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Chapter 2. The New Discoveries of the Sacra Via.

THE religion of the builders of Rome did not differ from that of other superior races at an early stage of civilization. They worshipped nature in its manifold manifestations, and paid homage to the beings supposed to preside over the necessities of life, to those who made the spring of Juturna flow from the rocks upon which their village was perched, who kept away the wolves from their flocks grazing on the uplands of the Velia and the Oppian, who supplied their hearthstones with fire, protected their ancestral fields from the encroachments of neighbors, and their family tombs from profanation, and who guaranteed the sanctity of agreements, oaths, matrimony, and hospitality. It was only at a later stage that the Romans borrowed new rites and superstitions from the Sabines, the Etruscans, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Phrygians, and the Persians,—in fact, from every nation they came in contact with, or subjugated to their rule. The outcome of this process of assimilation was a complicated religious syncretism, which had no nationality or individuality of its own. Such has been the evolution of all conquering nations; in fact, the loss of the original simplicity of faith seems to have been shared by all races which have not kept themselves strictly apart from the rest of mankind, or “walled themselves in” like the sons of Sem in the far East.

The latest excavations along the “sacred way” of primitive Rome have brought us in contact over and over again with the centre of early Roman worship, when man lived in harmony with nature, when every natural mystery was to him a sacred one. In those early days, whenever the intervention of the Deity was sought for in domestic emergencies, the duty of performing the supplication rested, naturally, with the paterfamilias; but when prayers and sacrifices had to be offered for the sake of the whole village, or tribe, or nation, the duty devolved upon a public delegate or representative. The Latin tribes called to those high and noble duties men who in their estimation ranked above others,—the “makers of roads and bridges,” or, in short, the “pontifices.” Many etymologies have been suggested for this word. Quintus Scævola derived it from “posse” and “facere”; Varro from “pons” or bridge, because the priests had thrown across the Tiber the first Roman bridge, the Sublician. Others have suggested that “pontifex” is a substitute for “pompifex,” a leader of public processions. However, as the word “pons” originally meant “way,” so the word “ponti-fex” must mean a “maker of roads and bridges.” These men were certainly possessed of a great geodetical knowledge and engineering skill. The “Terramara,” or prehistoric fortified station discovered by Pigorini at Castellazzo di Fontanellato, of which I have given an illustration in “Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome,” p. 115, is a marvel and model of ingenuity, both in design and in execution.

The dignity of supreme priesthood belonged to the king, who, as the head of the state religion, performed his official duties in a hut on the Sacra Via, near the place where the public fire was kept, and watched by the Vestals. Vesta's hut was round. The “Regia,” as the High Priest's offices were called, seems to have been in the shape of an oblong square or parallelogram. Its first construction is attributed to Numa, and it probably retained its original shape and simplicity of style until its destruction by the Gauls in B. C. 390.

After the overthrow of the monarchy, and the consequent separation of the political from the religious power, the Regia was used as the office of the supreme priesthood, not as a dwelling-house for the Supreme Priest. The Regia was a “fanum,” viz., the habitation of gods, not of mortals; and we know besides, from other sources, that the Pontifex dwelt in a separate house on the same Sacra Via, called the “domus publica.” We know, also, that when Augustus, after an interval of four hundred and eighty-eight years, united again in his own person the political and the religious power, as in the days of the Kings, and became Pontifex Maximus, he built a new “domus publica” on the Palatine and made a present to the Vestals of the old one. Its remains are to be seen to the present day, below the level of the house of the same virgins, with which they form an angle of about 30°. They include a small basilica with a fine mosaic pavement, a court surrounded by a peristyle of fluted stone columns coated with plaster, a “triclinium” or dining hall, and other apartments in which every style of masonry used in Rome from the Gaulish fire to the end of the Republic is represented. The plan of this pontifical residence, the witness of so many historical events, can be made out—as far as the present stage of the excavations allows it—in the aerial view here reproduced. This photograph was taken by that gallant officer of the Royal Engineers, Cavaliere Moris, whose name I shall have occasion to mention again with praise and gratitude in the following pages.

As regards the Regia, it survived the disastrous fires of 210, 148, and 36 B.C. and 65 A.D., down to the fall of the Empire, a lovely marble building sheltering within its enclosure or under its marble and mosaic pavements many characteristics of the time of the Kings. Its plan, here given for the first time, is difficult to understand in some parts, altogether incomprehensible in others; but our investigation of the place may be found easier if we recall to mind the manifold duties devolving on the college of the pontiffs, whose official residence it was. They were entrusted with the care of regulating the worship of the people, of watching over the maintenance of the public fire, of keeping records of time, of registering great events and prodigies, and of making seismic and meteorological observations.

As far as the religious Code is concerned, it is enough to say that it comprised two sections. One called the “Indigitamenta” contained the authorized names of the gods and explained the manner in which they were to be addressed in public worship; the other contained ritual regulations and the “jus pontificum.” These fundamental points of Roman religion, set down by Numa Pompilius, were altered or more accurately defined in progress of time; hence the origin of the official bulletin of the supreme priesthood, called “Commentarii sacrorum,” intended to bring to the notice of the public the new regulations, with an explanatory text.

