Archive for the 'From my diary' Category

Drawings by Mercati (1629) of Aurelian’s “Temple of the Sun” / temple of Serapis

The excellent Ste Trombetti has discovered online a couple more drawings made in the days when more of ancient Rome existed than does now.  This is really valuable, since locating such items is difficult for most of us.

These drawings are by G. B. Mercati, from 1629, from the series Alcune vedute et prospettive di luoghi dishabitati di Roma (Some Views and Perspectives of the Uninhabited places of Rome).  They are online at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and the series is visible here.

The two etchings given below depict the remains of the huge temple on the Quirinal hill, thought to be the Temple of the Sun built by Aurelian in 274 AD, but generally today believed to be the Temple of Serapis.  Remains of it may, apparently, be found in the Colonna gardens even today, but I have yet to locate them.

The first one is of a view which is new to me (plate 26).  You can click on the images below to get the full-size picture:

Mercati (1629). Aurelian's Temple of the Sun. Cartille [sic] del Cardinal di Fiorenza Leone XI (Courtyard of the Cardinal of Florence Leo XI), pl. 26 from the series Alcune vedute et prospettive di luoghi dishabitati di Roma (Some Views and Perspectives of the Uninhabited Places of Rome)

Mercati (1629). Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun. Cartille [sic] del Cardinal di Fiorenza Leone XI (Courtyard of the Cardinal of Florence Leo XI), pl. 26 from the series Alcune vedute et prospettive di luoghi dishabitati di Roma (Some Views and Perspectives of the Uninhabited Places of Rome)

Here’s the second one (plate 27):

Mercati (1629), Aurelian's temple of the sun in Rome

Mercati (1629), Aurelian’s temple of the sun in Rome

I think that we owe Ste Trombetti a debt of thanks.

Anrich online at German site

I keep losing these links, so perhaps a post will help.

Most of the literary sources for St Nicholas of Myra were published by G. Anrich, Hagios Nikolaos. Der heilige Nikolaos in der griechischen Kirche, in two volumes before WW1.  These are online at Hathi Trust, for US readers only – in case worldwide rioting breaks out at seeing these books online -, but an online version does exist on a German site at Gottingen.

Unfortunately they greedily want money for a PDF download – faugh! – but at least it means that you can get a sight of some of the pages, albeit painfully.

UPDATE:  Well I was wrong!  A couple of correspondents have kindly pointed out that you can get a PDF download:

If you click on the “PDF download” button, although it wants for money at the right, there is a red button down on the left that can be used to download the book!

Thank you everyone!

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 12 (part 3)

Let’s carry on reading the “Annals” of Eutychius of Alexandria.  The translation that I am making from Italian is very rough, no doubt: but since nobody capable of doing so has ever made a translation of this work into English, it does at least give us some idea of what the work contains.

8. In the eighth year of the reign of Theodosius the Great, the young men who had fled away from the king Decius by hiding in the cave, in the city of Ephesus, reappeared (13).  In fact the shepherds, as time passed, had ended up removing, one after another, the bricks with which the entrance of the cave had been blocked, so much as to leave an opening like a door.  The youths believed that they had slept for only one night and said to their companion who was to buy them food: “Go, buy us something to eat and try to learn something of the king Decius”.  When he was at the entrance of the cave and saw that the building that had been there was demolished, he almost could not believe his eyes, but kept walking until he came to the gate of the city of Ephesus on top of which he saw erected a large cross, and, doubting himself, he said: “I am just dreaming”, and began to rub his eyes and look to the right and left to find something known to him, but he saw nothing and was disconcerted.  Then he said to himself: “Maybe I’ve gone the wrong way, or maybe this is not the city of Ephesus.”  He went into the city, took a dirham he had with him and handed it to the baker to get bread.  Seeing the man, so strangely dressed, panicked and terrified, with a coin on which was engraved the image of King Decius, the baker was confused and thought that he was dealing with someone who had found a (buried) treasure.  So he said: “Where did you get this money?”  But the young man did not answer.  The baker then called other people, who came forward and spoke with him, but he did not give any response.  Then they took him to the patrician, the governor of the city, named Antipater.  The patrician questioned him but the young man did not answer.  He threatened him, but he still did not open his mouth.  Then there went to him Mark, the bishop of the city, who spoke to him, but he did not answer.  Then he tried to frighten him by saying: “Talk to us, and tell us where you got this money, otherwise we will kill you.”  But the young man continued to stay silent for fear of the king Decius, because he thought that he was still alive.  Then they tortured him, and, forced by the great pain, he said to them: “Where is the king Decius?” They answered: “The king Decius is long dead! Many other kings reigned after him and the official religion is now Christianity and our king is Theodosius the Great.”  Having been thus reassured, the young man told them what had happened.  Those that were with him went to the cave, they saw his companions and found the copper box with inside it the lead sheet on which Thaddeus, patrician of the king Decius, had written their story and their misadventures with the king Decius.  Great was their wonder and they wrote to King Theodosius, informing him of the matter.  The king immediately set out, arrived in the city of Ephesus, saw them and talked with them.  But three days later, returning to the cave, he found them dead.  He then decided to leave them where they were and to give them burial in that cave, and he constructed a church in their name, and they began to celebrate a festival in their honour, every year, on the same day.  King Theodosius then returned to Constantinople.

