Friday, May 20, 2011

The Amazing, Colossal Temple on Rome's Quirinal Hill

The Amazing, Colossal Temple on Rome's Quirinal Hill

Archeology is one of my main interests, in the past I have been perfectly content to while away the hours kicking around an ancient site and have developed an eye for artifacts – a skill which is now becoming useful here on American soil – although European and Eastern archeology is my main area of interest. Last night’s (26Jan10) symposium at the Parthenon Temple, Nashville, Tn, was a sheer delight for me as Prof. Susann S. Lusnia took her audience through the puzzle that brought her to the conclusion that the Colossal Temple on Quirinal Hill was erected by Septimius Severus and that this East – West  placed Temple was the Temple of Bacchus and Hercules with 72‘ high columns Hill when others were no more then 50’ and grand double stairways leading up the.
To further give credence to her work Severus was from Libya, North Africa, and his patron Gods were Bacchus and Hercules which she substantiated with photos of coins of Severus’ period and Cassius Dio’s statement in his Roman History regarding Severus’ in Liber LXXVII, 16:5:  
“He also spent a great deal uselessly in repairing other buildings and in constructing new ones; for instance, he built a temple of huge size to Bacchus and Hercules.”
On a quick side note it is well known to Historians and Archeologists that  Dio’s Roman Histories have been heavily edited in the 200s C.E. and this is why it is known as the “reader’s digest” of Roman History so more may have been written about the Colossal Temple[i].

Unfortunately the ruins of the Colossal Temple were demolished by Pope Pius V in the 16th Century to make room for expansion, however a corner of the pediment and a 100 ton block of marble do survive – again, unfortunately it is on the private Colonna estate, the Pallazo Colonna which boast being built in part over ruins of an old Roman Serapeum so they will have to alter their 20 generation history a bit and change their website if Prof. Lusnia’s findings are accepted by her colleagues. After finally convincing contacts for the Colonna family of the validity of her scholarship she is currently awaiting permission from the very private family to view these structures to get a closer look rather than having to study them by photographs. Still this brings us to another most impressive piece of evidence located on the two rare pieces of marble ruins that have somehow survived – an image of what is thought to be Bacchus that resembles the “green man” is on the pediment and that distinct image is *only* found on structures erected by Severus in Rome.

Rather than simply an academic lecture based on information that could be found in a good batch of textbooks this lecture presented the audience with the latest findings based on archeological and historical scholarship putting to the test Renaissance architects such as the famous and magnificent Palladio (1508 – 1580) who stated this was the location of the Temple of Serapis[ii] and at times would embellish his wonderful drawings according to how he thought that things should look rather than how they actually were. This occurred in the past mainly because they could get away with it, and also, more honestly, because based on the history as they knew it and without modern tools this was “educated opinion” of the time.
Take for example Palladio’s drawing of the Temple of Minerva in Assisi in which the columns are narrower at the bottom (it is in jstor but I do not have access) in which François Boucher (1703 -1770) refers to Palladio’s rendering as an example of “creative rearranging[iii].”
When comparing the Temple of Minerva to Palladio’s drawing Goethe (1749 – 1832) stated:
“…how little accepted tradition is to be trusted. Palladio on whom I relied implicitly, made a sketch of this temple, but he cannot have seen it personally for he puts real pedestals on the ground which gives the columns a disproportionate height and make the whole a Palmyra monstrosity instead of the great loveliness of the real thing[iv].”

Here are photos of the actual Temple of Minerva in Assisi that dismiss that part of his drawing:

These findings are not yet published yet – but will be soon in “Archaeology” and “The American Journal of Archeology”, so last night I was fortunate to have a preview.
According to Prof. Lusnia, who spent 8 years in Rome, the Colossal Temple was erroneously labeled a Temple of Giove and the Templum Solis Aureliani. It was also referred to as the Place of Maecenas and also the Frontispicium Neronis in the Renaissance mainly due to a Medieval Tower addition found on a drawing from the Medieval era and was romantically thought to be the tower where Nero stood to watch Rome burn. In Medieval Rome there were many such towers, mostly for safety sake so that people could safely spy on the city and surrounding countryside. It was also thought to be a Temple of Serapis wrongly attributed to Caracalla.
Prof. Lusnia’s evidence negates the more recent 2004 article in AJA by Rabun Taylor “Hadrian's Serapeum in Rome [v]in which he believes the origins of the Colossal Temple is a Temple of Serapis, ascribed to Hadrian and Antoninus Pius instead of Severus. This is largely based on one block used for the flooring in a later structure which, when turned over, was found to have a vague hidden inscription referring to Serapis – the problem with this is that it was common to recycle materials from buildings within the region and also the block was much too small to have been used in the Colossal Temple.
This is really new scholarship and like most scholarship that challenges older ideas it will be interesting to watch how it unfolds.
Prof. Lusnia took those attending on a fascinating journey of ancient Rome through archeology, and also art, complete with images that I do not have so to learn all that was included in the symposium we must wait until her article comes out in the aforementioned journals.

Here is Prof. Lusnia’s article on the  “Septizonium erected by Septimius Severus” which was also covered as part of the evidence regarding the Colossal Temple:

More info regarding Prof. Susann Lusnia:


[ii] “The Four Books on Architecture” by Andrea Palladio 1570 The MIT Press Edition: September 9, 2002 ISBN-10: 0262661330

[iii] “Learning from Palladio” by Branko Mitrović W.W. Norton & Co.; illustrated edition edition May 2004 p.136 ISBN-10: 0393731162

[iv] “Representation of Places: Reality and Realism in City Design” By Peter Bosselmann University of California Press; 1 edition April 20, 1998 p.160 ISBN-10: 0520206584

[v] Rabun Taylor “Hadrian's Serapeum in Rome” American journal of archaeology   ISSN 0002-9114 2004

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