Power and Piety: Augustan Imagery and the Cult of the Magna Mater
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis examines the ways in which the Magna Mater became an integral part of Augustan ideology and the visual language of the early principate. Traditionally, our picture of the Augustan Magna Mater has been shaped by evidence from literary sources. Here, however, the monuments of the goddess' cult are considered in their religio-political context. Works that link Augustus himself to the Magna Mater are shown to reveal that the goddess played a significant and hitherto unappreciated role in official propaganda. Part I examines the nature of the Augustan reconstruction of the Palatine Temple of the Magna Mater and challenges persistent claims that the princeps was disinterested in the metroac cult. Augustus' use of inexpensive building materials is shown to be, not a display of parsimony, but an attempt to retain the traditional appearance of a venerable structure. A reinterpretation of the temple's pedimental and acroterial sculpture, using the Valle-Medici reliefs, demonstrates that Augustus promoted the Magna Mater as an allegory of Rome's Trojan heritage and as a symbol of a new Golden Age. Part II investigates the topography of the Augustan precinct on the Palatine, and argues that the geographic linkage of the metroön and the House of Augustus became a topos in imperial imagery. It then demonstrates that several well-known works of art echo this connection between the princeps and the goddess. These works range from statues in the Circus Maximus designed to be viewed by thousands, to the Gemma Augustea, a luxury item intended for the elite. They are also found both inside and outside Rome. A reassessment of the Vicus Sandaliarius altar and the Sorrento base illustrates popular recognition of Augustus' reinvention of the Magna Mater as a national deity of Rome and the tutelary goddess of the Julio-Claudii.