From the time the youths had fled away from the king Decius into the cave and had slept, until the time when they were dead and reappeared, as we read in the history of their martyrdom, there had passed three hundred and seventy-two years.  In the thirteenth year of the reign of Theodosius the Great Sirnīqun was made patriarch of Rome (14).  He held the office for twelve years and died.  In the seventeenth year of his reign died Niqtāriyūs (15), the patriarch of Constantinople, after having held the office for sixteen years.  After him John Chrysostom was made patriarch of Constantinople (16).  He held the office for five years and six months, was sent into exile and died there.  In the sixth year of his reign Flavian was made patriarch of Antioch (17).  He held the office for six years and died.  In the twelfth year of his reign Porphyry was made patriarch of Antioch (18).  He held the office for ten years and died.  In the eighth year of his reign John was made patriarch of Jerusalem (19).  He held the office for sixteen years and died.  At the time of King Theodosius lived Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus.  King Theodosius had built the church of Gethsemane in Jerusalem in which was the tomb of Martmaryam (20).  It was destroyed afterwards by the Persians, when they invaded Jerusalem, along with the other churches in the city, and still lies in ruins today.

9. In the tenth year of the reign of King Theodosius died Sabur, king of the Persians, son of Sabur.  After him reigned Bahram (21), son of Sabur, king of the Persians, for eleven years.  The reign of Theodosius was a reign of tranquility and peace.  On the death of King Theodosius reigned his sons Arcadius and Honorius.  Arcadius (22) reigned over Rum in Constantinople for thirteen years, and his brother Honorius (23) over the city of Rome for eleven years.  This was in the seventh year of the reign of Bahram, son of Sabur, king of the Persians.  The king Arcadio sent for his preceptor Arsenius to kill him, because of his smoldering resentment against him.  But Arsenius heard of it and fled to Alexandria, embracing the monastic life in the monastery which is located in Wadi Habib, near Tarnūt, named al-Asqīt (24).  When later Arcadius had a son that he named Theodosius, he asked after his tutor Arsenius because he was concerned with the education of his son, and he was told that he had become a monk in the monastery of Scete.  The king then sent for him and assured him that he would never and in no way make an attempt on his life.  But Arsenius refused.  He was indeed so sweet and good to the messenger that the latter left him in peace and departed.  Fearing, however, that the king might try to take by force, Arsenius went to Upper Egypt and found a home on Mount al-Buqattam (25), at a village called Tura (26).  He stayed there for three years and he died.  Then the king Arcadius sent another messenger with the task of taking Arsenius by force, but when he came to the monastery of Scetis he was told that Arsenius was already dead on Mount al-Buqattam (27) The messenger returned from king and told him what he had heard.  The king then sent for a monk named Tarāsiyūs, and giving him a large sum of money said: “Go and build at the tomb of Arsenius a monastery that bears his name.”  Tarāsiyūs went to Egypt and erected over the grave of Arsenio a monastery on Mount al-Buqattam (28), which is still called “Dayr al-Qusayr” (29).

The Easter Bunny must die! – fear and loathing at the Guardian

When I was young, I used to believe that the British press was independent, and derided claims of establishment control as being conspiracy theories.

Since those happy days, I have watched several examples of “three line whips”, where suddenly the press starts to talk in set phrases.

The first that I recall was when the establishment decided to create a national lottery.  No expressions of dissent were tolerated, and the phrase “national lottery to raise money for good causes” appeared everywhere, and was recited, dalek-like, on all TV stations.  In actual fact the lottery created lots of nice well-paid jobs for the establishment, and “good causes” were pretty much an afterthought.

Another was when the establishment appointed Rowan Williams, an obscure Welsh bishop, as Archbishop of Canterbury.  Suddenly there was a media blitz.  Everywhere, in every newspaper, every TV channel, his name, when mentioned, was qualified as “holy”.  You couldn’t get away from it.  Even the dirtiest tabloids praised his “holiness”.  And why was he so deserving?  Well, although they did not say so, he was appointed because he had “ordained” homosexuals, at a time when all the bishops – including himself – had agreed not to, and so was distinctly dodgy as a candidate in the first place.

A further establishment tradition is to mark major Christmas festivals by running knocking campaigns.  Every Christmas, every Easter, one or the other organs is put up to attack the Christians.  I gather that BBC Radio 4 is currently doing a series which I have seen described as ridiculously false; but I haven’t heard it.  Usually one or the other of the major newspapers will run an article slagging off the Christians and debunking their religion.

This year, the baton has been picked up by the Guardian newspaper in London.  On Easter Saturday they published an article by a certain Heather McDougall, it rejoices in the title The Pagan Roots of Easter.  [CORRECTION: my mistake: this is an old article from 2010, which was passed to me as new]

Easter is, of course, the festival of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Malicious or dishonest – but unscholarly – writers all over the internet peddle falsehoods about how it is *really* just a pagan festival in drag.

