The Temple of Divus Julius

In 44 BC on the day of his funeral, Julius Caesar’s body was carried out to the Roman Forum. His will was read and then Mark Antony delivered his infamous speech, which is rumored to have included a rotating wax figure of Caesar for the for the public’s viewing pleasure. As one can imagine, this caused quite an uproar, and instead of carrying Caesar the rest of the way to the cremation site at the Campus Martius, they burned his body right then and there. The good news is, ground was now sanctified! People quickly built an altar and column dedicated to Caesar, but these were torn down practically right away by people who were against Caesar. The triumvirate started building an official temple after this in 42 BC, and it was finished and dedicated to Caesar by Augustus on August 18th, 29 BC.

 

Although very little is left of it now, the temple used to be a huge and grandiose building that stood on the east side of the main square of the Forum. There was a podium called a rostra at the front that was 3.5 meters tall and decorated with the beaks of ships that Augustus captured at the Battle of Actium. This was where important people would stand and make speeches to the Roman citizens. On top of that, there was another platform that was about 2 meters tall, so that the temple stood a whole 5.5 meters above the ground. From the ruins that are still there, we can tell that the columns had Corinthian capitals. Inside the cella there was a huge statue of Caesar with a star on his head that symbolized the comet that appeared in the sky shortly after his death. The Romans took this as a sign of his deity, and the simple star has been used as a symbol for divinity ever since.

Arch of Titus

On the final day of our Roman adventure, we visited the Arch of Titus. The Arch of Titus is one of three triumphal arches still standing today in Rome— the Arch of Severus and the Arch of Constantine being the other two. The Arch of Titus was erected under Domitian in 81 C.E. to honor to the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 led by Titus and his father Vespasian and the arch itself is located on the Via Sacra to the south-east of the Roman Forum. Its inscription reads, “The Senate and the People of Rome dedicate this arch to the deified Titus Vespasian Augustus, son of the deified Vespasian.” Some of the arch’s reliefs depict the triumphal procession in great detail. The relief-sculpture on the on the inside of the Palatine-side depicts this scene and includes the seven-branched in the center and the table for the Shew-Bread to its right— two of the holiest objects in the Temple of Jerusalem, according to Josephus’s history of the Jewish Wars. A relief on the ceiling of the arch shows Titus being deified by depicting him ascending into the heavens, riding on the back of an eagle— I didn’t take a picture of it, but look it up its funny trust me.

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During medieval times, the Arch of Titus was built into a fortress wall and saw a great deal of fighting in the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1822, Giuseppe Valadier freed it from the surrounding structures and began restoring the arch. He used travertine to restore the arch and made clear distinctions between the new, travertine parts, and pieces the original structure. This was one of the first and most successful uses of this technique, which became very popular and can be seen in many restored monuments, temples, and other archaeological sites in ancient Rome.

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The Temple of Vesta

While three columns, part of a fourth, and a few stairs is all that remains of the Temple of Vesta, the ruins still provide enough to give onlookers an idea of its former beauty and importance.  Small but significant, the temple was dedicated to Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, and served as the home of an eternal flame thats continuous burn was maintained by a group of six vestal virgins.

Note: The Temple of Vesta is pictured below and should not be confused with the Piazza Bocca della Veritá, located just in front of Tiber Island which also has also been referred to as the Temple of Vesta.

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It was said that if the eternal flame were to ever die out, it would signify the end of the Roman empire, and its ashes were dumped into the Tiber river once a year as a part of an annual ritual. The temple was built under the reign of Numa, who also established the sisterhood/cult of the vestal virgins.  In addition to maintaining the flame, the vestal virgins were also in charge of guarding wills and other important documents.

Located in the east end of the Roman Forum, in its former glory the temple formed a complete circle of pillars that faced to the east. The circular shape of the temple was meant to signify the Earth. Interestingly, the temple did not contain a statue or likeness of Vesta, despite the fact that the temple was dedicated to her.  Throughout history, it burned down on three separate occasions, but was restored each time.

 

The Circus Maximus

The Circus Maximus, today a public park, was in ancient times the largest stadium of Rome and the Empire. Thought by many today as simply the hot-spot of chariot races, the Circus Maximus was actually the host of many types of public entertainment, most notably the Roman ludi, games and spectacles put on for religious reasons. These ludi included anything from gladiatorial combat to public plays, with beast fights, executions, and musical performances all in between.  Later, the Colosseum would house most of the gladiatorial combat and beast fights, leaving the large track-like Circus Maximus to be the hub for many chariot races.

