The Palatine Towers: Standing Guard Over Turin Since Roman Times

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

The Roman Empire is chock-full of interesting people, places and events. Outside of The Eternal City, it would be hard to say a single place that we just cannot wait to visit.

A place we are fascinated with is TurinItaly. Last month we had a visual exploration of the city in From Augusta Taurinorum to Modern Torino (Turin): A Place Like No Other.

Today we’re showing some more love to Torino as we check out the famous Palatine Towers!1

The original settlement of Taurisia, founded by the Taurini, was partly destroyed by the Carthaginian invader Hannibal in 218 BC. It later became a Roman military colony, known as Julia Augusta Taurinorum.

The Palatine Gate is a Roman Age city gate that provided access through the city walls of Julia Augusta Taurinorum from the North side and, as a result, it constituted the Porta Principalis Dextra (Right-Side Main Gate) of the old town.

2Rebuilt by the Emperor Augustus, the gate formed an enclosed rectangle divided into 72 blocks (insulae). The remains of the walls and the Palatine Gate and Towers are still visible.

The Porta Principalis Dextra served as an access to the Cardo Maximus, currently identified in Via Porta Palatina and Via San Tommaso. Its impressive remains are currently visible at the center of an open area, today’s Piazza Cesare Augusto.

Built in the 1st Century during the Augustan or Flavian Age, the Porta Principalis Dextra may predate the construction of the city walls. It was possibly built on the location of an earlier Republican Age gate.

Palazzo di Città
Palazzo di Città

The name Porta Palatina literally refers to a Palazzo (Palace) placed near the gate, but it is not clear what palace is here referred to. The most trusted theory suggests that it might be either the former Casa del Senato (House of the Senate), a

Former House of the Senate
Former House of the Senate

medieval palace located inside the city walls, or perhaps the Palazzo di Città (City Palace) which is the city hall of Turin placed not far from the gate as well.

A second theory hints to the presence of an alleged adjacent amphitheatre built near present-day Borgo Dora, a historical neighborhood developing right outside the old city walls (north of the Porta Palatina). This facility might rapidly have fallen into disrepair and, as a result, it might simply have been dubbed palazzo by the ancients.

Over the centuries, the Palatine Gate was also known by some other names such as Porta Comitale (Count’s Gate, allegedly referring to a count’s residence); Porta Doranea or Porta Doranica (since it led to the Dora River); and later as Porta Palazzo (a clear synonym of Porta Palatina).

Porta Decumana
Porta Decumana

Quite similar to the ancient Porta Decumana, built into the medieval structure of the present-day Palazzo Madama, the Palatine Gate represents an example of a typical Roman gate facing a Cavaedium (quadrangular courtyard on the inside of the city walls). The remains of which are placed in front of the gate.

Erected on a square base, the pair of angular towers are more than 98 ft high and feature a 16-sided structure. The central body, namely the interturrio, is about 66 ft long and is characterized by 2 orders of windows, the lower composed of arch windows and the upper made up of jack arch windows.

The underlying portion features 4 entryways. The central entryways are larger, taller and are vehicle accessible, while the 2 side entryways are narrower, shorter and served as pedestrian passageways.3

The grooves along the entryways’ inner walls suggest the original presence of the so-called cateractae. This was an alleged system of gate gratings operated from the upper floor.

On the ground near the gate is still part of the guardhouse added in the Roman period. One can still see the furrows on the stones caused by the transit of wagons.


The pair of bronze statues depicting Augustus and Julius Caesar are not the original statues but copies from the last, radical restoration of 1934. However, they are object of discussion as they were incorrectly placed in the internal area occupied by the statio instead of outside the gate where they would possibly have more relevance.

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

This facility served as a city gate for a long time and was turned into a Castrum in the 11th Century, although it lost the internal structure of the Cavaedium over the centuries. In 1404, after centuries of incursions and partial decay, the western tower was rebuilt and both towers got completed with battlements for defensive purposes.

The Palatine Gate was supposed to be torn down in the early 18th Century, pursuant to the urban renewal process started by Vittorio Amedeo II. However, the dismantling was not implemented thanks to the intervention of the architect and engineer Antonio Bertola, who convinced the Duke to preserve the ancient architectural work.

In 2006 the City of Turin started a restoration of the archaeological area, with the intent to improve the park, make the towers accessible to the public and build an underground parking for the carts of the nearby Porta Palazzo open market. Together with the ancient theatre’s remains, located a short distance away, the Palatine Gate is part of the so-called Archaeological ParkPark

The Palatine Gate represents the primary archaeological evidence of the city’s Roman phase, and is one of the best preserved 1st Century BC Roman gateways in the world. It is certainly an impressive spectacle and something the locals certainly love.

