The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon

Chapter LXXI

Prospect Of The Ruins Of Rome In The Fifteenth Century. — Four Causes Of Decay And Destruction. — Example Of The Coliseum. — Renovation Of The City. — Conclusion Of The Whole Work.

In the last days of Pope Eugenius the Fourth, * two of his servants, the learned Poggius 1 and a friend, ascended the Capitoline hill; reposed themselves among the ruins of columns and temples; and viewed from that commanding spot the wide and various prospect of desolation. 2 The place and the object gave ample scope for moralizing on the vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works, which buries empires and cities in a common grave; and it was agreed, that in proportion to her former greatness, the fall of Rome was the more awful and deplorable. “Her primeval state, such as she might appear in a remote age, when Evander entertained the stranger of Troy, 3 has been delineated by the fancy of Virgil. This Tarpeian rock was then a savage and solitary thicket: in the time of the poet, it was crowned with the golden roofs of a temple; the temple is overthrown, the gold has been pillaged, the wheel of fortune has accomplished her revolution, and the sacred ground is again disfigured with thorns and brambles. The hill of the Capitol, on which we sit, was formerly the head of the Roman empire, the citadel of the earth, the terror of kings; illustrated by the footsteps of so many triumphs, enriched with the spoils and tributes of so many nations. This spectacle of the world, how is it fallen! how changed! how defaced! The path of victory is obliterated by vines, and the benches of the senators are concealed by a dunghill. Cast your eyes on the Palatine hill, and seek among the shapeless and enormous fragments the marble theatre, the obelisks, the colossal statues, the porticos of Nero’s palace: survey the other hills of the city, the vacant space is interrupted only by ruins and gardens. The forum of the Roman people, where they assembled to enact their laws and elect their magistrates, is now enclosed for the cultivation of pot-herbs, or thrown open for the reception of swine and buffaloes. The public and private edifices, that were founded for eternity, lie prostrate, naked, and broken, like the limbs of a mighty giant; and the ruin is the more visible, from the stupendous relics that have survived the injuries of time and fortune.” 4

* It should be Pope Martin the Fifth. See Gibbon’s own note, ch. lxv, note 51 and Hobhouse, Illustrations of Childe Harold, p. 155. — M.]

1 I have already (notes 50, 51, on chap. lxv.) mentioned the age, character, and writings of Poggius; and particularly noticed the date of this elegant moral lecture on the varieties of fortune.]

2 Consedimus in ipsis Tarpeiae arcis ruinis, pone ingens portae cujusdam, ut puto, templi, marmoreum limen, plurimasque passim confractas columnas, unde magna ex parte prospectus urbis patet, (p. 5.)]

3 Aeneid viii. 97 — 369. This ancient picture, so artfully introduced, and so exquisitely finished, must have been highly interesting to an inhabitant of Rome; and our early studies allow us to sympathize in the feelings of a Roman.]

4 Capitolium adeo. . . . immutatum ut vineae in senatorum subellia successerint, stercorum ac purgamentorum receptaculum factum. Respice ad Palatinum montem. . . . . vasta rudera. . . . caeteroscolles perlustra omnia vacua aedificiis, ruinis vineisque oppleta conspicies, (Poggius, de Varietat. Fortunae p. 21.)]

These relics are minutely described by Poggius, one of the first who raised his eyes from the monuments of legendary, to those of classic, superstition. 5 1. Besides a bridge, an arch, a sepulchre, and the pyramid of Cestius, he could discern, of the age of the republic, a double row of vaults, in the salt-office of the Capitol, which were inscribed with the name and munificence of Catulus. 2. Eleven temples were visible in some degree, from the perfect form of the Pantheon, to the three arches and a marble column of the temple of Peace, which Vespasian erected after the civil wars and the Jewish triumph. 3. Of the number, which he rashly defines, of seven thermoe, or public baths, none were sufficiently entire to represent the use and distribution of the several parts: but those of Diocletian and Antoninus Caracalla still retained the titles of the founders, and astonished the curious spectator, who, in observing their solidity and extent, the variety of marbles, the size and multitude of the columns, compared the labor and expense with the use and importance. Of the baths of Constantine, of Alexander, of Domitian, or rather of Titus, some vestige might yet be found. 4. The triumphal arches of Titus, Severus, and Constantine, were entire, both the structure and the inscriptions; a falling fragment was honored with the name of Trajan; and two arches, then extant, in the Flaminian way, have been ascribed to the baser memory of Faustina and Gallienus. * 5. After the wonder of the Coliseum, Poggius might have overlooked small amphitheatre of brick, most probably for the use of the praetorian camp: the theatres of Marcellus and Pompey were occupied in a great measure by public and private buildings; and in the Circus, Agonalis and Maximus, little more than the situation and the form could be investigated. 6. The columns of Trajan and Antonine were still erect; but the Egyptian obelisks were broken or buried. A people of gods and heroes, the workmanship of art, was reduced to one equestrian figure of gilt brass, and to five marble statues, of which the most conspicuous were the two horses of Phidias and Praxiteles. 7. The two mausoleums or sepulchres of Augustus and Hadrian could not totally be lost: but the former was only visible as a mound of earth; and the latter, the castle of St. Angelo, had acquired the name and appearance of a modern fortress. With the addition of some separate and nameless columns, such were the remains of the ancient city; for the marks of a more recent structure might be detected in the walls, which formed a circumference of ten miles, included three hundred and seventy-nine turrets, and opened into the country by thirteen gates.

