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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Classical Review
Vol. 20 (1906), pp378‑380

Thomas Ashby died in 1931; the text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p378  Recent Excavations in Rome

(See C. R. 1906, P. 132)

Since my last note was written there has been comparatively little excavation done in the Forum: but the removal of the Director's offices to the new museum in the monastery of S. Francesca Romana has now rendered possible the continuation of the exploration of the Basilica Aemilia, and this will shortly be undertaken.

With regard to the inscription

L · Naevivs · L · F · . . . . . nvs · I

it belongs without doubt to the same personage who set up the slab bearing the inscription L · Naevius L · F · Surdinus pr(aetor) inter civis et peregrinos, on the back of which is carved the relief of Curtius (CIL VI.1468; C. R. 1904, 330), and the vertical stroke may be the beginning of a P. We have the inscription (CIL VI.1278 M. Cispius L · F · Pr(aetor)), of another man who gives himself the title of praetor only, which belongs to about the same date, and was found on the steps of the column of Phocas (under which lay the greater part of the new inscription of Naevius Surdinus) in 1811.

A comparison of Cicero's and Pliny's versions of the same story (De Oratore, II.266, ut meum — Caesar Strabo is speaking — illud in Helvium Manciam 'iam ostendam cuius modi sis' cum ille 'ostende, quaeso'; demonstravi digito victum Gallum in Mariano scuto Cimbrico sub novis distortum, eiecta lingua, buccis fluentibus: H. N. XXXV.25 hinc enim ille Crassi oratoris lepos agentis sub Veteribus; cum testis compellatus instaret: 'dic ergo, Crasse, qualem me noris?' 'talem,' inquit, ostendens in tabula inficetissime Gallum exerentem linguam.)  p379 shows that the tribunal praetorium stood in front of the tabernae veteres, i.e. in front of the Basilica Iulia, with a view towards the tabernae novae, and Professor Hülsen therefore conjectured, at a recent meeting of the German Institute (cf. the French version of his work on the Forum, p148), that the three inscriptions of which we have spoken have some connexion with it.

Close to it was the statue of Marsyas (Hor. Sat. I.6.120, etc.) and the three sacred trees, the fig, the olive, and the vine (Plin. H. N. XV.78), and the foundation of the square enclosure in which they stood may perhaps still be preserved to us, between the inscription of Naevius and the plutei of Trajan.

Professor Mau's paper on the Rostra has now appeared in the Römische Mitteilungen (1905, 230‑266), and I must say that his arguments seem to me to be convincing. He follows the view of Nichols that the hemicycle is earlier than the Rostra of opus quadratum, and accepts the advance of Richter on this view, that the curved structure was itself the Rostra of Caesar (C. R. 1904, 140), bringing a number of new arguments to support his theory. The objection that the hemicycle is too narrow to have ever served as the Rostra is met by the consideration that it was originally wider, and that it was only made narrow when the flight of steps at the back was put in to serve as an approach to the new Rostra of opus quadratum. He demonstrates, successfully I think (though further excavation might result in certainty), that the state of things at the point of contact on the side of the Arch of Severus proves the priority of the hemicycle; and that the existence of a gate or railing on this side, supposed by those who believe that the hemicycle was constructed later as one side of a courtyard (Hülsen, Röm. Mitt. 1905, 16 sqq.; Roman Forum, 76), cannot be rightly inferred from the holes in the marble plinth of the rectangular Rostra, which is now seen standing independently.

He also shows that the arrangement of the slabs of porta santa marble on the front of the hemicycle postulates the existence of the other half of the curve, which is further vouched for by the presence all through the concrete core (not only in the N. E. half, where alone the marble fa­cing is preserved) of several layers of travertine chips, corresponding in level with the foundation of the plinth and the plinth itself.

More recently Comm. Boni's attention has been devoted to the investigation of the base of the Column of Trajan.

