Accessing Afterlife: Tombs of Roman Aristocrats, Freedmen, and Slaves

Tombs on the Appian Way, Rome / Wikimedia Commons

Lecture by Dr. Diana E.E. Kleiner / 02.12.2009
Dunham Professor, History of Art and Classics
Yale University

Augustus’ Family Mausoleum

We are going to be looking at a number of quite eclectic monuments today, very different monuments, one from the next, and they’re full of surprises. And Rome is always full of surprises; Rome a city, of course, that you see layers upon layer of civilization, that one peels back to get us back to antiquity, but along the way experiences some amazing things. So I think that this particular lecture, which will talk about the varied nature of Roman architecture, especially architecture commissioned by individual patrons to preserve their memory for posterity, again is particularly appropriate.

I’ve talked about public architecture commissioned by the emperor Augustus, public architecture that we noted was made primarily out of marble, out of Luna or Carrara marble, that was quarried on the northwest coast of Italy itself, and the objective of it being to try to conjure up the relationship between the new Golden Age of Augustus and the Golden Age, fifth century B.C., of Periclean Athens. Just as Julius Caesar had tried to create a kind of Alexandria on the Tiber, we see Augustus trying to recreate an Athens on the Tiber. And Augustus was, of course, very much–in his objectives was very much in keeping with other objectives that we’ve been studying for some time: this Hellenization of Roman architecture that we have addressed on a number of occasions.

Ara Pacis Augustae, Rome, 9 BCE / Photo by Chris Nas, Wikimedia Commons

Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus, 42 BCE / Wikimedia Commons

I’ve talked about the Forum of Augustus in Rome, featuring the Temple of Mars Ultor, that temple that Augustus vowed he would build if he could be victorious over the assassins of Julius Caesar, that is, Cassius and Brutus. He was so, at the Battle of Philippi, and he built this forum and he built this temple again as its centerpiece. And you’ll recall again that it was made, for the most part, out of Carrara marble. We see the columns of Carrara here, a wall, the seventeen Carrara marble steps, and so on. We also talked about the Ara Pacis Augustae, the Altar of Augustan Peace, put up to the diplomatic agreements or treaties that Augustus made with those in Spain and Gaul: a monument that was put up near his earlier mausoleum, a monument that was also made out of Carrara marble, and in fact solid Carrara marble. And this monument too had precedents in the Greek period. It looked back to a number of sources, but one of those, as we noted on Tuesday, was the Altar of the Twelve Gods, or the Altar of Pity, a fifth-century B.C. monument that was located in the marketplace of ancient Greece. So again, both of these buildings, looking back to Greek prototypes in their general format, and also, of course, in the material out of which they were made, namely marble.

When we talked about the Ara Pacis, we talked about the fact that it eventually ended up being part of a kind of architectural complex, that while this architectural complex may have not been planned from the start, it grew up over time into something where all of the buildings related to one another in interesting ways, both in terms of their content and also in terms of their architectural design. The complex included the Mausoleum of Augustus, the tomb of the emperor Augustus, which was the first monument built on this site, and eventually the Ara Pacis, which you’ll recall was actually not located originally where it is now. It was located in an area a bit here to the upper right originally, on the Via Flaminia that Augustus took when he returned to Rome from Spain and Gaul, but that it was moved, or the remains of it were moved over to this location, next to the Tiber, by Mussolini, because as we noted last time, in the meantime a palace had been built on top of the original location of the Ara Pacis, and that area was no longer available for use.

Mausoleum of Augustus and Ara Pacis complex, Rome / Wikimedia Commons

But again, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the first building of this complex. You see that the mausoleum ended up becoming the centerpiece of the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, that piazza that Mussolini’s architects designed to commemorate Augustus and also to commemorate Mussolini, because that inscription I showed you last time is inserted into the building over here. If we look at this aerial view of the Mausoleum of Augustus, which was begun in 28 B.C.– and in fact that should ring some bells for you and we should say something about its genesis in 28 B.C. Because you’ll recall that important date of 31, the Battle of Actium when Augustus was victorious over Antony and Cleopatra and became sole emperor, or began his march to becoming sole emperor of the Roman world.

It’s interesting to see him building this massive mausoleum only three years after the Battle of Actium; that’s really quite striking. Why did he do that? Well the reason that he seems to have done that is despite the fact that he lived until 76-years-old, which was very old in ancient Roman times, as I mentioned last time–despite the fact that he lived to that ripe old age, he was not in terribly good health, even as a young man, and he was very concerned about his own longevity. How long was he going to live? He knew he had accomplished a lot already by this victory over Antony and Cleopatra, and by some of his other military victories, but he wasn’t actually sure how long he was going to last, and so he begins to build this gigantic tomb eventually to hold his own remains. And he completes that tomb in five years. It’s built between 28 B.C. and 23 B.C. And you’ll recall the date of the Ara Pacis is considerably later; 13 to 9 B.C. So the Ara Pacis was only added to this complex later, and at that point the whole thing was orchestrated with the addition of the obelisk, and we talked about how the obelisk cast a shadow on the Ara Pacis on Augustus’ birthday, and so on and so forth.

With regard to the tomb itself, we’re going to see something quite striking today, and that is that the tomb is architecturally very different from the Ara Pacis Augustae, and indeed from the Forum of Augustus. And it’s a good example of the eccentricity, as we’ll characterize today, of Roman tomb architecture in general. Keep in mind that Roman tomb architecture is the most personal of any form of Roman architecture, which makes it particularly interesting to study, because the only practical requirement for a tomb was that it be able to hold the remains of the deceased. That’s all it needed to do, whereas other buildings had to do all kinds of other things: have running water through them, and so on and so forth. But that was not the case here. So that the patron and the architect could come together to create buildings that were unique to that individual and again were eccentric to a certain degree, and that is indeed what we will see, and that is the case also in the Mausoleum of Augustus.

