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Chapter 10
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries

by Rodolfo Lanciani

published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company

Boston and New York,

Text, maps and black & white illustrations are in the public domain.
Any color photos are © William P. Thayer.



The Disappearance of Works of Art, and Their Discovery in Recent Years

In a manuscript volume of the Vatican library, belonging to the Syriac collection and numbered 145, a short description of Rome has been found, written, A.D. 546, by Zacharias, a Byzantine historian and Bishop of Mytilene in the island of Lesbos. From his account we gather that, towards the middle of the sixth century of our era, there were in Rome eighty statues of gilt bronze representing gods, thirty-seven hundred and eighty-five bronze statues of miscellaneous subjects, and twenty-five bronze statues which, according to tradition, had been removed from Jerusalem by Vespasian: in all thirty-eight hundred and ninety works of art in bronze, exhibited in public places. Of this immense and invaluable collection a small portion only has come down to us; in fact, the list of ancient bronzes in modern Rome is so short that, as regards number, the contents of our museums cannot compare favorably with those of the National Museum in Naples. Our list comprises, first of all, the Capitoline group, namely, the Bronze Wolf, the equestrian statue of M. Aurelius, the colossal Head of Domitian, the Camillus or Sacrificing Youth, the Boy extracting a Thorn, and the Hercules from the Forum Boarium. Many errors connected with the origin and the discovery of these famous bronzes have been circulated, and are still believed by many. The equestrian statue is said to have been found between the Lateran and the Basilica  p285 of S. Croce in Gerusalemme, in a vineyard adjoining the Scala Santa; the She-Wolf, to have been found under the northwest spur of the Palatine hill, near the so‑called Arco degli Argentieri, at S. Giorgio in Velabro; the colossal Head of Domitian to have been found, in 1487, near the Basilica of Constantine in the Sacra Via, and so on. The truth is that these celebrated works were never lost and rediscovered; but, as I have already stated in Chapter I, from the fall of the Empire downwards, they have been kept together and preserved in and around the Pope's palace at the Lateran, until Sixtus IV and Paul III caused them to be removed to the Capitol.

Of the equestrian statue of M. Aurelius we have records from the tenth century. In the year 966, Peter, prefect of Rome, was executed for rebellion against Pope John XIII, being hung by the hair from the horse; and at its feet was flung the corpse of the Anti-pope Boniface, son of Ferruccio, in the year 974. We hear again of the group in 1347, during the festivities which followed the election of Rienzi to the tribune­ship, when, for nearly a whole day, wine was made to flow from one nostril of the horse, water from the other. This constant connection of the equestrian group with the Lateran, from time immemorial, makes us believe that it was never removed there from the Forum, as commonly asserted, but that it must have belonged to the imperial residence of the Lateran from the time of Marcus Aurelius, who was born and educated in the house of the Annii, close by.

As regards the She-Wolf, the positive evidence of its being kept at the Lateran dates from the beginning of the ninth century. Benedict, a monk from Mount Soracte, who wrote a Chronicon in the tenth century, speaks of the institution of a supreme court of justice "in the Lateran  p286 palace, in the place called the Wolf, viz., the mother of the Romans." Trials and executions "at the Wolf" are recorded from time to time until 1450. Paolo di Liello speaks of two highwaymen, whose hands, cut by the executioner, were hung at the Wolf. It was removed to the Conservatori palace on the Capitol in 1473, together with the colossal Head and the Camillus.

The ancient bronzes in the Vatican museum are less important in number and in interest than those of the Capitol; in fact, only two are worth mentioning, — the Pine-cone, in the Giardino della Pigna, and the Hercules, discovered in the autumn of 1864 under the foundations of the palazzo Pio di Carpi, on the site of the theatre of Pompey the Great.

