This week’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a marble statue of a young nude, the so-called ‘Capitoline Antinous‘. It was found in 1723/24 during the time when Giuseppe Fede was undertaking the earliest concerted excavations at the Villa Adriana. However its exact provenance within the Villa is unknown.
Ancient History et cetera
The Appian Way — Rome’s gateway to the East — was Europe’s first super highway and the wonder of its day. Built in 312 B.C., it connected Rome with Capua (near Naples), running in a straight line for much of the way. Eventually it stretched 400 miles to Brindisi, from where Roman ships sailed to Greece and Egypt.
While our modern roads seem to sprout potholes right after they’re built, sections of this marvel of Roman engineering still exist. When I visit Rome, I get a thrill walking on the same stones as Julius Caesar or St. Peter. Huge basalt paving blocks form the sturdy base of this roadway. In its heyday, a central strip accommodated animal-powered vehicles, and elevated sidewalks served pedestrians.
Fortunately, about the first 10 miles of the Appian Way is preserved as a regional park (Parco dell’Appia Antica). In addition to the roadway, there are ruined Roman monuments, two major Christian catacombs, and a church marking the spot where Peter had a vision of Jesus.
Getting here from the center of Rome is easy; it’s a short Metro ride and then a quick bus trip (catch #118 from either the Piramide or Circo Massimo Metro stops). It’s best to come on a Sunday or holiday, when the whole park is closed to car traffic, and it becomes Rome’s biggest pedestrian zone. You can rent bicycles — and enjoy a meal — at a nearby café.
As you stroll or bike along the road, you’ll see tombs of ancient big shots that line the way like billboards. While pagans didn’t enjoy the promise of salvation, those who could afford it purchased a kind of immortality by building themselves big and glitzy memorials. One of the best preserved is the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, built for the daughter-in-law of Rome’s richest man. It’s a massive cylindrical tomb situated on the crest of a hill. While it dates from the first century B.C., we still remember her today…so apparently the investment paid off.
But of course, early Christians didn’t have that kind of money. So they buried their dead in mass underground necropoli — or catacombs — dug under the property of the few fellow Christians who owned land. These catacombs are scattered all around Rome just outside its ancient walls, including two inside this park.
The tomb-lined tunnels of the catacombs stretch for miles and are many layers deep. Many of the first Christians buried here were later recognized as martyrs and saints. Others carved out niches nearby to bury their loved ones close to these early Christian heroes. While the bones are long gone, symbolic carvings decorate the walls: the fish stood for Jesus, the anchor was a camouflaged cross, and the phoenix with a halo symbolized the resurrection.
By the Middle Ages, these catacombs were abandoned and forgotten. Centuries later they were rediscovered. Romantic-era tourists on the Grand Tour visited them by candlelight, and legends grew about Christians hiding out to escape persecution. But the catacombs were not hideouts. They were simply low-budget underground cemeteries. The Appian Way has two major Christian catacombs, each offering visitors a half-hour underground tour to see the niches where early Christians were buried. The Catacombs of San Sebastiano also has a historic fourth-century basilica with holy relics, while the larger Catacombs of San Callisto is the burial site for several early popes.
On your way back to the city center, stop by the Domine Quo Vadis Church. This tiny ninth-century church (redone in the 17th century) was built on the spot where Peter, while fleeing the city to escape Nero’s persecution, saw a vision of Christ. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” (“Domine quo vadis?” in Latin), to which Christ replied, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” This miraculous sign gave Peter faith and courage, causing him to return to Rome.
Inside the nave of the church, you can stumble over the stone marked with the supposed footprints of Jesus. You’ll see a fresco of Peter with keys on the left wall and one of Jesus on the right. A bust depicts Nobel Prize-winning Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz, who wrote a historical novel that was the basis for the 1951 Hollywood movie Quo Vadis.
The wonder of its day, the Appian Way was called the “Queen of Roads.” Twenty-nine such highways fanned out from Rome, but this one was the first and remains a legend. For a time-warp road trip that will take you back 2,000 years, hit the highway.
From ancient times to the present many cultures around the world have considered libraries as storehouses of ideas, creativity and knowledge. Today we will look at five of the most notable libraries in history and explore why they may be considered significant.
