A free audio guide that helps you discover the history and context of Rome's ancient sites. Go to http://www.rome-podcast.com for an interactive map of the locations covered and full transcripts of the episodes. Each episode focuses on a specific historical site and guides you through a short tour with the goal of providing a concise but insightful summary of the history and context. Hope you find this informative and useful. Enjoy your time in Rome! Daron Disclaimer: I have endeavored to check all the information presented against the latest known interpretations of the archaeological evidence. Please feel free to provide feedback or corrections if you note something is wrong or has changed since the time of recording. Acknowledgement: This podcast builds on the extensive notes, information and pictures recorded by Jeff Bondono (see www.JeffBondono.com (http://www.jeffbondono.com/) ). Jeff kindly gave permission for me to use his site for reference materials. I encourage you to explore the comprehensive pictures he has created to record all the sites covered in this series (and many more). You will also see that Jeff's work (and therefore this podcast) builds on the prior notes and walking tours created by Walter Muzzy.
28: Trajan's Column
8:52Trajan’s Column is a monument to Emperor Trajan’s victory in the wars with Dacia that took place between the years 101 and 106. It was part of a sequence of constructions built by or dedicated to Trajan. Over time, running from north-west to south-east, these included the Temple of Trajan, the Column itself that was flanked by two libraries, the Basilica Ulpia and the large expanse of Trajan’s main forum square. This description assumes that you are standing in the middle of the curve viewing perimeter looking towards the Column. Positioned there, the Temple of Trajan would have been behind you as its remains lie underneath the Palazzo Valentini. The libraries flanked immediately to the left and right sides of the Column. Sections of the parallel inner columns that define Basilica Ulpia’s main hall can be seen beyond Trajan’s Column. Trajan’s main forum square would have been hidden from view behind the Basilica as would his market, which is over of the far left. In as much as this is possible, the carvings on the column appear to have been intended to be viewed from this north-west vantage point with key scenes in the narrative always shown on this side. It is most notable today because of the exquisitely detailed relief work carved into the column, these give a clear narrative of Trajan's two victorious military campaigns.
35: The Column of Marcus Aurelius
11:09This monument celebrates Marcus Aurelius’ two successful military campaigns against tribes north of the Danube in what is modern day Germany. The first campaign ran from the year 172-173 and was waged primarily against the Marcomanni tribe, the second in the following two years was principally against the Sarmatians. For over a decade, these and other German tribes had been orchestrating raids into the provincial territory of Gaul (what we know today as France) and in the area south of the Danube, even going so far as laying siege to Roman settlements and exacting significant defeats against major Roman forces. In an effort to decisively counter these incursions, in the year 172 under Marcus Aurelius’ command the roman forces crossed the Danube into Marcomannic territory. Although few details are known, his troops were successful in defeating the Marcomanni and their allies as can be inferred by the Emperor adopting the title "Germanicus".. Echoing the design of Trajan’s column, the central cylindrical shaft is 100 feet high (29.5m) and made of 17 cylindrical blocks. A further 14 blocks in the base, plinth and attic gave a total of 31 massive pieces of marble that originally supported a bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius positioned at the top. Like Trajan’s column, it has a central spiral staircase and is decorated with a spiral frieze that wraps around the column shaft, in this case circling the column twenty-one times and maintaining a very uniform height throughout. The narrative of the carvings start with Roman troops crossing the Danube and then, in contrast to Trajan’s Column that heavily focused on construction works and religious duties undertaken by his roman forces on campaign, this storyline extensively catalogues the brutality of the roman troops and cruelty shown towards the Germanic tribes. Also, this carving is significantly deeper, its details are less subtle and it portrays a much less ambiguous message which might be simply stated as “mess with Rome and you’ll pay the price”. Following closely the narrative format established on Trajan’s column, Marcus Aurelius’ two campaigns are recorded reading from the bottom to the top. They are delineated by the inclusion of Victory figures half-way up the column. Starting with the crossing of the Danube, the first campaign follows a fairly conventional storyline of troops marching, imperial speeches, sacrifices to the gods and then the sacking of enemy towns. That said, the inhumanity with which the barbarians are treated in this case can perhaps be understood when one considers that this was not a military force out to annex an area of land with the intent of putting a new governance structure in place. Instead it had been mobilized to enact retribution for previous attacks against the empire and therefore focused primarily on punishment. Rome’s success in Marcus Aurelius’ first campaign is depicted as being delivered, in the end, by a miraculous intervention from the gods. Corroborating this, we understand from historians of the time that a summer’s drought was alleviated in the end by heavy rains that saved the imperial forces. The carvings then close their story of this first campaign with a surrender and a peace arrangement with the enemies of the empire, acts of imperial clemency and various religious sacrifices. The storyline of the second campaign reads as being even more brutal than the first. The Germanic tribes had broken whatever peace pledges they had made and Marcus Aurelius once again found himself waging war to suppress the empire’s troublesome northern neighbors. This time there would be no hint of clemency or forgiveness from the imperial troops. The story told by the carvings evidences intense fighting, decapitations of prisoners, the unmerciful destruction of villages; slaves, animals and crops were taken in a way that left the land barren and the people with no means of surviving the coming winter – leaving no doubt this was a brutal campaign.