Mausoleum of Augustus plan / Dartmouth University, Creative Commons

Mausoleum of  Augustus / Wikimedia Commons

As we look down on the Mausoleum of Augustus, in this aerial view, we see the general plan of it. We see that there was a central burial chamber; that there was a hollow drum, and around that hollow drum–and all of this is made of concrete construction–around that hollow drum a series of concentric rings, a series of concentric rings, as you can see them here, again made out of concrete. And then the outer wall–which you can also see in this view–the outer wall was faced with travertine, which is also interesting; not Luna marble, travertine blocks. A closer view shows you the structure. So again the central burial chamber; the hollow drum; the concentric rings around that; the travertine wall around that. But, of course, you’re looking essentially at the core. This is not what the original entire monument looked like. And what it was, was in fact there was an earthen tumulus, or an earthen mound, that was placed on top of these concentric rings, and then at the very apex of that earthen mound was a gleaming bronze statue of the emperor Augustus himself.

I think I can make this clearer by showing you a plan of the Mausoleum of Augustus. And we see all the features I’ve already described: the central burial chamber, the hollow drum, again all made out of concrete construction, and the concentric rings around that. You can see the way in which the concrete has been built up by means obviously of annular vaults, the annular vaults that ultimately support the gleaming bronze statue of Augustus, at the apex. And you can also see in this cross-section the earthen mound, the way in which the earthen mound is piled up on top of that substructure, that concrete substructure, to create the dome-like shape of the mausoleum on its own.

Etruscan Antecedents of the Mausoleum of Augustus

Now scholars who believe–and we all believe in fact–that again Augustus was a philhellene, that he had a particular penchant for things Greek. So you look at something like this and you ask yourselves, “Well, what’s Greek about this? Why didn’t he, when he came to make the decision about his last resting place, why did he not want to be laid to rest in the manner of the Greeks? Why doesn’t this–why wasn’t this tomb made in the form, for example, of a Greek temple, or something like that? Why did he choose this particular form?” So scholars have debated for quite some time whether there are any tombs like this in Greece, or in Asia Minor–what kind of tomb was Alexander the Great buried in, for example?

Well we don’t know exactly for sure, but that’s one possibility, that it might have something to do with Alexander’s tomb. Others–because Aeneas came from burning Troy–others have suggested perhaps the Trojans were buried might have something to do with this selection. But I think the model is much closer at hand. I think the model–myself, I believe that the model comes from Italy, and that it’s a very interesting choice on the part of Augustus, because I think what it tells us is that Augustus may have wanted to build public buildings in Rome that conjured up ancient Athens, but when it came to deciding about how he wanted to be buried, he wanted to be buried in the manner of his Italian ancestors.

Etruscan tumuli at Cerveteri, 6th century BCE / Wikimedia Commons

Looking at the Mausoleum of Augustus, you see the central entranceway. You see what remains of the concentric, concrete rings. You see some of the travertine facing for the outer ring of the structure. And you see, of course, that the uppermost part, namely the earthen mound, is no longer there. But if I compare the Mausoleum of Augustus to an Etruscan tomb  from the so-called Banditaccia Cemetery, which is at a site called Cerveteri, Cerveteri, a very important Etruscan site. And this tomb we believe dates to the sixth century B.C. Cerveteri is an extraordinary place to visit now because there is one tomb after another of this type. You go into the site and you feel like you’re on another planet or some such, as you wander among these extremely well-preserved tombs at Cerveteri. And Cerveteri, by the way, is right off the highway, between Rome and Florence. So it’s a very easy site to get to and very well worthwhile; there’s nothing quite like it anywhere in Italy, anywhere indeed in the world.

And you see these series of tombs, and I think if you look at it you’ll see the similarity of this to the Mausoleum of Augustus. These round Etruscan tombs have central burial chambers. They have stone facing around the outermost part of the structure. And you can see that piled on top of that is an earthen mound, and if you expand the size — the Cerveteri tomb is much smaller. Actually the individual Cerveteri tombs are smaller than the Mausoleum of Augustus. The Mausoleum of Augustus is 290 feet in diameter; it’s a very large building. But if you expand the size of one of these, what we call tumulus (plural tumuli) tombs, at Cerveteri, if you expand the size, if you plant this with trees–because we know that the Mausoleum of Augustus was planted with trees on the earthen mound; there’s been quite a bit of controversy about what kind of trees. For a long time people said cypress trees. Now people seem to favor juniper trees. But whatever, trees of some sort, decorating that earthen mound. So if you enlarge this, if you put some junipers on top of it, and if you stick a gleaming bronze statue of Augustus at the apex, you will have essentially the Mausoleum of Augustus. So I’d like to suggest to you today that the Mausoleum of Augustus indicates to us that when it came to his tomb, Augustus wanted to be buried like his Italian ancestors, like the Etruscans, and that is why he chose this particular type of tomb in Rome.

Mausoleum of Augustus as a garden, engraving by Du Pérac, 1775 / Public Domain

The Mausoleum of Augustus, like so many other monuments that we’ve been looking at this semester, survives in large part because it was re-used over the centuries in a wide variety of ways. You can see in this engraving that it was used at one point as a garden, a very nicely manicured garden, as you can see inside the remains, inside those concentric circles, a very nice garden. It was also used as a fortress at one point by the well-known Colonna family of Italy. It was used, believe it or not, as a bull ring–a little touch of Spain in the midst of Rome, as a bull ring–and it was used most recently as a music hall. It was a music hall before it was turned back into the Mausoleum of Augustus. So again, this very–a very similar saga to this building and to its post-antique history, as to so many others that we’ve talked about.

Another important point to make about the Mausoleum of Augustus is that, although Augustus intended it as his own last resting place, he didn’t intend for him to be the only person who was laid to rest there. He wanted this to serve as a family tomb, for him, his wife, his–well it turned out his daughter didn’t end up there, but that may have been the intention originally, that she would. She was discredited because of all the adulterous affairs she had and Augustus eventually banished her in 2 B.C. from Rome, razed her house to the ground, and did not allow her to be buried in the Mausoleum of Augustus. But for his wife, for his nephew and son-in-law, Marcellus, and others, he wanted to create this family tomb where he, his family, and presumably, since his objective was to create a dynasty, presumably where his successors of the dynasty that he founded would also be laid to rest.