The pontiffs, as I have said, watched over the maintenance of the public fire, and this with the help of the six Vestal maidens, whose life and sacred ministry I have illustrated at length in “Ancient Rome.” If I mention here again the institution common to all tribal settlements of prehistoric ages, it depends on the fact that the Vestals did not represent an independent sisterhood, but they simply performed duties which originally pertained to the pontifex. In fact, the Regia was for our primitive Latin settlements (Bovillæ, Velitræ, Lanuvium, Tusculum, etc.) what the Prytaneum was in the Greek lands, when each tribal nucleus had a common hearth in the chief's house. Any book on the folk-lore and customs of primitive nations will show the universality of this practice. The perpetual maintenance of the fire was the duty of the chief, which he delegated to his daughters or to his slaves; in Latium, no doubt, to daughters, who reappear in history as the Vestals. Hence the connection both moral and material between the two huts raised in the early days of Rome near the market (Forum) and the village fountain (Juturna), which were destined to become in progress of time, one the Regia, the other the temple of Vesta.

The new search made through the cloisters in the summer of 1899 has led to no important results. These cloisters—at least the wing which borders on the Nova Via and supports its embankment, twenty-two feet high—were not a healthy residence. Their position right under the shade of Caligula's palace, towering one hundred and fifty feet above the floor of the Atrium, was most unfavorable, and the rooms of the ground floor were so permeated with damp as to be unfit for human habitation. To avoid the evil, or rather to lessen its effects on the health of the sisters, two precautions were taken. Double and triple walls were set up against the embankment of the Nova Via, with a free space between them to allow the circulation of dry or hot air; and the pavements of the cells were raised by a couple of feet. This last operation was carried on rather awkwardly, and in a way quite characteristic of the decadence of sanitary engineering in Rome, in the course of the fourth century. Thus, in the rooms on either side of the Tablinum we find the later and higher pavements resting on large earthen amphoræ, sawn across into halves; others rest on brick supports, like those used in forming hypocausts; others on a simple bed of rubbish. The most remarkable fact is that, when this general raising of the floors took place, the beautiful old pavements of the time of Julia Domna were not taken up and made use of again, but left, in a more or less perfect state, at the old level. Two or three have just been rediscovered, and they are most beautiful; their pattern is geometrical, and the marbles with which they are inlaid (giallo and pavonazzetto for the brighter tones, africano and portasanta for the shady effects) harmonize so perfectly in color and shape as to please the eye exceedingly.

On December 17, 1899, a “ripostiglio,” or hidden treasure of gold pieces was discovered in a drain near the west corner of the edifice. It consists of 397 aurei, which must have been thrown into that strange place of concealment in a leather bag, or done up in a piece of cloth. The oldest coin dates from the time of Constantius II., 337–361 A.D.; the latest from that of Leo I., whose death took place in 474. By far the greatest number of pieces, three hundred and more, belong to the Emperor Anthemius, son of Procopius, slain by his son-in-law Ricimer in 467, while the rarest of all bear the name and effigy of Ælia Marcia Euphemia, daughter of the Emperor Marcianus and wife of Anthemius.

It is difficult to connect the burial of this considerable sum of money with any particular event in the history of the disasters which befell the city at the end of the fifth century. There is no doubt that the gold was thrown into the cesspool under the apprehension of an impending pillage. The house of the Vestals, abandoned by the sisterhood since its suppression in 393, was probably falling into ruin, and the owner of that little treasure selected the hiding-place so skilfully that not only did it escape being plundered by the barbarians, but the owner himself could not recover it after the danger was over. Perhaps he lost his life in the defence of the city; perhaps he was carried away into slavery; perhaps the ceilings of this suite of rooms fell to the ground, and the hiding-place was buried under heavy masses of masonry.

The 397 aurei or solidi were found to weigh 1778 grammes, an average of 4½ grammes apiece. There is, however, considerable variation between the maximum (4.515 gr.) and the minimum (4.250 gr.) in the fifty-six varieties of coins. Considering that, by a decree issued by Valentinian in 445 A.D., seventy-two solidi were required to make a pound, we assume, from the most careful weighing of 300 solidi of Anthemius all sharp and fresh from the mint, that the exact value of the pound in the first half of the fifth century was 322.56 grammes.

Another quite recent discovery has stirred up once more the controversy concerning the fate of the Vestal whose name was erased from the pedestal discovered November 5, 1883, at the north corner of the cloisters, on the right of the entrance door, a detailed account of which is given in “Ancient Rome,” p. 170. The inscription describes how a statue and a pedestal had been raised in honor of..., high priestess, by the college of the pontiffs, as a testimonial to her chastity and profound knowledge of religious matters. Why was the memory of such a chaste and learned lady condemned, after the statue was set up A.D. 364, and why was her name hammered away from the pedestal? Probably because she became a Christian. An alleged confirmation of this surmise has been found in the discovery made September 17, 1899, of a mutilated statue, which seemed to have been purposely buried three feet below the mosaic floor at the west corner of the Atrium, as if the High Priests, not satisfied with the erasure of the abhorred name of the traitress, had overthrown the statue, and buried the scattered portions in various corners of the place. The statement is absolutely fanciful, I am sorry to say; the battered torso of the Vestal was not concealed from view out of disrespect for the titular, but simply made use of by a late occupant of the Atrium to repair the roof of a local drain. The practice of using the finest productions of classic sculpture for this disreputable purpose was rather in vogue in mediæval Rome. The exquisite panel from the Basilica Æmilia, reproduced on page 149, was discovered by Boni walled in the ceiling of the sewer of the street ad Janum. When Lorenzo Ghiberti visited Rome in 1420, a beautiful statue was discovered in his presence in the drain which runs by the church of S. Celso in Banchi. “I saw in the 440th Olympiad,” Ghiberti writes in Cod. Magliabecch. XVII. n. 33, “a simulacrum of an hermaphrodite of the stature of a girl of thirteen, modelled with wonderful grace, which had been placed across the drain of S. Celso, to strengthen its ceiling. A sculptor who happened to witness the find, caused the statue to be raised from its disgraceful grave, and removed to the church of S. Cecilia, where he was putting up the tomb of a cardinal.”1 My own experience in this line of discoveries has been remarkably interesting. The frieze attributed by Visconti to the temple of the Earth with scenes from the Gigantomachia; the trapezophoroi from the house of Numicius Pica Cæsianus on the Viminal, monuments of great artistic and archæological value described in the “Bullettino Comunale,” 1874, p. 223, and 1887, p. 247, and the greater part of the panels exhibited in the Sala delle Terre-cotte in the Conservatori Palace, have experienced the same fate with the statues of the Hermaphrodite of Ghiberti, and of the Vestal Virgin lately found in the Atrium.

