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  • Writer's pictureAccessible Art History

AP Art History: Ancient Rome, Part 2


Welcome back to the Accessible Art History blog! This week, I’m continuing my journey through the AP Art History Required Images. We are still in Ancient Rome and I can’t wait to explore some art and architecture from the period! So, to learn more about these important works, keep on reading! 

43 - The Augustus of Primaporta

The Augustus of Primaporta is a marble sculpture of Octvavian Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. It was created during the early 1st century CE and  is considered one of the most iconic and influential sculptures from the early Empire period. It offers a wealth of insights into the art, politics, and ideology of the period, making it an essential part of the APAH 250! 

Octavian Augustus was the grand-nephew and heir of Julius Caesar. After Caesar’s untimely assassination, Octavian took his place in the political arena. Through careful maneuvering and victory in battle, Octavian was able to become emperor and take the name Augustus. This change, for Rome was a republic before this, brought about a 200 year period of growth titled “The Pax Romana”. Today, Octavian Augustus is remembered as a capable and strong leader. 

The Augustus of Primaporta stands approximately 6 feet, 8 inches (2.03 meters) tall and is made from high-quality Carrara marble. Augustus is depicted in the traditional contrapposto pose, where his weight is shifted onto one leg, creating a lifelike and dynamic stance. Interestingly, he is shown barefoot, which is a common characteristic of divine or heroic figures in Roman art.

One fun fact about this sculpture is the portrayal of Augustus as a divine figure is evident in the Cupid riding a dolphin at his feet. This symbolizes the divine lineage of his family, as the Julian clan claimed descent from the goddess Venus (Cupid's mother).

In this statue, Augustus is portrayed as a youthful and idealized figure, despite his actual age at the time being in his forties. This choice reflects the Roman ideal of youth and physical perfection. He wears a cuirass (breastplate) decorated with intricate relief scenes, which convey his military achievements and the subjugation of various provinces. This showcases his role as a military leader and statesman, something he wanted to emphasize in art across the empire. 

The statue also prominently features the "lorica hamata" (chainmail armor) on his left shoulder, indicating his role as a commander. It also serves as another visual reference to the era's Roman military might. Augustus's left arm is outstretched, suggesting he is addressing his troops or delivering a speech. His right hand is raised in a gesture of clemency, highlighting his role as a just and merciful ruler. This statue does a great job at highlighting multiple aspects of a strong leader. 

44 - Colosseum

The next work on this list is the famous Colosseum. Also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, this building has come to symbolize the might and spectacle of Ancient Rome. The Colosseum was constructed during the Flavian dynasty, primarily under the emperor Vespasian and later completed during the reign of his sons, Titus and Domitian. Construction began in 70-72 CE and was completed around 80-82 CE. It was built on the site of a drained lake within the city, symbolizing the power and wealth of the Roman Empire during that period. Construction was financed with the loot taken from the city of Jerusalem after Titus put down a rebellion. 

The Colosseum is a masterpiece of Roman engineering and architecture. Its elliptical shape and towering walls are not only impressive but also serve a functional purpose. The amphitheater measures approximately 620 feet or 189 meters in length, 512 feet or 156 meters in width, and stands about 164 feet or 50 meters tall. It could hold an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators.

Notable architectural features include:

Tiered Seating: The seating was divided into different sections based on social status, with the emperor and elite enjoying the best views at the lowest levels.

Hypogeum: Beneath the arena floor was a vast network of tunnels and rooms known as the hypogeum. This area housed gladiators, animals, and props, which could be hoisted into the arena through trapdoors.

Exterior Facade: The Colosseum's outer facade features three levels of arches, each with a distinct architectural order (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian), adding to its visual grandeur.

Awnings: The Colosseum had a retractable awning system (velarium) made of cloth or sails to provide shade for the audience on hot days. 

The Colosseum was primarily used for hosting a wide variety of public spectacles, including gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, mock sea battles , and dramatic performances. These events were intended to entertain the populace and to demonstrate the power and magnificence of Rome and its emperors. It was said that all that was needed to “control” the population of Rome was to give them bread and circuses, aka food to eat and spectacle to entertain them. 

Notably, the gladiatorial games were central to the Colosseum's identity, with combatants from various backgrounds, including slaves, prisoners of war, and volunteers, engaging in life-or-death combat.

Today, the Colosseum is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions. Over the centuries, the Colosseum has suffered damage from earthquakes, fires, and stone-robbers. Nevertheless, it has undergone extensive restoration efforts, particularly in the modern era, to preserve its structural integrity and historical significance. These efforts include cleaning, stabilization, and the installation of walkways for visitors.


These are just two works from Ancient Rome, but they embody so much about the history of the empire that I had to give them their own post. I’m still making my way through the APAH 250 list, so keep an eye out for the next post in the series! 


Sources and Images

  1. Augustus of Primaporta. CC 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons and Joel Bellviure

  2. The Colosseum. CC 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons and FeaturedPics

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