The Roman Empire - In The First Century
Home The Roman Empire Special Features The Series Resources For Educators
Ovid’s playful poetry made him a favorite among Rome’s elite, but angered Emperor Augustus.

Just as he was producing his finest work, Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD) was exiled to the darkest corner of the empire, never to return.

A good start in life

Like many Roman writers, Ovid was born outside Rome, to a respectable equestrian family who were wealthy enough to send him and his brother to school in Rome. His father wanted him to study hard to become a civil servant, like many other members of his class. But he often skipped school to work on the poetry that he enjoyed much more.

With his education completed, Ovid took some time out to travel to Greece, Sicily and Asia Minor (now modern-day Turkey). When he returned, he submitted to his father’s will and took some junior official positions, but it wasn’t the life he wanted.

Full-time poet

Ovid abandoned his job to spend his time on his poetry. His first work, the “Amores” (the Loves) was an immediate success. It was quickly followed by “Heroides” (the Heroines), “Medicamina Faciei” (the Art of Beauty), “Ars Amatoria” (the Art of Love) and “Remedia Amoris” (Remedies for Love).

Reflecting the pleasure-seeking society in which he moved, his work fizzed with wit and sophistication. It focused on love and sex. His work was playful and made him the Roman king of the flirts.

Bad timing

Although his writing was superb, his timing was awful. The popularity of his carefree attitude to sex and adultery challenged the moral conservatism of the Emperor Augustus. Shortly after Augustus exiled his own daughter Julia for her string of affairs, Ovid published “Ars Amatoria,” a poem offering guidance for adulterers.

Already under pressure, Augustus was becoming increasingly paranoid and saw anarchy in every act of disobedience. Furious at what he saw as an act of deliberate provocation by Ovid, he banished him from Rome.


Ovid was sent to the shores of the Black Sea in what is now Romania. At the time, it was one of the darkest corners of the Empire – the worst possible place for a city slicker like Ovid. Although his property and wife remained unaffected in Rome, Ovid was now living a cold, brutal life.

Despite this, Ovid completed his finest work in exile. His epic poem, “Metamorphoses,” combines myth and history to tell the story of the Roman world, from its earliest days to the reign of Tiberius and is one of the most important works of Roman literature.

Saying sorry

Over time, Ovid grew old and sick. His earlier carefree attitude gave way to sorrow and he wrote endless letters, begging Augustus and, later, Tiberius, to be allowed home. But this would never happen and as he neared the end of his life, he became resigned to his fate.

As he expected, he died in exile. Although the man was dead, however, the poet lived on. His work continued to be read and admired. “Metamorphoses,” is today seen as one of the most influential poems in European literary history.

Where to next:
Emperors - Augustus
The Social Order in Ancient Rome – Women

Related Links:

Virtual Library   Virtual Library
Writers   Writers
The Roman Empire

Republic to Empire

Age of Augustus

Years of Trial

Empire Reborn


Social Order

Life in Roman Times

- Virgil
- Ovid
- Seneca
- Petronius
- Pliny the Elder
- Pliny the Younger
- Historians
- Juvenal

Enemies and Rebels


The Roman Empire - In The First Century