Project Description

Dynasty: the Ara Pacis and Two Imperial Mausoleums

For over a decade, the young Octavian remodeled Roman government to suit his needs.  When awarded the title Augustus in 28 B.C., Caesar’s adopted son could finally claim to have achieved his goals: he had outmaneuvered his political opponents, survived decades of civil wars, and had concentrated the privileges, power, and responsibilities of the entire Senatorial body into his own hands.  How?  Not just through violence, but with the persuasive powers of art and architecture!

To many historians’ surprise, Octavian began work on his mausoleum during the chaotic years of civil war and social turmoil that followed Caesar’s assassination. By no means was Octavian angsting over the possibilities of a premature death.  This behemoth burial stated that Octavian and his family were in Rome to stay: adopted sons, adopted grandsons, sons-in-laws, and stepsons were buried there.  These were the men whom the Emperor groomed as heir to the newly found Empire.  And it was the beginning of Imperial dynasty.

In 13 B.C., the Senate pledged the Ara Pacis or Altar of Peace to Augustus as a token of its appreciation for the political, economic, and social harmony that Augustus had ensured Rome and her territories. In the marble friezes of the altar, scene of Rome’s foundation legends alternate with parades in which Augustus, his family members, friends, their children, and wives figure prominently together with high priests, religious officials, and high-ranking politicians. The great communicator stated his message clearly: through family, dynasty; through dynastic succession, the continuation of a peaceful Empire.

Just over a century later, the Emperor Hadrian very consciously modeled his reign on Augustus’.  After all, the first Emperor of Rome was considered the founder of a golden age after putting an end to decades of civil war and ensuring peace throughout the Roman world.  Hadrian would father a second golden age and he promoted this idea by associating himself with Augustus and his architectural programs.  For example, Hadrian rebuilt the Pantheon, which Augustus’ son-in-law had erected in his honor.  He also built a mausoleum (seen on the right).  Not far from Augustus’, it quoted the mausoleum that Augustus had built to strengthen Romans’ opinions that he would pacify the Roman world or die trying.

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