HUI 216 - Unit 4, Topics 1-7
"What remains of Roman civilization"

Andrea Fedi

4.1 Physical evidence

[Notes] — Entire Roman cities have survived, almost intact. The chief examples are those of Pompeii and Herculaneum, near Naples. Thse two towns were covered by volcanic ashes during the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Their original sites were rediscovered and clearly identified during the 18th century, and have been excavated now for more than 200 years.
For information about significant findings in Pompeii in recent years, see "Pompeii's Erotic Frescoes Awake" (The New York Times, 2001).
For Herculaneum, you can see pictures of a Roman throne found in 2007, and of a low-relief found in February of 2009. Also, read about the 2007 excavation of the Villa of the Papyri.

In many instances, entire areas of Italian cities are still organized around the subdivision of the blocks and the grid of streets, open public spaces originally planned by the Romans.

Whole Roman buildings have survived, or their foundations have been incorporated in medieval or Renaissance buildings.

Museums and private collections, all over the world, have on display or in storage extraordinary amounts of ancient Roman artifacts. Look at the rough quantitative analysis of some international collections on Wikipedia, or consider this partial list containing descriptions of the main museums in the city of Rome.

The Roman grid plan

[Notes] — The city of Aosta, in the Italian Northwest, was founded in 25 BC, at the beginning of the Roman Empire.
Observe the original Roman grid plan in this series of pictures, Aosta from the sky, and compare it to an interactive map of the ancient Augusta Praetoria.
A similar grid can be spotted looking carefully at images from the satellite of the following Italian cities (among many others): Florence, Turin, Como, and Lucca.

Roman buildings

[Notes] — The Roman Forum was the heart of ancient Rome. See what remains of the downtown area of ancient Rome on Google Maps.
Walk by the Colosseum and by Trajan's Market with Google StreetView.
Other famous Roman buildings that have survived almost intact include the Arena of Verona, and the Roman Arena in Arles, France.
Look also at the shape and at the perimeter of Piazza Anfiteatro in Lucca.


[Notes] — Click on the following link to watch pictures of the area of the Roman Forum, and compare them to this painting of the forum in 1636. You can find more pictures and detailed information inside this Wikipedia article on the Roman Forum.
The Vittoriano, a neoclassical monument built in close proximity with the Roman Forum, was meant to suggest the ideological and anthropological continuity between ancient Romans and 20th-century Italians: "The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II) or Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) or 'Il Vittoriano' is a monument to honour Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy, located in Rome, Italy. It occupies a site between the Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill. The monument was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1895; sculpture for it was parceled out to established sculptors all over Italy, such as Angelo Zanelli. It was inaugurated in 1911 and completed in 1935."
Pictures of the Colosseum. A Wikipedia article on the Colosseum.
Pictures of the The Pantheon. A Wikipedia article on the Pantheon.
Pictures of the Mausoleum of Hadrian (Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome). A Wikipedia article on the Mausoleum of Hadrian.
Pictures of The Grotto of Catullus, a huge Roman villa built on the shores of the Garda lake, outside the town of Sirmione.

4.2 Cultural evidence

[Notes] — When we consider what remains of Roman civilization in regard to culture, we can list the following (among other things):

  • The style of Neoclassical architecture (many examples of neoclassical architecture can be found in the US).
  • Documents and texts: Roman and GreeBuffalok texts were carefully preserved and painstakingly copied by Christian monks during the Middle Ages (look at this image of scriptorium monk at work).
  • The Neolatin languages: Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and others.


[Notes] — Latin was the primary language of the Roman Empire, and of Roman civilization.
Latin is still used in the official documents of the Catholic Church: visit the Latin portal of the Vatican's official site, and look at the Latin version of the Pope's last Encyclical letter (Jun. 2009).
For a long time Latin was the language of the law and of diplomacy in Europe: consider for example this official letter sent in 1520 by Emperor Maximilian I to the Doge of the Republic of Venice, Leonardo Loredan.
European Universities, especially in fields such as philosophy and medicine, used Latin for lectures and exams until the 19th century: look at the official policies of the University of Oxford (England) in 1834, which specify that, for medicine, exams can be conducted in Latin or English, depending on what of these two languages will see more convenient or expedient to the examiners.

