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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in
Classical Philology
Vol. 12, No. 2 (Apr. 1917), pp194‑197.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

p194 Varia Topographica

Basilica Opimia. — in 121 B.C. L. Opimius erected a basilica near the temple of Concord, which stood until it was removed by Tiberius in 10 A.D. Cicero in his oration for Sestius (140) contrasts the reputation of those Romans who have roused their fellow-citizens to revolt and sedition with that of those who have used their influence to check such uprisings, and writes: "ac ne quis ex nostro aut aliquorum praeterea casu hanc vitae viam pertimescat, unus in hac civitate, quem quidem ego possum dicere, praeclare vir de re publica meritus, L. Opimius, indignissime concidit; cuius monumentum celeberrimum in foro sepulchrum desertissimum in litore Dyrrachio relictum est." The meaning of celeberrimum, “much frequented," is perfectly clear, but not only have translators often fallen into error (cf. Bohn, "superb monument"), but Hülsen misses the point and makes this passage his authority for the following statement (Forum2, 13): "Opimius erbaute . . . . eine Basilica die . . . . als stattliches Monument gerühmt wird: was, da der Bauplatz nur klein gewesen sein kann, wohl auf prachtvolle Ausstattung schliessen lässt." We may wonder that Hülsen was caught napping, and still more that both his French and his English translators perpetuate the error. Carcopino even quotes the Latin words. In this way is the old basilica made over into a stately edifice!

Elephas herbarius. — The last monument mentioned in the Regionary Catalogue in region VIII is Elephas herbarius, which from its place in the list probably stood near the foot of the Capitoline, in the modern piazza Montanara. There is no other reference to the monument in antiquity, but the name was preserved during the Middle Ages as a local designation in the title of the Church of S. Abbaciro ad Alafantum. It was undoubtedly a bronze statue of an elephant, comparable with the elephantes aenei on the Sacra Via, which are mentioned by Cassiodorus (Varia 30), but the epithet herbarius has proved a stumbling-block for topographers. Becker (601) hazards no conjecture, but simply says: "der so wenig mit dem Forum Olitorium gemein hat als herbae und olera gleichbedeutend sind." Preller (154) remarks: "Der Beiname herbarius mag auf einem besondern Umstande beruhen; sonst hiessen animalia herbatica oder herbaria grassfressende Thiere." Jordan (I, 2, 476) calls it Krautelephant, and comments thus: "Der Beiname herbarius sollte allerdings wie bei Hercules olivarius und Apollo sandaliarius auf der Nähe eines Geschäfts von herbarii weisen. p195Allein ein solches Gewerbe ist nicht nachweisbar, sicher nur dass es nichts mit holera des Forum holitorium gemein haben könnte. Die Sache bleibt dunkel." Jordan did not notice that the analogy between Apollo sandaliarius, Hercules olivarius, and this is only superficial after all, for in the case of deities entirely other considerations may enter into the explanation of epithets.

Hülsen says (REV, 2525): "Den Beinamen herbarius darf man natürlich weder mit der holera des Forum holitorium noch mit einem Gewerbe von herbarii in Verbindung bringen; es heisst wohl einfach der zahme." This looks as if Hülsen thought that wild elephants were carnivorous! Armellini (564) derives the name from a neighboring market of herbae, of which we know nothing, and Richter (191) says that it gave its name to a vicus in which the dealers in herbae carried on their trade. Gilbert (III, 418) thinks that it was connected with the Forum holitorium, which is altogether improbable.

So there is much obscurity developed about a perfectly simple thing, of which, to be sure, Becker, as so often, had given a hint — a statue of an elephant eating grass, a most natural and suggestive pose. For this use of herbarius in imperial times we may compare two inscriptions: (CIL, VI, 10209) Aurel. Sabinus Aug. lib. praepositus herbariarum, that is, the superintendent of the animalia herbaria that were used in the Colosseum; (NS, 1899, 149) M. Rebilus Macedo . . . . feris n. IIII ursis XVI noxeis III et ceteris herbariis, of a show given at Beneventum.

Thermae Hiemales. — A passage in the Vita Aureliani (45) reads: thermas in transtiberina regione facere paravit hiemales, quod aquae frigidioris copia illic deesset; that is, Aurelian proposed to build some baths, thermae hiemales, in Trastevere because there was no sufficient supply of aqua frigidior, evidently water that was colder than that required for thermae hiemales.

Hülsen translates Kaltbad, and thus falls into a double error, first of neglecting to observe that the reason given has no sense if this is the kind of bath intended, and second of supposing that hiemales thermae can mean cold baths. There is no parallel for any such use of hiemales. The use of the word in Pliny (XVIII.69): "totis hoc Alpibus notum et hiemalibus provinciis nullum hoc frumento laetius [triticum]," is no real explanation, for here it is precisely equivalent to our own "wintry." Furthermore, there is no case of any such expression as thermae frigidae, although we cannot say that thermae had so far retained its original signification as to make such a usage impossible.