Today’s trip, even though it felt short in nature, was quite enjoyable for us. We hope you had a good time and look forward to having you visit again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Cardoza, A. e Symcox, G. Storia di TorinoEinaudi, 2006.

Papotti, Luisa. “La Porta Palatina”. The restoration of the nineties in Liliana Mercando, Archaeology in Turin. Umberto Allemandi & Co, 2003.

Gruppo Archeologico Torinese. Archaeological Guide of Turin.

Torricella, Giuseppe. Torino e le sue vie. Le Livre Précieux, 1971.

Turin, Italy”. Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

It’s time to take a look at another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today we’re staying in Central Europe as we explore the Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn of ViennaAustria!

The site of the Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn is outstanding as one of the most impressive and well preserved Baroque ensembles of its kind in Europe. Additionally, it is a potent material symbol of the power and influence of the House of Habsburg over a long period of European history, from the end of the 17th to the early 20th Century.

A small hunting lodge and later summer residence of the Habsburg family was rebuilt after total destruction during the last Turkish attack in 1683. During construction work the project was expanded into an Imperial summer residence of the court, and came to represent the ascent and the splendor of the Habsburg Empire.

The ample Baroque gardens with their buildings (Gloriette, Roman ruins etc.) and statuary testify to the palace’s imperial dimensions and functions. The original intention, when they were laid out in the 18th Century, was to combine the glorification of the House of Habsburg with a homage to nature.

How This Relates To Ancient Rome:

Vienna’s roots lie in early Celtic and Roman settlements that transformed into a Medieval and Baroque city, and then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Evidence has been found of continuous habitation since 500 BC, when the site of Vienna on the Danube River was settled by the Celts. In 15 BC, the Romans fortified the frontier city they called Vindobona to guard the empire against Germanic tribes to the north.

The head of the Austrian branch of the House of Habsburg was often elected Holy Roman Emperor until the Empire’s dissolution in 1806.

We hope you enjoyed today’s trip and look forward to having you back. Make sure to tell your friends and family about us on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Roman Roads: Construction and Types

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

We try to cover anything possible that has to do with Ancient Rome (Foundation / Kingdom / Republic / Empire). This allows us to explore almost anything, or anyone, in modern Europe, and sometimes even venture into the Middle East.

Last week, we uncovered the outline of trade routes with Roman Roads: They All Lead Home. Having discovered why the roads were made, we thought it was time to look a bit closer.

That is why today we are going to journey back to Rome and see the construction and types Roman Roads!Roman Road

From approximately 450 BC, the Laws of the Twelve Tables specified that a road shall be 8 ft wide where straight and 16 ft where curved. Actual practices of the law occasionally varied though from this standard.

Twelve TablesThe Tables command Romans to build roads and give travelers the right to pass over private land where the road is in disrepair. Building roads as straight as possible and that would not need frequent repair, and thus save on material and money, became an ideological objective.

Builders of Roman Roads aimed at a regulation width, but actual widths have been measured at between 3.6 ft and more than 23 ft. The original practice was to produce a surface that was as close to flat as possible, but the use of stones would sometimes make them a tad bumpy.

Many roads were built to resist rain, freezing and flooding. They were constructed to need as little repair as possible.

Via Appia Rome
Via Appia – Rome

Roman construction took a directional straightness. Many long sections are ruler-straight, and some links in the network were as long as 55 miles.

Gradients of 10%–12% are known in ordinary terrain, and 15%–20% in mountainous country. The Roman emphasis on constructing straight roads often resulted in steep slopes relatively impractical for most commercial traffic.

Over the years the Romans themselves realized this and built longer, but more manageable, alternatives to existing roads. Roman Roads generally went straight up and down hills, rather than in a serpentine pattern.

Corduroy Road
Corduroy Road

Roman Roads varied from simple Corduroy Roads to paved roads using deep roadbeds of stamped rubble as an underlying layer to ensure that they kept dry. With paved roads, water would flow out from between the stones and fragments of rubble, instead of becoming mud in clay soils.

According to Ulpian, there were 3 types of roads: Viae Publicae, Consulares, Praetoriae and Militares; Viae Privatae, Rusticae, Glareae and Agrariae; and Viae Vicinales. We shall go over them all.

The 1st type of road (Viae Publicae, Consulares, Praetoriae and Militares) included public high or main roads, constructed and maintained at public expense, and with the soil vested in the Roman State. Such roads led either to the sea, or to a town, or to a public river with a constant flow, or to another public road.200518891-001

Siculus Flaccus, who lived under Emperor Trajan, called them Viae Publicae Regalesque, and describes their characteristics as follows:

“They are placed under Curatores (Commissioners), and repaired by Redemptores (Contractors) at the public expense; a fixed contribution, however, being levied from the neighboring Landowners. These roads bear the names of their constructors (e.g. Via AppiaCassiaFlaminia).”