Prudentius, the prince of Christian poets, seems to allude to the fate of this last priestess in his canticle to St. Lawrence, when he says, “Ædemque, Laurenti, tuam Vestalis intrat Claudia” (Claudia the Vestal Virgin enters thy shrine). These words are interpreted by Marucchi, not as a general and impersonal indication of the conquests made by the gospel among the last champions of polytheism, but as the proof of a special conquest, made in the Atrium itself, of a distinguished priestess named Claudia; 2 in which case the mention of the Basilica of S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura cannot be taken as fortuitous, but as the evidence of a true and real event connected with the history of that celebrated sanctuary. The tomb of the Levite on the Via Tiburtina had been chosen in the fourth century as the place where young men and young women would consecrate themselves to God, and pronounce the vows of chastity. These scenes are represented on certain devotional medals, two of which are here reproduced.

The first, discovered in 1636 in the Catacombs of Cyriaca together with a glass cup upon which the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul were designed in gold leaf, was purchased by Claude Ménétrier, and offered to Cardinal Francesco Barberini. A bad mould of the lost original is exhibited in the Vatican Library. It represents the consecration to God, on the grave of St. Lawrence, of a girl named SVCCESSA. The second, the origin of which is not recorded, represents symbolically the sacrifice of Abraham, practically the offer made to God by URBICVS of his son GAVDENTIANVS, the consecration taking place, as usual, at the grave of the Levite.

These scenes help us to understand the meaning of the verses of Prudentius; in which he does not indulge in poetical allusions, but mentions an historical fact, viz., the abjuration of the Vestal Claudia in the Basilica of St. Lawrence, and the iteration of her vows of chastity not to Vesta but to the true God.

The Catacombs of Cyriaca, in the heart of which St. Lawrence was buried, contain many authentic documents of these “Gottgeweihten Jungfrauen,”3 such as the tombstones of Lavinia, VIRGO DEI INIMITABILIS, who died April 3,409, in her thirty-fifth year; of Prætextata, VIRGO SACRA, who died August 6, 464; of Adeodata, VIRGO DIGNA ET MERITA, “who lies here in peace by the will of her heavenly Spouse,” and others. This is the reason why one of the most favorite subjects for symbolic paintings in these special catacombs of Cyriaca is the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Now we cannot ascribe to a mere chance the finding, in these same crypts, of an epitaph inscribed with the following verses:—

“Claudia nobilium prolis generosa parentum

Hic iacet: hinc anima in carne redeunte resurget

Æternis Christi munere digna bonis.”

(Here lies Claudia, daughter of noble parents, waiting for the day of the Resurrection, to receive from Christ the gift of perpetual happiness.) The Claudia of patrician birth, buried among the virgins of God near the grave of St. Lawrence, is manifestly the same noble girl whose secession from the altar of Vesta is recorded by Prudentius, and whose name is erased from the pedestal. By a fortunate coincidence the first letter of the name erased can still be made out, and it is a C, the initial of Claudia.

I have said that records of time, of important events, and of prodigies were kept in the Regia. Time was recorded by means of the “Fasti consulares,” events by means of the “Fasti triumphales” and of the “Annales maximi,” while prodigies were registered by means of minutes compiled by the inquiring officers.

For nearly four centuries and a half after the foundation of Rome the knowledge of the calendar was possessed exclusively by the priests. One of them, the Rex sacrorum, on the calends of each month announced to the people assembled in the Curia Calabra, when the nones of that month would fall (on the 5th, except in March, May, July, and October, when they fell on the 7th); and on the nones the people were again gathered in the Arx to be told what feast-days fell in the remaining part of the month. In like manner, all who wished to go to law were obliged to inquire of the priests on what day they might bring their suit, and received the reply as from the lips of an astrologer. The whole of this lore, so long a source of power and profit and therefore jealously enveloped in mystery, was at length made public by a certain Cn. Flavius, scribe to Appius Claudius Cæcus, who, having gained access to the pontifical books, copied out all the requisite information, and exhibited it in the Forum for the use of people at large. From this time forward such tables became common, and were known by the name of “Fasti,”4 closely resembling a modern almanac.

Many of these Fasti have been found, in a more or less fragmentary state, in my lifetime, the most important replica being the one discovered at Cære in 1873 by Luigi Boccanera, the only one in which mention is made of the birthday of Rome (April 21):


More complete are the copies found in the sixteenth century, when ancient monuments had not yet suffered irreparable injury at the hands of modern vandals. They are known by the name of Fasti Pinciani, Venusini, Maffeiani, Esquilini, Prænestini, etc., from the place in which they came to light, or to which they were removed. The calendars are properly called Julian, because they are later than the great reform of the year made by Julius Cæsar B.C. 46, and were destined to make the people of Rome and of the surrounding towns acquainted with the new computation. We owe to the same circumstance the composition of the celebrated Fasti of Ovid, a poetical “year-book” or “companion to the almanac” published to illustrate the reform of the dictator. Ovid's work, however, is incomplete, and deals only with the first six months of the year.

