The history of the Roman Empire is one filled with warfare and deception. After the defeat of Carthage and the Gaul the Roman generals began to vie for power. Even after the murder of Cesar was avenged the fighting would not end. It was only after Anthony and Cleopatra were defeated at the Battle of Actium that a certain peace settled over the Roman provinces. The man responsible for this peace is Octavian, later known as Augustus. To commemorate his many achievements a statue of him was made after his death. Using the contraposto pose, the all around relief, various symbolic shapes Plykleitos, the artist of this statue, creates an inspiring image of the great general.
The Romans took a lot of their art styles from their Greek neighbors. One of the most common ways to depict someone was to put them in a contraposto pose. In this method the figure is shown in movement rather then in a stiff Egyptian style portrait. In this artwork Augustus leans forward and raises his right arm as if to address his troops. Many of the Roman political leaders had to constantly give speeches and the art of the oration was one that every royal member had to learn. Exactly what Augustus is preaching here is still a matter of controversy but most scholars agree that it has a relation to a military matter.
Another characteristic of this artwork that is Greek-like is relief and the proportion. The Greeks had set rules for the size of the body parts and the Romans simply copied them. Many politicians favored showing perfect images of them selves to impress the general public. This artwork is also in full relief. It was meant to be seen all around and not just from the front.
Augustus is also shown with shapes in his chest armor and cupid beside his leg. The little God is meant to symbolize the connection between the Julii family and the goddess Aphrodite. Octavian is often cited to have traced his lineage to this goddess. Roman armor often depicts scenes of battle and past events. In this armor there is a scene filled with the conquered people of the Roman Empire. Another character shown is Romulus, the mystic founder of Rome.
These kinds of statues were often used as propaganda to show the Greatness of the Emperor. It is said that the original copy was made of Bronze, but this has never been found, so all we are left with are imitations.