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ARA PACIS AUGUSTAE. Historical Relief and Roman Mythmaking. Facts about the ARA PACIS. Altar of Augustan Peace Located in the Campus Martius, Rome Decreed by the Senate to celebrate Augustus’ return from Spain and Gaul Foundation stone laid on 4th July 13 BCE

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ara pacis augustae


Historical Relief and Roman Mythmaking

facts about the ara pacis
Facts about the ARA PACIS
  • Altar of Augustan Peace
  • Located in the Campus Martius, Rome
  • Decreed by the Senate to celebrate Augustus’ return from Spain and Gaul
  • Foundation stone laid on 4th July 13 BCE
  • Dedicated by the Senate in honor of Augustus’ creation of the Pax Romana in 30 January 9 BCE (Livia’s birthday)
  • Part of a complete architectural program with the Mausoleum of Augustus, his ustrinum, an obelisk that acted as the central arm of a sundial
  • One of the great Roman historical reliefs; others include Trajan’s column, arch of Septimius Severus in Leptis Magna.
res gestae divi augusti the accomplishments and achievements of the divine augustus
Res Gestae Divi AugustiThe Accomplishments and Achievements of the Divine Augustus
  • Res Gestae 12
  • “On my return from Spain and Gaul, after successfully restoring law and order to these provinces, the Senate decided under the consulship of Tiberius Nero and Publius Quintilius to consecrate the Ara Pacis Augustae on the Campus Marius in honor of my return, at which officials, priests, and Vestal Virgins should offer an annual sacrifice.”
plan of ara pacis augustae
Plan of Ara Pacis Augustae
  • The building is a marble precinct wall that surrounds a grand and elaborate altar, on a high podium.
  • Doors face east and west - symbolic of the extent of empire
  • Shadow of sundial on Augustus’ birthday
decorative scheme i

East side

Pax (Venus or Tellus)


Sun rises on new Roman Empire

West side


Romulus and Remus

Sun sets on legendary hero-founders


North side




South side

imperial family

Augustus, Agrippa


Decorative Scheme I
decorative scheme ii
Exterior lower half

exuberant floral motif

combination of extraordinary flowers and fruits

vegetation climbing the walls

Apollo symbolism

Interior relief

garlands of an abundance of fruits, leaves, and flowers

bucrania of sacrificed cows

imitation of rustic shrine



Vestal virgins

Decorative Scheme II
west side aeneas
West Side: Aeneas
  • Sacrificing as in Aeneid III.389
  • White sow, 30 piglets
  • Temple to Penates in background
  • Iulus (aka Ascanius) - gens Julius
  • Camilli, attendants at the sacrifice
west side romulus and remus
West Side: Romulus and Remus
  • Very fragmentary
  • Faustulus
  • Mars - fig tree, woodpecker
  • Suckling of twins at wolf
east side venus tellus pax
East Side:Venus, Tellus, Pax
  • Controversial identification of female figure
  • Her crown of corn and pomegranate
  • Cupidesque babies in lap
  • Reclining cow, sheep
  • Aurae
    • swan
    • sea monster
pax romana
  • Images of abundance, fertility, fecundity, pastoralism, golden age
north side religious personnel
North Side: Religious Personnel
  • Camilli
  • acerra, pitcher
  • others might be priests
  • Four priestly colleges: pontifices, augures, XV viri sacris faciundis, VII viri epulones.
  • Leading in Julia and Lucius Caesar (b. 12 BCE)
  • Heavily restored; IDs invalid
  • Mixture of piety and politics
south side julio claudian family
South Side: Julio-Claudian Family
  • Moving from East to West
  • More fragmentary on west side
  • Recognizable portraits
augustus and the flamines
Augustus and the Flamines
  • Augustus. Partially destroyed.
  • Not marked out. Primus inter pares. Princeps.
  • 4 Flamines: galena, laena.
julio claudians i marcus agrippa
Julio-Claudians I: Marcus Agrippa
  • Gaius Caesar (b. 20 BCE)
  • Ludus Troiae (Vergil, Aen. V.556 - 559)
  • Livia, Tiberius, Antonia Minor, Drusus.
Agrippa, Gaius Caesar, Livia, Tiberius, Antonia Minor, Germanicus, Drusus, Antonia Maior, Gnaeus Lucius Ahenobarbus
julio claudians ii the children
Julio-Claudians II: The Children
  • Germanicus
  • Antonia Maior
    • Domitia
    • Gnaeus
exterior frieze
Exterior Frieze
  • Vine tendrils develop into volutes
  • Mix of acanthus flower, ivy, vine leaves and grapes
  • Hidden frogs, birds, lizards, snakes in the grass
  • Allusion to the saeclum aureum, Golden Age. (Vergil, Eclogue IV)
  • Deliberate branching and balancing to reflect Julio-Claudian family.
  • Swan is Apollo’s bird
  • Symbolism validates Augustus’ reign
hidden animals
Hidden Animals
  • Bird and lizard
  • Lizard and snake attacking nest of birds.
  • Anguis in herbis Snake in the grass
interior swags
Interior Swags
  • Imitation of rustic shrine
  • Bucrania - skulls of sacrificed cattle
  • Swags
    • each one is different
    • grapes, figs, apples, pears, olives, plums, pine cones, and pomegranates - and vegetation - oak, ivy, laurel, and poppies
  • Ends of the altar are scrolls supported by griffins (winged lions)
  • Sacrifice
  • Vestal Virgins
  • Enactment in stone of yearly sacrifice to Pax Romana
  • Symbolic themes: family, piety, peace, fertility and abundance
  • First relief with presence of children
  • Setting up of a dynasty
  • Placing it and justifying it with mythological precedents