The Baths of Constantine in Rome

Today I came across this interesting drawing from Du Perac, Vestigi dell’Antichita di Roma, 1621, plate 32 (online at Heidelberg here).

Duperac, Baths of Constantine

The text beneath reads:

Vestigij delle Terme di Constantino nel monte quirinale dalla parte che guarda verso Libecchio (= sud-ovest) qualli per esser molto ruinati non vi si vede adornamenti ma solo grandissime muraglie et stantie masimamente nel giardino del Car.le de Vercello et da poi che io designai questa parte vi si sono fabricate case et granarij di modo che al di doggi non si puol piu vedere per esser occupata di dette fabriche.

Nothing remains of it today.  I gather that the baths stood on the slope of the Quirinal Hill, a little below the modern presidential palace.  Because of the slope, Constantine’s architects had to support it with a platform, built on top of 3-4th century houses which they demolished.  These houses in turn stood on top of still earlier houses.

I believe that other early drawings exist.  It might be fun to locate them.


A little-known museum in Rome – the Case Romane del Celio.

There is a museum in Rome of which I had never heard until today.  It’s called the “Case Romane del Celio”, whch means the “Roman houses on the Caelian” hill.

The museum is underneath the basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo – St John and St Paul – on the Caelian hill.  This was built in 398 over a Roman house that the two saints had lived in.  In 1887 there were excavations, and a series of Roman houses were discovered, dating from the 1st-4th centuries AD.  There are remarkable frescoes to be seen, such as these.  I found the pictures on the Wanted in Rome website:

Access is not from inside the basilica, but from the Clivo di Scauro.  This is itself a Roman arched street, not far from the Colosseum. The museum is open every day, I believe, “except Tuesday and Wednesday and can be visited from 10.00-13.00 and 15.00-18.00.”  The museum website is here.  There’s also a lot of useful information for visitors at this commercial site.  Here’s the entrance.

It’s actually really close to the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus, as we can see from Google Maps:

I’ve just used Street View to walk down it, and, as a pedestrian, you can clearly walk straight across into it from the Palatine area, without bothering about that long dog-leg down to the Circus Maximus.  So you could start at the Arch of Constantine, walk down the street, and look out for the Clivo di Scauri on the left.

I’ve never been up on the Caelian hill.  But I can see that there is quite a bit of interesting stuff up there.  The next time that I am in Rome, I shall go and have a look!


Bits and bobs

Here’s some stuff that’s wandered into my in-tray.

Google is becoming a useful tool for biblical quotations.  While checking some of these by googling, I found myself looking at at several volumes of the critical text of the Vetus Latina.  A search on Vetus Latina brings up quite a number here.  I hope that Archive have checked the copyright tho.

How people find the energy to scan books I do not know.  I’m sitting here with a volume of St Augustine, and having to pause for breaks.  I know that I did a lot of this ten or twenty years ago.  How on earth did I do it?

It’s been a while since I get out my Plustek Opticbook 3600, and I couldn’t remember if it worked with Windows 10 or not.  At first try it didn’t work.  Looking at the manufacturer site did not look good either.  But there was a Windows 8 driver, which I installed.  Still nothing.  Anyway I rechecked the cables and… um, the cable was half-unplugged at the scanner.  When pushed in firmly then it all worked.  I’m using it with Finereader 12 at the moment.

Next up is a photograph of one of the lost streets of Rome, the Via Bonella, from 1907.

The now-lost Via Bonella, with the so-called Pantani Arch. Photo taken in 1907.

I plucked from here this modern image:

The columns are those of the forum of Nerva, to the left of the temple of Mars Ultor.  The modern street behind the arch, running left-right, is the Via Tor di Conti.  The orange building behind the arch is today the Forum Hotel, complete with a rooftop restaurant at which I had a terrible dining experience on my only visit to the building.

I do quite a bit of translating, so I was interested to come across an article, Translating for a Digital Archive.  This shows how the professionals do it, rather than people like me, alone in a room with a pile of dictionaries.  The project is to put British Library Arabic manuscripts online, and make the titles etc searchable in either Arabic or English.

