Ara Pacis in Rome
The Ara Pacis Augustae (Latin, "Altar of Augustan Peace"; commonly shortened to Ara Pacis) is an altar to Peace, envisioned as a Roman goddess. It was commissioned by the Roman Senate on 4 July 13 BC to honor the triumphal return from Hispania and Gaul of the Roman emperor Augustus, and was consecrated on 30 January 9 BC by the Senate to celebrate the peace established in the Empire after Augustus's victories. The altar was meant to be a vision of the Roman civil religion. It sought to portray the peace and fertile prosperity enjoyed as a result of the Pax Augusta (Latin, "Augustan peace") brought about by the military supremacy of the Roman empire, and act as a visual reminder of the Julio-Claudian dynasty that was bringing it about.
The Ara Pacis stood within an enclosure elaborately and finely sculpted entirely in gleaming white marble, depicting scenes of traditional Roman piety, in which the Emperor and his family were portrayed in the act of offering sacrifices to the gods. Various figures bring forth cattle to be sacrificed. Some have their togas drawn over their heads, like a hood; this signifies that they are acting in their official capacity as priests. Others wear laurel crowns, traditional symbols of victory. Men, women, and children all approach the gods. Themes of civil peace are linked to themes of the dynastic Julio-Claudian claims, and the importance of religion as a civilizing force, in rites of which some were consciously being revived for the occasion, according to Augustus himself.
The Altar is universally recognized as a masterpiece, the most famous surviving example of Augustan sculpture; the life-sized figures in the procession are not idealized types, as are typically found in Greek sculpture, but rather portraits of individuals, some of them recognizable today.
G. Karl Galinsky pointed out that the sculpture of the Ara Pacis is primarily symbolic rather than decorative, and that its iconography has several levels of significance. Studies of the Ara Pacis and similar public Roman monuments traditionally address the potent political symbolism of their decorative programs, that emphasizes dynastic and other imperial policies. The Ara Pacis is seen to embody without conscious effort the deep-rooted ideological connections among cosmic sovereignty, military force and fertility that were first outlined by Georges Dumézil, connections which are attested in early Roman culture and more broadly in the substructure of Indo-European culture at large. It has been suggested by Peter Holliday that the Altar's imagery of the Golden Age, usually discussed as mere poetic allusion, actually appealed to a significant component of the Roman populace. The program of the Ara Pacis addressed this group's very real fears of cyclical history, and promised that the rule of Augustus would avert the cataclysmic destruction of the world predicted by contemporary models of historical thought.
The long friezes of the Ara Pacis (the North and South Walls, so called today because of the modern layout) contain figures advancing towards the West who participate in a state of thanksgiving to celebrate the Peace created by Augustus. These figures fall into four categories: lictors (men carrying fasces, bodyguards of magistrates); priests (three of the four major collegia – Pontifices, Septemviri, and Quindecimviri): women and children (generally from the imperial family, represented in portraiture); and attendants (a few anonymous figures necessary for religious purposes).
In addition there are two or three non-Roman children, who may be guests (or hostages) in Rome. Their identification by their non-Roman costume and their participation in the ceremony advertises to all that Rome is the centre of the world, and that other nations send their young to Rome to learn Roman ways, so great is Rome's reputation.
The ceremony took place in the summer of 13 BC, but not necessarily on 4 July, when the Senate voted to build the Ara Pacis.
The east and west walls
The East and West walls each contain two panels, one well preserved and one represented only in fragments.
The East Wall contains a badly preserved scene of a female warrior (bellatrix), possibly Roma, apparently sitting on a pile of weapons confiscated from the enemy, thus forcing peace upon them by rendering them unable to make war. This scene has been reconstructed based on coins that depict such a seated Roma. When the monument was being reconstructed at its present site, Edmund Buchner and other scholars sketched what the panel may have looked like. This interpretation, though widely accepted, can not be proved correct, as so little of the original panel survives.
The other panel is more controversial in its subject, but far better preserved. A goddess sits amid a scene of fertility and prosperity with twins on her lap. Scholars have suggested that the goddess is Italia, Tellus (Earth), Venus, or Peace (other views also circulate). Peace (Pax Augusta) makes the most sense since the entire scene depicts the benefits of peace, and the monument is the "Altar of Augustan Peace," not the "Altar of Italy" or "the Altar of Earth." The exact identity of the goddess remains debated, however.
The West Wall also contains two panels. The fragmentary panel called "The Lupercal Panel" apparently preserves the moment when Romulus and Remus were discovered by Faustulus the shepherd, while Mars looks on.