Left: Agrippina the Elder epitaph from Mausoleum of Augustus; Right: Marcellus epitaph from the Mausoleum of Augustus / Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome

And there are inscription plaques that have come to light, from the Mausoleum of Augustus, and I can show you a couple of them here, that do indicate that was exactly the case. We see this plaque over here, which actually has the name Marcellus inscribed there. This is the Marcellus of the Theater of Marcellus, the nephew and son-in-law of Augustus, who was laid to rest in this Mausoleum. His sister, “soror,” Octavia, also laid to rest; that is, Augustus’ sister, Octavia, also laid to rest here. And it continued to be used as a burial place again after Augustus’ death and through the so-called Julio-Claudian emperors, who we’ll look at next week: Tiberius and Caligula and Claudius. And we see, in fact, an inscription plaque over here that honors Agrippina the Elder: Agrippina the Elder, the mother of Caligula, the third emperor of Rome, and it was Caligula who laid his mother to rest in this tomb. So very much a family tomb created by the emperor Augustus. And I should also mention, with regard to burial practice at this time, that everybody was–imperial individuals, and those lower on the social pyramid as well–were all cremated at this particular time. So you have to imagine that there were urns for each of these inside the tomb somewhere as well.

The Tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Via Appia

Tomb of Caecilia Metella and later castle on the Via Appia / Wikimedia Commons

Now it may not surprise you to hear that once the emperor chose the form of his tomb, that he set in motion a fashion that just about every aristocrat wanted to follow. So all of a sudden, after the construction of the Mausoleum of Augustus, again between 28 and 23, there is this efflorescence of round tombs in Rome and elsewhere in Italy. And I want to show you just one example of that. This is the so-called Tomb of Caecilia Metella. It dates to 20 B.C. So it began to be put up not too long after Augustus’ mausoleum was built. It is located on the famous Via Appia in Rome, the Appian Way. You can see the Tomb of Caecilia Metella here. Like the Mausoleum of Augustus, it was re-used in ancient times, and there was a fortress and a palace that was added to it.

You can also see that while the tomb was essentially a cylindrical drum, resembling the cylindrical drum of the Mausoleum of Augustus, it was placed–it was given some height by being placed on a podium–the kind of podium that we saw at the sanctuaries, or the podium that we saw at the Villa of the Mysteries–to raise it up. It’s not as big as those, but it’s sizable, and it raises this round tomb up a little bit, so that it can be more readily seen as people make their way along the Via Appia. The Mausoleum of Augustus does not have a similar podium. So that’s a unique, a different feature that is added to this particular structure. You can also see there’s an inscription on the front, and we’ll talk about that in a moment, and then there are crenellations at the top. There’s some dispute about when those crenellations were added, whether they belonged to the original tomb or not. I think it’s highly unlikely that they belonged to the original tomb, and they may have been added at the time that this was made into a fortress, as I’ve already mentioned.

Tomb of Caecilia Metella / Photo by Emmanuel Brunner, Wikimedia Commons

This is a view of the Tomb of Caecilia Metella, as it looks today, this tomb of this woman of 20 B.C., and you can see that it’s actually quite well preserved, and we can get a very good sense of its original appearance. You can see the concrete podium down here, without its original facing; it was surely faced. You can see the great cylindrical drum, of the Tomb of Caecilia Metella, and you can see the facing. And, once again, the facing for this tomb, just as in the Mausoleum of Augustus, is not Luna or Carrara marble. It is travertine, but very, very nicely cut travertine blocks, as you can see here. Very well done. She was undoubtedly a well-to-do patron who was able to hire the best architects, the best artisans, and they have done an outstanding job of cutting that travertine.

Frieze and relief with the trophy and captive warrior, Rome / Wikimedia Commons

There is a frieze that encircles the monument at the uppermost part, and that frieze depicts garlands and skulls of bulls, bucrania; the same sort of thing that we saw in the inner precinct wall of the Ara Pacis. Although this pre-dates the Ara Pacis, so we can’t say it was the influence of the Ara Pacis. This is again 20, whereas the Ara Pacis wasn’t begun until 13. And it shows us that this motif was very much in the air, during the Augustan period, this motif of garlands hanging from bucrania, which of course makes reference to sacrifice, and it could be a sacrifice in honor of a funerary event, as well as anything else, and we again see that very well here. One very interesting fact is that the frieze is not made out of travertine but out of pentelic marble, which is marble from Mount Pentelikon in Greece. So it tells us that marble was imported from Greece, or marble that was imported from Greece was purchased and used for the frieze of this particular structure, and we’ll see that it was used also for the inscription plaque. So it tells us something. It tells us that there was–that some patrons made the decision to spend a little more for the material for what they considered the most important part of the monument. So in this case the most important part of the monument was the frieze, and also the inscription plaque that preserved this woman’s name for posterity. So they paid a little bit more in order to get that more expensive material for those critical details of the monument.

Funerary inscription of Caecilia Metella / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the inscription. We’re very fortunate that it’s still preserved today. We see it still inserted into the monument. Again, it’s done in pentelic marble, and I think you can see, even in this view, the difference between pentelic marble and travertine. Travertine has more texture to it than the plainer marble, as you can see. And her name is given here, Caecilia Metella: Caecilia Metella down here. And it tells us that she was the daughter Filia, the daughter of Quintus Q. Creticus, who may have come from Crete; it’s possible. And it also makes reference to the fact that she was married to someone by the name of Crassus. This may be Crassus the Elder; we’re not absolutely sure. But what it does indicate to us is this is an aristocratic woman. This is an aristocratic woman whose family has a great deal of money, who are honoring her with this tomb, in the mode of the day; which of course was the tomb type that was chosen by Augustus himself.

You see in the relief a a Roman trophy relief. What is a Roman trophy? What the Romans did at the end of battle, if they were victorious, is they went over to the nearest tree trunk on the battlefield and they took arms and armor from their defeated enemy and they tacked that arms and armor up on that tree trunk, to create a military trophy commemorating their victory, right on the battlefield. And that’s exactly what you see here, a tree trunk with a breastplate and a helmet and shields and so on, all tacked up to that trophy. So we have to ask ourselves, what is that trophy doing on this particular monument? We’ve talked about the fact that in the minds of the Romans, the victory in battle, victory in the hunt, often were conflated with victory over death.

