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Chapter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries

by Rodolfo Lanciani

published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company
Boston and New York, 1898

Text, maps and black & white illustrations are in the public domain.
Any color photos are © William P. Thayer.


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Chapter

p74 CHAPTER IV

PUBLIC PLACES OF RESORT.

Parks, gardens, and public squares have been happily compared to the lungs of a city; and if the health and general welfare of a city depend upon the normal and sound function of its respiratory organs, ancient Rome, in this respect, must be considered as the healthiest city which has ever existed on earth. Comparing the documents we possess on Roman topography, texts of classics, inscriptions, plan ruins, and so forth, we learn that towards the end of the third century after Christ there were in Rome eight campi or commons, green spaces set apart mostly for foot-races and gymnastic exercises; eighteen fora or public squares, and about thirty parks and gardens, which, first laid out by wealthy citizens for their private comfort or for the comfort of their friends, had been absorbed into the imperial domain by right of purchase, by bequest, or by confiscation. This three classes of open spaces, namely, commons, forums, and parks, are far from representing the total amount of free ground which the citizens could enjoy at any hour of the day or night. We must add to the list the cemeteries, those marble cities of the dead, shadowed by stately cypresses and weeping-willows; the sacred enclosures of temples with their colonnades and fountains; the porticoes, expressly built for the sake of allowing citizens to move about pleasantly in hot or rainy weather; and lastly, the great thermae, establishments provided with every possible comfort and accommodation to insure the health of the p75body and the education of the mind. It is not possible to describe all these groups of public open places in a single chapter. I shall simply sketch the outline of this important feature of ancient Rome, leaving aside commons, ornamental cemeteries, and sacred enclosures, and confining myself to forums, baths, and public parks.

Beginning with the forums or public squares, I shall speak of them not from a purely artistic or archaeological point of view, but with regard to their capacity for giving to the citizens free movement and free air.

The first forum of Rome, the one called afterwards the Forum Romanum magnum, was established on newly made land, on ground reclaimed from the marshes of the Velabrum:

"Hic ubi nunc fora sunt, udae tenuere paludes:

nunc solida est tellus, sed lacus ante fuit!"

(Ovid, Fasti VI. 395.)

It answered its purpose very well during the first three or four centuries of Rome, not only on account of its size, but especially on account of its central position, and of the facility of access from the neighboring valleys.

In its first state, the forum was a tract of gently undulating, grassy, damp ground, bordering on a swamp, surrounded on two sides by the lofty perpendicular cliffs of the Palatine and of the Capitol, and used exclusively as a public market. On its sides there were a few conical straw huts, such as the one in which the public fire was kept, transformed in process of time into the beautiful temple of Vesta. On the north side, directly under the Capitoline hill, there were some stone quarries, called Lautumiae, afterwards transformed into the Carcer Tullianum, or Mamertine Prison. There were also two fine springs of water, one issuing from these quarries or Lautumiae, the same p76which is shown to visitors as a miraculous feature of S. Peter's Prison; the other issuing from the ivy-clad rocks of the Palatine, and called the spring of Juturna. The first improvement, made at an early date, toward the regular arrangement of the forum was the drainage of the stagnant waters which surrounded it, and the canalization of the two above-mentioned springs.

Other improvements were accomplished under the kings. Numa Pompilius organized the service for the maintenance of a public fire at the disposal of citizens, and built a very convenient and elaborate hut for the young maidens, the Vestals, in charge of the fire, and for the high priest charged with the surveillance of this department. Tullus Hostilius built on the east side of the forum a stone enclosure, called the Curia, in which the senators could hold their meetings; he also fenced in a space in front of the Curia, named the Comitium, in which the polling for election took place. Tarquinius Priscus finally gave to the forum the regular shape of a parallelogram, which it preserved down to the fall of the Empire, and divided the ground surrounding it into leading lots, which were sold to private speculators with the condition that shops should be built there, and porticoes on the fronts of the houses facing the forum.

Such was the character and condition of the public square of Rome during the kingly period. It does not come within the scope of this chapter to follow, stage by stage, even by centuries, its development into a magnificent forum, surrounded by stately edifices. I will satisfy myself by tracing brief outline of its prominent features as it appeared near the end of the Republic, when, having become p77almost ridiculously small for the accommodation of the people, it began to lose its individuality by the addition of other fora, far larger and more luxurious.

Towards the end of the republican period, obscure private edifices, shops, and houses, had totally disappeared from the bordering line of the square, and had made room for more substantial structures of a public character. Beginning at the north side, that is to say, at the side of the Tarpeian rock and of the Capitoline hill, the first conspicuous building was the temple of Saturn, used not only as a pow, but also as a public treasury for civil purposes. As a pow, it was remarkable on account of its strange ritual: it was the only temple in Rome which the devout could enter with heads uncovered; it was the first to have inaugurated the use of burning wax tapers; it was the first temple, the anniversary feast of which — the well-known Saturnalia — has been transformed in progress of time into the Carnival, an institution once famous, now fast dying out in Italy. Other places of interest on the north side were the temple of Concord, used as a military treasury; the Graecostasis, a space set apart for ambassadors from foreign nations, waiting to be admitted into the Curia, or Senate-house, and the State Prison above referred to.