In its use, the Circus Maximus was over 2,000 feet long and about 380 feet wide. At its height it could house some 150,000 spectators, with distinct seating arrangements for officials, citizens, and women. The Circus was situated between the Aventine and Palatine Hills, with construction beginning during the Old Kingdom era, and with new constructions and renovations added more or less consistently overtime.  Overlooking the Circus were several religious temples, including the temples to Ceres, Flora, and Luna, among others nearby and even underground. According to myth, the Circus was the setting for the famous Rape of the Sabines, in which Roman men abducted Sabine women at the Consualia festival and began the populating of Rome.

Going to the Circus Maximus in person was very interesting. The site today functions as a public park, and we were able to walk across the track and really get a grasp on just how huge the place was. I tried imagining a chariot race in the height of the Circus’s use, and I can definitely say that given the opportunity, I would have very much enjoyed seeing a race.

Ludus Magnus

Everyone immediately recognizes the famous Coliseum that hosted the famous gladiatorial games in Ancient Rome. However, when we visited the Colosseum, many people in the huge crowd of tourists seemed to bypass the Ludus Magnus at first, the school that trained the men who fought in the Colosseum. The Ludus Magnus was the largest of the four training sites for gladiators built by the emperor Domitian between 81-96 CE. The school was not excavated until 1937 and we still cannot see the entire site because of modern buildings built on top of the original school. However, archaeologists can piece together what the complete site would have looked like originally by making deductions based on the structure’s symmetry and by consulting the famous marble plan of Rome. The Ludus Magnus was built outside of the Colosseum and was connected to the amphitheater by a series of underground tunnels. Small rooms, occupied either by gladiators themselves or let out to shop keepers, bordered the Ludus Magnus. Gladiators would practiced inside a small arena, where people would come observe the training. It was rebuilt by Trajan from 98-117. Visitors today cannot enter the school but they can approach the site from all four sides and see the remains of the cells, original structure, and arena. The original Travertine columns have mostly fallen apart by now and visitors have to peer down at the Ludus Magnus, sunk down much lower into the earth over time than it was when originally constructed.

For me personally, theColosseum is such an incredibly famous landmark, a lot of times I forget how the amphitheater and the gladiatorial games were once very real things and not mere landmarks or tourist attractions. Standing by the school, I could actually see where these men lived and slept and trained and prepared to fight and even possibly die, and I could imagine the countless Roman citizens who would have walked past this very building and even stopped to watch and be entertained by the training. It made me realize what a very real and accepted part of Roman culture these gladiatorial games were. It made me view the games less as a historical anecdote and more as an actual, real-life occurrence.

Mausoleum of Augustus

Around 28 BC, Emperor Augustus designed and constructed the large tomb, and it was the first Augustan structure on the Campus Martius. The Mausoleum of Augustus lies between the Via Flaminia and the Tiber River at the northern portion of the Campus Martius. When first built, the structure was a mound covered with evergreen trees, and a white stone base covered the bottom of the structure. At the top of the mound, a statue of Augustus could be found. The mausoleum has a large diameter close to 88 meters and a height around 45 meters. The structure of the mausoleum consists of concrete rings with multiple semicircular chambers divided by walls. An entrance to the large tomb faced south. In this structure, most of the Julio-Claudian family was buried along with Emperor Augustus.

Originally, the area around the mausoleum was created as a park with many trees for the public and activities. Throughout time, the use of the Mausoleum of Augustus changed. The structure was used as a fortress, concert hall, amphitheater, bullring, and even a garden.

Excavations were conducted in the 1900s to analyze the structure of the Mausoleum of Augustus for the building and removal of surrounding structures. Currently, the structure is being restored for the public.

Domitian’s Stadium

The Stadium of Domitian became Rome’s first permanent building to be used solely for foot-races and other athletic contests stemming from ancient Greek culture. After a fire struck the city in 79 A.D., a recurring theme for Rome, Emperor Domitian presented this stadium in 86 A.D. as a gift to the Roman people. Made up mostly of brick and concrete, its architecture resembled the well-known Colosseum, and 15,000 to 20,000 spectators could attend the events in this building. Gladiatorial games were held here after the Colosseum was closed from 217 to 228 A.D. for repairs following another, you guessed it, fire. Located in the Campus Martius near the Baths of Agrippa and the Theater of Pompey, this site was a fairly entertaining place during its heyday. The stadium’s field and structure remained here until the Renaissance Era, when the building materials were robbed and mined.

It’s pretty cool how the modern-day Piazza Navona stands on the site where the Stadium of Domitian used to be. Sitting atop the stadium’s ruins, the buildings and open space here outline its shape, with one end of the space being curved and flat on the other. Some remains of the stadium’s structure can be found at the curved end to the north. The buildings also give a good idea of how tall the spectators’ stands likely were. The stadium’s former arena and field sat where the open space now lies, with the running field’s overall shape being highlighted.

