New Study Reveals How Spanish Silver Funded Rome

 

 

The Roman Republic was known for its wealth even before it became an Empire. The Punic Wars, though costly, gave Rome a new source of riches: Spanish silver mines.

 

 

218BCMAPMEDITERRANEANThe Punic Wars take their name from the Latin “Punicus” or “Poenicus,” a reference to the Phoenician ancestry of the Carthaginians. In the third century BCE, Carthage and Rome were both major forces in the Mediterranean, and it was inevitable that the two would clash. Rome had the better military, but Carthage had the dominant navy. The conflict began small: a local war between Syracuse and Messina. Messina called the navy of Carthage to help, but betrayed them and summoned Rome to fight Carthage, resulting in the First Punic War. (This backfired somewhat, as the local fight soon escalated into all-out war that resulted in the Roman Republic controlling the Mediterranean and subsuming most smaller nations in the area.)

 

 

Rome defeated Carthage in a significant battle at Agrigentum in 262 BCE, and the Carthaginian leaders changed tactics to avoid land battles, trusting that they would be able to retain their naval domination. Rome built a hundred warships in two months, and developed the corvus, a spiked bridge that could be swung down onto the enemy’s deck, allowing the Roman soldiers to board. Although the corvus was eventually phased out as the Romans began to become better seaman, it was a brilliant tactic to leverage Rome’s infantry. In 241 BCE, Carthage admitted defeat and signed a peace treaty, agreeing to pay a significant indemnity. After the war, Carthage had a massive liquidity problem, and had difficulty paying their debts. Between the first and second Punic Wars, Carthage acquired land in Spain, which included some very productive silver mines.

 

 

800px-Schlacht_bei_Zama_Gemälde_H_P_MotteDuring the interval between the First and Second Punic Wars, Carthage began to build alliances with the Celts in the Po river in Northern Italy. To forestall Carthage building strength in the area, Rome attacked the Po valley and annexed it, renaming it Gallia Cisalpina. The Carthaginian conqueror of Hispania, Hasdrubal, was assassinated around this time, and his brother Hannibal took charge. Rome seems to have believed that their actions in the Po Valley had eliminated any real risk from Carthage and were caught by surprise when Hannibal attacked Saguntum (near modern Valencia in southern Spain) and moved across the Alps. Hannibal scored many victories against Roman forces, but could not take the city itself. Most of his siege engines and elephants were lost in the alpine crossing, and Rome was able to quickly replace any forces lost.

 

 

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Bust of Scipio Africanus. Photo credit Massimo Finizio. Used under CC by SA 2.0.

Scipio Africanus, in the meantime, was almost a mirror image of Hannibal; he could not defeat the Carthaginian in any decisive way, but was able to take control of the Iberian peninsula.This had a two-fold effect, economically: Rome now had access to the extensive silver mines of Hispania, and Carthage’s main source of silver (and therefore cash flow) was cut off. The fighting eventually moved to Carthage’s home ground of northern Africa; eventually, Carthage was able to control only the city itself, its once-great empire falling to the Roman Republic. Scipio Africanus finally defeated Hannibal at the battle of Zama in 202 BCE, ending the Second Punic War.

 

 

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Photo credit Phys.org. Used under fair use.

Recently, a study was made of 70 Roman coins from 310 to 101 BCE; scientists drilled into the rims of the coins to access unweathered heart metal. Isotopic analysis confirms that the lead isotopes in the coins are a match to Spain after 209 BCE. Before that, metal for Roman coins was mined from old Greek sources in the Aegean. Scipio’s advances in Hispania flooded the Roman world with new sources of metal for coins. (Hints of this can be seen in the movie Gladiator: Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus, is a Spaniard in the Roman military, and his breastplate is ornately decorated with silver. In fact, during the movie, Maximus tells a young boy that the name of one of the silver horses on his breastplate is Argento, “silver,” though this is more a reference to the Lone Ranger than to the Spanish silver mines.)

 

Researcher Katrin Westner stated, “Before the war, we find that the Roman coins are made of silver from the same sources as the coinage issued by Greek cities in Italy and Sicily. In other words the lead isotope signatures of the coins correspond to those of silver ores and metallurgical products from the Aegean region. But the defeat of Carthage led to huge reparation payments to Rome, as well as Rome gaining large amounts of booty and ownership of the rich Spanish silver mines. From 209 B.C., we see that the majority of Roman coins show geochemical signatures typical for Iberian silver…This massive influx of Iberian silver significantly changed Rome’s economy, allowing it to become the superpower of its day. We know this from the histories of Livy and Polybius and others, but our work gives contemporary scientific proof of the rise of Rome. What our work shows is that the defeat of Hannibal and the rise of Rome is written in the coins of the Roman Empire.”

