The Batavi rose against the Romans in the Batavian rebellion of AD 69, but were eventually defeated. The Batavi later merged with other tribes into the confederation of the Salian Franks, whose identity emerged at the first half of the 3rd Century.
Salian Franks appear in Roman texts as both allies and enemies. The Salian Franks were forced by the confederation of the Saxons from the east to move over the Rhine into Roman territory in the 4th Century.
The Frisii were initially won over by Drusus, suggesting a Roman suzerainty was imposed by Augustus on the coastal areas north of the Rhine river. Over the course of time the Frisii would fight the Romans in concert with other Germanic tribes, and finally be relocated in Flanders and disappeared from recorded history as of 296 AD.
Some believe the disappearance was due to deteriorating climate conditions, while others believe the Frisii were probably forced to resettle within Roman territory as Laeti around the same time. In any event, coastal lands remained largely unpopulated for the next couple of centuries.
For around 450 years, from around 55 BC to around 410 AD, the southern part of the Netherlands was integrated into the Roman Empire. During this time the Romans in the Netherlands had an enormous influence on the lives and culture of the people who lived in the Netherlands at the time and (indirectly) on the generations that followed.
During the Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar established the principle that this river, which runs through the Netherlands, defined a natural boundary between Gaul and Germania Magna. But the Rhine was not a strong border, and Caesar made it clear that there was a part of Belgic Gaul where many of the local tribes were Germani Cisrhenani.
When Caesar arrived, various tribes were in the area of the Netherlands, residing in the inhabitable higher parts, especially in the east and south. These tribes did not leave behind written records, so all the information known about them during this pre-Roman period is based on what the Romans and Greeks wrote about them.
Caesar himself, in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, wrote in detail only about the southern area which he conquered. Tribes who he described as living in what is now the Netherlands were the Menapii (a Belgic tribe who stretched from the Flemish coast, through the south of the river deltas, and as far as the modern German border), the Eburones (the largest of the Germani Cisrhenani group, whose territory stretched covered a large area between the rivers Maas and Rhine), and the smaller Ambivariti (perhaps part of the Eburones or Menapii, who Caesar mentions in passing as living west of the Maas).
In the delta itself, Caesar makes a passing comment about the Insula Batavorum (Island of the Batavi) in the Rhine, without discussing who lived there. Later, in imperial times, a tribe called the Batavi became very important in this region.
Other tribes who eventually inhabited the Gaulish islands in the delta during Roman times are mentioned by Pliny the Elder include: the Cananefates, whom Tacitus says were similar to the Batavians in their ancestry, living in what is today the province of South Holland; the Frisii, who inhabited a major part of the modern Netherlands; the Chauci, whose main territory was the North Sea coast of Germany, bordering the Frisii on their east; the Frisiabones, who Pliny also counted as a people living in Gallia Belgica, perhaps stretching into Gelderland and South Holland; the Marsacii, who Tacitus refers to as neighbors of the Batavi, who probably inhabited what is today the province of Zeeland; and the Sturii, who are not known from any other sources, but are thought to have lived near modern Zeeland or South Holland.
As mentioned above, the northern Netherlands, above the Old Rhine, was dominated by the Frisii, with perhaps a small penetration of Chauci. While this area was not officially part of the empire for any long periods, military conscription and other impositions were made for long periods upon the Frisii.
In the south of the Netherlands the Texuandri inhabited most of North Brabant. The modern province of Limburg, with the Maas running through it, appears to have been inhabited by (from north to south) the Baetasii, the Catualini, the Sunuci and the Tungri.
About 38 BC, a pro-Roman faction of the Chatti (a Germanic tribe located east of the Rhine) was settled by Agrippa in an area south of the Rhine, now thought to be the Betuwe area. They took on the name of the people already living there, the Batavians.
Batavian culture was influenced by the Roman one, resulting among other things in Roman-style temples such as the one in Elst, dedicated to local gods. Also, the trade flourished with the salt used in the Roman Empire being from the North Sea with remains found across the whole of the Empire.
However, this did not prevent the Batavian Rebellion of AD 69, a very successful revolt under the leadership of Batavian Gaius Julius Civilis. Forty castella were burnt down because the Romans violated the rights of the Batavian leaders by taking young Batavians as their slaves.
Their commander, Petilius Cerialis, eventually defeated the Batavians and started negotiations with Civilis on his home ground, somewhere between the Waal and the Maas near what the Batavians probably called Batavodurum. During their stay in Germania Inferior, the Romans established several towns and military forts in the Netherlands along the Limes Germanicus with.
Franks appear in Roman texts as both allies and enemies. Around 310, the Franks had the region of the Scheldt river (present day west Flanders and southwest Netherlands) under control, and were raiding the Channel, disrupting transportation to Roman Britannia. Roman forces pacified the region, but did not expel the Franks, who continued to be feared as pirates along the shores at least until the time of Julian the Apostate (AD 358), when Salian Franks were granted to settle as foederati in Toxandria, according to Ammianus Marcellinus.
With this in mind, today we set our sights just outside the City Walls and into the countryside as we explore the Campagna Romana!
The Campagna Romana, or just Campagna, is a low-lying area surrounding Rome in the Lazio region of central Italy, with an area of approximately 810 sq mi. It is bordered by the Tolfa and Sabatini mountains to the north, the Alban Hills to the southeast, and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the southwest.
During the Ancient Roman period, it was an important agricultural and residential area due to the rivers Tiber and Aniene running through the area. However, the Campagna was abandoned during the Middle Ages due to malaria and insufficient water supplies for farming needs.
The pastoral beauty of the Campagna inspired many painters who flocked into Rome in the 18th and 19th Centuries. During that time, the Campagna became the most painted landscape in Europe and an excursion into the Roman countryside was an essential part of The Grand Tour.
During the 18th and 19th Centuries, whether en route to Rome for the first time or making an excursion from the city as a seasoned resident, all who traversed the Campagna did so in a state of heightened emotion and imaginative excitement.
Prior familiarity with a combination of classical texts and the idealized landscape imagery of the 17th Century established an expectation that the Campagna would reveal itself to be a suitably picturesque and poetic setting for the historic scenes which had been enacted and imagined within its expanses. Encountering the contemporary reality of a bleak expanse of landscape provoked various kinds of reflection.
In the 17th Century the Campagna became endowed with a further form of cultural prestige through the belief that it was here that Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin discovered the inspiring raw material out of which they created ideal landscape painting. This association was based on an idea of Claude inhabiting the landscape, savoring and absorbing its beauties, and translating them into pictorial form.
Approaching the Campagna primarily as a resource for landscape painting’s pursuit of an ideal level of representation was, in fact, a very effective way of steering historical understanding away from problems which were recognized as intractable and disturbing. There was much common ground between the various initiatives to investigate the root causes and identity of this pervasive but mysterious disease-producing agent and the excursions of artists in search of sites which would yield the ideal beauty promised by myth.
Both were premised on the importance of what could be learnt from studying the distinctive visual appearance of the land and its inhabitants. Such scrutiny focused closely on topography and the less tangible matter of air, factors which were assumed to have shaped the physical constitution and appearance of local people.
Artists were predisposed to seek out locations that matched their expectations of a terrain defined by its claimed copiousness of the beautiful. Equally, similar qualities were assumed to have been inherited by the inhabitants of this landscape from their ancient forebears.
Accounts of the Campagna’s appearance are often curiously uninformative precisely because of the burden of expectation weighing on the moment of the travelers’ encounter, and the overwhelming sense of a divergence between the anticipated scene and the impoverished reality revealed from actual examination. In both respects, the attention given to visual characteristics in the early 19th Century was a change from more established literary conceptions of the Campagna.
Undertaking a tour of Latium in search of Virgil’s sites and settings, the Campagna played a fundamental role in ideas and images of Rome. Having been discussed at length, the city was viewed and understood to be co-extensive with the surrounding landscape.
This was a connection that had been politically and economically sustained in the long term by virtue of the ownership of land by a symbiotic combination of papal state and Rome’s elite families. As was repeatedly observed, the whole farmland around Rome was owned by a small number of families, who in turn paid tenant farmers to manage their property.
Land was valued as a sign of status, more than as a source of income. Indeed, the conservatism of landowners to any improvement in agricultural exploitation of the Campagna was usually pointed out as the crucially obstructive factor in its almost unrelieved stagnation.
The question of definition extended to the interrelation of The Eternal City and the country, or more precisely involved recognizing that this distinction did not apply in any familiar or simple way. For all its density of monuments, both ancient and modern, the city of Rome was a patchwork of archaic and majestic townscape juxtaposed with parcels of cultivation.
This unusual configuration of urban and rural spaces gave to Rome an identity that fed into perceptions of the city in a way which was just as distinctive as the specific effects produced by individual ruins and monuments. For the philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt, writing to his compatriot Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, it was indeed impossible to compare Rome and its surroundings with any other place.
The unparalleled physical presence of the city, with its loveliness of forms along with the grandeur and simplicity of its figures, was the definition of outlines in the translucent medium. So compelling was this level of experience that Humboldt condemned the excavation of half-buried buildings and viewed the idea of cultivating the Campagna as a disaster.
By contrast, in the view of Camille de Tournon-Simiane, former Prefect of Rome under the Napoleonic occupation, the fact that city and country were indistinguishable was the result of a local attitude of nonchalant neglect. However, this appealingly prolific evenness has important consequences for our understanding of the place of landscape painting in Rome.
Yet ideas of mythic fertility informed a wide range of imagery, both Italian and foreign. The Roman artist Giovanni Battista Lusieri’s Extensive Landscape on a Road Above the Tiber Valley, North of Rome (1781) shows an interlocking view of buildings, cultivation, and open countryside, in which these different types of structure and terrain are elided together.
Such benign conventions for showing the Campagna continued through the 19th Century almost unchanged in their components. Théodore Caruelle d’Aligny’s print View From the Ancient Road of the Tombs (1844) shows a remarkably intact aqueduct running across the Campagna, in the midst of which a group of peasants are placed before a solid wall of corn, with a fig sprouting vigorously from a ruin.
Precisely the same juxtaposition of monument and cultivation is found in some photographic views of Rome from the mid-19th Century. Representing such contiguity as natural acts to hold at bay not only anxieties about the Campagna as barren and poisoned, but also the unwelcome spectre of modernity.
The accuracy of the name Campagna Romana has been called into question for some believe it to have been called countryside out of politeness, for in all directions this area is no more than a diseased and often sterile wetland. In so doing, this belief hints at the way Rome was bound to its surroundings by the immaterial but inescapable presence of bad air.
The harrowing contrast of the Campagna with the prospect of the great city was rendered not merely a dramatic anti-climax, but was potentially life-threatening. This was poetically alluded to by the English writer William Hazlitt, when he asked why artists would want to remain in Rome at all.
Hazlitt further conceded that the enthralling experience of being able to watch the morning mist rise from the Marshes of the Campagna and circle round the Dome of St. Peter’s might persuade some that this was enough to offset the city’s squalor and disease. The novelist Lady Morgan was an authority of such symbolic conflicts, stating that St. Paul’s and St. John Lateran rise on the lifeless limits of the infected deserts (referring to malaria) they dominate.
