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Mausoleum Hadriani

[image ALT: A view of Hadrian's Tomb (Castel Sant'Angelo) and the Pons Aelius, taken in about 1925.]

 p336  Article on pp336‑338 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.

Mausoleum Hadriani: * the modern Castel S. Angelo, on the right bank of the Tiber, built by Hadrian as his mausoleum, together with the bridge (Pons Aeliusq.v.) by which it was approached (Ill. 34) (Hist. Aug. Hadr. 19: fecit sui nominis pontem et sepulcrum iuxta Tiberim; Pius 5: Hadriano . . . mortuo reliquias eius . . . in hortis Domitiae conlocavit; Cass. Dio LXIX.23: ἐτάφη δὲ πρὸς αὐτῷ τῷ ποταμῷ, πρὸς τῇ γεφύρᾳ· τῇ Αἰλίᾲ ἐνταῦθα γὰρ τὸ μνῆμα κατεσκευάσατο). The mausoleum of Augustus had last been opened to receive the remains of Nerva, but was no longer in use; and the Antonine emperors and their families were buried also in the mausoleum of Hadrian,​1 so that it acquired the name of Antoninorum sepulcrum or Ἀντωνινεῖον (Hist. Aug. and Cass. Dio cit.). Inscriptions actually recorded (CIL VI.984‑995) are as follows: the dedicatory inscription to Hadrian and Sabina set up in 139 A.D. (the latter was already deified, the former not) by Antoninus Pius, the sepulchral inscriptions of Antoninus Pius and Faustina, and of three of their children; of Aelius Caesar; of three children of Marcus Aurelius; of Lucius Verus, and of Commodus. That Marcus Aurelius himself was buried here follows from Herodian 4.1.4 (ἀπέθεντο — the urn containing the ashes of Septimius Severus — ἐν τῷ νεῷ ἔνθα Μάρκου τε καὶ τῶν πρὸ αὐτοῦ βασιλέῶν ἱερὰ μνῆματα δεῖκνυται), and it is probably true of Faustina the younger also. Cass. Dio (LXXVI.15.4; lxxviii.19.1; 24.3) tells us that, besides Severus, Julia Domna, Caracalla and Geta were also laid to rest here. The various mentions of it in Hist. Aug. (Severus 19.3 24.2; Carac. 9.12 Macrin. 5.2) are simply copied from Cassius Dio; see v. Domaszewski, SHA 1916, 7A.5 sqq.; and, for the first passage, cf. Sepulcrum Severi.

It had already been included in the system of fortifications by the time of Procopius, when it was converted into a bridgehead (in Hadrianio sunt turres vi. etc. DMH) and became the chief fortress of the city (see Porta Aurelia (2), Porta Cornelia). A description of it by Pope Leo I (440‑461) was long thought to have been preserved in the Mirabilia (Urlichs 106); but the idea is baseless (Jord. II.426 sqq.); and the account of Petrus Mallius, which is often quoted as an independent authority, is probably copied from the Mirabilia itself.

A detailed account is, however, given by Procopius (B. G. I.22) who says that it was faced with blocks of Parian marble, and that there were statues of men and horses of the same material in the upper part, which rose above the city walls. The statues were, many of them, hurled down upon the besieging Goths in 537 A.D.

John of Antioch (Malalas) cited in HJ 665, n113, writing in the eighth century, describes a colossal quadriga on the summit of the mausoleum; but Hülsen points out (Boll. Ass. Arch. Rom. III.27) that  p337 the chapel of S. Angelo de Castro S. Angeli, also called inter nubes — see HCh p 196, 586 — which commemorated the vision of Gregory the Great in 590, during a plague, of the archangel Michael sheathing his sword above the fortress, and was probably founded by Pope Boniface IV (608‑615), must already have been in existence there. Another mediaeval church was that of S. Thomas de Castro S. Angeli (HCh 491); while the church constructed by Hadrian I (constituit . . . foris portam b. Petri apostoli. . . (diaconiam) S. Mariae quae ponitur in Adrianum (LPD i.521)) was later called S. Maria in Traspadina (which then became Transpontina) and was only removed by Pius IV (HCh 370‑371).

