Augustus Redux in Stockholm

An excellent new book (with an accompanying exhibition) on the use of Classical architecture and motifs in my hometown Aarhus has just been published (Nørskov 2008, in Danish). Having recently read this, I was very attuned to similar examples of Classical reception on a brief trip to Stockholm (and the very hospitable Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies) last month. Not only is Stockholm a very beautiful city, small reminders of Classical antiquity can be observed almost everywhere. I also enjoyed Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities, a small but interesting collection that is still displayed as it was when originally set up in the 18th century.


Vasa, Stockholm. Photo: TMK, March 2008.

Interestingly, the Vasa Museum was where I came across the most interesting example of the use and abuse of ancient history. The beakhead of the ship, that was built in the 17th century and sank on its maiden voyage, was decorated with representations of twenty Roman emperors, ranging from Tiberius to Septimius Severus. The full list includes, more or less, all emperors (both ‘good’ and ‘bad’) of the first and second centuries AD: Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus, Commodus, Pertinax, Didius Julianus and Septimius Severus. However, one major figure is notably absent: Augustus. By excluding the founder of the principate, the patron of Vasa, Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus placed himself in his place and took the role of Augustus Redux. All in all, a reminder of the power of the (Mediterranean) past in the construction of power and regal authority in early modern Scandinavia.


Vinnie Nørskov (ed.) 2008. Antikken i Århus. Århus: Antikmuseet.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.