William Spalding.

Italy and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) online

. (page 22 of 35)
Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 22 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

while one of its extremities was formed by a lateral wall
of the Basilica. Besides a portico in the middle of the
side opposite the column, the Basilica, like the adjacent
square, had a double colonnade dividing its interior ;
and the fragments of the fine shafts of Egyptian granite,
wliich at present stand nearly in their original places,
show the height of each to have been about fifty-
five feet. The admiration excited in the ancient world
by this magnificent establishment, with its basilica, its
libraries, its temples, and its triumphal arch (plundered
or destroyed by Constantine), is justified by the existing
niins, and by the perfection of the Funeral Pillar, the
most beautiful mausoleum which greatness ever received.
The proportions of this gigantic column are excellent ;
and its series of bas-reliefs contains 2500 human figures,
which run in a spiral course up the shaft, and represent
the emperor's victories. A bronze colossal statue of
Trajan, who has now given way to St Peter, surmounted
the capital, and the ashes of this good prince reposed
in an urn of gold, supposed to have been placed in the
hand of the figure.*

The taste of Hadrian inclined him to the foreign and
the immense. His Temple of Venus and Rome, already
described, appears to have been the purest of his edifices :
the city of palaces and temples, of which the ruins yet
remain in his Villa at Tivoli, was an exaggeration of the
solidity and dimensions of the Egyptian architecture ;
and his celebrated Mausoleum, which is at this day the
citadel and state prison of the Popes, testifies at once the

* Height of the column 126 feet, besides the statue.


perfect manual skill possessed by the architects of his
time, and their accomplished master's acquaintance with
the pyramids of Memphis. The fine bridge, the Pons
^lius, now the Ponte St Angelo, which he built across
the Tiber as the avenue to his sepulchre, still remains
nearly in its original form, and is the only one of the
eight ancient bridges of Rome which has left any vestige
worth tracing.* The strong situation of the mausoleum
on the bank of the river made it, from the latter days of
the empire, one of the most important military positions
about the city ; and in the prodigious round tower which
now rises on our view, encompassed by modern outworks,
and crested by battlements and the armed statue of the
Archangel Michael, we can trace little of the Moles Had-
riani, which received the ashes of so many Roman em-
perors. Operations, however, executed since 1825, have
brought to b'ght extremely interesting particulars re-
garding its construction. The building was circular, like
the modem tower, and rested on a square basement. Its
solid mass contained at most two small sepulchral cham-
bers in the centre, which were reached by spiral passages ;
the under one, which is still accessible, was lighted by
two windows perforated in the thickness of the wall,
while the galleries received light through deep perpen-
dicular pyramidal openings ; the internal workmanship
is of the very best kind, and traces remain of a remark-
able richness of ornament.t

The Antonines have left us the structures already
noticed in the Forum, — the colonnade of the Temple of
Antoninus Pius, now walled up in the papal Custom-

* Some of our English antiquaries represent the bridge as re-
built by Nicholas V., having, it is said, been destroyed in the jubi-
lee of 1430. Bunsen's assertion, that the accident of that year, in
which were lost 200 lives, produced no effect on the bridge, except
inducing the Pope to take down the booths which covered it like
the shops on Old London Bridge, is quite borne out by his autho-
rities : — Stephani Infessurae, Senatus Populique Romani Scribee,
Diarium Urbis Romae ; apud Eccardum, Corpus Historicmn
MediiiEvi,LipsiaB, 1723; torn. ii. pp.1885, 1886;— Platina de Vitis
Pontificum, in Nicolao V.

■f Beschreibung, vol. ii. part 1. p. 404-422, with plans.


house, — and the Column of Marcus Aurelius in the
Piazza Citoria, an inferior copy from that of Trajan.
We might perhaps refer to the same period the beautiful
circle of columns round the little church of Santa Maria
del Sole on the Tiber bank, usually styled the Temple
of Vesta ; and the picturesque and sequestered decagonal
ruin on the Esquiline, which is known as the Temple of
Minerva Medica.