Typically, Roman Roads were named after the Censor who had ordered their construction or reconstruction. The same person often served afterwards as Consul, but the road name is dated to his term as Censor.

PavingIf the road was older than the Office of Censor, or was of unknown origin, it took the name of its destination or of the region through which it mainly passed. A road was renamed if the Censor ordered major work on it, such as paving, repaving, or rerouting.

With the term Viae Regales compare the Roads of the Persian Kings and the King’s Highway. With the term Viae Militariae compare the Icknield Way (e.g., Icen-hilde-weg, or War-way of the Iceni).

However, from time to time there were other people besides special officials who sought to connect their names with a great public service like that of the roads. There was also a variety of reasons for which they did this.

Around 123-122 BC, during his term as Tribunus Plebis (Tribune of the Plebs), Gaius Gracchus paved or graveled many of the public roads. Gaius also provided them with milestones and mounting-blocks for riders.

The 2nd category (Viae Privatae, Rusticae, Glareae and Agrariae) included private or country roads, originally constructed by private individuals. These individuals vested their own soil for said roads, and had the power to dedicate them to the public use if they so desired.Viae Privatae

Such roads benefited from a right of way, in favor either of the public or of the owner of a particular estate. Under the heading of Viae Privatae were also included roads leading from the public or high roads to particular estates or settlements.

Viae Rusticae (Secondary Roads) were featured off of and connected to the primary Via. Both Main or Secondary Roads might either be paved, or left unpaved, with a gravel surface, as they were primarily in North Africa.

These prepared but unpaved roads were Viae Glareae or Sternendae (to be strewn). Beyond the Secondary Roads were the Viae Terrenae (Dirt Roads).

The 3rd category (Viae Vicinales) comprised roads at or in villages, Districts, or crossroads, which led through or towards a Vicus (Village). Such roads ran either into a high road, or into other Viae Vicinales, without any direct communication with a high road.Viae Vicinales

They were considered public or private, according to the fact of their original construction out of public or private funds or materials. Though privately constructed, such a road became public when the memory of its private constructors had perished.

Siculus Flaccus describes Viae Vicinales as roads “de publicis quae divertunt in agros et saepe ad alteras publicas perveniunt” (which turn off the public roads into fields, and often reach to other public roads). The repairing of these roads was orchestrated by the Magistri Pagorum (Magistrates of the Cantons).

MagistratesThe Magistri Pagorum could require the neighboring Landowners to furnish laborers for the general repair of the Viae Vicinales. Or if the Landowners wished to keep in repair a certain length of road passing through their respective properties, this would be done at their own expense of course.

Viae were distinguished not only according to their public or private character, but according to the materials employed and the methods followed in their construction. Ulpian divided them up in the following fashion: Via Terrena, Via Glareata, and Via Munita.

The Viae Terrenae were plain roads of leveled earth. These were mere tracks worn down by the feet of humans and animals, and possibly by wheeled carriages.Viae Terrenae

The Viae Glareatae were earthed roads with a graveled surface or a gravel subsurface and paving on top. Livy speaks of the Censors of his time as being the first to contract for paving the streets of Rome with flint stones, for laying gravel on the roads outside the city, and for forming raised footpaths at the sides.roman-road-bed

In these roads, the surface was hardened with gravel, and although pavements were introduced shortly afterwards, the blocks were allowed to rest merely on a bed of small stones. Examples of this type are found on the Via Praenestina or on the Via Latina.

Viae Munitae were regular built roads, paved with rectangular blocks of local stone or with polygonal blocks of lava. Pavement (consisting mainly of marble or mosaic) and the Via Munita were near identical in construction, except as regards the top layer or surface.Via Munita Road Formation

After the Civil Engineer looked over the site of the proposed road and determined roughly where it should go, the Agrimensores went to work surveying the road bed. They used 2 main devices, the rod and a device called a groma, which helped them obtain right angles.

The Gromatici, the Roman equivalent of Rod Men, placed rods and put down a line called the rigor (stiffness). A Surveyor tried to achieve straightness by looking along the rods and moving them as needed, before ultimately developing a grid plan for the road.

Engineering Corps River Crossing on Trajan's ColumnThe Libratores then began their work using ploughs and, sometimes with the help of Legionarii, with spades excavated the road bed down to bed rock or at least to the firmest ground they could find. The excavation was called the fossa (ditch), with depths varying according to the terrain.

