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Aedes Aesculapii

Article on pp2‑3 of

Samuel Ball Platner (as completed and revised by Thomas Ashby):
A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome,
London: Oxford University Press, 1929.


Aesculapius, aedes: the temple of Aesculapius erected on the island in the Tiber soon after 291 B.C. In consequence of a pestilence in Rome in 293 an embassy was sent to Epidaurus in 292 to bring back the statue of the god Aesculapius. This embassy returned in 291, bringing not the statue, but a serpent from Epidaurus that, on reaching Rome, abandoned the ship and swam to the island (Liv. X.47; XI. ep.; Val. Max. I.8.2 in ripam Tiberis egressis legatis in insulam . . . transnavit); Ovid. Met. XV.736‑741; Plut. q. R. 94; Plin. NH XXIX.72; de vir. ill. 22). According to another tradition the first temple was built extra urbem, the second in insula (Plin. NH XXIX.16; Rend. Linc. 1917, 573‑580; AJA 1919, 431). The whole island was consecrated to Aesculapius (see Insula Tiberina), the temple built, and dedicated on 1st January (Ov. Fast. I.290‑292; Hemerol. Praen. Ian. 1; CIL I2 p305; Fast. Ant. ap. NS 1921, 83). It was usually called aedes, but also templum (Val. Max. I.8.2; Ov. Fast. I.290; de vir. ill. 22; Plin. cit.), fanum (Liv. XLIII.4), and Ἀσκληπιεῖα in Greek (Dionys. V.13).1 Besides being the centre of the cult and of the sanatorium that developed on the island (Fest. 110), this temple, being outside the pomerium, was also used as a place for the reception of foreign ambassadors, as those of Perseus in 170 B.C. (Liv. XLI.22), and for such meetings as that between the senators and Gulussa (Liv. XLII.24). From a reference in Varro (LL VII.57 equites pictos vidi in Aesculapii aede vetere et ferentarios adscriptos; Urlichs, Malerei vor Caesar 10) and some inscriptions (CIL VI.6, 7, 12) it appears certain that the first temple was rebuilt or restored towards the end of the republic; perhaps when the pons Fabricius was built in 62 B.C. the first temple was decorated with frescoes (Varro, loc. cit.; Liv. XLIII.4). It is altogether probable that there was further restoration during the empire, perhaps under Antoninus Pius (HJ 144), but there is no direct evidence therefor (cf. Besnier, L'Ile Tiberine 176, 191‑192; JRS 1911, 187‑195).

There are no certain remains of this temple, but it probably occupied the site of the present church of S. Bartolomeo, and some of the columns of the nave probably belonged to the temple or its porticus. A considerable number of inscriptions relating to the temple or to votive offerings in it p3have been found in the vicinity (CIL VI.7‑20;2 30842‑30846; IG XIV.966), and many terracottas, most of which have been dispersed. A signum Aesculapii (Suet. Aug. 59) is mentioned as standing near the temple in the time of Augustus, but such statues of the god were undoubtedly numerous in and around the temple, as well as elsewhere in Rome. (For the legend of the serpent and the temple itself, see Besnier, op. cit. 152‑202; HJ 633‑635; Gilb. III.72‑73; Jord. Comm. in honor. Mommsen 356‑369; DuP 59; for the cult of Aesculapius on the island, the inscriptions and votive offerings, Besnier 203‑238). For some reliefs which may refer to it, see Besnier 181 sqq.; Bull. d. Inst. 1879, 7; Mitt. 1886, 167‑172; Strong, Roman Sculpture 269; Scultura Romana 241.


The Authors' Notes:

1 Cf. Dio XLVII.2.3.

2 CIL VI.7= 12.800 = ILS 3836. CIL VI.1080 = 31236 is referred to this locality and to Caracalla by von Domaszewski (SHA 1918, 13. A.140): cf. also the coins of L. Rubrius Dossenus (B.M. Rep. I.312. 2459 sqq.). See CIL VI.30842, 30843, 30845= I2.26‑28 =ILS 3834‑3836; 30846=I2.29; PT 262‑265 (also for the terracottas).


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