Whether the collapse of the Imperium Rōmānum had led to physical degradation of the Campagna, or that local bad air was to blame for the destruction of a wealthy and sophisticated culture, was a problem recognized as having existed in antiquity. The science historian Robert Sallares has recently provided an authoritative account of awareness of and attitudes to this in classical texts, informed by a modern understanding of malaria.
By virtue of this literary evidence, later commentators carried on an extended debate on the changing condition of the ancient and modern Roman landscape. The 19th Century historian of Rome Jean-Jacques Ampère, for example, sought to establish a physical context for the evolution of early Roman history.
Indeed, that Roman culture was too successful in its struggle with an inhospitable climate and environment was further evidence of the indomitable spirit of these early generations of Romans. The Campagna was thus the converse of conventional ideas of a rural retreat where artists of all kinds escaped the city’s hustle and bustle while actually being was a space seen as empty and forbidding.
Rather it was a territory which predominantly encouraged quick traversal, cautious if not distant inspection, accompanied by melancholy reflections perhaps alleviated by scientific curiosity. This sense of circumspection can be linked to the way views of the Campagna are often constructed as if looking out from a protective screen of buildings or vegetation.
The celebrated oil sketches of P.H. Valenciennes, renowned as a reformer of landscape painting, exemplify this tendency to maintain a certain distance, at once aesthetic and precautionary. Seen from this perspective, these studies retain their sense of being products of a desire to explore Rome as a source of landscape imagery, but express that engagement precisely through setting the motif at one remove from the space occupied by the artist.
The region was reclaimed in the 19th and 20th Centuries for use in mixed farming, and new settlements have been built. Starting with the 1950s, the expansion of Rome destroyed large parts of the Campagna, all around the city. The only continuous green area where the natural resources of the region were saved from overbuilding is along the Via Appia (Appian Way).
We hope you enjoyed today’s journey. Maybe it has even inspired you to traverse the Roman countryside on your adventure.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Ashby, Thomas. The Roman Campagna in Classical Times. London 1927.
Gage, John and J.M.W.Turner. “A Wonderful Range of Mind”. New Haven and London 1987.
Hazlitt, William. “English Students at Rome”. Criticisms on Art. London.
McGann, Jerome. “Rome and its Romantic Significance” in Annabel Patterson (ed.), Roman Images. Baltimore 1984.
Negro, Silvio. Seconda Roma, 1850–70. Milan, 1943.
Powell, Christine. Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence. New Haven and London 1987.
Tommasi-Crudeli, Corrado. The Climate of Rome and the Roman Malaria (trans. by C. Cramond Dick). London 1892.
Known locally as Viroconium, or Uriconium, it was once located in the corner of which is now occupied by Wroxeter, a small village about 5 miles east-south-east of Shrewsbury. Viroconium is where the English Midlands border Wales, and has extensive remains beside the B4380.
At its peak, Viroconium is estimated to have been the 4th largest Roman settlement in Britain, a civitas with a population of more than 15,000. The settlement probably lasted until the end of the 7th or beginning of the 8th Century.
The term Cornoviorum distinguishes the site as the Viroconium (of the Cornovii, the Celtic tribe whosecivitas the settlement became). The original site of the Cornovian capital, also thought to have been named Uiroconion, was a hillfort on the Wrekin.
By AD 130, it had expanded to cover an area of more than 173 acres. It then had many public buildings, including temples, shops, thermae, and a colonnaded forum dedicated to Hadrian as shown by the remains of an inscription.
The last, and greatest, phase of expansion began early in the 2nd Century and was to continue for much of the next 80 years. While the Emperor Hadrian has been most readily associated with the construction of the famous northern wall which bears his name, it was during this same period that Viroconium was enlarged further to become a truly significant city.
This saw the construction of a new civic center, together with a basilica and bath house, part of which remains today as The Old Work. By the end of the 2nd Century, and with the construction of many more houses, colonnades and other fine buildings, Viroconium had grown to become Roman Britain’s 4th largest city.
At the highest point of the town, a large city block that is largely clear of buildings and is surrounded by a wall may have been the town’s livestock market. This interpretation is suggested by the fact that it is located in the highest and most exposed part of the town, where the prevailing wind would blow away the smell of the animals and where the town’s water supply, brought to this location by the V-shaped aqueduct, emptied into a huge cistern located just inside the town’s defenses.
The defenses themselves were built in the late 2nd Century, in common with other towns in Britain, and comprised a turf and timber rampart, perhaps crowned by a wooden palisade. This was refurbished in the 4th Century, when the rampart was enlarged and the external double ditch was replaced by a single wider one.
The fortunes of Viroconium, however, were set to change as the events of the 3rd and 4th Centuries played out in a period marked by contrasting turbulence and prosperity. The influx of goods from the rest of the Roman Empire, coupled with the open extension of citizenship had given Britain a very different character from the newly-conquered province which had originally given rise to the settlement.
The 4th Century, in particular, was to be a period of unrivaled prosperity. Many moneyed settlers moved to Britain from less secure parts of the Empire, such as the Rhineland and Gaul.
Although none of the numerous accounts offered for this unparalleled upsurge in the Roman-British economy really explains the phenomenon completely, the “Golden Age of the Villa” was a real enough event, particularly in the opulent buildings of southern England.
However, the late 3rd Century was also a period of mounting unrest within the Roman Empire as inflation soared, civic regulation grew and bureaucratic interference became widespread. In addition, although Britain herself was largely unaffected, many regions suffered repeated incursions from barbarian tribes.
For Viroconium, the growing political turbulence throughout the 3rd and 4th Centuries, coupled with spiraling maintenance costs gradually led to many of the once great buildings in the city lying unused and ultimately becoming derelict. Some were subsequently dismantled, while others fell into increasingly poor repair.
By about AD 408, when the last of the Legions was withdrawn, a now defenseless Britain effectively ceased to be a part of the Roman Empire. Letters written by Emperor Honorius in AD 410 to the British cities made clear they were on their own, and left to face the Saxon threat alone.
At this point, the fortunes of Viroconium changed again. The basilica and bath house had been used as a grain store, but in the early 5th Century the basilica was tidied up, and a substantial new hall together with a number of barns and other buildings constructed within the old Roman city.
It is not known who instigated this work, nor why, but given the time period and the close proximity of the site to Wales, it has been suggested that this site might have formed King Arthur‘s main base during his campaigns. Whether Viroconium really was the Camelot of legend, or whether some other local prince or king carved a domain for himself amid the remnants of the old capital of the civitas Cornoviorum, will perhaps never be known and is a story for another day.
Whoever and whatever its most recent occupant may have been, the city is believed to have been finally vacated sometime between AD 500 and 650.
Viroconium may have served as the early sub-Roman capital of Powys. The city has been variously identified with the Cair Urnarc and Cair Guricon which appeared in the Historia Brittonum‘s list the 28 civitates of Britain.
It has been proposed that Viroconium then became the site of the court of a sub-Roman kingdom known as the Wrocensaete, which was the successor territorial unit to Cornovia. Wrocensaete means the ‘inhabitants of Wroxeter’.
Town life in Viroconium continued in the 5th Century, but many of the buildings fell into disrepair. Between 530 and 570, when most Roman urban sites and villas in Britain were being abandoned, there was a substantial rebuilding program.
The old basilica was carefully demolished and replaced with new timber-framed buildings on rubble platforms. These probably included a very large 2-story building and a number of storage buildings and houses.
In all, 33 new buildings were carefully planned and executed, and skillfully constructed to Roman measurements using a trained labor force. Who instigated this rebuilding program is not known, but it may have been a bishop.
The site was probably abandoned peacefully in the latter half of the 7th or the beginning of the 8th Century. The court of Powys is believed to have moved to Mathrafal sometime before AD 717, following famine and plague in its original location.
According to archaeologist Philip A. Barker, the parish churches of Atcham, Wroxeter, and Upton Magna are largely built of stone taken from the buildings of Viroconium Cornoviorum. Today, it is difficult to imagine the scale of this, with only a very small part of the ancient site exposed to view, but then the newly constructed ditch and ramparts which enclosed the city extended for over 2 miles.
Some remains are still standing, and further buildings have been excavated. These include “the Old Work” (an archway in part of the baths’ frigidarium) and the remains of a baths complex.
These are on display to the public and, along with a small museum, are looked after by English Heritage under the name “Wroxeter Roman City”. Some of the more important finds are housed in Rowley’s House Museum in Shrewsbury.
Most of the town still remains buried, but it has largely been mapped through geophysical survey and aerial archaeology. A reconstructed Roman villa was opened to the public on 19 February 2011 to give visitors an insight into Roman building techniques and how the Romans lived.
The site comprises a range of extensive archaeological remains, including the public baths with their imposing 2nd Century dividing wall, together with a visitor center, shop and museum which houses a good selection of artifacts and interpretive displays.
The baths themselves, which could accommodate over 1,000 users, were first cleared in 1859 and subsequently excavated between 1955 and 1985. Many of the original features can be seen, such as the stone doorway into the tepidarium (warm room), the remains of the furnace that once heated the laconicum (dry room) and the twin rows of columns making up the central colonnade which ran between the different sections of the building.
Excavation of the basilica, of which The Old Work formed part of the south wall, began in 1966 and was finally completed in 1990. By this time, a well-worn sandstone floor had been revealed at the west portico entrance, together with a collapsed mosaic and the damaged floor of the cold room.
The site also boasts a large hall, which was believed to have been used for sporting or social activities and the remains of the hypocaust heating system.
Viroconium is one of the best, and sadly most often overlooked, of Britain’s Roman heritage sites. It certainly is a worthwhile venue on any itinerary around this part of the English borders.
The Market Hall was an important part of the baths complex where bathers would get food for their evening meal and the shop rents would have paid for the running of the baths. You can still see the remains of the colonnade of the forum which is located across the road from the Market Hall, close to the Roman Town House.
The forum functioned as a combined market, town & county hall and Magistrates court. Whilst little of the original building now exists, you can imagine the imposing facade of this once great structure.
Viroconium has been written about throughout the ages. A. E. Housman referred to the town as “Uricon” in his poem “On Wenlock Edge” in A Shropshire Lad, while Wilfred Owen saw archaeological digs in progress at Wroxeter and referred to it in his 1913 poem “Uriconium: an Ode”.
We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure and look forward to having you back for further ones soon. Who knows, maybe you just might venture around Viroconium yourself someday.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Aston, Michael; Bond, James. The Landscape of Towns. Archaeology in the Field Series. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1976. ISBN 0-460-04194-0.
Anderson, J. Corbet. The Roman City of Uriconium at Wroxeter, Salop. – Illustrative of the History and Social Life of Our Romano-British Forefathers. J. Russell Smith, 1867.
Atkinson, Donald. British Archaeological Society: Report on the Excavations at Wroxeter (the Roman City of Viroconium) in the County of Salop, 1923–1927. Oxford University Press, 1970.
Barker, Philip, Ed. Wroxeter Roman City: Excavations 1966–1980. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1980.
Barker, Philip; White, Roger. Wroxeter Roman City (English Heritage Guidebooks). English Heritage, 1999. ISBN 1850746982.