The method varied according to geographic locality, materials available and terrain, but the plan or ideal at which the Engineer aimed was always the same. The roadbed was to be layered, by filling the ditch with rocks over other stones.

Into the ditch was dumped large amounts of rubble, gravel and stone. Basically, whatever fill was available was used in the construction.

Sometimes a layer of sand was put down, if it could be found. When it came to within 1 yd or so of the surface it was covered with gravel and tamped down, a process called pavire or pavimentare.

This flat surface was the pavimentum, which could then be used as the road henceforth. Additional layers could also be constructed with a statumen (foundation) of flat stones set in cement to support the additional layers.Build

The final steps utilized lime-based concrete, which the Romans had discovered. They seem to have mixed the mortar and the stones in the ditch.

First a small layer of rudus (coarse concrete) and then the nucleus (a little layer of fine concrete) went onto the statumen. Into or onto the nucleus went a course of polygonal or square paving stones, called the summa crusta, which was crowned for drainage.

Clivus CapitolinusAn example is found in an early basalt road by the Temple of Saturn on the Clivus Capitolinus. It had travertine paving, polygonal basalt blocks, concrete bedding (substituted for the gravel), and a rain-water gutter.

When it came to obstacles, the Romans preferred to contrive solutions rather than circumvent them. Outcroppings of stone, ravines, or hilly or mountainous terrain called for cuttings and tunnels.

Roman Roads along the Danube
Roman Roads along the Danube

An example of this is found on the Roman Road from Cazanes near the Iron Gates. This road was half carved into the rock, about 5 ft to 5 ft 9 in, the rest of the road, above the Danube, was made from wooden structure, projecting out of the cliff.

The road functioned as a towpath, making the Danube navigable. The Tabula Traiana memorial plaque in Serbia is all that remains of the now-submerged road.

River crossings were achieved by bridges (orpontes) made of wood, stone, or both. Wooden bridges were constructed on pilings sunk into the river, or on stone piers.

Alcantara Bridge (Puente Trajan at Alcantara) - Spain
Alcantara Bridge (Puente Trajan at Alcantara) – Spain

Larger or more permanent bridges required arches. These larger bridges were built with stone and had the arch as its basic structure.

Most also used concrete, which the Romans were the first to use for bridges. Roman bridges were the foremost large bridges built in history, and were so well constructed that a number remain in use today.

Causeways were built over marshy ground, and the road was initially marked out with pilings. Between them were sunk large quantities of stone so as to raise the causeway to more than 5 ft above the marsh. In the Provinces, the Romans often did not bother with a stone causeway but used log roads (pontes longi).

Camino de Santiago - Spain
Camino de Santiago – Spain

Thanks for walking down this road with us today. We look forward to many more travels with you in the near future as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Codrington, Thomas. Roman Roads in Britain. London, 1905.

Cresy, Edward. An Encyclopædia of Civil Engineering, Historical, Theoretical, and Practical. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, Paternoster-Row, 1847.

Forbes, Urquhart A., and Arnold C. Burmester. Our Roman Highways. F.E. Robinson & Co, 1904.

Laurence, Ray. The roads of Roman Italy: mobility and cultural change. Routledge, 1999.

Roby, Henry John. Roman Private Law in the Times of Cicero and of the Antonines. Cambridge University Press, 1902.

Smith, William. A School Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities; Abridged from the Larger Dictionary by William Smith, 1858.

Smith, William, William Wayte, and G. E. Marindin. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. J. Murray, 1890.

Von Hagen, Victor W. The Roads That Led to Rome. The World Publishing Company, 1967.

Maison Carree (#18)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Today we continue examining the list of 52 Ancient Roman Monuments which had been claimed as a “must see” by Touropia Travel Experts. The last location we had checked out was #19 – Curia Julia.

Today we’re headed to Roman Gaul as we to bring to you #18 – Maison Carrée!1

This “square house” is an ancient building in Nîmes, southern France. It is one of the best preserved Roman temple façades to be found in the territory of the former Roman Empire.


Maison Carrée was built in 16 BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Roman General and 2nd-in-Command to Augustus. Later around AD 7 it was dedicated to Agrippa’s 2 sons, Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar, who both died young.

The boys were grandsons and adopted heirs of Emperor Augustus. The inscription dedicating the temple to Gaius and Lucius was removed in medieval times, but a local scholar, Jean-François Séguier, was able to reconstruct the inscription in 1758. Séguier did this based solely on the order and number of the holes on the front frieze and architrave, to which the bronze letters had been affixed by projecting tines.Inscription

According to Séguier’s reconstruction, the text of the dedication read (in translation): “To Gaius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul; to Lucius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul designate; to the princes of youth.” During the 19th Century the temple slowly began to recover its original splendor, due to the efforts of Victor Grangent.

