Edward Augustus Freeman.

Sketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice online

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Such is Zara, a city in which, as at Parenzo, the ecclesiastical
element distinctly prevails, as contrasted with the mainly pagan
interest of Pola. Such is equally the case in our next Dalmatian city
also. But the main interest of Sebenico is of a different kind from
that of any of its fellows. We go there to study a church, but, as we
have seen, a church which has little in common with other churches in
Dalmatia or anywhere else. At Zara, at Spalato, at Ragusa, we study
buildings which all in some sort hang together. At Sebenico we stop
our course to study something which stands altogether aloof from all.




The main object and centre of all historical and architectural
inquiries on the Dalmatian coast is of course the home of Diocletian,
the still abiding palace of Spalato. From a local point of view, it is
the spot which the greatest of the long line of renowned Illyrian
Emperors chose as his resting-place from the toils of warfare and
government, and where he reared the vastest and noblest dwelling that
ever arose at the bidding of a single man. From an oecumenical point
of view, Spalato is yet more. If it does not rank with Rome, Old and
New, with Ravenna and with Trier, it is because it never was, like
them, an actual seat of empire. But it not the less marks a stage, and
one of the greatest stages, in the history of the Empire. On his own
Dalmatian soil, Docles of Salona, Diocletian of Rome, was the man who
had won fame for his own land, and who, on the throne of the world,
did not forget his provincial birthplace. In the sight of Rome and of
the world Jovius Augustus was more than this. Alike in the history of
politics and in the history of art, he has left his mark on all time
that has come after him, and it is on his own Spalato that his mark
has been most deeply stamped. The polity of Rome and the architecture
of Rome alike received a new life at his hands. In each alike he cast
away shams and pretences, and made the true construction of the fabric
stand out before men's eyes. Master of the Roman world, if not King,
yet more than King, he let the true nature of his power be seen, and,
first among the Cæsars, arrayed himself with the outward pomp of
sovereignty. In a smaller man we might have deemed the change a mark
of weakness, a sign of childish delight in gewgaws, titles, and
trappings. Such could hardly have been the motive in the man who, when
he deemed that his work was done, could cast away both the form and
the substance of power, and could so steadily withstand all
temptations to take them up again. It was simply that the change was
fully wrought; that the chief magistrate of the commonwealth had
gradually changed into the sovereign of the Empire; that Imperator,
Cæsar, and Augustus, once titles lowlier than that of King, had now
become, as they have ever since remained, titles far loftier. The
change was wrought, and all that Diocletian did was to announce the
fact of the change to the world. So again, now that the Roman city had
grown into the Roman world, a hill by the Tiber had long ceased to be
a fit dwelling-place for rulers who had to keep back hostile inroads
from the Rhine and the Euphrates. This fact too Diocletian announced
to the world. He planted his Augusti and his Cæsars on spots better
suited for defence against the German and the Persian than the spot
which had been chosen for defence against the Sabine and the Etruscan.
Jupiter of the Capitol and his representatives on earth were to be
equally at home in every corner of their dominions. Nor is it
wonderful if, with such aims before him, he deemed that a faith which
taught that Jupiter of the Capitol was a thing of naught was a faith
which it became his votary to root out from all the lands that bowed
to Jove and to Jovius. What if his work in some sort failed? what if
his system of fourfold rule broke up before his own eyes - if his
Bithynian capital soon gave way to the wiser choice of a successor, if
the faith which he persecuted became, almost on the morrow, the faith
of his Empire? Still his work did not wholly fail. He taught that
Empire was more than kingship, a lesson never forgotten by those who,
for fifteen hundred years after him, wore the diadem of Diocletian
rather than of Augustus. In some sort he founded the Roman Empire.
What Constantine did was at once to undo and to complete his work by
making that Empire Holy.

