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VIPSANIA ON THE ARA PACIS?
By Jasper Burns © 2003
The ARA PACIS, Rome, dedicated 9 B.C.
A=Agrippa, B=Livia, C=Tiberius, D=Vipsania (w/ Drusus II),
E=Drusus I, F=Antonia (w/Germanicus and a forgotten
forgotten daughter - or d. of Antonia I (presumably formerly shown on the extreme right,
where there is now a blank space) and Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (far right) ?)
Probably the most significant surviving Augustan monument is the ARA PACIS in Rome - voted by the Roman Senate in 13 BC and dedicated 9 BC. There has been much discussion of the identification of the mostly idealized portraits of the Imperial family that appear on its north and south friezes. The north frieze appears to depict the family of Marcus Agrippa and Augustus' daughter Julia among several senators, though Agrippa himself appears on the south frieze. His son Gaius is clearly identifiable in this group; his mother Julia probably stands in front of him, though her head has been lost.
Also on the south frieze, to the left of Agrippa, is a portrait of Augustus. To the right of Agrippa is a series of foreground figures, all but the first of whom seem to represent members of the imperial family. The first adult is almost always identified as Livia.
Behind Livia is an obviously younger man with the features of her son Tiberius. He is followed by a woman with blunt, round, heavy features and thick lips that resemble those of Tiberius' wife Vipsania as seen on heads from Leptis Magna, Beziers, and elsewhere. She holds the hand of a young boy, presumably her son Drusus II, born in 14 or 13 BC, and thus 4 or 5 when the altar was dedicated. This woman is most commonly identified as Tiberius' sister-in-law, Antonia, though she does not seem to resemble Antonia's other portraits closely.
(Left) The Beziers head, identified as probably Vipsania
(courtesy Musée Saint-Raymond, Musée des Antiques de Toulouse,
inventory number 30004, photograph by J. Rougé.), (Center) Vipsania? from the
Ara Pacis, (Right) Vipsania from Leptis Magna (Tripoli Archeological Museum,
from Africa Italiana 8 (1941).
The reason that Vipsania has not been suggested as the woman portrayed is that Tiberius was forced by Augustus to divorce her in 11 BC so that he could marry the emperor's daughter, Julia. However, the Ara Pacis was commissioned in 13 BC when they were still married and when Marcus Agrippa was still alive (he died in 11 BC) and married to Julia. Clearly, on a complex work such as this, it would not have been practicable to alter the design as members of the family died, were born, or were divorced in "no-fault" circumstances. The ages of the children seem to match the approximate date of dedication - 9 BC, or perhaps a little earlier - but it should not be assumed that the circumstances of the adults differed from what they were at the time work commenced in 13.
In view of this, it is very unlikely that Vipsania would have been excluded or removed from this group and it seems to the writer that she should be identified with the woman to the right of her husband Tiberius on the south frieze of the Ara Pacis.
Close behind Vipsania is a young man in military costume, probably Livia's son, the general Drusus II. Holding his cloak is a young boy, presumably his son Germanicus, who was 6 in 9 BC (born 15). Behind him is a young woman - certainly his mother, Drusus' wife Antonia II. Germanicus looks up to an older child - a girl, as shown by her hair. Her identity is conjectural, but she may well be an unknown daughter of Drusus and Antonia II who did not survive to adulthood.
Antonia II married Drusus in late Jan. or early Feb. 18 B.C. The number of their children is unknown. Their firstborn died in infancy and three of their offspring lived to adulthood (Germanicus, Livilla, and Claudius). It is possible that a child was born between the death of their first (as early as the fall of 18 BC) and the birth of Germanicus in 15 BC. This hypothetical second child could have been born as early as the summer of 17, making him or her 8 years old in 9 BC, which seems to match the age of the unknown girl. Alternatively, she may be the daughter of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, who follows Antonia II in the procession, and Antonia I, who probably occupied the space behind Ahenobarbus that is now vacant.
If these identifications are correct, then we have Livia's side of the imperial family in orderly procession - her sons, their wives, and her grandchildren.
See also Vipsania on Roman Coins?