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Chapter 3
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Pagan and Christian Rome

by Rodolfo Lanciani

published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company
Boston and New York, 1892

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


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Chapter 5

p168 CHAPTER IV.

IMPERIAL TOMBS.1

The Mausoleum of Augustus. Ancient writers have left detailed accounts of the last hours of the founder of the Roman Empire. On the morning of the nineteenth of August, anno Domini 14,º feeling the approach of death, Augustus inquired of the attendant whether the outside world was concerned at his precarious condition; then he asked for a mirror, and composed his body for the supreme event, as he had long before prepared his mind and soul. Of his friends and the officers of the household he took leave in a cheerful spirit; and as soon as he was left alone with Livia he passed away in her arms, saying, "Livia, may you live happily, as we have lived together from the day of our marriage." p169His death was of the kind he had desired, peaceful and painless. Εὐθανασίαν (an easy end) was the word he used longingly, whenever he heard of any one dying without agony. Once only in the course of the malady he seemed to lose consciousness, when he complained of forty young men crowding around the bed to steal away his body. More than a wandering mind, Suetonius thinks this was a vision or premonition of an approaching event, because forty praetorian soldiers were really to carry the bier in the funeral march. The great man died at Nola, in the same villa and room in which his father, Octavius, had passed away years before. His body was transported from village to village, from city to city, along the Appian Way, by the members of each municipal council in turn; and, to avoid the intense heat of the Campanian and Pontine lowlands, the procession marched only at night, the bier being kept in the local sanctuaries or town halls during the day. Thus Bovillae (le Frattocchie, at the foot of the Alban hills) was reached. The whole Roman knighthood was here in attendance; the body was carried in triumph, as it were, over the last ten miles of the road, and deposited in the vestibule of the palace on the Palatine Hill.

Meanwhile proposals were made and resolutions passed in the Senate, which went far beyond anything that had ever been suggested in such contingencies of state. One of the members recommended that the statue of Victory which stood in the Curia should be carried before the hearse, that lamentations should be sung by the sons and daughters of the senators, and that the pageant, on its way to the Campus Martius, should march through the Porta Triumphalis, which was never opened except to victorious generals. Another member suggested that all classes of citizens should put aside their golden ornaments and all articles of jewelry, and wear p170only finger-rings; a third, that the name of "August" should be transferred to the month of September, because the lamented hero was born in the latter and had died in the former. These exaggerated expressions of grief were suppressed, however, and the funeral was organized with the grandest simplicity. The body was placed in the Forum, in front of the Temple of Julius Caesar, from the rostra of which Tiberius read a panegyric. Another oration was delivered at the opposite end of the Forum by Drusus, the adopted son of Tiberius. Then the senators themselves placed the bier on their shoulders, leaving the city by the Porta Triumphalis. The procession formed by the Senate, the high priesthood, the knights, the army, and the whole population skirted the Circus Flaminius and the Septa Julia, and by the Via Flaminia reached the ustrinum, or sacred enclosure p171for cremation. As soon as the body had been placed on the pyre the "march past" began in the same order, the officers and men of the various army corps making their evolutions or decursiones. This word, taken in a general sense, means a long march by soldiers made in a given time and without quitting the ranks; when referring to a funeral ceremony it signifies special evolutions performed three times, in honor of distinguished generals. A decursio is represented on the base of the column of Antoninus Pius, now in the Giardino della Pigna.


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Military funeral evolutions; from the base of the Column of Antoninus.

In that which I am describing, officers and men threw on the pyre the decorations which Augustus had awarded them for their bravery in battle. The privilege of setting fire to the rogus was granted to the captains of the legions whom he had led so often to victory. They approached with averted faces, p172and, uttering a last farewell, performed their act of duty and respect. The cremation accomplished, and while glowing embers were being extinguished with wine and perfumed waters, an eagle rose from the ashes as if carrying the soul of the hero to Heaven. Livia and a few officers watched the place for five days and nights, and finally collected the ashes in a precious urn, which they placed in the innermost crypt of the mausoleum which Augustus had built in the Campus Martius forty-two years before.


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The Apotheosis of an Emperor; from the base of the Column of Antoninus.

Of this monument we have a description by Strabo, and ruins which substantiate the description in its main lines. It was composed of a circular basement of white marble, two hundred and twenty-five feet in diameter, which supported a cone of earth, planted with cypresses and evergreens. On the top of the mound the bronze statue of the emperor towered above the trees.

This type of sepulchral structure dates almost from prehistoric times, and was in great favor with the Etruscans. The territories of Vulci, near the Ponte dell' Abbadia, and of Veii, near the Vaccareccia, are dotted with these mounds, which the peasantry call cocumelle. Augustus made the type popular among the Romans, as is proved by the large number of tumuli which date from his age, on the Via Salaria, the Via Labicana, and the Via Appia.

His tomb was entered from the south, the entrance being flanked by monuments of great interest, such as the obelisks now in the Piazza del Quirinale and the Piazza di S. Maria Maggiore; the copies of the decrees of the Senate in honor of the personages buried within; and, above all, the Res gestae divi Augusti, a sort of political will, autobiography, and apology, the importance of which surpasses that of any other document relating to the history of the Roman Empire.

This was written by Augustus towards the end of his p173life. He ordered his executors to have it engraved on bronze pillars on each side of the entrance to his mausoleum. That his will was duly executed by Livia, Tiberius, Drusus, and Germanicus, his heirs and trustees, is proved by the frequent allusions to the document made by Suetonius and Velleius, and also by the copies which have come down to us, not from Rome or Italy, but from the remote provinces of Galatia and Pisidia.

It was customary in ancient times to raise temples in honor of the rulers of the empire, and to ornament them with their images and eulogies. These were called Augustea or aedes Augusti et Romae in the western provinces, σεβαστεῖα in eastern or Greek-speaking countries.2 Ancyra (Angora), the capital of Galatia, and Apollonia, the capital of Pisidia, were the foremost among the Asiatic cities to pay this honor to the founder of the empire.

