Mine is the altar of augustan peace. Augustus was the first roman emperor. Before his rule as emperor, he had to defeat Marc Antony in an enourmous
civil war that was very devastating. Before that, he and Marc Antony had to fight the assasins of Julius Caesar in another wide spanning and
destructive civil war. Before that, J. Caesar fought Pompey the Great in another civil war that wrecked the state. Before that
, a dictator
named Sulla took over the country and went through, as dictators so often do, a massive purge of his enemies, which was also wildly destructive.
Before even that
, Marius, an uncle of J.Caesar I beleive, also made himself dictator. During all of this various senators engaged in other
violent state-wide behaviour.
So when Augustus came to power, people would've been reasonable to think 'more of the same'. The system that he commanded was very unstable.
Augustus' reign is the begining of the pax Romana
, a long period of peace and civil quietude. One of the ways he controlled the system and
brought about this situation was with the Altar Of Peace, the Ara Pacis
This was a monument put up in the city that the people would file past and look at, much like it is today in its museum. Religious ceremonies ( i
beleive) would be performed too.
Here is a sketch with the outside partially removed.
Here's another great shot
The altar is richly decorated with designs, and also a procession of people that wraps around part of it, showing traditional heros, some of the city
potentates, and the family of augustus. The procession is divided in to a senatorial procession and a imperial family procession, and where thy meet
is aneas, the founder of the state, immortalized as such in the epic poem Augustus commisions from Virgil.
Here are some details.
This is a detail of the vegetables profusely 'growing' all over the altar. I don't think it takes much to see that this is in itself a symbol of
peaceable affairs and natural order. The whole altar is covered with acanthus flower and ivy vines, which are even today a symbol of respectability
and authority, like the Ivy League Colleges.
This garland is a representation in stone of what is thought to be an actual sort of thing that would be set up during a holiday. It wouldn't be as
macabre to the roman public as it is to us, its sort of like 'decking the halls with boughs of holly', and the cow is a farm animal and represents
Here is the imperial family in procession. Notice inthe whole procession series that peopel are dressed traditionally and respectfully and piously in
their clean and properly arranged togas. Also notice that some people have their heads covered, a sign of humility and piousness before god. This is
augustus empahsizing that the family is goodly and godly and thoroughly roman and its natural that they are leading the state and that he is primus
, not super-leader, but 'first amoung
equals', a natural
leader. This procession is also based on a procession from the
Parthenon, and is thus doubly calling to the old virtues of classical civilization (versus, say, the disorderly oriental mystery cults that were
popping up). The family procession is actually subdivided into a Younger and Older generation portions, thus also showing that augustus is a good old
family man. It also emphasises, with the youths, that a big family is a good thing, which is was, for the state, which was having a shortage of
manpower, for the army yes, but also just to exist within the state. He's encouraging the roman populace themselves to have abundance in children and
promoting the family as a unit of stability for the public and state.
Here is augustus, surrounded by the sacrosanct (ie its immoral and illegal to touch them) Lictors, who carry the fasces, the symbol of the unity of
the roman state.
Here is Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of the city itself, augustus has everyone lining up for him and he's pulling on every mythical and
symbol string of the roman people
The dual procession ends with Aeneas, which is paradoxically the begining of the State, this might be another technique of alluding to divine unity of
the Roman civilization.
We see aeneas, doing a very pious thing, sacrificing to the gods, who are literally larger than life.
This is a prime portion of the altar. Its an allegory of peace and abundance. I see it marked as a releif of 'Tellus', which is actually another
word for the earth (ground and planet).
The animals are barnyard animals familiar to the romans, a cow, sheep/lamb, geese. The plants are crop plants in a good variety. This represents a
veritable horn of plenty. Ineed, the entire theme of the releif is abundance. The woman in the middle carries two twins. One might think that this
is Roma holding perhaps romulus and remus, but rather its more likely that the woman isn't a goddess. Its an allegorical representation of Tellus,
the earth, or Peace 'herself' The two figures to her side are divine, as evidenced by their partial nudity and beign supported by winds, with their
clothes blowing in the air. To the lower left, there is a knocked over jar, a steady stream of water flowing out of it. This is, in the
supersitutious times, thought to be whats at the source of rivers and streams. Everything in this panel screams out Peace! Prosperity! Goodness!
Things are as they should!
Whats also really intersting is that this emphasises the Pastoralism over urbanism, even though its set up in one of the most urban cities in the
world and viewed by urbanites. That is because the pastoral world is associated with, peace and virtue and contentment, whereas the urban world is
associated with vice and dissatisfaction (for the classical era if not now).
Here's a detail on the godess with the twins, you can see that her lap is full of abundant fruit.
The twins also on their own represent fecundity and abundance; a family that has twins in these times is thought to be blessed with fortune.
And you could probably see the Ara Pacis again and again and find all sorts of stuff that you never saw before or notice the first few times, like
this small snake in a natural setting
[edit on 14-12-2005 by Nygdan]