As part of the BL’s [British Library] translation team, I work to produce and edit the Arabic language content for the QDL [Qatar Digital Library]. While the collection items themselves are displayed solely in their original language, all of the portal’s supporting and descriptive content is translated, as are the expert articles, meaning that the catalogue can be searched and used just as easily in Arabic as in English.

Our Toolbox: Translation management software

Like many large-scale translation projects, ours involves multiple translators, and several rounds of proofing and quality checks to ensure accuracy and consistency. To manage this, we use a piece of software called memoQ that includes two essential tools: a translation memory (TM) and a term base (TB). The TM functions as a bilingual database of previously translated segments of text; it works by storing pairs of original source-language content alongside its approved translation. When a new text is imported, memoQ breaks it into smaller segments on the basis of punctuation and line breaks, and automatically conducts a search for exact and partial matches. These are then presented to the translator for approval and/or review.

While a human expert still has the final say on whether to accept any suggestion from the TM, frequently only a minor edit is needed to make the old translation suitable for the new context. This serves the double purpose of saving time and maintaining consistency across the catalogue as a whole. Translation memories tend to prove their worth the larger they are and the more repetition there is in the content. Having grown over the years since the start of the project, our TM now routinely recognises a third of content in a new file, and often much more.

While the TM grows organically over time by compiling and storing translation segments, the term base is maintained manually. It works as a glossary for key terms, allowing us to suggest preferred equivalents for individual words or phrases, and/or to blacklist translations that should be avoided. As the TB is visible to all parties at all stages of translation and proofing, it helps to ensure the consistency of these terms in Arabic.

Authorities: making the most of memoQ

The TB has proved especially useful when it comes to translating authority files. An authority record serves to identify and describe a person, corporate body, family, place name, or subject term that is featured in a catalogue description. Each term is authorised and unique. As every record and every expert article on the QDL is linked to at least one authority file, they form an index through which users can search for all the content related to a specific term.

Read the whole thing.  I was unable to find an author’s name on it, curiously.

This idea of “Translation Memory Tools” sounded interesting to me.  I quickly found that several seem to be proprietary and expensive.  I did come across OmegaT, which is not, here.  But I suspect that none of my projects are large enough for me to use it.

Another interest of mine is hagiography, about which I know very little.  So I was interested to come across a seminar description (Seminar VII: Hagiography) at Lancaster University, with bibliography, and the following interesting introduction:

Hagiography, the historical genre which is the subject of this week’s seminar, comprises narratives concerned with the saints and their achievements, especially the miracles which God has performed through them and on their behalf. Six basic types of hagiographical ‘story’ or ‘scenario’ may be distinguished:

  • first, the vita, the story of the achievements that a saint performed in his or her lifetime;
  • second, the passio, similar to the former, but about a martyr who has died a violent death for the faith or for some other God-arranged reason;
  • third, the inventio or revelatio, the story of how a new saint or more often a saint’s bodily remains were discovered;
  • fourth, the translatio, the story of how a saint’s relics were brought to a church or moved to a new shrine;
  • fifth, the visio, the story of how a saint appeared to someone in a vision;
  • and sixth, the miraculum, the story of how a miracle was performed on the saint’s behalf by God.

Miracula are typically concerned with the wonders that were performed after the saint has died and become a resident of the heavenly kingdom. A hagiographical text might well combine many of these stories or ‘scenarios’. Many vitae continue on, for example, well-beyond the scene of the saint’s death to describe how his or her corpse was lost, re-discovered and then brought and enshrined in the church where it now rests. In these texts the true climax comprises the saint’s translatio and enshrinement. Miracula, furthermore, were often combined to form libri miraculorum, ‘books of miracles’, which sometimes (but not usually) extended beyond the usual few dozen items to encompass hundreds of episodes.

