Ara Pacis Augustae (Rome, 1st century BC)

Ara Pacis Augustae (Rome, 1st century BC)

The Altar of Peace, commissioned during the reign of Augustus, was one of the most important works of ancient Roman art.

History

Keywords

Ara Pacis, Augustan, Augustus, Ara Pacis Augustae, Pax, altar, peace agreement, Rome, Római Birodalom, Campus Martius, building, edifice, architecture, religion, relief, marble, frieze, Hispania, Gaul, senate, ceremonial procession, mythology, deities, art, antiquity, history

Related items

Scenes

The altar

  • processional frieze (north wall) - This processional frieze consists of 46 figures from lictors, priests, senators to members of the imperial family including Lucius Caesar (grandson of Augustus), Julia the Elder (daughter of Augustus), Octavia Minor (sister of Augustus) and Iullus Antonius (stepson of Octavia Minor).
  • carved ornament - The scrolling acanthus frieze on the outside of the wall contains acanthus leaves, flowers and birds, including Apollo’s swan which was one of Augustus’ favourites. Their symmetry symbolises the harmony of nature.
  • meander border
  • Lupercal panel - This panel depicts the scene when Faustulus, the shepherd, discovers Romulus and Remus who are being nursed by the she-wolf. Meanwhile Mars, the god of war, is overseeing them. The name of the panel originates from Lupercal, the cave of the she-wolf.
  • main entrance
  • Aeneas panel - One theory suggests that the central figure in this panel is the Trojan hero, Aeneas, who makes offerings to the household gods (Penates). This can be justified by Virgil’s Aeneid, a story in which Aeneas is said to have sacrificed a sow and thirty piglets upon his arrival in Italy. However, there is another theory according to which the central figure in this panel is Numa Pompilus, the peaceful second king of Rome. This can be justified by the fact that there is a building in the background very similar to that of the Temple of Janus with its closed gates.
  • Augustus - He was the first Roman emperor who ruled from 27 BC to 14 AD and laid the foundations of Pax Romana or Roman Peace.
  • monument - It consists of two parts, the altar proper resting on a stepped podium and the wall. The sides of the 4.6-m-tall rectangular monument measure 11.62 and 10.62 m.
  • processional frieze (south wall) - This processional frieze consists of priests and other attendants as well as Augustus, Marcus Vipsanianus Agrippa (son-in-law of Augustus), Livia Drusilla (wife of Augustus), Tiberius (adopted son of Augustus), Antonia the Younger (younger niece of Augustus), Nero Claudius Drusus (stepson of Augustus), Antonia the Elder (older niece of Augustus) and Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus (general of Augustus).
  • Tellus panel - Surrounded by the atmosphere of fertility and prosperity, the seated central figure depicts a goddess, probably the goddess of the Earth, Tellus Mater (or Terra Mater). On her right is a figure riding on the back of a swan that represents land winds while on her left is a figure sitting on a sea serpent representing sea winds. It implies that these three figures may be an allegory of earth, water and air. Other theories hold that the central figure may represent Italia, Venus (goddess of love) or Pax (goddess of peace). The last theory about Pax can be justified by the very purpose for building the altar.
  • Roma panel - This panel depicts a female warrior sitting on a pile of the enemies’ weapons thus bringing about peace. It is widely held that the female figure is the goddess Roma, the personification of the city of Rome as well as the empire.
  • entrance

Ara Pacis Augustae

The altar was named after the period of Augustan Peace, which was established by Augustus, the first Roman emperor. It was commissioned by the Senate in 13 BC, and the construction was completed in 9 BC. Carved by the most talented artists of the Augustan period, the monument commemorates Augustus's return from military campaigns in Hispania and Gaul. The altar, dedicated to Pax, the goddess of peace, stood in the Campus Martius, not far from the Via Flaminia.

