Augustus and the politics of the past today in television documentaries

Hobden, Fiona (2018). Augustus and the politics of the past today in television documentaries. In: Goodman, Penelope ed. Afterlives of Augustus, AD 14 - 2014. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 294–321.



Augustus is a prime candidate for television history. As the "first citizen" of Rome who secured power through military endeavour and careful constitutional manoeuvring, he fits the general preference for stories of Great Men, public figures occupied with war and politics. Furthermore, thanks to Augustus' own self-promotional activities and attempts by other Romans to capture his career in writing, there is a ready story to tell about how the adopted son and heir of Julius Caesar navigated civil strife to emerge as the sole ruler of Rome. And indeed, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, at a time when the public consumption of history in countries across Europe and North America was noticeably on the rise, three documentaries were produced on this theme. I, Caesar (BBC Two, 1997) placed Augustus second in a series of six imperial biographies. The Roman Empire in the First Century (PBS, 2001) made his life accomplishments the starting point for its account of politics and society in the early empire. And Augustus: Totengräber und Friedensfürst (ZDF, 2004) presented a stand-alone portrait of its grave-digging, peace-bringing subject. Individually, these programmes retell the story of Augustus' life and award him a place in history. Together they represent a vivid and currently unexplored moment in the history of Augustus' reception. It is the purpose of this chapter to unpack this moment, to trace the contours of Augustus' representation in television documentaries and thereby interrogate the resonances of his story today.

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