More on the sestertius of Titus showing the Meta Sudans

A correspondent kindly drew my attention to the following piece in the Daily Express.

Rare Roman coin featuring early depiction of the Colosseum sells for £372,000

AN INCREDIBLE rare Roman coin featuring one of the earliest depictions of the Colosseum has sold for £372,000 – nearly five times its estimate.

The bronze Sestertius coin that dates back to AD81 is believed to be only one of 10 that exist today.

Seven are in museums around the world while the other three are in private hands.

This one, appearing in public for the first time in almost 80 years, was acquired by a wealthy British connoisseur of Roman bronze coins in 1939.

It had remained in the late collector’s family ever since but was today sold to a European private collector through London coin dealers Dix Noonan Webb.

A packed auction room watched on in amazement as the relic far exceeded its £80,000 estimate.

One side of the coin features an image of the famous Colosseum in Rome, which had only just been built.

It’s very interesting to learn that his coin is so rare.  In case they vanish from the web, I’d like to place here copies of the marvellous large photographs of the coin.  Note the depiction of the fountain, the Meta Sudans, to the left of the Colosseum, and some kind of long-vanished portico to the right.

A couple more images of the Meta Sudans from Twitter

Roma Ieri Oggi has posted yet another old photograph, from 1898, of the Colosseum, with the Meta Sudans:

(Gargiolli, 1898) Colosseo, Meta Sudans e Arco di Costantino

The angle on the Meta Sudans is a little unusual, and indicates that the top was not level.

This caused a second photo to be posted, this one from 1865:

1865 photograph of the Meta Sudans

Note how much the land level has been lowered between 1865 and 1898!

An aerial shot of the base of the Colossus in 1918

Roma Ieri Oggi has posted a set of aerial photographs of Rome, made in 1918.  They are here.  And they are quite marvellous, and high resolution.

Of special interest to us is one that looks at the Colosseum area:

Note the area where today runs the Via del foro imperiali – mainly farmland on the Velian hill.  But also note the base of the Colossus of Nero!

Here’s a zoom:

And I’ve highlighted also what we can see of the tip of the Meta Sudans.


I have no idea where the site owner gets his stuff.  But it’s stuff that we all want to see!

More paintings of the Meta Sudans

The vanished Roman fountain next to the Colosseum, demolished by Mussolini, but not before being photographed, is a long-term interest of mine.  In its later years, the monument was only half its former height.  But if we look at older paintings of the scene, we can see how it was during the 18th century.

A correspondent, Ezio, has sent in a useful list of links from which I have extracted the following images.  Click on the image to see it properly.

Let’s start with a 1694 painting by Jacob de Heusch, on Wikimedia Commons.


This shows the Meta Sudans, with the vegetation on the top which is characteristic of the monument before it was reshaped in the 19th century.  In the background is the Arch of Titus, as it was before Valadier extracted it from later buildings, and the entrance to the forum.

In Heusch’s painting, the fountain is still in use!  But I fear that this is artistic licence, just as his depiction of the Colosseum is.  So we don’t learn much from this except that the interior on this side was already gouged out, presumably by treasure hunters.

Next we have Caspar van Wittel’s paintings from 1707-1711, one of which I have shown before in a low-resolution form.  These are here, here, and here.  Let’s show the Meta Sudans from the first of these, against the background of the Arch of Constantine (so on the other side):


I have auto-leveled the colours, so that we can see it clearly.  This has no vegetation, but shows a tall, slender monument which has been gouged on the side facing the Arch of Titus also.

The third picture is from the same angle as the Heusch painting:


Sadly the online image is still low resolution; but this shows the vegetation at the top, the bulge part way up, the gouged out interior, and the Arch of Titus in the background.

Finally let’s see the painting by Panini (1747), which I have shown before, but this time at a decent resolution.


Again I have auto-leveled this.  It shows that the vegetation starts at the top and trails over towards the Arch of Constantine.  The bulge around the middle – which appears on ancient coin depictions – is present clearly.

Thank you Ezio for these!

It is really worth tracking down these old paintings.  They show a Rome that no longer exists, and there is historical data to be gleaned from them.

Two postcards of the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus (and the Meta Sudans)

I found two 19th century postcards, taken from the Palatine, looking towards the Colosseum, at this site, which also includes many other interesting images.

Note how the Basilica of Maxentius is enclosed in some now demolished building!


And this:


An 18th century image of the Meta Sudans in a prospect of the Colosseum

I came across an image on Twitter which shows the Colosseum, but also the ruined fountain that used to stand next to it, the Meta Sudans.  Here it is (click to enlarge):


The tweeter had found it online “somewhere”.  Fortunately it is not too hard to locate: this is Prospetto dell’anfiteatro Flavio … detto volgarmente il Colosseo, 1703, by Alessandro Specchi (1668-1729).[1]  There is even a page about it here at the University of Munich, complete with an image, although, infuriatingly, a low-quality one.

I was unable to locate online any quality image, so this is about as good as it gets for the Meta Sudans (obtained by zooming my browser at this site):


It clearly shows the Meta Sudans at twice the height that we see in photographs from the 19th century.  The upper section must have become very ruinous, and been demolished.  No doubt some Italian source could tell us when and why this happened; but such knowledge has not reached me.

Delightful to see another picture of this vanished monument, all the same.

  1. [1]So this art site.  This other site adds that is is an engraving, published by Domenico de Rossi, 1703. 48 x 67.5cm.

