Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology
Images of vegetal life are plentiful in Augustan art but are usually understood as representations of a natural or supernatural world in which humanity has only a minor influence. This study interprets the images of plants as products of horticulture and Roman civilization. More specifically, the vegetal imagery on the Ara Pacis Augustae, the altar to Augustan Peace, is recognized as a representation of horticultural grafting. A close examination of the vegetal forms on the dado of the monument demonstrates that different types of plants have been combined in ways that clearly follow the ancient understanding and significance of horticultural grafting. Grafting is examined and analyzed extensively in the Greek and Roman sources, and important discussions of the phenomenon appear in surprising places. An understanding emerges that is different from today and clarifies how the Greeks and Romans used the horticultural technique as a way to understand better and guide processes of creation, civilization, production, politics, and peace. The significance of Varro’s treatise On Agriculture, which is more of a commentary on contemporary Roman society than an agricultural handbook, takes on a new meaning after it has been read in terms of grafting. Representations of grafting are identified and analyzed, and demonstrate that the Ara Pacis is not the only example of grafting imagery in Augustan art. Grafted trees that are well established have a different significance and appear in different thematic contexts from representations of young trees and plants that have been grafted in a nursery. The paintings on the walls of Livia’s garden room at Prima Porta are given an extensive analysis with new conclusions. The archaeological record complements the evidence for grafting in art. Ollae perforatae or perforated pots found in gardens are interpreted as a Roman apparatus of grafting. While the great vegetal frieze of the Ara Pacis is interpreted as a representation of a real plant that has actually been grafted, the entire monument is explained through the ancient understanding of grafting as metaphor. The themes and composition of the sculptural program of the monument are shown to follow a grafting logic that produces Augustan Peace.
Cofer, Clay M. “The Ara Pacis Augustae and the Ancient Understanding of Grafting.” PhD diss., Bryn Mawr College, 2015.