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Left:  A team of scientists have found an alignment that occurs between the rising Sun and a major street in Turin that was constructed around 28 BC. (Guido Cossard) Right: Statue of Emperor Octavian in Rome. (fabiomax / Adobe stock)

Does This Ancient Solar Phenomenon Really Honor Emperor Octavian?

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A team of scientists in Turin, Italy, have claimed the alignment of one of the city streets marks the day Roman Emperor Octavian (“Augustus”) was titled “father of the country” - but not everyone agrees.

Turin was constructed around 28 BC and physicist Guido Cossard, president of the Valdostan Archaeoastronomy Research and Studies Association in Italy, has published controversial information pertaining to an alleged solar alignment following the orientation of the Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, the oldest and most important street in Turin.

This long pedestrian street is lined with shops, cafes and small eateries representing a classic European central street, and it is the main architectural axis of the ancient Roman city, Augusta Taurinorum, which was measured out from the current Piazza Castello and ended in Via della Consolata.

Cossard’s research was recently published in Italian in the book “ Torino Citta Celeste ” or “Turin Celestial City,” and the researcher told Live Science that he thinks Turin’s ancient builders constructed the street so that the Sun would be seen rising directly along its axis on the mornings of the 4th and 5th of February. On those two days, this solar phenomenon is visible for only a few minutes from about 8 a.m. to 8:05 a.m. and Cossard said that while the public at large know nothing about this alignment, it’s his purpose to “disseminate this information in order for people to appreciate it.”

The solar alignment on this ancient Turin street occurs around February 4th and 5th, and is visible for a few minutes in the morning. The phenomenon is thought to be in honor of Emperor Octavian. (Guido Cossard)

The solar alignment on this ancient Turin street occurs around February 4 th and 5 th, and is visible for a few minutes in the morning. The phenomenon is thought to be in honor of Emperor Octavian. ( Guido Cossard )

Careful Ancient Surveying, or Chance?

Why would ancient Roman surveyors align the principal street in their new city so that the Sun’s first rays shone along its length on the 4th and 5th of February, and not on any other two days of the year? According to Cossard, “the alignment was intentional” and the street was orientated with the rising Sun on Feb. 5, because this was the historic day which is associated with the Roman emperor Augustus being titled “Pater Patriae,” or “father of the country,” by Rome’s all-powerful senate. 

On the surface this all sounds like a solid archaeoastronomical observation, but there exists a major problem with the hypothesis that other scientists, not affiliated with the research, told Live Science , suggesting the alignment is not the work of sacred-geography uniting the city with the solar cycle, but “an unintentional coincidence.”

Copper engraving of Emperor Octavian. (Diego Gasperotti / Public Domain)

Copper engraving of Emperor Octavian. (Diego Gasperotti /  Public Domain )

In this instance, they refer to another “chance alignment,” the  Manhattanhenge, or the Manhattan solstice alignment, where the Sun rises and sets loosely around the solstices in alignment with the east-west streets of the main street grid of Manhattan, New York City.

The Skeptics Present a Pretty Solid Argument

The faction of scientists “not convinced” with this new observation point out that indeed ancient Roman records say the senate bestowed Octavian with the title “Pater Patriae” on February 5, 2 BC, who for 28 years had been the sole ruler of the Roman Empire after his 30 BC defeat of Mark Antony and  Cleopatra. However, the major problem with the new claim is that the street was constructed around 28 BC, which is “26 years before Octavian became Pater Patriae.”

Antony and Cleopatra (1883) depicting Mark Antony's meeting with Cleopatra in 41 BC. (Lawrence Alma-Tadema / Public domain)

Antony and Cleopatra (1883) depicting Mark Antony's meeting with Cleopatra in 41 BC. (Lawrence Alma-Tadema / Public domain )

If the alignment was not created to symbolically mark the making of Octavian, perhaps the Roman architects aligned the street to the 4th or 5th February to mark another important date, perhaps a major religious festival or celebration? With this question, Live Science talked to “seven scholars” not affiliated with the research, and not one of them were aware of any sacred associations with the dates Feb. 4-5.

Cossard Fights Back, But So Do the Skeptics

Live Science were fair enough to have afforded Cossard a response to the skeptics and he said that while  the title “Pater Patriae” was physically conferred on Emperor Octavian in the year 2 BC the title “was already popular long before that date.” Supporting his reasoning, the scientist points to Ovid’s ancient book “ I Fasti, ” which states before officially becoming “Pater Patriae,” history had “already conferred the title to Octavian” and that “for a long time Emperor Octavian had been the father of the world.”

However, even with this postulation, the skeptical scholars told Live Science that they “doubt the title would have been used in 28 BC” and neither do they think at that time the occasion would have been celebrated on Feb. 5. To account for the solar alignment in Turin, some of the researchers not involved in the study think it is possible that the city was founded on or near Feb. 5, and that the solar alignment possibly marks the city’s foundation date.

Top image: Left:  A team of scientists have found an alignment that occurs between the rising Sun and a major street in Turin that was constructed around 28 BC. ( Guido Cossard ) Right: Statue of Emperor Octavian in Rome. ( fabiomax / Adobe stock)

By Ashley Cowie

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