 

 

[Featured image is credit Flickr user Hans Splinter. Used under CC by ND 2.0.]

Pompeii and the Coins That Survived Vesuvius

 

“The coins archaeologists find,” writes Emma Watts-Plumpkin in the March 2004 edition of World Archaeology, “are those that have been lost or purposely hoarded away. The Pompeii collection is quite different from coins found elsewhere.” Pompeii has fascinated the world since it was uncovered in the late 1700s, and the coins found in the ruins are no exception.

 

The story of Pompeii and its sister city, Herculaneum, are known. In August of 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius exploded violently (as it had done before, wiping out a much earlier Roman settlement), burying both cities in ash, pumice, and lava. While many inhabitants escaped, those who waited too long were trapped in the cities. In many cases, the bodies were covered in fine ash, producing the famous molds which reveal extraordinary details of the victims.

 

 

 

Many inhabitants tried to take their valuables with them. Wealthy families and individuals have been found with jewelry, statues, bags of coins, and more. Even the underclasses and slaves took the coins they had, usually bronzes and coppers. A fused mass of coins was found at the edge of the ancient beach in Herculaneum; many residents fled there in hopes of boarding boats to escape, but were incinerated when the first of many pyroclastic flows (12 surges in total, by the time the eruption calmed) raced down the mountain. Over the course of hours, 75 feet of rock and ash covered the city, freezing it in time.

 

800px-View_of_vesuvius_over_the_ruins_of_pompeiiAfter the eruption, some residents did return to try to salvage what they could. Emperor Titus declared Pompeii an “emergency zone,” and even sent funds for rebuilding. But too much had been buried, and within a few decades, both towns were gone from local maps. Statius, a Roman poet, wrote “When this wasteland regains its green, will men believe that cities and peoples lie beneath?” A few centuries later, new farms and vineyards had been planted in the fertile volcanic soil over the city.

 

In 2016, four skeletons were found in the ruins of a shop near Pompeii’s Herculaneum gate. While the site had been looted, several gold coins were recovered. It’s likely that other coins were initially present, and were taken by the looters who tunneled in.

 

Approximately 1500 coins have been recovered from an insula (a Roman city block) by a research team from the University of Bradford. The insula contained two large houses, as well as shops and even bars. The coins studied by the Bradford team are unusual in that they show coins in circulation up to the moment of catastrophe, not buried with the dead, hidden in a hoard, or otherwise intentionally collected. As such, most of them show extensive wear, as they were in circulation up until the very moment of disaster.

 

mapThe Pompeii copper coins show a strong local economy, as the coins are mostly crude copies of Massalian (modern day Marseille) and Ebusian (modern day Ibiza) coins. Very few of the coins come from Rome itself, though a few early Imperial Quadrantes have been found, with more expected to appear as the mass of coins is separated. The pseudo-coins, as they are known, seem to have been locally made and circulated mostly around the Naples Bay area. No coin-minting equipment has yet been found in Pompeii or Herculaneum, but such a find may turn up in future excavations, or simply have been damaged beyond recognition. Watts-Plumpkin writes, “In all likelihood, these ‘pseudo’ coins were just for use in the local economy. The fact that so many have been found bears out the degree to which the people of Pompeii were involved in local trading. The large numbers of local coins also suggests that the Pompeiians may have been using a largely monetised economy rather than other forms of barter. That far fewer coins come from further afield, for example actually from Ibiza or Marseilles, suggests that the people of Pompeii were not engaged in very much monetised longer-distant trade.”

 

At last date, about 500 of the 1500 coins separated have been identified. The most common is the pseudo-Ebusus design, with a crude image of the Egyptian dwarf god Bes on both sides. These coins are 12-16mm across. Another 45 copper-alloy coins bear the image of Janus, the two-faced Roman god. The reverse of the coin shows the prow of a ship. Some of these coins bear the word “ROMA,” and were made during the Republic. Many of these are found halved, as cutting coins has been an efficient way to make change when softer metals are used.

