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Customer Review

HALL OF FAMEon March 15, 2002
This book is an excellent example of how art critique can be used to analyze politics and history. Paul Zanker does an exceptionally thorough job as he systematically works his way through the end of the Republic to the heights of Augustan Rome. The book includes tons of photographs, coins, maps and reproductions to illustrate appropriate points in the text. The thesis of the book is to show how art was used to convey the importance and dignity of the new Imperial system. Despite the breadth of material presented here, the text is smooth and understandable.
There really isn't enough space in a review to adequately cover this book. Zanker's main thrust is to show how Augustus rebuilt and remodeled Rome with himself at the center. The styles that Augustus used were quickly picked up and duplicated by the Roman upper classes, as well as those in the provinces. My favorite section of the book concerns the coinage. Augustus minted coins closely linking himself to Julius Caesar in order to establish himself as the heir apparent (which he was) to Caesar. Coins were also used to commemorate Augustus's triumph at Actium over Antony, and also to promote Augustus's conservative legislation concerning marriage and childbirth. Although Augustus slowly consolidated power under the title of princeps, he took great pains to show Rome that he was bringing about peace, prosperity and honor, all things that had been missing during the civil wars. Is Augustan art propaganda? It could certainly be interpreted that way, even though there was no "Ministry of Information" in Rome.
An excellent book, although there are a few problems. One of them is the tendency of art critique to see things that others may not. Zanker's descriptions of statues of Augustus are a good example. While I can agree with his depictions of the later Augustan busts as showing a calm, sort of omniscient demeanor, I have a tough time agreeing with his assessment of an earlier bust of Augustus as nervous and power hungry. This is a small problem with an otherwise great book that will make you think about Rome in a different way.
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