A photo of the Meta Sudans from the Palatine

Here’s yet another picture of the conical stub of the now vanished Roman fountain, the Meta Sudans, in front of the Colosseum. It was posted online here, where it is described as “late 19th century”.

I wish we had more 20th century photographs of the Meta Sudans.  There ought to be legions of them.



Bits and Bobs 4

This is another page of miscellaneous material.  It’s mostly from Twitter.  I bookmarked it over the last 4-5 years, with the intention of writing more, but never did.  So I may as well share them here.

The first item is a combined fork and spoon, made of silver, possibly 3rd century, from the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  The handle is decorated with a spotted panther, an animal often associated with the god Dionysus.  It’s about 6″ long (16.2 cms).  Accession no. 2006.514.3.

Paul Harrison posted here a lovely image of a Roman calendar of fasti, legal and religious feast days, now in the Baths of Diocletian:

The Thesaurus Linguae Latinae project is now searchable online, and open-access, here.  You can search for the start or end of words, helpfully, and iyou get the printed page displayed.

When the basilica of Old St Peter’s was demolished, in order to build the present church, a Roman tomb – the chapel of St Petronilla – had to be demolished also. Inside the grave of the Empress Maria was found.  She was the wife of Honorius, and daughter of Stilicho.  The tomb was full of precious things, which were eagerly seized upon to help pay for the new church.  But a pendant does survive, now in the Louvre, with the names of her parents, her husband and herself.  (h/t @TrimontiumTrust)  See also this article.

Roman temples are often depicted on coins, although often the result is a bit sketchy.  Here’s a picture of the temple of Isis in Rome, on a sestertius of Vespasian from AD 71. (h/t here).  An example was offered for sale in 2013 here.  The British Museum specimen is here.  It does give us an impression of what the temple must have looked like!

I imagine that we can all stare at the Colosseum all day long.  Indeed on my last visit to Rome, I used to walk there every evening and eat a ciabatta while sitting outside.  This photograph from here is from 1896, and shows the Meta Sudans from an unusual angle.

Another photograph taken “before 1871” shows the Arch of Constantine, and the Meta Sudans peeking through one of the arches (h/t Archaeology and Art).  This is one of a set taken by Giacomo Brogi during his travels in Italy in the 1860s (see Digital Maps of the Ancient World, here).

A news report appeared in 2020 about a tablet recording an edict of Caesar threatening punishment for grave robbers.  Thought to come from Palestine, indeed from Nazareth, soon after the time of Christ, it has been seen as perhaps referring to the disappearance of Jesus’ body.  But an analysis of the marble shows that it isn’t local, but comes from the island of Kos in the Aegean.  Obviously that is not proof of anything very much, but the circumstances would better fit events in Kos in 20 BC. The JAS article (vol. 30, 2020) is here. (h/t Trimontium Trust)

Outside the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul stand a group of immense porphyry sarcophagi, thought to come from the mausoleum of the house of Constantine in the Church of the Holy Apostles.  This was demolished by the Turks after their conquest of the city.  Most are decorated Christian symbols, but one is not.  It is hypothesised that this one belonged to Julian the Apostate.  It was discovered in the second courtyard of the Topkapi Palace, buried underneath an immense plane tree. (h/t The Hidden Face of Istanbul).

I’m sure that we all are familiar with the depiction of Roman centurions with a helmet crest mounted cross-wise, like this:

But how do we know that they did this?  The answer, I find, is the gravestone of T. Calidus Severus, in the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum (inv. III 365).  He came from Italy, and died aged 58 in Carnutum as a centurion of the 15th legion, and his brother Quintus erected the monument with pictures of his equipment. (h/t Symmachus).  There is a German Wikipedia article about him.

The inscription reads:

T(itus) Calidius / P(ublii filius) Cam(ilia) Sever(us) / eq(ues) item optio / decur(io) coh(ortis) I Alpin(orum) / item leg(ionis) XV Apoll(inaris ) / annor(um) LVIII stip(endiorum) XXXIIII / h(ic) s(itus) e(st) / Q(uintus) Calidius fratri / posuit.

Titus Calidius Severus, son of Publius, of the tribe Camilia, horseman, then optio and finally decurio of the Cohors I Alpinorum , then centurion of the Legio XV Apollinaris , aged 58, 34 years of service, is buried here. Quintus Calidius built this tomb for his brother/

Useful to see hard evidence, I think.


An 1850 photograph of the Palatine and Meta Sudans by Rev. John Shaw Smith

This interesting item was posted on Twitter here.

Rev. John Shaw Smith, View of the Arch of Constantine, the Meta Sudans, and the Palatine Hill. 1850.

Photographs of the Meta Sudans are always welcome.  This one is at an unusual angle and indicates that the destruction facing the Colosseum was not flat 180°, as it often appears in photographs, but nearer 150°.

The photographer, the Rev. John Shaw Smith, was an Irish clergyman who travelled in the Mediterranean around this time over a period of a couple of years, in the relaxed fashion of the day.  Photography was new, and everything he took is probably valuable.

There must be a wealth of photographs and other material in Italian archives, but sadly inaccessible.  Google increasingly is turning into a commercial portal instead of a search engine, so I doubt this will improve soon.