 

 

 

About 55 of the coins are Massalian in style, though only a few actually come from Massalia itself. Most are the local copies, with a bust of Apollo on the obverse and a bull on the reverse. The best date for these coins is the first century BC; they were in circulation as long as the coin weighed enough to be legal tender.
As evidenced by its coins, gathered up as treasures in the hands of those fleeing the city or left behind in scattered masses, Pompeii was a busy town, much like any other. But its coins still tell the story of daily life in the obliterated city, and there is still so much more to learn.

 

[Featured image credit of The British Museum, used under fair use.]

The Coins of the Lost Emperor

 

Coins are an unusually good way of preserving history. They are stamped with the images of rulers and significant persons, the precious metals in them do not corrode easily, and the value of precious metal coins means that people save them. In the case of the Gallic usurper Domitianus, the best evidence we have are two coins recovered from buried hoards, one of which was ignored for a century.

 

The 3rd century CE was a time of great unrest in the northwest Roman empire. Rome faced enemies on several fronts, as well as internal strife. The Crisis of the Third Century, as it is known to historians, included a 50-year period in which there were no less than 26 claims to the throne of the Empire, largely from officers of the military. Gaul and Britannia had formed the Gallic Empire and claimed independence from Rome; the current Roman emperor rarely challenged this, as the Gallic emperor usually bore the brunt of invaders from the north, making one less thing for Rome to worry about. The eastern edge of the empire had become the Palmyrene Empire, ruled by regent Zenobia, who later claimed the title of Empress and was defeated by Aurelian in 272 CE.

 

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The Chalgrove Domitianus coin, courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum

Several leaders claimed the rule of the Gallic Empire, five of whom were considered somewhat legitimate (though not by Rome itself, since none of them had been acclaimed by the Senate), and two of whom were usurpers. Domitianus was one of the latter.

 

Until the more recent coin was found, historians were unsure that Domitianus had ever even claimed the Gallic throne. The majority of what we know about him comes from two sources written a century after Domitianus died. Both sources together give us fewer than 30 words about his life and reign. Zosimus states, “Epitimius, Urbanus, and Domitianus, were suspected of committing treason [by Aurelian], and were immediately apprehended and punished.” Neither source mentioned him as emperor.

 

Some sources say that his predecessor, Victorinus, was killed by one of his soldiers after finding out that the emperor had been sleeping with the soldier’s wife. While it’s possible that Domitianus was that soldier, there’s no way to know for sure, unless more contemporary records are found. However it happened, Domitianus claimed the throne after the death of Victorianus in late 270 or early 271 CE, and probably took control of the mint at Trier (in what is now Germany.) It’s unclear if the portrait on the coin is even that of Domitianus; it looks very similar to the coins minted for Victorinus. It’s possible the mint did not take time to create a new portrait, but simply made a few slight alterations and changed the name on the coin.

 

The first Domitianus coin was found in France in 1900; however, since little record had been kept of how it had been found, and there was no textual evidence for Domitianus ever having been emperor of the Gallic empire, it was assumed to be a modern forgery and dismissed. In 2003, metal detectorist Brian Malin was detecting in a field in Chalgrove, just outside Oxford. His family had recovered a small hoard from the field nearly 20 years before, but Malin was not convinced they had found everything. He came across a jar full of coins from the Roman era, which had fused together with the coil into a compact lump. He turned the hoard over to the Ashmolean Museum without attempting to separate the coins. As the experts at the museum worked their way through the coins, carefully freeing each one from the others, they discovered the Domitianus coin. Since this hoard had careful documentation, and the coin was found fused with other easily verified coins of the era, its authenticity was unquestioned. Even better, examination of the original French find confirmed that both coins had come from the same stamp. Both were authentic, and Domitianus regained his place in the line of Gallic rulers.

 

Both coins and their respective hoards seem to have been buried not long after Domitianus was overthrown by Tetricus. The Gallic Empire was reclaimed for Rome by the emperor Aurelian in 274 CE (as the Palmyrene Empire had been a few years earlier.) Aurelian suppressed the Gallic culture that had arisen, and it’s possible the coins were buried to protect them from raids or other military threats. It’s also possible that having a large amount of money was dangerous during such uncertain times, and the coins were buried to prevent them from being stolen. Regardless of how the coins ended up in the hoards, it is only due to their burial that we have any solid evidence of the emperor Domitianus.

 

Cover image by Wikipedia User Geni, used under GFDL.

