friday, 21st. May, Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor — in his interesting and entertaining series A History of the World in 100 Objects (B.B.C. Radio-4, 0945, 1945 and the following morning at 0030) — will introduce Augustus in the form of a larger-than-life bronze head with inlaid eyes of glass, calcite and metal rings, staring in to the distance.
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The head — originally part of a statue in Egypt, which Augustus had annexed following the defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII — had been severed and taken home by an invading Kushite army from Meroë (in to-day’s Sudan), there to be buried beneath the threshold of a temple. Any-one crossing the threshold would have deliberately trodden on the head of Augustus in the process, demonstrating contempt for him and the Roman Empire : ironically the Kushites ensured the head’s survival in to our age.
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With contributions from Dr. Susan Walker, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the Ashmolean, and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, Neil will tell how Augustus significantly enlarged the Empire, his image projecting everywhere the power of Rome.
Read more about Augustus at the B.B.C.’s History of the World site.
The wives of the emperors were no less colourful : a recently published account of the life of Livia, third – and enduring – wife of Augustus, is reviewed in this week’s edition of The Spectator.