The Ancyran temple owes its preservation to the Christians, who made use of its as a church from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries, and also to the Turks, who have turned it into a mosque associated with the Hadji Beiram. The temple and its invaluable epigraphic treasures became known towards the middle of the sixteenth century. In 1555 an embassy was sent by the emperor Ferdinand II. to Suleiman, the khalif, who was then residing at Amasia.3 It so happened that the head of the mission, Ogier Ghislain Busbecq, and his assistant, Antony Wrantz, bishop of Agram, were fond of archaeological investigation. They were struck by the importance of the Augusteum at p174Ancyra; and with the help of their secretaries, they made a tolerably good copy of its inscriptions. Since 1555 the place has been visited many times, notably by Edmond Guillaume, in 1861, and by Humann, in 1882.4 There are two copies of the will of Augustus engraved on the marble wall of the temple: one in Latin, which is in the pronaos, on either side of the door; the other in Greek, on the outer wall of the cella. Both were transcribed (or translated) "from the original, engraved on the bronze pillars at the mausoleum in Rome." The document is divided into three parts, and thirty-five paragraphs. The first part describes the honors conferred on Augustus, — military, civil, and sacerdotal; the second gives the details of the expenses which he sustained for the benefit and welfare of the public; the third relates his achievements in peace and war; and some of the facts narrated are truly remarkable. He says, for instance, that the Roman citizens who fought under his orders and swore allegiance to him numbered five hundred thousand, and that more than three hundred thousand completed the term of their engagement, and were honorably dismissed from the army. To each of these he gave either a piece of land, which he bought with his own money, or the means of purchasing it in other lands than those assigned to military colonies. Since, at the time of his death, one hundred and sixty thousand Roman citizens were still serving under the flag, the number of those killed in battle, disabled by disease, or dismissed for misconduct, in the course of fifty-five years5 is reduced to forty thousand. The percentage is surprisingly low, considering the defective p175organization of the military medical staff, and the length and hardships of the campaigns which were conducted in Italy (Mutina), Macedonia (Philippi), Acarnania (Actium), Sicily, Egypt, Spain, Germany, Armenia and other countries. The number of men-of‑war of large tonnage, which were captured, burnt, or sunk in battle, is stated at six hundred. In the naval engagement against Sextus Pompeius, off Naulochos, he sank twenty-eight vessels, and captured or burnt two hundred and fifty-five; so that only seventeen out of a powerful fleet of three hundred could make their escape.

Thrice he took the census of the citizens of Rome; the first time in the year 29‑28 B.C., when 4,063,000 souls were counted; the second in the year 8 B.C., showing 4,233,000; the third in 14 A.D., with 4,937,000. Under his peaceful rule, therefore, there was an increase of 874,000 in the number of Roman citizens. He remarks with pride that, while from the beginning of the history of Rome to his own age the gate of the Temple of Janus had been shut but twice, as a sign that peace was prevailing over land and sea, he had been able to close it three times in the course of fifty years. His liberalities are frequently surprising. Sometimes they took the form of free distributions of corn,º oil, or wine; sometimes of an allowance of money. He asserts that he spent in gifts the sum of six hundred and twenty millions of sestertii, nearly twenty-six millions of dollars. Adding to this sum the cost of purchasing lands for his veterans in Italy (six hundred millions) and in the provinces (two hundred and sixty millions), of giving pecuniary rewards to his veterans four hundred millions), of helping the public treasury (one hundred and fifty millions), and the army funds (one hundred and seventy millions), besides other grants and bounties, the p176amount of which is not known, we reach a total expenditure for the benefit of his people of ninety-one million dollars.a

I need not speak of the material renovation of the city, which he found of brick and left of marble. Roads, streets, aqueducts, bridges, quays, places of amusement, places of worship, parks, gardens, public offices, were built, opened, repaired, and decorated with incredible profusion. Suetonius says that, on one occasion alone, he offered to Jupiter Capitolinus sixteen thousand pounds of gold and fifty millions' worth of jewels. In the year 28 B.C. not less than eighty-two temples were rebuilt in Rome itself.

Were we not in the presence of official statistics and of state documents, we should hardly feel inclined to believe these enormous statements. We must remember, too, that the work of Augustus was seconded and imitated with equal magnitude by his wealthy friends and advisers, Marcius Philippus, Lucius Cornificius, Asinius Pollio, Munatius Plancus, Cornelius Balbus, Statilius Taurus, and above all by Marcus Agrippa, to whom we owe the aqueducts of the Virgo and Julia , the Pantheon, the Thermae, the artificial lake (stagnum), the Portico of the Argonauts, the Temple of Neptune, the Portico of Vipsania Palatina, the Diribitorium, the Septa, the Campus Agrippae, a bridge on the Tiber, and hundreds of other costly structures. During the twelve months of his aedileship, in 19 B.C., he rebuilt the network of the city sewers, adding many miles of new channels, erected eight hundred and five fountains, and one hundred and thirty water reservoirs. These edifices were ornamented with three hundred bronze and marble statues, and four hundred columns.

We have seen works of perhaps greater importance accomplished in our age; but, as Baron de Hübner remarks, in speaking of another great man, Sixtus V., they are the p177joint product of government, national credit, speculation, and public and private capital; and they are facilitated by wonderful mechanical contrivances. The transformation of Rome at time of Augustus was the work of a few wealthy citizens, whose names will forever be connected with their splendid creations.

The gates of the Mausoleum of Augustus were opened for the last time in A.D. 98, for the reception of the ashes of Nerva. We hear no more of it until the year 410, when the Goths ransacked the imperial vaults. No harm, however, seems to have been done to the building itself at that time. Like the mausolea of Metella, on the Appian Way, and Hadrian, on the right bank of the Tiber, it was subsequently converted into a stronghold, and occupied by the Colonnas. Its ultimate destruction, in 1167, marks one of the great occurrences in the history of mediaeval Rome.

Between the counts of Tusculum, partisans of the German Empire, and the Romans, devoted to their independent municipal government, there was a feud of long standing, which had resulted occasionally in open violence. In 1167, Alexander III. being Pope, the Romans decided to strike the decisive blow on the Tusculans, as well as on their allies, the Albans. The cardinal of Aragona, the biographer of Alexander III., states that towards the end of May, when the cornfields begin to ripen, the Romans sallied forth on their expedition against Count Raynone, much against the Pope's will; and having crossed the frontier of his estate, set fire to the crops, uprooted trees and vineyards, ruined farmhouses, killed cattle, and laid siege to the city itself. Raynone, knowing how precarious his position was, implored the help of the emperor Frederic, who was at that time encamped near Ancona. The request was granted, and a body of German warriors returned with the ambassadors to p178the rescue of Tusculum. They soon perceived that, although the Romans had the advantage of numbers, they were so imperfectly drilled and so insubordinate that the chances were equal for both sides. The battle was opened at nine o'clock on the morning of Whit-Monday, May 30, 1167. The twelve hundred Germans, led by Christian, archbishop of Mayence, and three hundred Tusculans, led by Raynone, gallantly attacked the advance guard of the Roman army, which numbered thirty thousand men. Overcome by panic, the Romans fled and disbanded at the first encounter. They were closely followed from valley to valley, and slain in such numbers that scarcely one third of them reached the walls of Aurelian in safety. The local memories of the battle still survive, after a lapse of eight centuries;º the valley which leads from the villa of Q. Voconius Pollio (Sassone) to Marino being still called by the peasantry "la valle dei morti."

On the following day an embassy was sent to Archbishop Christian and Count Raynone begging leave to bury the dead. The permission was granted, with the humiliating clause that the number of dead and missing should be reported at Tusculum. The legend says that the number ascertained was fifteen thousand, which is an exaggeration. Contemporary historians speak of only two thousand dead and three thousand prisoners, who were sent to Viterbo. The chronicle of Sikkardt adds that the Romans were encamped near Monte Porzio; that the battle lasted only two hours, and that the dead were buried in the church of S. Stefano, at the second milestone of the Via Latina, with the following inscription:— MILLE DECEM DECIES ET SEX DECIES QVOQVE SENI, — p179which, if genuine, proves that the number of killed in battle was only eleven hundred and sixty-six, that is, 1,000 + 100 + 60 + 6.