Tomb of Caecilia Metella and attached museum / Wikimedia Commons

The structure today is just right there, out on the Via Appia; easy to see. There is a small museum that isn’t all that often open, but sometimes it is, that is in the remains of the fortress, and the palace next door. You can see that the outside of the monument, they’ve inserted a lot of finds just from–it doesn’t mean they came from the Tomb of Caecilia Metella — but from this area on the Via Appia. There were tons of Roman tombs out here, and all of this paraphernalia that you see, statuary and fragments of friezes and cornices and so on, all come in part possibly from this monument, but more likely from the other tombs in the area. Those have been inserted into the wall in a kind of interesting way. And then here’s the museum itself. The museum doesn’t have–the stuff that’s in there is pretty much the same sort of thing that you see here. But going into the museum is interesting because you can see into the central chamber of the Tomb of Caecilia Metella and see the concrete construction and so on.

The Pyramidal Tomb of Gaius Cestius

I mentioned already that Roman tombs could be very eccentric indeed, and I want to show you one of the two most eccentric tombs, in my opinion, from ancient Rome that one can see in the city of Rome today. And the first of these is the so-called Tomb of Cestius, because we believe–in fact, we’re absolutely sure–that it honors a man by the name of Gaius Cestius. It was put up in 15 B.C. That is in the age of the emperor Augustus. In this Google Earth aerial view, we see what that structure looks like today. It is a Roman tomb in the form of an Egyptian pyramid. It’s the only Roman tomb in the form of an Egyptian pyramid that we can see in Rome today, but we know there were others in antiquity. We have reports that tell us that certain others that existed at a certain time were torn down, at one point. There was one, for example, not far from the Vatican, that was torn down at one point, because it got in the way of the street. So this is not unique in the sense of the only one, although it is the only one still surviving today. We have no idea how many of these there were. There were certainly some. Whether there were a lot, we can’t be absolutely certain.

Tomb of Gaius Cestius attached to Aurelian Walls / Wikimedia Commons

But here it is, a Roman tomb, in the form of a pyramid. Now when it was first put up, it was put up outside the Servian Walls of the city, because all–as we’ve talked about the fact that by Roman law the necropolis or city of the dead needed to be located outside the walls of the city. But as the city grew, and as there was a need for a new wall–and this happened in the third century A.D., and we’ll talk about it way at the end of this semester–the Romans ended up building a new wall, the famous Aurelian Walls. And the circuit happened to be planned for this particular–to pass this particular point where the Tomb of Cestius was. And fortunately they recognized the aesthetic and historical value of this tomb, and decided not to tear it down, but rather to incorporate it into the Aurelian Walls. So what you see in this aerial view are two of the walls–two parts of the Aurelian Walls abutting, and in fact incorporating, the Pyramid of Cestius, but in antiquity–when it was first built, excuse me, it stood alone. And what you see over here is a gateway that also belongs to the later Aurelian Walls. So again, fortunately this particular tomb was preserved.

Tomb of Gaius Cestius engraving / Wikimedia Commons

This engraving is helpful in showing us that the iTomb of Cestius was concrete, and the outer pyramidal shape was faced once again with travertine. So travertine clearly the material of choice by aristocrats for their tombs in the age of Augustus: concrete core, travertine facing.

Tomb of Gaius Cestius burial chamber / Wikimedia Commons

The burial chamber has had, and still has, remnants of painted walls. These paintings are Third style. Why Third Style?

They are floating in this random space, right in the center of the panels, as we know was characteristic of Third Style Roman wall painting. So 15 B.C., Third Style Roman wall painting. And if you think back to some of the palaces or villas that we looked at and their dates–think of Boscotrecase for example, 11 B.C. You see this is roughly contemporary to what’s happening in Campania at this particular time.


Tomb of Gaius Cestius wall paintings / Wikimedia Commons

And here are two details of the remains of those paintings, and you can see one of these floating mythological figures that looks like a victory figure: female, winged, carrying a wreath over here, flying in the center of the panel. This also shows you, in this case, the panels were white, very similar to the walls, for example, of the Third Style in the Domus Aurea in Rome. And then here, this candelabrum, very attenuated, very delicate, that is used in place of columns; both of these motifs decorating the flat wall that was so characteristic of Third Style Roman wall painting. Here’s another view of the pyramid as it looks today. You can see it is exceedingly well preserved, one of the best preserved of all Roman tombs. You can see again the way in which the later wall was built into it, and you can also see the travertine blocks and how carefully carved they were by the designers, by the artisans.

Tomb of Gaius Cestius / Photo by Francesco Gasparetti, Wikimedia Commons

This is very helpful, because it shows you that the eastern and western sides of the tomb, had in the center of the pyramid the name of Cestius. That’s how we know it was his tomb. You see it here, Gaius Cestius. And it also includes all of his titles. So he was very happy to advertise his titles on this monument, the purpose of which, of course, was for those who mourned him to feel proud of him and his achievements. But even more important than that was that his name and his deeds be preserved for posterity so that someday–in 2009, we’re sitting in this classroom looking at this–we think back on Cestius, his title, what he did, what he achieved, and the way in which he was memorialized. So this whole idea of preserving memory, not only in your own time, but into the far flung future.

Tomb of Gaius Cestius inscriptions / Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto,Wikimedia Commons

This tomb, as I said, despite the fact that the burial chamber is small, we do believe it was a family tomb. We have evidence for that, because two bases were found that seemed to belong to this tomb; in fact, it’s Cestius’ name, or members of his family, Cestius, you can see there, are named in these inscriptions. The name Cestius appears a few times, but another very important name, and that is M. Agrippa. That’s Marcus Agrippa, that’s the Marcus Agrippa, the boyhood friend and longtime close confidant and onetime heir and son-in-law, of Augustus. He’s mentioned here. So he is a member also of this family. So it demonstrates to us again we are dealing with an aristocratic family. So all of those tombs I’ve shown you thus far–the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Tomb of Caecilia Metella, and the Tomb of Gaius Cestius, are all examples of aristocratic tomb architecture in the age of Augustus.

