The Ara Pacis Agustae
The Ara Pacis Agustae, or Altar of Augustean Peace, is a Roman sacrificial altar enclosed in a screen of Parian Marble beautifully carved in high relief with allegorical an ceremonial scenes accesorized with elegant plant details.
The Ara Pacis was erected on the Field of War, the Campus Martius, and on the Via Flaminia: the location itself is a powerful symbolic testimony to the gratitude or relief widely felt that Peace had replaced war. Indeed, whatever else Roman then thought about Augustus, the civil war he brought to pass- at the price of several years of slaughter- lasted nearly a hundred years (1)
The Ara Pacis Augustae is probably the most important remaining piece of the propaganda program of Augustus. It was dedicated to pietas and that pax romana of Augustus on July 4, 13 BC. It consists of a large outer wall surrounding a smaller raised altar. Remarkable for its classical style, the Altar is decorated with reliefs representing allegorical, historical and mythological scenes. On the flanks can be seen processions of the First Family and friends - both alive and dead - who were present at first sacrifice, as well as senators, magistrates, priests, Vestal Virgins and ceremonial attendants. All of them were portrayed in the classically idealized manned that was intentionally appropriated from the reliefs of fifth century BC Periclean Athens, and which Augustus unquestionably imitated (2).
The interior walls have reliefs, which show bull's skulls, sacrificial bowls, and fruited garlands. The bulls and bowls hint towards the piety of Augustus, and the garlands contain fruit from all seasons, reminding the viewer that the peace of Augustus lasted the entire year (4- P 219).
Another relief full of propaganda was one that showed the woman Pax surrounded by representations of fresh water, air and sea. The children in her lap emphasize her fertility and the personifications of fresh water, air and sea (represented by the overturned water jug, billowing drapery, and waves) tell how the peace of Augustus spread over the whole world (3)
Children were portrayed abundantly on the reliefs, whereas they never had a place on any Greek or Roman State monument before. The reason they were included along with men and their families was to serve as a moral exemplar to the Romans so that they would increase the size of their families to counteract the declining birthrate among the Roman nobility. Another example of the usage of art to further the goals of the state - which were synonymous with those of the emperor (4-Pp. 220-221)
The Ara Pacis firmly participated in an ancient tradition in which a holy place was the earthly point of contact with some astronomical reality. This building is a marker on a gigantic clock in downtown Rome. The timepiece in question was the Horologium Augusti, in which a great obelisk sever as the gnomon or shadow stick and projected its shadow over a commensurately huge piazza: on the 23rd of September, Augustus' Birthday- and on no other date- the tip of that shadow passed exactly over the Ara Pacis (2).
One could ask if the use of art for propagandistic purposes will ever stop? We can see with this massive monument, Augustus drew attention to the peace and prosperity he had brought to the Roman Empire, thus using this art piece as propaganda.
Andrus-Walk, Kathryn. “Roman Art and Architecture.” Harpy Web Site. Est. April 1996 updated Jan. 2000. University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, January 4, 2000. http://harpy.uccs.edu/index.html
Tansey, Richard G. and Kleiner, Fred S. (1996) Gardner's Art Through the Ages: Ancient, Medieval and Non European Art. Orlando Florida: Hartcourt Brace College Publishers.