The Calendar

[Notes] — Our calendar shows traces of the ancient Roman calendar.
January derives from the name of the Roman god Janus, the God of beginnings and endings, of doors and gateways, whose name is connected to the Latin word janua (=door, as seen in the English word "janitor"). Janus usually received sacrificial offerings when the ancient Romans began something important as a society (for example war and peace), or as individuals.
March derives from the Roman god of war, Mars.
July derives from the name of the famous Julius Caesar
August derives from Augustus, the title used to honor the first emperor and many of the Roman emperors after him.
The Roman Calendar at some point moved from an original 10-month system to 12 lunar months. That's why September derives from the Roman numeral septem [=7], October from octo [=8], November from novem [=9], and December from decem [=10].
In Venice, Florence and others Italian cities, before the 19th century, the calendar year started in March. March happened to be also the month of the conception of Jesus, after it was decided that his birth be celebrated around the time of the winter solstice and of the period when the Romans celebrated the Saturnalia.

4.3 Roman Law

[Notes] —This section is based on the notes taken during a lecture offered to HUI216 students, in 2002, by Professor Marcello Saija, from the University of Messina (Italy).

All archaic societies produced rules of behavior that regulated various aspects of social life. Often, though, those rules were connected to religious imperatives, on which they depended to garner strength and respect.
The ancient Greeks and the Romans, for the first time in human history, established a fairly complex system of laws in which social rules were separated from religious imperatives.
The ancient Romans were well aware of the relevance of this separation, and expressed the concept with the saying: Ubi societas, ibi ius. Ubi ius, ibi societas (=Where society exists, there is law. Where laws exist, there one can find a society). In other words, every time social relationships are established in the form of a community, no matter how small, men feel the need to create rules that support the organization and the development of that society.
Roman society was religious, but ancient Romans believed in the separation of state and religion: the Roman state was one of the first political manifestations of the idea of a secular state. In order to reinforce this concept, the Romans used another statement often quoted to define the nature of law: Ex facto oritur ius [=Laws originate from the facts]. It means that laws should not be dictated by religion or morality: laws emerge from human experience, they accompany and support the development of human interactions

Laws, judges

[Notes] — Initially Roman judges did not have written laws.
In order to administer justice, they had to make reference to the ideals of justice and equity that were reflected in social practices and customs. They took into consideration norms and practices of their community as they were related by the elders.
Naturally there were times when judges could not find an appropriate reference for their judgment. In those instances the praetors resorted to their own personal interpretation of justice. Romans in those cases used the expression aequitas bursalis [= justice from the pocket], to signify that judges had to exercise discretion in their decision.
Later, during the so-called Second age of judicial activities, traditions, social practices and oral culture were supplemented or replaced by a more specific judicial culture, dictated by the practice of professional judges.
During the next age, the administration of justice became the responsibility not only of judges but also of jurists. Jurists were scholars who studied the rulings and the decisions of the judges and tried to find consistency and clear principles in the law.

Judges and jurists

[Notes] — Jurists solved contradictions found in past rulings.
They worked on the creation of a juridical science, where clearly enunciated general principles could be applied to many similar cases.
From time to time, jurists organized and collected various rules that referred to a specific area of the law. Examples of those collections are the Cornelian law on injuries and personal assault (Lex Cornelia de Iniuriis, 81 BC), or the Julian law on marriage and morality (Lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus), introduced under the emperor Augustus.
Jurists also produced commentaries to explain details and to indicate the correct interpretation of the rules

Law and society

[Notes] — Throughout the centuries the power of the Roman scholars of law kept growing, while the relevance of social practices and human experience diminished.
Roman judges came to rely primarily on the theories, the interpretations and the recommendations of jurists.
This situation introduced an element of conflict between social life and the theoretical debates on justice. This conflict will become a constant within the history of Europe. The idea of justice, which had been the expression of a whole society, of its changing cultures and customs, became the domain of an elite of scholars and high-ranking public officers.


