Paul Zanker

Augustus beautified the city, whose appearance had in no way reflected its greatness and glory and was besides constantly plagued by floods and fires, and so utterly remade it, that he could justly boast that he found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble.
(Suetonius Augustus 28)

Along with the new temples, it was primarily the buildings for entertainment and recreation that transformed the face of Rome. But whereas Augustus personally took charge of building the sanctuaries, for secular projects he let himself be assisted by both family members and by friends, among whom the most important was Agrippa. In his unwavering loyalty Agrippa was again ready to be Augustus’s right-hand man. He dedicated both his organizational talent and his huge fortune to the rebuilding of the city.

In the years after Actium he fulfilled, one by one, all the extravagant promises made in 33 B.C. His first project was the complete reorganization of the water supply. Soon fresh water flowed into the city in abundance through repaired or newly built aqueducts, into 130 reservoirs and hundreds of water basins (lacus; according to Pliny 700 new ones were built). The mighty arches of the aqueducts helped shape the image of the city and, together with the hundreds of new fountains, proclaimed the blessings of fresh water to every dank corner of the metropolis.
The new Aqua Virgo, dedicated in 19 B.C., fed the baths built by Agrippa on the west side of the Campus Martius, near the Pantheon, the first public baths in Rome (fig. 30). Compared with those of later imperial baths, the sauna rooms and warm-water baths here look rather modest. With its extensive gardens, artificial lake (Stagnum Agrippae) serving as a natatio, and athletic facilities, the whole complex recalls the gymnasia of Greek cities. This was deliberate, even if the name itself was not borrowed, as is apparent from the Apoxyomenos of Lysippus (Pliny N.H. 34.62), which Agrippa set up in the main building. In the creation of the new Rome, one more impor-tant gap had been filled.

The baths lay in the middle of the monumenta Agrippae. To the east were the Saepta Julia, to the north the Pantheon. Further east, beyond the Via Lata (the present-day Via del Corso), lay the Campus Agrippae, a park renowned for its beautiful laurel trees, and the Porticus Vipsaniae, named for Agrippa’s sister. To the west was Agrippa’s villa, together with race courses and a training ground for the horses. There was plenty of room for all this on Agrippa’s personal property—most of which had previously be-longed to Marc Antony and, before that, to Pompey.

The huge recreational area before the walls served as a kind of villa for the common people. At any rate, they could enjoy here all the pleasures traditionally associated with aristocratic villas: parks, promenades alongside flowing streams (euripus), warm baths, exercise areas, and, scattered throughout, masterpieces of Greek art. Agrippa decorated his springs and fountain houses with Greek columns and statues, including the famous "Hydria" in the Forum (Pliny 36.121). This accorded with his programmatic address of 33 B.C. "on the need to display publicly all Greek statues and works of art." Pliny, who knew the speech, called it "magnificent and worthy of the finest citizen," clearly contrasting its vision with the exilia of works of art in the villas of the rich that had been the rule up to then (Pliny 35.26). The term exilia (exile) had often been employed in attacks on the Late Republican aristocracy, and the princeps and his friends were conspicuous in their opposition to it. There was of course no question of a systematic appropriation of art works in private hands; only a few significant gestures needed to be made. It was not so important that more art actually be made available to the public than ever before, but only that this seem to be a matter of policy. The "policy" apparently worked, for the people really did feel as if they owned these great works. This was made clear in the (successful) outcry of the plebs when Tiberius tried to move the Apoxyomenos of Lysippus into his own palace (Pliny 34.62).

The centerpiece of Agrippa’s building program, the predecessor of the Hadrianic Pantheon, was another reminder of the ruler even here in this recreational area. Originally a statue of Augustus was meant to be displayed among those of his patron deities in the temple cella, for in keeping with Hellenistic tradition the Pantheon was conceived for the cult of the ruler and his gods. But after the constitutional watershed of 27 B.C. Augustus required a change of plan to accord with his new image. His statue could not stand beside the gods, but would have to be moved into the pronaos, alongside that of Agrippa himself. But in the end this gesture did not alter the purpose of the building. The pediment was probably decorated, like that of the later Pantheon, with Jupiter’s eagle holding the corona civica.

The building which underwent the greatest expansion in Rome was the Saepta, a voting place for the plebs which had been planned already by Julius Caesar and was carried out by Agrippa along with his other projects (fig. 30). The actual voting area was now paved in marble and was framed by two marble colonnades 300 meters long and a 95-meter-wide building for the tallying of the votes (diribitorium). In 26 B.C. Agrippa dedicated the building as the "Saepta Iulia."