The connection of the Mausoleum of Augustus with this mediaeval battle of Cannae is easily explained. The mausoleum had been selected by the Colonnas for their stronghold in the Campus Martius, and it was for their interest to keep it in good repair. As happens in cases of crushing defeats, when the succumbing party must find an excuse and an opportunity for revenge, the powerful Colonnas were accused of high treason, namely, of having led the advance-guard of the Romans into an ambush. Consequently they were banished from the city, and their castle on the Campus Martius was destroyed. Thus perished the Mausoleum of Augustus.

The history of its ruins, however, does not end with the events just described. Most important of all, they are associated with the fate of Cola di Rienzo. His biographer, in Book III. ch. xxiv., says that the body of the Tribune was allowed to remain unburied, for two days and one night, on some steps near S. Marcello. Giugurta and Sciarretta Colonna, leaders of the aristocratic faction, ordered the body to be dragged along the Via Flaminia, from S. Marcello to the mausoleum which had been occupied and fortified by that powerful family once more in 1241. In the mean time, the Jews had gathered in great numbers around the "Campo dell' Augusta," as the ruins were then called. Thistles and dry brushwood were collected and set afire, and the body thrown into the flames; this extemporized pyre being fed with fresh fuel until every particle of the corpse was consumed. A strange coincidence, that the same monument which the founder of the empire, the oppressor of Roman liberty, had chosen for his own burial-place, should serve, thirteen centuries later, for the cremation of him who tried p180to restore popular freedom! Here is the description of the event by a contemporary: "Along this street (the Corso of modern days) the corpse was dragged as far as the church of S. Marcello. There it hung by the feet to a balcony, because the head had been crushed and lost, piece by piece, along the road; so many wounds had been inflicted on the body that it might be compared to a sieve (crivello); the entrails were protruding like a bull's in the butchery; he was horribly fat, and his skin white, like milk tinted with blood. Enormous was his fatness, — so great as to give him the appearance of an ox (bufalo). The body hung from the balcony at S. Marcello for two days and one night, while boys pelted it with stones. On the third day it was removed to the Campo dell' Augusta, where the Jewish colony, to a man, had congregated; and although the pyre had been made only with thistles, in which those ruins abounded, the fat from the corpse kept the flames alive until their work was accomplished. Not an atom of the great champion of the Romans was left."

I need not remind the reader that the house near the Ponte Rotto, and opposite the Temple of Fortuna Virilis, which guides attribute to Cola di Rienzo, has no connection with him.6 He was born and lived many years near the church of S. Tommaso in Capite Molarum, between the Palazzo Cenci and the synagogue of the Jews, on the left bank of the Tiber. The church is still in existence, although it has changed its mediaeval name into that of S. Tommaso a' Cenci.

The house by the Ponte Rotto, just referred to, has still another name in folk-lore; it is called the House of Pilate. The denomination is not so absurd as it first seems; it brings us back to bygone times, when passion-plays were p181performed in Rome in a more effective way than they are now exhibited at Oberammergau. They took place, not on a wooden stage, so suggestive of conventionality, but in a quarter of the city most wonderfully adapted to represent the Via Dolorosa of Jerusalem, from the houses of Pilate and Caiaphas to the summit of Calvary.

The passion-play began at a house, Via della Bocca della Verità, No. 37, which is still called the "Locanda della Gaiffa," a corruption of Gaifa, or Caiaphas. From this place the procession moved across the street to the "Casa di Pilato," as the house of Crescenzio was called, where the scenes of the Ecce Homo, the flagellation, and the crowning with thorns, were probably enacted. The Via Dolorosa corresponds to our streets of the Bocca della Verità, Salara, Marmorata, and Porta S. Paolo; there must have been stations at intervals for the representation of the various episodes, such as the meeting with the Virgin Mary, the fainting under the cross, the meeting with Veronica and with the man from Cyrene. The performance culminated on the summit of Monte Testaccio, where three crosses were erected. One is still there.b

Readers who have had an opportunity of studying the Via Dolorosa at Jerusalem will be struck by the resemblance between the original and its Roman imitation. The latter must have been planned by crusaders and pilgrims on their return from the Holy Land towards the end of the thirteenth century. Every particular, even those which rest on doubtful tradition, was repeated here, and to the stone in front of it on which Lazarus sat. A ruin half-way between the house of Pilate, by the Ponte Rotto, and the Monte Testaccio, or Calvary, is still called the Arco di S. Lazaro.

The Mausoleum of Augustus was explored archaeologically p182for the first time in 1527, when the obelisk now in the Piazza di S. Maria Maggiore was found on the south side, near the church of S. Rocco. On July 14, 1519, Baldassare Peruzzi discovered and copied some fragments of the original inscriptions in situ; but the discovery made in 1777 casts all that preceded it into the shade. In the spring of that year, while the corner house between the Corso and the Via degli Otto Cantoni (opposite the Via della Croce) was being built, the ustrinum, or sacred enclosure for the cremation of the members of the imperial family, came to light, lined with a profusion of historical monuments. Strabo describes the place as paved with marble, enclosed with brass railings, and shaded by poplars. The marble pavement was found at a depth of nineteen feet below the sidewalk of the Corso. The first object to appear was the beautiful vase of alabastro cotognino, now in the Vatican Museum (Galleria delle Statue), three feet in height, one and one half in diameter, with a cover ending in a lotus flower, the thickness of the marble being only one inch. The vase had once contained the ashes of one of the imperial personages in the mausoleum; either Alaric's barbarians or Roman plunderers must have left it in the ustrinum, after looting its contents.

The marble pedestals lining the borders of the square were of two kinds: some were intended to indicate the spot on which each prince had been cremated, others the place where the ashes had been deposited. The former end with the formula HIC CREMATVS (or CREMATA) EST, the latter with the words HIC SITVS (or SITA) EST.

Augustus was not the first member of the family to occupy the mausoleum. He was preceded by Marcellus (28 B.C.) whose premature fate is so admirably described by Virgil (Aeneid, VI.872); by Marcus Agrippa, in 14 B.C.; p183by Octavia, the sister of Augustus, in the year 13; by Drusus the elder, in the year 9; and by Caius and Lucius, nephews of Augustus. After Augustus, the interments of Livia, Germanicus, Drusus, son of Tiberius, Agrippina the elder, Tiberius, Antonia wife of Drusus, Claudius, Brittannicus,º and Nerva are registered in succession. Of these great and, in many cases, admirable men and women, ten funeral cippi have been found in the ustrinum, some by the Colonnas before they were superseded by the Orsinis in the possession of the place, some in the excavations of 1777.

The fate of two of them cannot fail to impress the student of the history of the ruins of Rome. The pedestal of Agrippina the elder, daughter of Agrippa, wife of Germanicus, and mother of Caligula, and that of her eldest son Nero, were hollowed out during the Middle Ages, turned into standard measures for solids, and as such placed at the disposal of the public in the portico of the city hall. The pedestal of Nero perished during the renovation of the Conservatori Palace at the time of Michelangelo; that of Agrippina is still there.