[Notes] — Roman jurists were responsible for introducing the most significant theoretical distinction within the modern system of laws, the distinction between public and private law.
Famous Roman jurist Ulpianus (Ulpian) supported the separation of the rules pertaining individuals, their private activities or relations, from the rules regarding public affairs, the administration of the state and the use of power and authority by the state.
This distinction, further refined and expanded, constitutes the foundation of constitutional law, another area of the law which was introduced during the Roman era.


[Notes] — What happened to the laws and procedures put in place by the Romans when the Western Roman empire came to an end?
In Italy Roman laws where replaced by more primitive rules, imposed by the new barbarian governments.
In the Eastern territories of the Roman Empire, a 6th-century emperor, Justinian, ordered the best jurists of his time to collect all Roman laws, rulings and commentaries, from the past to the present, and assigned this committee the tasks of reducing the number of laws and reorganizing the entire collection of codes into a more coherent and manageable system.
It is because of this reorganization that Roman Law survived the fall of the Roman Empire and was known, studied and used again in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Look at the first page of Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis (from an edition published in London, in 1528, available at Gallica). See also the Wikipedia article on the Corpus Juris Civilis, or Body of Civil Law. Finally, to learn more on this topic, consider the Wikipedia article on Roman law.

4.4 Founding Fathers

[Notes] —This section is based on notes provided by CEV 522 student Monica Williams, further edited and revised by me.

John Adams, the second president of the United States, graduated from Harvard. The third president, Thomas Jefferson, attended William and Mary. The fourth, James Madison, graduated from Princeton.
Most of the academic textbooks on which they studied were written in Latin, and that language was used on many formal occasions on those campuses.
Also, they all read the famous work on Rome produced by Polybius: "In Book VI Polybius digresses into an explanation of the Roman constitution and he shows it to be mixed. [...] The mixed constitution was touted as the strongest constitution as it combined the three integral types of government: monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. Polybius makes further distinction in the forms of government by including the nefarious counterparts to the ones mentioned above; tyranny, oligarchy, and ochlocracy [=anarchy]. These governments, according to Polybius cycle in a process called anacyclosis, which begins with monarchy and ends with ochlocracy. The Roman model avoids this problem when it sets up the republic and becomes a mixture of the three types. The Consuls represent Monarchy and have power over the army in the field and the expenditures in Rome. A noted exemption from consular authority is the Tribune of the Plebes. The Senate is responsible for the appointment and approval of Consuls and Censors and is the driving force behind the business that needs to be done in the city and with respect to foreign policy. Of course, none of this can happen without the censure of the people and no man can be installed in any position without the vote of the people. It is in this way, as Polybius understands it, that the strength of the Roman state is shown and held together" (The Histories).

The classics

[Notes] — The importance of the classics is summed up by President Adams with these words: "I should as soon think of closing all my window shutters, to enable me to see, as of banishing the Classics."
Two areas better reflect the influence of the classics in the thinking of the Founding Fathers: 1) the structure of their new nation's government; 2) the choice of the architectural style of its public buildings.
The American founding fathers saw their nation as "the new Rome."
Basic concepts such as tripartite system of government, veto power, and the advisory capacity of the Senate find their roots in the Roman rule of government.
See The Roman Republican Constitution. Also see the links provided by the House of Representatives

Public buildings

[Notes] — In the US, many of the new nation's public buildings were designed following Roman models.
Thomas Jefferson, who was an architect, played a key role in that choice (as one can expect, based on the classical style of Monticello).
The Neoclassical style was very popular in Europe around that time.
The 18th century rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum had also spurred new interest in Roman architecture.
This interest, combined with European and particularly British admiration for the neoclassical style of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, created a new kind of classicism, characterized by refined, simple elegance, and an emphasis on geometrical symmetry and on harmonious proportions.
Look at Palladio's villas in the Veneto region. Then compare the previous examples to the Palladian villas of 18th-century England.

Jefferson in France

[Notes] — Thomas Jefferson was ambassador to France during the 1780s, and he made a journey to Nimes, in southern France, where he saw the Maison Carrée, a classic Roman temple built around 16 BC, which reflected the style of the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum
This building inspired his design, done in collaboration with French architect Charles Louis Clerriseau, for the capitol of Virginia (1785-1789).

