Shortly after Augustus’ death in the year 14, the Roman Senate declared him to have ascended to divinity and an order of priests and priestesses was formed to begin maintaining sacred rites in his honor. In addition to this, geographical locations that played important roles in Augustus’ life were not only deemed to be historical landmarks, but also were venerated as sacred land.
Among the list of regions viewed as sacred were some of the places where Augustus had spent his childhood. The Roman scholar, Suetonius (c. 70-130+), wrote that a shrine was built on the place where Augustus was born. Yet, one of the most peculiar of the baby Augustus’ sacred sites was a nursery with a fearsome reputation for supernatural power.
According to Suetonius, Augustus was raised near the region of Velitrae in a country mansion owned by his grandfather. In the mansion was a small room that looked similar in size to a food pantry. Food, however, was not kept in that room—it was instead a nursery for Augustus, the first emperor of Rome.
After Augustus’ death and deification, the small nursery was treated with great honor. According to Suetonius, people were urged not to enter the nursery wantonly or without a genuine, urgent cause. In addition, visitors were expected to undergo some rite of purification before entering the sacred nursery. Surprisingly, despite the honor shown to the room, the nursery (and the mansion encompassing it) reportedly remained privately owned, so there were no guards to ensure that respect was shown. Even so, the lack of security was not a problem because, according to legend, the nursery had its own otherworldly protectors.
In short, the nursery had a reputation for rampant supernatural hauntings. Many of the incidents in the room were fairly psychological—people would enter the room, only to flee from the nursery because a sudden sense of overwhelming terror flooded their thoughts after they had crossed the doorway. The supernatural protectors, however, did not only tinker with emotions. In other reported hauntings, the nursery guardians were much more physical.
Suetonius recorded an odd piece of folklore about the nursery, in which an unnamed owner of the Velitrae mansion decided to spend the night in the haunted room. Several motives were proposed, including that the owner wanted to test the rumors, or that he was ignorant of the room’s reputation and simply wanted to spend a night in a historic landmark. Whatever the case, the unseen protectors of the sacred site apparently became infuriated with this new owner, who had prepared himself a temporary bed in the venerated nursery of Augustus. As the story goes, the disrespectful mansion owner was grabbed by an invisible force in the middle of the night and ingloriously hurled out of the nursery with such force that he was found half dead the next morning, with all of his bedding strewn around him.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Brutus haunted by the ghost of Caesar, by Edward Scriven (1775–1841), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, translated by Robert Graves and edited by James B. Rives. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007.
- The Roman History by Cassius Dio, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert. New York: Penguin Classics, 1987.