Why did he choose a pyramid for his tomb is a very interesting question to ask, and I would suggest here though that the reason has to do with Augustus’ very important victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31. It was at that time, and even before, that an interest in things Egyptian came into Rome. We saw that Augustus himself made reference to his victory over that pair, over Cleopatra and Mark Antony, in the complex with the Ara Pacis and the Mausoleum of Augustus, by inserting that obelisk in the center; an obelisk that I have mentioned to you was actually brought from Egypt itself. So these references to Egypt, initially under Augustus himself, had political import. That obelisk was there to show that Augustus had prevailed over Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and because he had prevailed, he could steal obelisks from Egypt and bring them back to decorate Rome, as trophies essentially. So that was a political statement on his part.

But as time went on, Egyptomania became a kind of fashion statement. I think that it caught on; it caught on after Egypt was made a Roman province in 30 B.C., right after Actium, and we begin to see this wave of things Egyptian spreading through Rome, and it’s likely that Cestius–perhaps a combination of both, since he’s from Agrippa’s family, this combination of political reference, but also just this was an interesting–this was the style at this particular point, to do things in the Egyptian manner. You might remember some of those Egyptianizing motifs that we saw, for example, from the Black Room at Boscotrecase, which was also a villa that was closely connected with the imperial family. You remember Agrippa Postumus who was the son of Agrippa himself, born by his wife Julia, after Agrippa’s death; hence his name.

Tomb of Gaius Cestius / Photo by Jimmy P. Renzi, Wikimedia Commons

Another view of the back of the Pyramid of Cestius, the Mausoleum of Cestius, which again shows us how well preserved it is. You can see the Aurelian Walls, you can see the gate that we looked at before, and you can also see that the back is actually in a modern cemetery. This is the so-called Protestant Cemetery, and if you are in Rome and have time, this is one of the most interesting places to visit. It’s again a bit off the beaten track. Not that many tourists go there, but those that do are rewarded, because it’s a cemetery where many expatriates were buried — people who flocked to Rome because they loved it. Authors, scholars, poets, painters came to Rome, ended up spending the rest of their lives there–coming from all different countries around the world–spending the rest of their lives there, dying there, and eventually being buried in the so-called Protestant Cemetery.

Tomb of John Keats and Joseph Severn, England / Wikimedia Commons

Percy Bysshe Shelley, for example, is buried there, as is John Keats. And the Keats tomb, Keats marker, is my favorite by far in this cemetery. You can see his tombstone here, which doesn’t even give his name, it just identifies him; and you’ll remember he died very, very young, in his early twenties I think it was. You see him here referred to only as “the young English poet.” And down below it says, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” It’s an amazing stone. It does show the lyre, which makes reference, of course, to the fluency and so on of his mellifluous poetry. And over here, a companion of his, Joseph Severn, who doesn’t hesitate to mention his relationship to John Keats. So you see Keats’ name in Severn’s tombstone but not in Keats’ own tombstone. But I show this to you just because it’s one of those more fascinating places in Rome. And many of the tombs, by the way–there are many tombstones here that clearly are based on ancient Roman prototypes. So it’s a fascinating place to wander. And by the way, you can do that in our own Grove Street Cemetery, where there are a number of tombs that are done very much in the Roman style.

The Tomb of the Baker Eurysaces and His Wife Atistia

Tomb of Eurysaces adjacent to the Porta Maggiore / Wikimedia Commons

If you think the Tomb of Cestius is unusual, the weirdest tomb by far in Rome, from ancient Rome, is the one that I turn to now, and this is the Tomb of the baker Eurysaces, the Tomb of the baker Eurysaces that was put up in Rome in the late first century B.C. And that again is another tomb from the age of Augustus. But in this case we believe, although the inscription doesn’t tell us this for sure, but we believe it is highly likely that Eurysaces is from a different level of Roman society, not an aristocrat, but a working man who probably–either he himself or his family were slaves originally, eventually freed. He takes up the profession of bread making and he ends up building this extraordinary tomb that I’m going to show you in some detail, in Rome. As we look at this particular view, we see the Tomb of Eurysaces, as it looks today. We see it has behind it a great travertine gate, which is actually later in date. It dates to the time of the emperor Claudius. So you have to think that away for the moment. That was not standing when the Tomb of Eurysaces was put up. You can also see, however, that this gate was placed in an aqueduct system. That aqueduct was begun during the time of Augustus. So you can imagine that at least some of that aqueduct system stood at the time that this tomb was built.

Tomb of Eurysaces / Wikimedia Commons

The tomb, as you can see here, was a three-storied structure, very eccentric in its appearance. The ground line today is much lower than the modern ground line. So you have to go right up to the monument. You can look down at the first story. So you’re only seeing a part of the first story here. You can see that it is made of tufa blocks. You can also see the interior is concrete, the core of the structure is concrete, and then on the second and third stories, the tomb is faced with travertine. So travertine again used for tomb facing in the age in Augustus. And we see this very unusual design where there are these great–not piers–cylinders, great cylinders; great cylinders that are placed here vertically, and then cylinders placed in the next tier horizontally. Vertically placed cylinders. They’re not columns. You don’t see any capitals. They’re very fat. So they are cylinders, vertically, and then horizontally. And some scholars have suggested, and I think quite convincingly, that these may actually make reference to what were grain measures. Grain measures were these cylindrical structures in silos, in a sense, in which they stored grain in ancient Roman times. So that is very possible, since we know that this man was a baker, that this may make reference to these grain storage cylinders that were used in the process of baking.

Tomb of Eurysaces plan illustration / Wikimedia Commons

With regard to the siting of the tomb, I show you this plan over here, which indicates to us a very unusual in shape. It is trapezoidal in shape. Why is it trapezoidal in shape? It probably is trapezoidal in shape because the tomb was located on a piece of property that was between two major roads of Rome that exited and entered the city at this particular point: the so-called Via Labicana and the Via Praenestina. So two major Roman roads that come into the city at this point. And remember, the Tomb of Eurysaces, like all Roman tombs during this period, was outside the Servian Walls, so built outside the walls, but between these two streets.