How Coins Preserved the Memories of an Empire

 

 

TenCommand_055Pyxurz.jpgFans of classic films may remember the dramatic moment in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” when the old pharaoh, Sethi, exiles Moses and commands that his name be stricken from all monuments across the kingdom. “Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet, stricken from all pylons and obelisks, stricken from every monument of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of men for all time.” While this kind of extreme erasure was rare, it was practiced by many ancient cultures. Modern historians have termed the practice “damnatio memoriae.” While statues and memorials were the usual targets for defacement, the practice sometimes extended even to coins bearing the name or image of the person to be removed from memory.

 

In ancient Egypt, several controversial rulers, including religious reformer Akhenaten and female pharaoh Hatshepsut, were removed from memorials and sculptures after their deaths. The practice reached a peak in Roman culture, especially during the Imperial era.

 

 

It’s difficult to know who actually carried out the defacements; officially, the Roman Senate would make a pronouncement condemning an emperor or other individual. However, these actions were usually undertaken when a new emperor arose by acclamation or military support. Outside of the main areas of Roman culture, such defacement may have been carried out by soldiers or other officials. In a few reported instances, crowds of civilians swarmed the street to tear down statues of particularly despised rulers.

 

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Defaced coin of Nero. Photo copyright Trustees of the British Museum

The size of the Empire, in fact, is why few coins suffered such treatment, though they were one of the primary symbols of any given emperor. One of the things that binds a nation and culture together is a common currency that can be relied upon across the nation. Defacing coins could lead to questions about their legitimacy as currency, causing coin shortages and economic crises. The simplest answer was for the new emperor to issue new coins with his image as quickly as possible, and put them into circulation across the empire, primarily via payments to the Roman legions.

 

In the rare cases when coins were defaced, it was usually on the obverse of the coin, where the portrait and name of the emperor were found. However, in a few extraordinary cases, the damage was done to the reverse of the coin.
Project Curator of Roman Provincial Coins at The British Museum’s Department of Coins and Medals, Dario Calomino, states, “Some coins struck in Emesa in Syria (modern Homs […] had the image of the altar of the local sun-god Elagabal defaced with an X. We do not know who did this and for what reason. This may have been a way in which opposition to this cult was expressed. But sometimes coins were also mutilated for ritual purposes; they were offered as a gift to a divinity in a sanctuary, and in order to do this they were previously de-monetised, i.e. marked and mutilated to signify that they were no longer official currency, but tokens of devotion.”

 

Defacement of coins did not always originate from Roman decree, though. In some Iron Age coin hoards from what is now Bulgaria, new Celtic designs have been minted over Hellenistic and Roman coins. These Celtic designs were produced in a time of intense battle between Roman and Celtic forces; the effort of minting over coins indicates a strong rejection of Roman culture in its entirety.

 

 

(ac)-Caligula_sester_10It’s impossible to know just how successful any efforts at damnatio memoriae were; completely successful erasure would be undetectable by historians. It’s likely that none were completely successful, given the difficulty of such an endeavor. Many contemporary historians wrote about the emperors who ruled during their time, and coins in particular give us long-lasting records. Even the despised Caligula, whose records underwent the most extensive erasure known, remains one of the best-known Roman emperors in history. Several Caligulan coins have had his name filed down or hammered out, yet remain recognizable.

 

Even the smallest and most ordinary coin can bear a historical record that thousands of intervening years cannot erase.

King Arthur’s Coins: Minting in Roman Britain

 

Though it is still hotly debated if a historical Arthur ever existed, the legends about him are some of the most compelling in the Western World. The fanciful myths of Mallory, de Troyes, and other later writers are certainly not accurate; Arthur and his knights would not have been beautifully attired in silks and plate armor. However, a real person might exist behind the legends. The basic picture is of a warlord keeping order in 5th century Britain, preserving the last bits of the Roman Empire on the island, and keeping back the invading Anglo-Saxons. When the Romans left the British Isles, their mint remained…and their coins.

 

Celtic_gold_stater_Iceni_tribe.jpgThe Romans had developed very reliable systems for governing large areas with a minimal presence. Though Britain had produced some coinage before the Romans came, local coinage would quickly have been stopped and replaced with Roman coinage. The Iceni, for instance, minted coins that are in high demand for collectors; it is unclear if their minting operations continued up until their failed revolt against the Romans in the first century AD, lead by their queen Boudicca. (Boudicca is said to be buried under Platform 10 at King’s Cross Station in London, though no proof has ever been found.) Iron Age Britain was primarily a barter economy, and coins used as status symbols, similar to the early Viking culture.

