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Temple of Peace

Temple of Peace

The Temple (or Forum) of Peace was built by Vespasian with the spoils of the Jewish War that he brought to Rome after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 71. Dedicated in 75, it was one of the most impressive monuments in the city. It stood to the north of the Basilica Aemilia in an area that still had not recovered from the great fire of A.D. 64. The complex included a plaza with garden, a temple, and a library within which were placed many of the treasures captured in Jerusalem. Ancient writers marveled at the number of important works of art installed here; the core of the collection had been brought to Rome by Nero from around the empire to decorate the Golden House. Vespasian made these available for the enjoyment of the public.

Templum Pax

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 386-388.

The temple of Peace which was begun by Vespasian after the capture of Jerusalem in 71 A.D., and dedicated in 75 (Suet. Vesp. 9; Joseph. b. Iud. VII.5.7 (158); Cass. Dio LXV.15.1; Aur. Vict. Caes. 9.7; Ep. 9.8). It stood in the middle of the forum Pacis, north of the basilica Aemilia (Mart. I.2.8), probably at the junction of the modern Vie Alessandrina and dei Pozzi. Statius seems to ascribe the completion of this temple to Domitian (Silv. IV.3.17; cf. IV.1.13), but this emperor's claim may have had little foundation (cf. Suet. Dom. 5). Within the temple, or attached closely to it, was a library, bibliotheca Pacis (Gell. V.21.9; XVI.8.2; Boyd, 16-17, 36-37). In it were placed many of the treasures brought by Vespasian from Jerusalem, as well as famous works of Greek artists (Joseph. b. Iud. VII.5.7; Plin. NH XII.94; XXXIV.84; XXXV.102, 109; XXXVI.27, 58; Paus. VI.9.3; Iuv. IX.23; Hephaest. ap. Phot. Bibl. 149 32 Bekk.), and Pliny (NH XXXVI.102) speaks of it, the basilica Aemilia and the forum of Augustus, as the three most beautiful monuments in Rome.

Just before the death of Commodus, probably in 191, the temple was destroyed by fire (Cass. Dio LXXII.24.1; Galen, de comp. med. I.1), but it must have been restored, probably by Severus, for it is mentioned in the succeeding centuries as one of the most magnificent buildings in the city (Herod. I.14.2; Amm. Marcell. XVI.10.14; Hist. Aug. trig. tyr. 31.10). It gave its name to the fourth region of the city (Not. Reg. IV). In 408 there were seismic disturbances for seven successive days in the forum Pacis (Marcell. Comes, Chron. min. ed. Mommsen II.69: in foro Pacis per dies septem terra mugitum dedit), and the temple may have been injured then. At any rate Procopius (BG IV.21), writing in the sixth century, says that it had long since been destroyed by lightning, although there were still many works of art set up in the immediate vicinity.

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Additional source material

  • Ancient Library Sources (from Peter Aicher, Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, vol. 1, Bolchazy-Carducci: 2004) [Works cited]

    74. The Forum of Augustus. Sources.

    74.1.

    Are not the Basilica Paulli, with its columns of Phrygian marble, the Forum of the Deified Augustus, and the Temple of Peace built by the Emperor Vespasian the most beautiful works that the world has ever seen?

    Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 36.102


    75. Forum of Peace (Temple of Peace). Commentary.

    Although grouped with the other imperial fora and called a forum at least by late antiquity, this large nearly square area was known as the Temple of Peace (with “temple” here signifying, as often for the Romans, the whole inaugurated space of which the deity's dwelling was one part). None of the sources mentions what business occurred here, and it may have been a more leisurely complex with museum and library rather than an expansion of the Roman Forum's business, which may have been compacted into the fora of Caesar and Augustus, and later Trajan. There are some designs on the Marble Plan, however, which Claridge (155) tentatively suggests may represent a long series of market-stalls in the open area of the Forum of Vespasian, noting that the area was once the sight of a Macellum, or market area. Others interpret the designs as blocks of landscaping, such as would be appropriate for a museum-like setting or park.

    One of the most interesting items that was on display in this forum was the famous Marble Plan. Though not mentioned in the ancient sources, it is often called in Latin the “Forma Urbis (Romae),” and can be dated to the reign of Septimius Severus, between AD 203 and 211. This map of the city consisted of an entire wall of marble panels inscribed with the lines and often the names of city buildings, including walls, columns, and aqueduct arches. Only about ten percent of the map survives, and less than that can be securely located since many of the pieces, found in various parts of the city in various centuries, are too small to show any context, but it is a major tool in recreating the Roman city, and work on it continues, as does the hope that more will be found.


