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p130 Colossus Neronis

Article on pp130‑131 of

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

Colossus Neronis: a colossal bronze statue of Nero, 120 feet high, the work of Zenodorus, a Greek, erected by Nero himself in the vestibule of the Domus Aurea (q.v.) on the summit of the Velia (Suet. Nero 31; Plin. NH XXXIV.45), but after the death of that emperor changed by Vespasian into a statue of the Sun (Plin. loc. cit; Suet. Vesp. 18; Mart. de spect. 2.1 (see Domus Aurea); I.70.7; Cass. Dio LXV.15:  . . . κολοσσὸς ὠνομασμένος ἐν τῇ ἱερᾳ ὁδῷ ἱδρύθη). Hülsen (HJ 321) considers ἱδρύθη to be a loose translation of refectus est, so that we need not suppose that the statue was actually moved. Dio states that some said it was like Nero and others like Titus.1 Hadrian, perhaps early in 128 A.D. (Mél. 1918‑1919, 285‑294), moved it nearer the Colosseum in order to make room for the temple of Venus and Roma, it is said, without taking it down (Hist. Aug. Hadr. 19). Commodus (Hist. Aug. Com. 17; Cass. Dio LXXII.22) converted it into a statue of himself as Hercules; but at his death it was restored as the Sun and so remained (Cohen, Comm. 186, 206, 209; Herodian I.15.9; Reg. IV). Part of the pedestal which was built by Hadrian still exists, between the Colosseum and the temple of Venus and Roma. It is 7 metres square, of brick-faced concrete, and was originally covered with marble (see also Hieron. ad a. Abr. 2090; Hemerol. Philoc. ad VIII Id. Iun. CIL I2 p266, 319; CIL VIII.212.82; Longin. de Subl. 57.22 (WS 1898, 177); Jahrb. d. Inst. 1913, 133).

For a block of travertine which may have formed part of the flight of steps inside one leg of this huge figure see Mem. Am. Acad. V.118.

A piece of stone, comprising three steps of a spiral staircase; it is a fragment of an ancient Roman building, possibly the Colossus of Nero, now at the top of the Via Sacra leading to the Roman Forum.

I'm fairly sure this is the block just mentioned; photograph taken in 1997 near the Arch of Titus and the summa via Sacra.

Remains of what may be the base on which it stood originally exist under the monastery of S. Francesca Romana. The mention of it in Hemerol. cit., colossus coronatur, is the last in antiquity, and is an interesting record of the persistence in Christian times of a picturesque spring festival celebrated by the sellers of garlands on the Sacra via. The famous saying quoted by Bede (Collect. 1.iii.), 'quamdiu stabit coliseus, stabit et Roma; quando cadet coliseus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus,' should be referred, not to the amphitheatre but to the statue, which had no doubt fallen long before (Nissen, Ital. Landeskunde, II.538). And the early mediaeval mentions of insula, p131regio, rota colisei should be similarly explained (Jord. II.119, 319, 510). The name was not transferred to the building until about 1000 A.D.3


The Authors' Notes:

1 This would seem to indicate that Vespasian merely added rays to the head, which otherwise remained unchanged. It is probably referred to as Palatinus colossus by Mart. VIII.60.

Longin. de Subl. 57.2: XXXVI.3 (p68, l.13) of Vahlen's edition (1895).

The name was not transferred to the building until about 1000 A.D.: This is now Professor Hülsen's view (p6, n1); see BC 1926, 53‑64.
[right arrow]  For more on this whole vexed question, see Platner's note, and mine,
in his article on the Colosseum.


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Page updated: 18 Jun 09