Barker, Philip; White, Roger; Corbishley, Mike. The Baths Basilica, Wroxeter: excavations 1966–90. English Heritage, 1998. ISBN 1850745285.
Bushe-Fox, J. P. Excavations on the Site of the Roman Town at Wroxeter, Shropshire, in 1912-1914 (Society of Antiquaries of London. Research Committee. Report no. 1-4). Society of Antiquaries, 1913.
Ellis, Peter. The Roman Baths and Macellum at Wroxeter. English Heritage, 2000. ISBN 978-1-85074-606-5.
Fox, George E. A Guide to the Roman City of Uriconium at Wroxeter, Shropshire. Shropshire Archaeological Society, 1927.
Frere, S. S. Britannia: a History of Roman Britain. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1987. ISBN 0-7102-1215-1.
Gaffney, V. L.; White, R. H. ‘Wroxeter, the Cornovii, and the Urban Process: Final Report on the Wroxeter Hinterland Project 1994–1997’. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series, No. 68, 2007.
Urban, Sylvanus. ‘The Roman City of Uriconium.’ Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, 1859. 206: 447–458.
Webster, Graham. The Legionary Fortress at Wroxeter: Excavations by Graham Webster, 1955–1985. English Heritage, 2002. ISBN 9781850746850.
Webster, Graham. The Roman Imperial Army: Of the First and Second Centuries AD. University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8061-3000-8.
White, Roger H.; Barker, Philip. Wroxeter: Life and Death of a Roman City. Tempus, 1998. ISBN 978-0-7524-1409-6.
White, Thomas. A Guide to the Ruins of Uriconium, at Wroxeter, Near Shrewsbury. Kessinger Publishing, 2009, ISBN 978-1-120-28973-5.
White, Thomas. Uriconium; A Historical Account of the Ancient Roman City, and of the Excavations Made Upon Its Site, at Wroxeter, in Shropshire. General Books, 2010. ISBN 1152210491.
Dominating what was once the center of Ancient Rome lies an oval amphitheatre that is the largest and most iconic monument in the Roman world. Simply whispering its name can cause a rush of different feelings, images, and emotion to come forth.
In several passages, we have mentioned this man-made megastructure, but we have never actual looked at it in depth. While on my Honeymoon, visiting this monument to Roman construction and engineering was a HUGE highlight.
Today we’re headed to the heart of where it all began, Rome, as we explore #1 – The Colosseum!
Known by locals today as Il Colosseo, the Colosseum once was referenced by the locals in a more formal manner. Dubbed the Amphitheatrum Flavium (Flavian Amphitheatre), the amphitheater was named in honor of its creators from the Flavian Dynasty.
The construction was started by EmperorVespasian in 72 AD, and was finished by his son Titus in 80 AD. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96), another of Vespasian sons.
The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the Early Middle Ages. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.
The Colosseum was constructed following the reign of Nero. This name is still used in modern English, but generally the structure is better known as the Colosseum.
In antiquity, Romans also referred to the Colosseum by the unofficial name Amphitheatrum Caesareum (with Caesareum an adjective pertaining to the title Caesar). Vespasian and Titus, builders of the Colosseum, also constructed an amphitheater of the same name in Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli).
In the 8th Century, a famous epigram attributed to the Venerable Bede celebrated the symbolic significance of the statue in a prophecy that is variously quoted:
Quamdiu stat Colisæus, stat et Roma; quando cadet Colisæus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus (As long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world).
This is often mistranslated to refer to the Colosseum rather than the Colossus (as in, for instance, Byron‘s poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage). However, at the time that the Pseudo-Bede wrote, the masculine nounColisæus was applied to the statue rather than to what was still known as the Flavian Amphitheatre.
The Colossus did eventually fall, possibly being pulled down to reuse its bronze. By the year 1000, the statue itself was largely forgotten and the name Colosseum had been coined to refer to the amphitheatre.
Unlike earlier Greek theatres that were built into hillsides, the Colosseum is an entirely free-standing structure. It derives its basic exterior and interior architecture from that of 2 Roman theatres back-to-back.
Its elliptical plan is 615 ft (640 Roman feet) long, and 510 ft (528 Roman feet) wide, with a base area of 6 acres. The height of the outer wall is 157 ft (165 Roman feet).
The perimeter originally measured 1,788 ft (1,835 Roman feet). The central arena is an oval 287 ft long and 180 ft wide, surrounded by a wall 15 ft high, above which rose tiers of seating.
The outer wall is estimated to have required over 3,531,467 cubic feet of travertine stone which were set without mortar. The stones were held together by iron clamps weighing a total of 300 tons.
However, it has suffered extensive damage over the centuries, with large segments having collapsed following earthquakes. The remainder of the present-day exterior of the Colosseum is in fact the original interior wall.
The surviving part of the outer wall’s monumental façade comprises 3 stories of superposed order capped by a podium on which stands a tall attic, both of which are pierced by windows interspersed at regular intervals. The arcades are framed by half-columns of the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders, while the attic is decorated with Corinthian pilasters.
Each of the arches in the 2nd and 3rd floor arcades enclosed statues. These were most likely honoring divinities and other figures from Classical mythology.
Two hundred and forty mast corbels were positioned around the top of the attic. They originally supported the velarium (a retractable awning) that kept the sun and rain off spectators.
This consisted of a canvas-covered, net-like structure made of ropes, with a hole in the center. It covered two-thirds of the arena, and sloped down towards the center to catch the wind and provide a breeze for the audience.
Sailors, specially enlisted from the Roman Naval Headquarters at Misenum and housed in the nearby Castra Misenatium, were used to work the velarium.
Per the Codex-Calendar of 354, the Colosseum could accommodate 87,000 people. Modern estimates put the figure at around 50,000.
They were seated in a tiered arrangement that reflected the rigidly stratified nature of Roman society. Special boxes were provided at the north and south ends respectively for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, providing the best views of the arena.
Flanking them at the same level was a broad platform or podium for the Senatorial Class, who were allowed to bring their own chairs. The names of some 5th Century Senators can still be seen carved into the stonework, presumably reserving areas for their use.
The tier above the Senators (the maenianum primum) was occupied by the Equites (Knights or non-senatorial Noble Class). The next level up (the maenianum secundum) was originally reserved for ordinary Plēbēs (Roman Citizens) and was divided into 2 sections.
The lower part (the immum) was for wealthy citizens, while the upper part (the summum) was for poor citizens. Specific sectors were provided for other social groups: for instance, boys with their tutors, Soldiers on leave, foreign dignitaries, scribes, heralds, priests and so on.
Stone (and later marble) seating was provided for the Citizens and Nobles, who presumably would have brought their own cushions with them. Inscriptions identified the areas reserved for specific groups.
Another level (the maenianum secundum in legneis) was added at the very top of the building during the reign of Domitian. This comprised a gallery for the common poor, slaves and women.
It would have been either standing room only, or would have had very steep wooden benches. Some groups were banned altogether from the Colosseum, notably gravediggers, actors, and former gladiators.
Each tier was divided into sections (maeniana) by curved passages and low walls (praecinctiones or baltei), and were subdivided into cunei (wedges) by the steps and aisles from the vomitoria. Each gradus (row) of seats was numbered, permitting each individual seat to be exactly designated by its gradus, cuneus, and number.
The Colosseum’s huge crowd capacity made it essential that the venue could be filled or evacuated quickly. Its architects adopted solutions to deal with problems so well that many modern stadiums have been very similarly constructed to the Colosseum.
The amphitheatre was ringed by 80 entrances at ground level, 76 of which were used by ordinary spectators. Each entrance and exit was numbered, as was each staircase, just like arenas today.
The northern main entrance was reserved for the Roman Emperor and his aides, while the elite most likely used the other 3 axial entrances. All 4 axial entrances were richly decorated with painted stuccoreliefs, of which fragments survive.
Many of the original outer entrances have disappeared with the collapse of the perimeter wall. Still standing today, however, are entrances XXIII (23) to LIV (54).
Spectators were given tickets in the form of numbered pottery shards, which directed them to the appropriate section and row (just like today, expect our tickets our paper). They accessed their seats via vomitoria, passageways that opened into a tier of seats from below or behind.
These quickly dispersed people into their seats and, upon conclusion of the event or in an emergency evacuation, could permit their exit within only a few minutes. Fun Fact: The name vomitoria derived from the Latin word for a rapid discharge, from which English derives the word vomit.
The arena itself was 272 ft by 157 ft (280 by 163 Roman feet). It comprised a wooden floor covered by sand (the Latin word for sand is harena or arena), covering an elaborate underground structure called the hypogeum (literally meaning underground).
The hypogeum was not part of the original construction but was ordered to be built by Emperor Domitian. Little now remains of the original arena floor, but the hypogeum is still clearly visible today.
It consisted of a 2-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Eighty vertical shafts provided instant access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces concealed underneath.
Hegmata (larger hinged platforms) provided access for elephants and other large pieces to be added quickly. It was restructured on numerous occasions, and today at least 12 different phases of construction can be seen.
The hypogeum was connected by underground tunnels to several points outside the Colosseum. Animals and performers were brought through the tunnel from nearby stables, with the gladiators’ barracks at the Ludus Magnus to the east also being connected by tunnels. Separate tunnels were provided for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins to permit them to enter and exit the Colosseum without needing to pass through the crowds.
Substantial quantities of machinery also existed in the hypogeum. Elevators and pulleys raised and lowered scenery and props, as well as lifting caged animals to the surface for release.
There is evidence for the existence of major hydraulic mechanisms and, according to ancient accounts, it was possible to flood the arena rapidly, presumably via a connection to a nearby aqueduct. However, the construction of the hypogeum at Domitian’s behest put an end to the practice of flooding, and thus also to naval battles, early in the Colosseum’s existence.
The Colosseum was used to host gladiatorial shows as well as a variety of other events. The munera (shows) were always given by private individuals rather than the state.
They had a strong religious element but were also demonstrations of power and family prestige, and were immensely popular with the population. Another popular type of show was the venatio (animal hunt).
This utilized a great variety of wild beasts, mainly imported from Africa and the Middle East, and included creatures such as wisents, rhinoceros, bears, hippopotamuses, elephants, giraffes, aurochs, Barbary lions, panthers, leopards, Caspian tigers, ostiches, and crocodiles.
Battles and hunts were often staged amid elaborate sets with movable trees and buildings. Such events were occasionally on a huge scale.
Trajan is said to have celebrated his victories in Dacia in AD 107 with contests involving 11,000 animals and 10,000 gladiators over the course of 123 days. During lunch intervals, executions ad bestiaswould be staged.
Those condemned to death would be sent into the arena, naked and unarmed, to face the beasts of death which would literally tear them to pieces. Other performances would also take place by acrobats and magicians, typically during the intervals.
During the early days of the Colosseum, ancient writers recorded that the building was used for naumachiae (more properly known as navalia proelia). Accounts of the inaugural games held by Titus in AD 80 describe it being filled with water for a display of specially trained swimming horses and bulls.
There is also an account of a re-enactment of a famous sea battle between the Corcyrean Greeks and the Corinthians. This has been the subject of some debate among historians since there would not have been enough space in the arena for the warships to move around.