From these various elements Professor Mommsen was able to reconstruct in 1863 the complete set of the “Commentarii diurni,” giving every possible detail for each day of the year, one of the greatest epigraphic and archæological achievements of the age.5

There is no doubt that the original copy of the reformed calendar must have been engraved on the walls of the Regia, the official residence of the reformer; and yet while we are in possession of a considerable part of the Fasti exhibited in the same place, not a fragment has been found of the calendar.

These Fasti were discovered in 1546, during the memorable campaign of destruction initiated by Paul III. in 1540 to provide materials for the “Fabbrica di S. Pietro.” The remains of the building were first seen at the bottom of the trench on the fifteenth day of August; a month later not a vestige was left to tell the tale. Panvinio and Ligorio, both witnesses of the proceedings, say that the beautiful building was so far intact at the moment of the discovery that a whole column or page of the Fasti, engraved in the space or panel between two pilasters, was still in situ (“loco antiquo mota non fuerat”), so that Michelangelo and Ligorio himself found no difficulty in designing the plan and the architectural details of the structure. Other inscribed blocks having been found out of place, a careful search was made in various directions by means of tunnels bored in the bank of rubbish. Ligorio adds that the find was made half way between the arch of Fabius and the temple of Castor. The vandals of the “Reverenda Fabbrica” did not even tarry to reach the ancient level to indulge in their destructive errand, but sold the exquisitely carved blocks to limeburners and stonecutters as fast as they appeared in the trench. Some were hammered into chips and thrown into the limekiln, others sawn into slabs or transformed into new shapes. The reader may form an estimate of the irreparable losses inflicted on the Regia between August 15 and September 14, 1546, from the fact that the few architectural fragments reproduced on pages 70, 71 are the only ones, as far as I know, that escaped destruction; and yet so indifferent were the learned men of the age to the fate of the glorious ruins of Rome, that Panvinio himself ends his account of these sad events by raising a canticle of praise to Paul III. under whose “felicissimus principatus” they had taken place.

The Fasti consulares et triumphales would probably have shared the same fate but for the intervention of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who rescued them from the hands of the contractors, and removed them to his own garden of La Farnesina, according to Metellus—to his palace, according to Marliano. Such a valuable set of historical records, however, was not destined to remain long in private hands. Yielding to a request of the city magistrates, that kind prince of the church made a present of the set to his fellow-citizens, and the Fasti were thus removed to the middle north room of the Conservatori Palace on the Capitol, with the help of Michelangelo for the architectural part, while the epigraphical was entrusted to a committee of learned men, Antonio Agostino, Gabriele Faerno, Ottavio Pantagato, Bartolomeo Marliano, and Tommaso Cavalieri, presided over by Gentile Delfini.

We cannot, however, take the word of Panvinio and Ligorio in too strict a sense, as if the builders of St. Peter's had found the Regia intact, and as if they were the first to lay hands on the sacred edifice. The destructive process had been inaugurated long before the time of Paul III. A fragment of the Fasti (from A.U. 386 to 396), after having served as threshold for the church of S. Maria in Publicolis, in the fifteenth century, had been saved from destruction by the sacristan, and set into the wall of the adjoining house belonging to Prospero di Santa Croce;6 another, dated A.U. 766, was seen by Fra Giocondo da Verona about 1485, in the house of Antonio dei Rustici; a third, dated from the first Punic war, was copied by Mazochio in 1511, in the house of Francesco de' Fabii, etc. The present excavations of the Forum have supplied us with another proof that marbles were removed from the Regia, even before the fire and pillage of Robert the Norman, A.D. 1081, when the Forum was still free from all accumulation of rubbish. In clearing away a section of the Basilica Æmilia which had been occupied by a public office (for the collecting of taxes?) about the time of Charlemagne, a valuable fragment of the same records was found, used, as in the case of S. Maria in Publicolis, for a threshold. The block of marble, which must have originally contained some thirty lines of consular names, has been so mutilated by the chisel of the stonecutter, and so worn away by the rubbing of feet, that only the names of the “tribuni militum” for the year 374, and of the consuls for the years 422–424, can be read. Yet the fragment, mutilated as it is, enables us to correct both Livy and Diodorus as regards the number and the names of the tribuni. Diodorus, xv. 50, mentions only seven, Livy, vi. 27, only six; the newly found fragment from the Regia mentions nine, with names and genealogy in full, ending with the record that towards the end of that year Cincinnatus was appointed dictator to defend the City from the attack of the Prænestinians. Record is also made of the dictatorship of Cnæus Quintius Capitolinus A.U. 423, “clavi figendi causa.” This very old custom of driving a nail into the right side of the cella of Jupiter's temple on the Capitol, on September 13, originated from the Etruscans, who used to keep account of the years in this primitive fashion. In progress of time the ceremony was performed only under extraordinary circumstances, to avert the spreading of the plague, to expiate a great crime, to call back to obedience the disaffected plebeians, and the like. The occasion for driving the nail A.U. 423 was found in a sudden and terrible influx of mortality among the patrician families. Doubts were at first entertained as to whether the mortality was due to natural causes, or to a murderous conspiracy. The theory of wholesale poisoning prevailed as usual in these contingencies, and one hundred and seventy matrons of noble birth were sentenced to death. It is the old story of the Untori, so impressively described by Manzoni in connection with the Plague of Milan of 1630. This valuable fragment of the history of republican Rome was discovered at the point marked A in the preceding illustration.