The Pine-cone, eleven feet high, is generally described as the pinnacle of Hadrian's mausoleum (now Castel S. Angelo), in the ruins of which it is said to have been found. The truth is that the Pine-cone has always been the central ornament of a large fountain, or basin, or pond, the water flowing in innumerable jet per foramina nucum; that is to say, from each of the spikes. Pope Symmachus, who did so much toward the embellishment of sacred edifices in Rome (between 498 and 514), removed the Pine-cone from its ancient place, most probably from Agrippa's artificial lake in the Campus Martius, and used it for adorning the magnificent fountain which he had built in the centre of the so‑called "Paradise" of S. Peter's, viz., in the centre of the square portico in front of the basilica. Considering the decadence, the poverty, and the semi-barbaric taste of the age in which Symmachus lived, his fountain must be considered as a real masterpiece. Cencius Camerarius, who became in process of time Pope Honorius III, wrote in 1190 the following description of the fountain:  p287 "In the 'Paradise' of S. Peter there is a basin built by Pope Symmachus, surrounded by columns of porphyry, which support a dome of gilt metal; of gilt metal also are the dolphins and the flowers, from the mouth and the petals of which the water flows. In the centre of the piece stands the Pine-cone." The two lovely bronze peacocks now preserved in the Giardino della Pigna are supposed to have come from the same fountain. M. Lacour-Gayet has recently discovered a remarkable document connected with the Cone, — the very signature of the artist who modelled and cast it, engraved twice around the lower edge of the piece:

P · Cincivs · P · L · Calvivs · fecit

"This is the work of Publius Cincius Calvius, freedman of Publius Cincius."

The other bronze of the Vatican, the colossal Hercules, discovered twenty-three years ago near the piazza di Campo dei Fiori, under the foundations of Pompey's theatre, is remarkable more from having been an oracular statue than from its beauty. Very few persons are acquainted with the most striking feature of this Hercules. I mean, very few persons know of the existence of a hole in the back of the head, thirty-eight centimetres in diameter, through which a full-grown youth could easily make his way into the colossus. The experiment was actually made by a young mason, named Pietro Roega, in November, 1864, in the presence of Commendatore Tenerani and other eminent personages; and the sound of his voice, in answering the questions addressed to him, was really impressive and almost supernatural. Hercules, like Aesculapius, Apollo, and the Fortune, was undoubtedly an oracular god, as shown by the existence of many temples and sanctuaries in which responsa  p288 or oracles were given in his name. Such were the temple of Bura, in Achaia, described by Pausanias; the temple of Gades in Baetica, described by Silius Italicus; the temple in the Cynosargos, at Athens, described by Suidas; and such was most probably our Roman temple of Hercules, near the Circus Flaminius, to which the colossal statue found in 1864 is supposed to belong.

How happens it that so very few, among the many thousand bronze statues of ancient Rome, have escaped destruction? The answer has already been given by Fea, in his "Istoria della rovina di Roma;" by Gibbon, in his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire;" by Dyer, in the last chapters of his "History of the City of Rome." During the long agony of the capital of the world, an agony which lasted nearly seven centuries, from Constantine's age to the final burning of the city by Robert Guiscard and  p289 his Normans, in May, 1084, no one, except a few lime-burners, paid any attention to marbles; works of bronze and other metals were sought for, stolen, stripped, and melted with an almost incredible amount of labor and patience, on account of their marketable value and facility of transportation. In justice to the barbarians, upon whom is often cast the blame of spoliations committed by the Romans themselves, we must acknowledge that the emperors set the bad example of stealing bronze and other valuables from public places, especially from pagan temples and shrines, after the recognition of Christianity as the religion of the state. The first inroad upon this class of works of art was undoubtedly made by Constantine, when he transferred the seat of the empire to Byzantium: at any rate, under him began the wanton practice of changing the heads of bronze and marble statues, in order that they might be dedicated to new personages with no cost and no trouble.

The next important step towards the destruction of the artistic treasures of Rome was made A.D. 383, by Gratianus, when he ordered, by imperial decree, the abolition and confiscation of the privileges and patrimony of all pagan places of worship, on the ground that it was not becoming a Christian government and a Christian state officially to supply the infidels with the means of persevering in their errors. In 391, the edict of Gratianus was confirmed by his brother Valentinian II, and this measure so roused the indignation of the pagan majority in the Senate-House, ready to break into open rebellion, that the emperor decided to strike the final blow; and before that memorable year was over, another decree prohibited forever superstitious sacrifices in Rome and in Italy, even if offered under a private name, at private cost, and within the threshold of a private house.

 p290  The masterpieces of Greek and Italo-Greek art, to which divine honors had been offered for centuries, were removed from their temples, and exhibited in public places, in the baths, in the forums, in the theatres, as simple objects of curiosity. There is no doubt, however, that on this occasion, when suddenly exposed to the hatred and violence of a Christian populace, who had so long and so bitterly suffered from the hatred and violence of the pagan aristocracy, the works of art must have suffered a certain amount of damage. The Hercules of the Vatican, for instance, still bears the evidence of an ignoble attack, which must have taken place when the gates of the temple were shut behind it.