It has been suggested that the reports either have the location wrong, or that the Colosseum originally featured a wide floodable channel down its central axis. If that was the case it was later replaced by the hypogeum.
Sylvae (recreations of natural scenes) were also held in the arena. Painters, technicians, and architects would construct a simulation of a forest with real trees and bushes planted in the arena’s floor, and animals would then be introduced.
Such scenes might be used simply to display a natural environment for the urban population, or could otherwise be used as the backdrop for hunts or dramas depicting episodes from mythology. They were also occasionally used for executions in which the hero of the story, played by a condemned person, was killed in a gruesome but mythologically authentic way, such as being mauled by beasts or burned to death.
In 2011 Diego Della Valle, head of the shoe firm Tod’s, entered into an agreement with local officials to sponsor a €25 million restoration of the Colosseum. Work was planned to begin at the end of 2011, taking up to 3 years.
Due to the controversial nature of using a public-private partnership to fund the restoration, work was delayed and began in 2013. The restoration (completed in 2016) was the only full cleaning and repair in the Colosseum’s history.
The initial stage was cleaning and restoring the Colosseum’s arcaded façade and replacing the metal enclosures that block the ground-level arches. The project created a services center and restored the galleries and underground spaces inside the Colosseum, including recreating the wooden floor that once covered the underground spaces.
The Colosseum today is now a major tourist attraction in Rome with thousands of tourists each year paying to view the interior arena, though entrance for citizens of the European Union (EU) is partially subsidized, and entrance is free for EU citizens under 18 or over 65 years of age.
There is now a museum dedicated to Eros located in the upper floor of the outer wall of the building. Beneath the Colosseum, the network of subterranean passageways once used to transport wild animals and gladiators to the arena was opened to the public in summer 2010.
We hope you have enjoyed today’s adventure into possibly the most iconic centers of all of history. If you haven’t been to see the Colosseum, or Rome for that matter, we hope this may have inspired you to make your own journey.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Byrnes IV, William H. “Ancient Roman Munificence: The Development of the Practice and Law of Charity”. Rutgers Law Review vol. 57, issue 3. Spring 2005.
Champlin, Joseph M. The Stations of the Cross With Pope John Paul II. Liguori Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-89243-679-4.
Claridge, Amanda. Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (First ed.). Oxford University Press, 1998.
Edmondson, J.C.; Mason, Steve; Rives, J.B. Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-926212-8.
Hopkins, Keith; Beard, Mary. The Colosseum. Harvard University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-674-01895-8.
Richmond, Ian Archibald; Strong, Donald Emrys; DeLaine, Janet. “Colosseum”. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization (Ed. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth). Oxford University Press, 1998.
Roth, Leland M. Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning (First ed.). Westview Press, 1993. ISBN 0-06-430158-3.
The local Semitic god Ba ‘ al Haddu was more often equated with Zeus or Jupiter or simply called the “Great God of Heliopolis”, but the name may refer to the Egyptians‘ association of Baʿal with their great god Ra. It was sometimes described as Heliopolis Syriae (Heliopolis in Syria) to distinguish it from its namesake in Egypt.
The gods that were worshipped there (Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus) were equivalents of the Canaanite deities Hadad, Atargatis. Local influences are seen in the planning and layout of the temples, as they vary from the classic Roman design.
The hilltop of Coelesyria (Tell Baalbek) shows signs of almost continual habitation over the last 8–9000 years. It was well-watered both from a stream running from the Rās-el-ʿAin spring SE of the citadel and, during the spring, from numerous rills formed by meltwater from the Anti-Lebanons.
During the Canaanite period, the local temples were largely devoted to the Heliopolitan Triad: a male god (Baʿal), his consort (Ashtart), and their son (Adon). The site of the present Temple of Jupiter was probably the focus of earlier worship, as its altar was located at the hill’s precise summit and the rest of the sanctuary raised to its level.
The Temple of Jupiter was constructed during the mid-1st Century and probably completed around AD 60. His idol was a beardless golden god in the pose of a charioteer, with a flagellum (whip) raised in his right hand and a thunderbolt and stalks of grain in his left.
Macrobius compared the rituals to those for Diva Fortuna at Antium. He stated the bearers were the principal citizens of the town, who prepared for their role with abstinence, chastity, and shaved heads.
Local cults also revered the Baetylia, black conical stones considered sacred to Baʿal. One of these was taken to Rome by the Emperor Elagabalus, a former priest “of the sun” at nearby Emesa, who erected a temple for it on the Palatine Hill.
The Emperor Trajan consulted the site’s oracle twice. The original time he requested a written reply to his sealed, unopened question and was favorably impressed by the god’s blank reply as his own paper had been empty, while the next inquiry was whether he would return alive from his wars against Parthia and his reply was a Centurion‘s vine staff broken to pieces.
The town became a battleground upon the rise of Christianity. Early Christian writers such as Eusebius repeatedly execrated the practices of the local pagans in their worship of the Heliopolitan Venus.
In AD 297, the actor Gelasinus converted in the middle of a scene mocking baptism. His public profession of faith provoked the audience to drag him from the theater and stone him to death.
In the early 4th Century, Constantine, though not yet a Christian, demolished the goddess’s temple, raised a basilica in its place, and outlawed the locals’ ancient custom of prostituting women before marriage. Under the reign of Justinian, 8 of the complex’s Corinthian columns were disassembled and shipped to Constantinople for incorporation in the rebuilt Hagia Sophia sometime between 532 and 537.
The Tell Baalbek temple complex, fortified as the town’s citadel during the Middle Ages, was constructed from local stone, mostly white granite and a rough white marble. Over the years, it has suffered from the region’s numerous earthquakes, the iconoclasm of Christian and Muslim lords, and the reuse of the temples’ stone for fortification and other construction.
The nearby Qubbat Duris, a 13th Century Muslim shrine on the old road to Damascus, is built out of granite columns, apparently removed from Baalbek. Further, the jointed columns were once banded together with iron.
As late as the 16th Century, the Temple of Jupiter still held 27 standing columns out an original 58. There were only 9 before the 1759 earthquakes, and 6 still stand today.
The complex is located on a raised plaza erected 16 ft over an earlier T-shaped base consisting of a podium, staircase, and foundation walls. These walls were built from about 24 monoliths, at their lowest level weighing approximately 330 tons each.
The tallest retaining wall, on the west, has another course of monoliths containing the famous Three Stones: a row of 3 stone each over 62 ft long, 14 ft high, and 12 ft wide, cut from limestone. They weigh approximately 880 tons each.
Another still larger stone is called the Stone of the Pregnant Woman, which lies unused in a nearby quarry 2,600 ft from the town. Its weight is estimated at 1,100 tons.
The temple complex was entered from the east through the Propylaeum (Portico), consisting of a broad staircase rising 20 ft to an arcade of 12 columns flanked by 2 towers. Most of the columns have been toppled and the stairs were entirely dismantled for use in the nearby later wall, but a Latin inscription remains on several of their bases stating that Longinus, a lifeguard of the Legio I Parthica (First Parthian Legion), and Septimius, a freedman, gilded their capitals with bronze in gratitude for the safety of Septimius Severus’s son and wife.
Immediately behind the Propylaeum is a hexagonal forecourt reached through a threefold entrance that was added in the mid-3rd Century by the Emperor Philip the Arab. Traces remain of the 2 series of columns which once encircled it, but its original function remains uncertain.
The rectangular Great Court to its west covers around 3-4 acres and included the main altar for burnt offering, with mosaic-floored lustration basins to its north and south. A subterranean chamber and 3 underground passageways (17 ft wide by 30 ft high), 2 of which run east and west and the 3rd connecting them north and south, all bear inscriptions suggesting their occupation by Roman soldiers.
These were surrounded by Corinthian porticoes, one of which was never completed. The columns’ bases and capitals were of limestone, while the shafts were monoliths of highly polished red Egyptiangranite 23 ft high.
A westward-facing basilica was constructed over the altar during the reign of Theodosius. It was later altered to make it eastward-facing like most Christianchurches.
The Temple of Jupiter lay at the western end of the Great Court, raised another 23 ft on a 157 ft × 288 ft platform reached by a wide staircase. Under the Byzantines, it was also known as the Trilithon from the 3 massive stones in its foundation and, when taken together with the forecourt and Great Court, it is also known as the Great Temple.
The Temple of Jupiter proper was circled by a peristyle of 54 unfluted Corinthian columns (10 in front and back and 19 along each side). The remaining 6 columns along its south side, however, remain standing with their entablature and capitals staying nearly perfect.
The architrave and frieze blocks weigh up to 66 tons each, and one corner block over 110 tons, all of them raised to a height of 62 ft above the ground. Since individual Roman cranes were not capable of lifting stones this heavy, they may have simply been rolled into position along temporary earthen banks from the quarry or multiple cranes may have been used in combination.
The Temple of Bacchus may have been completed under Septimius Severus in the 190s, as his coins are the first to show it beside the Temple of Jupiter. It is the best preserved of the sanctuary’s structures, as the other rubble from its ruins protected it.
The temple is enriched by some of the most refined reliefs and sculpture to survive from antiquity. The temple is surrounded by 42 columns (8 along each end and 15 along each side) nearly 66 ft in height.
The 1759 earthquakes also damaged the area around the soffit‘s famed inscription of an eagle, which was entirely covered by the keystone’s supporting column. The area around the inscription of the eagle was greatly damaged by the earthquake as well.
The interior of the temple is divided into a 98 ft nave and a 36 ft adytum (sanctuary) on a platform raised 5 ft above it and fronted by 13 steps. The screen between the sections once held reliefs of Neptune, Triton, Arion and his dolphin, and other marine figures but these have been lost.
The temple was used as a kind of donjon for the medieval Arab and Turkish fortifications, although its eastern steps were lost sometime after 1688. Much of the portico was incorporated into a huge wall directly before its gate, but this was demolished in July 1870 on orders from Syria’s governor.
The Temple of Venus, aka the Nymphaeum, was added under Septimius Severus in the early 3rd Century but was destroyed under Constantine, who raised a basilica in its place. It lies about 150 yd from the southeast corner of the Temple of Bacchus, and had been used as a Greek Orthodox church into the 18th Century.
The ancient walls of Heliopolis had a circumference of a little less than 4 mi. Much of the existent fortifications around the complex date to the 13th Century reconstruction undertaken by the Mamluk sultan Qalawun, including the great southeast tower.
From the 16th Century, European tourists began to visit the colossal and picturesque ruins. Misunderstanding the Temple of Bacchus as the Temple of the Sun, they considered it the best-preserved Roman temple in the world.
During the 18th Century, Baalbek was not a destination for any traveler that was unaccompanied by an armed guard. Chaos ensued in the area until 1831, after which things calmed down and became safer.
EmperorWilhelm II of Germany and his wife passed through Baalbek on November 1, 1898, on his way to Jerusalem. He noted both the magnificence of the Roman remains and the drab condition of the modern settlement.
The archaeological team Wilhelm dispatched began work within a month. Despite finding nothing they could date prior to Baalbek’s Roman occupation, archaeologists worked until 1904 and produced a meticulously researched and thoroughly illustrated series of volumes.
