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Bill Thayer

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p417 Porta Tiburtina

Article on p417 of

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

Black-and‑white images are from Platner; any color photos are mine © William P. Thayer

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Immediately behind the gate is the beginning of Termini train station, making the Porta Tiburtina one of the hardest gates to visit. This is the outer face: in ancient Roman terms, you are outside the City, looking in.

Porta Tiburtina: a gate in the Aurelian wall (Ill. 44), by which the Via Tiburtina (q.v.) left the city (DMH). In the eighth century it was known as Porta S. Laurentii, because it led to the church of that name (GMU 88; R ii.406). There seems to be no trace in the present gate of any work by Aurelian, who may have simply restricted himself to flanking with two towers the arch by which the aquae Marcia, Tepula and Iulia crossed the road. This was rebuilt by Augustus in 5 B.C., and also bears inscriptions of Vespasian and Septimius Severus, relating to the aqueducts (CIL VI.1244‑1246). From the bull's head on the keystone of the archa came the name porta Taurina, which we find in the Liber Pontificalis in the lives of Alexander I (LPD I.127) and Anastasius I (ib. 258) as well as in the Mirabilia (Jord. II.319‑328); while Magister Gregorius (JRS 1919, 20, 46) gives both porta Tiburtina and porta Aquileia, que nunc Sancti Laurentii dicitur, in his list.

The gate was restored by Honorius, as the inscription over the stone outer arch records (CIL VI.1190).1 He also built the inner arch2 in stone, most of which was removed by Pius IX in 1869, and, according to Lanciani, raised the level, here and elsewhere, from 9 to 13 feet; but the difference between the levels of the Augustan and Flavian periods has now been more accurately determined as 1.38 metre (4½ feet), while there was a rise of only 1 cm. up to the time of Honorius (Jord. I.1.356‑358; LR 76‑77; PBS III.85‑88; T VIII.9‑14; BC 1892, 111; 1917, 207‑214).

The Authors' Notes:

1 To him probably belong the large square towers outside the gate, which may, as elsewhere, replace the original semicircular towers of Aurelian.

2 This arch formed a vantage court, as at Porta Appia, and elsewhere.

Thayer's Note:

The following photo, although not by Platner, will probably be of interest, since, among other reasons, it shows the inner face of the gate, now of very difficult access. You should ignore the parallel diagonal lines, an artifact of inexpert scanning.

[image ALT: A ruined old gate with its openings walled up. It is the Porta Tiburtina in the Aurelian walls in Rome, in a photo taken around the end of the nineteenth century.]

Photo taken by Clemens Herschel at the end of the 19th century.

In a note he writes: "For the engineer, Porta Tiburtina is the most interesting aqueduct ruin in the City of Rome. It is a skew arch, with three aqueducts over it. The former springing of the arch, marked by a moulding, is now so near the ground that this moulding is used as a bench. Note also the patch-work arching, to stop leaks from the channel of Marcia, filling up the original arches."

Two of the aqueduct channels can be seen clearly in this intelligently-taken photo.

a the bull's head on the keystone of the arch: Two of them, actually, one on each face of the gate.

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Page updated: 31 Jan 10