From this period to the reign of Constanttne, the most
remarkable buildings of which we possess remains are,
besides several honorary arches, the Baths of Caracallaand
those of Diocletian. Both edifices, tliough in utter de-
cay, are amongst the most immense and striking archi-
tectural monuments in Rome. In general arrangement
they nearly resemble each other ; and in them we behold
fully developed the luxury of those establishments, the
peace-offerings of despots to a degraded people. The
Baths of Diocletian possess a religious interest, from the
tradition of their having been mainly built by Christian
slaves during the celebrated persecution ; and this cir-
cumstance, leading to the consecration of parts of them,
has preserved several of their buildmgs, particularly the
spacious halls converted into the rich church of the
Angioli. The low state of art, however, at that time,
renders it useless to look for any great architectural
merit in those ruins ; and the Baths of Caracalla at once
lead us back to a higher stage of art, and, in the midst
of their nakedness, aflPord a more distinct notion of their
plan and execution. This immense fabric lay on the
south-eastern slope of the Aventine, and was about a mile
in circumference. It was not completed till the time of
Alexander Severus ; and the writers of the period de-
scribe in rapturous terms the splendour of its construc-
tion and decorations. The Baths consisted, first, of an
extensive quadrilateral edifice, chiefly devoted to the
purpose which gives name to the establishment ; tliis
edifice had around it an open space, of which a part was
appropriated as an arena for races and similar recrea-
tions ; the whole was surrounded by a quadrilateral range


of buildings of various construction, some being evi-
dently reservoirs for the baths, and others being meant
as seats for spectators ; several halls and porticos appear
to have served as academies, lecture-rooms, or places for
gymnastic exercises ; and the use of an infinite num-
ber of small apartments in the external quarters can
only be conjectured. The walls of the fine hall, once
vaulted, which forms the centre of the internal building,
still remain ; we may wander through a labyrinth of
other chambers, and ascend by a broken staircase to the
summit ; and every where the statues, urns, mosaics,
and other decorations, which have been excavated for
centuries, attest the magnificence of the imperial mur-
derer and his successors.*

From the age of Constantine we have the Circus on the
Via Appia, noticeable as the only specimen of that kind
of structure which has left any considerable remains.
In the beautiful gardens of the Colonna Palace on the
steep ascent of the Quirinal, are extensive ruins, con-
sisting of walls, vaults, and porticos, belonging to the
same emperor's Baths. Among them lie several frag-
ments, two of which, being portions of a cornice and
pediment, are inexplicable from their vastness of size.
Constantine's Basilica has been already noticed ; and his
Triumphal Arch, beside the Colosseum, is chiefly remark-
able for having been constructed from the plundered
materials of the Arch of Trajan, the bas-reliefs of which
adorn it at this day. Constantine's mother, the English-
woman Helena, erected Baths, of which insignificant
remains may be seen near the church of Santa Croce.

Between the foundation of Constantinople and the fall
of the Western Empire, the deserted metropolis of Italy
suffered a gradual and uninterrupted decline. We read
of scarcely any new structures except Christian churches,
some of which were formed by altering imperial basilicae,

• It. is enough to name the Torso of the Belvedere, the trunk of
the Farnese Hercules, the Bull of the Museum at Naples, and the
Venus Ka^.kiTvyo;.


while others were erected from the materials of heathen
temples. The natural decay of the ancient buildings
was accelerated by utter neglect, by inundations of the
river, by accidental fires, and more than once by the
violence of armed enemies.* Three centuries after the
victory of Odoacer, Rome had sunk to a miserable town
of a few thousand souls ; but there is reason to think
that, down to about the beginning of the fifth century
of our era, artificial aid had preserved to it a large pro-
portion of the inhabitants whom it had contained in its
most glorious days. Its population under Augustus can-
not be estimated at less than a million and a half, and
perhaps exceeded that number. About the year of grace
400 it has been calculated at upwards of a million. The
giantess had grown old and weak ; but the life-blood still
circled through herveins,ina full though taintedstream.t


This name, comprehending, in its oldest sense, that
part only of the Roman plain which constituted the terri-
tories of the Latins and Rutulians, received a gradual ex-
tension of meaning with the waxing conquests of the re-
public, and was yet again enlarged by the usage of speecli

* See Hobhouse, Illustrations of Childe Harold ; and Beschrei-
bun^ der Stadt Rom, vol. i. book ii.

t The first of these estimates is less than that of M. Bunsen, in
the Beschreibung, vol. i. book ii. His calculation is founded on
the Monumentum Ancyranum, the genuineness of which is undis-
puted, and in which Augustus relates, among the acts of his reign,
a donation to the populace of the city (plebs urbana), in number
320,000. Females did not share in such donations; but, under
Augustus (Dio Cassius, lib. i. cap. 21 ; and Sueton. Aug. cap. 41),
the males of all ages did so. Hence, taking the plehs of both sexes
at (320,000 4- 320,000) 640,000, and adding 10,000 for senators
and knights with their families, and others not receiving charity,
we should have 650,000 as the number of free citizens. It is far
too low a calculation which allows only one slave to every freeman
of the imperial times ; so that we thus have 1,300,000 as the least
supposable number; and Bunsen thinks two millions may be nearer
the truth — The second calculation is that of Gibbon; who, from
the number of dwellings given in the " Notitia," mfers the popu-
lation in the Theodojian age to have been about 1,200,000.


under the early emperors. The province will here bo
described according to its widest limits, which enclose
three regions exceedingly dissimilar. The first comprises
the broad plain from the Tiber to Antium, with the nar-
rower one of the Pontine Marshes. This district, which
lay beneath our view when we stood on the Tower of the
Capitol, is not less remarkable for its natural fertility
and loveliness, than for its present state of positive deso-
lation. The second region is a hilly tract, embracing
the country of the Hemicians, with the inland part of
that which once belonged to the Volscians. It is not very
productive, but presents much fine mountainous scenery,
with a few well- wooded vales and declivities. The third
and most southerly region, is that of the early people
called the Ausonians, bordering on the sea. In ancient
times, it contained among its dales some of the best vine-
yards in Italy : and it still preserves no small share of
its former fruitfulness and beauty.

In sketching the topography of Latium, however, it
will be inadvisable to follow strictly these divisions.
After inspecting some of the most interesting monuments
and spots in the neighbourhood of Rome, we may visit
the scenes of the ^neid about the mouth of the Tiber,
and thus be led southward along the coast, till, inter-
rupting our progress only by a hasty glance at the nearest
hills in one quarter, we have passed through the whole of
the delightful Ausonian district. "We shall thence re-
turn northward through the inland passes of the Volscians
and Hemicians, and close our survey among the moun-
tains which approach most closely to the Imperial City.

Even in the times of the empire, the Roman who
studied the history of his country might search in vain
for the localities and the ruins belonging to most of those
states with which her infant power contended. The
account we have of the environs of the city reminds us
of the mighty arms which our British capital throws
out to the land and to the sea. We read of lines of villaa
stretching from Ocriculum to Rome, and edging the


banks of the Tiber to its very mouth. When the sites of
ancient towns possessed no local advantages, they sank
into the earth, leaving scarcely a vestige, like Collatia
or Labicum ; and it was only when their position was
useful or picturesque, that they were covered by imperial
edifices, like the Ostia of Ancus Martins or the Pelasgic
Tibur. These more ornate fabrics in their turn de-
cayed ; and it is beneath the ruins of the empire, or of
the middle ages, that we have now to search for those of
the republic and of the days which preceded it.*

In the plain, few modem dwellings interrupt our in-
vestigations. The pest, which always clung to this
remarkable district, and which only a close population
and an active agriculture had power to check, having
resumed its reign since the decline of the country, has
driven the natives to the slopes of the mountains. A
few ruinous villages still keep their hold of the ground ;
sev^eral of them are habitable for the whole year without
much danger to health ; others must be abandoned on the
approach of summer. The Campagna is chiefly covered
with natural pasturages, interrupted by woods and by
patches of tilled land, with some marshes.

On issuing from any of the eastern gates of Romcj the
stranger's eye is first caught by the prodigious arches
which rise in lines along the plain ; the remnants of
those ancient aqueducts which were perhaps the most
extraordinary works of an extraordinary people. These
structures conveyed a body of water for which pipes, an
invention well known to the Romans, would have been
utterly insufficient, and therefore they were formed of
strong masonry : they distributed water to the suburban
hamlets and villas, and therefore they ran in winding

• The best works on the topography of Latium are West-
phal's Romische Kampagne, Berlin, 1829 ; and Sir ^yilliam Gell's
Topography of Rome and its Vicinity, 2 vols. London, 1834.
Each of the two treatises has an excellent map. Consult also
Nibby's Viaggio Antiquario ne' Contorni di Roma, 2 tom. Roma,
1819. — A map is inserted in the present volume.


lines, instead of passing straight from their mountain
springs to the city. Within the walls they supplied
the household wants of the inhabitants, the luxury of
the immense baths, and occasionally the entei-taiuments
of the naumachiae or marine theatres.

The following is the list of aqueducts enumerated by
Frontinus as existing in the reign of Nerva or Trajan,
to which four or five others had been added before
the invasion of the Goths. The first five are republican,
the last four imperial.

1. A. u. 442. Aqua Appia, from a spring near the side
of the road to Praeneste, — length more than eleven miles :
no remains.

2. A.u. 481. Anio Vetus, from the Anio, — length
forty-three miles : remains above Tivoli.

3. A.u. 608. Aqua Marcia, from two springs in the
valley of the Anio, — length nearly sixty-one miles ; more
than six miles, near Rome, carried on arches. In a. u.
747 the Aqua Augusta united with it : remains near
Tivoli, and a stupendous line of arches for about two
miles on the left of the road to Albano.

4. A. u. 627. Aqua Tepula, from springs below Tus-
culum : remains near the city- walls.

5. A. u. 719. Aqua Julia, from a spring above the
source of the Tepula : remains within the walls, called
the Trophies of Marius.

6. A. u. 733. Aqua Virgo, from springs eight miles
from Rome on the road to Collatia : repaired and used
for supplying the fountain of Trevi in the city.

7. A. u. 803. Aqua Claudia, from two springs in the
valley of the Anio, — length forty-six miles ; seven miles
on arches nearest the city : remains between Tivoli and
Subiaco, and fine arches near and in Rome ; the arches
partly used for the Aqueduct of Sextus V., called the
Acqua Felice.

8. A. u. 803. Anio Novus, — ^length nearly fifty-nine
miles : remains in the valley of the Anio.

9. A. u. 862. Aqua Trajana, Alsietina, or Sabatina,
from the lakes of Martignano and Bracciano, — length


twenty-two miles : the branch from Bracciano (the
Lacus Sabatiniis), renewed, and called the Acqua Paola,
supplies the district beyond the Tiber, the Vatican Palace,
and St Peters.

Remains of the old Roman roads are visible all round
the walls, and for miles over the plain. Several of them
are still in some places passable for foot travellers ;
and one or two form at intervals parts of the modem
carriage ways. But we have to seek most of them in
abandoned tracks, where they appear as broken heaps
of masonry, partly overgrown with weeds and rubbish,
and partly sunk into morasses. All the ancient high-
ways of Latium, however, are still discoverable, though
not without many antiquarian disputes as to their
identity. For some miles from Rome the most entire
of them is that which is also the oldest ; namely, the
Via Appia, laid dowm in a. u. 442 by the censor Appius
Claudius Caecus, who carried it to Capua, whence, pro-
bably by Julius Csesar, it was prolonged to Brundusium.
At a depth of several feet, we find, in the Appian Way, a
pavement of hard whitish stone, wliich appears to have
been the original work of the censor. Above this layer
is a bed of pebbles and coarse gravel, on which rests the
surface pavement, composed of polygonal stones with
hewn edges, from one to two feet long, and fitted to each
other with the utmost exactness. This upper stratum
belongs chiefly to the times of Nerva and Trajan ; and
is a favourable specimen of the most massive and elabo-
rate sort of Roman highways. The strata on which it
is elevated illustrate also the mode in which these are
Ibund to have been foraied elsewhere. The next oldest
of the great roads was the Via Aurelia, laid down in a.u.
512, which led to Centumcellse, and was thence continued
along the Mediterranean, under the name of the Via
Emilia Scauri. It is still traceable, as is likewise the
more frequented Flaminian Way, which, opened in a.u.
533, led through Etruria and Umbria, over the Apen-
nines to Ariminum. It was thence, under the name of
the Via iEmilia Lepidi, continued to Placentia and Mi-


Ian on one side, and to Aquileia on the other. Its mam
branch was the Cassian Way, which diverged from it at
the Milvian Bridge of the Tiber (now the Ponte MoUe),
and ended at Sutrium. Of the other great roads leading
from Rome, the most famous was the Via Latina, w^hich,
passing between Prseneste and the Alban range, was car-
ried through the country of the Hernici, and joined the
highway of Appius at Casinum.

Following the sepulchral Appian Way outwards from
the gate of St Sebastian, we see the tombs crowding
more thickly as we advance : and about five miles
from the city, on a height, where they are most nume-
rous, we are on or near the Fossa Cluilia, the camp of the
King of Alba, and the Sacred Field of the Horatii. Ex-
tensive ruins called Roma Vecchia, which lie not far
from us, are the remains of a splendid imperial villa :
but a wall in the neighbourhood, 240 feet in length,
constructed of huge uncemented quadrilateral blocks of
tufo, clearly belongs to the remotest ages of the coun-
try, and has been believed to indicate the site of the
Roman or Alban camp, and the consecrated spot where
the Curiatii and their antagonists were buried.*

We have to search for memorials of the Tarquins by
following the broken road towards Prseneste to the dis-
tance of eleven miles from the modem gate. Passing the
fragments of a villa of the Gordians, and a picturesque
ancient bridge of seven arches, we reach the naked banks
of the volcanic lake of Gabii, where the site of this Alban
town, proverbial for desolation as early as the Augustan
age,t presents the simple, austere ruin of the Temple of
Juno, the semicircle of its theatre, and the under portion
of its uncemented walls, while a tower of the middle ages
occupies the place of its citadel. In this district, too, we
should look for Collatia, the dwelling of Lucretia ; but
its site eludes our search, unless we are content, after
wandering through the delightfully wooded dell watered
by the Osa, to sit down at Lunghezza on the summit of

• Sir William Cell's Topography, vol, i. p. 142.

t Horat. Epistol. lib. i. 12, v. 7 Juvenalis Satir. vj. v, 66.


a rock which overhangs the stream, and imagine that
the marble fragments which lie scattered beneath the
ruined tower belong to the town of CoUatiniis.

There are, however, some districts of Latium which
merit a more minute survey, and assuredly none is
more interesting than the region about the mouth of
the Tiber, the scene of the last half of the -^neid. In
the magic mirror of poetry, we have beheld the glades
of the Laurentinc forest ; and we shall tread with solemn
pleasure those solitary woods and meadows which the
power of genius has peopled with heroic beauty. In the
flourishing times of the empire the whole coast, from the
margin of the river to Antium and beyond it, was a
continuation of that series of patrician dwellings and
gardens which adorned the valley of the Tiber. Even
under the republic, the beggars, we are told, were wont
to throng about the gate which led to this road, as being,
from its multitude of passengers, particularly favourable
to their trade.* The ancient towns on the coast, how-
ever, had declined, almost without exception, at an early
period of the empire ; and with the decay of Rome the
villas of her nobles likewise lost their splendour. The
pestilential influence of the climate once more revived ;
invasions of the Saracens in the middle ages aided the
progress of destruction ; and we have now to seek, amidst
unpeopled woods, noxious swamps, and pastures on which
graze buffaloes, for the cities of Latinus, Turnus, and

The banks of the Tiber below Rome gradually sink
as they approach the flat coast. Accompanying the
river in its course, we soon enter a region of unmitigated
desolation, where we are reminded of life by nothing save
one or two wattled huts standing on the edge of thickets,
or the walls of some ancient mansion or tomb. At last,
on reaching the brow of an eminence, we perceive a salt
marsh appearing through copse- wood ; we descend and

* Plauti Capteivorum, act. i. sc. i. v. 22.


cross a corner of it, and immediately, at the distance of
thirteen miles from Rome, reach a gloomy fortress,
surrounded by a few wretched old hovels, which com-
pose the papal to\%Ti of Ostia. The sea at its nearest point
is now three miles distant from the modern houses ;
but the land has encroached on the waters, and at the
castle we are little more than half-a-mile from the spot
where was the ancient mouth of the Tiber. A little
beyond the town, the site of the classical Ostia, a city of
80,000 inhabitants, is marked by a tract of grassy knolls,
and by a few unimportant ruins. At the farthest extre-
mity of these we may overlook, from a tower of the
middle ages, the left branch of the two into which the
river is here divided, being tliat by which ^neas is re-
presented to have approached. The Sacred Island, a flat
sandy meadow ten or twelve miles in circuit, divides
this arm from that on the right, called Fiumicino, by
which barks now enter the Tiber ; and beyond the isle are
visible the basin and other remains of Portus Trajanus,
the harbour constructed by Claudius and improved by
Trajan, which superseded that of Ostia.

Proceeding southward, we cross a reedy canal which
communicates between the marsh and the sea ; and we
then enter a wood which, broken up by glades and mea-
dows, is here separated from the Mediterranean by sandy
hillocks, and extends backwards on the plain two or

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 22 of 35)