To return to the excavations of 1546, we learn from Panvinio another curious particular, viz., that the Regia had been occupied in the darkest period of the middle ages by a double colony of marble-cutters and limeburners, both of which companies had left traces of their sinister work. Panvinio saw a limekiln of considerable size, with a layer of half-charred marble blocks at the bottom, while others had been spared from the fire to be sawn in slabs, “on which were carved birds, flowers, Solomon's knots, and other barbarous and utterly senseless ornamentations which we see so often carved on the panels of pulpits and choirs in mediæval churches.” Panvinio obviously refers to the workshop of a Roman “marmorarius” of the eighth or ninth century, who, for the sake of the materia prima, had established himself amidst the marble buildings at the east end of the Forum. Giacomo Boni has discovered in this same neighborhood a block showing, on one side, a cross of the Carolingian age, with the four branches bent apart in the form of a spiral, and, on the other, exquisite mouldings of the time of the Flavians.7

Notwithstanding these antecedents, it is evident that if the contractors for the “Fabbrica di S. Pietro” had not met with the remains of the Regia in their ferocious campaign of 1546, we should now behold not the bare, shapeless platform shown on page 74, but a tasteful little architectural jewel, not unlike the one reproduced in the accompanying cut from a sketch by Pirro Ligorio, who claims to have made it while the building was being pulled to pieces.

Another duty which devolved on the College of the Pontiffs was to inquire into the prodigious manifestations and strange incidents by which the gods were supposed to forewarn men of impending calamities; and because these calamities were believed to threaten the nation more than single individuals, the Senate also took a share in the inquest and in the selection of the rites, sacrifices and expiations best calculated to appease the wrath and avert the vengeance of the gods. Livy's chronicle of the “prodigia” which marked the advent of every new year at the time of the Punic wars is quite extraordinary; but we must acknowledge, in justice to him, that he does not rely much on the trustworthiness of the reports which he had collected from the pontifical archives. Speaking of the wonderful manifestations reported for the year 214 B.C., Livy declares that in many cases they were the outcome of excited imaginations, ready to find credit among the lower classes terrified by the events of the war. The prodigies were of two kinds: those that could be traced back to natural agencies acting under the will of the gods, such as thunderbolts striking sacred edifices, rivers overflowing their banks, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, plague, mortality among the animals, etc., and those essentially supernatural and miraculous which manifested the direct will of the gods.

The records for the year 214 B.C., the fifth of the second Punic war, include the following entries. In Rome the Tiber twice submerged the lower quarters and the suburbs, carrying away houses and farms with a great loss of men and cattle. The vestibule of the Capitol and the temple of Vulcan were struck by lightning, as well as a walnut-tree in the Sabine hills, and the walls and one of the gates at Gabii. In Rome, likewise, a shower of blood fell in the Forum Boarium; a jet of water burst out in the street of the Insteii with terrific force; and an apparition of hostile legions hurrying to storm the city was seen on the Janiculum. Ravens had built their nest inside the temple of Juno Sospita at Lanuvium; the pool of the Mincio, by which Mantua is surrounded, had suddenly taken a bloody color; a shower of lapilli had fallen at Cales; the spear of Mars in the temple at Præneste had been seen to move; an infant had been heard to cry out “Io triumphe!” while still “in utero matris”; women had been turned into men at Spoleto; and lastly, celestial figures, clad in white garments, had been seen at Hadria among the clouds, gathered around an altar!

There is a fragmentary treatise, entitled “De Prodigiis” or “Prodigiorum Libellus,” containing a chronological entry of these strange happenings from the consulship of Scipio and Lælius, B.C. 190, to that of Fabius and Ælius, B.C. 11. The book—which bears the name, otherwise unknown, of C. Julius Obsequens—is simply an abridgment of Livy, almost word for word, made by an anonymous compiler of the fourth century.

One set of prodigies, the oscillation of the spears of Mars, is strictly connected with the Regia. The formula with which the phenomenon was registered in the pontifical diaries is always the same, if we may trust those that have come down to us, either directly or from the abridgment of Livy: “hastæ Martis motæ” (B.C. 184); “hastæ Martis in Regia motæ” (B.C. 119, 100, 97); “hastæ Martis in Regia sua sponte motæ” (B.C. 104). These spears—wooden rods with points of metal—were venerated in a “sacrarium” or inner room of the Regia, as having belonged to the mythical father of the first king and founder of Rome. They were probably two in number, certainly more than one, as they are invariably alluded to by ancient writers in the plural. Giacomo Boni recognizes the innermost sanctuary of Mars, where the hastæ were kept, in the circular structure represented in the accompanying view (page 77), but whether his conjecture is acceptable or not, I agree with him on one point: that the sacrarium was in a certain sense a seismic observatory. We cannot state with certainty how the spears were suspended so as to register the smallest oscillations; but whatever the arrangement was, we know that their vibration was considered to be the forerunner of disaster, to be averted only by the most solemn sacrifices. Aulus Gellius distinctly affirms that they were shaken by earthquakes; and the fact that several propitiations were offered in succession indicates that fresh shocks were always expected and dreaded. In this respect the hastæ Martis can properly be compared with the “ancilia” or shields kept in the assembly room of the Salii on the Palatine, which were likewise believed to be stirred occasionally by a supernatural power when a special expiatory ceremony was required.