The structure became a vast monument to the dignity of the Roman people, although in fact they were summoned to the balloting urns increasingly seldom and soon not at all. Indeed, the Saepta was later used as a setting for games (gladiatorial combats and mock sea battles are attested). But the imperial house also enjoyed inviting the people here for grand ceremonial events. So, for example, Tiberius received an enthusiastic reception here after his victory in Illyria.

Like many other colonnades, the Saepta was also taken over as a bazaar by all sorts of merchants and was frequented all day long by those with nothing better to do, who could take in the famous works of art. Among others, Agrippa set up here two Hellenistic statue groups that are known in multiple copies: the centaur Chiron instructing his pupil Achilles and Pan teaching the young Olympus to play the syrinx (Pliny HN 36.29). Perhaps the two pairs of teacher and pupil allude to the lessons which surely also took place in the area of the Saepta. That Agrippa’s taste in art was not constrained by moral strictures in the choice of subject matter is evident from the homoerotic nature of the Pan and Olympus group.

Agrippa modestly referred to his own achievements only rarely. The fresco cycle of the Voyage of Argo in one of the long colonnades and the name Basilica Neptuni probably contain an allusion to his service as admiral, for which Augustus had already bestowed on him a corona rostrata adorned with ships’ prows after the Battle of Naulochoi. But it is significant that Agrippa did not give the building his own name, but instead named it Saepta Iulia.

Those with time on their hands could also contemplate the map of the world which was commissioned by Agrippa and later transferred to the Porticus Vipsaniae. It was intended to give the Roman people an idea of "their" empire and heighten their awareness of being princeps terrarum populus (Livy Praef.). We need only think of the impressive marble plan of the Imperium Romanum which Mussolini had placed on the ancient ruins along the Via del Impero. In 20 B.C., as part of his program of road building, Augustus had placed a gilded milestone (Milliarum aureum) near the time-honored monuments of the Forum Romanum, symbolizing Rome’s position as the center of the world.

It was Agrippa’s wish that even the import of grain into Rome serve to remind her people of their position of power. The Horrea Agrippiana behind the Forum, only recently fully studied and reconstructed, was built only of travertine, but with strikingly impressive decoration, even including Corinthian columns. No one implemented the idea of publica rnagnificentia more fully or consistently than Agrippa (Seneca De ben. 3.32.4). After his death a well-organized force of 240 men was put to work by the state just for the maintenance of the water supply system he created (Frontinus De Aquis 116).
"The Augustan Program of Cultural Renewal"
Paul Zanker

See also:
"The constructions of Marcus Agrippa in the West"
Geoffrey Mottershead

Marcus Agrippa was the chief supporter of Octavian, the heir of Julius Caesar, in his rise to prominence as the first Roman Emperor Augustus. He also played a central role in the Augustan establishment of the new order of Empire, which replaced the late Republic. Agrippa’s land and sea victories were crucial for the success of Octavian, but it will be argued that his constructions were important instruments of change in this pivotal historical period. Consequently, all Agrippan works are investigated, whether for war or peace, and whether known from material remains or other evidence. Agrippan constructions in the West (Gaul and the Iberian Peninsula) are described in detail, and the others are described in more general terms. Previously, Agrippan constructions have either been included in biographies of Agrippa, and treated generally, or have been studied as particular works with detailed description, but little explanation. Also, constructions in towns with material remains or inscriptions have been extensively studied, but important works outside towns with fewer remains have been largely overlooked. Consequently, previous writers have represented Agrippa as a builder of monuments in towns and there has been little understanding of the nature or purpose of the totality of his works, and no proper account of them.


  1. Anonymous1:14 PM

    this blog is about the 10 books by M V Agrippa and you do not mention one, nor do you provide evidence of their text
    If they exist please give all available information

  2. See:

    XI Congress of Architectural Graphic Expression. International Congress of Architectural Graphic Expression. No. 11. Seville, Sanlucar de Barrameda. Universidad de Sevilla. 2006. Pag 479-486

  3. Anonymous12:20 PM

    I must admit I find the dates of Vitruvius given as 75-15BCE to be similar to M V Agrippa 63-12 BCE and find that the text of the 10 books are written by a person who is perhaps an agent of a magistrate, ie Vitruvius by name and not Marcus Vitruvius Pollio as guessed by academics, but I think M V Agrippa would have done a far superior job of writing a book on architecture. If you are correct then you have a quotable source, name it.

  4. Anonymous5:06 AM

    Smart post and so good blog
    thanks for you good information and i hope to subscribe and visit my blog Ancient Greece and more Ancient Greece Government thanks again admin