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The Wood Comes to the City: Ancient Trees, Sacred Groves, and the “Greening” of Early Augustan Rome

Lecture by UrbNet Visiting Professor Christopher Hallett (University of California, Berkeley). Lecture 4/6 in the lecture series "New research on the materials of ancient sculpture".

Info about event


Tuesday 4 May 2021,  at 13:00 - 14:00


Virtual + Centre for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet), Aarhus University, Moesgård Allé 20, 8270 Højbjerg, Denmark (Building 4230-232).


UrbNet, Centre for Urban Network Evolutions


The first ambitious program of urban renewal carried out by Caesar Divi Filius and his followers began in 33 BC, when Octavian was elected consul for the second time and Agrippa was aedile.  At this time Agrippa dramatically expanded Rome’s water supply, enabling him to build Rome’s first imperial bath buildings, the thermae Agrippae.  One aspect of this earlier, programmatic transformation of the city that has received much less attention, however, is the simultaneous planting of a huge number of trees: in porticoes, in sanctuaries, beside temples, and laid out in large groves and wooded walks in the Campus Martius—especially around ‘the tumulus of the Julii’, Augustus’ gigantic Mausoleum, itself topped with a stand of trees.  The deliberate planting of trees played a much larger role in the Augustan building program than has been so far acknowledged: a consideration that should significantly moderate our modern image of Augustan Rome as a ‘city of marble’.

This ‘greening’ of Rome in the late 30s and 20s BC, I argue, was an important part of Augustus’ ostentatious revival of Archaic Roman religion, prompted by the writings and ideas of the antiquarians of the previous generation.  All these trees may be understood as an explicit part of the Augustan program of religious renewal.  Our best evidence for this comes from the poetry of Vergil, and from the genre of ‘sacro-idyllic’ painting—invented at Rome in these very years.

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