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The Temple of Peace in Rome

July 2020 (124.3)

Book Review

The Temple of Peace in Rome

By Pier Luigi Tucci. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press 2017 (cloth). Vol. 1, Art and Culture in Imperial Rome, pp. ix + 1–488, $90, ISBN 978-1-107-16247-1; vol. 2, Remodelings, Conversions, Excavations, pp. viii + 489–1121, $90, ISBN 978-1-107-16254-9. 

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The Temple of Peace is a unique monument since it was, as Tucci points out in the opening of this massive two-volume study, the only temple dedicated to Pax in the whole of the Roman empire. These two volumes contain masses of information that are based on an exceptionally detailed study of all the archaeological and standing remains, textual sources, and inscriptions. It is a book that will appeal as much to ancient historians and classicists as to classical archaeologists, but there is much more here than meets the eye: reception of the Forma Urbis, Galen’s medical practice, and the role of libraries to name just three topics. 

Volume 1 opens with a chapter devoted to the Flavian project begun by Vespasian but completed in the reign of Domitian, which the author sees as related to the triumphal Porticoes of Octavia and Pompey designed for the display of spolia. The choice of dedication to Pax is thoroughly discussed (13–15), setting out the evolution of meaning from Republican-period slogan to deity of the first two Caesars, and Tucci sees the Temple of Peace as a contrast to the Augustan Forum housing Mars Ultor. A case is made on the basis of literary evidence for the complex to overlie the Macellum built by M. Fulvius Nobilior in 179 BCE; the author links this structure to some excavated evidence of walls in opus incertum (largely unpublished; fig. 5). The construction of the Temple of Peace has a far-reaching impact, including the renaming of its associated regio as Templum Pacis (72–73). This chapter takes the reader through the evidence step-by-step and includes English translations of texts, making it accessible to students as well as more experienced scholars. 

However, there is a shift in gear in the next section, part 2 of volume 1, which is devoted to the spatial experience and the reconstruction of the square and porticoes of the complex. The author sets out a new reconstruction of the built environment with columns at a higher level than the reconstruction seen today in Rome and with a slope dropping some 50 cm, which he shows would have affected the re-erection of the columns by the Soprintendenza in 2015. For students, this will be tough going; many quotations from Italian announcements and publications are not translated, and most images used are those published by others, rather than an image that clearly illustrates the author’s own reconstruction (but see figs. 29 and 43 in later chapters).

Part 1 continues with chapter 2 examining in depth the Augustan influences on the Temple of Peace, but is more wide-ranging than just this topic. Observations include that the porticoes of the Temple of Peace and the Forum of Augustus have the same dimensions and the columns of the axial hall of the Temple of Peace have dimensions very similar to those of the Temple of Mars Ultor: 60 Roman feet in height or 17.82 m (77). The columns we see today are, of course, from the Severan restoration after the fire of 192 CE (77–79). There is also the important conclusion that channels called “Euripi” would not have held continuously flowing water (58–62), as these were simply intended for horticulture, and the space would have been characterized by silence.

Chapter 3 moves on to the surviving halls of the complex and clarifies further the nature of the author’s reconstruction of the axial hall, which shows that the Forma Urbis does not represent all the detailed remains excavated in recent years. There is a full discussion of the hall that housed the Forma Urbis dating to the Severan reconstruction of the Temple of Peace. Tucci stresses that the Forma was an unchangeable map (127) and thus a map of memory—not a map of functionality—to be utilized as a symbol alongside public monuments and coinage. There are important points made here, not least that the map was painted with the streets in red (130). The library is interpreted alongside the recent (2005) discovery of a 15th-century text of Galen’s On My Own Books in the Vlatadon Monastery in Thessaloniki. This discussion is fascinating and reveals Galen’s loss of his remedies, writings, and books that were in storage when fire destroyed them in 192 CE.

The next chapter (ch. 4) examines the use of the Temple of Peace by grammarians, philosophers, and doctors; the role of the complex as a center for knowledge creation; and the loss of that knowledge due to the destruction of the library in the fire of 192 CE. Much is seen through the eyes of Galen, who also had lost the knowledge he had built up in his own storeroom. The idea that knowledge was organized on the basis of language in these libraries, or a Latin and a Greek library, is exposed as false. 

Chapter 5 is dedicated to the discussion of the art collection once housed in the complex. Tucci returns to the fire of 192 CE and Galen; there is a sense of repetition here and an imaginative reconstruction of that fire with the description: “The military guard in the nearby storeroom (provided with water tanks) must have shouted orders to the slaves. . . . Some vigiles had surely brought some ladders. . . . At that point an explosion was heard. . . . Weeks later, both Galen and Septimus Severus must have visited the site” (246–48, emphasis added). Although Tucci suggests this section is quite speculative, the appearance of the words “must have” is always indicative of an absence of evidence and there are other possibilities, or we simply do not know what may have occurred.

