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Augustae, Matrons, Goddesses: Imperial Women in the Sacred Space


The reception of the image of the Augustae in Greece allows us to evaluate the different ways of integrating the imperial power in the local culture, religion, and society, answering to “central” stimuli through an active reinterpretation of the official models in accordance with the local agencies. In analogy with the main trends recognized by D. Boschung among the emperors’ portraits, the statues of the Augustae could be linked to the Hellenistic tradition of timai for the basileis or benefactors; their likenesses could be updated according to the latest Roman fashions, provided with clear status symbols (stola, calcei..) and made recognizable by the official portrait types; finally, their images could be merged into religious contexts, assimilated to deities by the epigraphs and/or reshaped in a “theomorphic” guise, combining the individual features with a divine statue type rooted in the Classical past. These tendencies are not separated, but they eclectically interact, depending on the context and on the communicative intention. The topic is examined through several examples, especially the portraits of the empresses found, often in dynastic groups, in the sanctuaries both of the traditional deities and of the imperial cult, at Tenos, Olympia, Epidaurus, Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Cyrene, Eleusis, and Aulis, and particularly in the theatre close to the Asklepieion of Butrint. Finally, some evidences are considered for an “Athenian reformulation” of the imperial myth, through which the Augustae were associated to the goddesses of the sanctuaries reshaped during the Athenian imperialism, that had had an authoritative form by the sculptors of the Phidian circle.