In 408, Alaric was induced to withdraw from Rome, on the payment of an exorbitant ransom, one of the items of which was five thousand pounds weight of gold. In order to meet this demand, the Romans were compelled to strip the bronze statues of their heavy gilding. Two years later, on the 24th day of August, 410, Alaric and his hordes stormed the town, and plundered it for three consecutive days, carrying off an incredible amount of articles of value. According to Procopius, the Jewish spoils from Jerusalem, which Titus and Vespasian had dedicated in the temple of Peace, and which are so beautifully represented in the bas-reliefs of the triumphal arch of Titus on the Sacred Way, were among the booty. Traditions, however, differ with regard to the fate of this precious and venerable collection of metals from Zion. The writers of the Talmud, for instance, believe the seven-branched candlestick to have been thrown into the Tiber, and describe the bed of the river as paved with solid bronze from Rome to Ostia. The Jewish colony of Rome, acting under the influence of this tradition, is said by De Brosses to have applied to the  p291 Pope for a permit to excavate the whole bed, and recover the candlestick; a request which of course met with a refusal. Others think that when Alaric, the plunderer, died in Southern Italy, near Cosenza, his followers buried him and his treasures in the bed of the river Busentinus, first diverting the course of the waters, and then letting them flow again over the tomb. I wonder whether this story is based upon a practice actually followed by the barbarians in the burial of their great chiefs and leaders, or whether it is simply a revised edition of the true story of Decebalus, king of the Dacians. On the approach of the Roman army, led to victory by Trajan, Decebalus caused the Sargetia, now Istrig, to be turned out of its regular course, and buried an enormous mass of gold, silver, and jewelry in a kind of cave which had been built for that purpose in the middle of the dry bed. The river was then restored to its natural channel, and all the men who had been employed in this extraordinary work were slain by Decebalus, in order that the secret might be safe from indiscreet disclosure. The secret, however, was revealed to Trajan by the king's intimate confidant and adviser, Beryx; and the Romans found in the cave money and valuables enough to defray all the expenses of that costly war. According to Fabretti ("De Columna Traiana," c. 8), some Wallachian fishermen, plunging and diving into the Istrig, towards the middle of the sixteenth century, discovered a considerable portion of the treasure, which had somehow escaped the search of the Roman emperor.

To go back to the Jewish treasure in Rome, it seems certain that the whole of it cannot have been carried off by Alaric, since part was plundered by Genseric, as we shall presently see. In June, 455, the third day after the murder of Petronius Maximus, who had succeeded Valentinian  p292 III, the Vandals, with whom mingled Bedouins and Africans, entered Rome by the Porta Portese,​a and plundered it at leisure during a whole fortnight. On this occasion the palace of the Caesars was completely robbed, not only of its precious statues, but even of its commonest brass utensils. Genseric appears to have devoted himself particularly to the plunder of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus: its statues were carried off to adorn the African residence of the Vandal king, and half the roof was stripped of its tiles of gilt bronze. That portion of the Jewish spoils which had escaped the previous attempt of Alaric, was apparently landed safely at Cartage, where, eighty years later, it was discovered again by Belisarius, and removed to Constantinople. On the 1st of January of the following year, 456, the Senate decreed that a bronze statue should be raised in Trajan's Forum, in honor of Sidonius Apollinaris, the son-in‑law of the Emperor Avitus. Although the decree of the Senate must be understood in the sense that a new head, representing within a certain approximation the likeness of Apollinaris, was to be put on a statue already existing, still the fact proves that, in spite of all these inroads and plunders, works in metal were still left in Rome, not only in private palaces and villas, but also in public places, such as the forum of Trajan. Nearly half a century later, in 500, Theodoric the Great appointed a magistrate (or count, as he was called at the time), whose duty it was to take care of the statues; and although Cassiodorius evidently exaggerates in comparing these to a population of bronze and marble (populus copiosissimus statuarum, greges abundantissimi equorum, viz., of equestrian statues), the new office was not a sinecure. The gilding which covered Roman statues seems to have been a motive to theft, or at least to mutilation. As to the metal employed in public  p293 buildings, especially in their roofs, an edict of Majorianus, dated 457, which forbids the application of the materials from ancient structures to new purposes, under a fine of fifty pounds of gold, betrays the fact that classic edifices were already regarded in Rome as mere quarries of stone and mines of metal.

