Subject Area



Obelisks were massive granite spires erected to honor the Egyptian sun god Ra and to glorify the individual kings who ordered their construction. Obelisks served to syncretize both king and god to reflect the divinely-ordained position kingship held within Egyptian society. By the New Kingdom period, kings used obelisks to adorn their tombs and temples, replacing the much larger and more expensive pyramid tombs of the Old Kingdom. Eventually, Egypt’s power faded, and most obelisks fell into disrepair, all but lost to time. That was until the arrival of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. With the defeat of his rivals, Marc Antony and Cleopatra, Augustus brought Egypt under the Roman fold. This marked a major shift in both nations, with Egypt quickly becoming one of the most influential cultures in Rome. The emperors themselves became some of the biggest proponents of this ‘Egyptomania,’ shown namely with their rediscovery of obelisks and subsequent transportation of the unwieldy monuments up the Nile, across the Mediterranean, and into the heart of Rome. This trend began with Augustus, who oversaw the transportation of the first two rediscovered obelisks shortly after his conquest. He placed the monuments in prominent locations and sought to use their native Egyptian symbolism—evoking the sun, kingship, and divinity—as propaganda to help legitimize and later deify his newly-established seat of emperor.

In this thesis, I not only argue that Augustus utilized obelisks in much the same way the pharaohs of old once did, but also posit that his actions cemented the obelisk as a fixture of the Classical architectural landscape and, by extension, the early modern architectural landscape as well. Following Augustus’ example, many succeeding Roman emperors, later popes, and other early-modern leaders used the form of the obelisk to secure their own power and divinity. The obelisk’s continued usage in Europe and later in America led to the creation of arguably the most famous obelisk in the modern world: the Washington Monument.


Providence College

Academic Year



Spring 2023








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