The Great Library of Alexandria
The Great Library of Alexandria is the most famous library in classical antiquity. Over the years it has gained a mythical status as a ‘universal’ library where all scholars of the ancient world could come and share ideas. The library was located within the grounds of the Royal Palace in Alexandria a port city in northern Egypt and was built around 295 BCE by Ptolemy I. The library was a complex with shrines dedicated to each of the nine muses, lectures areas, observatories, a zoo and living quarters. It was thought to house the works of great scholars and writers including Homer, Plato and Socrates. The library’s destruction is most commonly thought to have happened in 48 BCE when Julius Caesar occupied Alexandria. When Caesar tried to leave the port town, Egyptian ships trapped him in. Caesar ordered his men to set fire to the ships however the fire got out of hand and destroyed many buildings including the library. Imagine how much knowledge we would have access to today if the library was still standing?
Caesarea Maritima is perhaps one of Israel’s most famous attractions. Its ruins are located by the sea-shore of Israel about half way between Tel Aviv and Haifa. It is the site of one of the most important cities of the Roman World, the capital of the province of Judaea. The city was founded between 22 and 10 BC by Herod the Great (37-4 BC) as an urban centre and harbour on the site of the earlier Straton’s Tower. The city has been populated through the late Roman and Byzantine era. Today, Caesarea is a large and beautiful national park and a fascinating place to visit while exploring the Holy Land.
It has been over a year since I last blogged about ancient Roman cooking, even though I have tried a few more recipes in the meantime, as people who follow me on Twitter or Facebook have probably noticed.
One of my last cooking sessions was on the occasion of Hadrian’s birthday on 24th January. Pullum (chicken) dishes from ancient Rome have proven to be a favourite of mine and I invite you to try this recipe taken from Apicius’ De Re Coquinaria Book VI Pullum Numidicum (Numidian Chicken). Pullum Numidicum is a chicken dish flavoured with pepper and asafoetida that is roasted and served with a spiced date, nut, honey, vinegar and stock sauce. I choose to accompany my Pullum Numidicum with Conchicla Cum faba (Beans with Cumin). Read more…
A sculpted panel at the Gupta-period (4th-6th century CE) caves of Udayagiri, Madhya Pradesh, India. The caves are rock-cut Hindu shrines and this panel shows Vishnu as the boar-headed incarnation Varaha. The god rises from the cosmic waters, defeating the primeval serpent monster, and rescuing the goddess Bhudevi (earth), who hangs from his tusk.
The decline of the Late Bronze Age civilizations of the Mediterranean and Near East has puzzled historians and archaeologists for centuries. While many have ascribed the collapse of several civilizations to the enigmatic Sea Peoples, Professor Eric H. Cline, former Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at George Washington University, presents a more complicated and nuanced scenario in his new book, 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed.
Professor Eric H. Cline speaks to Ancient History Encyclopedia’s James Blake Wiener about his new title and the circumstances that lead to the collapse of the cosmopolitan world of the Late Bronze Age in this interview.
Palmyra (also known as Tadmor) is mentioned frequently in the news, as the so-called Islamic State is advancing on this ancient gem of a ruined city in Syria. The formerly prosperous metropolis of Palmyra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with good reason. From 44 BCE to 272 CE, the city became a wealthy trade centre at the crossroads between Roman, Greek, and Persian cultures. Located in an oasis in the Syrian desert along key trade routes across the ancient world, it was an important hub for trade, and many caravans passed through this city, increasing its wealth. Its architecture and arts reflects this mix of styles and economic wealth.
This winged ibex was a handle for a metal amphora-shaped vessel, made in the 4th century BCE in Achaemenid Persia. This high level of detail was achieved through the use of lost-wax technique.
It has been suggested that this piece of art resembles both the god Bes and the Greek god Silenus, which may indicate that a Greek artisan made this piece of art.
Louvre Museum, Paris. Sully wing, ground floor, Room 12a.
W: 15 cm
The beautiful ancient Greek city of Aphrodisias, still partly excavated, is one of the most important archaeological sites of the late Hellenistic and Roman period in Turkey. The city was located in Caria in Asia Minor, on a plateau 600 meters above sea level. Today it lies near Geyre village, some 80 kilometers west of Denizli. The city was founded in the 2nd century BC on the site of a rural sanctuary of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. It was named after Aphrodite who had her unique cult image, the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias, and who became the city’s patron goddess.