The US Capitol

[Notes] — Neoclassical design can be seen in Washington DC and in other areas of the United States. The US Capitol presents an excellent example of neoclassical influence
Its name "capitol" was inspired by the Roman Capitoline hill
Among plans for the building, the one submitted by Jefferson was clearly modeled on the Pantheon in Rome
Jefferson gave these instructions to Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the designer of the capital: "whenever it is possible to prepare plans for the Capitol I should prefer the adoption of some model of antiquity."
The final design, based on the project submitted by William Thornton (1793), reflects those instructions.
Inside the Capitol building, Benjamin Latrobe, Surveyor of Public Buildings, adopted classical columns as symbols for the new republic. In the Senate wing, the columns' capitels are adorned with the new nation's agricultural products: tobacco and corn.

George Washington

[Notes] — George Washington was the incarnation of the new American nation. In a famous 1788 neoclassical sculpture, Houdon relies on visual elements to compare Washington to Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who gave up the dictatorship of Rome at the end of a military crisis, to return to his farmhouse and work his fields. Look at the statue of George Washington, inside the rotunda of the Capitol, in Richmond.
Outside Washington, excellent examples of neo-classical architecture exist at the University of Virginia (1816-1826), whose library, designed by Thomas Jefferson, is modeled on the Pantheon. Look at the Rotunda.
The Roman Catholic cathedral of Baltimore (1804-1821), designed by Latrobe (who also worked on the Capitol), has an entrance that is reminiscent of a Roman temple's portico.

McKim, Mead, White

[Notes] — In the late 19th century, the prestigious architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White often employed classical designs. They used classical style in large American cities as if they were "the Rome of the Caesars" (Craven, 293).
Their Washington Square Arch (1895), in New York City, recalls the Arch of Constantine in Rome.
Their majestic design for New York's Pennsylvania Station (1910; see more pictures of the old station), was modeled on the Baths of Caracalla (Rome, 212-216 AD).

Washington DC

[Notes] — Other examples of neoclassical architecture in Washington DC include the following.

New York City

[Notes] — In New York City, great examples of neoclassical architecture include Federal Hall (1834-42), and the High bridge over the Harlem River (completed in 1848), a multi-arched bridge modeled after a Roman aqueduct, which carried water to the city from the Croton Reservoir in Westchester County. You can find pictures inside the page of the High Bridge Coalition and in this Wikipedia article.
Consider also the Roman style of the Main Building at

  • Ellis Island (1900): you can find more information from the official Ellis Island site.

    Bibliography (for papers touching on this topic):

    1. Craven, Wayne. American Art, History, and Culture. Boston: McGraw Hill, 1995.
    2. Glancey, Jonathan. The Story of Architecture. New York: Dorling Kindersly, 2003.
    3. Gummere, Richard. The American Colonial Mind and the Classical Tradition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963.
    4. Kennon, Donald. A Republic for the Ages. The United States Capitol and the Political Culture of the Early Republic. Charlottesville: University Press, 1999.
    5. Miles, Edwin A. "The Young American Nation and the Classical World." Journal of the History of Ideas Vol. 35, Issue 2 (April-June 1974), 259-74.

  • 4.5 Old and new canons

    [Notes] —This section contains excerpts from Garry Wills, "There's Nothing Conservative About the Classics' Revival", The New York Times, Feb. 16, 1997.
    «The canon — that body of Western thought and art that is supposed to be at the core of all our education — is succumbing to attack or neglect, is opposed as repressive or dismissed as irrelevant.
    If so, then the ancient Greek and Roman cultures, "the classics" par excellence, the core of the old canon for so much of Western history, should be the least retrievable part of the "authorized" past.
    If the classics are a sinking ship, why are so many people beating their way (often against stiff opposition) to clamber on board?
    Black studies have taken up the thesis of Martin Bernal's "Black Athena," which claims African origins for ancient Greek civilization. The debate over this claim is less interesting than the fact that the way to establish historic credentials is still by association with the canon.»