Now this model over here, which by the way comes from a museum in Rome that again is off the beaten track, but I can highly recommend the Museo Civilità Romana, which is in a building built by Mussolini in the 1930s for a World’s Fair, and the buildings–and it and other buildings like it out there, in a place–part of Rome that we call EUR from Esposizione Universale di Roma. That whole area built up by Mussolini for the World’s Fair. But the buildings were so substantial that they decided to keep them, and they still stand, and this museum was placed in one of them. It is a museum of casts, where you can go and see works of Roman art and architecture from not only Rome but from around the world, all in one place. Now they’re not originals, they’re casts, but it’d be a great place to study for the exam for this course, for example, because you can walk around and see so many of the buildings that we’ve talked about. And there are these wonderful models of many of them.

Model of Tomb of Eurysaces with aqueduct and gate / Wikimedia Commons

And we see here a model of this aqueduct, the later gate here, and the Tomb of Eurysaces. And this shows you very well the way in which these two streets, the Labicana and the Praenestina, came into Rome at this point, converged exactly on the façade of this tomb. And this–it is clear that Eurysaces–and I’ll tell you how he did this in a moment–had enough money that he was able to buy what was certainly one of the most choice pieces of real estate, outside the walls of Rome, one in which everyone who came into Rome from either of those two thoroughfares would see the façade of this tomb. This is a man who wanted to be remembered for posterity. It’s another example of how tombs were used for the purposes of retaining memory over time.

This is also interesting because it shows what happened. One of these later gates was made for the Aurelian Walls. And in this case, the Tomb of Eurysaces was right smack in the middle of where they wanted to build an outcropping of this wall. In this case they decided that they were not going to build the wall into it, but that they were going to build the wall on top of it. But fortunately, again, they did not destroy it completely. They did shear off the front of the tomb, which actually took away the façade, but they allowed the debris to fall into the tower, and then they covered it up. So when this tower was eventually torn down to free the Tomb of Eurysaces, they found the fourth wall and the debris from that wall, including a portrait statue and an inscription inside the debris, which was extremely fortunate, and which allows us to reconstruct the monument.

Tomb of Eurysaces reconstructed illustration / Wikimedia Commons

This is what the tomb looked like in antiquity. You see the three levels, the three tiers. You see the entrance to the burial chamber here. And this is the façade that we’re looking at; this is the part that no longer survives. This is the fourth wall or the façade, now gone, but we can again reconstruct it from those remains. And you see them here, and you see it was relatively plain on three tiers, except for a portrait statue of Eurysaces and his wife, an inscription down below. And you need to think away the frieze up there, because the frieze was probably not on this side of the monument, although there was a frieze around the other three sides. You can see one of those sides here, and I’ll show that frieze to you momentarily.

Tomb of Eurysaces inscription / Wikimedia Commons

There is an inscription, and it repeats over and over again, and it tells us that this monument was put up by Eurysaces, Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, who was pistor and redemptor. That means master baker and contractor. We know this is a man who made bread and sold it to the Roman armies. This was a pretty lucrative thing to do in the age of Augustus when there was so much military conquest. He made a fortune selling bread to the Roman armies, and it is with that fortune that he was able to buy this choice piece of real estate and to put up this extraordinary monument in the late first century B.C.

Atistia’s Breadbasket and Eurysaces’ Achievements

Tomb of Eurysaces frieze / Wikimedia Commons

The portrait relief still survives. It’s in the Capitoline Museums today. You see it here. It had fallen in again to the debris, from the fourth side, but here it is with Eurysaces standing next to his wife, Atistia. If you compare it to the figures of Augustus and his family, from the Ara Pacis, I think you’ll agree with me that the Ara Pacis is serving as a model.

Ara Pacis reliefs of Livia and Tiberius / Wikimedia Commons

Reliefs of Eurysaces and Atistia from the Tomb of Eurysaces / Wikimedia Commons

And I point to just one detail. If you look at this view of Livia, on the Ara Pacis, Augustus’ wife, and you see the wonderful way in which the artist has depicted her hand, the shape of her hand showing underneath her garment here; the same is done here for Atistia, you can see her hand. In fact, it’s even better done here because you can see the shape of the knuckles and so on, underneath the garment, the very diaphanous garment that she wears. So clearly a very special portrait artist, probably hired to do these portraits; a portrait artist who may have been hired at great expense. And also very significant, and in keeping with what we saw for the Tomb of Caecilia Metella, is the fact that although the tomb is faced in travertine and the relief around the monument is in travertine, this is done in marble, in, if I remember correctly, Greek marble, as well. So imported marble that is brought from elsewhere and at greater expense is used for the most important portrait relief.

Tomb of Eurysaces relief of millstones grinding grain / Wikimedia Commons

The frieze scenes are particularly interesting because they depict in the greatest of detail the profession of the making of bread. They depict Eurysaces’ daily achievement of making bread that he sold to the Roman armies. I’m going to just show you the scenes very quickly, and you can see the style is very different. It’s a much more journalistic style, with figures that don’t have the elegant proportions that we saw in the portrait relief, and it is carved on travertine, not on marble. We see here the grain being ground between two stones, and we see the way in which these men in tunics worked that. We also see that the upper stone is rotated by a mule that is attached to a wooden handle that comes off the uppermost stone there. We have millstones just like this, from Pompeii, and I show you the actual millstones. So these depictions on the Tomb of Eurysaces: very accurate in terms or what millstones looked like in antiquity.

Tomb of Eurysaces frieze with bread preparation and making / Wikimedia Commons

Female workers kneading bread dough; a flute player sets the work pace. From Thebes, Greece, circa 525–475 BC. (© Marie-Lan Nguyen (2008)

Another scene here in which we see two men at a table with big gobs of dough, that you can see here, dough, for the bread. Another scene–this is one of the more important scenes–where we see four men standing behind a table, that are forming that dough into loaves. And over here a magistrate, who has a short-sleeved but long garment, is supervising them. And the four men are very interestingly rendered because they’re rendered almost exactly the same. If you look, if you compare this to the Ara Pacis where figures are represented in different postures, a lot of variety, clearly based on Greek prototypes. Here we see something very different. The major objective of the artist is to get the story across, to show these men making these loaves. But look at them. Each one–they’re bare chested, and we’ll see why they’re bare chested. It’s hot in this part of the bakery. So they’ve taken off their shirts. There’s some attempt to depict their musculature. But they’re essentially shown in exactly the same way, the same curly hair, almost as if they were cut from a cookie cutter, because again it’s not the form that’s of interest to the artist here, but getting that narrative across. And if you try to figure out whose legs belong to whom, believe me, you’ll have a difficult time of it. So the artist is not–is much less concerned with formal things than he is with getting the story across.