In its various manifestations hagiography was the mode of historical discourse most frequently deployed in the Middle Ages, generating many thousands of vitae and miracula and contributing substantial passages to many chronicles and rhetorical histories. The similarities (and sometimes, the lengthy verbal affinities) between these narratives naturally lead to the suspicion that most, if not all, instances contain much that has been borrowed from earlier examples or which has been re-fashioned so as to resemble the scenes found in key archetypes—such as the late fourth-century Life of St Martin of Tours by Sulpicius Severus—which exerted great influence over the development of the genre. This conclusion seems inescapable; but the process might sometimes involve an oral phase, prior to the writing up of the legend, in which the hero’s story assimilated many standard elements or was gradually re-fashioned with each act of re-telling, bringing it ever closer to the recognised archetypes. The few texts which admit importing episodes from the lives of other saints invariably claim that the story was true of some saint if not of the saint with whom the text is chiefly concerned or that there is so little doubt about the subject’s sanctity that the mis-attribution of a few stories will scarcely make any difference to his or her cult. As such admissions show, hagiography’s claim to authority rested, as in the case of ecclesiastical history, on its claim to record actual events—actual moments of divine intervention in the world.

I’d like to know which texts include those admissions of borrowing material.  I wonder how one could find out.

That’s enough for now.  I find that I have 197 items in my backlog folder, so perhaps I should have a push on getting them out!


A daguerreotype of the Roman forum from 1842

A kind correspondent has drawn my attention to an article in the New York Times, on an exhibition of daguerreotypes.  These were early photographs which possessed a 3-D quality hard to reproduce today.  The Metropolitan Museum in New York possesses a collection taken by Frenchman Girault de Prangey (1804-1892).  They were all taken in 1842, shortly after Daguerre invented photography, and must be some of the first photographs of everything they depict.  All are of great value.  For instance they include a photograph of the old palace of the Tuileries, destroyed in 1870.

The image that concerns us here is possibly the first photograph of what it depicts.  It’s the Roman forum, viewed from the Palatine hill.  Is that the Arch of Septimus Severus there in centre right?  I wish we had the same view in a modern photograph, for comparison!  (I looked but was unsuccessful).

Here it is:

Marvelous to see this!  Of course this is Papal Rome.  The Victor Emmanuel monument has yet to be built.  The demolitions of Mussolini have yet to take place.

The NYT article is well worth a read.

UPDATE:  A kind correspondent has pointed out that the NY Times has printed the image back to front!  Flipped it looks like this:

with the ramp up to the capitoline in the left.  He also sent in a Google maps view:

My mistake!


1918 aerial photograph of the Colosseum, Meta Sudans and base of the Colossus

The tireless Italian site Roma Ieri Oggi has found yet more vintage photographs of the eternal city.  They are all worth looking at!  This batch are all from the air, and were taken in 1918.  Apparently they are part of an album which an admiral named Thaon di Revel left to the Museo del Risorgimento Italiano.

One of these in particular caught my eye.  It shows the area around the Colosseum.  The Meta Sudans is just visible beyond the Arch of Constantine, while above it is the rectangular platform on which the Colossus status once stood.  No sign as yet of the Via del foro imperiali, which dominates this area of Rome!

I could look at these photographs for ever…


Rome, 1868: the Arch of Drusus, defended by Bourbon soldiers!

Occasionally you see something online that really makes your eyes open.  This happened to me some time back, when I came across the following photographs on the excellent Roma Ieri Oggi website.  They depict the so-called Arch of Drusus, which stands just inside the massive Porto San Sebastiano in Rome.

This is simply amazing.  We see the modern street scene, but mingled with it the figures of little French-looking soldiers, all of them long dead, all belonging to an army which is forgotten.

History is famously written by the winners.  Well, these are the losers; the soldiers whom nobody wants to remember.  It is tremendously moving to see them.  They stand here, defending the papal state against the advancing forces of the northerners, soon to annex Rome to their new “Kingdom of Italy”.

The original photograph is this:



Rome, Quirinal hill: access to the temple of Serapis / Sol Invictus?

Regular readers will be aware of my interest in monuments of ancient Rome which were visible, and drawn, during the renaissance, but have since vanished.  Among these was a colossal temple on the Quirinal hill, often thought to be Aurelian’s temple of Sol Invictus, but today mainly thought to be a temple of Serapis.  Much of this is now vanished; but some remains, I believe, are still to be seen.  In particular there are said to be blocks from the temple in the “Colonna gardens”.