SideThe Maison Carrée is an example of Vitruvian architecture. Raised on a 9.3 ft high podium, the temple dominated the Forum of the Roman city, forming a rectangle almost twice as long as it is wide, measuring 87.7 ft by 44.4 ft.

The façade is dominated by a deep portico or pronaos almost a third of the building’s length. It is a hexastyle design with 6 Corinthian columns under the pediment at either end, and pseudoperipteral in that 20 engaged columns are embedded along the walls of the cella.

Above the columns, the architrave is divided by 2 recessed rows ofStyles petrified water drips into 3 levels with ratios of 1:2:3. Egg-and-dart decoration divides the architrave from the frieze. On 3 sides the frieze is decorated with fine ornamental relief carvings of rosettes and acanthus leaves beneath a row of very fine dentils.

A large door (22.5 ft high by 10.7 ft wide) leads to the surprisingly small and windowless interior, where the shrine was originally housed. This is now used to house a tourist oriented film on the Roman history of Nîmes. No ancient decoration remains inside the cella.

The building has undergone extensive restoration over the centuries. Until the 19th Century, it formed part of a larger complex of adjoining buildings.Ancient-Temple-The-Maison-Carree-at-Nimes

These were demolished when the Maison Carrée housed what is now the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nîmes (from 1821 to 1907), restoring it to the isolation it would have enjoyed in Roman times. The pronaos was restored in the early part of the 19th Century when a new ceiling was provided, designed in the Roman style. The present door was made in 1824.

Maison Carrée underwent further restoration between 1988–1992, during which time it was re-roofed and the square around it was cleared, revealing the outlines of the forum. Sir Norman Foster was commissioned to build a modern art gallery and public library, known as the Carré d’Art, on the far side of the square, to replace the city theater of Nîmes, which had burnt in 1952.Front

This provides a startling contrast to the Maison Carrée but renders many of its features, such as the portico and columns, in steel and glass. The contrast of its modernity is thus muted by the physical resemblance between the 2 buildings, representing architectural styles 2000 years apart.

The Maison Carrée inspired several buildings around the world including the neoclassical Église de la Madeleine in Paris, and St. Marcellinus Church in RogalinPoland. In the United States the Virginia State Capitol was designed by Thomas Jefferson, who had a stucco model made of the Maison Carrée while he was minister to France in 1785.

As a ChurchMaison Carrée owes its exceptional state of preservation to the fact that it was transformed to a Christian church in the 4th Century, saving it from destruction. It has also been a town hall, a stable, a storehouse, and finally a museum.

We hope you enjoyed seeing one of the best preserved Roman temples in the world, and hopefully you may just be inspired to visit for yourself. Please stop by soon to see what further adventures we have in store.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Anderson, James C. Jr. “Anachronism in the Roman Architecture of Gaul: The Date of the Maison Carrée at Nîmes”. The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, March 2001.

Roth, Leland M. Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning (First ed.). Westview Press, 1993.

Stierlin, Henri. The Roman Empire: From the Etruscans to the Decline of the Roman EmpireTaschen, 2002.

Wheeler, MortimerRoman Art and Architecture. Thames and Hudson, 1964. ISBN 0-500-20021-1.

Official Website of Maison Carrée

CAPS Unlock – The History Behind Uppercase & Lowercase Letters

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

On our quest to share the knowledge and culture of the Roman Empire, we have once again brought up the subject of language. Although we no longer speak Latin, many languages in use today owe their origins and foundation to the language of Rome.

Last week we shared with you a presentation called What Latin Sounded Like – And How We Know. This was fun and very informative (I know we here at RAE enjoyed it).

Today we share another episode in this informative series as we bring to you CAPS Unlock – The History Behind Uppercase & Lowercase Letters!

The ancient alphabet was a single scratchy list of letters. So where did BIG UPPERCASE and little lowercase forms of our alphabet come from?

Take a look at the history of our strange writing system and wonder…

Who came first? Was it those rambunctious CAPITALIZERS or the fancy but timid minusculizers?

Who made scripts join forces to form one superalphabet? Roman soldiers? Medieval scribes? Are camels to blame for CamelCase?

Why does something about these letters remind me of Arabic, even though Arabic doesn’t capitalize its letters?

Word of the day: bicameral. Sorry, BiCaMeRaL. You’ll see.

Thanks for joining us today on another visual language study. We hope you enjoyed learning why we write they way we do.

