Quota Hora Est?

March 27, 2012 / Art & Archaeology
Rome, Italy
One of the better ways to get the answer to the above question 2000 years ago in Rome would have been to head over to the large marble paved area (twice the size of the St.Peter’s square!) located in the Campus Martius (Field of Mars), west of Via del Corso.

Here, all you would have had to do is look at the ground (a section of the original square in photo 1), provided it was a sunny day, because Augustus (yes him again, first emperor of Rome) decided to build the largest sundial ever. Mind you, his intents and purposes were not exclusively chronological . . .

1) He built it with the giant 65 foot obelisk that he took as trophy upon conquering the entire Egyptian empire, in 31 B.C.

2) He set it up so that on the autumnal equinox (his birthday!) the shadow from its tip touched the Ara Pacis, the triumphal “Arch of Peace” symbolizing his newly established Pax Romana, euphemism for “Peace for all… and don’t even think of being uppity or I shall trounce you all a second time.”

3) He dedicated it to the Sun, symbol of supreme god-given power.

And in case the message hadn’t sunk in enough he…

4) rotated the obelisk slightly so its north face actually faced his family’s mausoleum just up the road where he would eventually be buried.

Slightly different scale, but… somewhat like ostentatiously wearing a fancy watch today?

sundial3

GB

by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

10 Responses to “Quota Hora Est?”

  1. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    GB…did you miss one point? In the lower eastern corner, when looking very closely, I believe I saw inscribed ‘Rolexis I’

    Reply
  2. Vicki harris

    The Ara Pacis is the Altar of Peace, so I remain confused as to the orientation. The Ara Pacis is now enclosed in a Richard Meier designed edifice in central Rome. What is the actual orientation of the Sundial?

    Reply
    • GB

      Great eye, Vicki! You are right, it is now located by the river. Its original location, however, was near Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, in the area now occupied by the Italian Parliament and Cinema Nuovo Olympia on Via del Corso. That is the location you see in the drawing (last image in today’s note).

      Reply
  3. Bob Lemon

    The article today was fun. However, an “ara” in Latin is an altar rather than an arch. The support system on the Ara Pacis is trabeated rather than arcuated. So there is no structural arch in play.

    Symbolically the ara was a testament to peace and plenty under the Augustan leadership.

    I enjoy the the web posts. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • GB

      Bob, you are absolutely right, I stand corrected! Thanks for the interesting info.

      Reply
    • GB

      The area is now home to the Parliament and Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, just off of Via del Corso.
      Best,
      GB

      Reply
  4. Hello,
    Thank you for the informative article about Augustus’ timepiece. I hadn’t known that! I will comment that the “Ara Pacis” is usually called the Altar of Peace, and not the Arch of Peace.
    Best,
    John Rose

    Reply
  5. Toni Galli Sterling

    Another fabulous piece of history come back to “life” thanks to your piece, GB. Please keep them coming!

    Reply
  6. umberto levrini

    thanks GB for all the interesting articles u bring to all of us on Italian notebook–i look forward every day to ur entres and hope that i will be able to revisit the beautiful italia of my parents ever so often to show my children the many wonderful areas where i grew up —thanks again and bonna fortunia !!

    Reply

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