The fate of this noble woman is described by Tacitus in the sixth book of the Annals; she was banished by Tiberius to the island of Pandataria, now called Ventotieneº, where she spent the last three years of her life in solitude and grief. In 33 A.D. — the most memorable date in Christian chronology — she either starved herself to death voluntarily, or was starved by order of her persecutor. On hearing of her death the emperor eulogized his own clemency, because, instead of strangling the princess and exposing her body on the Gemonian steps, he had allowed her to die a peaceful death in that island. No honors were paid to her memory, but as soon as Caligula succeeded p184Tiberius in the government of the empire, he sailed to Pandataria, collected the ashes of his mother and relatives, and ultimately placed them in the mausoleum. The cippus represented in the illustration below is manifestly the work of Caligula, because mention is made on it of his accession to the throne.


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The cippus of Agrippina the Elder, made into a measure for grain.

The hole excavated in it in the Middle Ages is capable of holding three hundred pounds of grain, as shown by the legend rvgiatella de grano, engraved in Gothic letters above the municipal coat of arms. The three armorial shields below belong to the three syndics, or conservatori, by whose authority the standard measure was made. Another inscription, engraved in 1635 on the opposite side, says: "The S. P. Q. R. pay honor to the memory of the noble and courageous woman who voluntarily put an end to her life" (and here follows a witticism of doubtful taste on the bread which she denied herself, and on the breadstuffs, for the measurement of which her tomb had been used).

The other cippi found in the ustrinum mention four other children of Germanicus, among them Caius Caesar, the lovely child who was so much beloved by Augustus, p185and so deeply regretted by him. A statue representing the youth with the attributes of a Cupid was dedicated by Livia in the temple of the Capitoline Venus, and another one was placed by Augustus in his own bedroom, on entering and leaving which he never missed kissing the cherished image.

The Mausoleum of Augustus and its precious contents have not escaped the spoliation and desecration which seem to be the rule both in past and modern times. The building is used now as a circus. Its basement is concealed by ignoble houses; the urn of Agrippina is kept in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori; three others have been destroyed, and six belong to the Vatican Museum.


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Head of Nero, in the Capitoline Museum.


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		Thayer's Note: The thumbnail to the right leads to a full-size color photo of the same bust of Nero, currently (1998) in the Capitoline Museum.

the Tomb of Nero. The defection of the last Roman legion was announced to Nero while at dinner in the Golden House. On hearing the news, he tore up the letters, upset the table, dashed upon the floor two marvellous cups, called Homeric, because their chiselling represented scenes from the Iliad; and having borrowed from Locusta a phial of poison, went out to the Servilian gardens. He then despatched a few faithful servants to Ostia with orders to keep a squadron of swift vessels in readiness for his escape. After this he inquired of the officers of the praetorian guards if they were willing to accompany him in his flight; some found an excuse, others openly refused; one had the courage to ask him: "Is death so hard?" Then various projects began to agitate his mind; now he was ready to beg for mercy from Galba, his successful opponents; now to ask help from the Parthian refugees, and again to dress himself in mourning, and appear barefooted and unshaven before the public by the rostra, and implore pardon for his crimes; in case that should be refused, to p186ask permission to exchange the imperial power for the governorship of Egypt. He was ready to carry this project into execution, but his courage failed at the last moment, as he knew that the exasperated people would tear him to pieces before he could reach the Forum. Towards evening he calmed his mind in the hope that there would be time enough to make a decision if he waited until the next day. As midnight approached he awoke, to find that the Praetorians detailed at the gates of the Servilian gardens had retired to their barracks. Servants were sent to rouse the friends sleeping in the villa, but none of them returned. He went around the apartments, finding them closed and deserted. On re-entering his own room he saw that his private attendants had run away, carrying the bed-covers, and the phial of poison. Then he seemed determined to put an end to his life by throwing himself from one of the bridges; but again his courage failed, and he begged to be shown a hiding-place. It was at this supreme moment that Phaon the freedman offered him his suburban villa, situated between the Via Salaria and the Via Nomentana, four miles outside the Porta Collina. The proposal was accepted at once; and barefooted, and dressed in a tunic, with a p187mantle of the commonest material about his shoulders, he jumped on a horse and started for the gate, accompanied by only four men, — Phaon, Epaphroditus, Sporus, and another whose name is not given.

The incidents of the flight were terrible enough to deprive the imperial fugitive of the last spark of hope. The sky was overcast, and heavy black clouds hung close to the earth, the stillness of nature being occasionally broken by claps of thunder. The earth shook just as he was riding past the praetorian camp. He could hear the shouts of the mutinous soldiers cursing his name, while Galba was proclaimed his successor. Farther on, the fugitives met several men hurrying towards the town in search of news. Nero heard some of them telling one another to be sure to run in search of him. Another passer inquired the news from the palace. Before reaching the Ponte Nomentano, Nero's horse, frightened by a corpse which was lying on the roadside, p188gave a start. The slouched hat and handkerchief, with which the emperor was trying to conceal his face, slipped aside, and just at that moment a messenger from the praetorian camp recognized him, and by force of habit gave the military salute.


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The Ponte Nomentano.

Beyond the bridge the Via Nomentana divides: the main road, on the right, leads to Nomentum (Mentana); the left to the territory of Ficulea (la Cesarina). It is now called the Strada delle Vigne Nuove. Nero and his followers took this country road. The particulars given by Suetonius suit the present aspect and the nature of the district so exactly that we can follow the four men step by step to the walls of Phaon's villa. The slopes of the hills were then, as they are now, uncultivated, and covered with bushes.


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Map showing the location of Phaon's villa

