How Many Lictors are on the Ara Pacis Augustae?

Gaius Stern (University of California, Berkeley; San José State University)

According to Dio 54.10.5, the Senate granted to Augustus in 19 the honor of an escort of twelve lictors at all times, in or outside Rome.  When the great Italian archeologist, Giuseppe Moretti, was reconstructing the Ara Pacis, he allocated considerable space ahead of Augustus on the South Frieze for these very twelve lictors. Although badly damaged, their presence still signals to the audience the respect paid to the princeps.   However, Moretti’s reconstruction should raise suspicion, and he failed to include a diagram of how he perceived the layout of the fragmentary lictors in his massive 1948 (posthumous) tome.[1]  In fact, the excess room Moretti reserved for the dozen lictors has misaligned the entire South Frieze of the Ara Pacis.  This paper will assess the accuracy of Moretti’s work and present a better reconstruction that more accurately resembles the original monument dedicated on 30 January 9 BC.

John Pollini has previously observed that the dozen lictors on the South Frieze occupy a great deal of room.[2]  In fact, they occupy at least as much room as the fifteen priests and attendants in a parallel position on the North Frieze.  The distinguished Gerhard Koeppel also noticed how Moretti had permitted excessive space for only twelve figures (plus two attendants).[3]  He speculated that Moretti had not appreciated two additional figures (beyond the two attendants) of unknown identity among the lictors, whose inclusion equalizes the numbers of figures on the North and South Friezes.   Although Mario Torelli astutely recognized that the lictors, by straddling both walls of the Ara Pacis, inform the audience that it is a single procession, he also accepted Moretti’s layout.[4]    However, none of these scholars can explain why two additional lectors appear on the North Frieze, rendering a total of fourteen, rather than twelve lictors, in all.   The presence of fourteen constitutes a hitherto unexplained violation of Roman procedure. 

This paper argues that the two lictors on the North Frieze, when joined with those on the South Frieze, constitute Augustus’ full compliment of twelve lictors.  Moretti assumed that all twelve appear on the South Frieze.   He reserved too much space for them.  This also means the other figures on the South Frieze must move forwards to recover their original positions.  As a result theories associating the floral panels below with the figures above as they now appear must be revised, in light of the fact that the figures originally stood closer to the front of the monument.  If we wish to understand the way the Romans interpreted the messages of the Ara Pacis, it will be of great value to look at the same monument.

[1] Giuseppe Moretti, Ara Pacis Augustae (Rome 1948).

[2] John Pollini, Studies in Augustan Historical Reliefs (UC Berkeley 1978 Ph.D. dissertation), Fig. iv.

[3] Gerhard M. Koeppel, “Die historischen Reliefs der römischen Kaiserzeit V,” BonnJbb 187 (1987), 101-37, esp. 118 ff, also inserted additional, lost figures 5a and 6a among the first dozen to increase the overall total from forty-seven visible or fragmentary figures to forty-nine, partly followed by Billows, 82-83. I do not agree with this proposal.

[4] Mario Torelli, Typology and Structure of Roman Historical Reliefs (Ann Arbor 1982), 44-45.

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