5 See Poggius, p. 8 — 22.]

* One was in the Via Nomentana; est alter praetevea Gallieno principi dicatus, ut superscriptio indicat, Via Nomentana. Hobhouse, p. 154. Poggio likewise mentions the building which Gibbon ambiguously says be “might have overlooked.” — M.]

This melancholy picture was drawn above nine hundred years after the fall of the Western empire, and even of the Gothic kingdom of Italy. A long period of distress and anarchy, in which empire, and arts, and riches had migrated from the banks of the Tyber, was incapable of restoring or adorning the city; and, as all that is human must retrograde if it do not advance, every successive age must have hastened the ruin of the works of antiquity. To measure the progress of decay, and to ascertain, at each aera, the state of each edifice, would be an endless and a useless labor; and I shall content myself with two observations, which will introduce a short inquiry into the general causes and effects. 1. Two hundred years before the eloquent complaint of Poggius, an anonymous writer composed a description of Rome. 6 His ignorance may repeat the same objects under strange and fabulous names. Yet this barbarous topographer had eyes and ears; he could observe the visible remains; he could listen to the tradition of the people; and he distinctly enumerates seven theatres, eleven baths, twelve arches, and eighteen palaces, of which many had disappeared before the time of Poggius. It is apparent, that many stately monuments of antiquity survived till a late period, 7 and that the principles of destruction acted with vigorous and increasing energy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. 2. The same reflection must be applied to the three last ages; and we should vainly seek the Septizonium of Severus; 8 which is celebrated by Petrarch and the antiquarians of the sixteenth century. While the Roman edifices were still entire, the first blows, however weighty and impetuous, were resisted by the solidity of the mass and the harmony of the parts; but the slightest touch would precipitate the fragments of arches and columns, that already nodded to their fall.

6 Liber de Mirabilibus Romae ex Registro Nicolai Cardinalis de Amagonia in Bibliotheca St. Isidori Armario IV., No. 69. This treatise, with some short but pertinent notes, has been published by Montfaucon, (Diarium Italicum, p. 283 — 301,) who thus delivers his own critical opinion: Scriptor xiiimi. circiter saeculi, ut ibidem notatur; antiquariae rei imperitus et, ut ab illo aevo, nugis et anilibus fabellis refertus: sed, quia monumenta, quae iis temporibus Romae supererant pro modulo recenset, non parum inde lucis mutuabitur qu Romanis antiquitatibus indagandis operam navabit, (p. 283.)]

7 The Pere Mabillon (Analecta, tom. iv. p. 502) has published an anonymous pilgrim of the ixth century, who, in his visit round the churches and holy places at Rome, touches on several buildings, especially porticos, which had disappeared before the xiiith century.]

8 On the Septizonium, see the Memoires sur Petrarque, (tom. i. p. 325,) Donatus, (p. 338,) and Nardini, (p. 117, 414.)]

After a diligent inquiry, I can discern four principal causes of the ruin of Rome, which continued to operate in a period of more than a thousand years. I. The injuries of time and nature. II. The hostile attacks of the Barbarians and Christians. III. The use and abuse of the materials. And, IV. The domestic quarrels of the Romans.