There is still a path on the banks of the Fosso della Cecchina, leading to the rear wall of the villa, aversum villae parietem; and the hillsides are still honeycombed with pozzolana quarries, the angustiae cavernarum of Suetonius. The villa extends on the tableland, or ridge, between the valleys of la Cecchina and Melaina. Its main gate corresponds exactly with the gate of the Vigna Chiari, the first of the "vigne nuove" on the right as one goes from Rome, at a distance of six kilometres from the threshold of the Porta Collina. For a radius of a thousand feet around the gate, we meet with the typical remains of a Roman villa of the first century, — porticoes, water tanks, and substructions, from the platform of which a lovely view over the wooded plains of the Tiber and the Anio, the city, and the hills of the Vatican, and of the Janiculum, which frame the panorama. The site is pleasant, secluded, and quiet, so that it well fulfilled the wish for a secretior latetra expressed by Nero in his hopeless condition. The fugitives dismounted at the turn of the Strada delle Vigne Nuove, p189and let the horses loose among the brambles. Not wishing to be seen in the open road, they followed the lower path on the banks of the Cecchina, which was concealed by a thick growth of canes. It was necessary to bore a hole in the rear wall of the villa, and while this was being done, Nero quenched his thirst from a pond of stagnant water, near the opening of the pozzolana quarries. Once inside the villa, he was asked to lie down on a couch covered with a peasant's mantle, and was offered a piece of stale bread, and a glass of tepid water. Food he refused, but touched the rim of the cup with his parched lips. It is curious to read in Suetonius of the many grimaces the wretch made before he could determine to kill himself; he made up his mind to do so only when he heard the tramping of the horsemen whom the Senate had sent to arrest him. He then put the dagger into his throat, aided in giving the last thrust by his freedman Epaphroditus. The centurion sent to take him alive arrived before he expired. To him Nero addressed these last words: "Too late! Is this your fidelity?" He gradually sank, his countenance assuming such a frightful expression that all who were present fled in horror. Icelus, freedman of Galba, the newly elected emperor, gave his consent to a decent funeral. Ecloge and Alexandra, his nurses, Acte his mistress, and the three faithful men who had accompanied him in his flight, provided the necessary funds, about five thousand dollars. The body was cremated, wrapped in a sheet of white woven with gold, the same that he had used on his bed New Year's night. The three women collected the ashes and placed them in the tomb of the Domitian family, which stood on the spur of the Pincian Hill which is behind the present church of S. Maria del Popolo. The urn was of porphyry, the altar upon which it stood of Carrara marble, p190and the tomb itself of Thasian marble. A pathetic discovery has just been made in the Vigna Chiari, on the exact spot of Nero's suicide, by my friend, Cav. Rodolfo Buti, that of the tomb of Claudia Ecloge, the old woman who was so devoted to her nursling. The epitaph is a plain marble slab containing only a name. But this simple inscription, read amid the ruins of Phaon's villa, with every detail of the scene of the suicide before one's eyes, makes more impression on the feelings than would a great monument to her memory. As she could not be buried within or near the family vault of the Domitii on the Pincian, she selected the spot where Nero's remains had been cremated.

"When Nero perished by the justest doom

Which ever the destroyer yet destroy'd,

Amidst the roar of liberated Rome,

Of nations freed, and the world overjoy'd,

Some hands unseen strew'd flowers upon his tomb, —

Perhaps the weakness of a heart not void

Of feeling for some kindness done, when power

Had left the wretch an uncorrupted hour.7

The original epitaph of Claudia Ecloge has been removed to the Capitoline Museum, where it seems lost among so many other objects of interest; but the student who will select the Vigne Nuove for an afternoon excursion will find there a facsimile, placed by our archaeological commission on the front wall of the Casino di Vigna Chiari.
 

The Tomb of the Flavian Emperors. The Via del Quirinale-Venti Settembre, which leads from the Quirinal Palace to the Porta Pia, corresponds exactly to the old Alta Semita, which was a street of such importance, on account of its length, straightness, and surroundings, that the whole p191region (the sixth) was named after it. For our present purpose we shall take into consideration only the first part, between the Quirinal Palace and the Quattro Fontane. It was bordered on the north side by the Temple of Quirinus, discovered and demolished in 1625, and by the Capitolium Vetus, also destroyed in 1625, by Pope Barberini.


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Plan of the Alta Semita.

The opposite side of the street was lined with private mansions of families who were eminent in the history of the republic and the empire. The first belonged to Pomponius Atticus, the friend of Cicero, and to his descendants the Pomponii Bassi. Cicero locates it between the Temple of Quirinus and the Temple of Health, that is, near the present church of S. Andrea al Quirinale; and precisely here, in November, 1558, the house was discovered by Messer Uberto Ubaldini, in such perfect condition that the family documents and deeds, inscribed on bronze, were still hanging on the walls of the tablinum, — a fact that is recorded only twice in the annals of Roman excavations.8 The house, seen and described by Manuzio and p192Ligorio, stood at the corner of the Alta Semita and a side street called "The Pomegranate" (ad malum punicum), and was profusely adorned with statues, colonnades, spacious halls, etc. One of the bronze tablets, which was saved from the ruins, and is now exhibited in the Gallery of the Uffizi, at Florence, states that the municipal council of Ferentinum, assembled in the Temple of Mercury, had placed the city under the guardianship of Pomponius Bassus, A.D. 101. The patronage was accepted by the gallant patrician, and tabulae hospitales were exchanged between the parties.

When his majesty king Humbert laid out a new garden, in 1887, on the site of this house, I hoped to come across some of the ruins described by Manuzio and Ligorio. But nothing was found, except a marble statue, of no especial value, which is now preserved in the royal palace.

Another illustrious man lived near the Temple of Health, — Valerius Martial the epigrammatist. He distinctly says so in his "Epigrams" (x.58; xi.1). Was the house his own, or did he dwell in it as a tenant or guest? I believe he was the guest of his wealthy relative and countryman G. Valerius Vegetus, consul A.D. 91, whose city residence occupied half the site of the present building of the Ministry of War, on the Via Venti Settembre.

The residence has been explored three times, at least; the first in 1641, the second in 1776, the last in the autumn of 1884. Judging from this last exploration, which was conducted in my presence, and described by my late friend Capannari in the "Bullettino Comunale" of 1885, the palace of Valerius Vegetus must have been built and decorated on a grand scale. Martial, like all poets, if not actually in financial difficulties, was never a rich man, much less the owner of a private residence in p193a street and quarter in which the land alone represented a fortune.

Between the two palaces just described, the Pomponian and the Valerian, in the space now occupied by the Palazzo Albani and the church and convent of S. Carlino alle Quattro Fontane, there was an humbler house, which belonged to Flavius Sabinus, brother of Vespasian. Here the emperor Domitian was born, October 24, A.D. 50.c The house which stood at the corner of the Alta Semita and the "Pomegranate" street was converted by him into a family memorial, or mausoleum, after the death of his father and brother. Here were buried, besides Vespasian and Titus, Flavius Sabinus, Julia, daughter of Titus, and ultimately Domitian himself.

The story of his death is as follows: After murdering his cousin Flavius Clemens, the Christian prince whose fate I have described in chapter i., his life became an intolerable burden to him. The fear that some one would suddenly rise to revenge the innocent blood into which he had dipped his hands made him tremble every moment for his life; so much so that he caused the porticoes of the imperial palace to be encrusted with Phengite marble, in the brilliant surface of which he could see the reflection of his followers and attendants, and could watch their proceedings even if they were at quite a distance behind him. For several weeks he was frightened by thunderbolts. Once the Capitol was struck, next the family tomb on the Quirinal, which he had officially styled Templum Flaviae Gentis; and another time the imperial palace and even his own bedroom. He was heard to mutter to himself in despair, "Let them strike: who cares?" On another occasion a furious cyclone wrenched the dedicatory tablet from the pedestal of his equestrian statue in the Forum. He also p194dreamed that Minerva, the protecting divinity of his happier days, had suddenly disappeared from his private chapel. What frightened him most, however, was the fate of Askletarion the fortune-teller. Having asked what sort of death Askletarion expected, the answer was: "I shall very soon be torn to pieces by dogs." To persuade himself and his friends that these predictions deserved no credit, Domitian, who had just received a very sad warning from the oracle of the Fortuna Praenestina, caused the necromancer to be killed at once, and his remains to be enclosed in a well-guarded tomb. But while the cremation was in progress, a hurricane swept the ustrinum, and frightened away the attendants, so that the half-charred remains did fall a prey to the dogs. The story was related to the emperor that very evening while he was at supper.

