Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu


Art and Power in Rome, 211 BC-AD 138 - 10 credits (HS4368)

Staff: Ruth Westgate

Art and architecture were key weapons in the power struggles of the later Roman Republic and in the establishment of the Principate. The first major influx of Greek art into Rome, after the sack of Syracuse in 211 BC, created a tremendous impact, and led to efforts to create a Roman ‘image’ to rival that of the more established Hellenistic powers. This module uses both literary and archaeological evidence to examine how artistic commissions, prestigious public buildings and art-collecting played an important role in competition between the leading politicians of the second and first centuries BC, and how the ultimate winner of this rivalry, Augustus, used art and architecture to establish and legitimise his sole power and the succession of his family. The module goes on to consider how Augustus and his successors created a new Imperial image, and stamped their authority on Rome by remodelling the city centre with lavish new public buildings and palaces.

Optional for: all Archaeology and Ancient History degrees
Availability: spring semester in alternate years
Teaching: 10 lectures and 2 seminars
Assessment: one essay (50%) and one 1-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

  • different ways of displaying power: public buildings, shows and spectacles, coins, portraits, funerals and tombs, houses and private art collections
  • the impact of war and conquest on Roman art and architecture
  • the role of art, architecture and public spectacles in the power struggles of the late Republic
  • the use of art and architecture by Augustus to legitimise his power and his dynasty
  • art and architecture under Augustus’ successors, from Tiberius to Hadrian


  • To gain a knowledge of Roman art and architecture in the late Republic and early Principate.
  • To understand the role of art and architecture in Roman politics and society, using both written and archaeological evidence.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the development of Roman art and architecture from 211 BC to AD 138.
  • an ability to relate this development to its social context, in particular to political propaganda.
  • a knowledge of literary sources that relate to the uses of art in this period of Roman history.
  • an understanding of key approaches and debates relevant to the interpretation of Roman art.
  • an ability to evaluate the evidence critically with reference to these approaches and debates.
  • an ability to combine material and literary evidence.
  • an ability to discuss these issues in written work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Preliminary reading

J. Coulston and H. Dodge, Ancient Rome: The Archaeology of the Eternal City (2000)
D. E. E. Kleiner, Roman Sculpture (1992)
J. J. Pollitt, The Art of Rome, c. 753 BC–AD 337: Sources and Documents (1988)
L. Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (1992)
J. B. Ward-Perkins, Roman Imperial Architecture (1981)
P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (1988)

Plus a general historical book on the period, such as:
R. Alston, Aspects of Roman History, AD 14–117 (1998)
P. A. Brunt, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic (1971; reprinted 1978, 1986)
M. Cary and H. H. Scullard, A History of Rome (third edition, 1975)
C. M. Wells, The Roman Empire (1984)

Related modules

Prerequisite modules: HS2102 Archaeology of the Greek and Roman World or HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3316 Conquest and Crisis: The Roman Republic

HS3317 Roman Imperial History 31 BC–AD 138

HS4308 Death and Burial in the Roman World

HS4356 Hellenistic Art and Architecture

HS4358 Life in Ancient Rome

HS4363 Houses in Roman Italy