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6. Poetry

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About this Lecture


In this lecture we think about what the poetry written during the reign of Augustus can tell us about the Augustan regime and what people thought about it, focusing in particular on: (i) the issues associated with using poetry as a historical source; (ii) the advantages of contemporary poetry (e.g. Virgil, Horace, Propertius Ovid) over the (much later) histories of Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio; (iii) Horace, Odes 1.37 (G24), and the extent to which Augustus promoted peace and prosperity as one of the key benefits of his regime; (iv) Horace, Odes 4.15 (G45); (v) the poetry of Ovid, who writes risqué poetry such as the Ars Amatoria, and is exiled from Rome for ‘a poem and a mistake’ [Latin: carmen et error]; (vi) the poetry of Propertius; and (vii) the poetry of Virgil, whose epic poem the Aeneid explicitly celebrates the figure of Augustus (G36-38), but which also ends in a decidedly un-Augustan way – Aeneas’ killing of Turnus in a fit of anger.


In this course, Professor Matthew Nicholls (University of Oxford) explores the reign of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. Across twenty-one lectures, we consider a range of issues including: (i) the historical sources for reign of Augustus and their reliability; (ii) the events that led to the creation of the principate, particularly the Battle of Actium; (iii) the various constitutional settlements that formalised Augustus’ powers; (iv) his military achievements; (v) the importance of contemporary poetry (Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Ovid) and coinage for understanding his reign; (vi) the significance of key figures around Augustus, such as Livia, Marcus Agrippa, Tiberius and Germanicus; (vii) the extent to which Augustus really ‘restored the republic’ as he claimed he did; (viii) Augustus’ involvement in religious life at Rome and in the provinces; (ix) his administrative changes in Rome and in the provinces; (x) his management of various different sections of Roman society – the senatorial elite, the equestrian order, the army, the people of Rome and the provincial elites; (xi) challenges to his rule; (xii) his management of the succession; and (xiii) the importance of his own record of his achievements, the Res Gestae.


Matthew Nicholls is a visiting professor of classics at the University of Reading and Senior Tutor at St John's College, Oxford, specialising in the political and social history of the Romans, and the way the built environments of Rome and cities around the empire expressed their values and priorities. In 2014, Matthew was presented with a Guardian Teaching Award for his 'Virtual Rome' project, a digital model of the city of Rome, showing the city as it appeared in c. AD 315.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Nicholls, M. (2023, May 23). Augustus - Poetry [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Nicholls, M. "Augustus – Poetry." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 May 2023,