Marvels of Ancient Rome
Marvels of Ancient Rome
'Her very ruin shows how great Rome was.' For a thousand years men have rung the changes on this theme, with words, with pencil, with brush or burin, or with the camera. Through the dark centuries while the old order crumbled and the Roman peace was but a memory, these mighty ruins have remained the outward and visible signs of that underlying spiritual continuity of religion, of language, and of law, by which Rome bridged the gap between the ancient and the modern world and built a new civilization based upon the old. The changing yet continuous panorama of history is everywhere apparent in the varied fortunes of these monuments and what men have seen in them. In themselves they form a commentary upon time.
We know the monuments of ancient Rome from their surviving ruins, from descriptions, and from pictorial recording over many centuries. Those that remain are their own best records, though even here descriptions and portraits left by artists who knew them in different aspects may explain or amplify. By far the most numerous of such memorabilia are coins (Figure 1), on which the buildings are conventionalized, to be sure, but dated. Sometimes, too, there are reliefs (Plates 1, 2, 61, 106), showing in their backgrounds buildings either real or fanciful, but suggesting, in any case, how the men of ancient Rome visualized the city in its prime. These reliefs, despite arbitrary proportions and perspective, have something of the opulent quality which marked the civilization of Rome's world empire. Less beautiful, but unique as a record of ancient days, is the famous Marble Plan, or Forma Urbis (Plates 3-4), whose fragments still show, in rough ground plan, the structures in various sections of the city early in the third century A.D., but make no attempt to represent their actual appearance. Its closest parallels in written records are the Notitia and the Curiosum, fourth-century catalogues of the city's buildings based on an earlier original now lost.
Coins and broken fragments and ruined brick and stone may suggest a cheerless picture of Rome over the ages. But they have always as background a natural beauty of sunshine and soft air and wide-arched sky as unchanging as the interpretations of her monuments are mutable; as much a 'marvel' of Rome today as in the years of her ancient glory. The . . .