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p30 Ara Pacis

Article on pp30‑32 of

Samuel Ball Platner (as completed and revised by Thomas Ashby):
A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome,
London: Oxford University Press, 1929.


Ara Pacis: * an altar erected by the senate in honour of the victorious return of Augustus from Spain and Gaul in 13 B.C., on which the magistrates, priests and Vestals should offer annual sacrifices (Mon. Anc. II.39‑41 (Lat.): Cum ex Hispania Galliaque rebus in his provincis prospere gestis Romam redi Ti. Nerone P. Quintilio consulibus aram Pacis Augustae senatus pro reditu meo consacrari censuit ad campum Martium in qua magistratus et sacerdotes et virgines Vestales anniversarium sacrificium facere iussit; ib. vi.20-vii.4 (Grk.)). The decree of the senate was dated 4th July, 13 B.C. (Fast. Amit. ad IV non. Iul., CIL I2 p244, 320: feriae ex s.c. quo[d eo] die ara Pacis Augustae constituta est (begun) Nerone et Varo cos.; Antiat. ib. 248), p31and dedicated 30th January, 9 B.C. (Fast. Caer. Praen. ad III kal. Febr., CIL I2 p212, 232; Fast. Verul. ap. NS 1923, 196; Ov. Fast. I.709‑710; Act. Arval. a. 38, CIL VI.2028; a.39 (?) ib. 32347a; HJ 612). Which of these ceremonies constitutes the setting of the procession represented on the reliefs is doubtful. The altar is represented on coins of Nero (Cohen 27‑31), and of Domitian (ib. 338), but is not mentioned elsewhere either in literature or inscriptions (for the discussion of these coins, see Kubitschek ap. Petersen, Ara Pacis 194‑196, and in Oesterr. Jahresh. 1902, 153‑164; cf. SR 1913, 300‑302, and also BM Imp. Nero, 360‑365).

This altar stood on the west side of the via Flaminia and some distance north of the buildings of Agrippa, on the site of the present Palazzo Peretti Fiano-Almagià at the corner of the Corso and the Via in Lucina. Fragments of the decorative sculpture, found in 1568, are in the Villa Medici, the Vatican, the Uffizi, and the Louvre; others, found in 1859, are in the Museo delle Terme and in Vienna. They were recognized as parts of the same monument by Von Duhn and published in 1881 (Ann. d. Inst. 1881, 302‑329; Mon. d. Inst. XI pls. 34‑36; for a fragment found in 1899 cf. NS 1899, 50; CR 1899, 234). Systematic excavations in 1903 under the palazzo (NS 1903, 549‑574; CR 1904, 331) brought to light other remains of the monument, both architectural and decorative. The work was not finished,a but carried far enough to permit of a reconstruction which is fairly accurate in its main features, although there are still unsolved problems in connection with the arrangement and interpretation of the reliefs. Most of the fragments then found are in the Museo delle Terme (PT 65‑68), though others still remain on the site.

The altar itself was not found. It stood within an enclosing wall of white marble, about 6 metres high, which formed a rectangle measuring 11.625 metres east and west, and 10.55 north and south (NS 190, 568). In the middle of the east and west sides were entrances flanked with pilasters, and other pilasters stood at each angle of the enclosure. The inside of the enclosing wall was decorated with a frieze of garlands and ox-skulls above a maeander pattern, beneath which was a panelling of fluted marble. A frieze of flowers and palmettes adorned the outside of the enclosure and above this on the north side were reliefs representing the procession in honour of the goddess, with many figures of the imperial family and the flamines, and, on the south, senators, magistrates and others (Reinach, Répertoire des Reliefs I.232‑237).º On the north side of the east entrance was a group of Honos, Pax and Roma, while on the south was a relief of Tellus, or Italia (Van Buren, JRS 1913, 134‑141). The dates forbid us to suppose that the Ara Pacis inspired Horace when he was writing Carm. Saec. 29‑32; and it is therefore probable that both were inspired by a lost monument with a group of Tellus, which is more closely reproduced in a relief at Carthage (Loewy in Atti del Congresso di Studi Romani, Rome 1928). The west entrance was flanked on the north by a group of Mars and Faustulus at the Ficus Ruminalis (?) and on the south by Aeneas sacrificing when he found the sow. An ingenious attempt has been made to explain the architectural and decorative scheme of the enclosure as a reproduction in marble of the temporary wooden enclosure of the site and the ceremony p32of consecration on 4th July, B.C. 13 (Pasqui, SR 1913, 283‑304). The reliefs of this altar represent the highest achievement of Roman decorative art that is known to us. (For the discussion and interpretation of the monument and its reliefs, see Petersen, Mitt. 1894, 171‑228; Sonderschrift d. oesterr. Inst. ii.1902, published separately as Ara Pacis Augustae, Vienna 1902; Mitt. 1903, 164‑176, 330; Oesterr. Jahresh. 1906, 298‑315; Reisch, WS 1902, 425‑436; v. Domaszewski, Oesterr. Jahresh. 1903, 57‑65; Gardthausen, Der Altar des Kaiserfriedens, Ara Pacis, Lpz. 1908; Dissel, Der Opferzug der Ara Pacis, progr. Hamburg, 1907; Strong, Scultura R. 17‑65; Cannizzaro, Boll. d' Arte, 1907, 1‑16; Wace, PBS V.176‑178; Sieveking, Oesterr. Jahresh. 1907, 175‑190; Beiblatt 107; Mitt. 1917, 90‑93; Studniczka, Abh. d. sächs. Gesellsch. 1909, 901‑944; Wagenvoort, Med. 1921, 108; Crawford, AJA 1922, 307; Rizzo, Atti Acc. di Napoli, 1920, 1‑21; Capitolium, II.457‑473; Mon. Piot, xvii (1910), 157‑187.)


Thayer's Note:

a Platner's Ara Pacis entry is one of those that has been largely superseded: a complete and final excavation was done after he wrote. Richardson, s.v. 'Pax Augusta, Ara':

"In 1937‑1938, thanks to a technique of freezing the waterlogged soil surrounding the area, it became possible to excavate the remains completely and to rebuild the foundations of the palazzo. Thus everything recoverable has now been recovered. The altar was then carefully studied and reconstructed, using casts when the original pieces could not be obtained, although not in its original location or orientation."

The Altar's new location seems fairly fitting, next to the Mausoleum of Augustus, as a sort of testimony to the first Roman emperor. The omen was one that the then government of Italy should have avoided, however: they removed Peace from the main street of their capital, and associated her with a tomb. It is a curious fact that Italy was never at peace again after that until that government had been removed.

As for the new orientation, it was rotated roughly 90 degrees counter-clockwise, so that the west or principal entrance to the enclosure now faces south; this should be borne in mind when reading descriptions of the monument, or indeed when viewing websites.


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Page updated: 29 Mar 07