The details of the assassination, which took place a few days later, on September 18, A.D. 96, in the forty-fifth year of his age, and the fifteenth of his reign, are not well known, because, with the exception of the four murderers, the deed was witnessed only by a little boy, to whom Domitian had given the care of the images of the gods in the bedroom. The names of the conspirators are Saturius, the head valet de chambre, Maximus, a freedman of a lower class, Clodianus, an orderly, and Stephanus, who was the head of the party. He was led to commit the crime in the hope that the embezzlements of which he was guilty in his management of the property of Flavia Domitilla, niece of the emperor, would never be discovered, or punished. To avoid suspicion, he appeared for several days before the attempt with his arm bandaged, and in a sling, so that he could carry a concealed weapon with impunity even in the presence of his intended victim. The boy stated at the inquest that Domitian died like a brave man, fighting p195unarmed against his assailants. The moment he saw Stephanus drawing his dagger he told the boy to hand him quickly the poniard under the pillow of his bed, and to run for help; but he found only the empty scabbard, and all the doors were locked. The emperor fell at the seventh stroke.

The corpse was removed to a garden which his nurse Phyllis owned, on the borders of the Via Latina; and the ashes were secretly mingled with those of his niece Julia, another nursling of Phyllis, and deposited in the family mausoleum on the Quirinal. The mausoleum, which rose in the middle of the atrium of the old Flavian house, was discovered and destroyed towards the middle of the sixteenth century. Ligorio describes the structure as a round temple, with a pronaos of six columns of the composite order. The excavations were made at the expense of cardinal Sadoleto. He found among other things a beautiful marble statue of Minerva, with a shield in the left hand and a lance in the right. The villa of cardinal Sadoleto was afterwards bought by messer Uberto Ubaldini, who levelled everything to the ground, and uprooted the very foundations of the building. In so doing he discovered several headless marble statues. Flaminio Vacca adds, that the columns were of bigio africano, fourteen feet high.


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Remains of Geta's Mausoleum.

The reader will easily understand, that were I to pass in review the tombs of all the rulers of the Roman Empire, from Trajan to Constantine, the present chapter would exceed the allotted length of the entire book. The Mausoleum of Hadrian, on which the history of the city is written century by century, down to our days; the Column of Trajan, in the foundations of which the ashes of the best p196of Roman princes are buried; the tomb of Geta, built in the shape of a septizonium, on the Appian Way; the artificial hill of the Monte del Grano, believed to be the tomb of Alexander Severus, and his wife and mother, in the very depths of which the Capitoline sarcophagus and the Portland vase were found: all these monuments would furnish abundant material for archaeological, artistic, and historical discussion. My purpose is, however, to mention only subjects illustrated by recent and little-known discoveries, or else to select such representative specimens as may help the reader to compare pagan with Christian art and civilization. For this reason, and to save unavoidable repetitions, I pass over the fate of the emperors of the second and third centuries, and resume my description with those who came to power after the peace of the church.

Mausolea of Christian Emperors. The first Christian members of the imperial family, Helena, mother of Constantine, and Constantia, his daughter, were buried in separate tombs, one on the Via Labicana, at the place p197formerly called ad duas Lauros and now Torre Pignattara, the other near the church of S. Agnese, on the Via Nomentana.


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The Torre Pignattara.

Helena's mausoleum at Torre Pignattara (so called from the pignatte, or earthen vases built into the vault to lighten its weight) is round in shape, and contains seven niches or recesses for sarcophagi. One of these sarcophagi, famous in the history of art, was removed from its position as early as the middle of the twelfth century by Pope Anastasius IV., who selected it for his own resting-place. It was taken to the Lateran basilica, where it appears to have been much injured by the hands of indiscreet pilgrims. In 1600 it was carried from the vestibule to the tribune, and p198thence to the cloister-court. When Pius VI. added it to the wonders of the Vatican Museum, it was subjected to a thorough process of restoration which employed twenty-five stone-cutters for a period of nine years.

The reliefs upon it are tolerably well executed, but lack invention and novelty. They are partly borrowed from an older work, partly combined from various sources in an extraordinary manner; horsemen hovering in the air, and below them, prisoners and corpses scattered around. They are intended to represent a triumphal procession, or possibly a military decursio, to which allusion has been made above.

It may appear indiscreet and even insulting on the part of Anastasius IV. to have removed the remains of a canonized empress from this noble sarcophagus in order to have his own placed in it; but we must bear in mind that although the Torre Pignattara has all the appearance of a royal mausoleum, and although the ground on which it stands is known to have belonged to the crown, Eusebius and Socrates deny that Helena was buried in Rome. Their assertion is contradicted by "Liber Pontificalis" and by Bede, and above all by the similarity between this porphyry coffin and the one discovered in the second mausoleum of which I have spoken, — that of S. Constantia, on the Via Nomentana.


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SARCOPHAGUS OF HELENA, MOTHER OF CONSTANTINE.d

When the love of splendor which was characteristic of the Romans of the decadence induced them to take possession of the enormous block of primeval stone of which this second sarcophagus was made, the art of sculpture had already degenerated; all that it could accomplish was to impart to this mass of rock more of an architectural than a plastic shape. The representations with which the sarcophagus is adorned or disfigured, as the case may be, if met p199with elsewhere would scarcely attract our attention. On the sides are festoons enclosing groups of winged boys gathering grapes; on the ends are similar figures treading out the grapes. This sarcophagus was removed to the Hall of the Greek Cross by the same enlightened Pope Pius VI.


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The Mausoleum of S. Constantia.

The same vintage scenes are represented in the beautiful mosaics with which the vault of the mausoleum is encrusted, and from this circumstance the monument received the erroneous name of the Temple of Bacchus, at the time of the Renaissance. There is no doubt that this is the tomb of the princess whose name it bears. Ammianus Marcellinus, Book XXI, chapter I, says that the three daughters of Constantine — Helena, wife of Julian, Constantina, wife of Gallus Caesar, and Constantia,º who had vowed herself to chastity, and to the management of a congregation p200of virgins which she had established at S. Agnese — were all buried in the same place.

The study of these two structures may help us greatly to explain the origin and purpose of the two rotundas which are known to have existed on the south side of S. Peter's, in the arena of Nero's circus. One of them, dedicated to S. Petronilla, was destroyed in the sixteenth century; the other, called the Church of S. Maria della Febbre, met with the same fate during the pontificate of Pius VI. Their exact situation in relation to the modern basilica is shown by the accompanying diagram.


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Plan of the Imperial Mausoleum.

