Rome, Museum of the Altar of Augustan Peace (Ara Pacis Augustae)
(Museo dell’Ara Pacis)
after having salvaged them from the lire of Troy Actually the temple appearing in the upper left part of the panel is likely to be that of the Penates, represented as two youths, seated and armed with spears. The image of the small temple in the background must have been easily recognizable to the eyes of the Roman. To them it may have recalled the actual temple of the Penates that was placed, according to Dionysios, on the slopes of the Velia “not far from the Forum, along the narrow road leading to the Carinae,” where the honourable eikone of the Penates, called “works of ancient make” (Ant. Rom. I, 68), were preserved. Such a version, attested by Dionysios and acknowledge by the artists of the Ara Pacis, is very important, because it gives the panel a deeper meaning that surpasses the simple presentation of the myth. Because of the well-known descent of the gens Julia from Aeneas, the two small divinitie that attend the sacrifice from the top of the temple are not only to be identified with the ancestors and protectors of the Trojan hero, but are the same ancestors protecting the house and the person of Augustus. Thus a family link connects the figure of the mythical founder, portrayed on the Ara Pacis as a priest, with the fifty-year-old princeps who, in the month of March, 12 BC, had been raised to the highest office of the Roman priesthood, that of Pontifex Maximus. Augustus himself relates (Res gestae. 10, 2) that his election as pontifex took place, together with the erection of the Ara, during an exceptional comitium. Considering the special relationship that, in Roman religion, the Pontifex Maximus has with the gods that relate Rome to its Trojan origins, it appears clear that the panel with Aeneas was aimed at identifying Augustus with the mythical founder and ancestor of the gens Iulia, through a system of highly evocative allusions. The panel with Aeneas therefore embodied the convergence of religious and political circumstances, of public and dynastic-assets, that came into being with the election of Augustus to the pontificate. Augustus, performing a sacrifice to the Penates as a Pontifex Maximus, is “a priest descending from Aeneas” who thus “touches gods who are his relatives” (Ovid, Fasti, III, 425—
Panel with Aeneas sacrificing to the Penates. Since J. Sieveking’s (Sieveking 1907) suggestion to identify Aeneas in the person performing a sacrifice at the centre of this panel, which then became known as the “panel of Aeneas”, scholars have generally agreed upon such identification, that thus became a cornerstone of the iconographical interpretation of the whole Ara Pacis. Recently, however, Paul Rehak (Rehak 2001) has evidenced that, if the sacrifice represented is that of the white sow performed by Aeneas upon his arrival in Latium, then the panel’s iconography appears to present many relevant contradictions: first of all because the figure performing the sacrifice is quite older than the Trojan hero when he landed in Italy; secondly, because there is no evidence of the thirty piglets described in all the versions of the legend; finally, because the two seating gods in the small temple in the background seem not be the Penates, two young gods according to Dionysios of Halikarnassos, to whom Aeneas erected an altar only after the sow’s sacrifice. Who is then the character performing a sacrifice? Rehak suggest that he is Numa Pompilius, the second of the seven kings of Rome, who ruled the city in peacetime and was the great civil and sacred lawgiver of regal Rome, the one who had the temple of Janus built and that right in the Campus Martius celebrated a sacrifice to Mars to confirm the concord between the Sabines and the Romans. Moreover, according to Dionysios, Numa had established a ritual, codified in the Fetial Law, which provided specific rules for waging a just war (bellum justum) against foreign enemies and for framing terms for the establishment of peace. A sow would be sacrificed to seal a treaty of peace, like the one between Rome and Gabii. So, if the scene depicts the sacrifice of Numa, then the rustic altar that serves as the compositional focus at the center of the scene would be the first Roman “Altar of Peace,” a forerunner to the Augustan monument.