As the official residence of the Pontifex Maximus, the Regia was the home of Julius Cæsar during the greater part of his public life. He did not actually dwell in it, but in a house on the opposite site of the lane, called Domus Publica, or Domus Pontificis, or Domus C. Cæsaris. The living and the official apartments were, however, so closely connected that what is related of one may be applied to the other. Pliny describes the spreading of awnings over the Sacra Via and the Forum “from the house of Cæsar to the Capitol,” on the occasion of a gladiatorial show which he offered to the people. “Here took place the scandalous intrusion of Clodius at the festival of the Bona Dea, which induced Cæsar to divorce his wife Pompeia, though he refused to bring Clodius to law, alleging as his reason for the divorce that his wife must be above suspicion. Cicero in a letter to Atticus alludes to a visit paid by the latter to the Regia, when after the battle of Pharsalus it had become a necessity to court Cæsar's pardon or protection.”8 Here also took place the meetings for the Julian reform of the calendar, from which point of view the Regia and its annex, the Domus Publica, bring to mind the Casino Sora Boncompagni at Frascati, where a similar operation took place in 1582, in the time of Pope Gregory XIII. From the same house Cæsar set forth on the fatal Ides of March, B.C. 44, alarmed by the ominous dreams of his wife Calpurnia and by other evil presages; and hither his lifeless body was brought back from the lobby of Pompey's theatre, and cremated, as the historians say, “in the Forum, where the Romans place their ancient Regia.”

A very interesting discovery has been made in connection with these events. We knew from the description by Suetonius that the partisans of the murdered hero had set up a column of Numidian marble (giallo antico) on the site where the pyre had been formed, inscribed PARENTI PATRIÆ (to the Father of the country). An altar was placed at the foot of the pillar, which became for some time the centre of a rather irregular worship, to which one of the consuls, C. Antonius, soon put a stop by hurling down from the Tarpeian Rock those among the worshippers who were Roman citizens, and by crucifying those who were artisans and slaves. At the same time the column and the altar were overthrown by order of the other consul, Dolabella, the son-in-law of Cicero. These violent measures gave rise to a popular outbreak, followed by other executions, until the Triumvirs at last gave satisfaction to the hero-worshippers by raising a temple inscribed DIVO IVLIO, which was brought to completion by Augustus.

The discovery to which I refer is that of the exact spot where the body of the great man was incinerated. (See page 83.) It is marked by an altar—or, to speak more accurately, by the core of an altar—built of concrete with chips of Numidian marble, that is, with the fragments of the original column set up on the site of the incineration and overthrown by Dolabella. If we remember what a prominent place belongs to Cæsar in the history of Rome, in the history of the world, we cannot help feeling a deep gratification at being able to behold again this plain slab of stone which has actually been in contact with his mortal remains, and which marks the beginning of his second life as a deified man, as a god of the Roman Olympus.

It has been observed that, whatever may have been the sentiment of Eastern or Hellenic nations on the subject of attributing divine honors to their heroes, who had lived mortal lives, the Romans hesitated for many a century to adopt the fashion. They were more bent on worshipping abstractions than individuals; but towards the end of the Republic, under the influence of Asianized Greek ideas, they began to believe that, while all souls were immortal, those of the great and good were divine. Antistius Labeo actually wrote a book about this time on gods that had been men (de diis animalibus), and little by little the ideas of the few and enlightened became the ideas of the “vulgus profanum.” The time was fully ripe for deification to be practised in Rome, and the man came. Julius Cæsar's brilliant military exploits abroad, and his overthrowing the tyrannical aristocracy at home, made him the adored of the people. When Octavian Augustus celebrated in his honor the games of Venus Genetrix, considered to be the ancestral goddess of the Julian family, and a comet appeared in the heavens, described by Dion Cassius, xiv. 7, the opinion that Cæsar had become a god became universal.

Next year, 43 B.C., Cæsar was solemnly enrolled among the gods by a law of the Senate, called “lex Rufrena,”9 under the name “Divus Julius.” From this time downwards the name “Divus” acquired the specific meaning of a god who had been a man, while “Deus” was a god from the beginning. It is still alive in some branches of the Christian church as an epithet of saint; in fact, as Boissier remarks in his book “La Religion romaine” (vol. i. p. 180), apotheosis among the ancients corresponds in many respects with Christian canonization.

It is high time, however, that we should leave the Regia and continue our peregrination up the “Clivus Sacræ Viæ” towards the summit of the ridge on which the arch of Titus now stands. The aspect of the ascent is quite different to-day from what it appeared two years ago, before the beginning of the present excavations; we seem to be crossing a district fresh from pillage and devastation, levelled to the ground by the violence of man combined with the destructive powers of nature. And yet this section of the Sacred Way was once the most fashionable rendezvous of Roman society, lined by the richest and most fascinating shops of the Capital. On the right of the ascent were those of the jewellers and goldsmiths and makers of musical instruments, while florists, chemists, and perfumers displayed their goods on the opposite side. Here were also the consulting rooms of fashionable physicians; and here, partly on the site of the present Basilica Constantiniana, rose the Horrea Piperataria, an institution of the time of Domitian, the scope of which was to provide the City with a general storehouse for the preservation and sale of spices, such as are described by Pliny in the twelfth book, and especially of pepper, which the Romans had learned to use after the conquest of Greece. The pepper came from the East Indies by the way of the Red Sea, and was probably landed at Berenice or at Myoshormos, from whence caravans carried it to Coptos, called by Pliny “Indicarum Arabicarumque mercium Nilo proximum emporium” (the emporium on the Nile, for Indian and Arabic wares). The road travelled over by these caravans, 257 miles long according to Pliny, 258 miles according to the itineraries of Antoninus and Peutinger, was provided with reservoirs of water in the intermediate halting-places of Apollonos, Compasi, and so on, and with military outposts against the robbers of the desert. These particulars have been made known by the inscriptions discovered by Maspero at Kuft, in March, 1883, and commented upon by Mommsen in vol. v., 1884, of the “Ephemeris Epigraphica.”

