Altar of Augustan Peace

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The Altar of Augustan Peace (Ara Pacis Augustae) is an ancient Roman altar in Rome dedicated to the Pax Romana. The monument was commissioned by the Roman Senate on July 4, 13 BCE to honour the return of Augustus to Rome after three years in Hispania and Gaul and consecrated on January 30, 9 BCE in a ceremony that marked Augustus' return to Rome after his victories.

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Overview

Originally constructed on the northern outskirts of Rome, a Roman mile from the boundary of the pomerium on the west side of the Via Flaminia, the Ara Pacis stood in the northeastern corner of the Campus Martius.

After it was first constructed, the Ara Pacis Augustae remained standing for several centuries. However, as the time passed, most likely during the Dark Ages, the altar fell into disrepair and was buried under sediment and debris.

It was not until the late sixteenth century CE that parts of the altar were rediscovered. Subsequent restoration and excavation efforts have allowed the Ara Pacis to be preserved and displayed in its current state.

It was reassembled in its current location, now the Museum of the Ara Pacis, in 1938 CE, turned 90° counterclockwise from its original orientation so that the original western side now faces south. In the following article modern orientation is used.

Architecture

circa 9 BCE

Structure
The entire structure is composed of two parts, first, at the heart of the monument is a conventional outdoor altar, second, a boundary wall that encircles the altar. The inner altar can be accessed through two gates on the eastern and western sides (referred to as such due to contemporary arrangement) by entrances, all intricately and exquisitely carved from Luna marble.

The inner facade of the enclosure walls, intricate carvings of ox skulls known as bucrania are adorned with hanging garlands (inspect). These garlands showcase an assortment of fruits from different plants, all presented on a single garland, symbolizing abundance and prosperity allegorically. The bucrania motifs themselves evoke the notion of devoted sacrifices, making them fitting themes for the interior of the altar precinct.

The exterior walls of the Ara Pacis display a dynamic contrast between allegorical and pseudo-historical relief panels on the upper section, while the lower part features scenes of nature: intertwining vines teeming with wildlife that symbolize a controlled natural environment (inspect).

The upper portion of the northern and southern walls portrays the emperor, his family, and the regime's members engaged in sacrificial processions or acts. Figures donning togas with covered heads (see N1) serve as both priests and sacrificants, while others wear laurel crowns (inspect)—a traditional Roman emblem of triumph. The religious significance is emphasized by the depiction of various priestly colleges in their distinctive attire, and lictors, identifiable by their iconographic fasces.

Women and children (inspect), a novel inclusion in Roman sculpture at the time, join the procession, conveying themes of moral and familial devotion and introducing potential heirs. Yet, despite the focus on family values, the anonymous portrayal of many women underscores the prevailing male dominance in this era of tranquility.

Relief Carvings

circa 9 BCE

Seated Goddess Pax or the Tellus Panel
It is the better preserved of the two panels on the modern day north wall (originally the eastern wall). The interpretation of the panel varies among the scholars and a controversial matter still debated. Scholars have variously suggested that the figure in the center represents goddess Italia, Tellus (mother earth), Venus Genetrix or Pax (Peace), although other views also circulate. The seated goddess has two children in her arms and is surrounded by various symbols of abundance, including plants and animals. Due to the widespread depiction around the sculpture of scenes of peace, and because the altar is named for "peace", the favoured conclusion is that the goddess is Pax.

On either side of the goddess two seated mythological figures are carved, representing Venti Marini and Venti Terrestres. The figure to the left of Mother Earth represents the land winds, riding on the back of a swan. The figure to the right of Mother Earth represents the sea winds, riding on the back of a sea serpent. It is one of the six narrative panels carved in the upper register around the altar's precinct wall.

circa 9 BCE

Aeneas and Numa Pompilius
This relatively well-preserved relief panel is part of the modern day southern (originally the western wall) frieze of the monument. The relief depicts Aeneas and Numa Pompilius engaged in a sacrificial ritual. In this scene, Aeneas is depicted offering a sacrifice to the Penates, the household deities that he rescued from the destruction of Troy. Positioned before him are two attendants, one holding a jug and a bowl, while the other presents a sow.

An alternate perspective suggests that the central figure might not be Aeneas but rather Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome.

Museum of Ara Pacis

circa 9 BCE

The Ara Pacis Museum (Museo dell'Ara Pacis), a specially designed and purpose-built museum in Rome, currently houses the reconstructed and preserved Ara Pacis Augustae. The museum was specifically created to house and protect the Ara Pacis altar while providing a controlled environment for visitors to appreciate this ancient masterpiece. The museum, designed by architect Richard Meier, is located on the eastern bank of the Tiber river, directed west of the Augustus' Mausoleum not far from its original location in the Campus Martius.

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References

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