The altar proper, made of Luna marble (or Carrara marble), rests on a podium and is surrounded by a wall, which features finely carved reliefs on the inner and outer surfaces. On the outside of the north and south faces of the wall, where there are no entrances, processional friezes depict priests, senators and officials as well as Augustus and other members of the imperial family. Mythological scenes decorate the wall flanking the doorways.

The four main panels feature important figures tied to the city of Rome. The lower parts of the outside of the wall are decorated with carved acanthus plants, the symmetry of which symbolises the harmony of nature. The inside of the wall is decorated with carved ox skulls (bucrania), symbolising sacrificial offerings, as well as garlands interlaced with fruits.

After the fall of Rome, sediment from the Tiber River buried the monument. Fragments of the altar were only found in the 16th century while a palace was being built.

The reliefs on the altar broke into pieces and ended up in a number of different places throughout the world. During the modern period, more and more pieces were found. Finally, in 1937–1938, the base was excavated, fragments of the reliefs were collected from other parts of the world, and the altar was reconstructed. Today, the Ara Pacis is found not at its original location, but in the Museum of the Ara Pacis, near the Mausoleum of Augustus.

The interior

  • altar side wing - This archaic-style crowning slab is decorated with winged lions (or griffons) and volutes (scrolls), showing a Hellenistic influence.
  • decorated wall - Inside, the upper part of the wall is decorated with carved garlands interlaced with fruits, and ox skulls symbolising sacrificial offerings. There were sacrificial bowls (libation bowls, or paterae) above the garlands. The lower part of the wall symbolises a wooden fence that would surround a traditional Roman sacrificial altar.
  • Vestal Virgins - They were the priestesses of Vesta who looked after the sacred fire. They lived in Vesta’s temple in the Forum Romanum. Vesta was the goddess of the hearth, home and family; her Greek counterpart is Hestia.
  • ox skull
  • Corinthian column
  • garland

Top view

  • stepped podium
  • altar
  • wall - The open-air altar is surrounded by a wall (precinct wall). There are two doorways on the eastern and western fronts of the wall through which the altar can be approached.

Animation

  • carved ornament - The scrolling acanthus frieze on the outside of the wall contains acanthus leaves, flowers and birds, including Apollo’s swan which was one of Augustus’ favourites. Their symmetry symbolises the harmony of nature.
  • meander border
  • main entrance
  • Augustus - He was the first Roman emperor who ruled from 27 BC to 14 AD and laid the foundations of Pax Romana or Roman Peace.
  • stepped podium
  • altar

Narration

Ara Pacis Augustae

The altar was named after the period of Augustan Peace, which was established by Augustus, the first Roman emperor. It was commissioned by the Senate in 13 BC, and the construction was completed in 9 BC. Carved by the most talented artists of the Augustan period, the monument commemorates Augustus's return from military campaigns in Spain and Gaul. The altar, dedicated to Pax, the goddess of peace, stood in the Campus Martius, not far from the Via Flaminia.

The altar proper, made of Luna marble (or Carrara marble), rests on a podium and is surrounded by a wall, which features finely carved reliefs on the inner and outer surfaces. On the outside of the north and south faces of the wall, where there are no entrances, processional friezes depict priests, senators and officials as well as Augustus and other members of the imperial family. Mythological scenes decorate the wall flanking the doorways.

The four main panels feature important figures tied to the city of Rome. The lower parts of the outside of the wall are decorated with carved acanthus plants, the symmetry of which symbolises the harmony of nature. The inside of the wall is decorated with carved ox skulls (bucrania), symbolising sacrificial offerings, as well as garlands interlaced with fruits.

After the fall of Rome, sediment from the Tiber River buried the monument. Fragments of the altar were only found in the 16th century while a palace was being built.

The reliefs on the altar broke into pieces and ended up in a number of different places throughout the world. During the modern period, more and more pieces were found. Finally, in 1937–1938, the base was excavated, fragments of the reliefs were collected from other parts of the world, and the altar was reconstructed. Today, the Ara Pacis is found not at its original location, but in the Museum of the Ara Pacis, near the Mausoleum of Augustus.

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