The Romans used black as well as white pepper, and obtained the variety by the different treatment of the berry. The spice was served in elegant “piperatoria” or pepperboxes, which ancient writers describe among the silver plate. The only one of these objects with which I am acquainted is, in fact, of silver, in the form of a Nubian slave wearing a hooded cloak, bored with small holes. It was discovered at Cahors, in France, in 1885, and is now exhibited in the British Museum. Pepper was held in such esteem that the chronographer of A.D. 354 registers as a singular event of the reign of Augustus the arrival of a ship from Alexandria, carrying “400 measures of wheat, pepper, paper, and the obelisk which is now in the Circus Maximus.”

The Horrea Piperataria of Domitian were destroyed in the fire of 191, shortly before the death of Commodus, together with the entire quarter crossed by the Clivus Sacræ Viæ. The texts of Galenus, of Dion Cassius, and of Herodianus, which describe this catastrophe, have been collected and illustrated by Nibby.10 Galenus, whose consulting rooms and pharmacy were located on the same street, and almost in contact with the Horrea, lost in the fire the manuscript of his first two books, which he had inadvertently left on the desk.

The Horrea Piperataria never rose again from their ashes after the second conflagration. Maxentius changed the aspect of the whole district. He began by spreading on the spot the materials of the gutted buildings, thus raising the level of the Clivus Sacræ Viæ by about six feet. Over this bed of rubbish, by which the last remains of the Horrea were concealed from view, he laid out his new street, to which we ought to attribute the praise bestowed by Caracalla's biographer on his new street Antoniniana: “pulcherrima inter Romanas plateas” (the finest of Roman avenues)! Instead of a narrow tortuous lane, without sidewalks and lined with shops, Maxentius carried a magnificent road up the slope of the Velia,—a road perfectly straight, 181 metres long, 23 metres wide,11 lining it on the north side with the temple of his son Romulus and with a basilica or court-house, on the south side with a stately portico, called Porticus Margaritaria from the jewellers whose shops opened under its arcades. And although the road and its surroundings must have had the same heavy and clumsy aspect which seems to be characteristic of the public structures of the Constantinian age, it was nevertheless unique of its kind in Rome—“latissima,” if not “pulcherrima inter Romanas plateas.” The noble avenue is no more. It has been obliterated to the last vestige to lay bare the pavement of the Sacred Way of the time of Commodus or Domitian. What we have left to remember it by are the official account and maps published in the “Notizie degli Scavi” for 1879 and 1882, sheet twenty-ninth of my “Forma Urbis,” and a narrow belt or section in front of the temple of Romulus, which is also destined to disappear.

The basilica raised by Maxentius on the site and over the remains of the storehouses for oriental spices was called at first the Basilica Nova. It seems that when Maxentius lost his life in the battle of Saxa Rubra, October 27, 312, the building was nearly completed, because a silver medallion bearing the legend MAXENTIUS P(ius) F(elix) AVG(ustus) was discovered in 1828, embedded in a block of masonry fallen from the vaulted ceiling of the nave; the Senate, however, changed its name of Nova into that of Constantiniana to please the victorious prince. It was known in the middle ages as the Temple of Peace,—a name which is still attached to the street leading from the basilica towards the Carinæ (Via del Tempio della Pace). Nibby gave back to it its classic and genuine denomination, not without opposition from his colleague, Carlo Fea; the correspondence they exchanged, and the pamphlets they wrote on this subject, are so filled with bitterness and vituperation, especially on Fea's side, that one would think they were engaged in a political discussion.

There are a few points in the history of this edifice but little known to students. I have found in the city archives a deed of 1547 by which the city magistrates give permission to Eurialo Silvestri from Cingoli to lay out a garden on the roof of the north aisle, which he filled with works of statuary. The hanging garden and the grounds by which the basilica is surrounded on the east side became later on the property of Cardinal Rodolfo Pio da Carpi, towards the end of the century, and of Cardinal Alessandro de' Medici, who collected within their precincts such a number of statues, busts, pedestals, and inscriptions that few other private museums in Rome could stand comparison with these “giardini di S. Maria Nuova.”

Another interesting chapter could be written about the fate of the eight columns of Proconnesian marble which supported the vaulted ceiling of the nave of the basilica, and of the four columns of porphyry which decorated its side entrance. The broken shafts were made use of for the rebuilding of St. Peter's; one whole column was removed to the Piazza di S. Maria Maggiore by Paul V. in 1613, and set up in honor of the Virgin Mary. The diameter of these pillars was so great that Simone Maschino of Carrara was able to cut out of a single block the group representing the Duke Alessandro Farnese crowned by a Victory, with the allegorical figures of the river Scheldt and of Flanders at his feet, which group is now exhibited in the great hall of the Farnese palace.

The newly discovered ascent of the Sacred Way is connected with a more or less legendary event of the apostolic age, the flight and the fall of Simon the Magician. Two facts concerning the career of this extraordinary adventurer are accepted as historical facts by Tillemont, Fabiani, and de Rossi, on the authority of Justin, of Irenæus, and of the “Philosophumena,” namely, that he did profess occult sciences in Rome at the time of Nero, and that he came in contact and in opposition either with Peter alone or with Peter and Paul. The incident of the flight, however, is a later addition, of the end of the third or of the beginning of the fourth century. It appears for the first time in the Acta Petri cum Marcello and again in the pseudo-Marcellus. According to these apocryphal documents, Simon, the Samaritan sorcerer from Gitton, the arch-heresiarch, the father of simony, named by the people “that power of God which is called great,” annoyed at the behavior of the Romans who were abandoning him to follow the teaching of St. Peter, announced that he would ascend to heaven to complain of their conduct to God his father. A large crowd gathered on the Sacred Way to see him fulfil his promise; and he had actually begun to lift himself up in the air, when Peter prayed God to unmask the impostor before the crowd, and let him fall without great injury to his limbs. The request of the apostle was granted, and Simon dropped on the lava pavement of the road, breaking his right leg in three places. His followers removed him in a stretcher first to Aricia, later to Terracina, where he died under the care of the attending physicians.