On July 11, 472, Rome was captured, for the third time, by Ricimer and his German hordes, and plundered again, except in the district of the Janiculum and the Vatican.

In 537, during the siege of Rome by Vitiges, the mausoleum of Hadrian, which had been long since fortified, was furiously assaulted, and the statues which adorned its forty-eight intercolumniations, for the most part masterpieces of Grecian art, were hurled down upon the heads of the assailants.

On December 17, 546, the Goths, under the leader­ship of their king, Totila, stormed Rome by treachery, and did more damage to its monuments and works of art than had been done before by the Vandals.

In the following year, Belisarius repaired the line of Aurelian's walls between the Porta Pinciana and the Porta Maggiore: the work was completed in less than a month, undoubtedly at the expense of the neighboring monuments.1

It does not enter into my present purpose to follow, chapter by chapter, the history of the destruction of Rome. Two incidents only remain to be noted. First, the erection of a monumental column in honor of Phocas, the usurper  p294 of the throne of the East, and the murderer of Mauritius; because, from the inscription engraved on the pedestal, we learn that the column itself was surmounted and crowned with a statue in gilt bronze. A statue in gilt bronze could not have been modelled and cast in Rome in 608: it was merely a statue cast centuries before, of which, I am inclined to believe, not even the head had been changed. The second incident worth noticing is the grant from the Emperor Heraclius to Pope Honorius of the first of the gilt bronze tiles forming the roof of Hadrian's temple of Venus and Rome. The grant had been requested in behalf of the basilica of S. Peter: it led to the destruction of Hadrian's masterpiece. At length, in 663, Rome suffered, for the last time, the misfortune of an imperial visit. Constans II, compelled by the guilty conscience of a fratricide to wander from sanctuary to sanctuary, undertook the pilgrimage to Rome in the spring of that year, and was met by Pope Vitalianus and the few inhabitants near the sixth milestone of the Appian Way. The short and friendly visit of this Christian emperor proved absolutely fatal: he laid his hand on everything which, after the repeated sieges of the Vandals, Goths, and Lombards, had been left for plunder. "In the twelve days which Constans spent at Rome, he carried off as many bronze statues as he could lay hands on; and though the Pantheon seemed to possess a double claim to protection, as having been converted into a Christian church, yet Constans was mean and sacrilegious enough to carry off the tiles of gilt bronze which covered it. . . . After perpetrating these acts, which were at least as bad as robberies, and attending mass at the tomb of S. Peter, Constans carried off his booty to Syracuse; . . .  p295 his plunder ultimately fell into the hands of the Saracens."2

A remarkably interesting discovery has recently been made in connection with this visit of Constans to Rome. It is certain that the emperor, between his acts of doubtful devotion in churches and basilicas, found time enough to visit the pagan monuments and ruins. These visits were recorded by one of his attendants, as a Cook's tourist would do to‑day, by scratching the name of the emperor on the most prominent place of each building which they chanced to dishonor with its presence. Here is the fac-simile of the record scratched on the "Janus quadrifrons" in the Forum Boarium: —

[image ALT: missingALT.]

Another signature has been discovered and read on the very top of Trajan's column. I have no doubt that a careful examination of the principal monuments of Rome — of the Colosseum, of the Pantheon, the Antonine column, etc. — would lead to the discovery of other such graffiti, and would enable us to follow step by step the wanderings of the last emperor who saw Rome before its final destruction by the Normans.

After such a marvellous succession of robberies and spoliations, there is no reason to wonder at the scarcity of antique bronzes in Rome; in fact, our wonder is excited more at the fortune which has preserved the few we do possess. The explanation of the mystery is this. Every bronze found in Rome since the Renaissance (I speak of this later period, because our knowledge of earlier discoveries is too imperfect and fragmentary to be valued) had been carefully  p296 concealed or buried, evidently under the apprehension of a great and imminent danger. The secret of the hiding-place was never revealed, either because of the murder or death of those who knew it, or else on account of the destruction of the building under which each had been buried. To mention only those discoveries which have taken place in my lifetime, I will name first of all the treasure-trove of the Vicolo delle Palme in Trastevere. In 1849, a few weeks before the storming of Rome by the French army of General Oudinot, under the house No. 17 in the above-mentioned passage, a most remarkable collection of works of art was discovered by mere accident. It included the Apoxyomenos of Lysippus, now in the Braccio Nuovo, — a marble copy of the bronze original, which stood in front of the baths of Agrippa; the bronze Horse, now in the Palazzo de' Conservatori, described by Emil Braun as "an unique work, masterpiece, and a genuine Grecian antique;" a bronze foot, with a beautifully ornamented shoe, which may possibly have belonged to the rider of the Horse; a bronze Bull, and many other fragments of less importance. Here we have the evidence of a collection of works in metal, stolen from different places,​3 and concealed in that remote corner of Trastevere, in readiness for shipment from the quay of the Tiber, close by. Whether the deed was accomplished by a barbarian of the hordes of Genseric, who entered and left Rome precisely at this quarter, or by a Jew of the transtiberine community, the fact is that the treasure was never removed from its hiding-place until its accidental discovery in 1849.