Later excavations under the Roman flagstones in the Great Court unearthed 3 skeletons and a fragment of Persian pottery dated to the 6th – 4th Centuries BC. In 1977, Jean-Pierre Adam made a brief study suggesting most of the large blocks could have been moved on rollers with machines using capstans and pulley blocks, a process which he theorized could use 512 workers to move a 614 tons.
UNESCO made Baalbek a World Heritage Site in 1984. When the committee inscribed the site, it expressed the wish that the protected area include the entire town within the Arab walls, as well as the southwestern extramural quarter between Bastan-al-Khan, the Roman site and the Mameluk mosque of Ras-al-Ain.
Lebanon’s representative gave assurances that the committee’s wish would be honored. Recent cleaning operations at the Temple of Jupiter discovered the deep trench at its edge, whose study pushed back the date of Tell Baalbek’s settlement to the PPNBNeolithic.
Commissioned by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa on the site of an earlier temple during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), the present building was completed by the EmperorHadrian. Hadrian retained Agrippa’s original inscription, which has confused its date of construction as the original Pantheon burnt down so it is not certain when the present one was built.
Almost 2,000 years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 142 feet.
The Pantheon’s large circular domed cella, with a conventional temple portico front, is “unique” in Roman architecture. Nevertheless, it became a standard exemplar when classical styles were revived, and has been copied many times by modern architects
The building was originally approached by a flight of steps, although later construction raised the level of the ground leading to the portico, eliminating the steps. The pediment was decorated with relief sculpture, probably of gilded bronze.
Holes marking the location of clamps that held the sculpture suggest that its design was likely an eagle within a wreath. Ribbons extended from the wreath into the corners of the pediment.
Mark Wilson Jones has attempted to explain the design adjustments carried out in relating the porch to the dome, arguing that the Pantheon’s porch was originally designed for monolithic granite columns with shafts 50 Roman feet tall (weighing about 100 tons) and capitals 10 Roman feet tall in the Corinthian style. The taller porch would have hidden the 2nd pediment visible on the intermediate block.
Instead, after the intended columns failed to arrive, the builders made many awkward adjustments in order to use shafts 40 Roman feet tall and capitals 8 Roman feet tall. This substitution was probably a result of logistical difficulties at some stage in the construction.
The grey granite columns that were actually used in the Pantheon’s pronaos were quarried in Egypt at Mons Claudianus in the eastern mountains. Each was 39 feet tall, 5 feet in diameter, and 60 tons in weight.
These were dragged more than 62 miles from the quarry to the river on wooden sledges. They were floated by barge down the Nile River when the water level was high during the spring floods, and then transferred to vessels to cross the Mediterranean Sea to the Roman port of Ostia.
There, they were transferred back onto barges and pulled up the Tiber River to Rome. After being unloaded near the Mausoleum of Augustus, the site of the Pantheon was still about 2,297 feet away, so it was still necessary to either drag them or to move them on rollers to the construction site.
In the walls at the back of the Pantheon’s portico are niches, perhaps intended for statues of Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and Agrippa, or for the Capitoline Triad, or another set of gods.
The large bronze doors to the cella, once plated with gold, are ancient but not the original ones of the Pantheon. The current doors, manufactured too small for the door frames, have been there since about the 15th Century.
The 4,999 short tons weight of the Roman concrete dome is concentrated on a ring of voussoirs 30 feet in diameter that form the oculus, while the downward thrust of the dome is carried by 8 barrel vaults in the 21 feet thick drum wall into 8 piers. The thickness of the dome varies from 21 feet at the base of the dome to 3.9 feet around the oculus.
The materials used in the concrete of the dome also varies. At its thickest point, the aggregate is travertine, then terracotta tiles, then at the very top were the porous light stones tufa and pumice.
Typically, at the very top, the dome would be at its weakest and vulnerable to collapse. This is not the case, however, with the Pantheon for the oculus actually lightens the load.
No tensile test results are available on the concrete used in the Pantheon, but natural stresses in the dome were found to be substantially reduced by successively using less dense aggregate stones in higher layers of the dome. If normal weight concrete had been used throughout, the stresses in the arch would have been some 80% greater.
The top of the rotunda wall features a series of brick relieving arches, visible on the outside and built into the mass of the brickwork. The Pantheon is full of such devices, an example is the many relieving arches over the recesses inside that were hidden by marble facing on the interior and possibly by stone revetment or stucco on the exterior.
The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 142 feet, so the whole interior would fit exactly within a cube. Also, the interior could house a sphere 142 feet in diameter.
These dimensions make more sense when expressed in ancient Roman units of measurement: the dome spans 150 Roman feet; the oculus is 30 Roman feet in diameter; the doorway is 40 Roman feet high. The Pantheon still holds the record for the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, while also being substantially larger than earlier domes.
Though often drawn as a free-standing building, there was a building at its rear into which it abutted. While this building helped buttress the rotunda, there was no interior passage from one to the other.
The interior of the dome was possibly intended to symbolize the arched vault of the heavens. The oculus at the dome’s apex and the entry door are the only natural sources of light in the interior.
Throughout the day, light from the oculus moves around this space in a reverse sundial effect. The oculus also serves as a cooling and ventilation method and, during storms, a drainage system below the floor handles the rain that falls through the oculus.
The dome features sunken panels (coffers) in 5 rings of 28. This evenly spaced layout was difficult to achieve and, it is presumed, had symbolic meaning, either numerical, geometric, or lunar.
Circles and squares form the unifying theme of the interior design. The checkerboard floor pattern contrasts with the concentric circles of square coffers in the dome.
Each zone of the interior, from floor to ceiling, is subdivided according to a different scheme. Thus, the interior decorative zones do not line up.
The overall effect is immediate viewer orientation per the major axis of the building, even though the cylindrical space topped by a hemispherical dome is inherently ambiguous. This discordance has not always been appreciated, and the attic level was redone affording a Neoclassical taste in the 18th Century.
It seems likely that the Pantheon and the Basilica of Neptune were Agrippa’s sacra privata (private sacred [matters]), not aedes publicae (public temples). This less solemn designation would help explain how the building could have so easily lost its original name and purpose.
It had long been thought that the current building was built by Agrippa, with later alterations undertaken, and this was in part because of the inscription on the front of the temple which reads:
Or in full, “M[arcus] Agrippa L[ucii] f[ilius] co[n]s[ul] tertium fecit,” meaning “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this building] when consul for the third time.” However, archaeological excavations have shown that the Pantheon of Agrippa had been completely destroyed except for the façade.
The form of Agrippa’s Pantheon is debated. As a result of excavations in the late 19th Century, archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani concluded that Agrippa’s Pantheon was oriented so that it faced South, in contrast with the current layout that faces North, and that it had a shortened T-shaped plan with the entrance at the base of the “T”.
This description was widely accepted until the late 20th Century. While more recent archaeological diggings have suggested that Agrippa’s building might have had a circular form with a triangular porch, and it might have also faced North, much like the later rebuildings.
The only passages referring to the decoration of the Agrippan Pantheon written by an eyewitness are in Pliny‘s Natural History. From him we know that “the capitals, too, of the pillars, which were placed by M. Agrippa in the Pantheon, are made of Syracusan bronze”, that “the Pantheon of Agrippa has been decorated by Diogenes of Athens, and the Caryatides, by him, which form the columns of that temple, are looked upon as masterpieces of excellence: the same, too, with the statues that are placed upon the roof,” and that one of Cleopatra‘s pearls was cut in half so that each half “might serve as pendants for the ears of Venus, in the Pantheon at Rome”.
The Augustan Pantheon was destroyed along with other buildings in a huge fire in the year 80 AD. Domitian rebuilt the Pantheon, which was burnt again in 110 AD.
The degree to which the decorative scheme should be credited to Hadrian’s architects is uncertain. Finished by Hadrian but not claimed as one of his works, it used the text of the original inscription on the new façade.
Apparently, this was a common practice in Hadrian’s rebuilding projects all over Rome. The only building on which Hadrian actually has his own name was on the Temple to the Deified Trajan.
The Historia Augusta says that Hadrian dedicated the Pantheon in the name of the original builder, but the current inscription could not be a copy of the original. It provides no information as to who Agrippa’s foundation was dedicated to, and it was highly unlikely that in 25 BC Agrippa would have presented himself as Consul Tertium (3rd Consulship).
Cassius Dio, a Graeco-Roman Senator, Consul and author of a comprehensive History of Rome, writing approximately 75 years after the Pantheon’s reconstruction, mistakenly attributed the domed building to Agrippa rather than Hadrian. Dio appears to be the only near-contemporaneous writer to mention the Pantheon.
Even by the year 200, Dio writes that there was uncertainty about the origin of the building and its purpose:
Agrippa finished the construction of the building called the Pantheon. It has this name, perhaps because it received among the images which decorated it the statues of many gods, including Mars and Venus; but my own opinion of the name is that, because of its vaulted roof, it resembles the heavens.
In 202, the building was repaired by the joint emperors Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla, for which there is another, smaller inscription on the architrave of the façade, under the aforementioned larger text. This now-barely legible inscription reads:
IMP · CAES · L · SEPTIMIVS · SEVERVS · PIVS · PERTINAX · ARABICVS · ADIABENICVS · PARTHICVS · MAXIMVS · PONTIF · MAX · TRIB · POTEST · X · IMP · XI · COS · III · P · P · PROCOS · ET
IMP · CAES · M · AVRELIVS · ANTONINVS · PIVS · FELIX · AVG · TRIB · POTEST · V · COS ·PROCOS · PANTHEVM · VETVSTATE · CORRVPTVM · CVM · OMNI · CVLTV · RESTITVERVNT
Emp[eror] Caes[ar] M[arcus] Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Aug[ustus], 5 times tribune, Consul, Proconsul, have carefully restored the Pantheon ruined by age.
In 609, the Byzantine EmperorPhocas gave the building to Pope Boniface IV, who converted it into a Christian church and consecrated it to St. Mary and the Martyrs on 13 May 609. Twenty-eight cartloads of holy relics of martyrs were said to have been removed from the catacombs and placed in a porphyry basin beneath the high altar.
The building’s consecration as a church saved it from the abandonment, destruction, and the worst of the spoliation that befell the majority of ancient Rome’s buildings during the early medieval period. Paul the Deacon records the spoliation of the building by the Emperor Constans II, who visited Rome in July 663:
Remaining at Rome twelve days he pulled down everything that in ancient times had been made of metal for the ornament of the city, to such an extent that he even stripped off the roof of the church [of the blessed Mary], which at one time was called the Pantheon, and had been founded in honour of all the gods and was now by the consent of the former rulers the place of all the martyrs; and he took away from there the bronze tiles and sent them with all the other ornaments to Constantinople.
Much fine external marble has been removed over the centuries – for example, capitals from some of the pilasters are in the British Museum. Two columns were swallowed up in the medieval buildings that abutted the Pantheon on the east and were lost.
In the early 17th Century, Urban VIII Barberini tore away the bronze ceiling of the portico and replaced the medieval campanile with the famous twin towers called “the ass’s ears” which were not removed until the late 19th Century. The only other loss has been the external sculptures, which adorned the pediment above Agrippa’s inscription, while the marble interior has largely survived with extensive restoration.
