A Very Different “Prince of Peace”

When Christians hear the term “Prince of Peace,” we naturally think of Christ. That’s because Christianity interprets Isaiah 9:6 as applying to Jesus directly:

His name will be called wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Interestingly, however, the man who was Emperor of Rome at the time of Jesus’ birth IMG_5110was also styled the “Prince of Peace” by his pagan subjects. After decades of civil war initiated by the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, Emperor Augustus (who reigned from about 27 BC to 14 AD) brought to a war-weary ancient Roman world a much appreciated era of peace, known as the Pax Romana–and he built a pagan altar in the center of Rome to emphasize that very fact.

Known as the Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace, it was dedicated to the Goddess of Peace in 9 IMG_5115BC.  Originally it stood outdoors, and the sacrificial altar itself can still be seen inside its beautifully carved outer walls. A procession of figures adorns both of the exterior sides, including many members of the imperial family who can be more or less readily identified. (Augustus himself is the second head from the left; unfortunately much of his body is missing.)

For many centuries the Ara Pacis was completely lost. In the 1500’s, a few pieces were IMG_5114unearthed, but nobody recognized (yet) that they were parts of a much larger structure. They are now in other museums, including the Louvre in Paris, and the Uffizi in Florence.

It was only in the 1800’s, when additional parts of the altar were discovered, that a German archaeologist matched them up with a Latin description of the Ara Pacis that had been written by Augustus in his memoirs.  Most of IMG_5113the remaining panels were located, and the entire altar was reconstructed on its present site in the 1930’s.

Nobody knows who the ancient Roman sculptor was, who carved such lifelike figures in the altar’s beautiful white marble sides. But he certainly knew children: this little fellow seems oblivious to the formal procession of which his father is a part, since he can be seen tugging at Dad’s toga as if to say, “But Dad, I really, really need to go NOW!”

Some things never change…