Commissioned with all four exterior sides containing narrative

Commissioned by
the Senate in 13 BC, the Ara Pacis Augustae is a sacrificial and symbolic
monument, a representation of the Pax Romana
or the peace Augustus brought to Rome after concluding years of war. The Ara
Pacis is an almost square altar with all four exterior sides containing narrative
panels that detail not only the story of Rome and her foundation, but also the
role Augustus played in her strength. The four panels on the east and west
outer precinct walls in particular provide a figural illustration of the foundation
of Lavinium and Rome on the western wall (the main entrance) while the Pax Romana and depiction of abundance and
bounty reside on the eastern wall. When
looked at separately, the four panels – the Lupercal, Aeneas, Roma, and Tellus reliefs
– each lend their own symbology and authority to the Augustan altar. However,
must the reliefs be viewed individually or is a deeper meaning revealed when
elements of the panels are looked at in the context of the entire monument?
Though the individual sections are undoubtedly symbolic, it is when they are
examined as parts of a whole that the Ara Pacis reveals its true significance. The
presence of both mythological panels – Lupercal and Aeneas – and allegorical –
Roma and Tellus – illustrate two sides of the same story: one of Augustan
success, devotion, and association with mytho-historical ancestors. The outer
precinct walls of the Ara Pacis Augustae, especially those individuals
portrayed in the east and west panels, present a story of Augustan achievement in
the pax terra marique parta and his
standing as the second founder of the urbs,
connecting and “marking the distant past, the Augustan present, and the
immediate future” of Rome.1

1 J. Elsner, “Cult and Sculpture: Sacrifice in the Ara
Pacis Augustae”, Journal of Roman
Studies, vol. 81, 1991, p. 58.

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