The object, of course, is to undermine the truth claims of the Christian religion.  The suggestion is an insinuation of borrowing, and therefore of falsity.  Yet, fairly obviously, the question of when Christ died is a historical question, amenable to standard scholarly methods.  If something happened on a particular date, is it relevant to ask whether something else happened, or was supposed to happen, at some other time on the same date?  But to ask the question is to answer it, and answer it in the negative.

But logic has little to do with this, so the argument is kept as an insinuation.  Few of these nasty individuals know much history, even about their own argument, as otherwise they would know that claims that catholic festivals were merely pagan festivals renamed was a stock argument of 19th century anti-papist invective.

So what does the Guardian – the house magazine of the British Establishment – have to say?

Let’s have a look at a few quotes:

Today, we see a secular culture celebrating the spring equinox, whilst religious culture celebrates the resurrection.

Do we?  I have never met any normal person “celebrating the spring equinox”.

As for “religious culture” – why can’t the author say “Christians”?  Because it sure as heck isn’t the Muslims doing so!  But the reason, of course, is animosity.

However, early Christianity made a pragmatic acceptance of ancient pagan practises, most of which we enjoy today at Easter.

Unfortunately this vague claim is entirely without evidence, to the best of my knowledge.  And what follows will make anyone with any knowledge of antiquity blush!

The general symbolic story of the death of the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, was a well worn story in the ancient world.

Yes.  She really suggested that a narrative relying on son/sun is ancient; something about the ancient world.  That the ancients did not speak English she does not, seemingly, know.   Likewise I thought everybody knew that the Southern Cross is only visible south of the equator.

But the core claim – that crucified gods were everywhere in the ancient world – is bunk.

There were plenty of parallel, rival resurrected saviours too. …

I’m sure every educated reader groaned at this.   Did this woman do NO research at all?

Mithras was born on what we now call Christmas day, and his followers celebrated the spring equinox. Even as late as the 4th century AD, the sol invictus, associated with Mithras, was the last great pagan cult the church had to overcome.

It’s hard not to feel contempt here.  No ancient source associates Mithras with 25 December.  No ancient source says that they “celebrated” the spring equinox.  The late Roman state sun god, Sol Invictus, was not “associated” with Mithras.  And the idea that it was the “last great pagan cult” is ridiculous.

In an ironic twist, the Cybele cult flourished on today’s Vatican Hill. Cybele’s lover Attis, was born of a virgin, died and was reborn annually. This spring festival began as a day of blood on Black Friday, rising to a crescendo after three days, in rejoicing over the resurrection.

But, strangely, no ancient text refers to any such resurrection, except Firmicus Maternus in 350 AD, who also tells us that this was part of a ploy by the cultists to evade the attentions of the police by pretending that Attis was just the corn which dies and rises.  For the cult of Attis was a seedy one indeed.  Attis was not “born of a virgin”, in the sense that the reader is intended to understand; his generation myth is considerably more dodgy than that.

And why, pray, is it “ironic” that a pagan cult should exist on the Vatican hill, the location of a mundus?  The answer, I fear, is that Miss McDougall knows nothing about Roman paganism at all.

There was violent conflict on Vatican Hill in the early days of Christianity between the Jesus worshippers and pagans who quarrelled over whose God was the true, and whose the imitation.

This, of course, is codswallop.  The early Christians were an illegal cult, and hardly in a position to object violently to anything.

What is interesting to note here is that in the ancient world, wherever you had popular resurrected god myths, Christianity found lots of converts. So, eventually Christianity came to an accommodation with the pagan Spring festival.

It is certainly true that Christians in the late 4th century came to an “accomodation” with paganism; if we use the word to mean that they made it illegal and destroyed all its temples and banned all its rituals.  Otherwise the claim is nonsense.

Although we see no celebration of Easter in the New Testament, early church fathers celebrated it, and today many churches are offering “sunrise services” at Easter – an obvious pagan solar celebration.

Easter was indeed celebrated by the “early church fathers” – by people like Polycarp, who knew the apostle John personally, for instance.  But not because it was pagan.  Polycarp was executed precisely for refusing to endorse paganism.

I was amused by the claim that people like myself, who get up for an Easter celebration at dawn, do so because of some “pagan solar” element.  Let me reassure the writer.  We get up because we choose to, to worship Christ at the start of a new day.  We do not do so because of some imaginary “pagan solar” celebration!

The date of Easter is not fixed, but instead is governed by the phases of the moon – how pagan is that?

Is the author utterly ignorant of ancient history?  Christ was crucified on the passover.  The passover date was determined by a lunar calendar.  So the date of Easter is likewise determined by the date of 14 Nisan.

How simple is that?  How easy to verify this with a quick Google search?

All the fun things about Easter are pagan. Bunnies are a leftover from the pagan festival of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or hare. Exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures.

Yet the only reference to “Eostre” is in the Venerable Bede, De ratione temporum.  He makes no mention of bunnies.  The custom is a modern invention.  Again, a few seconds on google would have shown this.

There is a madwoman out there named Acharya S who has industriously circulated falsehoods of this kind.  I’m sure she is hugging herself with glee at being given full play in the house newspaper of the British Establishment.

