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p368 Obeliscus Isei Campensis

Article on pp368‑369 of

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


Obelisci Isei Campensis: several small obelisks found at different times near the church of S. Maria sopra Minerva, which were probably brought to Rome during the first century and grouped in pairs, with others, at p369the entrances of the temple of Isis (Iseumq.v.), which stood between the Saepta and the temple of Minerva:

(1) that now standing above the fountain in front of the Pantheon. This belongs to the time of Rameses II and stood in front of the temple of Ra at Heliopolis. It is 6 metres high and covered with hieroglyphics (BC 1896, 260‑264 = Ob. Eg. 91‑95). It is referred to in the fifteenth century (Poggio ap. Urlichs, p24) as lying in the piazza in front of S. Macuto (Arm. 317), but in the sixteenth it had already been set up there (Fulvius, Antiquit. Urbis lxxi.), and it is also marked on the map of Bufalini.1 In 1711 Clement XI removed it to its present position.

(2) that now standing on Bernini's elephant in the Piazza della Minerva, where it was placed by Alexander VII in 1667. It was erected at Sais by Pharaoh Apries in the first half of the sixth century B.C., and has only four lines of hieroglyphics (BC 1896, 284‑288 = Ob. Eg. 115‑119). Nothing was known of it until it was found in 1665 (BC 1883, 45).

(3) that now standing in the Viale delle Terme, which was found in 1883 under the apse of S. Maria sopra Minerva (NS 1883, 244). It is about 6 metres high with hieroglyphics (BC 1883, 72‑103; 1896, 265‑269 = Ob. Eg. 96‑100), and was erected by Rameses II at Heliopolis.

(4) Another of the obelisks that were probably set up in the precinct of Isis is that which stands on Bernini's fountain in the Piazza Navona. This seems to have been made in Egypt by order of Domitian, and brought to Rome where the hieroglyphics were cut. They allude to the repair of that which was ruined, i.e. the Iseum. When the circus of Maxentius was built on the via Appia, the obelisk was transported thither and erected on the spina. It lay among the ruins of the circus until 1651 when Innocent X placed it in its present position (BC 1897, 201‑207 = Ob. Eg. 125‑131; JRS 1919, 188; BC 1908, 254‑272; 1917, 103‑124; RAP II.113‑114; Erman in Preuss. Abh. 1917, Abh. 4, 4‑10).

(5)-(7) Besides these, Ligorio (Bodl. 75v., quoted in BC 1883, 42, 43), mentions three or more similar obelisks, one of which had been excavated in front of the church of S. Maria sopra Minerva (cf. Aldrovandi, Statue di Roma, 314); this is in all probability that which passed into the possession of the Medici, and remained in their villa on the Pincio until 1787 (LS III.114, 121; Doc. Ined. iv.78, No. 54), when it was removed to the Boboli gardens in Florence, as it has inscriptions almost identical with those of (1). The remains of the other two were built into modern houses, but had, he says, the same measurements and the same hieroglyphics. These fragments, three in number, were given to Cardinal Alessandro Albani (Valesio, Diario, 16 Aug. 1702 ap. Cancellieri, Mercato 164, and Nibby, Roma Antica ii.190), who presented them to the city of Urbino in 1737, where they now stand (made up into one obelisk) with another fragment (probably not enumerated, as being without any p370inscription) in front of the church of S. Domenico.a They have inscriptions of the time of Apries like (2) (see Ungarelli, Interpretatio Obeliscorum Urbis, p. x). For a drawing of one of the fragments, see Heemskerck i.63b = Vat. Lat. 3437, 5v.: and of all three, Kircher (Obelisci Aegyptiaci nuper inter Isaei Romani rudera effossi interpretatio (Rome, 1666), 134, 135.)

(8) Another obelisk lies buried not far from S. Luigi dei Francesi, about which no particulars can be given, as it has never been excavated (Buonarroti, ser. 3, vol. I (1882), 41‑59; Roma, ii (1924), 505‑509).

(9) A portion of another small obelisk which may have come from the Iseum is described and illustrated by Kircher, op. cit. 135, 136, as existing in the Palazzo Cavalieri-Maffei in Piazza Branca, now Piazza Cairoli (LF 21). It was later in Villa Albani (Zoega, De Origine Obeliscorum, 80), and appears to have been sent to Paris; from there it was brought, with Cavaceppi's restorations, to the Glyptothek at Munich (Furtwängler-Wolters, Katalog, No. 22). The inscription is much injured, and the T. Sextius Africanus mentioned in it has not been identified with certainty with either of the two known men of this name, one of the time of Claudius and Nero, the other of the time of Trajan (Pros. III.236.464, 465). If the two obelisks from the temple of Fortune at Praeneste, which belong to the time of Claudius (one is still there, the other in Naples: see BC 1904, 252‑257; Guida del Museo di Napoli, p118, No. 335), can rightly be called counterparts of it, the identification should be with the former.


The Authors' Note:

1 It was engraved probably by Du Pérac (Hülsen, Das Speculum des Lafreri in Collectanea L. S. Olschki oblata, p164, No. 177).


Thayer's Note:

a Urbino. . . in front of the church of S. Domenico:

See this photo (from a site that unfortunately doesn't provide any information on the obelisk); and for its current urban context, this page.


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Page updated: 13 Nov 06