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34: The Mausoleum of Augustus
10:08Augustus started building the mausoleum following his victory over Anthony and Cleopatra in 31 BCE at the naval battle on the west coast of Greece close to the promontory of Actium – his success brought an end to the civil war and meant that Egypt transitioned to be a Roman province. Augustus’ cremated ashes wouldn’t be placed inside for another 45 years however he would see it serve as the tomb for several imperial family members and close friends during his lifetime. Today this imperial burial site is surrounded by a combination of somewhat brutal architecture from the 1930s, a church hospital and a modern museum dedicated to Augustus’ transplanted and reconstructed Ara Pacis. However, when first completed the Mausoleum would have dominated the landscape as it was tall, strategically positioned in a large open area and visible from a long distance, it was also placed close by the Via Flaminia and the Tiber – both major access routes for Rome. Considering the historical significance of the building, the Mausoleum has suffered (and continues to receive) a surprising level of neglect. At the time of this recording in October 2020 there is still no visitor access despite millions of dollars and multi-year efforts to renovate and re-open the site. That said, given the adjacency of Ara Pacis museum, if you’re already there, it is worth taking a few minutes to look across to the final resting place of the first and perhaps greatest Roman Emperor. What remains is principally the central core and foundation structure of a huge circular tomb. The design of the upper tiers is the subject of speculation as there are no remaining original external walls and no contemporary evidence in coins, sketches or sufficiently detailed descriptions to allow a confident reconstruction. That said, we do have one account by Strabo a Greek geographer and historian who lived in Asia Minor during the transitional period of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Writing about the Campus Martius (Field of Mars) shortly after Augustus’ death he says: For this reason, in the belief that this place was holiest of all, the Romans have erected in it the tombs of their most illustrious men and women. The most noteworthy is what is called the Mausoleum, a great mound near the river on a lofty foundation of white marble, thickly covered with ever-green trees to the very summit. Now on top is a bronze image of Augustus Caesar; beneath the mound are the tombs of himself and his kinsmen and intimates; behind the mound is a large sacred precinct with wonderful promenades; and in the center of the Campus is the wall (this too of white marble) round his crematorium; the wall is surrounded by a circular iron fence and the space within the wall is planted with black poplars. The circular mausoleum had a diameter of 300 feet (roughly 89meters) with its entrance to the south – which faces towards the rear of the Chiesa di San Rocco all’Augusteo. The entrance way led into a roughly 40m wide series of concentric walls that themselves formed three circular corridors. Each of these corridors had a barrel vault and they surrounded a spiral staircase in the middle of the mausoleum that wound its way up 30meters to the sepulcher where we imagine the ashes of the deceased were placed. Directly above this area was the pinnacle structure that supported the large statue of Augustus mentioned by Strabo. In front of the entrance were two bronze plaques attached to pilasters on either side of the main doors. These contained the text of the Res Gestae a personal account of Augustus’ accomplishments. If you are visiting the site then consider going to the outside wall of the Ara Pacis museum to the side that faces the Mausoleum. There you will find a complete copy of this latin text which goes into detail of Augustus’ political career; the offices and political honors that he held. Sometime before the fourth century the entrance to the Mausoleum gained two plain obelisks of red Aswan granite. These are gone from the site and are now positioned in the Piazza del Quirinale and in front of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. In the Middle Ages, the Mausoleum was converted into a fortress and later a site for formal gardens. In the Eighteenth Century, the area inside the upper terrace was used for bullfights, then for circus and theatrical performances, and in the Twentieth Century, before restoration began it was used as a venue for concerts. Plans to re-open the site remain unclear given the slow progress of the renovation – the latest target date of spring 2020 has clearly not been met. Image: "Rome. Mausoleum of Augustus." by Sergey Sosnovskiy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
33: The Theater of Marcellus