The sad truth is that the editor of the Guardian doesn’t care.  The point is the narrative.  The narrative is “the Christians to the lion”, as it was in Tertullian’s day.

Let us praise God that, in Britain at least, the Christians have not lost their saltiness, and that the wicked still hate them.

From my diary

It’s the evening of Easter Saturday.  I don’t use my computer on Sundays, so this is my opportunity to wish you all a happy Easter.  With or without chocolate eggs, bunnies, or whatever!

All over the world, Christian bloggers are wracking their brains on what to say about today.  I have nothing original to say.

Yesterday Christ died for us, denounced by a false friend, arrested and condemned on a charge which all concerned knew to be false, and executed in a manner unnecessarily cruel.  He warned those who follow him that, if he was hated, we should expect to be.  There’s been plenty of that in the news this week.  It is possible to become very depressed by the savagery and unconcealed bile directed towards harmless people.  I remember days when much of what is going on would have been unthinkable.

But God is in charge.  Times of peace may be nice, but this world is not our home.  In times of peace and plenty, morality decays.  It is remarkably hard to be pleasure-seeking, when fighting for your very existence!  This is why God allows wars and suffering; to prevent human society putrefying out of sheer self-indulgence.  After 50 years of peace, we can hardly complain if it is our turn.

It looks very much as if, over the next few years, God will now winnow the church with fire, separating the sheep from the goats.  There will be the fake Christians, who conform, and are rather contemptuously flattered by the world for dancing to its tune.  There will be the real Christians, who will not deny the gospel, and will be at risk of being imprisoned and having their property seized.  We must all pray to be among the number of the latter.

At the moment the issue chosen by the wicked men of the world is whether we endorse unnatural vice.  We shall be tempted to pay lip service to this absurd demand, for a quiet life.  We must refuse.  We should remember that the early Christians were persecuted for three centuries for refusing to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar – seemingly a small thing, which nobody else took seriously.  But that small thing was chosen, by the powers of this world, precisely because Christians could not do it in good conscience.  That is how persecution works; find an issue on which your enemy cannot give way, and use it to torment him.  We must never suppose that some “small issue” is not important.  It may be another “pinch of incense”.  Trotsky mocked Stalin for his show trials, for collecting “dead souls”.  That is the risk in conformity.

Tomorrow we shall be reminded that the powers of hell could not prevail.  Christ is risen, and those who thought themselves important, and wrote him off found themselves forgotten, except as footnotes to his life and victory.  So will it be with the great ones of our age.

In the mean time, we must remember to pray (and to check whether God answered, and to give him thanks when we find he does; and when we find that he did not).  We must find ways to evade the demands of the wicked, for we are under no obligation to make their evil task easier.  We must share the good news – that all this rubbish in ourselves and in the world is only temporary, that he can forgive our failings, and that if we give our lives to Christ, we can hope to see an end to it all and better days.

Happy Easter to you all.  Christ is Risen!

Photos of the base of the Colossus of Nero, and Mussolini’s alterations to the Colosseum area

While looking for material about the Meta Sudans, I stumbled across something which very few people know.

Most people will know that the Colosseum is named after a colossal statue of Nero that used to stand nearby.  Originally cast in bronze and stood outside the Domus Aurea, it was changed into a statue of the Sun by the Flavians, and moved slightly to stand near their new amphitheatre.

The bronze status is long gone.  But how many people know that the base on which it stood still existed well into the 20th century?  I certainly did not!  Indeed there are photographs of it.  It was demolished by Mussolini, in the course of constructing the Via del foro imperiali.

A modern Italian website identifies its location in red:

Location of the base of the Colossus in red.

Location of the base of the Colossus in red.

Let’s have a look at some of those photographs.

First, an aerial photograph from the Beniculturali website, taken about 1895:

Aerial view of the valley of the Amphitheatre with the base of the Colossus of Nero, the Meta Sudans and the Arch of Constantine in a picture from about 1895.

Aerial view of the valley of the Amphitheatre with the base of the Colossus of Nero, the Meta Sudans and the Arch of Constantine in a picture from about 1895.

In the middle of the left hand side of the Colosseum is a dark rectangular base.  This is where the Colossus stood.  Note that the modern Via del foro imperiali is not on this photograph – it had yet to be built.

Next, a slightly fuzzy ground level photograph from the Wellcome Library, from about 1929:

M0000104 Base of the Colossus of Nero, Coliseum, Rome, Italy Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Base of the Colossus of Nero, Coliseum, Rome, Italy Photograph 1929 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Wellcome Library M0000104. Base of the Colossus of Nero, Coliseum, Rome, Italy. 1929

The hill behind the base is the Velian Hill, and it isn’t there today: Mussolini bulldozed it.  If we stood in the same location today, we would have the Colosseum at our back, and a view straight down the Via del Foro Imperiali to the Victor Emmanuel monument in front of us.

Next a couple of photos of the base from different angles, from a montage found online here in a set of flash cards:


A look at the area indicates just what alterations Mussolini made.  This photograph shows that the Colosseum actually stood in a hollow of the hills, approached from the Circus Maximus:


The whole area was rather different:


Mussolini certainly changed all that.

