A garden of marble

The Ara Pacis Augustae, the Altar of Augustan Peace is one of the most outstanding monuments of Augustan art. It was erected in the Campus Martius in Rome to honour the return of Augustus from Hispania and Gaul and to celebrate peace in the Empire. The monument was commissioned by the Roman Senate on July 4, 13 BC, and the building was consecrated a mere four years later, on January 30, 9 BC.

Both the outside and the inside walls of the square building that surround the altar are covered with relief slabs carved of Luna (Carrara) marble. The figural scenes of the upper register depict Aeneas sacrificing the sow of Lavinium, the she-wolf feeding Romulus and Remus, Tellus (Earth), Dea Roma (the personification of Rome), and participants of the ceremonial march on the occasion of the dedication, including Augustus himself.

The elaborately carved floral ornaments of the lower frieze are just as fascinating as the scenes of the upper register. There are animals hiding among the lush vegetation, but today we will only focus on the altar’s rich flora. At first sight, the plants in the relief may seem imaginary, but they represent flowers and fruit that are very much real. We will now introduce ten of the more than fifty species that have so far been identified in this garden of marble.

Leaf through this slider for more information on the plants:

Featured image: Detail from the relief decoration of the Ara Pacis. Source: wikipedia © Miguel Hermoso Cuesta
Images in the post:
1. The altar today.
2. Bronze coin of Emperor Nero, with a representation of the Ara Pacis on its reverse, 64–67 AD (G. C. di Roccolino, Ara Pacis Augustae: le fonti numismatiche. Engramma 58 [2007], fig. 1).
3. Joseph Durm’s reconstruction of the altar, 1904 (Karl Disel, Der Opferzug der Ara Pacis Augustae, Hamburg 1907, pl. 1).
4. Detail of the Aeneas relief from the western facade of the Ara Pacis.
5. Detail of the so-called Tellus relief from the eastern facade of the Ara Pacis.
6. The figure of Augustus on the southern facade of the Ara Pacis.
Source for 1, 4–6: Ara Pacis Augustae © 2011 by Charles Rhyne.

Leave a comment