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 p401  Pons Sublicius

Article on pp401‑402 of

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

Pons Sublicius: the oldest and most famous of the bridges across the Tiber, built, according to tradition, by Ancus Martius (Liv. I.33; Plut.  p402 Numa 9). Its name was derived from sublica, a pile (Fest. 293),​1 and it was constructed of wood without metal of any sort whatsoever (Plut. loc. cit.; Dionys. III.45; IX.68; Plin. NH XXXVI.100; Serv. ad Aen. VIII.646). It was under the direct care of the college of pontiffs, its preservation was a matter of religion, and any injury caused by floods was regarded as a prodigium. Such injuries seem to have been not infrequent (Cass. Dio XXXVII.58; L.8; LIII.33; LV.22), but the bridge was always repaired and was standing as late as the fifth century (Hist. Aug. Ant. Pii 8; Not. app.; Mythol. Vat. I.74). It is represented on a coin of Antoninus (Cohen, Ant. Pius No. 127) with the contest of Romans and Etruscans, and Horatius swimming in the river. There is no doubt about the antiquity of the bridge, and its method of construction is generally regarded as evidence that it dated from the period before the inhabitants of Latium had developed the working of iron far enough for use in bridge building, a period that may perhaps correspond to the second stage in the growth of the city when it spread out beyond the limits of the Palatine (Mitt. 1895, 160‑162). It is possible that iron was not used simply that it might be easier to pull down the structure when danger threatened from the Etruscan side (cf. the history of Horatius, Liv. II.19; Dionys. V.22; Stuart Jones, Companion 76).

The position of the pons Sublicius has been the subject of much dispute, for the passages in ancient literature, describing its defence by Horatius and the flight of Gaius Gracchus (Liv. II.10.7; V.40; Val. Max. I.1.10; III.2; IV.7.2; de vir. ill. 65; Plut. Gracch. 17; App. B. C. I.26ºand 58), merely represent it as the ordinary and shortest way from the left bank to the Janiculum. The strongest evidence indicates that it crossed from the forum Boarium just below the later pons Aemilius, the only point where its approach would have been protected by the city wall: and in this case it would have been built in the slack water just below the island, where the original ford was probably situated (see Vicus Iugarius).

(For discussions of the position of the pons Sublicius, see Jord. I.1.402‑407; HJ 632; Gilb. II.171‑183; Richter, Befestigung 14‑15; Mommsen, Sächs. Ber. 1850, 320‑326; Urlichs, Bayr. Sitzungsb. 1870, 459‑499; Wecklein, Hermes 1872, 178‑184; Besnier 123‑132; Kummer, de urbis Romae pontibus antiquis, Progr. 1889; Mayerhöfer, Gesch.-topographische Studien ü. d. alte Rom, München 1887, 6‑32 pass.; Mitt. 1891, 134‑5; cf. DAP 2.vi pl. IV; KH IV).

The Authors' Note:

1 The passage is fragmentary, but the restoration seems certain.

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Page updated: 25 Jul 11