This web publication honors all those who have worked
to bring the Ara Pacis so impressively back to life.
The Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace), known as the "Ara Pacis", is a world famous Roman monument housed in a new museum opened in 2006, the Museo dell'Ara Pacis. The Ara Pacis has undergone extensive changes since first constructed in 13-9 BCE during the reign of Augustus. Like much of ancient Rome, it was gradually covered by earth and later buildings and was even forgotten for many centuries. During the long, complicated process of rediscovery, the most transforming event was the remarkable excavation and reconstruction of much of the Ara Pacis at a new location in 1937-38. It remains in this new location, between the Tiber River and the Mausoleum of Augustus, with hundreds of small changes and restorations, but largely as reconstructed at that time. The new museum building dramatically improves the conditions under which the Ara Pacis is preserved from further deterioration. The Ara Pacis continues to provide one of the primary sources for our understanding of Augustan art, social structure and political history.
Purpose of this Website
The main purpose of this website is to make available a larger, more comprehensive body of high quality images of the Ara Pacis Augustae than previously available in any print or web publication. This includes images of the monument itself, of the Museo dell’Ara Pacis in which the altar is newly housed and displayed, and of closely related materials.
I think of this website partly as a supplement to the superb 2006/2009 volume, Ara Pacis, by Orietta Rossini, Responsabile Ufficio Ara Pacis, which provides authoritative, up-to-date reviews of all aspects of the monument, with outstanding illustrations. This is now the single most informative volume about the Ara Pacis.
A Changing Monument
It is natural to think of the Ara Pacis as a permanent monument, fixed in time and place. This website attempts to present it as an actively changing creation, revealing not only concepts of Augustan Rome, but also of later times and places including our own.
In recent years, scholars have become increasingly aware of the extent to which important aspects of the 1938 restoration were necessarily speculative. Because so few fragment, in some cases none, survived for major sections of the structure and reliefs, a visually complete monument could only be created by informed but hypothetical judgments. Even this was possible only because of the world leading expertise of Italian archaeologists and restorers at the time. It is remarkable what was accomplished under extreme pressure in less than a year. This was one of the most impressive accomplishments of 20th century archaeology. Nevertheless, interpretations of the Ara Pacis are now being revisited, based on additional evidence, including study of the hundreds of choices, large and small, made in the 1938 reconstruction. In some cases this has resulted in scholalry concensus regarding more convincing placement of parts, more likely spacing of relief slabs, and proposals for more characteristic architectural forms. Each of these has affected our understanding of the Ara Pacis and its interpretation.
Instead of a simple archive, this website organizes images in closely related groupings, encouraging comparisons among original marble sections, later marble and concrete additions, and plaster casts; between alternative proposals for the reconstruction of reliefs; between the appearance of the Ara Pacis today and how it might have looked brightly painted in Augustan times; and between the 1938 and 2006 buildings constructed to house the Ara Pacis. Two or more images may be opened at the same time for comparison.
The main audience I have in mind is college and university students and faculty. This website was partly inspired by the fabled freshman humanities course at Reed College, in which it was my privilege to teach for several years. This is a year-long, interdisciplinary course, taught by faculty from a range of disciplines, focusing on the development of culture in the ancient Mediterranean, especially those of ancient Greece and Rome. At the same time, I hope that the ready availability of drawings, prints, and early photographs, and of hundreds of recent details not otherwise available, will facilitate the work of scholars, on whose publications this web site so heavily depends.
Terminology and Interpretation
The titles, captions and text on this website favor the most up-to-date scholarly consensus on identifications and descriptions. There is no engagement with the ongoing scholarly debates regarding identification of persons represented and political interpretation that have so enriched our understanding of Augustan art and society. We must constantly remind ourselves that many aspects of interpretation must remain hypothetical. Publications on the Ara Pacis are, quite properly, sprinkled with phrases such as “generally recognized as”, “has recently been challenged”, “leaving much room for doubt”, “it may also be read as”, “there are two proposals”, "cannot be accepted without hesitation", and “less”, “equally”, and “very likely”. These images are provided partly to support these continuing re-evaluations. In the text on the thumbnail image pages, a few suggestions are made for revisions in terminology and restoration.
Structure of the Website
This website attempts to combine the advantages of book and web publication. The basic structure is that of an academic book, taking advantage of standard features that have been developed and tested over the years. Thus, the contents page, comparable to a sitemap, attempts to make the organization of the material as clear as possible, and the material within is organized in what might be thought of as brief chapters and pages. In the text section, there is a chronology, bibliography, and an alphabetical index, almost never seen on web sites, but a useful feature of all scholarly books. At the same time, this website takes advantage of many of the revolutionary advantages of web publication; such as the ability to link both within and without a web site, and, most importantly, the remarkable ability of the web to publish over a thousand large, high quality color images, well-beyond the financial possibilitiy of print publication, and to make these available worldwide to anyone with access to a computer and the internet. The digital revolution is comparable to the invention of printing, photography, and the airplane, all happening at the same time and at lightning speed.
This website is not affiliated with the Museo dell'Ara Pacis.