    75. Forum of Peace (Temple of Peace). Sources.

    75.1.

    The emperor Vespasian's activities also included the building of public structures, among them the Temple of Peace right next to the Roman Forum.

    Suetonius, Vespasian 9.1


    75.2.

    The Temple of Peace was dedicated in Vespasian's sixth consulship and Titus's fourth [AD 75].

    Dio, History 65.15


    75.3.

    After his triumph was finished [in AD 71] and Roman rule was re-established on a firm foundation, Vespasian decided to build a Temple of Peace. This was completed very quickly, and in a style that beggars the imagination. Not only did he have enormous financial resources at his disposal, but embellished it with old masterpieces of painting and sculpture. In fact, into that one sacred precinct were gathered and stationed all the art-works that people had been willing to travel the world over to see, even when they were scattered. Vespasian also proudly kept here the works of gold taken from the Temple of the Jews, but ordered that their Law and the purple veil of the inner temple be kept safely in the palace.

    Josephus, The Jewish War 7.158


    75.4.

    The most famous of the art works in Rome that I have mentioned above were originally brought to Rome by Nero's looting and placed around the private rooms of the Domus Aurea, but were since dedicated by the emperor Vespasian to the Temple of Peace and his other buildings.

    Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 34.84


    75.5.

    [Near the end of Commodus's reign in AD 191] the entire precinct of the Temple of Peace, the largest and most beautiful of all the buildings in Rome, burned to the ground. It was also the richest temple in the city, since it is decorated with numerous gold and silver items that people deposited there to keep them safe—a caution which the fire rendered futile, sending many wealthy people into poverty.

    Herodian, History 1.14.2-3


    75.6.

    On a trip to Rome once, I heard the following story from a Roman senator. He said that it took place when the Gothic king Atalaric, grandson of Theoderic the Great, was ruling in Italy [c. AD 530]. Late in the day a herd of cattle came into Rome from the countryside and was passing through the square that the Romans call the Forum of Peace because of the Temple of Peace that is located there (now damaged by lightning). At the front of the forum there is an old fountain on which a bronze bull stands, a work of Pheidias, I believe, or perhaps Lysippus.… (This forum also contains Myron's Calf; the ancient Romans were eager collectors of the best of Greece's art and displayed it with great pride.)

    One of the passing cattle—a gelded steer, the senator said—left the herd and climbing onto the fountain mounted the bronze bull. By chance, at the same time a man was passing, an Etruscan by birth, who understood the import of this scene (for even down to my day the Etruscans are skilled in the art of prophecy): one day, he prophesied, a eunuch would bring down the ruler of Rome.… [And in truth it was the general Narses, an imperial eunuch, who defeated the Gothic king Totila.]

    Procopius, Wars 8.21.10-17


    95. Altar of Augustan Peace (“Ara Pacis Augustae”). Commentary.

    The Altar of Augustan Peace originally stood between the Sundial of Augustus and the Via Lata, the main road by which Augustus had returned to Rome in 13 BC after a three-year absence in Spain and Gaul. In some respects the altar was a companion to the Altar of Fortuna Redux (of “Prosperity Restored”) decreed for the Via Appia when Augustus returned to Rome from that direction in 19 BC, but as its name and Ovid's poem [95.5] bring out, Augustus's return in this instance is treated as a synecdoche for the return of peace in general after the civil wars. In subsequent generations the Pax worshipped here in a minor cult grows still wider into the concept of the Pax Romana and receives a major temple in Vespasian's Forum of Peace.

    The altar itself was surrounded by a precinct wall covered with sculptured reliefs that are among ancient Rome's finest public art, portraying not only a religious procession of the imperial family and other Romans, but the world of nature, both vegetative and allegorical, prospering as if in response to the right rule of Augustus.

    Much of the Altar of Peace remains today, parts of it having been painstakingly excavated from among the foundations of buildings in 1937-1938. It was reassembled, however, not in its original location but next to the Mausoleum of Augustus at the northern reaches of the Campus, housed first in a glass and concrete pavilion from the Fascist era that has since been demolished in favor of a more elaborate installment for the Altar designed by Robert Meier (to the dismay of those who wish to see the Porta Ripetta restored instead. This was Rome's upstream port and a major point of contact between the city and its river before the Tiber embankments and their roads were constructed).


  • Stanford Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project
  • German Archaeological Institute
  • Flickr images
  • Wikipedia

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