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This webpage reproduces an article in
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 26, No. 3 (Jul.‑Sep. 1922), pp307‑315.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

p307 A Child Portrait of Drusus Junior
on the Ara Pacis

Child portraits probably do not throw much light on the character of the mature individual, yet their sentimental and personal interest is undeniable (witness the family album!), and if there be offered the opportunity of correcting, with reasonable probability, the accepted identification of such a portrait of a prince of the house of Augustus, it is tempting to make the trial.

The excavations of 1903 under the Palazzo Fiano, on the Roman Corso, led to the publication of a series of studies on the Ara Pacis, as a result of which our knowledge of the monument has been considerably advanced.1 Its general plan and appearance, as established by these researches, are familiar to students of Roman archaeology.a The altar itself was surrounded by a rectangular wall, some 37 by 33 feet in periphery and 20 feet in height, with doors at the east and west ends. The exterior of this wall was decorated with figured reliefs, some of which are still in situ, some undiscovered or represented by tantalizing fragments, and others in a good state of preservation in various European museums. Their arrangement has been the centre of controversy, but in general it is clear that the east and west ends were adorned with individual subjects,2 including the well-known Tellus, on p309panels flanking the doors, while on the north and south sides was represented the religious procession, a portion of which we are about to study. On each side, as in the case of the Panathenaic frieze of the Parthenon, the figures advance in the same direction, from east to west.

The relief which I wish to discuss is the famous one in the Uffizi, consisting of several slabs from the south side of the monument (Figs. 1 and 2).3 There is no absolutely conclusive proof that the family of Augustus is here represented. One may hold, with Gardthausen,4 that these persons of distinguished appearance, with the four attractive youngsters who parade so charmingly in the solemn procession, constitute merely a Volksgruppe. However, Gardthausen's view has not satisfied the majority of the critics, who point out that the group in question holds the place of honor immediately behind the flamines, and contrast the dignified charm of the individual figures, some of whose faces suggest strongly the Julio-Claudian features, with the less impressive and obviously less important personages of the north frieze. To the objection that the Hauptfigur of Augustus himself is not to be found in the group,5 it is answered that he is to be thought of as proceeding, accompanied by his immediate family, ahead of the flamines at the very forefront of the procession, on a slab of which we have only some small fragments. And indeed certain scholars claim to recognize his damaged portrait preserved upon them.6


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Figure 1. — South Frieze of the Ara Pacis.

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Figure 2. — South Frieze of the Ara Pacis.

As to the remaining figures, on the Uffizi slabs, it is true that widely varying identifications proposed by different scholars at different times tend at the outset to discourage further study. But as a matter of fact most of the earlier attempts were based on misconceptions which were largely cleared away in 1903 by p310Domaszewski,7 whose theory that we are dealing with a representation of small family groups, arranged in the order of their relationship to the emperor, has been generally accepted as a basis for subsequent criticism.

Since that time the tall military figure with the Claudian features (31 Petersen) has commonly been taken as a starting-point and identified as the elder Drusus,8 with his wife, the beautiful Antonia (28), looking back toward him, while she holds by the hand their child, the toddler Germanicus (29). Following this group there has been a strong disposition to see her older sister, Antonia maior (34), with her husband Lucius Domitius p311Ahenobarbus (37), and their two children, Gnaeus (33), to become the father of the emperor Nero, and an older sister of uncertain name (35). Though Gnaeus holds to his uncle's toga, the restraining position of his mother's right hand makes certain her relationship to him.9 And preceding the family of Drusus, on the adjoining slab, it has been difficult not to recognize his older brother Tiberius (26), whose features as here portrayed agree essentially with those of his accepted portrait busts. Who are the figures immediately preceding him, behind the flamines — I mean the fair lady (24), the tall priest (20), and the little boy with tunic and curls (22) in whom our study is centred? The tunic and curls show him clearly enough as playing the rôle of camillus to the tall priest, but his pose also suggests his connection with Tiberius and the fair lady, as well as with the feminine figure in the background (23), whose hand rests on his head.