 p297  The colossal Hercules of the Vatican (Ercole Mastai), discovered August 8, 1864, under the foundations of Pompey's theatre, had been not only concealed, but actually buried, with the utmost care, in a kind of coffin built of solid masonry, and veneered with marble.

In 1881, when the foundations of the English chapel were being laid, at the corner of the Via del Babuino and the Via del Gesù-Maria, a collection of bronze imperial busts was found, piled up and concealed in a subterranean passage. A similar discovery was made two years before, at the corner of the Via Nazionale and the Via di S. Eufemia, when a remarkable set of bronzes was found by Madame Ristori, hidden under the foundations of her palace.

The discovery of the two magnificent statues of athletes, which form the special subject of this chapter, took place in circumstances absolutely identical. In the spring of 1884, an application was made to the national government and to the municipality of Rome for the institution of a "National Dramatic Society," and for the grant of a plot of ground, upon which the society's theatre could be built. Both requests having been granted by the state and city authorities, the society took possession of a beautiful site, on the western slope of the Quirinal hill, between the Colonna Gardens and the Palazzo Campanari, on condition that whatever should be found in clearing it should become the property of the state. The work of excavation had not even begun, when I received a letter from an old digger of antiquities, warning me to watch carefully the building of the new theatre, on account of some rare bronzes which he thought were buried there at a great depth. The surmise was not based on any real knowledge; the spot had never been explored before; and no human being could foretell the chances or the results of such an excavation. Strange  p298 to say, the prophecy of my humble correspondent, Signor Giuseppe Gagliardi, proved to be correct beyond expectation: the two bronze statues discovered there in March and April, 1885, must be classed among the finest masterpieces ever brought to light from the soil of Rome.

The slope of the Quirinal hill, upon which the society is building, was occupied in ancient times by three different edifices: by the temple which the Emperor Aurelian dedicated to the sunA.D. 273, after his victories in the East; by the shrine dedicated to Semo Sancus, an archaic, little-known Sabine god; and, lastly, by a portico built in the reign of Constantine, and known in works on the topography of Rome as the Porticus Constantini. The limits of these three buildings were so imperfectly known that we could not tell how large a portion of each would be uncovered, in clearing the site for the new theatre. The result of the excavations has shown that the lower portion of the ground was occupied by a private house of modest appearance, the existence of which was altogether unknown; the upper portion was occupied by the towering substructure of the temple of the Sun.

The house being built on a steep slope, its apartments ran, of course, gradually one above another, in steps or terraces, from the level of Constantine's portico to the level of the platform of the temple, — a difference of nearly fifty feet. The apartments were beautifully decorated with fresco-paintings, mosaic and marble floors, and marble staircases; but everything was in absolute disorder, as if a sudden catastrophe had destroyed the house. This catastrophe (whatever it may have been, sinking of the foundations, fire, earthquake) must have taken place at the end of the second or at the beginning of the third century, since no coin later than Commodus was found among the ruins.  p299 It must, besides, have been sudden and unexpected, because all the works of art the house contained shared its fate, and were buried under its ruins. Of these works, which show the exquisite taste and finish characteristic of the golden era of Graeco-Roman art, I will mention one only, a lovely tazza, or basin of a fountain, exquisitely carved out of a single block of nero antico. The tazza, four feet six inches in diameter, is fluted all around, the rim being ornamented with twelve beautiful lion-heads in full relief, through the mouths of which the water fell in graceful jets into the basin below. This house and all its artistic treasures belonged to a rather obscure personage, a freedman named Cnaeus Sergius Crater.

