October 11th

It has been a few weeks since I wrote about Roman antiquities. This is not because Sueann and I have visited all of the sights of ancient Rome. In fact we have very barely scratched the surface and will never be able to visit all of these sights. Rome and the surrounding areas are literally filled with reminders the Roman Republic (510-27BC) and the Roman Empire (27BC-500AD). The Romans were great engineers and great and prolific builders. Sueann and I imagine that without powered machinery the only way Rome could have built so much so well was through the use of slaves. In the remainder of this note I will briefly mention a few of the interesting antiquities we have visited in the past few weeks.

Trajan    Marcus Ulpius Trajan, a Spaniard of Italian descent was the first Emperor to come from the provinces that Rome controlled. He was Emperor from 98AD to 117AD and has been described as the best of the Emperors due to the great public works he carried out and his humanity. In Spain and in Italy he instituted programs that provided food for children, the earliest recorded programs of significant public spending.

With his conquests in Dacia (today, Romania) Trajan brought gold and slaves back to Rome. With these he was able to embark upon the construction of Trajan's Forum, which occupied a large area near the Roman forum. Inaugurated in 113AD, Trajan's Forum included a large covered market, an open square, a temple, two libraries and Trajan's Column.

Trajan's Market    Trajan's Market was not simply a retail market. It was also a center for the acquisition and distribution of supplies and was administered by Imperial authorities. The market consisted of about 150 shops arranged on semicircular terraces against a hillside. The shops on the ground floor occupied shallow rooms and are thought to have sold fruit and flowers. On the next level, there was and still is a concave road in front of the shops who name was Via Biberatica suggesting that this level may have been home to taverns (from the Latin word bibere, to drink).

The City of Rome has excavated the site of Trajan's Forum and has provided a very nice opportunity for historians and tourists like us to visit Trajan's Market. Sueann and I walked all through the market on each of its levels. We certainly had a special feeling walking visiting rooms that we knew were Roman shops about two thousand years ago. This feeling is repeated often in Rome.

Here we are resting on a piece of modern sculpture, one of many currently found around Trajan's market as part of a temporary exhibit.

Trajan's Column    Trajan like many Roman Emperors was not above honoring himself publicly. Trajan's Column is a 200 meter (656 feet) high column consisting of 17 perfectly fit marble drums on which are sculpted from bottom to top in a spiral of panels showing episodes from Trajan's wars with the Dacians. Amazingly we can still clearly see the images which looked to me as if they were recently sculpted rather than having weathered the elements for 19 centuries. The column is an engineering feat. About two thirds of the way up, it increases slightly in diameter so that the column appears relatively constant in diameter when viewed from below. Around 350AD there was a serious earthquake that badly damaged parts of Trajan's Market. The column was not disturbed by this shaking.

A bronze statue of Trajan was originally placed on top of the column, but in 1687 Pope Sixtus V replaced it with the statue of Saint Peter that crowns the column today.

Appia Antica, The Old Appian Way    The Old Appian Way is today a lightly paved road flanked by graceful pine trees that runs through a rural area populated with ruins, tombs and catacombs. The road was opened in 312BC under the rule of Appius Claudius Caecus after whom the road is named. In its early years the road was lined with tombs due to a Roman law dating back to the fifth century BC that forbid burials inside the city.

One sunny Sunday, Sueann and I took a public bus out to the part of the Appian Way with the most important catacombs. Catacombs, underground cemeteries and worship places, resulted from Roman restrictions which denied early Christians burial grounds. The Christians responded to this situation with the creation of the underground cemeteries, the catacombs.

We took a tour of the largest of the catacombs, Catacombs di San Callisto. This is an underground maze of tunnels and tombs on four levels. The oldest tombs are on the first level (closest to the surface). When space on that level was exhausted, digging out of a lower level began. All told it is estimated that there are a half million tombs in this catacomb of which about half were tombs of children. In one of the "rooms" in this catacomb third century Popes were buried. An interesting bit that our guide kept reiterating tells of the origin of the word "cemetery". Before the rise of Christianity, the pagan word "necropolis" was used to describe a burial ground. This word means place of the dead. Christians who believed in heaven and life after death desired a word that would describe a resting place for the living. They chose "cemetery", the Greek word for "dormitory".

After visiting the catacombs we continued our walk on the Appian Way. The direction we were heading was slightly uphill. It was a beautiful summer-like Rome day and that means we were pretty warm. As we walked, we passed ruins which we were usually able to identify with the help of our tour book. We passed an area to the left of the Appian Way which was once the site of the Imperial residence of Maxentius (Roman Emperor 306-312AD). The most visible remains of his residence are the two towers shown in the photo which stood at the western end of Maxentius' racing stables.

Just a bit up the Old Appian Way from Maxentius' estate we came upon the tomb of Cecilla Metella. This cylindrical mausoleum was the burial place for the wife of Crassus whose father, also named Crassus, was a member of the first triumvirate with Caesar and Pompey in 60BC. So we may estimate that the tomb dates back to the first 50 years before the birth of Christ. Using our fabulous password, "Due Pensionati" (two old geezers), we tried to get to visit the inside of tomb at reduced price. However, entrance was free to all that day so we were unable to get our kicks.

Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?
We hope your are well and happy,

    Jeff and Sueann

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