The better preserved scene depicts the sacrifice of a pig (the standard sacrifice when Romans made a peace treaty) by an old priest and two attendants. In 1907 this scene was identified by Johannes Sieveking as the moment when Aeneas, newly arrived in Italy, sacrificed a sow and her piglets to Juno, as told by Virgil and others. In the 1960s, Stephan Weinstock challenged this identification (and the very identity of the entire monument), citing numerous discrepancies that Sieveking and his followers had failed to notice between Virgil's version and the panel. Subsequently, Paul Richardson proposed, and Paul Rehak later published an alternative identification of the scene as Numa Pompilius, the Roman king associated with Peace and the Gates of Janus.
The North Wall has about 46 extant or partially extant figures. The first two foreground figures are lictors, carrying fasces (bundles of rods symbolizing Roman authority). The next set of figures consists of priests from the college of the Septemviri Epulones, so identified by an incense box they carry with special symbols. One member of this college is missing in a gap.
After them follows the collegium of the Quindecemviri Sacris Faciundis, also identified by the incense box carried by a public slave among them. Although the name suggest this college has exactly fifteen members, the size of the college has grown to 23, including Augustus and Agrippa, who appear on the South Frieze. The other twenty-one members are present here. Two very badly damaged figures in the middle are split by a gap. From photos the gap appears to affect a single figure, but as Koeppel, Conlin, and Stern have proven, in-site examination reveals that one is a foreground and the other a background figure.
The last portion of the North Frieze consists of members of the imperial family. Many scholars identify the veiled, leading figure as Julia, daughter of Augustus. Since Julia appears on the South Frieze, it is more likely that this figure is Octavia Minor. Other figures in the entourage might include Marcella (a daughter of Octavia), Iullus Antonius (a son of Mark Antony), and two boys and a girl of the imperial family. In 1894, and again in 1902 and 1903 Eugen Petersen suggested that Gaius and Lucius Caesar are the two boys dressed in "Trojan" costume for the equestrian event called the Troy Game, which was held in 13 BC for the dedication of the Theater of Marcellus. But as Charles Brian Rose has noted, "The variable value of the Eastern costume and the uneasy interaction of Trojan and Parthian iconography can make it difficult to determine whether one is viewing the founders of the Romans or their fiercest opponents." The youth wearing Hellenistic Greek clothing suited to a Hellenistic prince is sometimes identified as Gaius in the guise of a camillus, an adolescent attendant of the Flamen Dialis. This figure has also been interpreted as Ptolemy of Mauretania representing Africa, along with a German boy (Europe) and a Parthian prince (Asia).
The South Wall has seen a great deal of scholarship and the greatest number of academic debates. Unlike the North Wall, where most of the heads are new (not authentic ancient heads, but modern creations), the heads of the figures on the South Wall are mostly original. Some half dozen figures are recognizable from looking at other surviving statues of members of the imperial family. Nevertheless, much debate has taken place over many of these figures, including Augustus, Agrippa, Tiberius, Julia, and Antonia.
Augustus - The figure of Augustus was not discovered until the 1903 excavation, and his head was damaged by the cornerstone of the Renaissance palazzo built on top of the original Ara Pacis site. Today Augustus is better recognized by his hair style than his face. He was identified in 1903 immediately.
Agrippa - In the absence of the panel including Augustus, early scholars debated whether this figure was Augustus or Agrippa or Lepidus. In the same 1907 article mentioned above, Sieveking proposed that this figure was Lepidus, the Pontifex Maximus. Sieveking later reversed himself with a series of peculiar suggestions. In 1926 Loewy compared the Louvre Agrippa and that in Copenhagen (and others) to the Ara Pacis to show icongographic similarity. Aside from a very small minority of scholars (most vehemently defending Lepidus in Rom. Mitt in the 1930s was Ludwig Curtius), the rest of the academy agreed this figure is Agrippa.
Julia (Livia) - many scholars continue to see the Julia figure as Livia under the reasoning that Livia has to be on the Ara Pacis. Indeed Livia does appear somewhere (she could hardly be excluded), but by 13 BC Julia had politically eclipsed Livia, as has been understood and explained by many scholars. Furthermore, Livia has no bond to Agrippa, whereas Julia was his wife and expected to be the unofficial empress of Rome for decades, during and beyond Augustus' lifetime. Julia also better personified Augustus' new pro-natalism program, having already given birth to four surviving children. Nevertheless, a majority of scholars in 2000 preferred to see this figure as Livia.
Tiberius - This figure was Tiberius as early as 1891 by Milani, an identification that was rarely questioned until the 1940s. Moretti, in making the glass museum for the Ara Pacis at Mussolini's command, guessed that the two consuls (Tiberius and Varus) of 13 flank Augustus, so he saw this figure as M. Valerius Messalla. V.H. von Poulsen proposed Iullus Antonius. But as has been well established, Augustus is flanked by priests, and this figure is Tiberius. Boschung and Bonanno have both matched the face to early period Tiberius statuary.