The way we discover the names of owners of the buildings we are excavating in Rome is very simple and matter of fact, and differs from the practice followed at Pompeii. At Pompeii the property cannot be identified unless a signet ring, or a bronze stamp, or a graffito, betraying the secret, is discovered. In Rome, this is done by means of the lead-pipes which carry and distribute the water through the fountains and bathing apartments of the house. Water, in the capital of the empire, was the property of the crown: it was conceded to private families and individuals on the condition that the name of the "concessionaire" should be engraved on the pipes through which the water was brought from the nearest crown-reservoir, — a practice absolutely necessary for distinguishing any particular pipe out of the many, many thousand running in every direction and under every street. The legend of that discovered in the house above described reads thus: —


Of the temple of the Sun, the huge foundations of which  p300 tower high about house of Sergius, I must content myself with a concise account. The immense building was raised by Aurelian — on the edge of the perpendicular cliff of the Quirinal, facing the Campus Martius — for two purposes: first, to commemorate his conquest of the kingdom of Palmyra and the capture of Queen Zenobia; secondly, to provide the populace of Rome with an easy and unobstructed ascent from the plain of the Campus Martius to the top of the hill. This second purpose was accomplished by means of two gigantic staircases, the foundations of which are still to be seen in the Colonna gardens, in a good state of preservation. These staircases are perhaps better known as having supplied the material for the steps leading from the piazza to the church of the Aracoeli on the Capitol.4

The temple itself was built by Aurelian and his architects when under the influence of impressions received in their journey through the East; more especially affected by the two great sanctuaries of the Sun, which they had seen at Ba'albek and at Palmyra. Our Roman temple was raised in the centre of an artificial platform, supported by massive foundations, ninety-two feet high. The desire of the constructors to surpass, if possible, the magnificence of the East is shown by the colossal size of every architectural piece of their work. Each of the forty-four columns of the peristyle measured seven feet eight inches in diameter, sixty-five feet in height; the area of the temenos was 464 feet  p301 by 320. To give an intelligible idea of the size of the blocks employed in this building, I will mention the fact that the marble fountain formerly in the Piazza del Popolo, and now in the public gardens on the Janiculum, near the church of S. Pietro in Montorio, is cut out of the base of one of the columns from Aurelian's temple. As an instance of that practical tendency of the Romans which enabled them to seize every advantage offered by edifices of this kind, and to use even such buildings as were ostensibly erected for purposes of display, for any material purpose, I may cite the account of Vopiscus, Aurelian's biographer, in which he relates that the extensive vaults under the portico of the temple were used as a store and tasting-rooms for the wines which the crown offered for sale.

The temple of the Sun seems to have been destroyed at a very early date, save the southwest corner, which bravely withstood the destructive action of man and nature as late as the pontificate of Sixtus V (1585‑1590). This colossal ruin, known in the Middle Ages as the Torre di Mesa, or as the Frontespizio di Nerone, was one of the most important landmarks in this district of Rome. On the following page is a view of it, from a drawing made by Stefano du Perac in 1575, twenty years before its final destruction by Sixtus V.

Only three blocks have escaped destruction, and may be seen under the ilexes which shade the upper terrace of the Colonna gardens. One belongs to the lovely frieze of the temple; one to the capital of a pilaster; the third, belonging to the corner of the entablature, measures 1490 cubic feet, and weighs upwards of one hundred tons. This is the block described and illustrated on page 241.

 p302  To come back to the building of the Teatro Drammatico. After clearing away the remains of the house of Sergius, above described, we met with a fragment of the Servian walls, and behind it, the southwest corner of the foundations, or, to speak more precisely, of those of the platform upon which stood the temple and its surroundings. The foundations are built of concrete, six feet in thickness, and cross each other at right angles, according to the lines of the colonnades above. The space between these walls was not empty. I mean it was not used as a vault, or cellar, or crypt, but was entirely filled up with  p303 clay and loose earth. This circumstance makes more curious and interesting the discovery which I am going to relate.

On Saturday, February 7, 1885, toward sunset, a workman engaged in clearing away the rubbish which filled up the space between the first and the second foundation walls, discovered the forearm of a bronze statue, which was lying on its back, at a depth of seventeen feet below the level of the platform of the temple. The news was kept secret by the contractor of the works until the following day; and when the government officials met on the spot the statue had been already removed from its place of concealment, and consequently we were not able to study and take notice of the circumstances of the discovery, which, however minute and uninteresting they may appear at first sight, sometimes throw an unexpected light on problems otherwise very hard to deal with.

