New Light on the Relationship between the Montecitorio Obelisk and Ara Pacis of Augustus

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Bernard Frischer


The article takes as its point of departure recent work (Frischer forthcoming) critiquing the theory of Edmund Buchner about the relationship of the gnomonical instrument known as the Horologium Augusti and the Ara Pacis Augustae. As a result of this critique, the Montecitorio Obelisk could be situated with greater precision on the map of the city. A computer simulation showed that Buchner erred in positing that the shadow of the Montecitorio Obelisk went into the center of the Ara Pacis on Augustus’ birthday. In this article, computer simulations are used to develop a post-Buchnerian interpretation of the relationship of the obelisk and altar. Over 230 hitherto unrecognized solar and shadow alignments are reported.  The first part of the article defines four zones around the monuments where the solar and shadows observations were made. In the second part of the article, specialists interpret the significance of the annual solar and shadow spectacle from various points of view. The conclusion synthesizes the results, arguing that the monuments were intentionally aligned and situated in order to propagate the same message as the one inscribed on two sides of the Montecitorio Obelisk [CIL 6.702 = ILS 91]: that Augustus was a devoted worshipper of the sun god (Sol), who brings Rome victory in war, peace, and prosperity through his earthly representative, the emperor.


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Frischer, B. (2017). New Light on the Relationship between the Montecitorio Obelisk and Ara Pacis of Augustus. Studies in Digital Heritage, 1(1), 18–119.
Research Articles
Author Biography

Bernard Frischer, Indiana University

Bernard Frischer is a leading virtual archaeologist and the author of seven printed books, three e-books, and dozens of articles on virtual heritage, Classics, and the survival of the Classical world. He is a founding co-editor-in-chief of Studies in Digital Heritage, an innovative online, peer-reviewed journal where scientists can publish interactive 3D models.

Frischer received his B.A. summa cum laude in Classics from Wesleyan University (CT) in 1971 and his Ph.D. summa cum laude in Classics from the University of Heidelberg in 1975. He held a post-doctoral fellowship in Roman archaeology at the American in Academy in Rome from 1974 to 1976. Afterwards, he taught Classics and Roman Topography at UCLA from 1976 to 2004. From 2004 to 2013 he was Professor of Art History and Classics at the University of Virginia, where he was also founding Director of the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory. The lab’s mission is to apply 3D digital tools to simulating cultural heritage artifacts and sites as heuristic instruments of discovery. Since 2013 he has been a Professor of Informatics in the School of Informatics at Indiana University, where he continues to direct the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory.

Link: Virtual World Heritage Laboratory


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