Some may wish to know what the Colossus itself looked like.  We have a medallion of Gordian III, which we already used for the Meta Sudans, which shows the Colossus standing behind it (via here):

Medallion of Gordian III, ca. 240, depicting the Colosseum and Meta Sudans

Medallion of Gordian III, ca. 240, depicting the Colosseum and Meta Sudans

Better than this is a depiction in a gem:


Amethyst gem (1-2nd c. AD) in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Antikensammlung inv. FG 2665: Bergmann 1993, 11, pl. 2.3. Via Albertson, p.106-7.

There is a useful 2001 article by Albertson on the Colossus which is available on JSTOR.[1]  He calculates that the Colossus was about 100 feet tall (31.524 m).  The statue had a radiate crown, was nude, with the right hip jutting to the side, and the right arm supported by a rudder, while the  left leans on a pillar.   A globe supports the rudder.

The National Geographic reconstruction of the statue and base looks fairly accurate, therefore (although the background should be the Velian Hill, as we have seen):

National Geographic reconstruction of the Colossus of Nero

National Geographic reconstruction of the Colossus of Nero

  1. [1] Fred C. Albertson, ‘Zenodorus’s “Colossus of Nero”‘, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 46 (2001), pp. 95-118.  Online here.

Martyrdom of St. Lacaron – now online in English by Anthony Alcock

Anthony Alcock has translated a long Coptic martyrdom or “passion” for us.  This is the Passion of S. Lacaron, which Orlandi dates to the 8th century.  The text and translation is here:

The Coptic Encyclopedia (vol. 5, 1991) has a useful article on Lacaron here, which reads as follows:

(CE: 1423b-1424a)

LACARON, SAINT, martyr in fourth-century Egypt (feast day: 14 Babah). His Passion has come down in a complete codex in Bohairic in the Vatican Library (Coptic 68, fols. 1-15) (Balestri and Hyvemat, 1908, Vol. 1, pp. 1-23). The text is that of one of the late Coptic Passions from the period of the CYCLES and can be dated to the eighth century. It deals with the period of persecutions under DIOCLETIAN. The Roman prefect ARIANUS comes to Asyut and orders sacrifice to the gods. Lacaron, a soldier, refuses and, after the usual arguments, is put in jail. The text then describes the usual episodes of torture, miraculous healings, sudden conversions—of a magistrate and the torturers themselves—and other visions and heavenly interventions. It includes an account of the archangel Michael’s gathering up the various pieces of Lacaron and restoring them to life. In the end Lacaron is killed, after converting and baptizing the soldiers around him.


Balestri, I., and H. Hyvernat. Acta Martyrum. CSCO 43, 44. Paris, 1908.

Baumeister, T. Martyr Invictus. Der Martyrer als Sinnbild der Erlösung in der Legende und im Kult der frühen koptischen Kirche. Munster, 1972.


It is very useful to have the Coptic Encyclopedia accessible!  And very many thanks indeed to Dr Alcock for making this text accessible!


Further information on Mussolini and the Meta Sudans, by Elizabeth Marlowe

On Wednesday I posted a selection of old photographs of the Meta Sudans, and asked why Mussolini demolished it.  I then came across an article by Elizabeth Marlowe, ‘The Mutability of All Things’: The Rise, Fall and Rise of the Meta Sudans Fountain in Rome,[1] which answered some of these questions.


Meta Sudans.  Du Perac (16th c.)

Meta Sudans. Du Perac (16th c.)


Here is an illustration by Lafrery (1593)[2], which, curiously, Marlowe attributes to Du Perac (whose volume does not contain such an illustration):

Meta Sudans. Lafrery, Speculum Romanae, 1593 (NOT Duperac). Via University of Heidelberg.

Meta Sudans. Lafrery, Speculum Romanae, 1593 (NOT Duperac). Via University of Heidelberg.

By the 19th century, the Meta Sudans was in a sad state.

Already in 1816, the architect Valadier had lamented the fact that the passage of time had produced ‘the most wretched ruins [disgraziatissime rovine]’ right in front of the ‘Famous Flavian Amphitheatre’. A major restoration campaign undertaken in mid-century can be understood as an attempt to address the problem of the Meta’s ugliness. The precarious, upper reaches of the cone were removed, the concavities of the former niches filled in and its jagged, timeworn surfaces smoothed, producing the stable (if somewhat dumpy) appearance of the Meta seen in numerous photographs and postcards of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

It is a pity that no reference is given for the “restoration campaign” – one would like to know more.