I. The art of man is able to construct monuments far more permanent than the narrow span of his own existence; yet these monuments, like himself, are perishable and frail; and in the boundless annals of time, his life and his labors must equally be measured as a fleeting moment. Of a simple and solid edifice, it is not easy, however, to circumscribe the duration. As the wonders of ancient days, the pyramids 9 attracted the curiosity of the ancients: a hundred generations, the leaves of autumn, have dropped 10 into the grave; and after the fall of the Pharaohs and Ptolemies, the Caesars and caliphs, the same pyramids stand erect and unshaken above the floods of the Nile. A complex figure of various and minute parts to more accessible to injury and decay; and the silent lapse of time is often accelerated by hurricanes and earthquakes, by fires and inundations. The air and earth have doubtless been shaken; and the lofty turrets of Rome have tottered from their foundations; but the seven hills do not appear to be placed on the great cavities of the globe; nor has the city, in any age, been exposed to the convulsions of nature, which, in the climate of Antioch, Lisbon, or Lima, have crumbled in a few moments the works of ages into dust. Fire is the most powerful agent of life and death: the rapid mischief may be kindled and propagated by the industry or negligence of mankind; and every period of the Roman annals is marked by the repetition of similar calamities. A memorable conflagration, the guilt or misfortune of Nero’s reign, continued, though with unequal fury, either six or nine days. 11 Innumerable buildings, crowded in close and crooked streets, supplied perpetual fuel for the flames; and when they ceased, four only of the fourteen regions were left entire; three were totally destroyed, and seven were deformed by the relics of smoking and lacerated edifices. 12 In the full meridian of empire, the metropolis arose with fresh beauty from her ashes; yet the memory of the old deplored their irreparable losses, the arts of Greece, the trophies of victory, the monuments of primitive or fabulous antiquity. In the days of distress and anarchy, every wound is mortal, every fall irretrievable; nor can the damage be restored either by the public care of government, or the activity of private interest. Yet two causes may be alleged, which render the calamity of fire more destructive to a flourishing than a decayed city. 1. The more combustible materials of brick, timber, and metals, are first melted or consumed; but the flames may play without injury or effect on the naked walls, and massy arches, that have been despoiled of their ornaments. 2. It is among the common and plebeian habitations, that a mischievous spark is most easily blown to a conflagration; but as soon as they are devoured, the greater edifices, which have resisted or escaped, are left as so many islands in a state of solitude and safety. From her situation, Rome is exposed to the danger of frequent inundations. Without excepting the Tyber, the rivers that descend from either side of the Apennine have a short and irregular course; a shallow stream in the summer heats; an impetuous torrent, when it is swelled in the spring or winter, by the fall of rain, and the melting of the snows. When the current is repelled from the sea by adverse winds, when the ordinary bed is inadequate to the weight of waters, they rise above the banks, and overspread, without limits or control, the plains and cities of the adjacent country. Soon after the triumph of the first Punic war, the Tyber was increased by unusual rains; and the inundation, surpassing all former measure of time and place, destroyed all the buildings that were situated below the hills of Rome. According to the variety of ground, the same mischief was produced by different means; and the edifices were either swept away by the sudden impulse, or dissolved and undermined by the long continuance, of the flood. 13 Under the reign of Augustus, the same calamity was renewed: the lawless river overturned the palaces and temples on its banks; 14 and, after the labors of the emperor in cleansing and widening the bed that was encumbered with ruins, 15 the vigilance of his successors was exercised by similar dangers and designs. The project of diverting into new channels the Tyber itself, or some of the dependent streams, was long opposed by superstition and local interests; 16 nor did the use compensate the toil and cost of the tardy and imperfect execution. The servitude of rivers is the noblest and most important victory which man has obtained over the licentiousness of nature; 17 and if such were the ravages of the Tyber under a firm and active government, what could oppose, or who can enumerate, the injuries of the city, after the fall of the Western empire? A remedy was at length produced by the evil itself: the accumulation of rubbish and the earth, that has been washed down from the hills, is supposed to have elevated the plain of Rome, fourteen or fifteen feet, perhaps, above the ancient level; 18 and the modern city is less accessible to the attacks of the river. 19

9 The age of the pyramids is remote and unknown, since Diodorus Siculus (tom. i l. i. c. 44, p. 72) is unable to decide whether they were constructed 1000, or 3400, years before the clxxxth Olympiad. Sir John Marsham’s contracted scale of the Egyptian dynasties would fix them about 2000 years before Christ, (Canon. Chronicus, p. 47.)]

10 See the speech of Glaucus in the Iliad, (Z. 146.) This natural but melancholy image is peculiar to Homer.]

11 The learning and criticism of M. des Vignoles (Histoire Critique de la Republique des Lettres, tom. viii. p. 47 — 118, ix. p. 172 — 187) dates the fire of Rome from A.D. 64, July 19, and the subsequent persecution of the Christians from November 15 of the same year.]