Mention of the structure, with its classical denomination of "Mausileos," appears in the life of Stephen II (A.D. 752). To fulfil a promise which he had made to Pepin, king of France, that the remains of Petronilla, who was believed to p201be the daughter of Peter, should be no longer exposed to barbaric profanations in their original resting-place on the Via Ardeatina, but put under the shelter of the Leonine walls near the remains of her supposed father, he selected one of these two rotundas, which became known as the "chapel of the kings of France." The early topographers of the Renaissance, ignorant of its history, gave a wrong name to the building, calling it the Temple of Apollo. That is was, however, of Christian origin, is proved not only by the fact that a temple could never have been built across the spina of the circus, and by the technical details of this construction, which show it to be a work of the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century, but also by historical evidence. In 423 Honorius was buried in the mausoleum close by S. Peter's (juxta beati Petri apostoli atrium in mausoleo). In 451 the remains of the Emperor Theodosius II. were removed from Constantinople to the mausoleum ad apostolum Petrum. In 483 Basilius, prefect of the Praetorium, summoned the leaders of the clergy and of the laity to the mausoleum quod est apud beatissimum Petrum. A precious engraving by Bonanni, No. lxxiv. of his volume on the Vatican, represents the outside of one of the rotundas, the nearest to the obelisk of the circus. The architecture of the building, so similar to the tomb of S. Helena at Torre Pignattara, gives some conception of the enormous downfall of Roman art and civilization, when we compare it with the tombs of Augustus and Hadrian.


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ROTUNDA AND OBELISK SOUTH OF OLD S. PETER'S. (After Bonanni)

Thayer's Note:

The summit of the obelisk has not yet been "baptized" with a cross. It retains the globe placed there in Antiquity, the purpose of which was to eliminate diffraction of the shadow, making it a more readable sundial gnomon. One such Roman globe has survived to our day: it is in the Capitoline Museums.

The discovery of the imperial graves which filled the two rotundas did not take place at one and the same time. Their profanation and robbery was accomplished in various stages, by various persons; and so little has been said or written about them, that only in these last years has de Rossi been p202able to reconstruct in its entirety this chapter in the history of the destruction of Rome.

In the chronicle of Nicolò della Tuccia of Viterbo is the following entry, dated 1458: "On the 27th day of June, news was circulated in Viterbo that two days before a great discovery had been made in S. Peter's of Rome. A priest of that church, having manifested the wish to be buried in the chapel of S. Petronilla, in the tribune on the right, where the story of the emperor Constantine was painted in ancient times, they found, while digging there, a tomb of exquisite marble, containing a sarcophagus, and inside of it, a smaller coffin of cypress wood overlaid with silver. This silver, of eleven carats standard, weighed eight hundred and thirty-two pounds. The bodies were wrapped in a golden cloth which yielded sixteen pounds of that precious metal. It was said that the bodies were those of Constantine and his little son. No written record or sign was found except a cross made in this shape: 
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	The Pope, Callixtus III., took possession of everything and sent the gold and silver to the mint." We hear no more of the imperial mausoleum during the sixty following years. In the diary of Marcantonio Michiel, of Venice, the next discovery is registered under the date of December 4, 1519: "A few days ago, while excavations were going on in the chapel of the kings of France, for the rebuilding of one of the altars, several antique coffins were found, and in one of them the bones of an old Christian prince, wrapped in a pall of gold cloth and surrounded with articles of jewelry. There was a necklace with a cross-shaped pendant, believed to be worth three thousand ducats. I know that a certain jeweller offered that amount of money for the dress alone to Giuliano Lena, who was in charge of the excavations. The Pope attached great importance to the jewels, although it was found out afterwards that they p203were not worth two thousand ducats, on account of some flaws in the stones, and of injury wrought by time on their mounting. The prospect of finding more made them overturn the whole pavement of the chapel." Another entry of the same diary, under the date of December 23, says: "The treasure-trove in the chapel of the kings of France consists of eight pounds of gold from the melting of dresses, of a cross of gold, dotted with emeralds, and of a second plain one, the value of all being a little over one thousand ducats. The Pope made a present of some to the chapter of S. Peter's that they might make a new reliquary for the skull of S. Petronilla."

The search was doubtless irregular, imperfect and careless, as is proved by other and far richer discoveries which were made in 1544. Unfortunately, if the accounts we have of these are complete, no drawings were made before the dispersion of the objects. The only sketches which have reached us represent a few perfume bottles found inside the grave. Of these flacons there are two sets of drawings, one in a codex of marchese Raffaelli di Cingoli, f.43, with the legend, "Five goblets of agate discovered in the foundations of S. Peter's during the pontificate of Paul III. in the tomb of Maria, daughter of Stilicho and wife of Honorius;" the other in the codex of Fulvio Orsino, No. 3439 of the Vatican Library.

The discovery took place in 1544. A greater treasure of gems, gold, and precious objects has never been found in a single tomb. The beautiful empress was lying in a coffin of red granite, clothed in a state robe woven of gold. Of the same material were the veil, and the shroud which covered the head and breast. The melting of these materials produced a considerable amount of pure gold, its weight being variously stated at thirty-five or forty pounds. p204Bullinger puts it at eighty, with manifest exaggeration. At the right of the body was placed a casket of solid silver, full of goblets and smelling-bottles, cut in rock crystal, agate, and other precious stones. There were thirty in all, among which were two cups, one round, one oval, decorated with figures in high relief, of exquisite taste, and a lamp, made of gold and crystal, in the shape of a corrugated sea-shell, the hole for the oil being protected and concealed by a golden fly, which moved around a socket. There were also four golden vases, one of which was studded with gems.

In a second casket of gilded silver, placed at the left side, were found one hundred and fifty objects, — gold rings with engraved stones, earrings, brooches, necklaces, buttons, hair-pins, etc. covered with emeralds, pearls, and sapphires; a golden nut, which opened in halves; a bulla which has been published in a special work by Mazzucchelli;9 and an emerald engraved with the bust of Honorius, valued at five hundred ducats. Silver objects were scarce; of these we find mentioned only a hairpin and a buckle of repoussé work.

The letters and names engraved on some pieces prove that they formed the mundus muliebris (wedding gifts) and toilet articles of Maria, Daughter of Stilicho and Serena, sister of Thermantia and Eucherius, and wife of the emperor Honorius. Besides the names of the four archangels — Raphael, Gabriel, Michael and Uriel — engraved on a band of gold, those of Domina Nostra Maria, and of Dominus Noster Honorius, were seen on other objects. The bulla was inscribed with the names of Honorius, Maria, Stilicho, Serena, Thermantia, and Eucherius, radiating in the form of a double cross 
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	with the exclamation p205"Vivatis!" between them. With the exception of this bulla, which was bought by Marchese Trivulzio of Milan, at the beginning of the present century, every article has disappeared. That the gold was melted, and that the precious stones were disposed of in various ways, so as to deprive them of their identity, is easy to understand, but where have the vases gone? Were it not for the rough sketches made at the time of the discovery we should not be able to form an idea of their beauty and elegance of shape. They were not the work of goldsmiths of the fifth century, but were of classical origin; in fact they represent a portion of the imperial state jewels, which Honorius had inherited from his predecessors, and which he had offered to Maria on her wedding day. Claudianus, the court poet, described them expressly as having sparkled on the breast and forehead of empresses in bygone days.