The east side was occupied by two structures separated by a wide street, — the Senate-house and the Court-house, — called Basilica Aemilia. (In the middle of the street separating the Curia from the Basilica, there was the small square temple of Janus Quadrifrons.) Of these structures the Senate-his was, politically speaking, the most important building in Rome, in spite of the simplicity of its architecture. It was an oblong hall, eighty-five feet long, seventy-five wide, raised on a platform made accessible by a p78flight of steps, the same down which the body of King Servius Tullius had been hurled by Tarquinius. Inside it contained several rows of wooden benches, the Speaker's desk, a wooden tribune, and behind the Speaker's chair a small apartment containing the archives of the House. So extreme was the frugality and self-denial of those worthy republican senators, that they had never allowed their hall to be warmed in the depths of winter, in an age in which even the houses of the peasantry would be furnished with heating apparatus. In a letter addressed by Cicero to his brother, on January 6, 692 A.U.C., he relates how the Speaker Appius, having summoned the senators to an important meeting, tantum fuit frigus, ut populi convicio coactus sit nos dimittere, it grew so intensely cold that he was obliged to dismiss the assembly and expose the senators to the raillery and derision of the populace.

p79 In the year 700 A.U.C. this venerable edifice, more than five hundred years old, was burned down by the partisans of Clodius, the fierce tribune whose name is so familiar to students of Cicero. The revolutionary instincts of the mob having been aroused and excited by violent speeches, a certain Sextus Clodius, a scribe, broke into the adjoining Senate-hall at the head of a band of roughs, carrying on their shoulders the corpse of the murdered anarchist; and having made a kind of pyre of the benches, tables, books, and shelves, set everything into a blaze, and burned with the corpse of Clodius the Curia itself, and the adjoining Court-house, then called the Basilica Porcia.

I have spoken more at length of this building and of its p80conflagration in the year 700, because its reconstruction by Julius Caesar and Augustus, together with the reconstruction of the adjoining Court-house, marks the period of the transformation of the old forum itself, as I shall presently relate.

To complete our tour along the two remaining sides of the square, I shall mention on the south side, the fornix Fabianus, a triumphal arch raised in the year 633 of Rome to Fabius Maximus Allobrogicus, the conqueror of Savoy, one of the oldest, if not the very oldest, arch in the city, the remains of which we brought to light in March, 1882; the temple of Vesta and the convent of the Vestals, the discovery of which will form the subject of my sixth chapter; and lastly, the aedes Castorum, temple of Castor and Pollux, built on the very spot at which the two Dioscuri had been miraculously seen watering their horses at the spring of Juturna, to announce the great victory of Lake Regillus, gained by the Romans on that same day, in 496 B.C.

The western and last side was still and for the greater portion occupied by rows of shops. Originally they were of an inferior order, mostly butcher shops, such as the one from which Virginius is said to have seized the knife with which he avenged the honor of his violated daughter. Later on, the butchers gave up the place to schoolmasters for elementary teaching. Lastly, towards the end of the Republic, brokers, bankers, and money lenders and changers took absolute possession of the place, and transformed it into a real Wall Street. As regards the square itself, the proper area of the forum, it was full of every kind of obstruction; so much so, that we wonder how in such a small and encumbered space the actual populace could move about.

p81 In the first place, there was another populace of stone, marble, and bronze: the well known statue of Marsyas, near the Rostra, the daily meeting-place of lawyers and attorneys of an inferior rank, selected also by Julia, daughter of Augustus, for her nocturnal rendezvous: the one of Tatius, marking the spot in which the treaty of peace between the Romans and the Sabines had been sworn; those of Atta Navius, Pythagoras, and Alcibiades, near the Senate-house; the bronze statue of Servius Sulpicius, whose descendants had the right of occupying a space of five feet square, free of payment, in front of the statue itself, on the occasion of gladiatorial games, shows, and festivities; a stone lion, marking the spot in which Faustulus, the tutor of Romulus, had been buried, according to an early tradition; the statues of Horatius Cocles; of the ambassadors murdered at Fidenae; of Q. Marcius Tremulus, the conqueror of the Hernici, and so forth. So great was the hindrance caused by this army of statues, that in the year 156 B.C. the censor Cornelius Scipio was obliged to clear away the whole crowd, respecting only those which had been put up by a decree of the Senate. The second obstruction was the trees, of every age and quality: the Ficus Ruminalis, which Tacitus describes as having shown the first signs of decay eight hundred and forty-one years after the twin infants Romulus and Remus had been exposed under its shade; a lotus-tree growing between the temples of Saturn and Concord, described by Masurius as older than Rome itself; a fig-tree, which was cut down at the age of two hundred and sixty-one years, because its roots had undermined and nearly overturned an old stone figure of Sylvanus; a vine and an olive-tree near the spring of Juturna, and others.