It is in connection with these figures that scholars have been compelled to face a critical difficulty. We know from the fasti anni Iuliani10 and the res gestae of Augustus11 that the Ara Pacis was begun (constituta), with a ceremonial, July 4, 13 B.C., that the anniversary of this day was to be observed each year with a sacrifice attended by magistrates, priests, and Vestals, and finally that the altar was not formally dedicated (dedicata) until four years later, January 30, 9 B.C. Which of these religious ceremonies constitutes the setting of the procession represented on the relief? The answer to this question vitally affects the identification of the figures we are considering. for between 13 and 9 B.C., to be precise in the years 12‑11, occurred certain events which may well have affected the plans of those in charge of the design — namely, the death of Agrippa, which left Julia a widow, p312the consequent divorce (de convenance) of Tiberius and Vipsania, and the ensuing marriage of the widowed Julia with the unwilling Tiberius. How did the designers, acting doubtless under official guidance, solve the problem thus presented?

Domaszewski, defending the thesis that the relief represents those present at the ceremonial of 13,12 without change, recognizes the family group of Tiberius at that time,13 without raising the point of its somewhat shocking inappropriateness at the time of dedication four years later. The fair lady at Tiberius' side, according to this scholar, is his first wife, Vipsania; the tall priestly figure is her father Agrippa; and the woman in the background, whose hand rests on the boy's head, is her aunt, Agrippa's sister, Vipsania Polla. The boy, our tunicatus, he identifies as Agrippa's own son, and to be sure the younger one Lucius,14 though as a matter of fact both he and his brother Gaius had actually been adopted by Augustus in 17 B.C. Gaius, because of his seniority, he thinks of as accompanying Augustus and Livia on a missing portion of the relief.15 Drusus Junior, Tiberius' only son, is not mentioned.

Studniczka, on the other hand, supposes the designer to be looking forward to the final ceremony of the dedication as the setting of the relief,16 and to be making necessary adaptations as occasion demanded. He, therefore, recognizes in the fair lady Julia, Augustus' daughter and second wife of Tiberius. The priest, whose identification as Agrippa he follows Sieveking in rejecting,17 after a careful comparison with the accepted Agrippa portraits, he is content to think of as a promagister representing Augustus, pontifex maximus since 12 B.C., at this point in the procession. The feminine figure in the background becomes for him a nurse to the tunicatus, who remains Lucius Caesar,18 in attendance on his adoptive father's priestly representative. Gaius, as the older brother, is near Augustus himself, on p313a missing part of the fragmentary section.19 The question of the presence or absence of the younger Drusus is again not raised.

Of these two theories, that of Studniczka seems a priori the more probable, in view of the circumstances above outlined, and it unquestionably leads to the less embarrassing identifications. It cannot be doubted that the presence of Vipsania as the wife of Tiberius on a monument erected in the emperor's honor would have been an offense to the latter after Tiberius' marriage with his daughter Julia. Due regard may not improbably have been had for the peace of the immediate family, as a modest part of the greater pax Augusta, with the result that the figure originally designed as Vipsania was remodelled as Julia.20 Also the case against the Agrippa identification may be regarded as decided, though Studniczka's recognition of the priest as an anonymous promagister is, perhaps, not final. To be sure, Studniczka's conception of the designer with eye steadily fixed on a future ceremonial of uncertain date seems somewhat forced. One may prefer to think of him as having been compelled to alter certain details in his representation of the processional of 13 B.C., by reason of the rearrangements in the imperial house, with the probable result that the idea of definitely dating the event depicted was simply lost sight of. This is especially possible in view of the annual recurrence of the ceremony. However, Studniczka's main point, that changes took place in the design of the relief, seems almost inevitable.