Two photochromes of the Meta Sudans in Rome, from 1890

A kind correspondent has pointed me to a site on mashable containing photochromes from 1890.  It’s here.

But what is a photochrome?  The site says:

These postcards of the ancient landmarks of Rome were produced around 1890 using the Photochrom process, which add precise gradations of artificial color to black and white photos.

Invented in the 1880s by an employee of Swiss printing company Orell Gessner Füssli, the Photochrom process was complex and closely guarded. It involved the creation of a lithographic stone from the photo negative, followed by the successive creation of additional litho stones for each tint to be used in the final image.

Up to 15 different tinted stones could be involved in the production of a single picture, but the result was remarkably lifelike color at a time when true color photography was still in its infancy.

Here are two which feature the Meta Sudans, the now vanished Roman fountain which provided air conditioning just outside the Colosseum (which originally stood in a hollow in the hills, before Mussolini built the Via del foro imperiali.

Click on the pictures for full size – and enjoy!




A drawing of the Meta Sudans by Piranesi

A correspondent kindly drew my attention to this page on Wikimedia Commons, where there is a drawing published in 1756 by Piranesi, from Le antichità Romane vol. 1, pl. 36, of the Arch of Constantine, and the now destroyed fountain, the Meta Sudans.[1]  The scans were made in Japan from a 19th century reprint.

Here is a small version of the whole drawing, for context:


The Meta Sudans is at the right.  Here’s a zoomed in version of that part of the drawing:


The nearby figure of a man conveniently gives the scale, which indicates just how tall the monument was in the 18th century; three times the height of a man, and so about twice the size that it appears in 19th century photographs, after the top half was removed.  It also confirms the foliage growing on top of it, as is seen in some paintings.

This is a very useful bit of documentary evidence of the state of the fountain before it was truncated.

  1. [1]Le antichità Romane. Tomo I, tav. XXXVI // Opere di Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Francesco Piranesi e d’altri. Firmin Didot Freres, Paris, 1835-1839. Tomo 1. Scans from

1606 Aegidius Sadeler print of the Colosseum and Meta Sudans

Here is another old print (from 1606, by Aegidius Sadeler) of the Colosseum and a curious view of the Meta Sudans to the right.  I found it here.  Click on the picture to get the full size image.


The site adds:

Rare and early copper engravings by Aegidius Sadeler (c. 1570-1629)from Vestigi delle antichita di Roma Tivoli Pozzuolo et altri luoghi. … “Vestigij della parte di fuora dell’Anfiteatro di Tito…”. This is the second edition published by De Rossi.  Uncommon engraving in very good condition. Aegidius Sadeler (c. 1570-1629) was a Flemish baroque era painter and engraver; the best (Hind) of a notable dynasty of engravers, who were also significant as dealers and distributors of prints. He spent most of his career based in Prague where Emperor Rudolf II commissioned many of his works.

The original is 16 x 27 cms (27 x 39 cms sheet).

All images of the Meta Sudans are interesting, but one which shows the upper section, which disappeared before the mid-19th century, is of particular interest.  The lower section is half-buried in the debris.

Some post-renaissance paintings of the Meta Sudans

Regular readers will be aware that I am interested in the Meta Sudans, a Roman fountain that stood in Rome outside the Colosseum, and behind the Arch of Constantine, until it was demolished by Mussolini in the 1930s.  By that time it was merely a stump, but earlier representations show that it was originally much taller.

Today I came across a paper by Dafina Gerasimovska, which collected representations of the Colosseum, as a way to learn more about Roman architecture.[1]:

When talking about architectural buildings from Antiquity we rely on archaeological finds and written sources. Even coins can provide information about the look of ancient Roman architecture. …

An additional rich source of clues to the original appearance of buildings and their condition at certain times, however, can be found in paintings, drawings, engravings, etchings, prints, watercolours, old reconstructions and other artistic works of different periods in the past. Many painters, engravers, architects, travellers and diplomats interested in architectural remains have left works that serve as alternative sources for the study of cultural history and the architectural monuments which form a part of that history.

This article is not intended to highlight the artistic value of the achievements of famous artists inspired by Roman buildings but to emphasize the significance of these works as historical documents—as evidence of their existence, of changes in their appearance over time, of their ruin or of their recovery.

Inevitably this paper contained images of the Meta Sudans.  Here are some of them.  I apologise for the rather awkward way that WordPress displays these – click on the image to get the full size original.

The oldest one is by Dutch artist Gaspar van Wittel (1653–1736) who went to Rome in 1675.  From his views of the Colosseum, I have excerpted the following:

Gaspar van Wittell, Colosseum - extract view of the Meta Sudans
Gaspar van Wittell, Colosseum – extract view of the Meta Sudans

Note the slender, tall appearance of the fountain, which I have marked with a red box.  The next one is by Giovanni Paolo Panini (c.1691–c.1765), from his 1758 Gallery Displaying Views of Ancient Rome.

Panini (1758) - Meta Sudans
Panini (1758) – Meta Sudans

The interesting part of this one, is that it shows a band around the Meta Sudans, about halfway up.  This sort of thing appears in the ancient coins that depict the Meta Sudans.

The final item is a drawing by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) from his The Antiquities of Rome in 1756:


Again this shows a tall Meta Sudans, although not clearly.

All of these are very interesting evidence on the shape of a now vanished Roman monument.

  1. [1]Dafina Gerasimovska, “Alternative Sources for studying Roman architecture”, Online here.