Please join us again soon as we continue to share this language series. We also have plenty of other adventures in store, so be sure to check those out as well.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Accompaniment of the Legio Romanus

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Throughout our expeditions we would be remiss if we skipped over the fighting forces that took Rome from Res Publica Romana to Imperium Rōmānum. If it was not for the Exercitus Romanus, it is reasonable to believe that some other group would have been the powerhouse in the Mediterranean.

We previously took a peek at Rome’s soldiers in Legio Romanus – Throughout the Years. Within this journey, we then took a look at Legio Romanus – Special Duty Posts.

Today we continue that trip as we find out more about those soldiers whose primary goal was not fighting, the Accompaniment of the Roman Legions!Legio XV Apollinaris

For those who had fighting as a secondary concern, there were either those for visual awe or acoustic shock. While the size of individual Alae (Roman Military Units) may have varied, any Ala would make extensive use of both acoustical and visual signaling in communications.

AeneatorsAn Aeneator was one of these classical Roman professional performers of a horn who was attached to a Roman military unit. A variety of instruments were used by Aeneators, including the buccina, cornu, tuba and lituus.

In addition to their roles within battle, Aeneators would also be used for processionals and games. The grandest of the events, aside from marching into battle, was marching home from war.

Aeneators who blew a cornu (a G-shaped horn made of brass) were known as Cornicines; those who blew a tuba (a straight bronze horn with a slight flare at the end) were known as Tubicens; those who blew a buccina (a C-shaped horn made of bronze or silver or animal horn) were known as Bucinatores.Roman Tuba

Cornicines and Tubicens mostly performed uncomplicated tactical signaling on the battlefield, and therefore were not accorded special status in the military unit. They had call duties in the barracks, just as other commonly conscripted soldiers had.

By contrast, the Bucinator was seen as a specially-skilled member of the unit who was capable of performing a wider repertoire and was used to perform a variety of ceremonial duties. Many units accorded Bucinatores an immunis status, and there were Equites Bucinatores that served as cavalry buglers.

buccina was originally designed as a tube measuring some 11 to 12 ft in length, of narrow cylindrical bore, and played by means of a cup-shaped mouthpiece. The tube is bent round upon itself from the mouthpiece to the bell in the shape of a broad C and is strengthened by means of a bar across the curve, which the performer grasps while playing to steady the instrument.Buccina

The bell curved over the players head or shoulder. The buccina was used for the announcement of night watches, to summon soldiers by means of the special signal known as classicum, and to give orders.

Frontinus relates that a Roman General, who had been surrounded by the enemy, escaped during the night by means of the stratagem of leaving behind him a Bucinator. The Bucinator then sounded the watches throughout the night, thus creating a perfect diversion.

The buccina is the ancestor of both the trumpet and the trombone. Both instruments were first used in the music that François Joseph Gossec composed for the translation of the remains of Voltaire to the Pantheon on 11 July 1791.

DraconariusAs for the visual representation, the was the Draconarius (Roman Cavalry Standard Bearer). The Draconarius was a type of Signifer who bore a Equites Romani (Roman Cavalry) standard known as a Draco.

Strictly speaking, the word Draconarius denotes the bearer of the military standard on which a dragon was represented. The term passed into Christian usage, and was applied to the bearer of the Labarum in battle, and also to cross-bearers in church processions.

Dacian Draco as from Trajan's ColumnFrom the conquered Dacians, the Romans in the time of Trajan borrowed the dragon ensign which became the standard of the cohort as the eagle was that of the Legio. Sarmatian in origin, the Draco was later generally introduced in the 4th Century as a Roman standard.

It consisted of a bronze dragon head with a fabric body similar in shape to a tail behind it. Wind flowed through the gaping mouth and billowed out the cloth tail much like a modern windsock. It is thought that some form of whistle was mounted in the dragon’s neck to make a terrifying noise when galloping.

Praetorian VexilliferAnother standard bearer was the Vexillarius, who carried the Vexillum. A Vexillarius was one of the Signifer in a Roman Legion.

His duty was to carry the military standard displaying the name and emblem of the Legio. This standard consisted of a woven fabric banner, hung on a crossbar attached to a pole or lance.

It was used by both Infantry and Cavalry. It could designate a Vexillatio, a detachment from a larger unit, though it was most likely also a standard for regular complete or component.

Roman LegionaireThe term Vexillarius may also refer specially to re-enlisted veterans so named because they served in a company (Vexillatio) under their own Vexillum within the Legion. This was separate from the ordinary Legionarii in the Cohortes of that same Legio.