Chapters 6–8 form part 2 of the first volume and focus on technical analyses, based on the author’s extensive study of the structures, including a thorough investigation of all documentary material from the Renaissance onward. There is always much more than the chapter titles imply; chapter 6, “Building Materials and Construction Techniques,” for example, includes a discussion of the design of the site, the tracing of foundations, the supply of material, and the author’s investigation into the use of red paint (including his experiments to reproduce the paint). Chapter 7, “The Original Structures,” looks at the existing remains, which are thoroughly investigated and allow for a new reconstruction to be made of the staircase. It considers the mounting and carving techniques of the Forma Urbis. Figure 132 should be highlighted, as it superimposes the detail of Nolli’s 1748 map of Rome over the wall of the Forma to provide a means to imagine the full effect of the original map. 

Volume 2 turns its focus to the Temple of Peace from late antiquity through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and Baroque periods, terminating with 19th- and 20th-century excavations and restorations. The intention is quite simply to cover all of the evidence relating to the Temple of Peace (491). The remodeling of the complex in the fourth century included the addition of a rotunda opening onto the Via Sacra from the Great Hall, and an apse was inserted to reorient this part of the building to the southeast and isolate it from the rest of the Temple of Peace. This structure, which is passed by those walking on the Via Sacra today or to the Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano, is a key focus of the first chapter. The question of the dating is discussed in chapter 10, with an attempt to resolve whether the structure was Maxentian or Constantinian; Tucci argues for the latter but places its completion after Constantine’s visit of 326 CE. The result was the creation of an audience chamber for the praefectus urbi. 

Chapter 11 shifts to the Christian Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano (dedicated between 526 and 530 CE), which Tucci seems to do at the expense of the rest of the Temple of Peace; the author comments, “The earthquake of AD 408 is unlikely to have totally destroyed the Temple of Peace, which was functioning eleven years later” (629). The focus of the book on the southern corner of the Temple of Peace does leave the reader wanting to know more about the use of space in other parts of this complex in late antiquity. It is dealt with briefly; the area in front of the former Temple of Peace was turned into a cemetery. The next chapters (12–18) are focused on the church and its development.

The final two chapters discuss modern excavations, but with a focus on the hall of the Forma Urbis as a means of providing additional information. This is something of a surprise for the reader expecting a discussion of the excavation of the whole complex. The second chapter on the modern excavations is titled “The Monastery and the Basilica in the Twentieth Century” (ch. 20) and contains fascinating material for those interested in the history of Italian cinema and the reception of antiquity. The Società Cinematografica Pax Film, founded in 1946, managed its film studios in Rome for 10 years from the site of the Temple of Peace (its president happened to be the brother of the future Pope Paul VI).

The two volumes are a gold mine of information, but readers will have to work hard to find specific material they seek. Take the discussion of Galen: it is spread across a number of chapters, in addition to a section entitled “Galen and the Slanderers of the Templum Pacis” (ch. 4, section 2). The index simply says passim, which is unhelpful for readers interested in a topic distributed across a number of chapters.

As the author suggests, architectural survey may not be every scholar’s focus, but it is through the detailed survey with its considerable illustration and discussion that points are made and reinforced, most notably regarding the roofing of the porticoes (89–100, fig. 32). The focus on part of the Temple of Peace, rather than the whole monument, for most of the more than 1,000 pages will create a degree of disappointment for some readers. I had difficulty relating the text to the illustrations taken from the works of others, since they did not always show the architectural solutions proposed by the author in the text. 

Reading the book, I came to understand that there was a major gripe between the author and Roberto Meneghini (see 98–101 in particular; also 108–10, 125, 142–45, 193) that seems to be generated by the latter ignoring or not adopting Tucci’s proposed reconstruction of the temple published in 2009 (P. Tucci, “Nuove osservazioni sull’architettura del Templum Pacis,” in F. Coarelli, ed., Divus Vespasianus: Il Bimillenario dei Flavi, Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, 158-67). That article included a neat image that adjusted the Soprintendenza’s reconstruction drawing to include the attic, whereas the book simply reproduces the reconstruction of the Soprintendenza (fig. 21). The recognition of his own work seems to be a motivation for the author, but it is unclear if a reader will be as interested in the disagreement and may wish to be presented with just the author’s version of the Templum Pacis (with footnotes to the gripes with Meneghini), including reconstruction drawings and so on.

There is much knowledge embodied in this book, but the author seems at times to make access to that knowledge difficult. I imagine the book will be read and referenced, but it may well be beyond the reading capabilities and patience of an undergraduate audience. However, for anyone interested in or researching public space in ancient Rome, the book will sit close to them and be used to comprehend an important imperial space that was subject to change over time.

Ray Laurence
Macquarie University

Book Review of The Temple of Peace in Rome: Vol. I: Art and Culture in Imperial Rome, by Pier Luigi Tucci
Reviewed by Ray Laurence
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 124, No. 3 (July 2020)
Published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1243.Laurence

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