Dio Cassius (LXIX.2) and other writers​a tell us that the ashes of the emperor, after his death in Cilicia in 117 A.D., were conveyed to Rome for burial, and placed within a golden urn, which was deposited in the column. Recent writers, such as Lanciani (Ruins and Excavations, 317),º Richter (Topographie, 116) and Platner (Ancient Rome, 272) had denied that there was any chamber in the base: but a very little work was sufficient to prove its existence: and it turned out not to have been so very long ago filled in, for, on the lintel of the doorway leading to the chamber itself (which is approached by a small corridor entered by a door opposite to that which leads to the stairs to the top of the column) was the inscription 'Radel 1764.' It is, indeed, somewhat surprising that its existence should not have been recognized: for, besides the fact that the ancient window which lighted it was always visible on the W. side of the column, plans of the chamber may be found in two engravings of the Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae published by Antoine Lafréry about the middle of the sixteenth century (Nos. 94 and 95​1 of the copy described in Bernard Quaritch's Rough List No. 135, p122), in Bartoli's Colonna Traiana, (dedicated to Louis XIV) not long after 1667, in which year the making of casts by his order began, the scaffolding for which was made use of by Bartoli to draw the reliefs in detail, and in Piranesi's Colonna Traiana, dedicated to Clement XIII (1758‑1769). I should add that Comm. Boni's discovery was made independently of these sources of information.

The chamber was filled up with solid concrete, no doubt from fears for the stability of the column at some time before 1838, when Nibby (Roma nell' anno 1838, Parte Antica, II.188) wrote that he considered that there were distinct traces of the entrance to it. The doorway was later covered with plaster, so that its presence would not have been easily detected. The filling up of the chamber was justified, inasmuch as, in the foundation of one course of travertine blocks (themselves resting on concrete) a large hole had been made, no doubt by searchers for the golden urn, and had been used for burials, no doubt at the time when the little church of S. Niccolò de Columna stood at the foot of the column.  p380 Of this church we first hear in a document of the twelfth century, and it was destroyed by Paul III in 1536 (Armellini, Chiese di Roma, 167).

The question of the continuation of the Via Cavour towards the Piazza Venezia is one that interests archaeologists, inasmuch as the new street must pass through some part of the Forum of Trajan and either through or close to the areas of others of the imperial Fora.

Five projects have already been presented, the best of which seems to be that of Signor Tolomei, who proposes to bring the new street from the Tor dei Conti along the outside of the Forum of Augustus on the N. E. and so to the Forum of Trajan. It would perhaps then be best, as Professor Lanciani suggested in a recent lecture on the subject, not to attempt to carry the new street further, but to lower the level almost or quite down to that of the Forum of Trajan, and so pass through it without prejudi­cing excavation in the future.

This would, however, be more costly than another, that of Signori Crimini and Testa, which would simply be to follow the line of the present Via di Marforio, running just below the monument to Victor Emmanuel (as far as the N. angle of which the road is already half made) and keeping along the S. W. edge of the imperial fora, without touching them. From the Arch of Severus, however, which would thus be reached, it would be necessary to carry the road on a bridge in front of the Curia, which would spoil the appearance of that part of the Forum entirely.

Nothing has, however, been definitely decided as yet. Another important problem, to my mind, is the question of the road crossing the Forum Romanum itself. The present viaduct is ugly, and cuts off the buildings immediately below the Tabularium from the rest of the Forum: while from a practical point of view it is narrow, and involves awkward turns: and I am not disinclined to think that a better effect might be produced by an open iron bridge, which, though inevitably ugly, would not cut the Forum into two parts. Its exact position would depend on the solution decided upon for the problem of the Via Cavour.

Thomas Ashby, Junior.

British School, Rome.

June 1906.

The Author's Note:

1 In the latter the plan of the base is shown reversed. Labacco, in his Libro appartenente a l'Architettura (1552) Pl. 12, gives a reduced copy of it, reversed again, so that the position is correct.

Thayer's Note:

a Ashby will cite the full list a few years later in his edition of Platner's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome p243.

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