 

hadrian_denariusWhile an army may march on its stomach, it will also insist on being paid. The advance of Roman troops in Britain created an urgent need for large amounts of coinage. A great deal of coins had been brought from Rome itself, which was quickly introduced into local economies. The two precious metal coinage denominations were the gold aureus and the silver denarius. An aureus was worth 25 denarii, and was not used in most common transactions. Other coins were struck in orichalcum, copper, and bronze. According to the Omskirk & West Lancashire Numismatic Society, base metal coins “were a token coinage, in the following fixed relationship to the silver: 1 denarius = 4 sestertii = 8 dupondii = 16 asses. The as had further subdivisions called the semis, or half as, and the quadrans, or quarter as, but these, as well as the gold and silver quinarii – half aureus and half denarius – were used mainly in Rome and the more developed provinces.” This is called the Augustan monetary system.

 

Though a Roman soldier would have been paid one denarius per day, due to withholdings, most soldiers appear to have been paid smaller amounts in base coinage. The requirements for this amount of coinage cause the Romans to begin minting coins closer to the British Isles. The first Roman British coins were unofficial copies of the small aes. Despite not being true Roman coinage, they seem to have been accepted as currency. Countermarked coins from previous emperors were also common.

 

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Shortly after the Iceni revolt, the Empire began minting coins at Lugdunum, Gaul (modern Lyon, France.)  Coin hoards from this time period indicate that the quality of precious metal coin began to decline during Nero’s reign; before this period, republican coinage made up about half of the silver circulating in Britain.

 

Coinage in circulation continued to debase through the second and third centuries; during the late third century, several of the appointed rulers of western Roman lands seceded from the Empire, establishing what is known as the Gallic Empire, consisting of modern Britain, France, and Spain. These Gallic emperors struck coins, including precious metal coins, at Trier and Cologne; during the short-lived Gallic Empire, these were the primary coins entering the British Isles. (Some of these coins have the excellent name “barbarous radiates.”)

 

antoninianus_carausius_leg4-ric_0069vThe Gallic Empire gave way to the British usurper Carausius (AD287-293) followed by Allectus (AD293-296.) Since the area was cut off from the central Roman Empire, the coin shortage became desperate, and the first identifiable British Roman mint opened in London, with a second mint following in Colchester. Carausius marked some coins during his reign with “AVGGG,” the extras “Gs” intended to refer to his “colleagues” in Rome and Byzantium.

 

Diocletian, however, had no intention of sharing his power, and sent Constantius Chlorus to deal with the usurpers and bring Britain back into the western Roman empire. As part of the overhaul of the empire, Diocletian also reformed the coinage of the empire. Over the next century, his coinage faded from popularity, and was replaced by lightweight silver coins like the miliarense and the siliqua. A large silver-washed bronze coin worth 20 denariiwas also in use; though the contemporary name of the coin has been lost to history, today it is referred to as the follis or nummus.
Coins entered circulation quickly in Britain, and mixed freely. The London mint proved to be too valuable to the Empire to destroy after Carausius was deposed, and continued to strike coins; coins from lands east of Gaul also made their way to the Isles.

 

As the Roman Empire continued to crumble, chaos rose in the British Isles. Coinage changed rapidly and continuously. Unofficial coins began to reappear, as well as overstruck coins. The unified coinage of prior centuries disappeared, and eastern coins are only rarely found in British hoards. Roman control of Britain began to be pronounced in the 4th century, and the legions of trained Roman soldiers began to pull back into the collapsing Empire. The citizens of the Isles found themselves increasingly open to predation from Anglo-Saxon and other invading forces.

 

The Roman army suffered a defeat from British tribes in 367, causing desertion on a large scale as invaders looted the area. Though an effort was made to refortify and rearm the British Roman forces in 369, it would prove to be the last major effort Rome would take to secure Britain. This led to a short period of peace at the end of the 4th century, but the chaos would rise again during the fifth century. It is around this time that a historical Arthur may have been present. The departing Roman forces left a power vacuum, and a populace clamoring for defense from raiders as Irish pirates from the west and Saxons from the east began to prey along the coasts. During this time, the British Isles had a good supply of gold and silver in circulation; however, it seems unlikely that silver was regularly struck after AD404, as few such coins have ever been found.

