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Forma Urbis Romae

"and a fire that began at night in some dwelling leaped to the temple of Pax and spread to the storehouses of Egyptian and Arabian wares, whence the flames, borne aloft, entered the place and consumed very extensive portions of it, so that nearly all the State records were destroyed....For the conflagration could not be extinguished by human power, though vast numbers both of civilians and soldiers carried water, and Commodus himself came in from the suburb and encouraged them. Only when it had destroyed everything on which it had laid hold did it spend its force and die out."

Cassius Dio, Roman History (LXXII.24)

"Whatever the cause, the entire temple of Peace, the largest and most beautiful of all the buildings in the city, was burned to the ground" (Herodian, Roman History, I.14.2; much of Galen's work, which had been deposited there for safe-keeping, was lost as well). Destroyed by fire in AD 192, the Templum Pacis was reconstructed by Septimius Severus who, sometime between AD 203 211, had a marble plan of Rome affixed to the wall separating the large southwest halls. Incised on 151 rectangular slabs arranged in eleven rows, the Severan map is drawn to a scale of 1:240 and shows the ground plan of every building in the central part of the city. Although only fragments of the original survive, they provide details about the topography of Rome that otherwise would be completely unknown, such as apartment buildings, houses, shops, and warehouses. Measuring approximately 60 x 45 feet and occupying one whole wall, the map may have been used by the city prefect (praefectus urbis) or, more likely, simply been a decoration for the archives of his office.

These four fragments show the temple, itself, on one of which (Plate XX) is traced the word PACIS. The incised lines on the centermost piece (FUR 15c) indicate long planters (likely flower beds), which recent excavations have discovered to be marble-lined tanks fed by water pipes. They would have framed the temple and provided an appropriate park-like serenity. Too, the peaceful setting of a formal garden would be in keeping with the dictum of Vitruvius that

"The central space between the porticos should be ornamented with verdure, inasmuch as hypæthral walks are very healthy; first, in respect of the eyes, because the air from green plants being light and volatile, insinuates itself into the body when in motion, clears the sight, removing the gross humours from the eyes, leaves the vision clear and distinct. Moreover, when the body is heated by the exercise of walking, the air, extracting its humours, diminishes corpulency, dissipating that which is superabundant in the body" (On Architecture, V.ix.5).

Dating the Forma Urbis Romae provides a good illustration of two terms used to indicate relative chronology: terminus post quem ("time after which"), which denotes the earliest possible date of an object or event, and terminus ante quem ("time before which"), the latest possible date. Several fragments of the map (Plate XVII) outline the Septizodium (Septizonium), an ornamental façade decorated with statues of the imperial family that was located at the southeast corner of the Palatine hill adjacent to the Circus Maximus (above). Virtually the only monument built by Severus, an inscription indicates that it was dedicated in AD 203. No more recent building is represented on the Forma Urbis Romae, which makes this date its terminus post quem. The terminus ante quem is AD 211, the year Severus died.

In the first half of the ninth century AD, the marble map was detached from it wall and the slabs used in other buildings. Only ten to fifteen percent of the original map survives, in almost twelve-hundred fragments that range in size from a few inches to several feet. The Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project at Stanford University is an attempt to fit these pieces together using three-dimensional imaging, matching, not the smooth top surface of the marble, but the much more complicated structure of its fractured sides.

The holes where the supporting bronze clamps were attached still can be seen in the wall of the temple, itself, which was incorporated into the Basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano, the vestibule of which occupied the Temple of Divine Romulus. A donation from Amalasuntha, the daughter of Theodoric (king of the Ostrogoths) and regent to her son Athalaric, allowed the buildings to be converted by Pope Felix IV (AD 526530) to honor Cosmas and Damian, twin brothers from Cilicia (in southern Anatolia) who had been martyred during the persecution of Diocletian. The patron saints of physicians and surgeons, they offered a Christian alternative to Castor and Pollux, whose temple was on the other side of the forum.

This recreation of the marble map, which is oriented with the southeast at the top, is visible from a window on the second floor of the Palazzo dei Conservatori.

Reference: La Pianta Marmorea di Roma Antica: Forma Urbis Romae (1960) by Gianfilippo Carettoni, Antonio M. Colini, Lucos Cozza, and Guglielmo Gatti.

See also Temple of Romulus and Theodoric.

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