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The Altar of Victory was located in the Roman Senate House (the Curia) bearing a gold statue of the goddess Victory. The altar was established by Octavian in 29 BC in honor of the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. The statue depicted a winged woman, holding a palm and descending to present a laurel wreath to the victorious. The statue was captured by the Romans in 272 BC from Pyrrhus of Epirus.

The altar was removed from the curia by Emperor Constantius II in 357, restored by Julian the Apostate and again removed by Gratian in 382. After Gratian's death, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, the Prefect of Rome and a Pagan, wrote to the new Emperor Valentinian II in 384 requesting the restoration of the Altar. His request was met with strong resistance from Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who held a great deal of power over the young Emperor, in part due to the Imperial Court's residence in Milan.

Further petitions to restore the statue were deflected in 391 by an edict of the Christian Emperor Theodosius I as part of his suppression of the old pagan religions.

The altar was restored by usurper Eugenius, during his short lived (392-394) rule (Paulinus of Milan, Vita Ambrosii). After this it is not recorded what happened to it. It is probable that Theodosius removed the altar, but it is not clear whether he hid it or caused its destruction.

Further reading

  • Richard Klein: Symmachus. Eine tragische Gestalt des ausgehenden Heidentums. Darmstadt (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft [Impulse der Forschung, Band 2]) 1971, ISBN 3-534-04928-4.
  • Richard Klein: Der Streit um den Victoriaaltar. Die dritte Relatio des Symmachus und die Briefe 17, 18 und 57 des Mailänder Bischofs Ambrosius. Darmstadt (WBG [Texte zur Forschung Band 7]) 1972, ISBN 3-534-05169-6.

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