To continue:

The official commission of 1871 advocated the undertaking of ‘all those demolitions that will enhance the grandeur [imponenza]’ of the major monuments of Rome, with the aim of creating the ‘most scenic vantage points free from clutter or inconvenience [senza ingombro e senza disagio].[40] Under these conditions, the Flavian fountain could no longer compete with its erstwhile sibling, although it would take sixty years, and the force of Mussolini’s urban ‘sventramenti’ (disembowelings) to finally bring the axe down.[41]

The vestiges of ancient Rome, carefully selected and manicured, played an important role in Mussolini’s creation of a monumental city-centre worthy of grand, Fascist spectacles.[42] While planners had long recognized the need for an artery linking Piazza Venezia with the southern part of the city, the issue for Mussolini was less one of circulation than of symbolism. One should be able to stand at the Piazza Venezia, seat of the new government, and see the Colosseum, emblem of Rome’s glorious past. Like his Risorgimento predecessors, he believed that ‘the millennial monuments of our history must loom gigantic in their necessary solitude’.[43] Never mind the fact that the Velian hill, three churches and 5,500 units of housing stood in the way. All were demolished during the 1932 creation of the ‘via dell’Impero’ (now the via dei Fori Imperiali), a showcase of the Fascist appropriation of the past.[44] The mostly buried ancient imperial fora that flanked the route of the new boulevard were excavated, and the road lined with bronze statues of the emperors associated with the fora, along with maps chronicling the expansion of the Roman Empire in antiquity and in the Fascist era.

But Mussolini wasn’t finished yet. His new parade route was not to be limited to the via dell’lmpero, but would continue to the south, past the Colosseum, through the ‘Flavian piazza’ and the Arch of Constantine and down the via S. Gregorio to the Circus Maximus. The via S. Gregorio was thus widened, repaved, spruced up with Fascist dedications and rechristened the ‘via dei Trionfi’, to underscore the topographical and ideological parallels between this route and that of the ancient Roman triumphal procession. Most importantly, the Stele of Axum, Mussolini’s trophy from his newly conquered Ethiopian empire, was installed in 1936 at the new terminus by the Circus. …

The Meta Sudans and the colossal statue base were doubly doomed. Not only were they not very attractive, but they stood directly in the path of the central passageway of Constantine’s Arch, thus preventing parades from marching straight through. A photograph of a ceremony held just after the inauguration of the via dei Trionfi reveals all too plainly the awkwardness and asymmetries that ensued (Figure 2.6), and which prompted the Governatore of Rome, Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi, to declare the ruins ‘a most serious embarrassment’. This skewed topographical relationship had been acceptable under Constantine, when the triumphal route had turned left just beyond the Arch and continued up the via Sacra through the Forum Romanum to the Capitoline temple. Much of this very route had been self-consciously retraced as recently as 1536, when Charles V made his triumphal entrance into Rome. But the Fascist parade route ignored the via Sacra, continuing instead up the full length of the Colosseum piazza, and only turning left once it reached the via dell’lmpero.

To make the piazza serve the function of ceremonial thoroughfare, the Meta Sudans, as well as the statue base, had to go. Both were razed in 1936, the year of the dedication of the Stele of Axum. On Mussolini’s orders, however, the memory of the decrepit structures was not to be entirely erased. The archaeologist A. M. Colini was given two years to investigate thoroughly the remains of the ancient fountain, and his findings were published along with two careful reconstruction drawings by the Fascist architect Italo Gismondi (Figure 2.7).[45] Moreover, like the police chalking around a fallen body, the contours of the monuments’ vanished forms were outlined in a lighter coloured stone on the surface of the newly repaved piazza …

41. A. Cederna, Mussolini Urbanista: lo sventramento di Roma negli anni del consenso, Rome: Laterza, 1980; D. Manacorda and R. Tamassia, Il Piccone del Regime, Rome: Armando Curcio, 1985.
45. A. M. Colini, ‘Meta Sudans’, Rendiconti della Pontificia Accademia Romana di Archeologia 13, 1937,15-39.

It is interesting to learn that the base of the Colossus survived this late.

It is also interesting to realise that the Colosseum actually stood in a hollow in the hill, until Mussolini cut through the Velian hill to make the Via del Foro Imperiali, and that ancient parades turned left at the Meta Sudans and advanced into the forum.  The Via del Foro Imperiali distorts the whole shape of the ancient landscape, splendid as it is.

The function of the Meta Sudans is vividly described by Marlowe, and is well worth repeating here.

Independent of its historical referents, the fountain would surely have been a welcome gift in this bustling piazza. Due to a number of natural and unnatural phenomena occurring over the subsequent centuries (including Mussolini’s removal in toto of the Velian hill), the Colosseum valley is much more open and spacious today than it was in antiquity.

In the Flavians’ day, even without the Neronian structures, the constricted space within the valley’s steep walls must have felt oppressively crowded, particularly when thousands of agitated spectators were thronging towards, or bursting out of, the amphitheatre’s west entrance, or lining the streets to watch triumphal parades pass by along the via Saera.

It also must have been stiflingly hot for much of the year. The Meta Sudans seems to have been purpose-built not only to provide fresh, abundant drinking water from the spigots around its base, but also to cool the surrounding air. Its ingenious (though imperfectly understood) design somehow managed to raise water all the way up an inner pipeway in the cone, from which it burst forth out of a spherical finial and then flowed down the sides to collect in a basin below. The fountain’s great height would have widened the range of its cooling mists.