I shall not speak of the Rostra or public tribune, of the Columna rostrata raised in honor of C. Duillius, the Roman p82admiral who defeated the Carthaginian fleet; of the Puteal Scribonianum, marking a spot struck by lightning, and made sacred; of the Jani, or four-faced porches, because the description of these prominent features of the forum would lead me far from the special topic of the present lecture. I will conclude my brief sketch by remarking that, besides the obstacles already described, the square and its vicinity were occupied by certain classes of people, not particularly distinguished, who so constantly haunted this or that special corner of the place that they were actually nicknamed from it. Thus we hear of the Subrostrani, attorneys and lawyers without employment, who haunted the neighborhood of the Rostra; of the Canalicolae, drunkards keeping themselves near the Canalis, a place the explanation of which is given by Plautus in Curculio, IV.1; and in a more general manner we hear of the forenses, habitués of the forum, who used to spend hours upon hours in laziness and gossip near the Solarium, or sun-dial, or near the Tabula Valeria, a kind of panorama of the battle gained by M. Valerius Messalla over King Hieron of Syracuse, painted on the outside wall of the Senate-house in the year 492 A.U.C.a Fruit-sellers had taken possession of the ascents leading from the forum to the top of the Velia; jewellers, goldsmiths, makers of musical instruments, of the Sacred Way; perfumers, of the Tuscan Street (vicus Tuscus), leading to the Circus Maximus; copyists, sellers of books and literary novelties, of the Argiletum, a street leading toward the ill-famed Subura, which was also the rendezvous of pickpockets, who were in the habit of meeting in the afternoon to partake and otherwise dispose of the morning's booty. Then there was a special place in the forum for usurers, lenders, and changers of money; another, the porticoes of the Basilicae, for fishmongers, who poisoned the clients of the court-house with the offensive smell of their merchandise.

p83 The first improvement towards the improvement of this obnoxious state of things was taken in the seventh century of Rome by the construction of a fish-market or forum piscatorium. Then followed the construction of the Basilicae Fulvia, Porcia, Sempronia, which being surrounded by porticoes, and the constantly open day and night, increased, in a certain measure, the accommodation of the frequenters of the forum. In the year 699, M. Aemilius Paulus bought private property on the east side of the forum for the sum of $2,400,000, and built his superb Basilica Aemilia, called by Cicero magnificentissima. The reason for this great undertaking is given by the same writer; ut forum laxaremus, to enlarge the area and extent of the forum. The Basilica, the finest ever built in that, was dedicated twenty years after the beginning of the work in 719 A.U.C.; eighteen years afterwards, when it had been injured by fire, Augustus and other friends of Aemilius Paulus supplied the funds necessary to restore the edifice, and to decorate it with the famous columns of pavonazetto marble, which were transferred five centuries later to the basilica of S. Paul outside the walls (perhaps on account of the similarity of their names), and almost entirely destroyed by the great fire of 1823.

The work of Aemilius Paulus was continued by Julius Caesar. So enormous was the sum of money which he spent in the year 702 to purchase the area for his new forum (an extension of the old one) that even the unimpressionable Pliny exclaims, pyramides regum miramur, cum solum tantum foro exstruendo HS millies Caesar dictator emerit! "We wonder at the Egyptian pyramids, when Caesar, as dictator, spent one hundred millions of sesterces merely for the ground on which to build his forum!" The sum of one hundred millions of sesterces, mentioned by p84Pliny and confirmed by Suetonius, corresponds to four million dollars; and as the area purchased by Caesar does not exceed ninety thousand square feet, it is evident he must have paid, on an average, $44.45 per foot. This forum of Caesar took the shape of a sacred enclosure surrounding the temple of Venus Genetrix, so named because this goddess was considered by Caesar to be the one from whom his own family had originated. The statue of the divinity was a masterpiece by Arcesilaos, and a masterpiece also was the equestrian statue of the dictator himself, placed in front of the temple. The horse was carefully modelled from nature. In the sixty-first chapter of his Life of Caesar, Suetonius speaks at length of this famous charger. It was a charger, he says, whose fore-feet were nearly human, the hoofs being split in imitation of toes. The animal was foaled in the family mews; and as the augurs, when asked to explain the miracle of the hoofs, had declared that it portended the empire of the world for his master, Caesar devoted himself to the education of the colt, and the colt conceived such an affection for his master that he would never allows himself to be fed, or taken care of, or ridden by anybody else. The temple of Venus Genetrix contained famous paintings by Greek artists, which Pliny describes; six collections of engraved gems and cameos; and a breast-plate for the statue of the goddess, entirely covered with pearls from Britain.

Augustus followed the example of Caesar, and in continuation of the two forums built a third one, still more magnificent, named the forum Augustum, or else the forum Martis from the temple of Mars the Avenger, which stood in the middle of it. The reason given by Augustus himself for this work was the absolute inefficiency of the two previous forums for the transaction of business and the administration p85of justice. No words could describe the beauty of this architectural chef-d'oeuvre, the remains of which, known by the modern name of the Arco de' Pantani, rank among the very finest of ancient Rome. The most notable feature of the place was a gallery of statues, representing the generals who by their exploits and victories had increased the power of Rome, and had subjugated to it more than one half of the old world. I can only mention the fourth forum, built by Vespasian, and the fifth, begun by Domitian and completed by Nerva. Although smaller and altogether less remarkable than the three preceding ones, they would have been the pride of any of the town than Rome. In Vespasian's forum, dedicated to Peace (forum Pacis), the gold vessels and the seven-branched candlestick from the great temple of Zion had been deposited, as a votive offering to the goddess. In Domitian's forum, dedicated to Minerva, there was another gallery of portrait-statues, in imitation, or rather as an extension, of the one exhibited in the forum of Augustus. The statues were of colossal size, and represented the Roman emperors. One only has come down to us, the so‑called Pyrrhus, placed at the foot of the staircase of the Capitoline Museum, and noticeable for the really shameful way in which it was restored, altered, and disfigured at the beginning of the last century.

We must now enter the last and most magnificent square belonging to the group I have attempted to describe, the forum of Trajan, the handsomest and costliest monument of ancient Rome. To fully explain its importance as a masterpiece, not only of architecture, but also of engineering, I must lay before the reader's eyes a sketch of the topographical conditions of the centre of the town, in connection with its viability and traffic.

p86 The Capitoline hill, situated in the very centre of the town, originally was not isolated, as it is at present, but was connected with the adjoining Quirinal hill by a high ridge, which sloped sharply down towards the Roman forum on the south side, towards the Campus Martius on the north side. In other words, it was not an isolated hill, which the daily tide of the city traffic could turn on every side, as is the case now; it was a barrier, an obstacle, an obstruction, which cut the town and its traffic right in two, and could only be overcome in one of two ways: either by ascending and then descending the steep ridge which connected it with the Quirinal, along a lane corresponding with the modern Via Marforio, — a lane only ten feet wide, with a gradient of 12 to 100, which crossed the ridge at its lowest point, or by rounding the Capitol on the river-side. The passage could be accomplished on this side on level ground, it is true, but it was three times as long as a direct line carried across the ridge; and besides, fancy what the condition of the traffic must have been in that narrow strip of land between the Capitol and the left bank of the Tiber, which afforded the only possible line of communication between two halves of a city inhabited by nearly two million souls!

To obviate the evil, to allow citizens freedom of movement, to relieve the streets surrounding the Capitol on the river-side from the pressure of traffic, and, at the same time, to double at once the surface of the five existing forums, Trajan conceived the idea of severing the Capitol from the Quirinal, of cutting away the ridge, and of substituting for it a level passage, nearly six hundred feet wide. His plans were carried into execution by a skilful man, the architect Apollodorus, in about fifteen years' time. To give an approximate idea of the importance of the work, I will mention p87two things only: first, that private property, built on each side and on the top of the ridge, must have been purchased and appropriated to the extent of some 275,000 square feet. Supposing the price paid by Trajan to be the same as that paid by Julius Caesar for the area of his forum, namely, $44.45 per square foot, the ground alone must have cost Trajan the sum of $12,223,000. The second remark refers to the work of cutting, excavating, and carting away the mountain. So great was the astonishment created by the titanic achievement, even in a city accustomed to wonders, that the well-known column, that prototype of monumental pillars, was erected at a public cost ad declarandum quantae altitudinis monumentum et locus sit egestus, — "to show to posterity how high rose the mountain levelled by the Emperor." Trajan's column is one hundred and forty feet high, from the pavement of the forum to the top of the bronze statue. This circumstance helps us to state the total amount of earth and rock removed to make room for the forum at 24,000,000 cubic feet. I have made investigations all over the Campagna, within a radius of three or four miles from the walls, to discover the place where the 24,000,000 cubic feet were carted and dumped, but my efforts have not, as yet, been crowned with success. This fact leads me to suppose that the enormous mass might perhaps have been utilized to fill up some marshy district in the neighborhood of Rome.

The reader must not imagine this forum of Trajan as a simple square, surrounded by porticoes, and ornamented more or less abundantly with works of art. The forum of Trajan comprised seven different sections, namely: the propylaia, or triumphal arch of the Emperor; the square itself, with the equestrian statue in the middle; the Basilica Ulpia; the Bibliotheca Ulpia; the two hemicycles; the monumental p88column; and the temple of Trajan. The ensemble of these various sections was considered not only the masterpiece of Roman architecture of the golden age, but one of the marvels of the world. Let me quote the words with which Ammianus Marcellinus (XVI. 10) describes the impressions felt by the Emperor Constantius at the first sight of the group: "Having now entered the forum of Trajan, the most marvellous creation of human genius, — singularem sub omni caelo structuram, — he was struck with admiration, and looked around in amazement, without being able to utter a word, wondering at the gigantic structures, — giganteos contextus, — which no pen can describe, and which mankind can create and see only once in the course of centuries. Having consequently given up any hope of building himself anything which would approach, even at a respectful distance, the work of Trajan, he turned his attention to the equestrian statue placed in the centre of the p89forum, and said to his attendants he would have one like it in Constantinople." These words having been heard by Hormisdas, a young Persian prince attached to his court, he turned quietly towards the Emperor, and said, "If your majesty wants to secure and keep such a horse, you must first provide him with a stable like this." So far Ammianus Marcellinus.

Cassiodorius SIC asserts that, no matter how many times one saw this forum, it would always appear a prodigious, a miraculous work, more than the work of man. Such being the estimation in which Trajan's masterpiece was held in ancient times, such being its beauty and perfection, I cannot attempt to enter into details, and describe one by one its various sections and their contents. It is enough to say that by the addition of Trajan's forum to the five which already existed, the whole space put at the disposal of the people of Rome, for meeting in public, for promenading, for the transaction of business or the administration of justice, and so forth, was brought to the grand total of twenty-five and a half acres. This space contained thirteen temples, three basilicas, or court-houses, eight triumphal arches, the house of parliament, thousands of life-size statues in bronze and marble, porticoes more than one mile long, and supported by about twelve hundred columns, public libraries and archives, and the finest and richest shops of the metropolis.

Next to forums I must speak of the baths as places of public resort. At the end of the third century after Christ, Rome numbered 11 large public thermae, and 926 smaller ones conducted under private enterprise. The baths of Caracalla alone could accommodate, at one time, 1,600 people; the baths of Diocletian, 3,600. Taking 1,500 as p90the average accommodation of each of the public thermae, and 50 as that of each of the private baths, we learn that in ancient Rome, at any minute, 62,800 citizens could restore their strength in baths of every nature and description; and this, without bringing into the calculation the Tiber, the Anio, the Lake of Agrippa, and the bathing accommodations with which every Roman house was abundantly furnished. These dryº figures and statistics concern only cleanliness and bodily health. But for those who frequented the great thermae bathing was the very last thought, — I mean for the fashionable habitués of imperial times; since the earlier generations, those which had made Rome the queen of the world, had always considered the bath as the most important event and the most essential requirement in the every-day life. In course of time, and under the corruption which began to contaminate Roman society after the conquest of the East, bodily health and cleanliness, although the original object, had long ceased to be the only one; for the thermae, decorated with prodigal magnificence, and supplied with all the comforts, conveniences, and novelties that a voluptuary could desire, had become places of amusement, whither people repaired for pastime and enjoyment. They were, in a word, gigantic clubs, where the elegant youth passed the whole day, at least the hours in which the establishments were open. Of course, the number of hours varied according to the season, or the good-will of the Emperor. The opening was announced by the sound of a bell heard at a great distance. Sonat aes thermarum! was the exclamation popular among the anxiously awaiting habitués. A great deal has been written by Salmasius, Marini, Becker, and other antiquarians about the hours for opening and closing the public baths. The truth is that they varied at different periods, from sunrise until sunset. p91Pliny the younger says that his friend Spurinna bathed in winter at the ninth hour, in summer at the eighth. Vopiscus mentions the ninth as the opening hour. Thermae apud veteres non ante nonam aperiebantur. The Emperor Hadrian made a new regulation. He ordered that nobody should enter the thermae before the eighth hour of the day except those provided with a certificate from the attendant physician, and absolutely no one after sunset. Severus Alexander not only caused the gates to be opened again at sunrise, but ordered them to be kept open until late at night, defraying the expense of illumination from his own private purse. The Emperor Tacitus again restricted the time to the length of the day, as the concession made by his predecessor had given occasion to great nocturnal disturbances; but probably this did not continue long in force, for we find again in the Codex of Justinian a certain sum allotted to the cost of lighting. Thermae became by degrees places of the most foolish debauchery. Suetonius relates of Caligula that he imagined unheard-of refinements in bathing and eating, and that he carried the luxury of bathing to such an extent that he took his bath, not in water, but in tepid perfumes. Helagabalus, the mad youth who put vases of murrha (the costliest and most precious material known to the ancients) to the vilest uses of the imperial household, used to swim in basins the water of which had been mixed with the oil of saffron.

With regard to the custom of allowing both sexes to bathe at the same time, the regulations were changed under different emperors. There is no doubt that Roman women, even the noblest of them, visited the public baths; but, as a rule, they were provided with separate rooms. Atia, the mother of Augustus, after the fabulous rencontre in the Temple of Apollo, bore on her person the indelible p92mark of a serpent, to conceal which from indiscreet eyes she was obliged to give up frequenting public baths. Juvenal and Martial allude very often to the gross immorality of the men and women bathing together; but we must not believe that the immorality was general. Hadrian was the first Emperor to put an end to this shameful disorder, though only for a brief period; because the periodical renewal of these interdicts shows that the evil could not be eradicated. In 1870, an inscription was found near some private baths in the Trastevere, containing the following notice: "By order of the mighty god Sylvanus, women are prohibited from stepping into the swimming basin reserved for the men." This inscription shows that police regulations were not enough to keep fast women in order, and that the owners of baths, responsible for the decency of their establishments, were obliged to resort to the intervention of the gods. The last thing we hear on this subject is a general decree promulgated by Heliogabalus, by which promiscuous bathing was allowed everywhere and at all hours. Let us follow one of the elegant youths of Rome into one of the great thermae. He is welcomed at his entrance by the ostiarius, or porter, a tall, majestic fellow with a sword at his side, and by the capsarius, or wardrobe-keeper, who takes charge of his wraps. Then follows a general salutation and kissing of friends, exchange of the last topics and scandals of the day; reading of the newspapers, or acta diurna. The visitor then selects the kind of bath which may suit his particular case, — cold, tepid, warm, shower, or perspiration bath. The bath over, the real business begins, as, for example, taking a constitutional up and down the beautiful grounds, indulging in athletic sports or simple gymnastics to restore circulation, and to prepare himself for the delights of the table.

p93 The luxurious meal finished, the gigantic club-house could supply him with every kind of amusement: libraries, concerts, literary entertainments, reading of the latest poems or novels, popular or Barnum-like shows, conversation with the noblest and most beautiful women. Very often a second bath was taken to prepare for the evening meal. All this could be done by three or four thousand persons at one and the same time, without confusion or delay, because of the great number of servants and slaves attached to the establishment.

