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Page revised in June 2009.
Porta Maggiore (Book 1) (Map A3) (Day 2) (Rione Monti)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Tomb of Marcus Virgilius Eurysaces
Republican Tombs in Via Statilia
The walls between Porta Maggiore e Porta S. Giovanni (including Anfiteatro Castrense)
The Plate (No. 7)
The plate shows the fortifications built at various stages which turned a double triumphal arch into a fortified gate. The walls built by Emperor Aurelianus reduced the size of the openings of the arch; major changes were introduced by Emperor Honorius who built a new gate in front of the old one in the early Vth century; this was flanked by a high tower and by a smaller one which incorporated a funerary monument.
Maggiore in Italian means greater, but the name given to the gate is not related to its size; it is thought to be a contraction of Porta di S. Maria Maggiore because it allowed direct access to that basilica; others suggest it was a reference to Aula Majoris, a large hall of the nearby palace of St. Helena (today partly occupied by S. Croce in Gerusalemme). The gate was also known as Porta di S. Croce. Vasi thought its ancient name was Nevia, but this was a gate of the Servian walls and it was located on the Aventine hill.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Aqueducts of Claudius; 2) Via Labicana. The small map shows also: 3) Porta Maggiore; 4) Anfiteatro Castrense; 5) Republican tombs in Via Statilia.
In 1838 Pope Gregory XVI decided to free the monumental arches of the aqueduct from later additions; the remaining fortifications were pulled down after the unification of Italy and in 1956 the ground was brought back to its original level.
Three lengthy inscriptions describe the completion of the aqueduct by Emperor Claudius and its restoration by Emperors Vespasian and his son Titus. An interesting aspect of the inscriptions is that they show the coexistence of republican institutions with the growing power of the emperors.
In the first inscription Claudius was described as:
TI. CLAUDIUS DRUSI F. CAISAR AUGUSTUS GERMANICUS PONTIF. MAXIM. TRIBUNICIA POTESTATE XII COS. V IMPERATOR XXVII PATER PATRIAE ..
his name and the references to his family were followed by Germanicus, a title given to him for war victories, and by a series of "positions" he held in the frame of the republican institutions: pontifex maximus, tribune of the people, consul, imperator and father of the nation; the numbers say how many times he was tribune and consul or was acclaimed imperator.
The inscription for Vespasian starts as follows:
IMP. CAESAR VESPASIANUS AUGUST. followed by the reference to the positions he held.
Finally the inscription for Titus begins with:
IMP. T(itus). CAESAR DIVI F. VESPASIANUS.
In these cases the title of imperator was emphasized by being directly associated with Vespasian and Titus.
You can see more of the aqueduct of Claudius while making a walk to Porta Furba. You may wish to follow the steps of Ferdinand Gregorovius who started from here his walks in the Roman countryside or learn more about Roman inscriptions.
The upper part of the gate built by Emperor Honorius was relocated to the left side of Porta Maggiore. Historians set the split of the Roman Empire at the death of Emperor Theodosius in 395. His two sons (Arcadius and Honorius) ruled over two separate entities: the Western and the Eastern Roman Empires. The inscriptions on the gates built/restored by Honorius show that there was not awareness of this split because they make reference to both emperors.
The Baker's Tomb
The plate shows between the two entrances a small building. The restoration has isolated an interesting tomb, that of Marcus Virgilius Eurysaces and his wife Antistia. He was the owner of a bakery; it must have been an important one, because he described himself as a supplier of the state (in Britain he would have claimed to be a "purveyor to HM"). In his funerary monument he celebrated his trade: it is decorated in imitation of grain-measures and stock-holes and the reliefs represent activities of his trade.
Republican Tombs in Via Statilia
In 1916 excavations made to enlarge a street found a series of funerary monuments of the late IInd/early Ist centuries BC. They were aligned along Via Caelimontana, a road which led to Porta Maggiore from the "Servian" walls of Rome, so when these tombs were built they complied with the Roman law which prohibited burials inside the city.
The most interesting one is Sepolcro Gemino (twin tomb) which is made up of two identical funerary chambers. We know from the inscriptions that the dead were liberti (freedmen) of important Roman families.
Emperor Nero built an aqueduct which branched off that of Claudius near Porta Maggiore and brought water to his Domus Aurea. It was extended to the Palatine by Emperor Domitian. It can still be seen at many locations between Porta Maggiore and the Palatine.
The Walls between Porta Maggiore and Porta S. Giovanni
Amphiteatrum Castrense is the most interesting monument of this part of the walls; it is a IIIrd century oval stadium which was used for training purposes by the Roman army or more likely by the guards of the nearby residence of Emperor Heliogabalus. It was entirely made up of bricks; even the half-columns and their capitals were the result of elaborate masonry. It was incorporated into the walls by Emperor Aurelianus and its porticoes were closed.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 1: Porta S. Giovanni
Next step in Day 2 itinerary: Tempio di Minerva Medica
Next step in your tour of Rione Monti: Chiesa di S. Croce in Gerusalemme