Ara Pacis Augustae
Museo dell'Ara Pacis
lungotevere in Augusta (angolo via Tomacelli) - 00100 Roma (RM)

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Cooperativa IL SOGNO - Viale Regina Margherita, 192 - 00198 ROMA
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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 a visual reminder of the Julio-Claudian dynasty that was bringing it about.

The Altar
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, some of which 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.

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, 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 Figures
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 thanksgiving to celebrate the Peace created by Augustus. These figures fall into four categories: lictors (men carrying fasces, something like bodyguards); priests (three of the four major collegii — Pontifices, Septemviri, and Quindecemviri): women and children (generally from the imperial family); 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 center 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 reconstructed at its present site, workers[citation needed] 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 makes the most sense since the entire scene depicts the benefits of peace, and the monument is the "Altar of Peace," not the "Altar of Italy" or "the Altar of Earth." The exact identity of the goddess remains debated, however.[citation needed]

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. A century ago this scene was identified by Anton von Domaszewski[citation needed] as the moment when Aeneas, newly arrived in Italy, sacrificed a sow and her piglets to Juno, as told by Vergil and others. This identification was enthusiastically accepted by scholars at once. In the 1960s, Stephan Weinstock challenged this identification (and the very identity of the entire monument), citing numerous discrepancies that Domaszewski and his followers had failed to notice between Vergil's version and the panel. Subsequently, Paul Richardson proposed,[citation needed] and Paul Rehak later published[citation needed] an alternate identification of the scene as Numa Pompilius, the Roman king associated with Peace and the Gates of Janus. This new interpretation is slowly gaining ground among scholars.

North Wall
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, among whom Augustus and Agrippa 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 and Conlin have proven, in-site examination reverals 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, lead 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. An additional youth wearing Hellenistic Greek style clothing suited to a Hellenistic prince is sometimes identified as Gaius Caesar in the guise of a camillus, an adolescent attendant of the Flamen Dialis.

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. The first fragmentary sculptures were rediscovered in 1568, and have found their way to the Villa Medici, the Vatican, the Uffizi and the Louvre. In 1859 further sculptural fragments were found, and the sculptures were recognized as having belonged to the same monument. Friedrich von Duhn recognized that the reliefs belonged to the Ara Pacis, known from Augustus' memoir. In 1938 Benito Mussolini built a protective building for the Altar, as it had been reconstructed by Giuseppe Moretti, 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.

There is now a new cover building on the same site as Mussolini's. Designed by modern American architect Richard Meier, the new building was opened in 2006 and has proved somewhat controversial, the New York Times describing the result as "a flop", and the sitting mayor Walter Veltroni's opponent Gianni Alemanno stated that (if elected) he would tear the structure down. Veltroni, however, has kept it and even used it to host a 45th anniversary exhibition of designs by Valentino Garavani, beginning in June 2007.

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Info and reservation:

Cooperativa IL SOGNO - Viale Regina Margherita, 192 - 00198 ROMA
Tel. 06/ - Fax 06/

Email :

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Info and reservation:

Cooperativa IL SOGNO - Viale Regina Margherita, 192 - 00198 ROMA
Tel. 06/ - Fax 06/

Email :