It is my contention, nevertheless, that in the case of the little tunicatus Studniczka has failed to carry his theory to its logical conclusion. If we reject Agrippa, there is no pressing reason for continuing to regard the boy as his son, especially if there is a genuine claimant for the place. I see such a claimant in Drusus Junior, the son of Tiberius and Vipsania. It is true that we do not know the exact year of his birth. Gardthausen21 gives it as about 16 B.C., Bernoulli22 as 15, another scholar23 as still later. p314There is little to help us except the statement of Suetonius24 that Drusus' deductio ad forum was postponed until his father's return from the East, which was in the year 2 A.D., and our knowledge that this ceremonial ordinarily took place at the age of seventeen. Now we know that Germanicus was born in 15, and it is obvious that on the relief the figure of the tunicatus is the senior of that of the toddler, Germanicus, by two or three years. Are we to account for this by positing a somewhat earlier date for the birth of Drusus than any of those suggested? This is, perhaps, possible. But I find it easier to explain the apparent discrepancy by the theory, just reviewed, of the redesigning of the relief in 12‑11 B.C. For it is precisely the slab on which the supposed family of Tiberius is represented (15 Petersen) that would necessarily have been redesigned, while that upon which the toddler Germanicus appears would have required no change.25 Accepting this explanation, we find it altogether inconceivable that Drusus, a two- or three-year‑old in 13, should have been reportrayed as a four- or five-year‑old in 11, suiting precisely the figure of the tunicatus.

Applying the Drusus identification, now proved possible, we immediately recognize an unquestionably skilful treatment of a difficult problem — that of representing Drusus with Tiberius in Julia in such a manner as to suggest that Julia is not his mother. He is the focal point in the group, his pose indicating at once his service to the priest and his connection with his father and stepmother. But the maternity of Julia is subtly discounted by the clever device permitting the nurse in the background to lay her hand on his head, while Julia maintains a restrained, if kindly, attitude toward him. This is in striking contrast to the maternal gestures of the two Antonias toward their children, and was noticed by Domaszewski, who used it as an argument to prove that there was no relationship between the boy and the woman,26 though he was thinking of Vipsania and Lucius Caesar. His acknowledgment of such a relationship would have forced him to recognize the boy as Drusus; his denial of it inevitably suggests p315that recognition to one who admits the more reasonable premises of Studniczka.27

It will be remembered that Drusus married the toddler's younger sister Livilla, and grew up as a possible heir to the principate, only to be poisoned by Sejanus in 23 A.D. As for the place of Lucius Caesar in the relief, I hazard the suggestion that his figure may some day be found, with that of his brother Gaius, near Augustus and Livia, at the head of the procession. Studniczka conceives of the older son as ministering to his illustrious adoptive father, emperor and pontifex maximus in the garb of camillus.28 If Gaius holds the urceus, I am tempted to think of Lucius as carrying the acerra.

John R. Crawford

Lafayette College,

Easton, Pa.


The Author's Notes:

1 A. von Domaszewski, 'Die Familie des Augustus auf der Ara Pacis, Jh. Oest. Arch. I. VI, 1903, pp57 ff.; Mrs. Arthur Strong, Roman Sculpture from Augustus to Constantine (1907), pp39 ff.; J. Sieveking, 'Zur Ara Pacis Augustae' Jh. Oest. Arch. I. X, 1907, pp175 ff. F. Studniczka, 'Zur Ara Pacis,' Abh. Sächs. Ges. XXVII, 1909, Phil.-Hist. Kl., pp911 ff. E. Petersen's exhaustive study, Ara Pacis Augustae (1902), was unfortunately published in the year preceding these excavations.

2 It ought to be noted that the discussions of this question by Petersen and Mrs. Strong have been rendered obsolete by the suggestions of Sieveking and Studniczka, involving inter alia the exclusion of the Valle reliefs. Probably the correct arrangement is that outlined by Studniczka, with Tellus and the Dea Roma flanking the east door, and the ficus ruminalis and sacrifice of the sow by Aeneas in corresponding positions at the west. A. W. Van Buren, J. R. S. 1913, p134, suggests a tempting new identification of the "Tellus" figure as Italia.

3 Reproduced from photographs with Petersen's numbering of the figures (op. cit. taf. VI) which I have used in this article.

4 Augustus und seine Zeit 1.2 (1896), p855. Cf. Bernoulli, Römische Ikonographie 2.1 (1886) p262.

5 Amelung's identification of the priestly figure (Petersen 20) as Augustus, in his Führer durch die Antiken in Florenz (1897) p107, is impossible on comparison with the known portraits, and has found no supporters.