The sensual pleasures afforded by the Meta Sudans would have included the aural and the visual, as well as the tactile. While nothing survives of the fountain’s marble cladding, the depictions of the monument on coins minted by the Emperor Titus clearly show niches around its base (Figure 2.3), which presumably contained statuary. In fact, in the sixteenth century, Pirro Ligorio reports having witnessed the carting off to a private warehouse of the ‘marine monsters, heads of ferocious animals and images of nymphs’ from the area around the fountain.[19] These fragments may have been the inspiration for the Triton in the niche in Du Perac’s elegant reconstruction of 1575 (Figure 2.4)[20] Overall, the fountain must have been a most attractive landmark in the new Flavian piazza, and it is not surprising that many of the numismatic commemorations of the amphitheatre proudly display the Meta Sudans alongside it as an integral component of the Flavian building programme in the valley.

20. E. Du Perac. I Vestigi dell’antichita di Roma Raccolti et Ritrattl in Perspettiva con ogni Diligentia, Rome: Apresso Lorenzo della Vaschena, 1575.

A sestertius of Titus (80-81) showing the Meta Sudans

A sestertius of Titus (80-81) showing the Meta Sudans

Curiously, there is a postscript to the story.  It seems that some Romans would like to rebuild the Meta Sudans, or something like it on the site.  The project is primarily a political one, unfortunately, designed to rally the left under the guise of attacking Mussolini.  Since Mussolini is remembered fondly by a considerable section of Romans, it seems unlikely to proceed.  But it would be nice to see it rise again, especially if done in a historically accurate manner.

There are some nice photos in the Marlowe article, unfortunately too poor to reproduce in the copy I have.  One shows the Fascists parading past the half-removed Meta Sudans.  Another the Colosseum from the air, showing the site of the base of the Colossus.  It would be nice to have better images of both.  But anyone who has searched for images knows what a hit-and-miss business it is!

The Marlowe article is very valuable, because it gives us such a clear picture of the technical value of the Meta Sudans in its original setting, and so much detail on why it was removed.  I wonder if Colini’s article is online?

UPDATE: I find that a Google Books Preview of Aristotle Kallis, The Third Rome, 1922-43: The Making of the Fascist Capital, 2014, is online here.

  1. [1] E. Marlowe, “‘The Mutability of All Things’: The Rise, Fall and Rise of the Meta Sudans Fountain in Rome”, in D. Arnold and A. Ballantyne, Architecture as Experience: Radical Change in Spatial Practice, Routledge, 2004, p.. Online at here.  The whole volume is at Google Books here in a rather odd preview format.
  2. [2] Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae. Via the splendid University of Heidelberg copy

Mussolini and the Meta Sudans

It’s been a little while since I posted a picture of the Meta Sudans.  This was the conical fountain at the end of the Appian Way, just outside the Colosseum.

At Wikimedia Commons today I found an old photograph, from the Bundesarchiv Bild library (no 102-12292) of Mussolini, from a podium outside the Colosseum.  The Meta Sudans stands nearby, soon to be demolished at his orders.  Here is the picture on Wikimedia Commons, which has a date of September 1931:

1931: Mussolini (left on the podium) addresses the fascist youth movement outside the Colosseum and the Meta Sudans.

Mussolini (left on the podium) addresses Fascist supporters outside the Colosseum and the Meta Sudans.

But here is what seems to be the same picture at the Bundesarchiv site (complete with annoying and pointless “watermark”), with the date April 1926.  This states, contra to Wikimedia, that it was taken after Mussolini returned from Tripoli, and says nothing about “youth” at all.

I do wish that I could find a source that explained why Mussolini had the ancient fountain demolished.  For a movement that drew inspiration from Ancient Rome, doing so was a curious thing.  Probably some Italian source will hold the answer, but these are not nearly visible enough online.

Here’s another photograph of the Meta Sudans, this time by Richard Brenan, Dungarvan, Waterford on a holiday in Italy c.1910.  A copy is present on the Waterford County Museum site, although with a watermark.  (I must say that the greed of repositories for fees, when they are paid to make material available by the public, is rather shameful).

Meta Sudans ca. 1900.  Waterford co.

Meta Sudans ca. 1900. Waterford County Museum, EB246.

This one I got from Twitter.

 There are also some images available on coins, which are interesting.  Here is a sestertius of Titus, showing the Meta Sudans to the left of the Colosseum:

A sestertius of Titus (80-81) showing the Meta Sudans

A sestertius of Titus (80-81) showing the Meta Sudans

The same coin is depicted here:

Meta Sudans on a sestertius of Titus

Meta Sudans on a sestertius of Titus

There is also a medallion of Gordian III, ca. 240, via here, which depicts the Meta Sudans in antiquity:

Meta Sudans - medallion of Gordian

Meta Sudans – medallion of Gordian

And a photo of the item itself via here.

