The temple of Augustus and Roma in Ankara was erected after the conquest of Central Anatolia by the Roman emperor Octavian Augustus in 25 BCE. The city, then known as Ancyra, became the capital of the newly formed Province of Galatia. After the death of Augustus in 14 CE, a copy of his autobiography entitled "Deeds of the Divine Augustus" was placed on the walls of the temple both in Latin and in Greek translation. There were many such copies the Roman Empire, but nowadays the inscription from Ankara, known as the Monumentum Ancyranum, is an almost complete preserved version of the text. This fact makes it a unique source of knowledge for researchers of this period of history.
In the first half of the 3rd century BCE, the Celtic people from northern Europe reached the Anatolian highlands. Their route went through Macedonia and Greece, and the Greeks began to call them the Galatians. They came to Asia Minor not as invaders, but as mercenaries on the invitation from the king Bithynia, Nikomedes I. He needed their assistance in the fight against his brother, Zipoetes II.
The Galatians frequently fell into conflicts with the kings of the Hellenistic states located in the west of Asia Minor. As they were highly skilled professional warriors, the Hellenistic rulers had to pay them tribute. However, in 275 BCE, they were defeated by Antiochus I. Then they were forced to move eastwards, to the areas where they later founded Galatia i.e. the northern and central regions of Asia Minor. The Galatians were divided into three tribes: the Tectosages in the centre with the capital in Ancyra, the Tolistobogii on the west, near Pessinus, and the Trocmi on the east, round their chief town of Tavium.
In 25 BCE, the Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus conquered Galatia and incorporated it into the Roman Empire. Ankara became the capital of the newly established Roman province, also called Galatia.
History of the temple
How better to emphasise the power of Rome and its domination over newly acquired territories than through the erection of a monumental building? The Augusteum, or Temple of Augustus and Roma in Ankara, was erected just after the conquest of Galatia, in the years 25-20 BCE. The building stood on the acropolis of Ancyra, in the location of an earlier temple of Men, a Phrygian deity. The construction of Augusteum was commissioned by Pilamenes, the son of King of Galatia, Amintos. It was a sign that the Galatians had submitted to the power of the Roman Empire.
In 2nd century CE, the temple was enlarged, and at the turn of the 5th and 6th centuries, it was transformed into a church. It played this role for nearly a thousand years. In the years 1427-1428, after the death of a Sufi priest and poet named Hacı Bayram-ı Veli, a mosque dedicated to him was erected next to the temple. One of its walls rests against the wall of the old temple of Augustus. The building of the temple itself was then used as a medrese that is a theological school of Islam.
Name of the temple
The Augusteum in Ankara was not a unique building, because from the beginning of the reign of the first Roman emperor, Octavian Augustus, such temples were erected in his honour. While he was still alive, at least fifty of them were built. In the eastern part of the Empire, where the influences of Greek culture were stronger, these temples were called the Sebasteions. The Sebasteion in Aphrodisias is the best-preserved Sebasteion in Asia Minor, next to the temple in Ankara.
Let us now look at the figures who were worshipped in the temple in Ankara. The first one is the goddess Roma (Dea Roma) - a deity representing the Roman state. She was presented in many ways. Sometimes she was holding a horn of plenty, symbolising peace and prosperity provided to the territories under the control of Rome. However, more often, the goddess Roma wielded a spear and a shield - as a warrior called Roma Aeterna. According to Tacitus, the first temple of the goddess Roma was erected in Smyrna, today's Izmir, around 195 BCE.
The second figure worshipped at Augusteum was the first Roman emperor, Octavian Augustus, who reigned in from 27 BCE to 14 CE. After his death, he was deified as Divus Augustus. Thus, the practice of deification of the deceased Roman emperors and members of their families was introduced. All of the Augustea combined the worship of Octavian Augustus and the goddess Roma, allegedly due to the wish of Augustus himself. Initially, the cult of the Roman emperors as gods was particularly well received in the eastern provinces of the Empire. The cult of the rulers fitted well into an earlier tradition of the Hellenistic monarchy.
The temple of Augustus and Roma in Ankara was erected on the plan known as pseudodipteral. It was introduced by Hermogenes, the architect from Priene, who was active in the 3rd century BCE. Instead of two rows of columns surrounding the temple, known as the dipteros, Hermogenes introduced a single row of columns, gaining an extra space in the interior. In addition to the temple in Ankara, the most famous examples of this plan in Asia Minor can be seen in Teos and Magnesia on the Maeander.
The temple in Ankara was erected in the Corinthian order, along the south-west-northeast axis. The outer dimensions of the podium were 55 to 36 meters. Fifteen columns stood along both long sides of the building while its shorter sides were decorated with eight columns each. In addition, four columns stood at the front of the building, and two at the rear. The temple was erected on a platform two meters high. Eight steps led inside. The interior i.e. the naos consisted of three rooms: pronaos (vestibule), cella (central chamber of religious worship), and the rear porch called opisthodomos.
After the conversion of the temple into the church, significant architectural changes were made to the building. The cella of the temple, initially without windows, was then illuminated by three large window openings, carved into the south-western wall. The floor of the cella, previously elevated, was lowered to the level of the platform. In addition, the wall separating the cella from the back porch was removed, and an apse and a crypt were erected there.
Deeds of the Divine Augustus
"Deeds of the Divine Augustus" (Res Gestae Divi Augusti) is the autobiography of the first Roman Emperor, describing his life and achievements. It was written just before Octavian's death, most likely on the basis of earlier fragments. After the emperor's death in 14 CE, according to his last will, the Senate published the text to the general audience. Its original, engraved on two bronze pillars, was placed before the Augustus Mausoleum in Rome. It has not been preserved to our times. Fortunately, many copies were made, carved on monuments and temples scattered throughout the Roman Empire.
The almost complete copy of the "Deeds of the Divine Augustus" was found on the walls of the temple of Augustus and Roma in Ankara. For this reason, the text of the imperial autobiography itself is sometimes referred to as the Monumentum Ancyranum. Interestingly, two other well-known copies of the document, preserved in fragments, have also been discovered in the area of modern Turkey. They were found in Apollonia and Antioch, located in the historic land of Pisidia. The copies of Ankara and Apollonia were made in Latin original, and in parallelly in Greek translation. In the temple in Ankara, the Latin text is located on two walls of the vestibule, and the Greek translation - on the outer walls of the cella.
The text of "Deeds of the Divine Augustus" consists of an introduction and 35 paragraphs, usually divided by researchers into four main sections. They are dedicated to the Emperor's political career, his social activities, military achievements, and political views. It is, naturally, a propaganda text that leaves out uncomfortable incidents. The names of the enemies of Augustus are not mentioned, and his achievements are emphasised. Scientists treat the "Deeds" as a unique movement of political propaganda during the transitional period between republican times and the permanent establishment of the imperial government. Nevertheless, the historical value of the text is enormous, and we owe this knowledge to the existence of the copy from Ankara.
The existence of the inscription containing the "Deeds of the Divine Augustus" was discovered for the western world in the mid-16th century. We owe this to the Ambassador of Austria to the court of Suleiman the Great, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq. This remarkable figure came from Flanders and served the three generations of Austrian monarchs as a diplomat. Busbecq travelled to the Ottoman Empire twice, between 1554 and 1556. His task was to negotiate the border in the disputed territory of Transylvania, on behalf of his employer, Ferdinand I Habsburg, the future Holy Roman Emperor.
During his stay in Constantinople, Busbecq wrote his most famous work, "Turkish Letters". It is a compendium of letters, which he sent to his friend, the Hungarian diplomat, Nicholas Michault. Researchers describe these lists as the earliest examples of travel literature. Busbecq wrote down his adventures at the Ottoman court and provided detailed descriptions of the local flora and fauna. Moreover, he copied the contents of "Deeds of the Divine Augustus", which he discovered during his stay in Ankara. He identified them correctly on the basis of comparisons with the works of Roman writer Suetonius.
Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, a French botanist, arrived in Ankara in 1701. We owe him the first plan of the building and the information that it was then used as a residence. The first traveller to correctly identify the building as an ancient classical temple was Poul Lucas. He visited Ankara in 1705. The more accurate identification of the building - as the temple of Augustus - was made by an English anthropologist, Richard Pococke, in 1735. He also made accurate measurements of this building.
One hundred years later, the interest in Ankara temple was reborn among researchers and travellers. In 1835, Charles Texier, a French historian and archaeologist, made a drawing of the temple, the neighbouring mosque and the nearby mansion. Georges Perrot, a French archaeologist, made another transcription of the text of "Deeds of the Divine Augustus" in the 1860s. In 1865, a German historian, Theodor Mommsen, examined the temple and also published the text of the "Deeds". He called Monumentum Ancyranum the "queen of inscriptions". Thanks to Mommsen's suggestion, the Royal Museum in Berlin commissioned the preparation of Ankara's inscriptions casts, made in 1882 by Carl Humann.
The first excavations were carried out in the temple area and its immediate vicinity between 1926 and 1928. They were led by German researchers - Martin Schede and Daniel Krencker. Their work was continued in 1936-1938 by a Turkish archaeologist, Hamit Zübeyir Koşay. After the completion of the works in 1938, there was a very long pause in research on the temple.
After the Second World War, the temple in Ankara fell into ruin and oblivion. Horrified by this state of affairs, Ekrem Akurgal, a well-known Turkish archaeologist, issued a call for rescue in the media. In response to his request, the University of Trieste inaugurated the so-called Ancyra Project in 1997. Its purpose was to study and protect the monument known as Monumentum Ancyranum. This multidisciplinary project was conducted by many Italian researchers specialising in history, archaeology, architecture, and photogrammetry that enables the reproduction of shapes, sizes and locations of objects in the field, based on photogrammetric imagery. The project was led by Paul Botteri.
The initial assumptions of the project consisted primarily of examining the content of "Deeds of the Divine Augustus" and publishing their new critical edition. After an initial inspection of the site and in the light of the complete degradation of the temple, in consultation with the director of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara and the Chief of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the scope of works was extended. The protection plan was prepared, detailed petrographic studies were carried out, and the plan of monument stabilisation was developed.
In 2008, thanks to the financial resources provided by the Turkish government, archaeological works were carried out. Their purpose was to clean the site, reinterpret archaeological data from the 1930s, and analyse the erosion of the temple walls.
Despite its historical significance, the Ankara temple is not accessible to visitors. It can be admired only from the outside, and it excludes the possibility to get acquainted with the content of the "Deeds of the Divine Augustus". The porch and walls running along the cella of the temple have been preserved to our times. The building is reinforced with metal scaffolding, the remnants of the Ancyra Project. The latest research indicates a continual erosion of the building, which is in the danger of collapse due to climatic factors, air pollution, and earthquakes.
The Temple of Augustus and Roma in Ankara is among the most endangered historical monuments, according to the World Monuments Fund (WMF). In 2016, Hacı Bayram district, together with the Hacı Bayram Mosque and the Augustus temple, was added to the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage.
It is worth mentioning that the replica of the vestibule of the temple is in the collections of the Museum of Roman Civilization in Rome (Museo della Civiltà Romana). Because of its existence, many people were able to get a better idea of what the interior of the building looked like and where the text of Octavian Augustus' will was. Unfortunately, in 2016 this facility was closed for an indefinite period in order to carry out its thorough renovation.
Entry inside the temple area is forbidden. There is no charge to see it from the outside at any time of the day or night.
The Temple of Augustus and Roma is located in the Ulus district of the capital of Turkey, Ankara, just next to the Hacı Bayram Mosque. There are many other tourist attractions nearby, including the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (1 km to the south-east), Gençlik Parkı (1 km to the south-west), and the Roman baths (1 km to the north-west).