Augustus Prima Porta is a famous statue of the Roman emperor Augustus. In the villa where his wife Livia Drussilla lived after her death, the figure was discovered in 1863 in Prima Porta, located nearby Rome. Augustus Prima Porta, made of marble, is now exhibited in the Vatican Museum.
The Ancient Propaganda
Although it looks like an ordinary ancient Roman statue from a distance, Augustus Prima Porta is an essential Roman artwork. The reasons for this include the fact that it was found very well in one piece, depicting Emperor Augustus, who was a meaningful name for the Roman Empire, and the purpose of its construction.
The Augustus Prima Porta is what remains for us from a very well preserved ancient propaganda. Like today’s electoral propaganda, it was quite common for military leaders and rulers to use visuality to strengthen their authority in Ancient Rome. People believe that Augustus ordered this statue to celebrate and announce his military and diplomatic achievements.
Every detail in the statue is there to support the message Augustus wanted to give the public. In this sense, Augustus had the opportunity to present himself to the Roman people precisely as he wanted.
The Ancient Greek Influence
Although the Augustus Prima Porta is a marble sculpture made in the Ancient Roman period (people think that the original statue was bronze), all of its references are related to Ancient Greek culture. That is not surprising as we know that Roman culture was mostly influenced by Greek culture.
The statue stands freely in the ‘contrapposto’ pose, which is a classical Greek stance. That 2.08-meter statue stands in this pose without any support is an apparent reference to Ancient Greece. Contrapposto pose is called the posture formed by throwing one foot in front of the other and placing the weight on Ancient Greece’s back foot. Artists often used that pose to depict gods, heroes, or people considered sacred and consider it the ‘ideal posture.’
Augustus Prima Porta portrays a young and masculine military leader. He raised his right hand as if commanding his armies. Although Augustus was in his middle age when he started to build the statue, he wanted to show himself as a young leader. That is an influence of Greek culture, whose definition of beauty is related to permanent youth and perfect body.
Finally, Augustus Prima Porta’s armor is also full of references to Ancient Greek gods and goddesses. Even depicting those gods and goddesses contains the message that Augustus was a holy person just like them. The armor also includes depictions of Augustus’ important diplomatic victories.
Next to the Augustus Prima Porta, there is a Cupid figure on a much smaller dolphin. The essential detail that attributes divinity to Augustus Prima Porta is Cupid riding that dolphin.
Cupid’s connection to Augustus is related to his adoptive father, Julius Caesar. According to Roman mythology, Cupid, the goddess of love, is considered the son of Venus, the goddess of love. Julius Caesar claimed that the right to rule was given to him by Venus. Therefore, Cupid’s figure next to the Augustus Prima Porta conveys that Augustus is a ruler from the gods, just like Caesar.
Also, the Cupid figure contains the message that Augustus was an advocate and follower of the traditional Roman religion common in Rome at that time, which has an essential effect on the people.
Finally, the dolphin on which Cupid sits represents Augustus’ Battle of Actium against Mark Antony and Cleopatra. The war that caused Augustus to become Emperor would, of course, take place in Augustus Prima Porta.