12 Quippe in regiones quatuordecim Roma dividitur, quarum quatuor integrae manebant, tres solo tenus dejectae: septem reliquis pauca testorum vestigia supererant, lacera et semiusta. Among the old relics that were irreparably lost, Tacitus enumerates the temple of the moon of Servius Tullius; the fane and altar consecrated by Evander praesenti Herculi; the temple of Jupiter Stator, a vow of Romulus; the palace of Numa; the temple of Vesta cum Penatibus populi Romani. He then deplores the opes tot victoriis quaesitae et Graecarum artium decora. . . . multa quae seniores meminerant, quae reparari nequibant, (Annal. xv. 40, 41.)]

13 A. U. C. 507, repentina subversio ipsius Romae praevenit triumphum Romanorum. . . . . diversae ignium aquarumque cladespene absumsere urbem Nam Tiberis insolitis auctus imbribus et ultra opinionem, vel diuturnitate vel maguitudine redundans omnia Romae aedificia in plano posita delevit. Diversae qualitate locorum ad unam convenere perniciem: quoniam et quae segniori inundatio tenuit madefacta dissolvit, et quae cursus torrentis invenit impulsa dejecit, (Orosius, Hist. l. iv. c. 11, p. 244, edit. Havercamp.) Yet we may observe, that it is the plan and study of the Christian apologist to magnify the calamities of the Pagan world.]


Vidimus flavum Tiberim, retortis

Littore Etrusco violenter undis,

Ire dejectum monumenta Regis

Templaque Vestae.

(Horat. Carm. I. 2.)

If the palace of Numa and temple of Vesta were thrown down in Horace’s time, what was consumed of those buildings by Nero’s fire could hardly deserve the epithets of vetustissima or incorrupta.]

15 Ad coercendas inundationes alveum Tiberis laxavit, ac repurgavit, completum olim ruderibus, et aedificiorum prolapsionibus coarctatum, (Suetonius in Augusto, c. 30.)]

16 Tacitus (Annal. i. 79) reports the petitions of the different towns of Italy to the senate against the measure; and we may applaud the progress of reason. On a similar occasion, local interests would undoubtedly be consulted: but an English House of Commons would reject with contempt the arguments of superstition, “that nature had assigned to the rivers their proper course,” &c.]

17 See the Epoques de la Nature of the eloquent and philosophic Buffon. His picture of Guyana, in South America, is that of a new and savage land, in which the waters are abandoned to themselves without being regulated by human industry, (p. 212, 561, quarto edition.)]

18 In his travels in Italy, Mr. Addison (his works, vol. ii. p. 98, Baskerville’s edition) has observed this curious and unquestionable fact.]

19 Yet in modern times, the Tyber has sometimes damaged the city, and in the years 1530, 1557, 1598, the annals of Muratori record three mischievous and memorable inundations, (tom. xiv. p. 268, 429, tom. xv. p. 99, &c.)

Note: The level of the Tyber was at one time supposed to be considerably raised: recent investigations seem to be conclusive against this supposition. See a brief, but satisfactory statement of the question in Bunsen and Platner, Roms Beschreibung. vol. i. p. 29. — M.]