This legend must be relegated among the many similar ones, composed and circulated in Rome after the peace of the Church, to please and interest the lower classes,—“le populaire,” as Duchesne calls them,—still wavering between the religion of their ancestors and the Gospel. These pious novels of the fourth century, the pseudo-Linus, the pseudo-Marcellus, the Acta Apostolorum, the Passiones Martyrum, the Acta Petri cum Simone, etc., while they imagine or alter facts, are perfectly genuine as far as topographical details are concerned; and the reason is clear. While nobody could challenge their accuracy as regards events which had taken place in bygone times, especially in times of persecution, any blunder about places and monuments would be at once detected by the reader. The more these novels respected topographical exactitude, the more chance they had to pass as genuine.

This story of Simon the Sorcerer, brought down in his audacious flight by the superior power of Simon the Apostle, took Rome by storm, and from Rome spread through all the provinces of the Empire, never losing its popularity down to our own times. It is mentioned in book ii. of the Apology of Arnobius, written about A.D. 303, in the contemporary Acta Petri cum Simone, in the letters of the Legates of Pope Liberius to Eusebius, bishop of Vercellæ A.D. 355, and in the “Hæreses” of Epiphanius, where the accident is described to have taken place “in the middle of the city of the Romans.” These documents agree in stating that the evidence of the prodigy could be gathered “to the present day” (usque in hodiernum diem) from the paving-stones of the Sacred Way itself, one of which bore the marks of the knees of St. Peter and St. Paul, when they knelt to beg God to unmask the impostor; while another, of extraordinary size, had been miraculously coagulated, as it were, out of four paving-stones upon which the limbs of Simon had been scattered by the fall.

Speaking of these details, de Rossi says12 that while the silence of Justin, of Irenæus, and of the Philosophumena impels us to deny the truth of the legend as far as the apostles are concerned, it seems certain, on the other hand, that a man skilled in the secrets of nature, a student of aeronautics, a classic precursor of Montgolfier, a man used to performing on the stage the part of the “Deus ex machina,” had attempted to imitate before the Emperor Nero the flight of Icarus. The inventor and his machine came to grief, but it is only at the end of the third century that Peter and Paul are made to appear on the scene, and cross the path of the sorcerer.

The alleged miraculous stones with the impression of the knees of St. Peter were removed from the pavement of the Clivus Sacræ Viæ to the church of S. Maria Nova, now S. Francesca Romana, about A.D. 1375. Before that time they were shown to the pilgrims in their original place, where they had given rise to the following superstitious practices. On stormy days the rain water descending the steep slope of the clivus would fill up the two cavities, where, according to the statement of Gregory of Tours, ailing pilgrims drank it or signed or washed themselves with it, with the most satisfactory results; “haustæque mox sanitatem tribuebant!” The stones are still visible at the right end of the transept of S. Francesca Romana, set into the wall near the tomb of Gregory XI. Unfortunately the recent discovery of the Clivus Sacræ Viæ proves that since the attempt of Simon the Magician, certified by Dion Cassius, Suetonius, and Juvenal, the pavement of the road has been destroyed, relaid, and raised to a higher level at least twice; and that the one on which the alleged marks of the prodigy were shown to mediæval pilgrims had been made ex novo by Maxentius some 225 years after the prodigy had taken place!

  • 1.

    Probably of Cardinal Adam of Hertford, who died 1397. The tomb, a true gem of the early Renaissance, was pulled to pieces by Cardinal Sfrondato in 1599.

  • 2.

    Marucchi in Nuovo Bullettino di arch. cristiana, 1899, p. 206.

  • 3.

    Monsignor Giuseppe Wilpert, one of the leaders of the Roman school of sacred archæology, has adopted this title for his learned treatise on Christian Virgins published at Freiburg in 1892.

  • 4.

    William Ridgeway, in Smith's Dict. of Antiq. vol. i. p. 828.

  • 5.

    Corpus Inscr. Lat. vol. i. pp. 382–410. Second edition by Mommsen and Huelsen, 1893.

  • 6.

    Compare Huelsen, Corpus Inscr. Lat. vol. i. second ed. 1893, p. 1.

  • 7.

    See Boni's article in the Nineteenth Century for April, 1900, p. 637.

  • 8.

    Nichols's Forum, p. 122.

  • 9.

    Corpus Inscr. i. 626; ix. 2628.

  • 10.

    Sopra l' edificio volgarmente chiamato Tempio della Pace. Rome, de Romanis, 1819.

  • 11.

    Including the sidewalks, which are 8.20 metres and 2.50 metres wide respectively. Its first discovery took place in 1818, as described by Nibby, Fea, and de Romanis. It has since been laid bare under my personal direction, partly in 1878–9, partly in 1882, an operation which I have described and illustrated in the Notizie degli Scavi for 1879, pp. 14, 113, pl. vii., and for 1882, p. 216, pl. xiv.–xvi.

  • 12.

    Bull. Crist., 1867, p. 71.

From the book: