Before discussing the Ara Pacis, we should talk about Octavian’s imperial mausoleum. Even better, we should talk about Octavian! When the 19 year old inherited Julius Caesar’s name, wealth, charisma, and army, he incessantly remodeled Roman government to suit his needs. When awarded the title Augustus in 28 B.C., Octavian could finally claim to have achieved his goals. That is, he had outmaneuvered his political opponents, survived decades of civil wars, and 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. And this brings us to his Ara Pacis (Temple of Peace) and his mausoleum.
Some people find it surprising that Octavian began work on his mausoleum during the chaotic years of civil war that followed Caesar’s assassination. But by no means was he angsting over an imminent premature death. His behemoth funerary monument was a message. (And it is seen below in a modern recreation.) It stated that he and his family were in Rome to stay. The mausoleum’s long list of occupants proves the point. In it were placed the cremated remains of the emperor. But even before that, there were his adopted sons, grandsons, sons-in-laws, and stepsons. Some of these men the emperor groomed to inherit the newly found Empire. With them, there was his sister, his sister’s daughters, his granddaughters, and so on. In other words, the mausoleum advertised a new ideas, i.e. “empire and dynasty.”