II. The crowd of writers of every nation, who impute the destruction of the Roman monuments to the Goths and the Christians, have neglected to inquire how far they were animated by a hostile principle, and how far they possessed the means and the leisure to satiate their enmity. In the preceding volumes of this History, I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion; and I can only resume, in a few words, their real or imaginary connection with the ruin of ancient Rome. Our fancy may create, or adopt, a pleasing romance, that the Goths and Vandals sallied from Scandinavia, ardent to avenge the flight of Odin; 20 to break the chains, and to chastise the oppressors, of mankind; that they wished to burn the records of classic literature, and to found their national architecture on the broken members of the Tuscan and Corinthian orders. But in simple truth, the northern conquerors were neither sufficiently savage, nor sufficiently refined, to entertain such aspiring ideas of destruction and revenge. The shepherds of Scythia and Germany had been educated in the armies of the empire, whose discipline they acquired, and whose weakness they invaded: with the familiar use of the Latin tongue, they had learned to reverence the name and titles of Rome; and, though incapable of emulating, they were more inclined to admire, than to abolish, the arts and studies of a brighter period. In the transient possession of a rich and unresisting capital, the soldiers of Alaric and Genseric were stimulated by the passions of a victorious army; amidst the wanton indulgence of lust or cruelty, portable wealth was the object of their search; nor could they derive either pride or pleasure from the unprofitable reflection, that they had battered to the ground the works of the consuls and Caesars. Their moments were indeed precious; the Goths evacuated Rome on the sixth, 21 the Vandals on the fifteenth, day: 22 and, though it be far more difficult to build than to destroy, their hasty assault would have made a slight impression on the solid piles of antiquity. We may remember, that both Alaric and Genseric affected to spare the buildings of the city; that they subsisted in strength and beauty under the auspicious government of Theodoric; 23 and that the momentary resentment of Totila 24 was disarmed by his own temper and the advice of his friends and enemies. From these innocent Barbarians, the reproach may be transferred to the Catholics of Rome. The statues, altars, and houses, of the daemons, were an abomination in their eyes; and in the absolute command of the city, they might labor with zeal and perseverance to erase the idolatry of their ancestors. The demolition of the temples in the East 25 affords to them an example of conduct, and to us an argument of belief; and it is probable that a portion of guilt or merit may be imputed with justice to the Roman proselytes. Yet their abhorrence was confined to the monuments of heathen superstition; and the civil structures that were dedicated to the business or pleasure of society might be preserved without injury or scandal. The change of religion was accomplished, not by a popular tumult, but by the decrees of the emperors, of the senate, and of time. Of the Christian hierarchy, the bishops of Rome were commonly the most prudent and least fanatic; nor can any positive charge be opposed to the meritorious act of saving or converting the majestic structure of the Pantheon. 26 *

20 I take this opportunity of declaring, that in the course of twelve years, I have forgotten, or renounced, the flight of Odin from Azoph to Sweden, which I never very seriously believed, (vol. i. p. 283.) The Goths are apparently Germans: but all beyond Caesar and Tacitus is darkness or fable, in the antiquities of Germany.]

21 History of the Decline, &c., vol. iii. p. 291.]

22 — vol. iii. p. 464.]

23 — vol. iv. p. 23 — 25.]

24 — vol. iv. p. 258.]

25 — vol. iii. c. xxviii. p. 139 — 148.]

26 Eodem tempore petiit a Phocate principe templum, quod appellatur Pantheon, in quo fecit ecclesiam Sanctae Mariae semper Virginis, et omnium martyrum; in qua ecclesiae princeps multa bona obtulit, (Anastasius vel potius Liber Pontificalis in Bonifacio IV., in Muratori, Script. Rerum Italicarum, tom. iii. P. i. p. 135.) According to the anonymous writer in Montfaucon, the Pantheon had been vowed by Agrippa to Cybele and Neptune, and was dedicated by Boniface IV., on the calends of November, to the Virgin, quae est mater omnium sanctorum, (p. 297, 298.)]

* The popes, under the dominion of the emperor and of the exarcha, according to Feas’s just observation, did not possess the power of disposing of the buildings and monuments of the city according to their own will. Bunsen and Platner, vol. i. p. 241. — M.]