The description of the Mirabilia mentions the bronze railings which surrounded the building (the foundations of which came to light in 1890), and states that they were adorned with peacocks of gilt bronze, afterwards removed to the fountain (the famous pinecone) which adorned the forecourt of S. Peter's (Hülsen, Mitt. 1904, 87 sqq.; Egger, Röm. Veduten i. pls. 24, 25; text p28; DuP 35‑40); also a porphyry sarcophagus (supposed, but without reason, to be that of Hadrian) which served as the tomb of Pope Innocent II at the Lateran, while its cover was in the forecourt of S. Peter's, over the tomb of Cynthius, prefect of the city (d. 1077). A bronze bull and four horses of gilt bronze, and bronze doors on each side are also mentioned (Jordan treats them as pure inventions, but it must be remembered that he wrote before the discovery of the foundations of the railings), and bronze doors below (i.e. in the square base of the tomb), 'as they appear at the present day.' These last are also mentioned in connection with the death of Paschal II in 1118 (LPD ii.344, obiit aput castellum S. Angeli, in domo iusta (sic) eream portam). As fortress, prison, and summer residence of the Popes it has a most interesting history, which cannot be followed here. For removal of ancient materials in the Middle Ages, see LS I.18, 19; DAP 2.xv.371.

The whole monument was enclosed by a low wall; at the entrance from the bridge were four travertine pillars upon which stood the bronze peacocks above mentioned; and between them were bronze grilles (NS 1892, 424). For the bronze bull which is said to have stood here in the Middle Ages, see JRS 1919, 21; 1925, 77. The lower part was a base or podium about 84 metres square and 10 high, consisting of a travertine wall, faced originally with marble. Over the entrance was the dedicatory inscription (CIL VI.984), the other sepulchral inscriptions being disposed on each side of the door (Mitt. 1891, 142). Behind the travertine wall is an inner wall of brickwork 2 feet thick, into which are bonded the radiating brick walls of the vaulted chambers that surrounded the main circular drum. At each angle the internal wall thickens out into a solid mass to support the groups of men and horses of which Procopius speaks.

Careful study of the points of contact between these walls and the  p338 main drum seems to indicate that the erection of the square base was decided on after the building of the drum was well advanced, probably for greater accommodation; for though the chambers formed by the radiating walls do not, in their present form, look very like sepulchral chambers, it is difficult to seek elsewhere those which would probably have been necessary — unless we suppose (which is not impossible, as most, if not all, of the bodies were cremated) that the remains were placed in the central tomb chamber. This measures about 9 by 8 metres, and thus would have provided ample room for the urns — not more than twenty in all, so far as we know — which were placed in the mausoleum.

The main drum, 64 metres in diameter and 21 high, is constructed of concrete, and was also faced with Parian marble. The original entrance, the floor of which is some 12 feet below the present level, has been cleared; it leads into a vestibule, at the end of which is a large niche; it probably contained a colossal statue of Hadrian, the head of which, formerly in the Castello, is now in the Vatican (HF 292). A colossal head of Antoninus Pius, which is still in the Castello, belongs also to a statue (Bernoulli, Röm. Ikon. II.2. p143, No. 34). From the vestibule a finely preserved spiral ramp, ventilated by four airshafts, at a gradient of about 1 in 10, leads, through the solid core, up to the corridor of the central tomb chamber, which lies vertically above it. The ramp was probably continued as a staircase beyond the approach to the central tomb-chamber, up to the level of the garden (the earth belonging to it was found in Borgatti's excavations, and under it was a bed of concrete), which appears to have occupied the upper surface of the drum, except for a second square chamber. Above this again was a cylinder containing a third (circular) chamber; the spiral staircase which encircles this chamber and by which the uppermost terrace is now approached has recently been shown to be ancient to within 8 feet of the top.

See Borgatti, Castel S. Angelo, Rome 1890; id. (Monumenti d'Italia 4), Rome 1911; Mitt. 1891, 137‑145; Rodocanachi, Château St. Ange (Paris, 1909); Ann. Accad. S. Luca, 1909‑11, 121‑125; Boll. Ass. Arch. Rom. 1913, 25‑32; DuP 51‑55; HJ 663‑667; JRS 1925, 75‑103 (by S. R. Pierce, with a series of drawings and reconstructions); Mem. L. 5.xvii.525, 526.

The Authors' Note:

1 Bernhart (Handbuch zur Münzkunde, 140) believes that the Mausoleum is represented on the reverses of a number of coins of these emperors, all of which bear the word CONSECRATIO: but it is almost certain that they simply show the funeral pyre (Boll. Ass. Arch. Rom. 1913, 27; JRS 1915, 151, 152).

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Page updated: 23 May 20