6 Sieveking, op. cit. p182 and fig. 57, warmly supported by Studniczka p916 and taf. IV, recognizes Augustus in the badly damaged veiled head of the Terme fragments, which Mrs. Strong p46 and pl. X doubtfully followed Petersen, Röm. Mitt. 1903, p331, in identifying as the rex sacrorum.

7 Pp61‑62. His theory is approved by Studniczka, op. cit. p909.

8 E.g. Studniczka, op. cit., p911, calls the Drusus figure "den sichern Ausgangspunkt." Even Petersen, op. cit. p106 had regarded it as "den festesten Anhaltspunkt."

9 Petersen, op. cit. p107 erred in including all three children (29, 33, and 35) in the family of Drusus, the younger boy as Claudius, the older as Germanicus, and the girl as Livilla. The restraining gesture of Antonia's right hand makes certain the grouping proposed by Domaszewski and thereafter undisputed.

10 Fast. Amit. ad 4. Iul. feriae ex s. c. quod eo die ara Pacis Augustae in campo Martio constituta est Nerone et Varo cos.; Fast. Praen. ad 30. Ian. feriae ex s. c. quod eo die ara Pacis Augustae in campo Martio dedicata est Druso et Crispino cos.

11 Mon. Anc. 2, 37‑41 (partially restored from the Greek text) cum ex Hispania Galliaque rebus in his provinciis prospere gestis Romam redii Ti. Nerone P. Quintilio consulibus, aram Pacis Augustae senatus pro reditu meo consecrari censuit ad campum Martium, in qua magistratus et sacerdotes et virgines Vestales anniversarium sacrificium facere iussit.

12 Domaszewski, op. cit. p57.

13 Domaszewski, op. cit. pp60, 62.

14 Domaszewski, op. cit. pp62, and 66 n51: "Caius besass den. . . . Vorrang des Alters. Deshalb ist der Knabe, der Agrippa begleitet, sicher Lucius Caesar." Gaius was born B.C. 20, Lucius B.C. 17.

15 Domaszewski, op. cit. p66 with n51.

16 Studniczka, op. cit. pp909‑910.

17 Cf. Sieveking, op. cit. p184. This rejection seems to me inevitable. It must be noted that Agrippa was never pontifex maximus.

18 Studniczka, op. cit. pp913, 915.

19 Studniczka, op. cit. p918.

20 I have disregarded Mrs. Strong's identification, Roman Sculpture, p48, following Petersen's optional view, Ara Pacis, p107, of this figure as Livia, to balance the supposed figure of Augustus on a slab since proved by Sieveking, p175, to have belonged to another monument than the Ara Pacis.

21 Augustus und seine Zeit, 1, 3 (1904) p1116 with notes 34‑35.

22 Römische Ikonographie 2, 1 (1886) p198 with references.

23 Stuart Jones, Roman Empire (1908) p33.

24 Suetonius, . 15: Romam reversus deducto in forum filio Druso . . . .

25 Studniczka, p911, recognizes the difficulty here raised by the babyish appearance of the Germanicus figure, but notes merely: "Hier macht sich eben ein etwas früherer Zeitpunkt der Ausführung bemerkbar, nichts sonst."

26 Domaszewski, op. cit. p62.

27 It is unnecessary to discuss the optional suggestion of Sieveking, op. cit. p184 that the boy is the grandson of Lepidus. His theory of the identification of the priest as the one time triumvir, who was pontifex maximus till his death in 12 B.C., has been discredited by Studniczka on political grounds. Moreover Sieveking himself prefers to recognize the boy as one of the imperial princes, and in either case the absence of the younger Drusus from the group remains unaccounted for.

28 Studniczka, op. cit. p918. He calls attention to a then recently discovered fragment of a camillus, which may deserve consideration in this connection. So far as I know it is still unpublished.


Thayer's Note:

a The article Ara Pacis in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, published a few years after this article, will serve nicely as an introduction.


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