People often say that they are “struck” by ideas. Augustus, sole ruler of Rome from 30 BCE to 14 CE, had an experience like this yet; for him, it was less figurative and much more tangible. According to Augustus’ ancient biographers, he had an intense experience in 26 or 25 BCE, around the time that he was fighting the Cantabri and Astures people in Spain. In Cassius Dio’s (c. 163-235) more tame account of the story, Augustus heard a distant crash of thunder, followed by a dream of the god, Jupiter. In Suetonius’ (c. 70-130+) more lively version of the story, Augustus was confronted with much more than the mere sound of rumbling thunder—instead, he watched with horror as a bolt of white-hot lightning smote an unlucky torchbearer who was standing nearby. The lightning not only turned the torchbearer into a crisp, but it also apparently scorched parts of the litter in which the startled Augustus was sitting. According to Suetonius, the experience was so frightening for Augustus that he developed a great fear of lighting and thunderstorms. His fear was allegedly so intense that he wore protective amulets and fled into underground shelters during heavy storms.
Whatever the real truth may have been, Augustus was inspired to construct a temple for Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill in Rome around the time of the Cantabrian campaign. When construction was completed around 22 BCE, it was regarded as one of the most beautiful and impressive architectural works in the capital city. Suetonius included it in his list of the three most magnificent public works produced during the reign of Augustus. The building was fittingly titled the Temple of Jupiter Tonans, or the Temple of Jupiter the Thunderer.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Image of Lightning in a nigh storm, by user Free-Photos [Public Domain] via pixabay.com).
- 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.