10:12The Theater was named after Emperor Augustus’ nephew Marcus Claudius Marcellus however the building was originally commissioned by Julius Caesar who bought and cleared the land in a space to the south of the Field of Mars amongst a cluster of Temples and next to the Tiber. Notably, neither Julius Caesar nor Marcellus were alive at the time of the Theater’s opening – Caesar had been assassinated and Marcellus had passed away from an illness and the task of completing the project had fallen on Augustus. The naming and official opening took place 10 years after Marcellus’s death in the same year that Augustus dedicated the Ara Pacis. Marcellus was the eldest son of Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor, a former Roman consul, and of Octavia Minor, sister of Caesar Augustus. Marcellus, the Emperor’s nephew, married Augustus’ daughter Julia in 25 BCE thereby becoming also his son-in-law. He served under Augustus in Hispania alongside the future emperor Tiberius and was elected to a magistrate's office at a very young age, an honor Marcellus celebrated by sponsoring extraordinary public games. His rapid rise to public office and close ties to the Emperor are said to have brought him into conflict with Agrippa and others. This promising career was cut short when Marcellus died in 23 BCE at the age of 19. At that time an illness was spreading throughout Rome and first Augustus and then Marcellus would succumb. The emperor recovered but the illness proved fatal for Marcellus who passed away in Baiae. The architecture of the theatre had a significant influence on subsequent buildings in Rome and across the empire for example the design of the façade was reproduced in iconic buildings such as the nearby Colosseum and the Amphitheater in Verona. In particular, the theater structure had a curving double colonnade decorated on the outside with three orders or styles of columns, two of these are well preserved in the lower levels. Although now missing, the keystones of the external archways of the colonnade were decorated with ornately carved masks consistent with the tradition of Greek drama that were used by actors to show expressions of smiling or frowning. The theatre was 111 m in diameter and was the largest and arguably the most important in Ancient Rome. It is thought to have been able to accommodate more than 20,000 spectators. For its opening, Augustus commissioned special games and festivities. As part of this he had a golden statue of his nephew wearing a golden crown brought into the Theater and seated on a traditional Roman curule chair in amongst the dignitaries that had arranged the celebrations. The Theater’s proximity to the river meant that the route of the city’s triumphal procession needed to be adjusted. Instead of going around the building it would be redirected to take advantage of the new facilities and passed in front of the stage and in full view of the theater’s audience. It is likely that Caesar’s original design had to be adjusted to accommodate this requirement – something that was achieved by widening the gap between the stage front and the seating. By the early 1900s, like many of the ancient Roman buildings, the theater had become crowded with piles of old ruins, shops, shacks and slum housing. Archaeologists had undertaken some exploratory digs at the beginning of the century but, given all of the overlaid structures, it was difficult to ascertain what remained of the original theater. Mussolini ordered the area completely cleared to allow the building to be renovated and restored to a recognizable state. Clearing the site and widening adjacent roads displaced most of the occupants of the Theater to other parts of the city. By the end of the excavations in 1932, over three quarters of the façade had been revealed, the barrel-vault had been cleared, and iron gates installed. Today the building is used as a combination of private apartments and offices however there is good access to view the remains of the outer colonnades. Photo attribution: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Theatre_of_Marcellus_(NO).jpg
32: The Pyramid of Cestius
7:51The Pyramid of Cestius was built during the reign of the emperor Augustus, probably between 18 and 12 BCE. It’s surface is white Carrara marble and the tip is exactly 100 Roman feet (30 meters) high. At the time of its construction, Ancient Rome was heavily influenced by Egyptian architecture after the conquest of Egypt by Augustus in 30BCE. Obelisks and other monuments where being imported from this new province to decorate Rome’s buildings, piazzas and its major sporting venues. Despite this fashion, only two pyramids are known to have been built in Rome and the only one left standing is the Pyramid of Cestius. Caius Cestius was a tribune, a plebian and member of the religious corporation of the Septemviri Epulonum. The epulones formed one of the four core religious organizations of ancient Roman priests. The Epulones were tasked with arranging feasts and public banquets at festivals and games, duties that had originally belonged to the pontiffs. In his will, Cestius asked his heirs to construct a tomb in the form of a pyramid and, if that wasn’t an odd challenge enough, he required that the project be completed within 330 days. On the east and west sides, about halfway up, is the inscription recording the names and titles of Cestius, and below, on the east side only, more text that tells the circumstances of the erection of the monument. Note that access to the interior of the pyramid is limited to just a couple of days each month and will require you booking tickets in advance that said, it is worth travelling to see this quite remarkable monument even if you don’t go inside.