Today I came across an interesting page at, here, which described how to visit the Colonna palace in Rome.

The historic Palazzo Colonna near the central piazza Venezia, a noble palace still belonging to one of the most important families in the history of Rome, shields a rare princely collection of invaluable art still in its original location.

Entrance to Galleria Colonna, via della Pilotta 17, Rome. The present entrance to the gallery is located in via della Pilotta passing behind the basilica dei Santi Apostoli, which corresponded to part of the ancient via Biberatica. Via
Entrance to Galleria Colonna, via della Pilotta 17, Rome. The present entrance to the gallery is located in via della Pilotta passing behind the basilica dei Santi Apostoli, which corresponded to part of the ancient via Biberatica. Via

Since the Middle Ages and over the centuries, various buildings belonging to the Colonna family developed in the area on the slopes of the Quirinal Hill, until an ambitious architectural project in the 17th century brought to the building of an imposing palace composed of several structures, designed by renowned architects …

Circle of Maarten van Heemskerck, The Colonna "loggia" at the Quirinal, 1534 - 1536, drawing, Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum, Kupferstich- Kabinett. The Colonna residence grew from previous remains, which included the ancient ruins identifiable with a Roman temple dedicated to the Sun or Serapis on the slopes of the Quirinal Hill.
Circle of Maarten van Heemskerck, The Colonna “loggia” at the Quirinal, 1534 – 1536, drawing, Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum, Kupferstich- Kabinett. The Colonna residence grew from previous remains, which included the ancient ruins identifiable with a Roman temple dedicated to the Sun or Serapis on the slopes of the Quirinal Hill.

The last time that I was in Rome, on a very hot August day, I walked around the Quirinal Hill, looking for some way into the Colonna Palace, or the gardens.  I was out of luck.  But the page indicates that access is possible to the “Galleria Colonna” by request, or … much better …every Saturday from 9:00-13:15.  There is also a website here.

Whether you can get into the gardens I don’t know, but a tour would surely be worth taking.  There ought to be drawings and paintings of the palace itself, perhaps with pictures of the vanished temple remains?


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.


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.

Gamucci’s images of the Septizonium; the Temple of the Sun; the Arch of Claudius; and the obelisk and Vatican Rotunda

Ste. Trombetti has continued to search through early books and prints for images of vanished Rome.  Here is another example, from the 1565 work Dell’Antichita di Roma by Bernardo Gamucci.[1]  It depicts the remains of the monumental facade that Septimius Severus built across the end of the Palatine hill facing the Appian Way.  Behind it we can see the Arch of Constantine, behind which stands the Colosseum.  Known as the Septizonium, it was clearly falling down, and was shortly afterwards taken down for its materials.

Further on in the same volume, on p.123, we find a depiction of part of the “Temple of the Sun” or “House of Nero” on the Quirinal, which was most probably actually a temple of Serapis:


On p.151 is an image of the “Arch of Domitian”, which the text says may be the Arch of Claudius.  This is also a long-demolished item, of which I have never seen any drawings.  Does anybody know?

Arch of Domitian (or Claudius). Gamucci, 1565.
Arch of Domitian (or Claudius). Gamucci, 1565.

On page 195 there is a marvellous drawing made of the south side of St Peter’s; mostly Old St Peter’s, but with the new church rising in the distance.  In front of us is the obelisk that now stands in St Peter’s square, but then stood, still, in its original position.  Behind it stands a circular 3rd century tomb, the Vatican Rotunda, long since converted into a chapel of St Andrew.

Obelisk and Vatican Rotunda, on the south side of Old St Peter's in Rome. Gamucci, 1565.
Obelisk and Vatican Rotunda, on the south side of Old St Peter’s in Rome. Gamucci, 1565.

  1. [1]B. Gamucci, Libri quattro dell’antichità della Citta di Roma: raccolte sotto breuita da diversi antichi et moderni scrittori, Venice: G. Varisco &c, 1565. Online at Google books here, or in better quality at Heidelberg here.