Antonia, Drusus, and Germanicus - In 1880 H. Dütschke proposed the correct identity for Antonia and Drusus, but saw the toddler as Claudius (incorrectly). A. von Domaszewski amended this family identification and correctly saw the child as Germanicus. He also suggested that the Ara Pacis is arranged in family groups. He also correctly determined that the two-year old child could only be Germancius, whose exact birth in 24 May 15 BC is known. This helps prove that the ceremony is an event in 13, although a few scholars continued to argue the ceremony was that of 9 BC.
Domitius Ahenobarbus family - In the same 1903 article, von Domaszewski also proposed that the last family on the South Wall is that of the father of the emperor Nero.<ref name="Domaszewski 1903"/> This romantic notion seduced many scholars, and the identification remains widespread today, despite many flaws with the individuals in question. As both Syme and Stern point out, Nero's father, whom von Domaszewski saw as the boy of the family, was not born until after the monument's completion - eliminating this admittedly appealing (im)possibility.
The Altar was originally located on the northern outskirts of the city, on the west side of the Via Flaminia, in the northeastern corner of the Campus Martius, a formerly open area that Augustus developed as a complex of monuments; the Ara Pacis Augustae stood in the flood plain of the river Tiber, where it became buried under four metres of silt over the centuries.
Recovery and Excavation
The first fragmentary sculptures were rediscovered in 1568 beneath the basilica San Lorenzo in Lucina, and have found their way to the Villa Medici, the Vatican, the Uffizi and the Louvre. In 1859 further sculptural fragments were found under Teatro Olimpia, part of the Peretti Palace in via in Lucina, close to the Italian Parliament Building and the sculptures were recognized as having belonged to the same monument.
In 1903, when Friedrich von Duhn recognized that the reliefs belonged to the Ara Pacis, known from Augustus' memoir, a request was sent to the Ministry of Public Education to continue the excavations. Their success was made possible by the generosity of Edoardo Almagià, who, as well as giving his permission for the exploration, donated in advance whatever should be discovered underneath the palace and made an ongoing financial contribution to the expenses of the excavation.
By July of that year, it became clear that the conditions were extremely difficult and that the stability of Teatro Olimpia might well be compromised.
When about half the monument had been examined and 53 fragments recovered, the excavation was called to a halt. In February 1937, the Italian Cabinet decreed that for the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Augustus, the excavations should recommence, using the most advanced technology. Seventy cubic metres of ground under what was by then the Cinema Nuovo Olimpia were frozen, whilst the altar was extracted.
In 1938 Benito Mussolini built a protective building for the Altar, as it had been reconstructed by Vittorio Ballio Morpurgo, near the Mausoleum of Augustus (moving the Altar in the process) as part of his attempt to create an ancient Roman "theme park" to glorify Fascist Italy.<ref name=crow/>
A new cover building, designed by American architect Richard Meier, now stands on the same site as Mussolini's.<ref name=crow/> The new building opened in 2006 to controversy.<ref name=crow/> Nicolai Ouroussoff, of the New York Times described the new building as "a flop". The presiding right-wing mayor Gianni Alemanno, backed since July 2008 by culture undersecretary Francesco Maria Giro said he would tear down the new structure. Mayor Alemmano has since changed his stance on the building and has agreed with Mr. Meier to modifications including drastically reducing the height of the wall between an open-air space outside the museum and a busy road along the Tiber river. The city plans to build a wide pedestrian area along the river and run the road underneath it. "It's an improvement," says Meier, adding that "the reason that wall was there has to do with traffic and noise. Once that is eliminated, the idea of opening the piazza to the river is a good one." The mayor’s office said Alemanno hopes to complete the project before the end of his term in 2013.
- Imperial cult
- Conlin, Diane Atnally 1997. The Artists of the Ara Pacis: The Process of Hellenization in Roman Relief Sculpture (Studies in the History of Greece and Rome University of North Carolina Press)
- Peter J. Holliday, "Time, History, and Ritual on the Ara Pacis Augustae" The Art Bulletin 72.4 (December 1990:542-557) doi:10.2307/3045761
- Rossini, Orietta 2006. Ara Pacis, Milan, Electa/.
- Official web site of the Ara Pacis Museum of Rome
- Comprehensive, high quality photo documentation of the Ara Pacis Augustae
- Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome: Ara Pacis
- The official web site of the Ara Pacis Museum in English
- Browser with high-quality images
- Several pages with photos of the sculpture
- "Roman Power and Roman Imperial Sculpture"
- Article concerning Meier's museum housing the Ara Pacis
- Article from the New York Times, September 25 2006, "An Oracle of Modernism in Ancient Rome" by Nicolai Ouroussoff
- Description from Richardmeier.com: Ara Pacis
- Ara Pacis Museum.com: Reference website devoted to the Ara Pacis and the Ara Pacis Museum