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The Gemma Augustea

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Janette Eggiman

Gemma Augustea

SLIDE #2 - Full

The Gemma Augustea is a cameo made out of sardonyx, it stands only 7 ½ inches tall with a width of 9 inches and about the thickness of ½ inch. The date of creation is highly contested but is believed to have been created around the beginning of Tiberius’ reign 14 CE. It is believed to be a depiction of the emperor Augustus along with members of his dynasty and a military triumph. Cameos were first introduced during the Hellenistic times but their use continued under the Romans.

SLIDE #3 - Top

The cameo is divided into two scenes; top and bottom. The top depicts three males surrounded by divinities and personifications. There is Augustus seated with Roma in the center. Winged Victory accompanies Tiberius in the chariot. Tellus/Italia with the cornucopia and two babies leans on Augustus’ seat. The bearded man is either Neptune or Oceanus. Behind him is the figure Oikoumene wears the mural crown. The top is argued to be a representation of Augustus’ rule over the civilized world. He is divine but according to Pollini Augustus is not supposed to be represented as Jupiter here. Instead, he is subordinate to the gods and as mediator the interpreter of their will on earth.

SILDE #4 – Bottom

The bottom seems to expand on the military imagery form the top, depicting some military victory probably a referring to Tiberius. There are two Roman soldiers and two bare chested men raising a trophy with male and female captives of war around. Far right is  man, possibly a Thracian soldier, pulling a woman by her hair. The figure with its back to the viewer is a woman, possibly a Thracian or Balkan, or even a personification of Spain.

SLIDE #5 - full

Cameos were a private object commissioned usually as a presentation piece or as a gift. Since Tiberius is featured to such an extent in this cameo it is unlikely that Augustus himself commissioned it. Rather Tiberius himself or his mother Livia probably did. Although made for more private viewing it was still mean to be viewed publicly albeit a small audience. Because of that the cameo still conveys strong imperial narratives and propaganda. In Pollini’s chapter, he uses the Gemma Augustus to demonstrate how ideology and rhetorical imagery are used to create a dynastic narrative. Pollini goes into a detailed description and interpretation of the cameo. He describes how the cameo takes a temporal and referential approach to narrative which suggests a complementary method of narration where scenes are built around a central moment. Pollini focuses on the narrative structure of the cameo while the other sources focus on brief a description of its history and the interpretation of the piece with a quick mention that such interpretation is still debated.

SLIDE #6 - Tuck book pages

In the textbook by Steven tuck, A History of Roman Art, from 2015, the cameo is discussed under the sub- heading “dynastic monuments” in which other small pieces of dynastic art are mentioned as well. The cameo’s size is stated and there is one paragraph of describing what is on the cameo. The interpretation presented is given as more matter of fact although it does state that the identities of some of the figures are subject to debate. The textbook also includes a section set apart from the text on the making of cameos which gives the viewer an idea of the complexity of the Gemma cameo.

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