Augustus of Prima Porta - Iconography - Breastplate Relief

Breastplate Relief

The statue's iconography is frequently compared to that of the carmen saeculare by Horace, and commemorates Augustus's establishment of the Pax Romana. The breastplate is carved in relief with numerous small figures depicting the return of the Roman legionary eagles or aquilae lost to Parthia by Mark Anthony in the 40s BC and by Crassus in 53 BC, thanks to the diplomacy of Augustus.

The figure in the centre, according to the most common interpretation, is the subjected Parthian king returning Crassus's standard to an armored Roman (possibly Tiberius, or symbolically Mars Ultor). This was a very popular subject in Augustan propaganda, as one of his greatest international successes, and had to be especially strongly emphasized, since Augustus had been deterred by Parthian military strength from the war which the Roman people had expected and had instead opted for diplomacy. To the left and right sit mourning female figures. A figure to one side with a sheathed sword personifies the peoples in the East (and the Teutons?) forced to pay tribute to Rome, and one on the other side with an unsheathed sword obviously personifies the subjected peoples (the Celts). From the top, clockwise, we see:

  • Sol, the sun god, spreading the tent of the sky
  • Aurora and Luna
  • the personification of the subjected peoples
  • the goddess Diana
  • the earth goddess Ceres/Tellus - similarly represented on the Ara Pacis
  • Apollo, Augustus's patron
  • the personification of the tributary peoples
  • Sol again
  • a Sphinx on each shoulder, representing the defeat of Cleopatra by Augustus

None of these interpretations are undisputed. The gods, however, probably all symbolize the continuity and logical consistency of the events - just as the sun and moon forever rise, so Roman successes are certain and divinely sanctioned. Furthermore, these successes are connected with the wearer of this breastplate, Augustus. The only active person is the Parthian king, implying that everything else is divinely desired and ordained.

Read more about this topic:  Augustus Of Prima Porta, Iconography

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