31: The Mausoleum of Hadrian
8:48If you’re looking on a map for Hadrian’s Mausoleum then you may well not locate it as its name, purpose, shape and context has changed radically over the past 1900 years. Today it is more commonly known as the Castel Sant’Angelo however the core of this building was originally constructed as a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family. The building was later used by popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum with pleasant cafés and impressive panoramic views of Rome that take in the Tiber river and the Vatican. It was common for mausoleums to be home for the ashes of many family members and Hadrian needed to build his own in part because the nearby mausoleum of Augustus was already full. In a show of feigned modesty, Hadrian was careful to commission a building that did not exceed the diameter of Augustus’ however it was quite significantly taller. Looking today at the Castle Sant’Angelo we see a structure dominated by defensive walls, corner tower fortifications and religious statues that were all built and repeatedly updated over the past 600 years. That said, there are echoes of the original mausoleum design in what we see. This episode explains the history and original design of Hadrian's Mausoleum.
30: The Palatine HIll
35:02As part of this description I will provide some directions and guidance to specific locations to help you explore the site however it is difficult to provide an exact route as the access paths change depending on what archeological excavation or restoration work is taking place. This tour starts at the entry gate on Via di San Gregorio. Once inside the Palatine park, make your way up the hill until you are standing in a wide graveled area overlooking the sunken garden (also known as the Hippodrome). As you walk I will give you some of the general history of the site. Note that visiting the House of Livia and the House of Augustus requires arranging tickets in advance as only limited small group access is allowed and for both of these you will have a dedicated tour guide. For more details go to Coopculture.it The Palatine Hill is said to be the site of the first settlements in Rome and archeological evidence shows indeed that human habitation here extends back to the 10th century BCE. Visible today are therefore the remains of multiple phases of building, rebuilding, stone robbing and overlaying of structures across three thousand years of people living on this hill. Although names have been given to some structures often there is no reliable evidence that links a person to a specific house however you will see that some structures are labelled with Roman names, these are largely a matter of convention rather than evidence that a particular person lived there. The rich and wealthy had long sought to live here overlooking the Roman Forum but it was Emperor Augustus who established the trend of Rome’s emperors making it their imperial residence from around the year 40 BCE. Redevelopment of the hillside over the following centuries means that there is still some debate over the exact identification of buildings from Augustus’ time, some do remain but most of the major large-scale structures we see today were commissioned by Emperor Domitian in the first century or later revised or repaired by the Severan emperors of the third century. Domitian’s extensive palace, which is the first area we will explore, was designed by Rabirius, the construction and remodeling took roughly 10 years and was completed around the year 90. This episode describes: - Domitian's Palace - The Temple of Apollo - The House of Livia - The House of Augustus - The House of Romulus - The Temple of Victory - The Temple of the Great Mother As well as other general history of the Palatine Hill.