It is also said that the bronze was used by Bernini in creating his famous baldachin above the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. According to at least one expert, however, the Pope’s accounts state that about 90% of the bronze was used for the cannon, and that the bronze for the baldachin came from Venice.
In 1747, the broad frieze below the dome with its false windows was restored, but the restoration bore little resemblance to the original. In the early decades of the 20th Century, a piece of the original, as could be reconstructed from Renaissance drawings and paintings, was recreated in one of the panels.
The style of the Pantheon can be detected in many buildings of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Numerous government and public buildings, city halls, universities, and public libraries across Europe and the Americas echo its portico-and-dome structure.
Today, the Pantheon is in use as a Catholic church. Masses are celebrated there on Sundays and holy days of obligation, and weddings are also held there from time to time. In 2013, the Pantheon it was visited by over 6 million people.
We hope you enjoyed today’s journey, and hope you are inspired to visit the Pantheon on your own someday soon. Be sure to Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Claridge, Amanda. Rome: Oxford Archaeological Guides. Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-288003-9.
Cowan, Henry. The Master Builders: A History of Structural and Environmental Design From Ancient Egypt to the Nineteenth Century. John Wiley and Sons, 1977. ISBN 0-471-02740-5.
Favro, Diane. “Making Rome a World City”. The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus. Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-521-00393-3.
Hetland, L. M. “Dating the Pantheon”. Journal of Roman Archaeology: Volume 20, 2007. ISSN 1047-7594.
King, Ross. Brunelleschi’s Dome. London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0-7011-6903-6.
Kleiner, Fred S. A History of Roman Art. Wadsworth Publishing, 2007. ISBN 0-534-63846-5.
Lancaster, Lynne C. Concrete Vaulted Construction in Imperial Rome: Innovations in Context. Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-521-84202-6.
MacDonald, William L. The Pantheon: Design, Meaning, and Progeny. Harvard University Press, 1976. ISBN 0-674-01019-1.
Marder, Tod A. “Alexander VII, Bernini, and the Urban Setting of the Pantheon in the Seventeenth Century”. The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians: Volume 50, 1991. doi:10.2307/990615. JSTOR 990615.
Roth, Leland M. Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History, And Meaning. Westview Press, 1992. ISBN 0-06-438493-4.
Thomas, Edmund. The Architectural History of the Pantheon from Agrippa to Septimius Severus via Hadrian. Hephaistos, 1997.
Wilson-Jones, Mark. Principles of Roman Architecture. Yale University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-300-10202-X.
If you are anything like us, then you love to travel. As part of our travels, we love to learn about where we are going.
What should we see? Why should we go this tour instead of that? Where should we eat? How do we get around?
Today we embark on the most lavish journey (maybe ever) as we set out on The Grand Tour!
Before we begin, without knowing a thing about this tour you should probably be able to guess that it is something special since “Grand” is in the name. The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper class, young European men of means, or those of more humble origin who could find a sponsor.
Similar trips were made by wealthy young men of ProtestantNorthern European nations, and from the latter half of the 18th Century, by some South and North Americans. The tradition declined with the lapse of neoclassical enthusiasm and after rail and steamship travel made the journeys much easier.
The primary value of The Grand Tour lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent. In addition, it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music.
A Grand Tour could last from several months to several years, mostly depending on how much money you had. It was commonly undertaken in the company of a Cicerone (knowledgeable guide or tutor).
The Grand Tour had more than superficial cultural importance. E. P. Thompson stated, “ruling-class control in the 18th Century was located primarily in a cultural hegemony, and only secondarily in an expression of economic or physical (military) power.”
Upon hiring a French-speaking guide, as French was the dominant language of the elite in Europe during the 17th and 18th Centuries, the tourist and his entourage would travel to Paris. There the traveler might undertake lessons in French, dancing, fencing, and riding.
The appeal of Paris lay in the sophisticated language and manners of French high society, including courtly behavior and fashion. This served the purpose of preparing the young man for a leadership position at home, often in government or diplomacy.
This would include dismantling the carriage and luggage. If one was wealthy enough, one might be carried over the hard terrain by servants.
Once in Italy, the tourist would visit Turin (and, less often, Milan), then might spend a few months in Florence, where there was a considerable Anglo-Italian society accessible to travelling Englishmen “of quality” and where the Tribuna of the Uffizi gallery brought together in one space the monuments of High Renaissance paintings and Roman sculptures that would inspire picture galleries adorned with antiquities at home. Side trips would be taken to Pisa, then move on to Padua, Bologna, and Venice since the British viewed it as the “locus of decadent Italianate allure” making Venice an epitome and cultural setpiece of the Grand Tour.
From Venice the traveler went to Rome to study the ruins of Ancient Rome, and the masterpieces of painting, sculpture, and architecture of Rome’s Early Christian, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Some travelers also visited Naples to study music, and (after the mid-18th Century) to appreciate the recently discovered archaeological sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and perhaps (for the adventurous) an ascent of Mount Vesuvius.
Later in the period the more adventurous, especially if provided with a yacht, might attempt Sicily (the site of Greek ruins), Malta or even Greece itself (though still under Turkish rule). But Naples, or later the further south Paestum, was the usual last stop.
From Germany, travelers then visited Holland and Flanders with more gallery-going and art appreciation. Once they got their fill, the travelers would return back across the Channel to England.
The Grand Tour was neither a scholar’s pilgrimage nor a religious one, though a pleasurable stay in Venice and a cautious residence in Rome were essential. Catholic Grand Tourists followed the same routes as Protestant Whigs.
Since the 17th Century, a tour to such places was also considered essential for budding young artists to understand proper painting and sculpture techniques. The trappings of The Grand Tour (valets, coachmen, a bear-leader, and perhaps a cook) were usually beyond their reach though.
The advent of popular guides did much to popularize such trips, and following the artists themselves, the elite considered travel to such centers as necessary rites of passage. For gentlemen, some works of art were essential to demonstrate the breadth and polish they had received from their tour.
In Rome, antiquarians like Thomas Jenkins provided access to private collections of antiquities, enough antiquities proved to be for sale that the English market raised the price of such things. Purchasing coins and medals, which formed more portable souvenirs, proved to be a respected gentleman’s guide to ancient history.
This is partly because he asked Inigo Jones, not yet established as an architect but already known as a ‘great traveler’ and masque designer, to act as his Cicerone. Larger numbers of tourists began their tours after the Peace of Münster in 1648.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the term ‘The Grand Tour’ (perhaps its introduction to English) was by Richard Lassels, an expatriateRoman Catholicpriest, in his book The Voyage of Italy, which was published posthumously in 1670. Lassels’s introduction listed 4 areas in which travel furnished “an accomplished, consummate Traveler”: the intellectual, the social, the ethical, and the political.
The idea of travelling for the sake of curiosity and learning was a developing idea in the 17th Century. With John Locke‘s Essay Concerning Human Understanding(1690), it was argued, and widely accepted, that knowledge comes entirely from the external senses, that what one knows comes from the physical stimuli to which one has been exposed.
Thus, one could use the environment, taking from it all that is offered, requiring a change of place. Travel, therefore, was necessary for one to develop the mind and expand knowledge of the world.
As a young man at the outset of his account of a repeating The Grand Tour, historian Edward Gibbon remarked, “According to the law of custom, and perhaps of reason, foreign travel completes the education of an English gentleman.” Consciously adapted for intellectual self-improvement, Gibbon was “revisiting the Continent on a larger and more liberal plan”.
Most Grand Tourists did not pause more than briefly in libraries. On the eve of the Romantic era in which he played a significant part in introducing, William Beckford wrote a vivid account of his Grand Tour that made Gibbon’s unadventurous Italian tour look distinctly conventional.
The typical 18th Century sentiment was that of the studious observer travelling through foreign lands reporting his findings on human nature for those unfortunate enough to have stayed home. Recounting one’s observations to society at large to increase its welfare was considered an obligation.
The Grand Tour flourished in this mindset for it offered a liberal education, and the opportunity to acquire things otherwise unavailable at home, thus lending an air of accomplishment and prestige to the traveler. Grand Tourists would return with crates full of books, works of art, scientific instruments, and cultural artifacts to be displayed in libraries, cabinets, gardens, drawing rooms, and galleries built for that purpose.
The trappings of The Grand Tour, especially portraits of the traveler painted in iconic continental settings, became the obligatory emblems of worldliness, gravitas and influence. Artists who especially thrived on Grand Tourists included Carlo Maratti, who was first patronized by John Evelyn as early as 1645, Pompeo Batoni, and the vedutisti such as Canaletto, Pannini and Guardi.
The less well-off could return with an album of Piranesi etchings. Not everyone was made of money, and most of these trips happened before postcards and souvenirs were created.
After the arrival of steam-powered transportation (around 1825) The Grand Tour custom continued, but it was of a qualitative difference (cheaper to undertake, safer, easier, open to anyone). During much of the 19th Century, most educated young men of privilege undertook The Grand Tour which now included Germany and Switzerland in a more broadly defined circuit.
It is important to see the contribution of anthropology to the study of The Grand Tour. An anthropologist argues that The Grand Tour emerged in England and was rapidly adopted by other Northern countries because its cultural roots came from Norse Mythology.
Among Indo-Arian mythologies, Norse culture is the only one where its major god, Odin, travels long distances to learn the customs and habits of humans. The ruler of Asgaard was accustomed to undertake his adventures in the form of animals.
Odin has been described as an ongoing wanderer whose hunger of adventure and risk has no limits. Operating under many disguises and using false identities, Odin is said to symbolize how pain is a necessary step to access unlimited knowledge, and this is the main value that The Grand Tour emulates.
Published personal accounts of The Grand Tour provide illuminating detail and a first-hand perspective of the experience. Examining some accounts offered by authors in their own lifetimes, they should be approached as travel literature rather than unvarnished accounts.
Inventor Sir Francis Ronalds’ journals and sketches of his 1818–20 tour to Europe and the Near East have been published on the web. The letters written by sisters Mary and Ida Saxton of Canton, Ohio in 1869 while on a 6-month tour offer insight into The Grand Tour tradition from an American perspective.
In 2005, British art historian Brian Sewell followed in the footsteps of the Grand Tourists for a 10-part television series Brian Sewell’s Grand Tour. Produced by UK’s Channel Five, Sewell travelled by car and confined his attention solely to Italy stopping in Rome, Florence, Naples, Pompeii, Turin, Milan, Cremona, Siena, Bologna, Vicenza, Paestum, Urbino, Tivoli and concluding at a Venetian masked ball.
Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilization. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the Continent.
In 2009, The Grand Tour featured prominently in a BBC/PBS miniseries based on Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. Set mainly in Venice, it portrayed The Grand Tour as a rite of passage.
Kevin McCloud presented Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour on Channel 4 in 2009, with McCloud retracing the tours of British architects. The 2016 Amazon motoring program The Grand Tour is named after the traditional Grand Tour, and refers to the show being set in a different location worldwide each week.