They had privileged status and were exempt from most basic duties, other than combat or those other special skills they may have supplied. Also, Vexillarius might have referred to any soldier serving in a temporary detachment (Vexillation), away from the parent unit.

We hope you enjoyed this brief look into some of the shock and awe troops used by the Romans. Stop by again soon to see what we have in store.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Antcliffe, Herbert. “What Music Meant to the Romans”. Music & Letters, 1949. doi:10.1093/ml/30.4.337.

Chisholm, Hugh, ed. “Buccina“. Encyclopædia Britannica. Cambridge University Press, 1911.

Den Boeft, J.; Den Hengst, D. Philological and Historical Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus XX: Volume 4. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1987. ISBN 978-90-6980-012-7.

Donaldson, G.H. “Signalling Communications and the Roman Imperial Army”. Britannia, 1988. doi:10.2307/526204.

Meucci, Renato. “Roman Military Instruments and the Lituus”. The Galpin Society Journal, 1989. doi:10.2307/842625.

Smith, Sir William; Cheetham, Samuel. Dictionary of Christian Antiquities. Little, Brown and Co, 1875.

Tyrwhitt, Richard. The Art Teaching of the Primitive Church with an Index of Subjects, Historical and Emblematic. Kessinger Publishing, 2005. ISBN 978-1-4179-7439-9.

Roman Funerary Practices: Military & Mysteries

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Last week we took a peek into how the Romans dealt with death as we explored the Roman Funerary Practices: Part of the Mos Maiorum. If you haven’t already seen it you may want to take a quick look, since we are going to carry on from where we left off.

Today please join us as we journey back to The Eternal City, as we take a look at Roman Funerary Practices: Military & Mysteries!Soldiers Funeral

The Roman value of Pietas (Religious Duty; Virtue) encompassed the desire of Legionarii to honor their fallen comrades, though the conditions of war might interfere with the timely performance of traditional rites. Soldiers killed in battle on foreign soil with ongoing hostilities were probably given a mass cremation or burial.

Varus's Legions BuriedUnder less urgent circumstances, the fallen might be cremated individually, and their ashes placed in a vessel for transport to a permanent burial site. When the Roman Army under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus suffered their disastrous defeat at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in AD 9, they remained uncommemorated until Germanicus and his troops located the battlefield a few years later and made a funeral mound for their remains.

In the permanent garrisons of the Empire, a portion of each soldier’s pay was set aside and pooled for funeral expenses, including the ritual meal, the burial, and commemoration. Soldiers who died of illness or an accident during the normal routines of life would have been given the same rites as in civilian life.

The original burial clubs for soldiers were formed under Augustus, but burial societies had existed for civilians long before. Veterans might pay into a fund upon leaving the service, insuring a decent burial by membership in an association for that purpose.

Tombstones and monuments throughout the Empire document military personnel and units stationed at particular Castra (Camps). If the body could not be recovered, the death could be commemorated with a cenotaph.

Epitaphs on Roman military tombstones usually gave the soldier’s name, birthplace, rank and unit, age, years of service, and sometimes other information such as the names of his heirs. Some more elaborate monuments depict the deceased, either in parade regalia or in civilian dress to emphasize his citizenship.

Tombstone of Germanic CavalrymanEquites Romani (Roman Cavalry) were often shown riding over the body of a downtrodden foe. This particular image has been interpreted as a symbolic victory over death.

Military funeral monuments from Roman Africa take progressively more substantial forms. Stelas in the 1st Century, altars in the 2nd Century, and cupulas (mounds) in the 3rd Century.

PyreTombs were often grouped in military cemeteries along the roads that led out of the camp, but a Centurio (Centurion) might be well-off enough to have a mausoleum built for himself. If a Commander was killed in action, the men rode or marched around his pyre, or in some circumstances a cenotaph.

Standard accounts of Roman mythology describe the soul as immortal and judged at death before a tribunal in the underworld, with those who had done good being sent to the Elysian Fields and those who had done ill sent to Tartarus. The date of origin is unclear for such beliefs since they were influenced by Greek mythology and mystery cults.

VestalVirgins2The mysteries continued under Rome and seem to have promised immortality only for the initiated. Known forms of esoteric religion combined Roman, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern mythology and astrology, describing the progress of its initiates through the regions of the moon, sun, and stars.

Those without virtue or the uninitiated were then left behind, the underworld becoming solely a place of torment. Common depictions of the afterlife of the blessed include rest, a celestial banquet, and the vision of God (Deus or Jupiter).

Relief Showing SacrificeThe mainstream of Roman philosophy, such as the Stoics, advocated contemplation and acceptance of the inevitability of death of all mortals. To grieve bitterly was to fail to perceive and thus accept the nature of things.

