Ara Pacis

The Ara Pacis Augustae is an altar in Rome dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace. The monument was commissioned by the Roman Senate on July 4, 13 BC to honor the return of Augustus to Rome after three years in Hispania and Gaul and consecrated on January 30, 9 BC. Located 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, the former flood plain of the Tiber River and became buried under 4 metres of silt deposits, it was reassembled in its current location, now the Museum of the Ara Pacis, in 1938. The altar reflects the Augustan vision of Roman civil religion; the lower register of its frieze depicts vegetal work meant to communicate the abundance and prosperity of the Roman Peace, while the monument as a whole serves a civic ritual function whilst operating as propaganda for Augustus and his regime, easing notions of autocracy and dynastic succession that might otherwise be unpalatable to traditional Roman culture.

The monument consists of a traditional open-air altar at its center surrounded by precinct walls which are pierced on the eastern and western ends by openings and elaborately and finely sculpted in Luna marble. Within the enclosing precinct walls, the altar itself was carved with images illustrating the lex aria, the law governing the ritual performed at the altar; the sacrificial procession depicts animals being led to sacrifice by figures carved in a Republican style similar to the so-called "Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus", in sharp contrast with the style on the exterior of the precinct walls. What remains of the altar is otherwise fragmentary, but it appears to have been functional with less emphasis on art and decoration; the interior of the precinct walls are carved with bucrania, ox skulls, from which carved garlands hang. The garlands bear fruits from various types of plants, all displayed on a single garland as allegorical representations of plenty and abundance; the bucrania in turn evoke the idea of sacrificial piety, appropriate motifs for the interior of the altar precinct.

The lower register of the interior walls imitate the appearance of traditionally wooden altar precincts, which were meant to bring to mind other such altars in Rome and the tradition of constructing altars at the boundary of the city's pomerium. The exterior walls of the Ara Pacis are divided between allegorical and pseudo-historical relief panels on the upper register while the lower register comprises scenes of nature: harmonic, intertwined vines that contain wildlife and connote nature under control; the upper register of the northern and southern walls depict scenes of the emperor, his family, members of the regime in the act of processing to or performing a sacrifice. Various togate figures are shown with their heads covered, signifying their role as both priests and sacrificiants. Other figures wear traditional Roman symbols of victory. Members of individual priestly colleges are depicted in traditional garb appropriate to their office, while lictors can be identified by their iconographic fasces.

Women and children are included among the procession. The western and eastern walls are both pierced by entryways to the altar, although the interior would only have been accessed by a stairway on the western side; the entryways were flanked by panels depicting allegorical or mythological scenes evocative of peace and tradition. On the eastern wall, panels depicted the seated figures of Roma and Pax, while the western side depicts the discovery of the twins and she-wolf and the sacrifice of a figure traditionally identified as Aeneas, but believed to be Rome's second king, Numa Pompilius; the identity of these various figures has been a point of some controversy over the years, relying on interpretation of fragmentary remains, discussed below. The sculpture of the Ara Pacis is symbolic rather than decorative, 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, their emphasis and promulgation of 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, 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. Peter Holliday suggested that the Altar's imagery of the Golden Age discussed as mere poetic allusion, appealed to a significant component of the Roman populace; the program of the Ara Pacis addressed this group's real fears of cyclical history, promised that the rule of Augustus would avert the cataclysmic destruction of the world predicted by contemporary models of historical thought. 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 Roma 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 bee

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Monterrey Center for Higher Learning of Design

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