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13. Religion

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About this Lecture


In this lecture we think about Augustus’ involvement in religious life in Rome, Italy and the provinces, focusing in particular on: (i) the pervasiveness of religion in the Roman world; (ii) Augustus’ membership of all four priestly colleges (the pontifices, augures, quindecemviri sacris faciundis, and epulones) and (from 12 AD) pontifex maximus; (iii) his status as the son of a god, the deified Julius Caesar; (iv) his depiction in literature (e.g. on the Shield of Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid) as someone who is favoured by the gods, if not divine himself; (v) Augustus’ role in rebuilding the religious architecture of Rome, including 82 temples and a giant solar marker known as the Horologium; (vi) the religious aspects of his role as censor and pontifex maximus, including his responsibility for renewing the ancestral, religious practises of the state, the mos maiorum; (vii) the importance of the Secular Games in 17 BC, including the imagery of Horace’s Carmen Saeculare (song for the Secular Games); (viii) the worship of Augustus’ Lares (but not Augustus himself) in the city of Rome; (ix) Augustus’ promotion of the cult of his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, who had been deified in 42 BC; (x) the cult offered to Augustus (and Livia) directly elsewhere in the empire, and especially in the east, e.g. cult honours in Pergamum and Athens, inclusion in cult calendar in Cyprus, etc.; and (xi) the deification of Augustus after his death.


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 - Religion [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

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