Ara Pacis Augustae, Significance & History
Among Rome’s attractions, the Ara Pacis certainly stands out, kept inside the clear white, linear-shaped pavilion, designed by architect Richard Meier in 2006. Inside this contemporary museum, located between the Roman Hills and the Tiber River, just 10 minutes far from the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo, there’s the Ara Pacis, an altar dedicated to the Roman Goddess of Peace.
The first fragments of the Ara Pacis were brought to light in 1568. Most of them went dispersed during the years to several museums, such as Villa Medici, the Vatican Museums and the Uffizi in Florence. After further discoveries, in 1888 the German art historian Friedrich von Duhn came to the conclusion that the fragments were part of the Ara Pacis mentioned by Augustus himself in the “Res Gestae”, a funerary inscription in which Augustus gave his first- person record of his life and accomplishments.
|Credits: image by @Roma_Wonder|
|Location: near the Spanish Steps|
Origin of Ara Pacis Augustae
The origin of the Altar dates back to 13th BC, when the Roman Senate commissioned the construction of the altar to honor Augustus, who was returning to Rome after three years of military campaign in Hispania and Gaul. This open-air altar did not serve just for sacrifice, but soon became the mean to spread a message about the cohesion and strength of the Augustan Empire.
Don not let the clear white structure fool you! In the past, the Ara Pacis was decorated and painted with bright colors to highlight the narration of the Imperial power.
Meaning of the Altar
The location of the Altar was also full of meaning. The Altar was indeed part of a larger complex, placed in proximity of the Horologium Augusti (sundial) and the Mausoleum of Augustus. The complex had the purpose to reflect the urban transformation of Rome and the restored peace Augustus had brought to the population after a long period of internal turmoil and against foreign enemies. This was also a significant breakpoint from the past. Augustus was indeed the first Emperor to have a monument built to celebrate peace instead of his military victories.
Celebrating the Royal Family
The panels surrounding the Altar (or Ara) are decorated with elaborated bas-reliefs, featuring a mix of mythological and historical narrative about Augustus and his administration. Its iconography has several levels of significance, and can be seen as a way to spread Augustus political propaganda.
The panel on the east side shows Augustus with the Imperial family organized following a hierarchical order.
The Ara Pacis is one of the few monuments in Rome where is possibile to actually see the faces of history, such as Livia, Augustus’s wife, Tiberius, Agrippa and Nero as a child, whose representations will be deleted from all the imperial monuments in Rome.
The variety of plants and flowers decorating the bottom panels were meant to remind to the people of Rome the prosperity and wealth that the new Pax Augustea had brought and will keep on bringing in the future to Rome.
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