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Monday, March 28, 2016

The Templum Pacis



Begun during the beginning of Vespasian’s reign in AD 71 and dedicated in AD 75, the Templum Pacis (Temple of Peace) was a large multifunctional complex built in the center of Rome, most likely on the site of the recently destroyed Republican Macellum (food market).




It was a huge courtyard surrounded by colonnaded porticoes on three sides.  Its northwest side (in the foreground above) was merely a colonnaded wall adjoining the later Forum of Nerva (see the plan, right).  Its southeast side had at its center the temple proper, which probably housed a statue of the goddess Pax (Peace).  Flanking its hexastyle porch were colonnaded porticoes, but behind them, flanking the temple cella, were large halls.




The square has been likened to a park.  The gardens have been noted on a map of the city (Forma Urbis or Marble Plan) from ca. AD 200 which marked them as a series of rectangles (cf. the restored illustration above).  With gardens instead of a huge open square, it had more in common with a Hellenistic peristyle than with the imperial fora built by other emperors.

The Templum Pacis housed famous pieces of art from the Greek world, primarily sculptures and paintings.  Some argue that it served as an early precursor to the modern museum.  Many of the pieces were taken during the sack of Jerusalem in AD 71, which financed its construction.  It is also believed that the building housed a marble representation of Rome, which was to be the predecessor of the far more widely known Severan version (the Marble Plan mentioned above).  In addition, the building served as a library at one point, the Bibliotheca Pacis, but probably not until the second century AD.

The building may also have had other functions, ranging from a vault to housing for the Praefectus Urbis (Urban Prefect).  However, its greatest significance lay in its cultural message.  This building, with its peristyle layout, artwork, and (later) literature, provided an access point to (mostly Greek) culture for the common man in Rome.  With this building, the emperor was giving the fruits of peace to the Roman people.  After all, it was begun just after the fall of Nero and the ensuing chaos of the Year of the Four Emperors.  Vespasian wanted to show that control, order, and prosperity were returning to Rome; he was giving back to the people what Nero had taken for himself.  While distancing himself from the tyrant Nero, Vespasian was also connecting himself to Augustus, a good emperor.  The name itself, Templum Pacis, evoked Augustus’ Ara Pacis on a much larger scale.  The orientation of the complex was also significant: it faced the Forum Augustum.  The building in essence was constructed to legitimize Vespasian’s authority while cementing Pax (peace) as a cornerstone of Vespasian’s rule.

Elizabeth Pollard has argued that the gardens of the Templum Pacis were a form of “botanical imperialism.”  An abundance of exotic plant species is thought to have grown there.  The varied art and flora collectively displayed the power of Rome under Vespasian.  They in effect showed that Rome could maintain an empire which dominated all of the exotic lands from which the plants were taken; the plants stood metonymically for the empire.  The gardens also demonstrated horticultural know-how: it was no easy task to cultivate such exotic plants in central Italy! 
Vespasian designed and built the Templum Pacis to show that he had restored peace and stability to Rome after a period of rebellion and chaos.  While linking himself to the great Augustus, Vespasian also distanced himself from Nero to show that his rule would be good for Rome and its empire.

Noreña, Carlos F.. “Medium and Message in Vespasian's Templum Pacis.” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 48 (2003) 25–43.
Pollard, Elizabeth Ann. “Pliny's Natural History and the Flavian Templum Pacis: Botanical Imperialism in First-Century C. E. Rome.” Journal of World History 20.3 (2009) 309–338.

- Christian McKittrick


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