29: Largo Argentina
11:21Largo Argentina is an exposed cluster of four temples to the south of the Pantheon and east of the Campo De’ Fiori. Today these sit in the middle of a large square and next to a bustling set of road intersections but they were originally part of a much larger temple complex in the field of Mars. Hundreds of years after the first of the four was constructed they were joined on their west by Pompey’s grand Theater. It is not known for certain which gods should be associated with each temple so traditionally they are referred to simply by the letters A to D. They run alphabetically with rectangular Temple A on the north side closest to the wide road intersection, circular Temple B is next, continuing along we have the two other rectangular temples C and then D. Excavations and soundings indicated that versions of the 3 rectangular Temples were in place as far back as 150 BCE. Each of these was oriented east-west with the entrance steps facing East. Before Temple B was built it appears that there was an earlier and simpler open-roofed religious space likely with a modest altar in the middle – this was thought to be associated with the ancient cult of Juno Caprotina. In the first century BCE all four temples were in position together with a set of sacrificial altars immediately in front of their entrance steps. Although there is not 100% certainty, the following gods have been linked to each Temple. Temple A has been associated with Juturna the goddess of fountains, wells and springs. Scholars have more confidence in the association of Temple B with the Roman goddess Fortuna given that parts of a colossal statue were found close by. Temple C is the most ancient of this set of four, dating back to the 4th or 3rd century BCE. It is generally understood to be dedicated to Feronia, an ancient goddess representing wildlife, fertility, health, and abundance. There are various competing theories for the designation of Temple D’s god however it has been well argued that it should be associated with Lares Permarini, the ancient protectors of navigation.
27: The Circus Maximus
15:42Legend has it that the Circus Maximus was founded by the early kings of Rome in the 6th Century BCE. It is undoubtedly the oldest and was by far the largest public sports venue of ancient Rome. It occupies most of the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills, and served Rome’s chariot-racing stadium for over 1,000 years. That said, use of the Circus was not limited to chariot racing, it also served as a venue for public games or Ludi connected to Roman religious festivals. Ludi were typically sponsored by leading Romans or the Roman state for the benefit of the Roman people and gods. The earliest triumphal ludi at the Circus were vowed by Tarquin the Proud for his victory over Pometia and dedicated to Jupiter, the god of the sky, Ludi ranged in duration and scope from one-day or even half-day events to spectacular multi-venue celebrations held over several days, with religious ceremonies, gladiatorial combat, public feasts, horse and chariot racing, athletics, plays and recitals and wild animal hunts. Some included public executions. The race track is roughly 550m long and 80m wide. The spectator stands are 30m deep and surround almost the entire perimeter giving, in the first century, a maximum capacity was reported to be roughly 250,000 spectators although this may include people sitting on the sides of the adjacent hills – in any case this is over four times more people than the maximum capacity of the Colosseum.
26: The Forum of Julius Caesar
8:14This area, at the side of the Capitoline Hill, was the border between two of the ancient tribes and a site for burials roughly 3,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence shows that at times there were also huts, a forge and in the 6th Century BCE, it was the site of a large house – potentially that of a king. The major redevelopment of this site happened after Julius Caesar prevailed in his civil war with Pompey and reclaimed his position as Consul. He then began a major overhaul of the Roman Forum replacing some of its older buildings and enlarging it into this area behind the Curia. Acquiring the buildings, land and levelling the whole site would have been an extremely expensive undertaking but Caesar had amassed a huge fortune from the spoils of his campaigns across Europe and, in particular, in Gaul. Excavations have revealed that the space provided a vast open colonnaded court that focused attention on the Temple of Genetrix that stood on the north western short side of the square. The temple had been promised by Caesar the evening before the battle of Pharsalus in 48 BCE as his forces prepared to engage directly with Pompey’s troops. Caesar’s promise was made in a late attempt to win favor with Pompey’s preferred deity, Venus Victrix. Although significantly outnumbered, Caesar won the battle but failed to capture Pompey who fled to Egypt only to be subsequently executed by the young Pharaoh Ptolemy. In the end Caesar didn’t keep his word and instead dedicated the building to the Julian family’s preferred deity Venus Genetrix. Never one to miss an opportunity for self promotion, in the center of this courtyard was a military equestrian statue of Caesar in the style of Alexander the Great riding Bucephalus. It was likely twice normal size. This new Forum was dedicated to Caesar in September 46 BCE to celebrate his combined victories over Gaul, Egypt, northern Africa and The Kingdom of Pontus (which is part of what we now know as Turkey).