The legacy of The Grand Tour lives on to the modern day and is still evident in works of travel and literature. From its aristocratic origins and the permutations of sentimental and romantic travel to the age of tourism and globalization, The Grand Tour still influences the destinations tourists choose and shapes the ideas of culture and sophistication that surround the act of travel.
We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure, maybe even inspiring you on a Grand Tour of your own. Be sure to stop by again soon for we never know where we’ll end up.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Bignamini, Ilaria; Hornsby, Clare. Digging and Dealing in Eighteenth Century Rome. Yale University Press, 2010.
Bohls, Elizabeth; Duncan, Ian. Travel Writing 1700–1830 : An Anthology. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-284051-7
Buzard, James. “The Grand Tour and after (1660–1840)”. The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, 2002. ISBN 0-521-78140-X.
Chaney, Edward. The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations since the Renaissance. Routledge, 2000. ISBN 0-7146-4474-9.
Chaney, Edward. The Evolution of English Collecting. Yale University Press, 2003.
Chaney, Edward; Wilks, Timothy. The Jacobean Grand Tour: Early Stuart Travellers in Europe. I.B. Tauris, 2014. ISBN 978 1 78076 783 3.
Colletta, Lisa. The Legacy of the Grand Tour: New Essays on Travel, Literature, and Culture. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015. ISBN 978 1 61147 797 9.
Fussell, Paul. “The Eighteenth Century and the Grand Tour”. The Norton Book of Travel, 1987. ISBN 0-393-02481-4.
Gross, Matt. “Lessons From the Frugal Grand Tour.” New York Times, 5 September 2008.
Hornsby, Clare. “The Impact of Italy: The Grand Tour and Beyond”. British School at Rome, 2000.
Stephens, Richard. A Catalogue Raisonné of Francis Towne (1739–1816). Paul Mellon Centre, 2016. doi:10.17658/towne.
Trease, Geoffrey. The Grand Tour. Yale University Press, 1991.
Witon, Andrew; Bignamini, Ilaria. Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth-Century. Tate Gallery Exhibition Catalogue, 1997.
The ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii are located near the modern suburban town of Pompei (nowadays written with a single ‘i’). It stands on a spur formed by a lava flow to the north of the mouth of the Sarno River (known in ancient times as the Sarnus).
It was a major city in the region of Campania, covering a total of 170 acres, and was home to approximately 11,000 to 11,500 people on the basis of household counts. Today it is some distance inland, but in ancient times was nearer to the coast.
Pompeii is about 5 miles away from Mount Vesuvius, which led to its demise. Along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, Pompeii was mostly destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
By the time of its destruction, 160 years later, Pompeii had a complex water system, an amphitheatre, gymnasium, and a port. This destruction was a major blow to Rome both physically and psychologically.
The archaeological digs at the site extend to the street level of the AD 79. Deeper digs in older parts of Pompeii and core samples of nearby drillings have exposed layers of jumbled sediment that suggest that the city had suffered from other seismic events before the eruption.
Three sheets of sediment have been found on top of the lava that lies below the city and, mixed in with the sediment, archaeologists have found bits of animal bone, pottery shards and plants. Carbon dating has placed the oldest of these layers from the 8th-6th Centuries BC (around the time the city was founded).
The other 2 strata are separated either by well-developed soil layers or Roman pavement, and were laid in the 4th and 2nd Century BC. It is theorized that the layers of the jumbled sediment were created by large landslides, perhaps triggered by extended rainfall.
The town was founded by the Osci people of central Italy on what was an important crossroad between Cumae, NolaandStabiae. It had already been used as a safe port by Greek and Phoenician sailors.
According to Strabo, Pompeii was also captured by the Etruscans, and in fact recent excavations have shown the presence of Etruscan inscriptions and a 6th Century BC necropolis.
The excavated city offers a snapshot of Roman life in the 1st Century, frozen at the moment it was buried on 24 August AD 79. The forum, the baths, many houses, and some out-of-town villas like the Villa of the Mysteries remain well preserved.
Details of everyday life are even well preserved. For example, on the floor of one of the houses (Sirico’s), a famous inscription Salve, Lucru (Welcome, Profit) indicates a trading company owned by a pair of partners, Sirico and Nummianus.
Other houses provide details concerning professions and categories, such as for the laundry workers (Fullones). Wine jars have been found bearing what is apparently the world’s earliest known marketing pun Vesuvinum (combining Vesuvius and the Latin for wine, vinum).
The numerous graffiti carved on the walls and inside rooms provides a wealth of information regarding Vulgar Latin, the form of Latin spoken colloquially rather than the literary language of the classical writers.
By the 1st Century AD, the area had a substantial population which had grown prosperous from the region’s renowned agricultural fertility. The eruption occurred on 24 August AD 79, just one day after Vulcanalia, the festival of the Roman god of fire, including that from volcanoes.
A multidisciplinary study of the eruption products and victims, merged with numerical simulations and experiments, indicates that heat was the main cause of death of people at Vesuvius and surrounding towns, previously believed to have been ash suffocation. The results of the study, published in 2010, show that exposure to at least 482 °F hot surges (known as pyroclastic flows) at a distance of 6 miles from the vent was sufficient to cause instant death, even if people were sheltered within buildings.
The people and buildings of Pompeii were covered in up to 12 different layers of tephra, in total 82 feet deep, which rained down for about 6 hours. Pliny the Younger provided a first-hand account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius from his position across the Bay of Naples at Misenum, in a version he wrote 25 years after the event.
His uncle, Pliny the Elder, died while attempting to rescue stranded victims. As Admiral of the Fleet, Pliny the Elder had ordered the ships of the Imperial Navy stationed at Misenum to cross the bay to assist evacuation attempts.
The eruption was documented by contemporary historians and is generally accepted as having started on 24 August 79, relying on a version of the text of Pliny’s letter. However the archeological excavations of Pompeii suggest that the city was buried about 3 months later, and is supported by another version of the letter, which gives the date of the eruption as 23 November.
People buried in the ash appear to have been wearing heavier clothing than the light summer clothes typical of August. The fresh fruit and vegetables in the shops are typical of October while the summer fruit typical of August was already being sold in dried form.
Wine fermenting jars had been sealed, which would have happened around the end of October. Coins found in the purse of a woman buried in the ash include one with a 15thImperatorial acclamation among the Emperor‘s titles.
These coins could not have been minted before the 2nd week of September. There is no definitive theory as to why there should be such an apparent discrepancy.
After thick layers of ash covered the surrounding towns, they were abandoned and eventually their names and locations were forgotten.
The site was lost for about 1,500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599, when the digging of an underground channel to divert the Sarno River ran into ancient walls covered with paintings and inscriptions. Architect Domenico Fontana was called in and he unearthed a few more frescoes.
Fontana then covered them over again, and nothing more came of the discovery. A wall inscription had mentioned a decurio Pompeii (the town councilor of Pompeii) but its reference to the long-forgotten Roman city was missed.
Fontana’s covering over the paintings has been seen both as censorship, in view of the frequent sexual content of such paintings and as a broad-minded act of preservation for later times. He would have known that paintings of the hedonistic kind later found in some Pompeian villas were not considered in good taste in the climate of the counter-reformation.
Herculaneum was properly rediscovered in 1738 by workmen digging for the foundations of a summer palace for the King of Naples, Charles of Bourbon. Charles of Bourbon took great interest in the findings even after becoming king of Spain because the display of antiquities reinforced the political and cultural power of Naples.
Almost 150 years later, a broader rediscovery of Pompeii occurred as the result of intentional excavations by Spanish military engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748. The objects that lay beneath the city have been preserved for centuries because of the lack of air and moisture.
These artefacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies which allowed archaeologists to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died.
Swiss architect and engineer Karl Weber directed the opening actual excavations, and was followed in 1764 by military engineer Franscisco la Vega. Franscisco la Vega was succeeded by his brother, Pietro, in 1804, then during the French occupation Pietro worked with Christophe Saliceti.
Pompeii has been a popular tourist destination for over 250 years, aside from the unique story of the city it still has many intact buildings and wall paintings people find intriguing. It became so popular that the site was put on the Grand Tour.
Excavations in the site have generally ceased due to the suspension imposed by the superintendent of the site, Professor Pietro Giovanni Guzzo. Additionally, the site is generally less accessible to tourists, with less than a third of all buildings open in the 1960s being available for public viewing today.
To combat problems associated with tourism the governing body for Pompeii, the Soprintendenza Archaeological di Pompei, has begun issuing new tickets that allow for tourists to also visit the other lost cities. By encouraging visitors to see sites like Herculaneum, Stabiae, or the Villa Poppaeawill hopefully help reduce pressure on the remains of Pompeii.
Pompeii is also a driving force behind the economy of the nearby town of Pompei. Many residents are employed in the tourism and hospitality business, serving as taxi or bus drivers, waiters or hotel operators.
The ruins can be easily reached on foot from the Circumvesuviana train stop called Pompei Scavi, directly at the ancient site. There are also car parks nearby.
Nevertheless, the sections of the ancient city open to the public are extensive, and tourists can spend several days exploring the whole site. Maybe you will want to make the journey to Pompeii and Vesuvius National Park yourself.
We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and thank you for stopping by. Be sure to Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Beard, Mary. Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town. Profile Books, 2008. ISBN 978-1-86197-596-6.
Butterworth, Alex; Laurence, Ray. Pompeii: The Living City. St. Martin’s Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-312-35585-2.
Kraus, Theodor. Pompeii and Herculaneum: The Living Cities of the Dead. H. N. Abrams. ISBN 978-0-81090-418-7.
Parslow, Christopher. Rediscovering antiquity: Karl Weber and the excavation of Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Stabiae. Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-521-47150-8.
Shelley Hales; Joanna Paul. Pompeii in the Public Imagination from Its Rediscovery to Today. Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-19956-936-6.
Wallace, Alia. “Presenting Pompeii: Steps towards Reconciling Conservation and Tourism at an Ancient Site”. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology. Ubiquity Press, 2012. doi:10.5334/pia.406.
The 2 major Fleets (Ostia Antica and Portus) were stationed in Italy and acted as a central naval reserve, directly available to the Emperor. In the absence of any seafaring threat, their duties mostly involved patrolling and transporting.
These duties were not simply confined to the waters around Italy, but throughout the Mediterranean. There is epigraphic evidence for the presence of sailors of the 2 Praetorian Fleets at Piraeus and Syria.
The larger of the 2 Fleets was the Classis Misenensis, which was established in 27 BC and based at Portus Julius. Later its name was changed to Classis Praetoria Misenesis Pia Vindex to which detachments of the fleet served at tributary bases, such as Ostia, Puteoli, Centumcellae and other harbors.
The smaller of the 2 Fleets was the Classis Ravennas, which was made in 27 BC and based at Ravenna. Later its classification was changed to Classis Praetoria Ravennatis Pia Vindex.
The various Provincial Fleets were smaller than the Praetorian Fleets, composed mostly of lighter vessels. Nevertheless, it was these Provincials that saw action in full campaigns or raids on the fringe of the Empire.
The Fleet was certainly in existence by 45 AD, for under the Flavian Dynasty it received the cognomenFlavia. Its main base was probably Taurunum (modern Zemun) at the confluence of the river Sava with the Danube.