    Women studies

    [Notes] — «Women's studies, one might think, could not get much from the male-oriented world of Greek and Roman wars, politics and athletics.
    But the strong women of Attic drama (Helen, Antigone, Medea, Clytemnestra, Electra) and of Roman history (Antonia Augusta, Agrippina, Justina) reveal tensions and a lack of confidence in the patriarchal structure, tensions explored by feminist scholars who are in the vanguard of classical studies (Nicole Loraux, Helene Foley, Froma Zeitlin, Deborah Lyons and others).
    These are not just incremental developments in ongoing scholarship, but radical, even wrenching, departures from what went before.
    Quieter voices in the profession have deplored the "multiculturalizing" of the canon. For these guardians of an older tradition, making the classics "relevant" destroys their whole purpose, which is to resist the winds of change and offer a timeless ideal all later ages can aspire toward.
    This concept of a serene core of cultural values at the center of Western civilization is entirely false. After the large-scale disappearance or dilution of classical literature in the Middle Ages, the classics returned, in several stages, as a challenge to the canon of the time. Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas made the newly-translated Aristotle texts "relevant" to Christian thinking, despite rejection of them as uncanonical in centers of orthodoxy like the University of Paris.»

    Tools of subversion

    [Notes] — «The classics returned again as an exotic challenge in the 15th century, when a flood of Greek manuscripts from Byzantium intensified the Italian Renaissance.
    The classics were subversive, not only of scholastic orthodoxy this time, but of a whole canon of cultural biases and tastes (Gothic art/poetry and Biblical allegory).
    It was the contemporarily useful things that were revered — rhetoric (Cicero) by Petrarch, textual authenticity by Erasmus, republicanism (Livy) by Machiavelli, historical skepticism (Tacitus) by Aretino, satire (Lucian) by Rabelais.
    For these men the classics were tools, even weapons, to use against the medieval order and the church, against the authorized creeds of the time.
    In the 18th-century Enlightenment, the classics were at last substituted for an entire older order. They would now arbitrate taste, regulate education, set standards of thought and action.
    But even this universal ideal was based on a partial reading of the classics: Rome was preferred, Greece comparatively neglected, and Athens entirely reprobated (as the model of "mobocratic" unruliness).
    A century later, in the Romantic period, Athens rose up as an intruder into the Roman canon. Even the Greek texts that had been taught in Enlightenment schools acquired a new and "adversary" meaning: Homer, for instance, was now seen as a primitive bard.»

    The old is new again

    [Notes] — «These periods of classical revival are the times when (to quote the song) "everything old is new again."
    But our current idealizers of the canon would consider them all "takeovers" — not suitably humble and submissive toward the classics, but recasting them to suit new needs and tastes.
    All forms of classicism are raids upon what is usable from a vast body of work. The "classics" aren't a single unified thing.»


    [Notes] — «Classical Latin literature is not so long-lived as Greek; but it, too, is rich with centuries of varied use, from Plautus in the third century BC to Ausonius in the fourth century A.D.
    The older classicism omitted much of this complex history, or it jumbled eras together in a non-existent "classical age," one lacking major genres (e.g., the Greek novel) and many large aspects of both Greek and Roman life, slavery and homosexuality among them.
    The last two subjects took up great space in classical thought and literature, but they were played down, omitted, even denied by classical educators in the last century. Werner Jaeger's three-volume work on Greek culture, "Paideia," did not even mention slavery.»

    Aeneid's multiculturalism

    [Notes] — «One of the elements leading to the current renewal of the classics was work done on slavery by Marxist historians of the classics like G. E. M. de Ste. Croix and Moses Finley.
    Another element is precisely an emphasis on multiculturalism. Robert Kaster, the current president of the American Philological Association, points out that Vergil's "Aeneid" very consciously weaves different cultures into the foundation of Rome. The Greeks who brought their culture to Latium, the Latins and Sabines already there, the Etruscans — all are presented as formative elements in the future Rome.
    In fact, one reason for the stability of the Roman Empire, embracing so many different cultures, was its openness to other peoples — an openness that is made the secret of the Romans' own origins in Vergil's epic.»