III. The value of any object that supplies the wants or pleasures of mankind is compounded of its substance and its form, of the materials and the manufacture. Its price must depend on the number of persons by whom it may be acquired and used; on the extent of the market; and consequently on the ease or difficulty of remote exportation, according to the nature of the commodity, its local situation, and the temporary circumstances of the world. The Barbarian conquerors of Rome usurped in a moment the toil and treasure of successive ages; but, except the luxuries of immediate consumption, they must view without desire all that could not be removed from the city in the Gothic wagons or the fleet of the Vandals. 27 Gold and silver were the first objects of their avarice; as in every country, and in the smallest compass, they represent the most ample command of the industry and possessions of mankind. A vase or a statue of those precious metals might tempt the vanity of some Barbarian chief; but the grosser multitude, regardless of the form, was tenacious only of the substance; and the melted ingots might be readily divided and stamped into the current coin of the empire. The less active or less fortunate robbers were reduced to the baser plunder of brass, lead, iron, and copper: whatever had escaped the Goths and Vandals was pillaged by the Greek tyrants; and the emperor Constans, in his rapacious visit, stripped the bronze tiles from the roof of the Pantheon. 28 The edifices of Rome might be considered as a vast and various mine; the first labor of extracting the materials was already performed; the metals were purified and cast; the marbles were hewn and polished; and after foreign and domestic rapine had been satiated, the remains of the city, could a purchaser have been found, were still venal. The monuments of antiquity had been left naked of their precious ornaments; but the Romans would demolish with their own hands the arches and walls, if the hope of profit could surpass the cost of the labor and exportation. If Charlemagne had fixed in Italy the seat of the Western empire, his genius would have aspired to restore, rather than to violate, the works of the Caesars; but policy confined the French monarch to the forests of Germany; his taste could be gratified only by destruction; and the new palace of Aix la Chapelle was decorated with the marbles of Ravenna 29 and Rome. 30 Five hundred years after Charlemagne, a king of Sicily, Robert, the wisest and most liberal sovereign of the age, was supplied with the same materials by the easy navigation of the Tyber and the sea; and Petrarch sighs an indignant complaint, that the ancient capital of the world should adorn from her own bowels the slothful luxury of Naples. 31 But these examples of plunder or purchase were rare in the darker ages; and the Romans, alone and unenvied, might have applied to their private or public use the remaining structures of antiquity, if in their present form and situation they had not been useless in a great measure to the city and its inhabitants. The walls still described the old circumference, but the city had descended from the seven hills into the Campus Martius; and some of the noblest monuments which had braved the injuries of time were left in a desert, far remote from the habitations of mankind. The palaces of the senators were no longer adapted to the manners or fortunes of their indigent successors: the use of baths 32 and porticos was forgotten: in the sixth century, the games of the theatre, amphitheatre, and circus, had been interrupted: some temples were devoted to the prevailing worship; but the Christian churches preferred the holy figure of the cross; and fashion, or reason, had distributed after a peculiar model the cells and offices of the cloister. Under the ecclesiastical reign, the number of these pious foundations was enormously multiplied; and the city was crowded with forty monasteries of men, twenty of women, and sixty chapters and colleges of canons and priests, 33 who aggravated, instead of relieving, the depopulation of the tenth century. But if the forms of ancient architecture were disregarded by a people insensible of their use and beauty, the plentiful materials were applied to every call of necessity or superstition; till the fairest columns of the Ionic and Corinthian orders, the richest marbles of Paros and Numidia, were degraded, perhaps to the support of a convent or a stable. The daily havoc which is perpetrated by the Turks in the cities of Greece and Asia may afford a melancholy example; and in the gradual destruction of the monuments of Rome, Sixtus the Fifth may alone be excused for employing the stones of the Septizonium in the glorious edifice of St. Peter’s. 34 A fragment, a ruin, howsoever mangled or profaned, may be viewed with pleasure and regret; but the greater part of the marble was deprived of substance, as well as of place and proportion; it was burnt to lime for the purpose of cement. * Since the arrival of Poggius, the temple of Concord, 35 and many capital structures, had vanished from his eyes; and an epigram of the same age expresses a just and pious fear, that the continuance of this practice would finally annihilate all the monuments of antiquity. 36 The smallness of their numbers was the sole check on the demands and depredations of the Romans. The imagination of Petrarch might create the presence of a mighty people; 37 and I hesitate to believe, that, even in the fourteenth century, they could be reduced to a contemptible list of thirty-three thousand inhabitants. From that period to the reign of Leo the Tenth, if they multiplied to the amount of eighty-five thousand, 38 the increase of citizens was in some degree pernicious to the ancient city.

27 Flaminius Vacca (apud Montfaucon, p. 155, 156. His memoir is likewise printed, p. 21, at the end of the Roman Antica of Nardini) and several Romans, doctrina graves, were persuaded that the Goths buried their treasures at Rome, and bequeathed the secret marks filiis nepotibusque. He relates some anedotes to prove, that in his own time, these places were visited and rifled by the Transalpine pilgrims, the heirs of the Gothic conquerors.]

28 Omnia quae erant in aere ad ornatum civitatis deposuit, sed e ecclesiam B. Mariae ad martyres quae de tegulis aereis cooperta discooperuit, (Anast. in Vitalian. p. 141.) The base and sacrilegious Greek had not even the poor pretence of plundering a heathen temple, the Pantheon was already a Catholic church.]

29 For the spoils of Ravenna (musiva atque marmora) see the original grant of Pope Adrian I. to Charlemagne, (Codex Carolin. epist. lxvii. in Muratori, Script. Ital. tom. iii. P. ii. p. 223.)]

30 I shall quote the authentic testimony of the Saxon poet, (A.D. 887 — 899,) de Rebus gestis Caroli magni, l. v. 437 — 440, in the Historians of France, (tom. v. p. 180:)

Ad quae marmoreas praestabat Roma columnas,

Quasdam praecipuas pul hra Ravenna dedit.

De tam longinqua poterit regiona vetustas

Illius ornatum, Francia, ferre tibi. And I shall add from the Chronicle of Sigebert, (Historians of France, tom. v. p. 378,) extruxit etiam Aquisgrani basilicam plurimae pulchritudinis, ad cujus structuram a Roma et Ravenna columnas et marmora devehi fecit.]