This noble figure is seven feet four inches high, two feet wide at the shoulders, and represents a nude athlete, or at least a man of the athletic type, in the full development of his strength, whose features are evidently modelled from nature; in other words, it is a portrait statue. Some adepts of that modern archaeological school which attempts the identification of everything have started the idea that the statue may represent one of the Macedonian kings, — I do not now remember which; but there seems to be hardly any foundation for such a statement. The figure stands on the left leg, the right being extended a little forwards. The right arm is bent behind the back and rests on the hip, as is the case with the Vatican Meleager and the Farnese Hercules. The left arm is raised high above the head, and was supported by a rod or a lance, the traces of which  p304 are to be seen all along the forearm. On the breast of the figure the letters


were engraved at a very late period; that is to say, many years, centuries perhaps, after the removal of the statue from Greece to Rome. These letters have given rise to much speculation. They have even been read and explained as follows: L(ucius) VIS(ullius) L(uctavit) XXIIX, — "Lucius Visullius fought in the arena twenty-eight times!" I need not dwell on such absurdities; the truth being that nobody — not even the great Mommsen — has been able to give a satisfactory explanation of the mysterious signs.

The excitement created by this extraordinary discovery had scarcely abated, when, about a month later, a second bronze statue was dug up, under the same circumstances as related above. The discovery took place between the second and third foundation walls, at a depth of eighteen feet below the level of the platform. Being notified at once, we assembled this time on the spot and were present when only the head of the figure appeared above the ground, and consequently we could follow and study the minutest details of the discovery. On the opposite page is a drawing from a photograph taken at the moment of discovery.

The most important piece of evidence collected in witnessing and following the removal of the earth in which the masterpiece lay buried is that the statue had not been thrown in there, or buried in haste, but had been concealed and treated with the utmost care. The figure, being in a sitting posture, had been placed on a stone capital of the Doric order, as upon a stool; and trench, which had  p305 been opened through the lower foundations of the temple of the Sun, to conceal the statue, had been filled up with sifted earth, in order to save the surface of the bronze from any possible injury.

I have witnessed, in my long career in the active field of archaeology, many discoveries; I have experienced surprise after surprise; I have sometimes and most unexpectedly met with real masterpieces;​5 but I have never felt such  p306 an extraordinary impression as the one created by the sight of this magnificent specimen of a semi-barbaric athlete, coming slowly out of the ground, as if awakening from a long repose after his gallant fights. (See Frontispiece.) His body is bent slightly forward; his elbows rest on his knees; his attitude is that of a boxer (pankratiastes) exhausted by the numerous blows received, the traces of which are visible all over his body. The face, of the type of Hercules, is turned towards the left; the mouth is half open; the lips seem to quiver, as if speaking to some one; in fact, there is no doubt that the statue belongs to a group. Every detail is absolutely realistic: the nose is swollen with the effects of the last blow received; the ears resemble a flat and shapeless piece of leather; the neck, the shoulders, the breast, are seamed with scars. The modelling of the muscles of the arms and of the back is simply wonderful. The gallant champion is panting from sheer fatigue, but he is ready to start up again at the first call. The details of the fur-lined boxing-gloves are also interesting, and one wonders how any human being, no matter how strong and powerful, could stand the blows from such weapons as these gloves, made of four or five thicknesses of leather and fortified with brass buckles.

This bronze was at first thought to belong to the best period of Graeco-Roman sculpture; the majority of connoisseurs and archaeologists are now in favor of a purely Greek origin. This latter opinion, to which I fully subscribe, is confirmed to a certain degree by a circumstance which loses  p307 none of its importance because it is small. Under the middle toe of the left foot I have discovered the existence of a big Α, which was not engraved after the casting (as is the case with the signs on the breast of the standing athlete, but cast at the same time with the figure. The letter is not a Latin A, but a Greek Alpha, and of a rather early shape, its height and width being absolutely the same. This minute circumstance proves, if I am not mistaken, that the work was not cast in Rome, but in Greece, and cast at a comparatively early period.

