Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-z5z76 Total loading time: 0.422 Render date: 2023-01-31T07:13:44.273Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Article contents

Aeneas, Augustus, and the Theme of the City*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 September 2009


The theme of the building and destruction of cities is a conspicuous one in the Aeneid. The poem opens with a paragraph which summarizes the suffering that is to lead to the building of ‘the walls of lofty Rome’, and this passage is linked by verbal echoes to Aeneas' entry not much later when he bewails the fact that he has not died a heroic death beneath ‘the lofty walls of Troy’. The city which is to rise and the city which has fallen are in their very different ways inescapable features of the Aeneid's geography.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1991

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



1. ‘altae moenia Romae’ (1.7) and ‘Troiae sub moenibus altis’ (1.95).

2. From about 400 (The Aeneid of Virgil, Books 1–6, ed. Page, T. E. (London, 1894), n. ad loc)Google Scholar.

3. For a fine aerial view of the two artificial harbour basins at Carthage which go back to the Punic period, see The Oxford History of the Classical World, edd. Boardman, , Griffin, and Murray, (Oxford, 1986), p. 583Google Scholar.

4. Contrast the barbarity and perfidy of the Carthaginians in standard Roman thought. See Walsh, P. G., Livy (Cambridge, 1961), pp. 104–5Google Scholar, and Livy 21.4.9 (of Hannibal): ‘…inhumana crudelitas, perfidia plus quam Punica, nihil veri, nihil sancti, nullus deum metus, nullum ius iurandum, nulla religio’.

5. See Zanker, P., The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, trans. Shapiro, A. (Michigan, 1988), pp. 147, 148Google Scholar. The monolithic columns implied by 1.428–9 belong to the Augustan era.

6. The ‘down-motifs’ occur in 2.290, 306–7, 310, 426, 432, 446–7, 449, 458–9, 464–7, 492–3, 505, 532, 565–6, 571, 575, 603, 608–12, 624–31, 653. Note how the book ends on an ‘up’ (804) – a strikinghint of optimism.

7. See above all Il. 21 where the river rushes over the plain.

8. Earlier in 3 (303–4) Andromache has made offerings to a tomb that is ‘inanis’ – ‘empty’ of Hector's corpse, but also a ‘futile’ monument to a past which is as dead as Hector. Cf. the word ‘effigiem’ (497). The key text here is Panthus' comment at 2.325–6: ‘fuimus Troes, fuit Ilium et ingens/ gloria Teucrorum’ (‘The Trojans are no more. Ilium has come to an end and with it the great glory of the race of Teucer’).

9. Virgil has presented this section with less than full narrative clarity. We are not told about the work starting up again, only that it has done so. But the poet's point is made thematically. Dido's leadership is symbolized by her organization of the building of Carthage. Her leadership breaks down. Before long we see Aeneas as the organizer. He is now the leader – but of the wrong people in the wrong city.

10. Harrison, E. L. (edd. West, Woodman &, Poetry and Politics in the Age of Augustus (Cambridge, 1984), p. 101) finds it extraordinary that Virgil should have shown Carthage being built, not built already: ‘… the epic is lumbered with a strange mixture of work in progress on the one hand and finished masterpieces on the other.’ One answer is that Virgil wished to focus on the act of building. See 1.366Google Scholar.

11. fatisque datas rum respicit urbes (‘without a thought for the cities granted him by the Fates’) (4.225). Mercury refers to Aeneas's activity as ‘otia’ (271). To build Carthage is to neglect the serious business of founding the Roman race (Jantae molis erat.…, 1.33).

12. See Morwood, J., JRS 75 (1985), 55Google Scholar. On the word ‘uxorius', see Lyne, R. O. A. M., Words and the Poet (Oxford, 1989), pp. 46–8Google Scholar.

13. During the siege the Tyrians sent away the old men, women and children to Carthage.

14. ‘Dido's death means the death of her own Carthage, and it foreshadows the ultimate destruction of the city’ (Aeneid 4, ed. Austin, R. G. (Oxford, 1973) n. 669Google Scholar (in a fine passage)). For the imagery of Dido herself as a city under siege, captured and abandoned, see 1.673, 719 and 4.330.

15. Contrary to popular mythology the site was not sown with salt. A curse was pronounced on it.

16. See e.g. Williams, R. D., The Aeneid (London, 1987), p. 80Google Scholar.

17. See Morwood, , art. cit., 59Google Scholar.

18. That passionate Virgilian Hector Berlioz ended his opera The Trojans with a vision of the eternal city rising behind Dido's pyre.

19. Its humble state is stamped all over Evander's settlement. For the thatch, see 8.654. In Virgil's day there was a straw-thatched hut on the Palatine Hill called the House of Romulus and a reproduction on the Capitoline. The original was restored when damaged but never made more grand (D.H.1.79.11). Situated near the scalae Cad, it would inevitably come to mind for Roman readers of Book 8. See Binder, G., Aeneas und Augustus (Meisenheim am Glan, 1971), p. 186Google Scholar. For the unimpressiveness of Rome when Augustus came to power, see Zanker, , op. cit., p. 19Google Scholar.

20. Further Augustan buildings, completions and restorations take up the next one and a half chapters.

21. Suet., Aug. 28.3Google Scholar; cf. Aen. 8.98–100, a translation into hexameter verse of Augustus's boast.

22. A new temple to Apollo is vowed by Aeneas to Apollo at 6.69–74. Aeneas' vow was to be fulfilled by Augustus when he built the temple to Apollo on the Palatine. After the death of Lepidus in 13 B.c. he stored the Sibylline books (cf.3.452–7) under the pedestal of the statue of the god there (Suet., Aug. 31)Google Scholar. This seems to me characteristic of the way in which Augustus came to echo Virgil's poem in his architectural statements. The colonnades surrounding the temple of Mars Ultor, dedicated in 2 B.C, contained statues of famous Romans in niches. Was this inspired by the poet's pageant of heroes (Aen. 6.755–886)?