The excavations and discoveries which Abel Blouet made in 1824, Guidi in 1878, and ourselves during the last fifteen years in the baths of Caracalla, show clearly how the service was organized. It was carried on entirely underground, by means of crypto-porticoes, which allowed the servants to appear suddenly everywhere, and to meet the requirements of the visitors without crossing the halls and without interfering with the circulation of the noble crowd. In fact, we have discovered a fragment of the "order of the day," or programme of the distribution of service on the nineteenth day of April, A.D. 226.

This unique and most remarkable document, which we were fortunate enough to bring to light in January, 1881, was evidently written by one of the overseers in charge of a special department, say, for instance, the department of the wardrobe; and for the want of the proper material it was written with a black pencil on a piece of marble, evidently belonging to the incrustation of the walls of the room which was used as an office. It contains, first, the abovementioned date (April 19th) and the name of the Emperor, Severus Alexander. Then follows a list of p94names of slaves and servants, such as Zoticus, Gaudentius, Panacius, Januarius, Stephanus, etc., and near each name a number, which varies from a minimum of one half to a maximum of three and a half, — numbers which probably refer to the hours of duty of each individual.

I have spoken of public squares and of baths as places of resort and enjoyment for the people of Rome; I come now to another special characteristic, — that of the porticoes, which occupied the whole plain of the campus Martius, stretching from the foot of the hills on the left bank of the river to the river itself. They followed one another almost without interval, filling up the spaces between the great buildings, such as the circuses, theatres, stadia, temples, etc. Between the Capitol, the Quirinal, and the river, not less than twenty porticoes were erected. Under the republican rule they were almost a rarity; and besides, the few that existed at that time were built, not as mere places of pleasant meeting, but with a definite and more practical aim. Thus the Porticus Minucia served as a cornº exchange; the one surrounding the forum Olitorium as a market for fresh vegetables; that around the theatre of Pompey was a place of rehearsal for choruses, and a refuge for spectators in case of sudden rain. Augustus made porticoes popular; he introduced the fashion and taste for them, either building them with his own money, or else helping and inviting his personal friends and admirers to follow his example. In less than twenty years the whole Campus Martius was covered with colonnades. Augustus himself constructed the Portico of Octavia, the ruins of which are such a prominent landmark in the Ghetto, or Jewish quarter of modern Rome; another near Pompey's theatre, p95called Ad Nationes, on account of some colossal statues representing the various nations of the world; and lastly, he rebuilt from the foundations the one named Corinthian, on account of the capitals of the columns being made of gilt Corinthian brass. Cornelius Balbus, an intimate friend of the emperor, built his famous Crypta at the rear of his theatre, the ruins of which we are now engaged in bringing to light. Marcius Philippus built the portico which surrounded the Temple of Hercules; Vipsanius Agrippa, the prime minister and official adviser of Augustus, went further, and in the magnificence and grandeur of his constructions cast into the shade both predecessors and contemporaries. To him the Romans were indebted for the porticus Vipsania, so named from his sister, Vipsania Polla; for the Septa, a portico used for electoral meetings under shelter; the villa p96Publica, the portico of the Argonauts, and the portico of Europa. And as if such a superabundance of luxury were not deemed sufficient for the comfort and well-being of the Romans, the example of Augustus and his courtiers found imitators down to the very fall of the Empire, as shown by the porticoes of Constantine and of the Bonus Eventus, and by the porticus maximae of Gratian, Valentinian, p97and Theodosius. Finally, we have accounts of similar enormous structures, designed but not built, or else begun and not finished. Severus Alexander, for instance, began a portico 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, supported by one thousand marble columns, and destined to connect the Septa with his baths. Gordianus the younger also began a portico under the Pincian hill, 900 yards in circumference, and enclosing a garden 44,000 square yards in extent. The enterprise was stopped by his premature death. The same fate befell the portico of Gallienus, a prince illustrious for the extravagance of his artistic projects. I shall mention only one of them. He had designed raising on the very top of the Esquiline hill a most unheard-of colossal statue, 219 feet high, — that is to say, twice the height of Trajan's column, — which would have represented him as the sun, holding a rod in his hands. A spiral staircase, to be ingeniously made in the rod, was to allow visitors to reach the very top of the colossus. The same prince began a portico 9,000 feet long, which would have led from the centre of Rome to the Ponte Molle (the Milvian Bridge). We do not know whether the idea was carried out to its full extent.