Medallion of Gordian III, ca. 240, depicting the Colosseum and Meta Sudans

Medallion of Gordian III, ca. 240, depicting the Colosseum and Meta Sudans

And a too-dark photograph of the medallion from the British Museum website (and kudos to them for putting it online):

Medallion of Gordian III, ca. 240, depicting Meta Sudans and Colosseum

Medallion of Gordian III, ca. 240, depicting Meta Sudans and Colosseum

The sestertius of Titus is common, and copies can be had on the market easily enough.  This means that we have some good photos, made freely accessible online.  On the other hand the medallion of Gordian is rare.  This means that our only access is rather rubbish.  Museums that hold copies don’t make good quality photos available.  One has to ask: isn’t this the reverse of what should happen?  If public owned museums hold things, they should be more accessible, not less?

Now something else.  Here is an excerpt of the Bufalini map of Rome (1551) indicating the position of the Meta Sudans:


Let’s now have some more old photographs.

Here’s another old photograph of the Meta Sudans, from the other side, with the Palatine in the background and the Arch of Constantine to the left:


Here’s another one, this time around 1922, from here:

Meta Sudans and Arch of Constantine, around 1922

Meta Sudans and Arch of Constantine, around 1922

The next one, from here (which also has a bunch of other photos of the Meta Sudans), is looking towards the arch of Titus, and taken around 1880:

Meta Sudans, ca. 1880

Meta Sudans, ca. 1880

And another from the same site:

Meta Sudans

Meta Sudans

And a third one, also from the same site.  Note how the Meta Sudans lines up with the road to the forum?

Postcard of the Meta Sudans

Postcard of the Meta Sudans

Let’s end with a 16th century drawing by Du Perac, showing much the same view looking towards the forum.

Meta Sudans.  Du Perac (16th c.)

Meta Sudans. Du Perac (16th c.)

It is remarkable that the monument looks basically the same as it does in the 19th century pictures.  Du Perac has depicted it as taller and thinner than it was – it can hardly have got fatter since his time! – but it looks as if it was no taller in his day.  The main damage to it, no doubt, occurred in the Dark Ages.

I do wonder if a complete set of documents exists in Italian archives somewhere.  Is it conceivable that the demolition was not documented?  Not really.

More archaeology on our own PCs

In my post Archaeology on my own PC, I discussed what I did with some files from the early 90s, that I found archived on my PC, and how I got them into a modern file format.

Some of the files were in .drw format.  These were produced by a long-vanished DOS-based drawing package, Lotus Freelance Graphics.  I read online here that Lotus SmartSuite 9.8.2 Millennium – itself long vanished – should be able to open them, and save the results to PowerPoint.  Copies of SmartSuite are available on eBay, so I ordered one, and it arrived yesterday.

I popped the CD into my PC, and ran the installer.  I marked every part of it, other than Lotus Freelance Graphics, as “do not install”.  Freelance installed fine on Windows 7 (64-bit), and started fine.

I then tried to open some .drw files, and found that it would not play.  But the same site advised me:

I can open a DRW file and store it in another format (like PowerPoint 97 or one of the many alternatives). …

I installed Freelance only from SmartSuite 9.8 on a Window 7 PC, no problem. Open the DRW file in a blank page, use ‘save as’ to convert.

And that’s the trick.

You will probably wish to avoid this by setting a user preference: File | User Setup | Freelance Properties | Skip the startup dialogs and bring up a blank page with no look.

Note also that the “blank page” will be in landscape, whereas you probably want portrait (since that was the Freelance for DOS default).  This is File | Page Setup | Portrait.  I have yet to discover how to change this by default; or how to fiddle with the page size either.

Once you have a blank page open in Freelance, then when you do File | Open you get a long list of file types.  There are two .drw imports – use the Freelance one at the bottom!  Here using keyboard shortcuts will speed things up quite a bit – e.g. Tab, Down arrow, End, Up arrow, to choose files!

It is very clunky doing the imports, I must say.  Also I get a warning:

Lotus Freelance Graphics - import warning for Freelance for DOS files

Lotus Freelance Graphics – import warning for Freelance for DOS files

“Freelance Graphics cannot duplicate the colors that were used when this file was saved….” Which is impenetrable.  And … “the device that the file was saved for”?

But then, in the days of DOS, when printer drivers were the responsibility of the application, not the operating system, you got extreme coupling like this.  What device is involved I don’t know, of course.  Probably some long forgotten screen or printer.

Anyway if you OK that, you get your diagram imported.  Mine all seem to be black and white, but I hazily remember that this was the case back then.  It was a marvel, in 1988, to be able to draw at all on a PC!

So … this strategy does work.  For most of the files, anyway.

A few simply were blank.  This may be fixable, tho.  In one case, it was blank if I imported into a landscape page, but when I saved it anyway to PPT, a load of text was scrunched up at the top of the page.  So I tried again, imported it to a portrait page, and it worked fine.

One problem that I encountered was where bitmap files had been imported.  Even when these were in the same directory, Freelance refused to find them.  I’m unclear how to fix this.

I wouldn’t try to do new work with Lotus Freelance Graphics, tho.  After a while, “f32main.exe” started to crash when I saved as .ppt.  Why this happened I don’t know, but no doubt has something to do with being a very old piece of software.  We can do rescue stuff only.

About to reboot.  Hope that fixes it!

UPDATE: It didn’t.  But I found that if I saved a few files as .jpg instead, then turned back to .ppt, it worked.  Weird.