How did Roman rulers use art as propaganda?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Roman rulers often depicted events from real life and from mythology on their public monuments, including on their arches and temples. For example, Emperor Augustus featured mythological references in his reliefs that connected his reign to gods such as Apollo and that suggested he was connected to the long history...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Roman rulers often depicted events from real life and from mythology on their public monuments, including on their arches and temples. For example, Emperor Augustus featured mythological references in his reliefs that connected his reign to gods such as Apollo and that suggested he was connected to the long history of the Roman people. His art helped establish the idea in people's minds that he was the rightful heir to the throne after the death of Julius Caesar and helped establish his bona fides as the first Emperor of Rome. The Ara Pacis Augustae, an altar in Rome that was commissioned by the Roman Senate and was built from 13-9 BCE to celebrate Augustus's successful return from Gaul, is a propagandistic tool to celebrate the civil Roman religion. The garlands pictured in the frieze celebrate the abundance of Roman during its reign of Peace. During his reign, Augustus also rebuilt over 80 temples that were used to showcase Roman power and longevity.

Roman emperors also constructed sculptures with reliefs in different parts of their vast empire to broadcast their supremacy over conquered subjects. An example is the arch the Romans built in Orange, France, to celebrate their squashing of a rebellion, and Hadrian's Wall, built in England, was a reminder of Roman power. It also served a defensive function. 

Later, the emperor Trajan constructed public art to commemorate his military conquests. The Column of Trajan, which measures 100 feet in height and was dedicated in 113 AD, celebrates his victory over the Dacians. Though it was difficult for people to read the column from top to bottom, they clearly understood its content and the majesty it conveyed. Trajan also constructed ornate public baths and commissioned the Forum to convey the idea that he was ready to shower his people with largesse. Roman emperors used art to convey their power and their generosity to the people.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is a great question. It is very clear that the Romans used art as propaganda. Let me give you a number of examples.

First, one of the greatest ways Roman leaders used artwork to make themselves look great was through the use of coins. Roman coins were struck with various images to make political and ideological points.

Second, Romans also dedicated shrines and temples to show off as well. For example, when Cicero was exiled from Rome, he set up a shrine to Minerva, who was known as a protector of the city. By associating with Minerva, he was telling the people that he was also a protector of the city in view of his role in bringing down Catiline and his conspiracy. In other words, in his exile, Cicero wanted the people to know all that he did to protect the city, so that they would call him back.

Third, the Romans also used written art, that is, poetry toward this end as well. Think of Augustus and Vergil and Horace.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Art was used to promote the rulers of Rome throughout the history of the Roman Republic and Empire. By using well-recognized symbols of Rome's power in art, the strength of the rulers and the regime as a whole could be easily advertised. These symbols included images such as the Roman eagle, the wolf, and the fasces, and they are found throughout Roman artwork. They all represented the power of the state. Images of the Roman gods, as well as highly decorated temples, were constructed all around the Roman dominion as well, to drive home the hegemony of the state through its religion.

Images of the Roman rulers themselves were common elements of propaganda. Consuls, senators, governors, and emperors were well represented in statues and public paintings. They were often displayed in the role of military commander or priest to show the power of the Roman state in both these aspects (war and religion). These served as a reminder of exactly who was in charge and of their power. Funerary art also served a similar purpose by glorifying deceased leaders.

The written and oratory arts also were widely used as propaganda. For example, Emperor Augustus commissioned Virgil's epic poem the Aeneid to promote the Roman ideology of military conquest. Poems, histories, theatre, and literature often served the role of propping up the current regime and its rulers.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on