I doubt whether students of Roman topography have paid due attention to the special nature of these structures, which covered with a network of colonnades the whole space between the hills and the river. Porticoes have been studied individually, and, under this aspect, they appear to us sometimes as simple enclosures of temples, sometimes as picture-galleries and museums of statuary, sometimes as places of rendezvous for the elegant, lazy youths and their sweethearts. Their importance, however, increases ten-fold if we consider them, not individually, but combined, as successive manifestations of the same original conception p98or plan, that is, as an institution contrived and developed for the benefit of the public. In Rome, certainly, the need of open, pleasant places of rest and amusement was not felt. I have already spoken of forums and baths; I shall speak presently of that superb crown of parks and gardens which surrounded and adorned the city; but these public gardens and parks and squares were naturally exposed to the rigor and inconstancy of the seasons, to the sharp tramontana or north wind, to the fierce rays of the sun in the dog-days. To obviate such inconveniences, to allow the inhabitants of the metropolis to take their "constitutional" walk in every season of the year, at every hour of the day, protected from the rain, the sun, and the cold, these porticoes were planned; or, to express my thought better, the idea was conceived of dedicating to this purpose a certain kind of edifice, which up to that time had had an entirely different purpose. It is needless to say that this happened when the contagion of Eastern luxury had begun to contaminate the purity of the true old Roman education. People have thought that the porticus Vipsania must have been built to exhibit in public the geographical maps of the provinces of the Empire, surveyed and drawn in the famous census mentioned in the Gospel of S. Luke; and that the portico of the Argonauts was built to exhibit, likewise, the famous picture representing the history of the Golden Fleece. This was not the design of those buildings, nor the idea the ancients had of them. Whenever classical writers, and especially Martial, speak of the porticoes, they constantly allude to one idea, — to the pleasure of enjoying there the warmth of the sun, when throughout the city people were shivering from the piercing tramontana. The place spoken of most frequently by Martial is the portico of Europa, the p99frequenters of which were protected by the colonnades, but also by high walls of boxwood, which intersected in graceful designs the inner space. By looking at a plan of ancient Rome, however defective and antiquated it may be, one sees very easily how it was possible to cross under shelter the whole plain of the Campus Martius, from end to end. The walk, taken either in a direct line from the Forum Boarium to Hadrian's Mausoleum, or by a longer circuit through the forum of Trajan and Agrippa's buildings, would cover a space of from two to three miles; and the sights which would have struck the eye of the foreign visitor at every step were enough to excite an imagination the least susceptible of enthusiasm. I have been tempted to calculate some statistical data concerning this incomparable group. The extent of the twelve larger porticoes of the Campus Martius amounts to 4,600 yards; the surface protected from the sun and rain to 28,000 square yards; the total area of the porticoes, central gardens included, to 100,000 square yards; the number of columns to 2,000, or thereabouts. These columns were cut out of the rarest kinds of breccias and marbles; their capitals were sometimes of Corinthian gilt brass; their pavements were inlaid with jasper and porphyry. Every portico contained, as I said before, a museum of sculpture and a gallery of pictures; and the space enclosed by them was decorated with lovely gardens, and with thickets of box, myrtle, laurel, and plane-trees, bordering lakes, fountains, and waterfalls. Besides, every one of them offered to the stranger some special attraction. In that of Vipsania Polla, the maps of the provinces of the Empire were displayed. The portico of the Septa was transformed into a huge magazine of curiosities, antiquities, and manufactures of the extreme East, China included. Here, also, some wonderful specimens of p100natural history were exhibited, such as a colossal beam left over from the building of the roof of the Diribitorium (the widest roof in Rome). Lastly, in the portico built by Marcius Philippus, ladies could find the latest and most remarkable specimens of wigs and hair-dressing which the fancy of Roman coiffeurs could contrive.

Having arrived at this point, I must speak finally of the principal subject which I wished to illustrate, namely, the parks and gardens. The city was not only surrounded and enclosed by them, but intersected in every direction. It is necessary to bear in mind that Rome occupies the thalweg of the Tiber, a plain less than a mile wide, and about three miles long, flanked east and west by the parallel ranges of hills, the highest of which, now called Monte Mario, rises to a height of about 450 feet. Both ranges were covered with gardens. Let us begin with the east range, overlooking the plain of the Campus Martius. The Pincian hill, the promenade of modern Rome, was occupied by the magnificent gardens of Acilius Glabrio, the existence of which was first made known in 1867 by the accidental discovery of an altar, dedicated to Sylvanus by the overseer or superintendent of Glabrio's gardens. Where the villa Medici, the seat of the French school of fine arts, now stands, were the gardens of the Anician family, as was ascertained in 1789 by the discovery of a pedestal and a statue dedicated to the owner of the place, Anicius Acilius Aginatius. The southwest slope of the same Pincian hill, now crossed by the Via S. Giuseppe a Capo le Case, was occupied by the gardens of Lucullus.

