A recently published book, Celestial Inclinations: A Life of Augustus (Oxford University Press, 2023), by Anne-Marie Lewis of the Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics provides an original perspective on the critical events that shaped the reign of Augustus, the first Roman emperor.
Based on fresh assessments of historical, literary, astronomical, astrological and artistic sources for the years prior to and during Augustus’ life, the book highlights Augustus as a man who used his knowledge of the celestial sphere to confirm for himself and convey to others that the heavens supported his activities on earth and foreshadowed his inevitable greatness.
What sets this book apart is its innovative approach to analyzing the important events in Augustus’ life through the lens of astrologia, a discipline familiar to him and his contemporaries that consisted of two related branches: observational astronomy and predictive astrology. By combining ancient sources with astronomical sky maps and astrological diagrams, the book demonstrates how these events would have been regarded by Augustus and his contemporaries at a time when the celestial sphere played an important cultural and political role.
Some of the topics explored in the book include the celestial object commonly identified as a comet that appeared at the public celebrations held in honor of the murdered Caesar; the Battle of Actium; the iconography of the Tellus Relief Panel on the Ara Pacis Augustae; the once-in-a-lifetime public celebration known as the Ludi Saeculares; Augustus’ major building projects in Rome, which included temples, theaters and altars; and Augustus’ interactions with major political figures of the period such as Cicero, Caesar, Agrippa, Antonius and Tiberius.
Professor Robert Hannah ‒ author of Greek and Roman Calendars (2005) and Time in Antiquity (2009) and former dean of the School of Language, Literature and Performing Arts at the University of Otago ‒ says, “Lewis presents clearly and systematically a compelling case not only for familiarity with observational astronomy among the Roman elite of the Late Republic-Early Empire, but more importantly for its personal use by Octavius/Augustus to convey that the heavens supported his claims to power, his means of achieving it, and ultimately his greatness. This book will be suitable for students and scholars alike in Roman history who would be attracted to seeing Augustus through a novel lens.”
“This ground-breaking book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of Rome, astronomy or astrology,” Lewis says. “It offers a unique perspective on one of the most significant figures in world history and sheds new light on the use of astrology as a tool for personal guidance and, more importantly, on the use of astronomical celestial display as a political strategy during the period of the Late Roman Republic and Early Roman Empire.”
Learn more about Celestial Inclinations: A Life of Augustus.