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Significance of Temple of Mars Ultor in The Forum of Augustus

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The period of the Republic was a time of great building. Roman emperors and generals built many temples after being successful in battle. A temple was a structure that was built for the purpose of religious activities such as sacrifice, and was usually dedicated to a Roman god or goddess. Ancient Rome had many noteworthy temples but one of the most notable was the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus. The Temple of Mars Ultor represented a successful vengeance of a devoted son and cherished the idea of just war as the authentic foundation of Rome’s imperial authority and identity.

The Temple of Mars Ultor was located in the Forum of Augustus. (Fig.1) The Forum of Augustus was built next to Caesar’s Forum. Today, it is also bordered by Trajan’s Forum and Nerva’s Forum. (Fig.2) The shape and style of the forum was similar to that of Caesar’s forum in the sense that it was an enclosed piazza which was dominated by a temple. However, unlike the other forums that were in existence at the time, there was no basilica in Augustus’ forum. The reason Augustus built the forum was because the other two forums, the Roman Forum and the Forum of Caesar, were no longer able to accommodate the daily aspects of the city, such as providing space for legal proceedings. In fact, the need for space became so urgent that the forum was opened before the completion of the temple. The temple was located on the eastern end of the forum (Fig.3) and was the only temple in the forum. The forum consisted of the temple of Mars Ultor, porticos and a large statue of Augustus which was located in front of the temple. Today, only part of the temple remains. We are left with the steps, some columns, and parts of the porticos. (Fig. 4, Fig. 5)

In 42 BC, the Battle of Philippi took place. This battle would decide who would control Rome and would eventually bring an end to the Roman Republic. It was fought between Octavian and Marc Antony against Octavian’s adoptive father Julius Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius. (Fig.6) In the first battle (there were two) Octavian lost to Brutus and Antony defeated Caissus. When Caissus lost he committed suicide, completely unaware that Brutus had been successful. Now Brutus was in entire control of the army but he was not the military leader that Caissus had been. Brutus attacked again and was fully defeated. In honor of this defeat and the success of a devoted son to avenge his father, Octavian vowed to build a temple to the god of war, Mars Ultor. The temple however, was not dedicated until 2 B.C. This was thought to be because Augustus lacked the funds to pay for the completion of the temple.

The Temple of Mars Ultor rested on a high podium and had eight Corthinian style columns athwart the front of it, three of which are still standing today. The design of the temple was similar to that of the Temple of Venus in Caesar’s Forum, except that it was one and half times larger. The temple was constructed out of Italian white Luna marble which were obtained from the quarries of Carrara. The marble that was quarried from around the empire was representative of the imperial wealth and power of Rome and Augustus. On either side of the temple were porticoes which were used for courtrooms and other legal proceedings. These were made longer by curving the porticoes into two exedras. In the exedra and portico to the left of the temple housed a gallery which consisted of statues of Aeneas and Romulus. Subsequent the statue of Aeneas were statues of the ancestors of the Julian family. Following the statue of Romulus were statues of other great men of the time of the Republic. Each of the statues had an inscription below it stating what the individual had achieved for the republic of Rome.

The temple was also home to numerous reminders of the many military and political successes that Rome acquired, and art objects that were brought from the East. One of these objects were the cult statues in the temple. (Fig.7) The statue in the center is of Mars, the god of war. To his left we see the statue of Venus with her son Eros who is shown holding the sword of most likely Mars, towards his mother. This action signifies the peace that follows a just war. Also the presence of Venus insinuates Augustus’ and Caesar’s descent from her. , To the right of the statue of Mars we see another statue that scholars believe to be one of Julius Caesar, Augustus’ adoptive father. It has also been supposed that Tiberius added two arches to each side of the temple, which commemorated his two sons, Germanicus (his adopted son) and Drusus the Younger.

Together the forum and the temple served many functions to the city of Rome. Augustus declared that the Senate should meet at the temple to confer regarding declarations of war and allegations of triumphs. He also stated that the temple would be the starting point for where governors were to leave from when embarking to war, and where the tokens from triumphs would be held when the generals returned. The temple was also the location for ceremonial proceedings such as the ceremony in which young Roman boys would receive their togas. Many festivals and legal proceedings also took place in the forum and temple. In particular, the forum served as a glorification to Augustus and his lineage.

Augustus enhanced Rome by building exquisite monuments, public works, and brilliant temples which served to support the values that he promoted. The Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Mars Ultor were prime examples of this. The Forum was the centerpiece of the roman national identity. It displayed the unfaltering obligation Augustus felt towards his adopted father, Julius Caesar, and also to the city of Rome itself. The temple exemplifies the magnificence of the imperials and the authority and influence Augustus had on the city of Rome. This was especially seen through the statuary seen in the temple, the vast size of the temple, and in the superiority and extent of the materials that crafted the temple. The Temple of Mars Ultor represented a successful vengeance of a devoted son and cherished the idea of just war as the authentic foundation of Rome’s imperial authority and identity.

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