Tome of Eurysaces frieze scenes / Wikimedia Commons

Female baker taking bread from the oven. Early 5th century BC. Found at Tanagra north of Athens, Greece. (© Marie-Lan Nguyen (2009)

With regard to why they’ve taken off their shirts, they’re right near the oven. And I show you the scene that depicts the dome-shaped oven in which the loaves are being baked, and you can see that this oven looks very much like a modern pizza oven, and in fact the pole that they use, the wooden pole with the flat end, is just the sort of thing you see at BAR or any other major pizza place, either in New Haven or elsewhere in the world. And, in fact, these dome-shaped ovens are still used in rural areas. And I took this view in Greece, in a small rural town, and you see these in Italy in some very small towns as well, still being done in exactly the same way. There are a number–because of the cylinders on the Tomb of Eurysaces, there are some scholars who’ve suggested that the Tomb of Eurysaces is in the form of a bakery [an oven]. While I do believe that there is reference to those grain–to those storage bins, silos that were used for the storage of grain, I do not think that the Tomb of Eurysaces is in the form of an oven. It makes reference to baking, but I don’t think it’s in the form of an oven, because this is what Roman ovens looked like. They were dome-shaped. This has a very different appearance, as you can see.

Tomb of Eurysaces frieze weighing bread and taking to market / Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most important scene in the frieze is this one, where we see two–we see the loaves have been baked, they’re ready to go to market, and they’re put in these large baskets–you can see them here–and then they are weighed in this scale, in this ancient scale. And I think this is a form of private propaganda on the part of the baker Eurysaces. What he is telling the public who gaze up on this tomb, not only in his own day but for posterity, is: “My bread was always, not only of high quality, but of the appropriate weight. I never cheated the public. I treated you fairly. I was an honest baker and contractor.” I think that’s what the message is here. And, in fact, you may think this is a stretch, but I think that one could easily compare this report that Eurysaces provides of his profession on the frieze of this tomb as a kind of baker’s version of Augustus’ Res Gestae. The list of things accomplished during his life is laid out in narrative form, for not only his contemporaries but for posterity to see.

Roman basket urn / Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Eurysaces put up this monument to his wife Atistia, and Atistia’s bodily remains, he said on the inscription, are buried in hoc panario. What is a panarium? A breadbasket; which is again why scholars have said, “Well the whole tomb is in the form of an oven.” But I think the breadbasket being referred to here is not the tomb, but rather the urn in which Atistia’s remains were placed. In the excavation in the nineteenth century, when that later gateway was removed, they found one urn, one urn, not two urns, one urn, presumably the urn of Atistia, and that urn was in the form of a breadbasket.

Above is one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and any of you who are going down there anytime soon to look at Roman antiquities and other things, you can see one there. This one is in the National Museum in Rome. And women’s remains were often placed in breadbaskets to accentuate or to speak to their domestic virtues, if they were good at taking care of the house and baking bread and so on. But in this particular case I think it is much more likely that the reference here is not to her, to Atistia’s cleverness as a housekeeper, but rather to her husband’s profession, which is very, very interesting in terms of what it tells us about the gender wars of antiquity, that here’s a tomb that has been put up by this baker, with his money that he’s made from his profession, in honor of his wife. But what he depicts — what he is preserving for posterity is not the outline of his wife’s life, but the outline of his life, what he has accomplished. His name is plastered on three sides of the monument. He’s got three sides of the monument with the successive phases of the baking of bread in all of its aspects. Yes, he has a very nice portrait relief of his wife, but of course he’s standing by her side. And he does mention her name down below. So he gives her some due. But this monument, as far as posterity is concerned, is about Eurysaces and not about his wife, and I think it tells us again very–a great deal about the motives of this particular individual.

Tombs for Those of Modest Means and the Future of Concrete Architecture


Via Appia (Appian Way), Rome / Wikimedia Commons

I want to say just a very few words about two other tombs out on the Via Appia in Rome, the Appian Way again. And I show you a view of the Via Appia, as it looks today. You can see that although much of the road is modern, you do find bits and pieces of ancient ground out there. You can see some polygonal blocks here and some rut marks from the ancient road, and you have to be very careful when you drive out there in your Cinquecento, or whatever–or you bike ride out there, as this fellow is doing, or you take your motorbike or whatever–because if you’re going too quickly and you don’t expect it, all of a sudden you hit some ancient road, and that makes a huge difference in terms of your ability to move forward.

Rabirius family tomb, Via Appia / Photo by Nicolò Musmeci, Wikimedia Commons

There are remains of many tombs on the Via Appia. Most of them are just piles of concrete, but a few of them are better preserved, and this is one of them. It’s a tomb of freedmen and freedwomen from 13 B.C. to A.D. 5. We call it the Rabirius Tomb because of an inscription that tells us members of the Rabirius family were buried here. The reason that I show it to you is that the eccentric tombs that I’ve shown you today are absolutely marvelous and tell us a lot about the Romans as patrons and their desires vis-à-vis memory. But it is not–those are not the conventional tomb types. We see many more of this sort of thing, which we call a house tomb, a tomb that resembles a house essentially. It has a sloping ceiling and a main façade, and in that façade there is usually a portrait relief, either vertical or horizontal, but these horizontal ones represent members of the family. Some may be deceased, some may not be deceased. The message is that even if someone has died before another, that they will eventually be re-united together in perpetuity.

Villanovan hut urn / Wikimedia Commons

But if you look at this carefully, you will see that what it looks like is as if these individuals are still alive and looking out of the window of their tomb, as if out of the window of a house; this very close association in the minds of the Romans between houses of the living and houses of the dead. And that is absolutely the case here. We can trace this all the way back to the eighth century B.C. This is the Villanovan hut urn in which cremated remains were placed/ They resembled Romulus’ huts. And so this whole idea of a house serving as a tomb goes way back, and continues to be a leitmotif of Roman tomb architecture throughout the entire history of Roman architecture, and it’s something that I hope you’ll keep in mind.