Famously, Epictetus encouraged contemplation of one’s loved ones as a “jar” or “crystal cup” which might break and be remembered without troubling the spirit, since “you love a mortal, something not your own. It has been given to you for the present, not inseparably nor forever, but like a fig… at a fixed season of the year. If you yearn for it in the winter, you are a fool.”

There was no real consensus, at least among surviving Roman texts and epitaphs, of what happened to a person after death or the existence of an afterlife. Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia claims that most people are of the opinion that after death one returns to the non-sensing state that occurred before birth but admits, however scornfully, that there are people who believe in the immortality of the soul.

Seneca the YoungerSeneca the Younger seems to be less consistent, arguing both sides, indicating that death brings about utter annihilation while also talking about some survival of the spirit after it escapes from the prison of the body. Tacitus at the end of Agricola takes the opposite opinion to Pliny, and claims that the wise believe the spirit does not die with the body, although he may be specifically referring to the pious.

The opinion of Tacitus seems to harken back to the mythological idea of Elysium. It is important to keep in mind that these are the opinions of a select few well-educated elite males and may not be characteristic of all of Roman views.

After reading about what the Romans did, maybe you can put your own position in context with them for when the time comes. We realize that this has not been the happiest of topics to discuss, but it needed to be done since it completed the Roman circle of life.Sarcophagus

Thanks for stopping by and we look forward to having you back again soon. We can promise there will be a new topic and some new adventure to take part in.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Corbeill, Anthony. Nature Embodied: Gesture in Ancient Rome. Princeton University Press, 2004.

Gee, Regina. “From Corpse to Ancestor: The Role of Tombside Dining in the Transformation of the Body in Ancient Rome”. The Materiality of Death: Bodies, Burials, Beliefs. Oxford, 2008.Heid, Stefan. “The Romanness of Roman Christianity”. A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2007.

Heller, L. John. Burial Customs of the Romans. Classical Association of the Atlantic States, 1932.

Motto, A. L. “Seneca on Death and Immortality”. The Classical Journal, January 1995.

Salzman, Michele Renee. “Religious koine and Religious Dissent”. A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell, 2007.

Suter, Ann. Lament: Studies in the Ancient Mediterranean and Beyond. Oxford University Press, 2008.

Themos, Athanasios. The Southwest Cemetery of Roman Sparta: A Preliminary Account of the Results of Three Rescue Excavations. The British School at Athens, 2009.

Toynbee, J.M.C. Death and Burial in the Roman World. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971 & 1996.

Webster, Graham. The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries AD. University of Oklahoma Press, 1985 & 1998.

Tokaj Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

It’s time to take a look at another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today we’re venturing to Central Europe, specifically Hungary, as we explore the Tokaj Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape!

Located at the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains (in North-East Hungary), along the Bodrog River and at the confluence of the Bodrog and the Tisza Rivers, the Tokaj Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2002. The World Heritage property and its buffer zone together cover the administrative area of 27 settlements (217,759 acres in total).


The entire landscape, its organisation and its character are specially shaped in interaction with the millennial and still living tradition of wine production. Documented history of the wine region since 1561 attests that grape cultivation as well as the making of the ‘Aszú’ wine has been permanent for centuries in the area surrounded by the 3 Sátor-hegy (the Tokaj-hill, the Sátor – hill of Abaújszántó, and the Sátor-hill of Sátoraljaújhely).

The legal base of delimitation of the wine region is among the earliest in the world and dates back to 1737 when the decree of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI (Charles III, King of Hungary) established the area as a closed wine region.

How This Relates To Ancient Rome:

A number of experts claim that viticulture could have started in the Tokaj region as early as in the Celtic times, that is BC. A petrified grape leaf found in Erdőbénye and dating from the late 3rd Century AD, points to the existence of viticulture in Roman times.

The Roman Empire conquered the territory west of the Danube between 35 and 9 BC. From 9 BC to the end of the 4th Century, Pannonia was part of the Roman Empire, located within part of later Hungary’s territory.

Here, a 600-strong Roman Legion created the settlement Aquincum in AD 41–54. A civil city grew gradually in the neighborhood of the military settlement, and in AD 106 Aquincum became the focal point of the commercial life of this area and the capital city of the Pannonia Inferior region.

This area now corresponds to the Óbuda district of Budapest, with the Roman ruins now forming part of the modern Aquincum museum. This would then give rise to the Holy Roman Empire (Sacrum Romanum Imperium) that developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1806.

We hope you enjoyed today’s travel and maybe even inspired you to visit, or at least have some wine. If you liked what you’ve seen here please follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to tell your friends.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!