    "Our classics"

    [Notes] — «Eurocentrism, when it was embedded in the study of the classics, created a false picture of the classics themselves.
    Multiculturalism is now breaking open that deception. We learn that "the West" is an admittedly brilliant derivative of the East. Semites created the stories the Greeks revered in Homer — just as Jewish scholars brought Aristotle back to the West from Islam in the Middle Ages.
    Multiculturalism, far from being a challenge to the classics, is precisely what is reviving them. If there is a resurgence of interest in the classics, it is because we are making them our classics — as the Renaissances of the 12th and 15th centuries did, as the Enlightenment and the romantic period did.»

    Classics like us?

    [Notes] — «But do we want the classics to be like Clinton's first cabinet and "look like America?"
    Whether we want to or not, that is the only way the classics have ever been revived. We revive them only when we rethink them as a way of rethinking ourselves.
    This need for relevance has led to partiality and exaggeration in all classical revivals. The Enlightenment Homer looked a lot like Alexander Pope, as the romantic period's looked like Ossian. In the Renaissance, Erasmus attacked the excesses in the cult of Cicero. But each era found genuine treasures in its raid on the jumble of good things bequeathed us by ancient Greece and Rome.»

    The study of Latin

    [Notes] — «Old style canonists may still wonder how we can talk about a revival of the classics when Latin has not been reinstalled in the schools as the basis for our education.
    People who take that position forget three things.
    Latin was widely studied in our schools at the very time when the classics went into decline. Children correcting their gerunds are not going to revive the classics, or even profit from a revival, just because they have had a year or two of Latin. The defenders of the canon who denounced relevance and mere utility were forced to make spurious claims of utility for the old methods of teaching Latin. They said it was a good way to learn English grammar. This is like saying that bicycle repair helps you understand computers.
    Second, when revivals have occurred in the past, the mass of people were not educated in the original languages.
    Third, all classical revivals have relied heavily on translation. The Greek and Arabic sources were translated into medieval Latin for the 12th-century Renaissance. Classical Greek was translated into Latin during the 15th-century Renaissance — and then into the vernaculars.»


    [Notes] — «The only way we get close enough to understand this is by rethinking the classics and ourselves, as multiculturalists have been forcing us to do.
    The ancient texts have become eerily modern in what they have to say about power relationships between men and women, gay men and war, superiors and subordinates. They have made Sappho our contemporary. They are rewriting the history of the novel. They raise again the issues of empire, democracy, alliances.»

    4.6 Italian curriculum

    [Notes] —You can use the following links to find general information about the Italian curriculum or an overview of recent reforms (updated in 2008).
    For Italian students, traditionally there has been an abundance of opportunities to learn about Roman history and culture in their curricula.
    Broad reforms of the Italian school system which were approved in 2002 and between 2005 and 2009 have shifted some of the emphasis from the classical age to the last two centuries, and from the humanities to the sciences.
    Following a reform that was realized during Fascism under the direction of famous philosopher Giovanni Gentile, Italian students during the rest of the 20th century studied the contents of Roman civilization at different stages during their curriculum.
    For example, during primary school Italian students would be presented with an overview of Roman history, plus generic references to classical culture and literature.
    During middle school they would undertake the systematic study of Greek and Roman history, and of the Latin language (in greater detail before 2002).
    The classics in the Italian curriculum
    High school called for the study of Roman history, Latin literature, and, depending on the kind of high school chosen by the student, also several years of Latin language, or both Latin and classical Greek.
    At the university level, students majoring in the Humanities still take one or more classes of Latin language/literature, or Roman history; the number and content of those classes depend on whether the student intends to pursue a career in teaching, and at what level.
    Given the constant exploitation of Roman culture in the fascist propaganda, it is easy to understand how the fascist government would support Gentile's reform.
    Giovanni Gentile, a real erudite and a great philosopher but also a close collaborator of Mussolini, was murdered by Italian partisans towards the end of World War II, mostly because of his visibility as a public figure, and because he was an easy target, usually traveling without an escort.
    The cultural contents emphasized by Gentile's reform were not in and of themselves fascist: in fact the reform survived virtually unscathed after the collapse of Fascism, in spite of the drastic political and institutional changes that took place in postwar Italy.