The tombs that we’ve looked at thus far today have been of all different social classes, from emperor to freed slave, but at the same time they have all been tombs, including the Rabirius Tomb, of the well-to-do. If these were freed slaves, they were ones that made a fortune, like Eurysaces did selling bread to the Roman army, and with that fortune were able to build monumental tombs, at great expense. But there were lots and lots of people obviously, who lived in Rome and Pompeii and in other cities who could not afford those kinds of tombs, and you might be asking yourselves, “Where are all of those people buried?” Well they tended to be buried underground, in what we call columbaria – underground burial chambers, that were either burial clubs that you could join for a small amount of money; you could join one of these clubs, buy into your last resting place that way.

Vigna Codini columbarium, Rome / Wikimedia Commons

Or they were burial chambers that were created by the very well to do, for example, the emperor and empress, Augustus and Livia. We know they had thousands of slaves, literally thousands of slaves. We have a record of some of Livia’s slaves. She had slaves, not only to tend the garden and that kind of thing, but she had a masseuse, she had several hairstylists, and she even had a slave, we know, who set her pearls, that was her whole job was to set her pearls, day in and day out. So they had tons and tons of slaves, and some of those very well to do also established these burial areas where their slaves could find a last resting place. And, in fact, the one that I show you here, the Vigna Codini, is one such, that belonged to the Augustan-Julio-Claudian family and was used for the remains of some of their slaves. And you can see that each individual had a little niche; again, people were cremated. The cremated remains were placed usually in an urn, that was placed inside one of these niches, and then there would be a small inscription, referring to the deceased. So this gives you a sense again of those who could not afford individual tombs and how they were buried.

Baia spa complex / Wikimedia Commons

I’d like to switch gears entirely and look at something very different. What you’re looking at here is the plan of what was a spa essentially, in ancient Roman times. It’s located in Campania, at a place called Baia, so in the vicinity of Pompeii and Herculaneum and Oplontis and Boscotrecase and so on. We’ve already talked about the fact that that was an area that was a mecca for the well-to-do, the glitteratti from Rome who went down there for their vacations. It was a resort area. Many of them had villas along what is now the Amalfi Coast. Others had villas on the Island of Capri. I can’t remember if I told you but Augustus and Tiberius, his successor, owned twelve villas on the Island of Capri, one of which we’ll look at next time. And this was an area also where there were sulfur springs and mineral baths, and so the natural thing to do, for those who were coming here, as a resort, was to create for them a place that they could go to relax and enjoy the thermal springs and the sulfur baths and so on and so fort, and that was this place, this spa, at Baia, which consisted of a bunch of thermal structures that were terraced out over a hillside.

Thermal bath (“Temple of Mercury”) / Wikimedia Commons

You have to think of the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina, turned into a spa. It was architecturally it was done in exactly the same way. They took a hillside, they terraced that hillside, they poured concrete on that hillside, creating a whole host of interesting structures in which one could relax and get away from it all. You see a plan of that spa here and the way in which it was terraced, via concrete construction, over this hillside. I am only going to show you one thermal bath from it, and it’s this one that we see over here. It is the so-called “Temple of Mercury” — that’s what the locals have long called it. It is not a Temple of Mercury, it is a thermal bath, but nonetheless we call it that because it’s been called that for such a long time. What is the origin of this? Clearly the design is based on the frigidaria of Pompeii, the frigidarium or the cold room of Pompeii, this round structure with the radiating alcoves that we saw as part of bath architecture very early on, second century B.C., and so on, in Pompeii. Same scheme used here. Not surprising. This is in Campania, it’s not far away.

La Montagnola tomb, Baia / Wikimedia Commons

I can show you the Temple of Mercury is extremely well preserved. We can see the dome of the Temple of Mercury, made out of concrete construction, from above. You can see the oculus of the–just as those frigidaria had oculi, this one does as well, and you can see that extremely well here. So a concrete building, with a concrete dome, used as part of this spa. We’ve traced this desire to make round structures way back to the 600s B.C., the time of Quinto Fiorentino. I showed you this Etruscan attempt at making a round structure, with a dome, that was done, in this case, in stone, and although it was a valiant attempt, not all that successful. And we talked about the way in which that eventually transformed into the Roman ability to make the frigidaria at Pompeii.

“Temple of Mercury” dome interior with oculus / Wikimedia Commons

Because of the oculus, there is often rain water. The drain no longer functions. So there’s often a lot of very unappealing green water that accumulates in the base of the Temple of Mercury. So the times that I’ve been there, every time I think I’ve been there, there’s been enough water in there that I haven’t been able to actually get pictures of the alcoves, which are covered by these inches and inches of water that are usually collected inside the Temple of Mercury. But you get a good sense, I think, of it here nonetheless, that we’re talking about a round domed structure, with an oculus, with some windows, with arcuated windows, windows with arcuations at the top, in the uppermost part, or toward the uppermost part of the dome, to add additional light into the system. And you need to think of these, by the way, as much more ornate in antiquity than they are today. They would have been stuccoed over, which you can see, and then probably decorated with mosaic. So the wonderful effects of the light coming in, hitting the mosaic, and then there would’ve been a pool in the center, just as there was in the frigidarium, around which people could sit. It would’ve been a quite spectacular space.

Stabian Baths interior dome with oculus, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons

Pantheon, Rome / Wikimedia Commons

This is the frigidarium at Pompeii, to show you where all of this begins. These two views are of the Temple of Mercury at Baia. And this one, of course, of the Pantheon, which is where we’re headed. But I think these in particular of the Temple of Mercury at Baia again give you a sense of the way in which light not only flows into this system–again, imagine it on mosaic ceiling and mosaic walls; spectacular effects, the way it would have glittered in the light. But look especially at the way the shapes that are formed on the water that would have been in the pool down below. It’s exactly the same sort of sense that you get when you walk into the Pantheon today, which also makes circles on the floor of the pavement.