Religion, literature and government, as well as its visual art forms could be said to define the character and individuality of any civilization. While the former may change in both attitude and stance, or else fade away, many of those self-same visual art forms, such as sculpture, have remained both vivid and accessible. One thing all men of the Roman period, especially the soldiers who traversed the length and breadth of the Empire had in common was a desire to survive in the different environments they found themselves; either baking in the Judean wilderness or freezing in the north of Brittania.
During the period of Rome’s greatness from 753 BC – 476 ACE many of the traditions associated with our modern western civilisation were established and her achievements in the perspective of history were significant. When the Romans came into contact with other nations, the sanctity which surrounded their ancient legal forms was relaxed and a new conception arose, that of the ius gentium, a law of the nations, which was thought to be a set of fundamental principles held in common by all people. Allied to this was the Stoic notion of natural law, whereby nature was assumed to favour simplicity and individual equality, an idea taken over from Hellenistic Greece. Roman jurists insisted the spirit of the law should prevail over the letter of the law, which should be interpreted in a benevolent manner.
Roman culture absorbed and preserved the very best of Greek culture and its ideas within a political structure that at the time of the epoch of its power stretched from York in Britain to Alexandria in Egypt from the Atlantic to the Euphrates. In the account of his accomplishments the Roman Emperor Augustus placed side by side for us two concepts valid for Roman architecture and art forms from the late Republican period; that of ‘auctoritas’, or inner weight, the authentic and exemplary, and ‘potestas’ the powerful and authoritative.
A Roman building of the Augustan period that had auctoritas was one that had dignity, validity and authority, still perceptible through their remains. The best- preserved example of architecture of the Augustan age is the Maison Carée at Nimes, a building in which architecture of that period achieved its purest expression.
A statue of Augustus, which had ‘potestas was a tangible reminder of peoples very real perceptions of his power. In his role as Pontifex Maximus, he would draw his toga over his head as a mark of respect and reverence. We are inheritors of a legacy from ancient times that definitely defies description at times and its treasures are but a small sample of what researchers and archaeologists have established as part of the immense resources of the ancient world