Side with Augustus
original south side

Processional Frieze - Panorama
and Far Left Section

Scholarly interpretation: The near life-size figures represented in the processsional friezes on the two sides of the surrounding precinct wall are presented as if walking along its two sides from the public approach front facing the Via Flaminia toward the ceremonial entrance front then facing the open fields of the northern Campus Martius. Whether or not an actual event is represented, and if so which, who is represented and indeed how many are real people or representatives of types, and many other aspects of these two carefully orchestrated prosessional friezes have formed the basis of continuing scholarly debate over the years. This has encouraged in-depth research on cultural practices, political and family relationships, clothing, even foot attire, and many other aspects of Augustan society, all of which have kept the Ara Pacis alive as a key monument in our interpretations of ancient Rome.

Within the world history of art, it is most notable that this is perhaps the first significant representation of a contemporay event approximately as it could have been seen by those present at the time. Even more impressively, it is a nearly unique example of the head of a great empire represented as a normal human being.

Originally there would have been over 90 figures on these 2 processional friezes, approximately half on each side. Most scholars now agree that they are to be seen not as 2 parts of the procession but rather as the same procession seen from 2 sides. The figures are represented as if moving very slowly, some pausing, perhaps engaged in quiet conversation. As spectators, we are thus encourgaged to move slowly ourselves along the full length of the two friezes, pausing to observe them individually and in groups.

We may see this processional frieze as divided into 3 parts by the 2 prominent, toga-wearing figures with recognizable portrait features, Augustus and Agrippa. However, they were not oriiginally spaced in exactly this way. Two of the large slabs toward the right were incorrectly joined in the hurried 1937-38 reconstruction. Remaining original details indicate that at least 2 figures, possibly more, now missing, would have stood between these 2 slabs. Thus the entire group of figures in the center would originally have been farther to the left, and the fragments at the far left would have been closer together (see esp. Foresta 2002). Because the number of missing figures at the far right is unknown, it is possible that Augustus would originally have stood much nearer to the front of the procession.

The fragments in the 6 photographs at the bottom of this page are rarely illustrated in print publications. Likewise, they have been considered too minor for restoration over the years. As a result, the authentic Augustan character and quality of the original carving has survived in these faces, notable especially when viewed close up when you zoom in.