Roman architecture was used to propagate its own vision. Discuss.
Roman architecture such as the Ara Pacis and Trajans Column have other qualities than just its aesthetic qualities. Both pieces present messages from the emperor of its time such as messages of power, peace and the greatness of Rome. The Ara Pacis is an altar of peace that was built during the time of the first emperor Augustus and Trajans Column was built during the time of the second of the five good emperors, Trajan. Both the Ara Pacis and Trajans Column were built after a time of war and turmoil, times which were only changed by the emperors Augustus and Trajan which is shown on their respective pieces of architecture.
The Ara Pacis was inaugurated by the senate in 13BC to celebrate the successful campaign of the princeps Augustus and Rome in Spain and Gaul. Before the reign of Augustus the state of Rome had experience tumultuous times of civil war and conflict. Civil wars were seen to be particualry distructive because it went against all the Roman qualities that had been established, particularly the quality that states a Roman should put the state first and not the individual. Civil wars were the struggle for an individual’s power not Rome’s and it put Roman against Roman. Romans had experienced 3 civil wars in 88BC, between Sulla and Marius, in 49 BC, between Julius Caesar and Pompey and in 40BC, between Octavian (Augustus) and Antony. These disputes were only solved when Augustus came into power after defeating Antony in the battle of Actium. Because of this peace that Augustus gave the Romans thought highly of Augustus as did the senate so the Ara Pacis was not just a celebration of the victory over Spain and Gaul but a celebration of Augustus himself. Augustus’ mission, the Roman mission, was to restore the old Roman qualities so that each Roman would work towards making Rome great instead of working towards their own goals. Building the Ara Pacis was a statement of just how great Augustus was. Trajans Column, like the Ara Pacis, was built during the time of a much liked emperor who also brought peace after a time of war and times of emperors who weren’t great leaders, such as the emperor Domitian. Domitian was an emperor from 81AD to 96AD. He was a man who was disregarded by his father and his brother was given all of the imperium. After the death of his father and brother the title of emperor was left for him. Due to his lack of knowledge and training Domitian drove Rome’s economy into the ground. He demanded that he was referred to as dominus et dues, master and god, and he treated the Romans poorly, taking wives from other men and using people’s lives for sport. The emperors before Domitian weren’t of the best quality either, many with power taking over their lives and not demonstrating leadership qualities. Domitian’s inexperience in dealing with the economy also meant that Rome was not as wealthy as it once was and Dacia was known as a country rich in goldmines. Dacia was also causing trouble for Rome so Trajan saw this as a good opportunity for Rome to increase its wealth, land mass and to show the Dacian’s who were in charge. Trajans Column was built using the money that Rome gained from the Dacian wars.
An idea that is seen on the Ara Pacis is that of peace and fertility. A whole panel of the Ara Pacis is devoted to peace (the panel of mother tellus). It depicts a lady (mother earth)holding 2 babies, which represents fertility and everyone in the panel including the animals living a peaceful and happy life. It alludes to the Pax Romana, Roman peace, which was only possible because of the emperor Augustus. By looking at this panel and seeing the message of peace the audience is reminded of who has brought that peace, Augustus. Peace is also seen in Trajans Column in the image that depicts victory writing on a shield. Because of Trajans victory over the Dacians peace is once again restored which again could only have happened with good leadership. Another idea raised in Ara Pacis is pietas, the roman word for devotion to the state and to the gods. Pietas was important during this time because it was something that Augustus was trying to restore within the Romans so that everyone worked towards making Rome a great place. This is presented on the panel of Aeneas and the procession. In each of these carvings the men are depicted as being pious, holding the Penates and wearing ritual clothes. By presenting the people as being realistic all Romans will get the sense that they are a part of this great idea and they have a purpose without having to fit a mould. They will get a sense of pietas, a duty to their state. Augustus is also presented as a priest showing his devotion to the gods. This is an example of symbolism, a technique that is used to represent Augustus’ pietas and the fact that his whole family is depicted in line behind him is a symbol for the fact that he intends his family to continue the pax romana and take over emperorship. Pietas is also depicted on Trajans Column along with virtus, manliness and courage. This is shown in the adlocutio scene where Trajan is addressing his troops. It shows all the qualities that a good roman should have and if Trajan has virtus then so does Rome. The way that this is shown is by always depicting Trajan as being slightly taller than the troops and standing on a higher level than the other men . Another idea presented on both the Ara Pacis and Trajans column is that peace can only occur after war. This is shown on the Ara Pacis with the panel of mother tellus and the panel of the goddess Roma. By presenting these panels opposite each other it shows that one can only occur after the other, only after the enemy is conquered can Rome be in peace. Trajans column is all about war and one of the last scene depicts the peace and victory that Rome celebrates which could only occur after war.
The techniques that are shown in the Ara Pacis are the use of high and low relief to highlight important aspects and people shown on the Ara Pacis and the rhythmic patterns of the faces depicted on the altar. High relief is always used on Augustus to highlight his important status and so whenever a person looks upon the altar their eyes will be drawn to Augustus and they will be reminded of who brought peace to Rome. Low relief is used to create a sense of depth so there is a background which is clearly evident in the procession scene where low relief is used to create a sense that many people are in the procession. The techniques seen on Trajans column is low relief sculpting onto hollow drums which are then placed on top of each other to make a the column with a staircase inside, repeated reliefs, the historical narrative depicted, the size changes of the figures as it ascends and the rapid rhythm. Low relief is used to create a sense of a foreground and a background. This helps to make the historical narrative look realistic. The stairecase is effective because a roman could climb up and see the carvings from the windows inside and once a person reached the top they could see Trajans Forum and again they would be reminded of the greatness of Trajan making this an example of propaganda. Repeated images are effective because it’s less time consuming and it emphasises ideas such as virtus. The image of Trajan is seen many times on the column which highlights his importance and his virtus.
The Ara Pacis and Trajans Column have many similarities and differences. Some of the similarities are the ideas that they represent such as the relationship between peace and war and also the fact that they are both pieces of political propaganda in favour of its perspective emperor. Some of the differences are that they have different purposes as the Ara Pacis is an altar, a place of worship and Trajans Column is a commemorative piece about the Dacian wars. The Ara Pacis also focuses more on Rome’s distant past and the coming future, whereas Trajans Column is more focused on the recent history of the Dacian wars and where they are in the present of the time it was built.
Both pieces of architecture are propaganda pieces in the favour of the emperor of the time. They express ideas such as pietas, the relationship between war and peace and virtus through the use of high and low relief, repetition and symbolism. Both pieces were made after a time of turmoil and during a time of peace so both pieces represent the peace that could only have been possible because of Trajan and Augustus.