 

Arthur would likely have had access to these gold and silver coins; by the late fourth century, coins from the eastern empire were very rare, and probably would no longer have been in circulation. He could have used Roman coinage as it existed, or counterstamped coins for his own use. (No such coins have ever been found, of course, nor has any definitive sign of the existence of a real King Arthur.) Some late fourth century coins found in recent years have been clipped extensively; clipped coins are not common with Roman areas, and it seems that the practice developed after Roman forces retreated.

 

By the mid fifth century, coin usage was no longer widespread in Britain, though isolated areas may still have used them. Some sixth century sites are completely coinless; after the final fall of order in Britain, coins would not be used until Germanic settlers reintroduced them in the seventh century.

 

 

Ancient Roman Coinage

Ancient Roman coins were some of the earliest coins in history. Bronze, copper, gold and silver coins made up Roman coinage.

(Looking for ancient Roman coins? Look no further.)

Because these coins were made of valuable materials like gold and silver, they had intrinsic value.

Around 300 B.C., the Roman Republican government introduced coinage (about three centuries after Greece, an embarrassingly late time) to its Republic. Because coin systems had already been established, Romans knew all about how to use their currency. Rome was a well-established republic at the time.

The coinage included some oddities. This included bronze bars called “stuck bronze” that weighed around 50 oz. with a high iron content.

Bronze bar, 450 B.C.

Bronze bar, 450 B.C. Courtesy of LmK, CC 3.0

Following Greece’s example, Rome created its own circular coins illustrating myths and scenes with gods and goddesses. Greek coins greatly influenced these designs.

When Julius Caesar took over, he issued coins with his profile. These were significant as they were the first coins to feature a living person. They served to spread Caesar’s image through Rome and beyond. Caesar also released coins showing Venus or Aeneas in the attempt to associate himself with divinity. Other emperors went even farther, however; in 192 Commodus ordered coins featuring himself dressed in a lion skin in an imitation of Hercules, proclaiming himself to be an incarnation of the famous hero.

Caesar profile coins continued even after Caesar’s assassination, along with featured gods and goddesses.

Romans put a lot of moral value on the images in their coins. The philosopher Epictetus wrote as a joke: “Whose image does this sestertius carry? Trajan’s? Give it to me. Nero’s? Throw it away, it is unacceptable, it is rotten.” Romans would not really throw away their coins, but the images still certainly meant a lot to them.

There is more to learn in the world of ancient Roman coins, but these are the basics.

Traveling with Art: St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy

One of the most stunning architecture masterpieces in the world resides in Rome.

Worked on by such famous figures as Michelangelo, Bernini, Raphael, and Donato Bramante, St. Peter’s Basilica is the pride of the Renaissance.

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Photo credit to Wikipedia user Jraytram under CC 3.0.

The structure can be seen in the above and below pieces by an artist named Bolteau. These watercolors work together in a set with very similar colors of gold, orange, and blue, and they both feature the basilica.

The bridge in the painting above resembles the Pons Aemilius, or by its modern name the Ponte Rotto, which was damaged and repaired multiple times in history before a flood carried away one half of the bridge in 1598. “Ponte Rotto” means “broken bridge.”

This other painting has a more prominent view of St. Peter’s Basilica. The basilica was built in the Late Renaissance and is considered to be one of the holiest Catholic churches.

The many parts to St. Peter’s have all been designed with great detail and care. Its dome was designed by Michelangelo, and his famous statue “Pieta” is housed inside the basilica.

This watercolor features St. Peter’s Square, or piazza, which stands directly in front of the basilica. The square contains a 4,000-year-old Egyptian obelisk as well as a granite fountain constructed by Bernini.

Ralph Waldo Emerson described St. Peter’s as “an ornament of the earth…the sublime of the beautiful.”

Another visitor wrote, “St Peter’s Basilica is the reason why Rome is still the center of the civilized world. For religious, historical, and architectural reasons it by itself justifies a journey to Rome, and its interior offers a palimpsest of artistic styles at their best…”

High praise for this architectural marvel!

What do you think of St. Peter’s Basilica? Have you ever been there yourself? Let us know in the comments!

 

Other articles in the “Traveling with Art” series:

The Arc de Triumph in Paris, France

Bamberg, Germany’s witch trials and pubs

Prague Castle and Charles Bridge

Mount Vesuvius and Naples, Italy