Such a man, if not actually a creator, yet so pre-eminently one who
moulded the creations of others into new shapes, might well take to
himself a name from the supreme deity of his creed, the deity of whom
he loved to be deemed the special votary. The conception which had
grown up in the mind, and had been carried out by the hand, of the
peasant of Salona might well entitle him to his proud surname. Nor did
the organizing hand of Jovius confine its sphere to the polity of the
Empire only. He built himself an house, and, above all builders, he
might boast himself of the house that he had builded. Fast by his own
birthplace - a meaner soul might have chosen some distant
spot - Diocletian reared the palace which marks a still greater epoch
in Roman art than his political changes mark in Roman polity. On the
inmost shore of one of the lake-like inlets of the Hadriatic, an inlet
guarded almost from sight by the great island of Bua at its mouth, lay
his own Salona, now desolate, then one of the great cities of the
Roman world. But it was not in the city, it was not close under its
walls, that Diocletian fixed his home. An isthmus between the bay of
Salona and the outer sea cuts off a peninsula, which again throws out
two horns into the water to form the harbour which has for ages
supplanted Salona. There, not on any hill-top, but on a level spot by
the coast, with the sea in front, with a background of more distant
mountains, and with one peaked hill rising between the two seas like a
watch-tower, did Diocletian build the house to which he withdrew when
he deemed that his work of empire was over. And in building that
house, he won for himself, or for the nameless genius whom he set at
work, a place in the history of art worthy to rank alongside of
Iktinos of Athens and Anthemios of Byzantium, of William of Durham and
of Hugh of Lincoln.

And now the birthplace of Jovius is forsaken, but his house still
abides, and abides in a shape marvellously little shorn of its ancient
greatness. The name which it still bears comes straight from the name
of the elder home of the Cæsars. The fates of the two spots have been
in a strange way the converse of one another. By the banks of the
Tiber the city of Romulus became the house of a single man; by the
shores of the Hadriatic the house of a single man became a city. The
Palatine hill became the _Palatium_ of the Cæsars, and _Palatium_ was
the name which was borne by the house of Cæsar by the Dalmatian shore.
The house became a city; but its name still clave to it, and the house
of Jovius still, at least in the mouths of its own inhabitants, keeps
its name in the slightly altered form of Spálato.

He placed his home in a goodly land, on a spot whose first sight is
striking at any moment; but special indeed is the good luck of him who
for the first time draws near to Spalato at the hour of sunset. It is
a moment to be marked in a life, as we round the island headland, one
of the stony Dalmatian hills rising bleak and barren from the sea, and
catch the first glimpse of the city, the tall bell-tower, the proud
rampart of mountains which forms its background. But the sight is more
spirit-stirring still if we come on that sight at the very moment
when - in sight of the home of the great persecutor we may use the
language of mythology - the sun-god has just sunk into its golden cup.
The sinking sun seems no unfit symbol, as we look on the spot where
the lord of the world withdrew to seek for rest after his toils.
Another moment, the headland is rounded; its top is kindled like
Vesuvius in the last rays of the sunlight; the lesser light is kindled
before the greater has wholly failed us, and, by the light of sun and
moon together, we can trace out the long line of the sea-front of the
palace which became a city. No nobler site could surely have been
found within the bounds of the Empire of the two Augusti and their
Cæsars. The sea in front, the mountains behind, the headlands, the
bays, the islands scattered around, might indeed have formed a realm
from which the prince who had there fixed his home would have been
unwise to go forth again to wrestle with the storms of the world which
lay beyond its borders. The mountains have drawn nearer to the shore;
the islands have gathered round the entrance of the haven, as if to
shut out all but the noble bay and its immediate surroundings, as if
to fence in a dominion worthy of Jovius himself.

We land with the moon lighting up the water, with the stars above us,
the northern wain shining on the Hadriatic, as if, while Diocletian
was seeking rest by Salona, the star of Constantine was rising over
York and Trier. Dimly rising above us we see, disfigured indeed, but
not destroyed, the pillared front of the palace, reminding us of the
Tabularium of Rome's own Capitol. We pass under gloomy arches, through
dark passages, and presently we find ourselves in the centre of palace
and city, between those two renowned rows of arches which mark the
greatest of all epochs in the history of the building art. We think
how the man who re-organized the Empire of Rome was also the man who
first put harmony and consistency into the architecture of Rome. We
think that, if it was in truth the crown of Diocletian which passed to
every Cæsar from the first Constantius to the last Francis, it was no
less in the pile which rose into being at his word that the germ was
planted which grew into Pisa and Durham, into Westminster and Saint
Ouen's. There is light enough to mark the columns put for the first
time to their true Roman use, and to think how strange was the fate
which called up on this spot the happy arrangement which had entered
the brain of no earlier artist - the arrangement which, but a few years
later, was to be applied to another use in the basilica of the Lateran
and in Saint Paul without the walls. Yes, it is in the court of the
persecutor, the man who boasted that he had wiped out the Christian
superstition from the world, that we see the noblest forestalling of
the long arcades of the Christian basilica. It is with thoughts like
these, thoughts pressing all the more upon us where every outline is
clear and every detail is invisible, that we tread for the first time
the Court of Jovius - the columns with their arches on either side of
us, the vast bell-tower rising to the sky, as if to mock the art of
those whose mightiest works might still seem only to grovel upon
earth. Nowhere within the compass of the Roman world do we find
ourselves more distinctly in the presence of one of the great minds of
the world's history; we see that, alike in politics and in art,
Diocletian breathed a living soul into a lifeless body. In the bitter
irony of the triumphant faith, his mausoleum has become a church,
his temple has become a baptistery, the great bell-tower rises proudly
over his own work; his immediate dwelling-place is broken down and
crowded with paltry houses; but the sea-front and the Golden Gate are
still there amid all disfigurements, and the great peristyle stands
almost unhurt, to remind us of the greatest advance that a single mind
ever made in the progress of the building art.

[Illustration: THE TOWER, SPALATO.]

At the present time the city into which the house of Diocletian has
grown is the largest and most growing town of the Dalmatian coast. It
has had to yield both spiritual and temporal precedence to Zara, but,
both in actual population and all that forms the life of a city,
Spalato greatly surpasses Zara and all its other neighbours. The
youngest of the Dalmatian towns, which could boast neither of any
mythical origin nor of any Imperial foundation, the city which, as it
were, became a city by mere chance, has outstripped the colonies of
Epidauros, of Corinth, and of Rome. The palace of Diocletian had but
one occupant; after the founder no Emperor had dwelled in it, unless
we hold that this was the villa near Salona where the deposed Emperor
Nepos was slain, during the patriciate of Odoacer. The forsaken palace
seems, while still almost new, to have become a cloth factory, where
women worked, and which therefore appears in the Notitia as a
Gynæcium. But when Salona was overthrown, the palace stood ready to
afford shelter to those who were driven from their homes. The palace,
in the widest sense of the word - for of course its vast circuit took
in quarters for soldiers and officials of various kinds, as well as
the rooms actually occupied by the Emperor - stood ready to become a
city. It was a _chester_ ready made, with its four streets, its four
gates, all but that towards the sea flanked with octagonal towers, and
with four greater square towers at the corners. To this day the
circuit of the walls is nearly perfect; and the space contained within
them must be as large as that contained within some of the oldest
_chesters_ in our own island. The walls, the towers, the gates, are
those of a city rather than of a house. Two of the gates, though their
towers are gone, are nearly perfect: the _porta aurea_, with its
graceful ornament; the _porta ferrea_ in its stern plainness,
strangely crowned with its small campanile of later days perched on
its top. Within the walls, besides the splendid buildings which still
remain, besides the broken-down walls and chambers which formed the
immediate dwelling-place of the founder, the main streets were lined
with massive arcades, large parts of which still remain. Diocletian,
in short, in building a house, had built a city. In the days of
Constantine Porphyrogenitus it was a [Greek: kastron] - Greek and
English had by his day alike borrowed the Latin name; but it was a
[Greek: kastron] which Diocletian had built as his own house, and
within which was his hall and palace. In his day the city bore the
name of Aspalathon, which he explains to mean [Greek: palation
mikron]. When the palace had thus become a common habitation of men,
it is not wonderful that all the more private buildings whose use had
passed away were broken down, disfigured, and put to mean uses. The
work of building over the site must have gone on from that day to
this. The view in Wheler shows several parts of the enclosure occupied
by ruins which are now covered with houses. The real wonder is that so
much has been spared and has survived to our own days. And we are
rather surprised to find Constantine saying that in his time the
greater part had been destroyed. For the parts which must always have
been the stateliest remain still. The great open court, the peristyle,
with its arcades, have become the public piazza of the town; the
mausoleum on one side of it and the temple on the other were preserved
and put to Christian uses. We say the mausoleum, for we fully accept
the suggestion made by Professor Glavinich, the curator of the museum
of Spalato, that the present _duomo_, traditionally called the temple
of Jupiter, was not a temple, but a mausoleum. These must have been
the great public buildings of the palace, and, with the addition of
the bell-tower, they remain the chief public buildings of the modern
city. But, though the ancient square of the palace remains wonderfully
perfect, the modern city, with its Venetian defences, its Venetian and
later buildings, has spread itself far beyond the walls of Diocletian.
But those walls have made the history of Spalato, and it is the great
buildings which stand within them that give Spalato its special place
in the history of architecture. In the face of them we hardly stop to
think of the remains of Venetian or even of earlier times. Yet both
within and without the palace walls, scraps of Venetian work may be
found which would attract the eye on any other spot, and hard by the
north-western tower of Diocletian there remains a small desecrated
church of the Byzantine type, which out of Spalato might be set down
as a treasure. But, as we stand beneath the arcades of Jovius, things
which would elsewhere be treasures seem as nothing. They, and the
other buildings which stand in artistic connexion with them, form an
epoch in the history of art, apart from the general history and
general impression of the city which they have at once created and
made famous.


1877 - 1881.

I thought it right to reprint the foregoing sketch of Spalato, the
record of my first visit there in 1875, exactly as it was first
written, with the change of two or three words only. It seemed worth
while to keep the first impressions of such a place as they were set
down at once after the first sight of it. Instead therefore of
recasting this piece, as I have done several of the others, I will
mention a few points on which later visits and further reading might
have led to some change in what I first wrote nearly on the spot.
Another paper of a strictly architectural character, headed
"Diocletian's Place in Architectural History," has been reprinted in
the third series of my Historical Essays, as an appendix to the essay
headed "The Illyrian Emperors and their Land."

First, with regard to the name of the place itself. I seem, when I
wrote my paper of first impressions, to have had no doubt as to the
received derivation from _Palatium_. That derivation is wonderfully
tempting, and it enables one to make an epigrammatic contrast between
the _Palatium_ of Rome and the _Palatium_ of Spalato, between the city
which became a house and the house which became a city. But the fact
remains the same, whatever may be the name. The city did become a
house, and the house did become a city, whether the two were called by
the same name or not. And I am now convinced, chiefly by Mr. Arthur
Evans, that the name of Spalato has nothing to do with _Palatium_. I
began to doubt rather early, as I did not see how the =s= could have
got into the name; in a Greek name the origin of the =s= would have
been plain enough, but it seemed to have no place in a Latin name.
And I was staggered by the form _Aspalato_ found as early as the
Notitia Imperii. Nothing goes for less than the etymologies of
Constantine Porphyrogenitus, and anyhow it is hard to see how [Greek:
Aspalathon], the form which he uses, could mean [Greek: mikron
palation]. But, as I had nothing better to propose, I thought it
better, when I wrote the fuller paper which appears in the Historical
Essays, to say nothing about the matter either way. I need not stop to
dispute against the intrusive r in the vulgar form _Spalatro_, as both
Sir Gardner Wilkinson and Mr. Neale have done that before me. But it
is wonderful to see how early it got in. It is as old as the Ravenna
Geographer, who has three forms - _Spalathon_, _Spalathron_, and
_Spalatrum_. I need hardly say that the _r_ is unknown in the country,
unless perhaps now and then in the mouth of some one who thinks it
fine. So one has known people in England destroy etymology, by
sounding _Waltham_ as if it had a _thorn_, and _Bosham_ with the sound
of the German _sch_. I am now fully convinced that the name has
nothing to do with _Palatium_. It is plain that the oldest form that
we can find is _Aspalathum_, and I am inclined to accept the view of
Mr. Evans, who connects the name with _Aspalathus_, or perhaps with
[Greek: asphaltos]. But I must not venture myself in any quarter which
savours of botany or geology.

With the newer lights which I have made use of in Historical Essays, I
think I should no longer speak of Diocletian as "the great
persecutor." Galerius ought in fairness to take that name off his
shoulders. Mr. A. J. Mason has certainly proved thus much; and it is a
great comfort to think so in visiting Spalato. Nor should I have
spoken of him as a native of Salona. He was of Doclea, Dioclea,
however we are to spell it, within the present bounds of Tzernagora.
Those who at various times have spoken of Saint Alban as "protomartyr
_Anglorum_," and of King Lucius as becoming "a _Swiss_ bishop," might
also speak of Diocletian as a Montenegrin.

I was doubtless right in saying that no Emperor, strictly so called,
inhabited the Palace after Diocletian. In strictness indeed no Emperor
ever inhabited it at all, as Diocletian had ceased to be Emperor when
he went there. But I think that, at the time of my first visit, I had
not fully taken in the story of Nepos and his father Count Marcellian.
One is strongly tempted to think that, when Nepos was killed "haud
longe a Salonis, sua in villa," the place meant is the palace of
Spalato. On the other hand, we have the earlier entry in the Notitia,
which certainly looks as if the palace had already become a kind of
Imperial factory. But Nepos would hardly live in the same style as
Jovius, and the palace is quite big enough to lodge the deposed
Emperor and the work-women at the same time.

On the special importance of Spalato in the history of architecture I
have spoken in several places, specially in the paper in my Historical
Essays to which I have already referred. My main position is that, in
the palace at Spalato, after a series of approaches, many of which may
be seen in the building itself, Diocletian or his architect hit on the
happy device of making the arch spring directly from the capital of
the column. To merely classical critics this seems to mark the depth
of degradation into which art had fallen in Diocletian's day. To me it
seems to be the greatest step ever taken, the beginning of all later
forms of consistent arched architecture, Romanesque, Gothic, or any
other. The importance of the step is of course the same whoever took
it; and if the same feature can be shown in any building earlier than
Spalato, we must transfer our praises from, the designer of Spalato to
the designer of that building. Spalato would in that case lose
something of its strictly architectural interest; but that would be
all. But, as far as I know, no such rival has appeared. If the same
form really was used in the baths of Diocletian at Rome, that would
not be a rival building, but a case of the same mind working in the
same way in two places. And to establish an earlier use of the form,
it would be needful to show that it was deliberately employed in some
considerable building. There is nothing commoner in the history of
architecture than the casual and isolated appearance of some form,
which the designer had not so much chosen as stumbled on, long before
the time when it really came into use. I put in this caution, because
I know that there is a kind of feeble approach to the arrangement at
Spalato in one or two buildings at Pompeii. And, great as was the
advance at Spalato, it had, like many other cases of advance, its weak
side. The Ravenna stilt and the Byzantine double capital were both of
them shifts to relieve, as it were, the light abacus of the Corinthian
capital from the weight which the arch laid upon it. The heavy abacus
of Pisa and Lucca was a better escape from this difficulty. Again, the
lightness of the columns used at Spalato and in the basilicas which
followed its model forbade the use of the vault, and condemned the
roofs of the basilicas to be among their poorest features. In the
peristyle itself of course no roof was needed, though to an eye used
to Rome and Ravenna it has so much the air of an unroofed basilica
that it is really hard to believe that it was always open. But, though
the basilican arrangement forbade the use of the vault, yet the step
taken at Spalato was not without its effect on later vaulted
buildings. When the vault came in again, as in the heavier forms of
the German Romanesque, men had learned that the arch and its pier,
whether that pier was a light column or a massive piece of wall, were
enough for all artistic purposes, without bringing in, as in the
classical Roman, purely ornamental features from a style which
followed another system of construction. I came to my belief in the
architectural importance of Spalato thirty years before I saw the
building itself, and, now that repeated visits have made the peristyle
of Diocletian as familiar to me as Wells cathedral, I admire and
approve just as much, though of course I cannot undertake to be quite

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 9 of 23)