It’s also fitting that the Piazza Navona has become one of Rome’s go-to public spaces in its own right, as this site used to be a popular spot when the stadium was still in use. Many shops and restaurants, as well as the Museo di Roma (Museum of Rome), can be found in the surrounding buildings, yet several architectural attractions make this area a memorable one. An Egyptian obelisk and the Fountain of Four Rivers stand at the center of the open space, and two other fountains can found on each end of this space. On the west side lies the Church of Sant’Angese, commemorating the martyr death of thirteen-year-old St. Agnes inside one of the stadium’s arcades, which was also a brothel. Although the Stadium of Domitian no longer stands, it’s still meaningful that its site is just as popular as it was about two-thousand years ago.

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Trajan’s Column is Better Than You

To start off with, it’s much, much older. The Emperor Trajan had the reins of the Empire when it was constructed, actually dedicated in 113 AD–that puts it at over nineteen centuries old. If centuries were years, most of us on the trip would be like, the equivalent of a 3-month-old, and this thing would be the one babysitting us before it goes out to vote.

More seriously, Trajan’s Column was amazing. It’s in the Forum (like a huge amount of imperial stuff is) and has this  i n c r e d i b l e  spiral frieze that wraps around it like a candy-cane stripe, telling the story of Trajan’s victory against the Dacian’s in 106AD–which was such a big deal and let Trajan bring home so much bank that he publicly burned all records of Roman citizen’s debts to the Empire and still had enough leftover to build the biggest forum yet. This place was so huge, his predecessor’s forum–the Forum of Nerva–could have actually fit into just the basilica he constructed as part of it.

Part of the reason the spiral frieze was amazing was because of the themes that track up and down the 100-foot marble column. Though you have to run circles around the thing to properly read it (and stand a good distance away; though over 2,600 figures are carved into it, none of them are carved deeply enough to be seen easily), standing in one spot can let you catch an instance of crossing a river, and to see another similar scene as you look further up a few stripes, or in a different place, the building different camps shown in vertical connection. It’s not unlike writing foreshadowing in a story and then referring back to it later–except with a literal third dimension added to help make the reference less subtle.

The frieze–and the fact that this thing still hasn’t fallen, though the old bronze statue of Trajan that used to be on top has since been replaced by St. Peter (because medieval Christians Couldn’t Handle anything Pagan in their city (saying this as a Roman Catholic myself))–helped make Trajan’s Column great enough that later emperors copied him. Both Antoninus Pious and Marcus Aurelius constructed similar columns (Marcus Aurelius’s still stands today, and objectively its carvings are clearer to read) but Trajan’s was the only one to serve as his tomb.

It’s not very big or even noticeable against the backdrop of the Everything that’s between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills, but Trajan’s Column is a cool and important piece of monumental architecture, for the history it tells, the way it tells it, and because its a rare example of a monument in Rome that stands complete even to this day.

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The empire strikes back.

We spent Monday up and down the Via dei Fori Imperiali focusing on the imperial shaping and reshaping of that part of the city. The Colosseum, built by the Flavian emperors on the site of Nero’s lake and parks, dominated the top of the ancient Via Sacra from 80 CE on.

At the other end of Mussolini’s parade route sit the Forum of Trajan, the last and biggest of the series of imperial forums, and looming above it Trajan’s markets, now an excellent museum centered on the forums.

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Augustus’ right eye (!) from the colossal statue of his genius in the Forum Augustus.

Great views from the markets were enjoyed by the students and by this very imperious seagull.

 

 

Asclepius and Tiber Island

we visited Tiber Island which is on the Tiber river that runs through Rome. Tiber Island itself is boat shaped as well as remnants of the temple. The Asclepius temple came to Rome for the need to heal the city of a bad plague, so Rome sent a group to Epidauros in Greece, where an Asklepius shrine already existed, and bring back what they needed to erect a temple of their own in Rome. As the story goes, on the ship that was returning from Epidauros there was a stowaway… a snake. This snake is believed to represent Asclepius, so when that snake came off the boat and slithered onto Tiber Island, the Romans took it as an omen to build the temple there. Asklepios is the god of healing who is believed to once been a man that then transformed into a god. After the temple was placed there in Rome, the plague quickly dissapeared. It is interesting that the healing temple is in isolation on the Island rather than in the middle of the city, and even today, there is a hospital located on Tiber Island. One of the last remaining remnants on the site is part of Asklepius wielding his staff which can be recognized by the snake wrapping around the staff. It can commonly be mistaken for Hermes’s staff but that staff has a set of wing on it. Tiber Island is a very cool place and I enjoyed learning more about this temple.