I have no doubt that the building in which the two statues were exhibited in Rome, and from which they were removed under the apprehension of danger, to be buried so carefully and at such a depth, was the baths of Constantine, separated from the temple of the Sun by a narrow street. Statues of athletes were the special ornament of Roman thermae, and those of Constantine must have possessed their share of this class of works in metal and marble. No doubt many more statues may be found if a proper search is made under the foundations of the temple; the work, however, is difficult, costly, and not exempt from danger, on account of the modern buildings under which the exploration would have to be extended.

The third bronze statue, discovered in Rome in the spring of 1885, comes from the bed of the Tiber, from that mighty reservoir of antiquities which seems to be inexhaustible. It was found in making the foundations of the middle pier for the new bridge (Ponte Garibaldi alla Regola), which spans the river between the Ponte Sisto and the island of S. Bartolomeo.

The statue was found in an almost perpendicular position, head downwards, sixteen feet below the bottom of the river,  p308 and twenty-six below the surface of the waters. The merry god is represented in the full bloom of youth, and has a decidedly feminine type, especially in the arrangement of the long, curling hair, which is parted in the middle and fastened with a band at the forehead. The band is gracefully inlaid with copper and silver. The eyeballs are made of a soft yellowish stone called palombino.

This figure, compared with the two superb masterpieces from Constantine's baths, seems altogether too tame, and need not be described at length. It is, nonetheless, a Graeco-Roman work of the first century, a fact that can be proved, first, by the stiffness, and, as we Italians say, by the maniera, or conventionality of the attitude and outline of the figure; secondly, by the impression of a coin on the calf of the left leg. Our best numismatists think that this coin must have been an imperial gold piece, probably of the time of Nero.

The lower portion of the body has evidently suffered from the effects of fire; but under what circumstances, by whom, at what period, it is impossible to determine. Its discovery, at all events, affords us a compensation for the many losses which the gigantic work of the embankment of the river makes us suffer. One of these losses, the greatest perhaps of all, is the destruction, or, to speak more exactly, the deformation of the ancient bridge connecting the island of S. Bartolomeo with Trastevere, to which bridge two modern arches will be added on each side, as the bed of the Tiber must be widened there. The bridge represented was built twenty-one centuries ago by Lucius Cestius, and restored, A.D. 380, by the Emperor Gratianus, with blocks  p309 of travertine stolen from the theatre of Marcellus, close by, — a circumstance which shows to what degree of poverty and humiliation Rome, the queen of the world, had descended, at the end of the fourth century of the Christian era.

The Author's Notes:

1 Between the third and the fourth tower on the right of the Porta S. Lorenzo, Belisarius enclosed in his hasty fortifications a nymphaeum of a private garden, ornamented with mosaics and niches. The statues belonging to these niches were actually walled up in the thickness of the masonry. I discovered them in January, 1883, on the occasion of the opening of the new Porta Tiburtina.

2 Dyer, p355.

3 It has been proved by Canina that the Horse belongs to the famous group representing the horsemen of Alexander the Great, killed at the battle of Granicus. The equestrian statues, modelled and cast by Lysippus, had been removed to Rome by Metellus Macedonicus, and dedicated in his portico, maximum ornamentum eius loci, as Paterculus says.

4 The steps of the Aracoeli, one hundred and twenty-four in number and all of white marble, are wrongly described in guide-books as belonging to the temple of Quirinus. They were removed from the temple of the Sun in the year 1348, by decree of the Senate and People of Rome. The new staircase was begun on the 25th of October of that year, under the direction of Lorenzo Simone Andreozzi, master mason. The cost of the work, amounting to five thousand florins, was raised by voluntary contributions as a votive offering to the Madonna.

5 To convey an idea of the riches which our Roman soil is still capable of yielding, after so many centuries of uninterrupted excavations, I quote some figures from the municipal statistics. From January 1, 1872, to December 31, 1885, works of art and objects of virtu were found in building the new quarters as follows: 192 marble statues, 266 busts and heads, 152 bas-reliefs, 77 columns, 2,360 lamps, 1,824 inscriptions, 405 bronzes, 711 cameos, intaglios, and precious stones, 47 objects in gold, 39 objects in silver, 36,679 coins in gold, silver, and bronze, etc.

Thayer's Note:

a Loose writing: the Porta Portuensis is the ancient gate meant. It was destroyed by Pope Urban VIII when he tightened the circuit of walls on the right bank of the Tiber. The Porta Portese is the modern successor gate, built by his successor in 1644: it is 450 m from where the older gate had stood. (Platner & Ashby, p349)

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