31 I cannot refuse to transcribe a long passage of Petrarch (Opp. p. 536, 537) in Epistola hortatoria ad Nicolaum Laurentium; it is so strong and full to the point: Nec pudor aut pietas continuit quominus impii spoliata Dei templa, occupatas arces, opes publicas, regiones urbis, atque honores magistratuum inter se divisos; (habeant?) quam una in re, turbulenti ac seditiosi homines et totius reliquae vitae consiliis et rationibus discordes, inhumani foederis stupenda societate convenirent, in pontes et moenia atque immeritos lapides desaevirent. Denique post vi vel senio collapsa palatia, quae quondam ingentes tenuerunt viri, post diruptos arcus triumphales, (unde majores horum forsitan corruerunt,) de ipsius vetustatis ac propriae impietatis fragminibus vilem quaestum turpi mercimonio captare non puduit. Itaque nunc, heu dolor! heu scelus indignum! de vestris marmoreis columnis, de liminibus templorum, (ad quae nuper ex orbe toto concursus devotissimus fiebat,) de imaginibus sepulchrorum sub quibus patrum vestrorum venerabilis civis (cinis?) erat, ut reliquas sileam, desidiosa Neapolis adornatur. Sic paullatim ruinae ipsae deficiunt. Yet King Robert was the friend of Petrarch.]

32 Yet Charlemagne washed and swam at Aix la Chapelle with a hundred of his courtiers, (Eginhart, c. 22, p. 108, 109,) and Muratori describes, as late as the year 814, the public baths which were built at Spoleto in Italy, (Annali, tom. vi. p. 416.)]

33 See the Annals of Italy, A.D. 988. For this and the preceding fact, Muratori himself is indebted to the Benedictine history of Pere Mabillon.]

34 Vita di Sisto Quinto, da Gregorio Leti, tom. iii. p. 50.]

* From the quotations in Bunsen’s Dissertation, it may be suspected that this slow but continual process of destruction was the most fatal. — M]

35 Porticus aedis Concordiae, quam cum primum ad urbem accessi vidi fere integram opere marmoreo admodum specioso: Romani postmodum ad calcem aedem totam et porticus partem disjectis columnis sunt demoliti, (p. 12.) The temple of Concord was therefore not destroyed by a sedition in the xiiith century, as I have read in a MS. treatise del’ Governo civile di Rome, lent me formerly at Rome, and ascribed (I believe falsely) to the celebrated Gravina. Poggius likewise affirms that the sepulchre of Caecilia Metella was burnt for lime, (p. 19, 20.)]

36 Composed by Aeneas Sylvius, afterwards Pope Pius II., and published by Mabillon, from a Ms. of the queen of Sweden, (Musaeum Italicum, tom. i. p. 97.)

Oblectat me, Roma, tuas spectare ruinas:

Ex cujus lapsu gloria prisca patet.

Sed tuus hic populus muris defossa vetustis

Calcis in obsequium marmora dura coquit.

Impia tercentum si sic gens egerit annos

Nullum hinc indicium nobilitatis erit.]

37 Vagabamur pariter in illa urbe tam magna; quae, cum propter spatium vacua videretur, populum habet immensum, (Opp p. 605 Epist. Familiares, ii. 14.)]

38 These states of the population of Rome at different periods are derived from an ingenious treatise of the physician Lancisi, de Romani Coeli Qualitatibus, (p. 122.)]