23. See Zanker, , op. cit, pp. 73–4, 76Google Scholar: ‘The monument was first of all a demonstration of its patron's great power.… [Its] sheer size far overshadowed all earlier such stuctures in Rome.…’ It became known as tumulus Iuliorum (cf.6.874).

24. The reference here is in fact to Leucate, some 30 or 40 miles south of Actium. See Williams, R. D. ed. The Aeneid of Virgil, Books 1–6 (London, 1972), n. 3.274 fGoogle Scholar: ‘Virgil…combines Leucas and Actium into a single stage without reconciling the geographical facts.’

25. JRS 4 (1914), 193226. See Prop. 4.1.3–4: atque ubi Navali stant sacra Palatia Phoebo,/Evandri profugaeprocubnere boves (‘and where the Palatium sacred to naval Phoebus stands, the exiled cattle of Evander sank to the ground’)Google Scholar.

26. Virgil, Aeneid 8, ed. Gransden, (Cambridge, 1976), pp. 30–2Google Scholar.

27. Richmond, (art cit., 201, 214 and 215)Google Scholar strongly supports this identification. 7.183 may well look forward to 8.721–2 as well as back to 3.286–7.

28. ‘The emotional impact of this experience can hardly be over-estimated’ (Zanker, , op. cit., p. 154)Google Scholar.

29. Harrison, (op. cit, p. 96)Google Scholar counsels us against ‘(for example) reading too much into Virgil's reference to strata viarum (1.422), however tempting it might be to recall that the wide, straight roads of Roman Carthage were its most celebrated feature'. But why is such caution necessary? After all, in 1.427 Virgil could well be referring to the enlargement of the harbours which occurred during the Augustan colonization (Manton, E. Lennox, Roman North Africa, London, 1988, p. 103)Google Scholar. For a useful summary of the work of French scholars on the identification of Dido's Carthage with Augustus' colony, see Lassere, J.-M., Ubique Populus (Paris, 1977), p. 206Google Scholar.

30. Zanker, , op. cit, p. 154Google Scholar.

31. It was called Colonia Iulia Concordia Carthago. There is a tomb here which carries the name Lassère, L. Vergilius. (op. cit, pp. 163–4)Google Scholar dates this to the second half of the first century (to the colonization of Caesar in 46). If I may be forgiven for dallying with pure conjecture, I put forward the possibility that the poet had one or more relatives in the new colony who kept him informed of building developments there.

32. Virg., Aen. 7–8, ed. Fordyce, C. J. (Oxford, 1977), n. 8. 720ffGoogle Scholar.

33. There was a temple of Apollo in Circo to the west of the Capitol. But the Augustan theme makes the identification with Augustus' temple on the Palatine irresistible. In any case, C. Sosius' rebuilding of the former temple was not finished until after the completion of Augustus' on the Palatine, and its frieze illustrated Augustus' triple triumph. The triumphal procession went round but not up the Palatine with its hut of Romulus (Künzl, E., Derrömische Triumph (Munich, 1988), p. 16)Google Scholar.

34. A certain colour is given to this solution by the fact that, at another great Augustan extravaganza, the Ludi Saeculares of 17 B.c., Horace's Carmen Saeculare was sung both on the Palatine and on the Capitol (Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. X (1934), p. 478)Google Scholar.

35. Just as Augustus hangs the offerings from previous enemies on the posts of the doors of Apollo's temple on the Palatine, so had Aeneas hung a Greek enemy's shield from the doorposts of the god's temple at Actium (3.286–8). But in the latter case, the Greeks had been the winners (victoribus, 3.288 – Williams, R. D., Aeneid 7–12 (London, 1972), n. ad loc)Google Scholar, while in Augustus' case he is very much the victor (though observe the hints of trouble in 8.728).

36. Zanker, , op. cit, p. 72Google Scholar: Augustus ‘concentrated all his energy on the two buildings which were to be the clearest statements of self-glorification.…’ Chisholm, K. and Ferguson, J. refer to the Palatine temple as ‘Augustus' greatest foundation’ (Rome, The Augustan Age (Oxford, 1981), p. 150)Google Scholar. It ‘was one of the most splendid temples in Rome. First to be built of the brilliant white marble from Carrara, it was elaborately decorated, and extravagantly praised.’ (ibid., p. 195).

37. In the library attached to the temple of Apollo, Augustus had a statue set up which showed him as Apollo (Caesar sibi in bibliotheca statuam posuerat ad habitum et staturam Apollinis (Schol. Crug. to Hor. Epist. 1.3.17)). There was gossip about a feast of the twelve gods, staged by Octavian and his friends. Octavian appeared dressed as Apollo (Zanker, , op. cit, p. 49Google Scholar; Suet., Aug. 70Google Scholar). The Apollinine propaganda may have started early; see Suet., Aug. 94Google Scholar for Aria's incubation and Octavius's dream. The podium of the great statue to Apollo of Actium ouside the temple on the Palatine was decked out with captured rostra (Zanker, , op. cit, p. 85)Google Scholar. They are in fact three-pronged (ibid., fig. 68) like those at Aen. 8.690.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Aeneas, Augustus, and the Theme of the City*
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Aeneas, Augustus, and the Theme of the City*
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Aeneas, Augustus, and the Theme of the City*
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *