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Ancient Rome and the Good Emperors

 

 

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Marcus Agrippa (63BC - 12BC (51)), Louvre Museum, Paris

 

 

Today's Pantheon, the oldest large public building in use in the world, is the work of Hadrian (76 - 117 - 138 (62)), who rebuilt a 27BC south facaded structure erected by Augustus' contemporary and latterly son-in-law Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa ("M.Agrippa" - now that's a power name if ever there was one - that's him on the left in the Louvre Museum).  Hadrian, the great builder Emperor,  was nice enough to have Agrippa's name put on the new north facing facade, saying, in an uncharacteristically modest way, words to the effect that there were already quite enough buildings with his name on them. 

 

Agrippa (63BC - 12BC (51)) was a successful General and trusted advisor to the first Emperor, Augustus (63BC - 27BC - 14AD (77)).  Amongst many things he built the first large hot baths in Rome (near the Pantheon) and spent time as the successful commander of the Roman Army in Gaul (where there is a Via Agrippa).

 

The circular roof of the Pantheon is made of (ancient Roman) concrete, and is 142' in diameter (the same as the drum of the dome of Florence's Duomo), with a large hole in the middle to let out (sacrifice) smoke and let in light (and rain - there are drains in the floor for this - the Romans thought of everything).

 

The huge bronze doors are also ancient Roman, but they are not decorated.  

 

 

 

 

 

The Arch of Constantine (Emperor 306 - 337) with the Colosseum in the background.  The arch was erected in 315 to commemorate Constantine's victory over rival Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge.

 

 

 

A giant head of Constantine (c274 - 306 - 337 (63)) in the Capitoline Museum, and on the left the Emperor shown in a medieval fresco in a poor state of health (to wit leprosy looking like pox) in the tiny Papal chapel of the convent of SS Quattro Santi in Rome.  The story ends happily, for the Pope of the day, Saint Sylvester I, cures him of the disease, and in gratefulness he gives Pope Sylvester "the Gift of Constantine" - namely Rome.  All fiction, though it was believed for a long time, especially as it was supported by some well forged documents produced in the 700s!

 

 

 

 

 

The "Good Emperors" - Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius, Marcus Aurelius

and their Columns

 

 

   

 

This is the book from the British Museum Exhibition (see above)

 

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The five so called "Good Emperors" who ruled the Roman Empire for nearly 100 years at the height of its power and prosperity were:

 

Nerva

30 - 96 - 98 (68)

Trajan

53 - 98 - 117 (64)

Hadrian

76 - 117 - 138 (62)

Antoninus Pius

86 - 138 - 161 (75)

Marcus Aurelius

121 - 161 - 180 (59)

 

They were the first emperors who each had no blood tie with his predecessor, and all but one ruled for around 20 years.  This successful experiment lasted just under 100 years - from AD 96 to AD 180 - and came to an end when Aurelius' son, Commodus, succeeded him.

 

Both Trajan and Hadrian were born in Spain, in the Roman-Spanish city of Italica.  Busts of the "good Emperors" can be seen in the Prado Museum in Madrid, in the Louvre in Paris, in the Capitoline Museum in Rome and in many other European (especially Italian) museums. 

 

Trajan, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius also left behind  tall marble columns in Rome which were spirally wound with painted narrative reliefs of some of their special (military) moments.  Pius' Column has gone (though its massive marble base is in the Vatican outside the Pinacoteca) but those of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius are still in their original positions (see photos below).

 

Hadrian, the great builder, also had a column, but ironically his was in Jerusalem.  As you would expect from "the Builder Emperor" it was just as big as its brothers in Rome, but it has sadly disappeared.  Its location is known exactly from a 500s mosaic town plan of Jerusalem discovered in Madaba in Jordan.  The column's location was ironic because it was Hadrian's crushing of a revolt in Israel that ended the Jewish State for nearly two millennia and scattered Jewish communities all over Europe.

 

 

 

 

Roman Emperor Trajan (53 - 98 - 117 (64)) (Louvre Museum, Paris)

 

 

Roman Emperor Hadrian (76 - 117 - 138 (62)) (Prado Museum, Madrid)

 

 

 

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 - 161 - 180 (59)) (Prado Museum, Madrid)

 

 

 

Narrative Detail from the Column of Trajan  at the top end of the via del Fori Imperiali in Rome

 

 

Trajan's Column - Scenes from the campaign waged by Emperor Trajan ( 53 - 98 - 117 (64), see above) against the Dacians.  The full column (below) is 125' (38M) high and has 17 hollowed out marble drums (a stairway goes up through the centre).  Unwound, the reliefs would stretch for  656' (200M).  The scenes were originally brightly painted.  The statues on top of both the columns below were both an unhelpful Christian embellishment.

 

 

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Trajan (53 - 98 - 117 (64)) (Prado Museum, Madrid)

 

 

This marble bust of Marcus Aurelius (121 - 161 - 180 (59)) is in the museum at Ephesus in Turkey.

 

 

 

 

Trajan's Column, at the top end of the via del Fori Imperiali in Rome

 

 

 

 

Marcus Aurelius' Column in the Piazza Colonna in Rome

 

 

In addition to his narrative column, Marcus Aurelius also left behind an equestrian statue (now in the Capitoline Museum, Rome - below below) and a book (above - he was a trained philosopher amongst other things).

 

 

 

 

Narrative Detail from the Column of Marcus Aurelius in the Piazza Colonna, Rome

 

 

 

 

Built on the surviving drum of the mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian, Castel Sant'Angelo, down the road from the Vatican, became home to several late medieval Popes when they needed a feeling of temporal security (and in the case of Medici Pope Clement VII a refuge, though this proved to be illusory).  It is also the setting for Act 3 of Puccini's Opera Tosca (Act I being set in Sant'Andrea della Valle and Act II in the Farnese Palace).

 

 

 

The Madaba Map - Madaba, Jordan - Photo David Bjorgen, Wikimedia Commons -

 

 

This mosaic plan of Roman Jerusalem is part of a larger map of the biblical lands ("The Madaba Map") which was made in the 500s.  It was discovered in 1876 in the Greek Orthodox church of St George in Madaba (just south of Amman in Jordan) where it can be visited in situ.  The church was built on the remains of an earlier Byzantine church of which the huge map formed the floor. 

 

Hadrian's column can be seen dominating the piazza just inside the main gate on the left, but various excavation attempts to locate it have proved fruitless.

 

 

 

The Emperor Hadrian (76 - 117 - 138 (62)) - the great builder - Louvre Museum, Paris

 

 

 

 

 

The famous equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius (121 - 161 - 180 (59)), the last of the five "Good Emperors", is in the Capitoline Museum.   By the standards of his day, Marcus Aurelius was a lenient and humanitarian ruler, except with Christians, whom he regarded as enemies of the state.  His is the only cast equestrian statue to survive from classical times,  and only because the good (by then Christian) citizens of Rome mistakenly thought it was a statue of Constantine (c274 - 306 - 337 (63)), the founder of Constantinople and, from a late life conversion, the first Christian Emperor.  

 

After the end of the Western Roman Empire just before the year 500, it would be almost a thousand years before anyone in Europe would make anything comparable again - Donatello's c1450 equestrian statue of the Venetian Condottiere Erasmo da Narni, called Gattamelata ("the honeyed cat") (c.1370 - 1443 (73)) which today stands proud and ignored next to the great pilgrimed Basilica of (Franciscan Patron Saint of the Lost) Sant'Antonio in Padova

 

 

In 2005 our man could only be seen from an outside courtyard through a sheet of reflective plate glass in front of the statue.  The glass was skilfully positioned to reflect the maximum amount of the indifferent surroundings and let through the minimum amount of Marcus A ... a fellow visitor above was kindly pointing to where the statue was (and also enabling one to appreciate its size).

 

Another visitor (this time to Paradoxplace as well) tells us that as of early 2008 our man and his nag have been moved "inside a beautiful dedicated atrium with a glass roof - and you can walk around him at your leisure".

 

 

 

Marcus Aurelius stood ( / rode) for centuries outside the Roman Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano.   Michelangelo took a great interest in the statue and was instrumental its restoration and removal in the 1500s to the central piazza of the Capitoline Hill museums which he had designed.   More recently the great Emperor and his horse have finally been given shelter in the museum proper, and replaced by an unconvincing copy in the piazza. 

 

 

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