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  • Cited by 3
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: March 2007

8 - Augustus and Roman Religion: Continuity, Conservatism, and Innovation

from Part III - The Emperor's Impact


In his Life of Augustus, Suetonius stops at chapter 61 for a preliminary assessment. He reminds the reader that up to this point he has given an account of Augustus' conduct in the various offices he held and in the administration of public affairs (in imperiis ac magistratibus) throughout the entire world. Now, Suetonius says, he will go on to describe his private and domestic life. In the following chapters we glimpse a few facts about his religious behavior, that is mostly his private superstitions, and his family life and physical appearance. We are told, for instance, that he was very afraid of thunderstorms (Suet., Aug. 90), and respected as very significant “the auspices and certain portents” (auspicia et omina quaedam; 92.1). Suetonius here refers to rather trivial reactions, which would be classified by any educated Roman as common superstitions, such as the right sequence of putting on his shoes, or the bad significance of certain days (92). We also learn that he often slept close to the place where he had to celebrate or attend a sacrifice, because he usually found it hard to get up in the morning (78.2); we should bear in mind that a sacrificial rite started closely after sunrise. As for foreign cults, he respected those of old, such as the Eleusinian mysteries, but not the temple in Jerusalem or the Egyptian Apis (93). Significantly, Suetonius mentions Augustus' relations with the cults of foreign cities in this part of the biography: they are not part of his official conduct in the area of religion, but a private matter.

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