    4.7 Barbarians

    [Notes] — Contrary to what one may expect, classical monuments in Italy were not always appreciated and respected. For example, large sections of the Colosseum were taken down and the material was reused in the construction of other buildings.
    Many other classical Roman buildings suffered a similar fate. This practice became so common that one saying was created to define it, and it is still famous: "Quod non fecerunt barbari fecerunt Barberini" [=what the barbarians were not able to do, the Barberinis accomplished].
    The abovementioned sarcastic saying makes reference to a 16th-century Pope, Urban VIII, whose family name was Barberini. According to rumors dating back to that time, it was the Pope's doctor, Giulio Mancini, who came up with the critical remark. The event that prompted it was the removal of the ancient bronze plating from the portico of the Pantheon.
    Writer and politician Cassiodorus (who lived during the 6th century AD), maintains that there were still roughly 4000 statues inside the city of Rome. Many of them (probably the majority) were made of bronze.
    After the collapse of the Roman empire it became more difficult and more expensive to produce metal alloys: therefore most of the bronze statues, and also the bronze plating of temples and other buildings were melted, and the bronze reused, not to create other works of art, but often for more mundane purposes.
    As a result, many people today erroneously assume that most statues of antiquity were made of marble or stone, like those that are commonly on display inside modern-day museums.
    During the Renaissance Roman bronze was recast to make artillery: given the primitive technology applied to the fabrication of weapons at that time, the barrels and the chambers of the cannons had to be very thick in order to compensate for the lack of precise scientific calculations, in an attempt to prevent the explosion of the cannon when it fired.
    Because of the military crisis that the Italian states faced in the early 1500s, the respect for Roman civilization and its vestiges was put aside, and the needs of defense became an indisputable priority.

    Marcus Aurelius

    [Notes] — The most famous among the surviving bronze statue is that of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, on Rome's Capitoline hill: you can look at pictures of that famous the equestrian statue.
    Recent studies conducted before the last restoration have ascertained that even the Emperor's statue (see the Wikipedia article) went through some rough times: it probably fell (or was pushed down) during the Roman era, and later on, probably during the 1527 sack of Rome (carried out by rogue units of the army of Emperor Charles V), it was shot at; the holes of the bullets, in the heads of the Emperor and of the horse, were then covered with patches.

    The Marvels of Rome

    [Notes] — Italian scholar Chiara Frugoni researched foreign pilgrims visiting Rome during the 12th and 13th century. In the surviving manuscripts from that period one can find references to the eternal city as "a total ruin," which nonetheless still betrays its pristine greatness.
    In a medieval "guide" written by an English pilgrim named Gregorius (Gregory), entitled The Marvels of Rome, the attention of the writer is absorbed almost entirely by the Roman ruins/monuments, rather than by the Christian sites.
    In fact, Master Gregory complains angrily about the neglect in which many important Roman monuments are left, and also criticizes harshly the practice of taking marble, stone and metals from antique Roman buildings.
    Only 3 churches are mentioned in his travelogue, and very few remarks are reserved for medieval Rome, its towers and castle-like palaces
    What really moves Gregory is the spectacle of Imperial Rome: the triumphal arches, the obelisks, the pyramids, the sculpted columns (like Trajan's column), etc.

    Marcus Aurelius

    [Notes] — Among the marble statues, Gregory is intrigued by a statue of Venus, naked, still showing traces of its original colors (there was red on her cheeks).
    Master Gregory finds that Venus has been represented with such powerful realism that he admits to walking more than a mile from his inn, on three different occasions, to see it, so strong was his fascination.
    This particular statue of Venus is probably the one that you can admire today inside the Musei Capitolini in Rome.
    Gregory also comments on a few splendid bronze statues that survived amidst the ruins. Many pages of this manuscript are devoted to the bronze statue of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
    Many of his contemporaries, Gregory writes, believed that it was the statue of the Emperor Constantine, who converted to Christian religion (a belief that may have helped protect that statue from destruction).
    A recent English edition of the manuscript is the following: Gregorius, Magister. [Mirabilia Romae] The marvels of Rome. Translated with an introduction and commentary by John Osborne. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1987.

    The End

    Sirmione, view from the Grottos of Catullus