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Bill Thayer

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Ad Ursum Pileatum

 p544  Article on pp544‑545 of

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

Ad Ursum Pileatum: the name of a cemetery on the Via Portuensis where the bodies of SS. Abdon and Sennen were buried (Chron. Min. I.71; LP LXXXII.5).​a Pope Leo II (682‑684) transferred the bodies of SS. Faustinus, Simplicius and Beatrix from the cemetery of Generosa (also on the Via Portuensis) to a church of S. Paul close to S. Bibiana, not far from the Porta Tiburtina, which he founded (LPD I.361, n9; HCh 415). Here, in the sixteenth century, Bosio (Roma Sotterranea, lib. III c66, p585) read an inscription, which began as follows, 'anno domini . . . mense Octobris dedicatione(m) huius eccl(esia)e s(an)c(t)or(um) martir(um) Simplicii Faustini et Beatricis ad cimeterium Ursi Pileati Leo papa maxima devotione . . . fecit.' This shows that the name had wrongly been transferred to this district in the Middle Ages and by the topographers of the sixteenth century (cf. CIL VI.3403*). For a statue  p545 of a bear wearing a helmet, which is said to have been found by Bernini when rebuilding the church of S. Bibiana, see Baldinucci, Vita del Bernini; Adinolfi, Roma nell' età di mezzo, I.282; Arm. 804‑806; T. VI.10).

Thayer's Note:

a The so‑called Breviarium de Regionibus Urbis Romae by the shadowy Sextus Rufus or Rufus Festus, first published by Georg Christian Adler in Ausführliche Beschreibung der Stadt Rom (Altona, 1781), lists among the vici of the Esquiliae a vicus Ursi pileati, for which see the attractive conjecture in W. C. Firebaugh, The Inns of Greece & Rome . . . .

CIL VI.3403*, cited by Platner — the asterisk designating a forged or inauthentic inscription — is a collection of fragments of unknown origin, purportedly of the ancient acta diurna and characterized by Pighi and Dodwell as 'antiquissimae tabulae fragmento' and 'marmorum fragmenta' respectively, yet that the 1966 editor of the CIL feels were not lapidary inscriptions but originally found in some old parchment. Fragment 2 reads

iii k. aprileis

fasceis penes licinium

fulgurauit tonuit et quercus tacta in

summa uelia paullum a meridie

rixa ad ianum infimum in caupona et

caupo ad ursum galeatum graviter


c. titinius aed. pl. mulcauit lanios

quod carnem uendidissent populo

non inspectam

de pecunia mulcatitia cella exstructa

ad telluris lauernae

March 29. • The fasces belonged to Licinius. • There was lightning and thunder, and an oak was struck at the summit of the Velia a little after noon. • There was a brawl at the end of the street "ad Janum" in a tavern, and the innkeeper of the Ursus Galeatus [the Helmeted Bear] was seriously injured. • C. Titinius, aedile of the plebs, fined butchers for having sold uninspected meat to the people; from the fines a cella was built in the Temple of Tellus at Laverna.

Jean-Victor Le Clerc, dissecting the inscription in Journaux chez les Romains (Firmin Didot, Paris, 1838, pp299‑301) as an intentional fraud perpetrated by patching together bits and pieces found in various classical authors, says this about Ad Ursum Galeatum:

 p300  Ad Ursus Galeatum. Ici, comme dans plusieurs autres emprunts, on a voulu dérouter les lecteurs soupçonneux. On a fait un Ours casqué de l'Ours coiffé que Sextus Rufus place dans le quartier des Esquilies, vicus Ursi pileati.​1 Cette enseigne ne devait pas être rare, et il ne serait peut-être pas difficile de trouver encore dans le même quartier de Rome l'osteria dell' Orso: il y a une auberge ainsi nommée non loin du Vatican. Les actes de sainte Bibiane, et deux inscriptions trouvées près de l'église qui porte aujourd'hui son nom, située en effet dans la cinquième région ou région  p301 Esquiline, attestent qu'il y avait dans les environs un lieu que l'on désignait ainsi, ad Ursum pileatum; et un autre lieu du même nom est indiqué de l'autre côté du Tibre, en dehors de la porte Portuensis, dans plusieurs actes de martyrs.​2 Wesseling, qui n'a point négligé ces rapprochements, aurait dû avouer qu'il les tenait, comme je les tiens presque tous, d'une savante note de Torrigo sur l'inscription en l'honneur d'Ursus Togatus.​3 C'est donc à cette dénomination fort célèbre, qui rappelle aussi l'enseigne du Coq dans une inscription de Narbonne,​4 que le faussaire a dû l'idée de son Ours casqué.

Ad Ursus Galeatum. Here, as in several other borrowings, the intent was to put suspicious readers off the track. The capped Bear that Sextus Rufus puts in the Esquiliae (vicus Ursi pileati) was turned into a helmeted Bear.​1 Such a sign must not have been a rare one, and it might not be hard to find even today in the same neighborhood of Rome an osteria dell' Orso: an inn by that name is found not far from the Vatican. The acts of St. Bibiana, and two inscriptions found near the church which today bears her name, which is indeed located in the Fifth or Esquiline Region, bear witness to there having been nearby a place thus called, ad Ursum pileatum; and another place by the same name is indicated on the other side of the Tiber, outside the porta Portuensis, in several acts of martyrs.​2 Wesseling, who was not unaware of these connections, should have confessed that he took them, as I take almost all of them myself, from an erudite note by Torrigo on the inscription in honor of Ursus Togatus.​3 It is thus to this very famous item, which is also reminiscent of the sign of the Cock in an inscription from Narbonne,​4 that the forger owed the idea of his helmeted Bear.

(My translation)

1 Antiquit. rom. de Gr., t. III, p30.

2 Voy. Bosio, Roma sotterranea, II.17; Aringhi, Rom. subterr., II.19; Reinesius, Syntagm. Inscript., p899; Volpi, Latium, t. VI, p160.

3 Antiquit. rom. de Grévius, t. XII, p396.

4 Hospitalis a gallo gallinacio. Spon, Miscellan., p199; Gudius, Inscr., p100, 9; Schmidt, Opuscul., p392.

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Page updated: 14 Aug 12