The valley between the Pincian and the Quirinal, from the modern Piazza Barberini to the Porta Salaria and the Porta Pia, a charming and undulating district, with glens p101and overhanging rocks, rivulets of pure water, and other natural attractions, was the seat of the gardens of Sallust, the finest and most celebrated of ancient Rome. Proceeding farther south, we should cross the gardens of Lollia Paulina, of Maecenas, of Aelius Lumia, of Torquatus, of Epaphroditus, of Gallienus, of Pallans, of Helagabalus, of Statilius Taurus, and many smaller gardens, all forming one stretch of verdure, more than two miles long and over half a mile wide. And here I must answer a question which has often been asked of me, namely, with is it possible that there was room for so many and such large pleasure-grounds in a district which we know for a certainty to have been occupied, from a very remote age, by public cemeteries? The careful and almost daily examination I have made of the ground, especially in the new quarters of the Viminal and of the Esquiline, enables me to solve the problem easily. The popular cemeteries having become offensive to public health, and real hot-beds of disease and contagion, Maecenas, the great statesman, decided to make a bold stroke, and to destroy the evil from the very roots. As I have p102already stated in the preceding chapter, he obtained from his sovereign and friend a grant of that portion of the Esquiline necropolis in which human bodies and carcasses, slaves and beasts, were thrown in horrible disorder, together with the daily refuse of the town; then buried the whole space under an enormous mass of pure earth, thirty feet deep, and turned that pestilential den into smiling gardens.

The same thing was done, in process of time, for the rest of the Esquiline cemeteries, even in that portion which was occupied by private family tombs. The way in which I discovered this fact is curious, and worth relating. When the plans for the new quarters were about to be carried into execution, our Archaeological Commission obtained from the municipality the permission to explore the ground beforehand, so that, as far as possible, nothing should be left under the new buildings. In carrying on this work of exploration, we left aside, of course, those places which we knew positively to have been searched before. Such, for instance, was the space between the so‑called temple of Minerva Medica and the Porta Maggiore, which, according to the accounts left by Ficoroni and Piranesi, had been thoroughly gone over in the second half of the last century. Events have proved that our policy may have found an excuse in the necessity of the moment, but was not a wise one. The first explorers of that rich archaeological ground, after crossing the stratum corresponding to the level of the imperial gardens, had stopped their work at the level of the drains, feeling sure that a deeper search would be absolutely fruitless. They labored under a false idea. A deeper search would have brought them, as it has brought us, to the stratum occupied by the republican cemetery, buried in the second century of the Christian era, not only for sanitary purposes, but to provide room for such an extension of public p103parks as was required by the increase of the population; and as, in the period in which the change took place, the religion of tombs was still deeply rooted even among the commonest workmen, we found those tombs absolutely intact, and full of rich funeral deposits. I will give only one instance. In excavating a space fifty feet long and thirty feet wide, within the gardens of Licinius Gallienus, we discovered between February 7 and May 27, 1871, five columbaria, containing 204 inscriptions, 200 lamps, 2 marble and 40 terra-cotta cinerary urns, 195 coins, 150 glass perfume-bottles, 200 flagonsº of terra-cotta, and a few gold finger and ear rings.

The hills on the west side of the valley were also occupied by an uninterrupted chain of gardens, from those of the Minician family, on the Monte Mario, to those of Julius Caesar, on the southern ridge of the Janiculum; and the banks of the river also had been transformed into a garden by Augustus, Pompey the Great, Domitia SIC, Nero, Caligula, and others.

p104 As I am prevented by want of space from entering into details, I shall mention only the latest discovery made in this department, — the discovery of an altogether unknown park. In building the foundation of Prince Massimo's palace, near the southwest corner of the central railway station, a line of terminal stones was brought to light, inscribed with the following legend: "These stones mark the boundary lines of the gardens of Lollia (horti Lolliani), which gardens are now the property of the Emperor Claudius." Many works of art and ornamental marbles were discovered there at the same time, which enable us to form an idea of the former beauty of the place. There is no doubt that the lady mentioned on the stones as the original owner of the grounds was Lollia Paulina, equally famous for her beauty, her wealth, and her misfortunes. She was the granddaughter of M. Lollius, the teacher and tutor of Caligula, who, having been reproached by his imperial pupil for the extortions he had committed on the populations of Asia Minor, had poisoned himself from shame and grief. The untold wealth of which Lollius had robbed that province was inherited by Lollia Paulina, of whom Pliny the elder speaks in the following terms: "I have seen the lady at evening parties, with her hair dressed in emeralds and pearls; in fact, she wore emeralds and pearls as ear-rings, necklaces, breast-plate, bracelets, and also as simple trimming of her robe, to such excess that the value of the whole set was estimated at 40,000,000 sesterces [$1,600,000]." In the year of Rome 790, Caligula fell in love with the lady, and made an empress of her, in spite of the protests of her legal husband, Memmius Regulus. However, he soon grew tired of the alliance, and Paulina was banished from the imperial house, with the injunction that she should live henceforth with no man, not p105even with her former husband. Eleven years later, the Emperor Claudius, being in search of a wife, after the death of Messalina, hesitated for a while between the two "professional beauties" of the age, Lollia Paulina and Agrippina. Court intrigues made the balance turn, at the end, in favor of Agrippina, and the first act of the new empress was to obtain the banishment of the abhorred rival and the seizure of her personal property. Among the estates thus confiscated and incorporated in the imperial domain were evidently the gardens on the Esquiline, the existence of which has now been accidentally revealed to us for the first time.


Thayer's Note:

a There is no agreement on the problematic Tabula Valeria; this is just one of the common theories. For an overview, see the article Tabula Valeria in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary, and note there the further links to two journal articles (AJPCP) going into greater detail.

Page updated: 28 Jun 08