On 10th January in 49 BC, Julius Caesar and his troops famously crossed the Rubicon, the river marking the boundary between the province of Cisalpine Gaul and Italy. Taking the 13th Legion over this forbidden frontier constituted an act of treason and triggered civil war in Rome. According to the historian Suetonius, Caesar uttered the famous phrase ālea iacta est (“the die is cast”).
This month’s masterpieces from Hadrian’s Villa are the larger than life-size marble theatrical masks that once decorated the scaenae frons (stage-front) of the odeon of the villa.
Exactly 1900 years ago¹, Hadrian survived a violent and devastating earthquake while wintering in Antioch during Trajan’s campaign in the east. Hadrian had been in Syria since January 114 AD as imperial legate (envoy to the emperor), and as such, had taken up residence in Antiochia ad Orontem (Antioch on the Orontes). The city served as headquarters for the Parthian wars. Trajan had returned from a campaign in Armenia when disaster struck in the morning of December 13th of 115 AD. The earthquake in the Orontes valley, of an estimated magnitude of 7.5 on the Moment Magnitude scale (MMS), almost totally destroyed Antioch, Daphne and four other ancient cities including Apamea. It was felt all over the near East and the Eastern Mediterranean up to Rhodos and triggered a tsunami that hit the harbour city of Caesarea Maritima in Judea. Antioch on the Orontes was one of the most important cities of the Graeco-roman period. It was founded in 300 BC by Seleucus I, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, and became the Seleucids’ capital …
This month’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a marble statue of a dancing female figure, thought to be a portrait of Praxilla of Sikyon. Praxilla was a female poet writing in the mid-fifth century BC. She came from Sikyon, a city situated on a fertile coastal plain beside the Corinthian Gulf in the northeast Peloponnese (see images of the archaeological site here). She wrote, dithyrambs, hymns to the Greek gods as well as drinking songs (skolia). Her skolia were among the most celebrated of her time and were sung at banquets and festivals for over three hundred years.
Lying at the crossroads of the eastern Mediterranean, the island of Cyprus has long been a meeting point for many of the world’s great civilizations. Situated where Europe, Asia and Africa meet, its location shaped its history of bringing civilizations together. Many powers conquered the island, and Cyprus was ruled in turn by the Hittites, the Egyptians, the Persians and the Greeks until it was absorbed by the Romans. Cyprus is also known as the “Island of Love”. According to mythology Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty, was born from the foam of the sea on the south-western coast of Cyprus.
During a recent trip to Rome, I paid a long overdue visit to the Centrale Montemartini, an annexe of the Capitoline Museums located on the Via Ostiense just beyond Porta San Paolo. Centrale Montemartini was Rome’s first electrical power station when it opened in 1912, and was later converted into a museum of ancient Roman art in the late 1990s. Like the Tate Modern in London, Centrale Montemartini places art in an industrial setting but, unlike the Tate, the imposing machinery has not been moved out. The engines’ grey mass provides a stark contrast to the white marble and offers a unique backdrop for classical art. Centrale Montemartini has a collection of about four hundred sculptures, reliefs and mosaics dating from the Republican to the late Imperial era. The works of art, exhibited in chronological order, are part of an outstanding collection of classical sculptures from the excavations carried out in Rome between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The masterpieces were moved here during the reorganisation of the Capitoline …
While Hadrian was visiting the province of Egypt in late 130 AD, his favorite Antinous drowned mysteriously in the Nile River. This tragic event led to the creation of a new divinity: Osirantinous, or Antinous as a manifestation of Osiris, the god who died and was reborn. One of our best primary sources for information about the new deity Osirantinous and the founding of Antinopolis, the new city created by Hadrian near the spot of Antinous’ death, is the Obelisk of Antinous, found in Rome outside Porta Maggiore at the end of the 16th century. The Aswan pink granite obelisk, which now stands in the Pincian Hill Gardens, was commissioned by Hadrian after 130 AD to honour the deceased Antinous.
This week’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a red-marble statue of a satyr, the so-called “Fauno rosso” (red faun).
I wrote about the series of special events that took place in Rome, in celebration of the 2000th anniversary of Emperor Augustus’ death. My last post focused on the ‘House of Augustus’ (see here) and today I will concentrate on the ‘House of Livia’ in this follow-up piece.
In 2014 Rome celebrated the 2000th anniversary of Emperor Augustus’ death. To commemorate the date, a series of special events and openings were launched in the Italian capital, including the opening of new parts of the ‘House of Augustus’ and ‘House of Livia’ on the Palatine Hill. After years of restoration works, new lavishly frescoed rooms are now on show for the first time. The restoration included installing protective roofing, stabilizing the structures, conserving the frescoes as well as designing a visitation route through the house with lighting and information panels… and the results are impressive! I travelled to Rome and visited for the first time the House of Augustus, the House of Livia and Nero’s Domus Aurea (all on pre-booked tours). I will be writing a blog post for each of these wonderful places. Today, we start with the House of Augustus.