The Classis Alexandrina, based in Alexandria, controlled the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Founded by Augustus around 30 BC, the Classis Alexandrina was most likely comprised of ships that fought at the Battle of Actium, and was manned mostly by Greeks of the Nile Delta.
Having supported Emperor Vespasian in the Civil War of AD 69, it was awarded of the cognomenAugusta. The fleet was responsible chiefly for the escort of the grain shipments to Rome (and later Constantinople), and also apparently operated the Nile river patrol.
It is noteworthy that the Romans’ initial lack of experience with the tides of the ocean left Drusus’ Fleet stranded on the Zuiderzee. After around 30 AD, the Fleet moved its main base to the castrum of Alteburg, some 2.5 miles south of Colonia Agrippinensis (modern Cologne).
Later, the Classis Germanica granted the honorifics Augusta Pia Fidelis Domitiana following the suppression of the Revolt of Saturninus.
During the 2nd-3rd Centuries, the fleet was chiefly employed in transport of supplies and men across the English Channel. The Classis Britannica disappears (at least under that name) from the mid-3rd Century, and the sites occupied by it were soon incorporated into the Saxon Shore system.
The Classis Perinthia was established after the annexation of Thracia in 46 AD, and was based in Perinthus. Probably based on the indigenous navy, it operated in the Propontis and was united with the Classis Pontica at a later stage.
The Classis Pontica, founded in 64 AD from the Pontic royal fleet, was based in Trapezus. Although, on occasion, it was moved to Byzantium and Cyzicus.
This Fleet was used to guard the southern and eastern Black Sea, and the entrance of the Bosporus. According to the historian Josephus, in the latter half of the 1st Century, the Fleet numbered 40 warships and 3,000 men.
The Classis Syriaca was probably established under Vespasian (69-79 AD), and based in Seleucia Pieria (hence the alternative name Classis Seleucena) in Syria. This Fleet controlled the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.
The Classis Mauretanica, based at Caesarea Mauretaniae (modern Cherchell), controlled the African coasts of the western Mediterranean sea. This fleet was established on a permanent basis after the raids by the Moors in the early 170s.
The Classis Nova Libyca, first mentioned in 180 AD, was most likely based at Ptolemais on the Cyrenaica.
The Classis Africana Commodiana Herculea was established by Commodus in 186 AD after the model of the Classis Alexandrina. Its creation was to help secure the grain shipments (annona) from North Africa to Italy.
The best source for the structure of the late Roman military is the Notitia Dignitatum, which matches the situation of the 390s for the Eastern Empire and the 420s for the Western Empire. Notable in the Notitia is the large number of smaller squadrons that have been created, most of these fluvial and of a local operational role.
The Classis Comensis, stationed at Lake Como, truly made the lake their own.
The old Praetorian Fleets, the Classis Misenatis and the Classis Ravennatis are still listed, albeit with no distinction indicating any higher importance than the other fleets. The Praetorian surname is still attested until the early 4th Century, but absent from Vegetius or the Notitia.
The Classis Fluminis Rhodani was based at Arelate and operated in the Rhône River. It was complemented with a Marine Detachment (Milites Muscularii) based at Massalia.
The Classis Sambrica was based at Locus Quartensis (unknown location) operating on the Somme River and the Channel. It came under the command of the Dux Belgica Secunda.
The Classis Venetum, based at Aquileia, operated in the northern Adriatic Sea. This Fleet may have been established to ensure communications with the Imperial Capitals in the Po Valley (Ravenna and Milan) and with Dalmatia.
It is notable that, with the exception of the Praetorian Fleets (whose retention in the list does not necessarily signify an active status), the old fleets of the Principate are missing. The Classis Britannica vanishes under that name after the mid-3rd Century, but its remnants were later incorporated in the Saxon Shore system.
By the time of the Notitia Dignitatum, the Classis Germanica had ceased to exist, most probably due to the collapse of the Limes Germanicus (Germanic Frontier) after the Crossing of the Rhine by the barbarians in winter 405-406 AD. The Mauretanian and African Fleets had been disbanded or taken over by the Vandals.
As far as the East is concerned, we know that the Classis Alexandrina and the Classis Seleucena continued to operate, and that around 400 AD the Classis Carpathia was detached from the Syrian Fleet and based at the Aegean island of Karpathos. A Fleet is known to have been stationed at Constantinople itself, but no further details are known about it.
We hope you enjoyed setting sail with the various Fleets of the Roman Navy. We wish you safe passage on future journeys, and look forward to having you back again soon.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Casson, Lionel. The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times. Princeton University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0-691-01477-7.
Casson, Lionel. Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8018-5130-0.
The aqueduct bridge is part of a 31 mile-long system built in the 1st Century AD to carry fresh water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). Because of the uneven terrain between its starting and ending points, the mostly underground aqueduct followed a long, winding route that called for a bridge across the gorge of the Gardon River.
The bridge has 3 tiers of arches, standing 160 feet high, and descends a mere 1 inch (a gradient of only 1 in 18,241), while the whole aqueduct descends in height by only 56 feet over its entire length. This is quite indicative of the great precision that Roman engineers were able to achieve, using simple technology.
The aqueduct formerly carried an estimated 44,000,000 gallons of water per day to the fountains,baths and homes of the citizens of Nîmes. It may have been in use as late as the 6th Century, with some parts used for significantly longer.
Historians linked the construction of the aqueduct with Agrippa’s visit to Narbonensis in that year. Newer excavations suggest the construction may have taken place between 40 and 60 AD.
Tunnels dating from the time of Emperor Augustus had to be bypassed by the builders of the Nîmes aqueduct. Coins discovered in the outflow in Nîmes, however, are no older than the reign of the Emperor Claudius (41–54 AD).
On this basis, a team led by Guilhem Fabre has argued that the aqueduct must have been completed around the middle of the 1st Century AD. Either way, it is believed to have taken about 15 years to build, employing between 800 and 1,000 workers.
The aqueduct was constructed entirely without the use of mortar. The aqueduct’s stones (some of which weigh up to 6 tons) were precisely cut to fit perfectly together eliminating the need for mortar.
From the 4th Century onwards, the aqueduct’s maintenance was neglected as successive waves of invaders disrupted the region. It became clogged with debris, encrustations and plant roots, greatly reducing the flow of the water.
The resulting deposits in the conduit, consisting of layers of dirt and organic material, are up to 20 inches thick on each wall. An analysis of the deposits originally suggested that it had continued to supply water to Nîmes until as late as the 9th Century, but more recent investigations suggest that it had gone out of use by about the 6th Century.
After the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, the aqueduct fell into disuse. Although some of its stones were plundered for use elsewhere, Pont du Gard remained largely intact.
Its survival was due to its use as a toll bridge across the valley. In the 13th Century the French king granted the seigneurs of Uzès the right to levy tolls on those using the bridge.
The right later passed to the Bishops of Uzès, who then became responsible for maintaining the bridge and keeping it in good repair. However, Pont du Gard suffered serious damage during the 1620s when Henri, Duke of Rohan made use of the bridge to transport his artillery during the wars between the French royalists and the Huguenots, whom he led.
To make space for his artillery to cross the bridge, the duke had one side of the 2nd row of arches cut away to a depth of about one-third of their original thickness. This left a gap on the lowest deck wide enough to accommodate carts and cannons, but severely weakened the bridge in the process.
In 1703 the local authorities renovated Pont du Gard to repair cracks, fill in ruts, and replace the stones lost in the previous century. A new bridge was built by the engineer Henri Pitot in 1743–47 next to the arches of the lower level, so that the road traffic could cross on a purpose-built bridge.
The novelist Alexandre Dumas was strongly critical of the construction of the new bridge, commenting that “it was reserved for the eighteenth century to dishonor a monument which the barbarians of the fifth had not dared to destroy.” The Pont du Gard continued to deteriorate and by the time Prosper Mérimée saw it in 1835 it was at serious risk of collapse from erosion and the loss of stonework.
Napoleon III, who had a great admiration for all things Roman, visited Pont du Gard in 1850 and took a close interest in it. He approved plans by the architect Charles Laisné, with funding provided by the Ministry of State, to repair the bridge in a project which was carried out between 1855–58.
The work involved substantial renovations that included replacing the eroded stone, infilling some of the piers with concrete to aid stability and improving drainage by separating the bridge from the aqueduct. Stairs were installed at one end and the conduit walls were repaired, allowing visitors to walk along the conduit itself in reasonable safety.
There have been a number of subsequent projects to consolidate the piers and arches of the Pont du Gard. It has survived 3 serious floods over the last century.
In 1958 the whole of the lower tier was submerged by a giant flood that washed away other bridges. In 1998 another major flood affected the area, with a further flood in 2002 badly damaging nearby installations.
For centuries, Pont du Gard has been France’s most popular tourist attractions. It has a long association with French monarchs seeking to associate themselves with a symbol of Roman imperial power, as well as attracting the attention of a succession of literary and artistic visitors.
King Charles IX of France visited in 1564 during his Grand Tour of France and was greeted with a grand entertainment laid on by the Duc d’Uzès. Twelve young girls dressed as nymphs came out of a cave by the riverside near the aqueduct and presented the king with pastry and preserved fruits.
A century later, Louis XIV and his court visited the Pont du Gard during a visit to Nîmes in January 1660 shortly after the signature of the Treaty of the Pyrenees. In 1786 his great-great-great-grandson Louis XVI commissioned the artist Hubert Robert to produce a set of paintings of Roman ruins of southern France to hang in the king’s new dining room at the Palace of Fontainebleau, including a picture depicting the Pont du Gard in an idealized landscape.
The outstanding quality of the bridge’s masonry led to it becoming an obligatory stop for French journeymen masons on their traditional tour around the country, many of whom have left their names on the stonework. From the 18th Century onwards, particularly after the construction of the new road bridge, it became a famous staging-post for travelers on the Grand Tour and became increasingly renowned as an object of historical importance and French national pride.
In 1985 when Pont du Gard was added to the list of World Heritage Sites on the criteria of “Human creative genius; testimony to cultural tradition; significance to human history”. The description on the list states:
The hydraulic engineers and … architects who conceived this bridge created a technical as well as artistic masterpiece.
By the 1990s the Pont du Gard had become a hugely popular tourist attraction but was congested with traffic since vehicles were still allowed to drive over the 1743 road bridge. It was also cluttered with illegally built structures and tourist shops lining the river banks.
As the architect Jean-Paul Viguier put it, the “appetite for gain” had transformed the Pont du Gard into “a fairground attraction”. In 1996 the General Council of the Gard département began a major 4-year project to improve the area, sponsored by the French government, in conjunction with local sources, UNESCO and the EU.
The entire area around the bridge was pedestrianized and a new visitor center was built on the north bank to a design by Jean-Paul Viguier. The redevelopment has ensured that the area around the Pont du Gard is now much quieter due to the removal of vehicle traffic, and the new museum provides a much improved historical context for visitors.
Today Pont du Gard is one of France’s top five tourist attractions, with 1.4 million visitors reported in 2001. Hopefully we all can visit, or revisit, this impressive testament to Roman engineering.
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Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
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