Peeking through the arch of Constantine – another view of the Meta Sudans

Another photograph care of Roma Ieri Oggi depicts a US actress, Aloha Wanderwell, with husband, in front of the Arch of Constantine in 1928.  The angle is square on to the arch, unusually, so we can see the Meta Sudans particularly clearly through the arch. Nice!


An aerial view of the Colosseum, the Meta Sudans, and the base of the Colossus (1909-25)

Via the amazing Roma Ieri Oggi site, I learn of this interesting aerial photo of the Colosseum and, much more interestingly, the meta sudans and the base of the Colossus, the statue of Nero.  It was made between 1909-25.

At the bottom left the gate of Constantine.  Above it is the Meta Sudans, the demolished Roman fountain.  And above that is a square pedestal, also ancient, which is the base on which once stood the massive statue of Nero known as the Colossus, from which the Colosseum took its name.  I believe the pedestal was also demolished by Mussolini when he created the Via del Impero at the top left of the picture.


Photos of the Meta Sudans from the American Academy in Rome

The American Academy in Rome has started placing its photographs online.  The results are rather spectacular, and a cut above the random old photographs that we find online.  It means that for the first time we can reference what we are looking at.

Naturally I did a search for the Meta Sudans, the massive Roman fountain demolished by Mussolini in 1934.  The search link is here.

What I got was a bunch of images of the monument from several sides, which I was able to zoom in to.  Here are the excerpts:

From the Colosseum looking toward the Arch of Titus

It’s clear that the monument was already badly damaged – someone cut away a whole corner of it, to the water channel in the middle.  No doubt they were searching for treasure.

Looking towards the Palatine hill. 1864-84.

Moving to the right slightly, we get an angle.  Note the “notch” coming into view on the right.

Looking through the Arch of Titus toward the Colosseum

This one is from the other side, looking back at the monument.  Two “notches” are visible.

From the Palatine

Moving round to the right a bit, we see more of the “notch” on the right.

From the Palatine but higher up (1907)

This one is from the hill, but a bit higher up.  However it shows less.

Excavation of the foundations, after demolition

Finally there is this, from the 1940s, after the monument was demolished.  This is an excavation of the foundations.

I expect there is a great deal of extremely interesting material at the American Academy in Rome site.  The trick will be in finding the right search terms.  It’s a great and very useful project!

Update 7th January 2021: there are also photographs at the British School in Rome site, here.   I’ve zoomed in on some of them.

One side of the Meta Sudans was always hard to see, as it faced the Arch of Constantine.  Here we see it side-on, with the missing corner to the right.

Moving somewhat to the left, the “notch” comes into view:

And moving more in the same direction:

Now here’s a close-up of the brickwork (Latin: opus latericium):

Here we have come right round to the Colosseum side.  The other “notch” is visible to the right, while the destroyed area is to the left.

Finally a nice close-up zoom of Du Perac’s drawing of the monument, in the days when it was twice as tall.

This is all marvellous.  The BSR likewise need to be commended to making this material accessible.  What a wonderful picture we get of the Meta Sudans monument!


An 18th century drawing of the Meta Sudans from the Spanish National Library

Here is a nice drawing from the 18th century of the Meta Sudans, the Roman fountain that used to stand outside the Colosseum until Mussolini decided to demolish it.  This one is from the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica, the Spanish National Library.

Two things make this drawing interesting.  First, it’s close enough that we can see some detail of the Meta Sudans, including that gaping hole at the top.  Secondly, it shows the full height of the monument as it was in 1800, unlike the 19th century photographs.  The upper half was removed at some point before any of those could be taken.

H/t Rubén Montoya (@rubsmontoya).


A 1711 painting showing the Meta Sudans

There is a painting in Turin, in the Galleria Sabauda, of a view of the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus, dating from 1711, and painted by Gaspar van Wittel (Vanvitteli).  But it also shows a taller Meta Sudans than we know from the 19th century.  Here it is:

The ruined old fountain stands outside the Arch of Constantine, on the right.

H/T @romamedieval.


More on the monster Meta Sudans!

As I gazed at the amazing photograph from Roma Ieri Oggi in my last post, I suddenly became conscious of just how huge the Meta Sudans was.  The old photographs do not really give us an impression of its sheer size.

But the combined photo does.  The monument was, clearly, immense, well worthy of an emperor with something to prove.

The Colosseum stands – or did, until Mussolini – in a hollow in the hills.  The heat must have been great.  The fountain put out a spray of water, rather like the “foggers” used by restaurants in the Piazza Navona today, and this must have cooled the air.

Just for fun, I thought that I would draw a line up the sides of the stub, to see how tall it must have been.  And we get … this:

We get something that must have been as tall as the Colosseum itself!  Which is mildly incredible.

The original monument must have been covered in marble, so it would be taller.

The shape of the monument is preserved on coins.  This one, in the British Museum, is new to me:

Meta Sudans in coin of Titus, 80-81.  British Museum, 1931, 1006.13.  Asset number 259280001.  Copper alloy coin (fake).

What is remarkable about this coin is that it does not show the Colosseum, as the well-known sestertius (about which I wrote here) does:

This shows the Meta Sudans as almost as tall as the Colloseum.  And plainly it was!

I had always thought the coin exaggerated the height of the Meta Sudans, but clearly not.  The 4 niches on each side of the Meta Sudans are still preserved to some extent in the brick stub above.

It does make you wonder where the foundations of the portico shown on the coin are!