We know from Paul Diaconus that Honorius was laid to rest by the side his empress; his coffin, however, has never been found. It must still be concealed under the pavement of the modern church at the southern end of the transept, near the altar of the crucifixion of S. Peter.

An incident narrated by Flavius Josephus ("Antiqq." XVI, ii.) proves that even in this line of discoveries there is nothing new under the sun. Speaking of the financial troubles of King Herod, and of his urgent need of new resources for the royal treasury, he describes how Hircanus had rifled the sum of three thousand silver talents ($3,940,000) from the tomb of David. Herod, on being reminded of this experiment, decided to try it again, in the hope that other treasures might be concealed in the recesses of the royal vault. Precautions were taken to conceal the attempt from the people: the tomb was entered in the darkness of the night, and only a few intimate friends were p206admitted to the secret. Herod found no more silver in coin or bars, but a considerable quantity of vases and other objects beautifully chiselled in gold. With the help of his associates the booty was removed to the palace. But the more the king had, the more he wanted: and setting aside dignity, self-respect and reverence for the memory of his great predecessors, he ordered his guard to search the vaults, even to the very coffins of David and Solomon. The legend says that the profanation was prevented by an outburst of flames which killed two of the men. This event filled Herod with fear, and to expiate his sacrilege he raised a beautiful monument of white marble at the entrance of the tombs.

The reader must not believe that such discoveries are either of doubtful credibility or a matter of the past only. They have taken place in all centuries, the present included; they take place now.

In July, 1793, behind the choir of the nuns of S. Francesco di Paola, in the Via di S. Lucia in Selci, a room of a private Roman house was discovered, and in a corner of it a magnificent silver service, which had once belonged to Projecta, wife of the Turcius Asterius Secundus, who was prefect of the city in 362 A.D. The discovery was witnessed and described by Ennio Quirinio Visconti and Filippo Aurelio Visconti. The objects were of pure silver, heavily gilded, and weighed one thousand and twenty-nine ounces. Besides plates and saucers, forks and spoons, candelabras of various sizes and shapes, there was a wedding-casket with bas-reliefs representing the bride and groom crowned with wreaths of myrtle; she, with braids of hair encircling her head many times, in the fashion of the age of the empress Helena; he, with the beard cut square, in the style worn by Julian the apostate, and Eugenius. The reliefs of the p207body of the casket represented love-scenes, Venus and the Nereids, the Muses and other pagan subjects; under them was engraved the salutation:

"Secundus and Proiecta, may you live in Christ."

The casket was filled with toilet articles and jewels. Later discoveries brought the total weight of the silver to fifteen hundred ounces.

In 1810 a peasant plowing his field in the territory of Faleria, three miles from Civita Castellana, met with an obstacle which, on closer examination, proved to be a box filled with silver. He loaded himself with the precious spoils, as did many other peasants, whom the news of the discovery had attracted to the spot. There were plates, cups and saucers; a tureen weighing four pounds, wrought in enamelled repoussé, with birds, lizards, branches of ivy, berries, and other fruits and animals, and signed by the maker; a statue of a centaur; and a wine jug, which, after passing through many hands, became the property of the queen of Naples, Caroline Murat, at a cost of five thousand ducats.

Alessandro Visconti reported the treasure-trove at once to count Tournon, the French prefect; but he took no official notice of it, and the silver was melted in the mint of Rome, and by the silversmiths of Viterbo and Perugia. Visconti estimates the weight of the silver at thirty thousand ounces.10

In 1821, under the foundations of a house at Parma, precious objects were found to the value of several thousand scudi. The few bought for the Museo Parmense by its director, Pietro de Lama, comprise eight bracelets, four p208rings, a necklace, a chain to which is attached a medallion of Gallienus, a brooch, and thirty-four medals; all of pure gold, and weighing three pounds and four ounces.

On May 9, 1877, two earthen jars were discovered at Belinzago, near Milan, in a farm belong to a man named Erba. They contained twenty-seven thousand bronze coins, with a total weight of three hundred and six pounds. Except a few pieces belonging to Romulus, Maximian, Chlorus, Galerius, Galeria Valeria, and Licinius, the great mass bear the effigy and name of Maxentius, with an astonishing variety of letters and symbols on the reverse.

My personal experience in the discovery of treasure, in the special significance of the word, is limited to the fragments of a bedstead (?) of gilt brass, studded with gems. The discovery took place in 1879, near the southwest corner of the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, on the Esquiline, in a room belonging to the Horti Lamiani, the favorite residence of Caligula and of Alexander Severus. The frame of the couch rested on four supports, most gracefully cut in rock-crystal; the frame itself was ornamented with bull's heads and inlaid with cameos and gems, to the number of four hundred and thirty. There was also a "glass paste" representing the heads of Septimius Severus and his empress Julia Domna. It seems that parts of this rich piece of furniture must have been inlaid with agate incrustations, of which one hundred and sixty-eight pieces were discovered in the same room.


The Author's Notes:

General Note to Chapter IV: See Otto Hirschfeld: Die kaiserlichen Grabstätten in Rome, in the Sitzungsberichte der kgl. Akademie der Wissenschaften. Berlin, 1866.

2 Visitors to Rome may form an idea of a σεβαστεῖον from that found in Ostia, in 1889, in the barracks of the firemen. I have given an illustrated description of this remarkable discovery in the Mélanges de l'Ecole française, tome ix., 1889, and in the Notizie degli scavi, January-April, 1889.

3 The birthplace of Mithridates the Great, and of the geographer Strabo: it still retains its ancient name.

4 See Mommsen: Res gestae divi Augusti, 2d edition. Berlin, Weidmann, 1883.

5 Augustus enrolled his first army in October of the year 41 B.C. He died in August, A.D. 14.

6 This house is described in Ancient Rome, chapter i., p. 17.

7 Don Juan, canto III., cix.

8 The other instance was in the excavations of the palace of the Valerii Aradii, near S. Erasmo, on the Caelian, the most successful ever made in Rome.

9 La bolla di Maria, moglie di Onorio. Milan, 1819.

10 Dissertazione su d' una antica argenteria, letta nell' accademia archeologica il dì 7 gennaio, 1811.


Thayer's Notes:

a This is Lanciani's estimate in 1892 dollars. In 2010 dollars, we're surely talking at least ten times that.

What really calls for a note, however, is this simple question: where did Augustus get these 'personal funds'? The answer — that, given human nature, money flows to the powerful almost of its own accord — can only dull the lustre of the man's benefactions.

b In 1998, there were no crosses on the Testaccio; in their place, fenced-off excavations surrounded by cheap restaurants serving mostly tripe and offal.

c Sic. In fact, he was born on that date in the year 51. For his horoscope, see these 2 interesting pages.

d The sarcophagus of Helena, as I give it above, is close to its true color, but you must not draw any conclusions. Other photographs of the same sarcophagus are online. As you know if you're a photographer or an astronomer, however, the colors in photographs aren't perfect either, especially after scanning and Web transmission.


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Page updated: 29 May 14