Of aestivus, aestivalis, with thermae we have these cases from the later period: CIL, X, 5348, an inscription from Interamna: "opera thermarum estivalium restituit"; Vit. Gordiani, 32, 7: "cogitaverat praeterea cum Misitheo ut post basilicam thermas aestivas sui nominis faceret, ita ut hiemales in principio porticuum poneret, intus essent vel viridaria vel porticus." In these two cases hiemalis and aestivalis are clearly opposite in meaning, namely, for use in winter and for use in summer. In the trans-Tiberine p196district there was not sufficient water available of a temperature cool enough for summer use. two aqueducts supplied this region, the Alsietina built by Augustus to feed his naumachia, and the Traiana, built by Trajan to supply drinking-water. The first brought water from Lake Martignano, the second from springs. Severus had already constructed baths in this region, and it is quite clear that no further demands could be made on the cold spring water of the Traiana.

The Porta Romana or Romanula. — According to Varro there were three gates in the wall of the original Palatine city, and that on the northwest corner of the hill was called Romanula — ab Roma dictam (LL., V, 164). Festus (262) says: "Appellata autem Romana a Sabinis praecipue quod ea proximus aditus erat Romam." There is little doubt that Romana is the proper form, and the explanation of the name is the problem which confronts us. So far as we know, the gates of Latin cities were frequently named after the towns on the roads that ran out of them, or after the roads themselves. Compare the familiar examples, p. Praenestina, Collatina, Ardeatina, Ostiensis, etc., in Rome, and the p. Esquilina in Tibur. Other gates in Rome were named after local designations of sections of the city, as Collina, Pinciana; still others, of course, bore names of different significance, but, so far as I know, we have no other case like Porta Romana, where the name of the town itself is given to a gate.

Against any hesitation on this ground, however, is Varro's direct testimony — ab Roma dictam — and if he saw nothing unusual, or at least impossible, in such usage, why should we? But we cannot, unfortunately, follow this simple rule in dealing with Varro, and Festus seems to hint that such an explanation was not satisfactory to all Romans. He, at least, draws a little nearer to the apparent practice when he says that the name was given by the Sabines to the gate through which they found their nearest approach. We do not know the source from which Festus draws here, but the explanation seems to be an infelicitous attempt to avoid the Varronian view. Certainly it does not appear probable that this was the true origin of the name.

In the good old days when we could connect Roma with ruma, rumon, "a stream," it was easy to explain the name of the gate, for it would be altogether natural to call that nearest the river the river-gate. But now that Schulze has made his theory so fashionable that everybody says without hesitation that Rome got its name from an Etruscan clan, the case is different. Kretschmer a few years ago (Glotta, I, 295, n2) wrote as follows: "Da Tore nach den Oertlichkeiten zu heissen pflegen, in deren Nähe sie liegen oder führen, so dürfte die Porta Romana das Tor gewesen sein das nach Rom führte. Dann kann natürlich die alte Stadt auf dem Palatin, die sogenannte Roma quadrata, ursprünglich nicht der Namen Rom getragen haben, sie wird vielmehr Palatium geheissen haben, und der Name Roma muss dan ursprünglich an der Oertlichkeit westlich vom Palatin (später Velabrum, eventuell p197auch Forum und Capitol) gehaftet haben und ist, als diese Ansiedlung mit der Palatinstadt verwuchs, auf das Ganze übertragen worden."

Now the idea of a settlement in the swampy Velabrum or Forum in early times is quite preposterous, and I do not mean to assert that Kretschmer insists on a settlement in Oertlichkeit, but if there had been a village on the Capitoline which was called Roma, some trace of the transfer of the name to the Palatine would surely be found in tradition. Such a transfer would have resulted, normally, from causes that would have found some reflection in later times. Some support for this view might possibly be found in Festus's statement, were it not for the difficulty of explaining how a Sabine settlement came to have an Etruscan name — although, to be sure, one might ask whether there was any greater difficulty here than in giving an Etruscan name to a Latin settlement — and for the fact that it implies a complete reversal of the traditional place occupied by the Capitoline in Roman tradition, a reversal that demands more support than this hypothesis affords. If Schulze's view is true, why can we not explain the Porta Romana most easily by supposing that this powerful Etruscan clan, or family, dwelt at this northwest corner of the hill — where tradition puts the first settlement — and that the gate, as well as the whole inclosure, got its name from this fact? I cannot cite any exact parallel, but it seems a more plausible explanation than to derive the name of the gate directly from that of the city.

Samuel Ball Platner

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