IV. I have reserved for the last, the most potent and forcible cause of destruction, the domestic hostilities of the Romans themselves. Under the dominion of the Greek and French emperors, the peace of the city was disturbed by accidental, though frequent, seditions: it is from the decline of the latter, from the beginning of the tenth century, that we may date the licentiousness of private war, which violated with impunity the laws of the Code and the Gospel, without respecting the majesty of the absent sovereign, or the presence and person of the vicar of Christ. In a dark period of five hundred years, Rome was perpetually afflicted by the sanguinary quarrels of the nobles and the people, the Guelphs and Ghibelines, the Colonna and Ursini; and if much has escaped the knowledge, and much is unworthy of the notice, of history, I have exposed in the two preceding chapters the causes and effects of the public disorders. At such a time, when every quarrel was decided by the sword, and none could trust their lives or properties to the impotence of law, the powerful citizens were armed for safety, or offence, against the domestic enemies whom they feared or hated. Except Venice alone, the same dangers and designs were common to all the free republics of Italy; and the nobles usurped the prerogative of fortifying their houses, and erecting strong towers, 39 that were capable of resisting a sudden attack. The cities were filled with these hostile edifices; and the example of Lucca, which contained three hundred towers; her law, which confined their height to the measure of fourscore feet, may be extended with suitable latitude to the more opulent and populous states. The first step of the senator Brancaleone in the establishment of peace and justice, was to demolish (as we have already seen) one hundred and forty of the towers of Rome; and, in the last days of anarchy and discord, as late as the reign of Martin the Fifth, forty-four still stood in one of the thirteen or fourteen regions of the city. To this mischievous purpose the remains of antiquity were most readily adapted: the temples and arches afforded a broad and solid basis for the new structures of brick and stone; and we can name the modern turrets that were raised on the triumphal monuments of Julius Caesar, Titus, and the Antonines. 40 With some slight alterations, a theatre, an amphitheatre, a mausoleum, was transformed into a strong and spacious citadel. I need not repeat, that the mole of Adrian has assumed the title and form of the castle of St. Angelo; 41 the Septizonium of Severus was capable of standing against a royal army; 42 the sepulchre of Metella has sunk under its outworks; 43 * the theatres of Pompey and Marcellus were occupied by the Savelli and Ursini families; 44 and the rough fortress has been gradually softened to the splendor and elegance of an Italian palace. Even the churches were encompassed with arms and bulwarks, and the military engines on the roof of St. Peter’s were the terror of the Vatican and the scandal of the Christian world. Whatever is fortified will be attacked; and whatever is attacked may be destroyed. Could the Romans have wrested from the popes the castle of St. Angelo, they had resolved by a public decree to annihilate that monument of servitude. Every building of defence was exposed to a siege; and in every siege the arts and engines of destruction were laboriously employed. After the death of Nicholas the Fourth, Rome, without a sovereign or a senate, was abandoned six months to the fury of civil war. “The houses,” says a cardinal and poet of the times, 45 “were crushed by the weight and velocity of enormous stones; 46 the walls were perforated by the strokes of the battering-ram; the towers were involved in fire and smoke; and the assailants were stimulated by rapine and revenge.” The work was consummated by the tyranny of the laws; and the factions of Italy alternately exercised a blind and thoughtless vengeance on their adversaries, whose houses and castles they razed to the ground. 47 In comparing the days of foreign, with the ages of domestic, hostility, we must pronounce, that the latter have been far more ruinous to the city; and our opinion is confirmed by the evidence of Petrarch. “Behold,” says the laureate, “the relics of Rome, the image of her pristine greatness! neither time nor the Barbarian can boast the merit of this stupendous destruction: it was perpetrated by her own citizens, by the most illustrious of her sons; and your ancestors (he writes to a noble Annabaldi) have done with the battering-ram what the Punic hero could not accomplish with the sword.” 48 The influence of the two last principles of decay must in some degree be multiplied by each other; since the houses and towers, which were subverted by civil war, required by a new and perpetual supply from the monuments of antiquity. *

39 All the facts that relate to the towers at Rome, and in other free cities of Italy, may be found in the laborious and entertaining compilation of Muratori, Antiquitates Italiae Medii Aevi, dissertat. xxvi., (tom. ii. p. 493 — 496, of the Latin, tom.. p. 446, of the Italian work.)]

40 As for instance, templum Jani nunc dicitur, turris Centii Frangipanis; et sane Jano impositae turris lateritiae conspicua hodieque vestigia supersunt, (Montfaucon Diarium Italicum, p. 186.) The anonymous writer (p. 285) enumerates, arcus Titi, turris Cartularia; arcus Julii Caesaris et Senatorum, turres de Bratis; arcus Antonini, turris de Cosectis, &c.]

41 Hadriani molem. . . . magna ex parte Romanorum injuria.. disturbavit; quod certe funditus evertissent, si eorum manibus pervia, absumptis grandibus saxis, reliqua moles exstisset, (Poggius de Varietate Fortunae, p. 12.)]

42 Against the emperor Henry IV., (Muratori, Annali d’ Italia, tom. ix. p. 147.)]

43 I must copy an important passage of Montfaucon: Turris ingens rotunda. . . . Caeciliae Metellae. . . . sepulchrum erat, cujus muri tam solidi, ut spatium perquam minimum intus vacuum supersit; et Torre di Bove dicitur, a boum capitibus muro inscriptis. Huic sequiori aevo, tempore intestinorum bellorum, ceu urbecula adjuncta fuit, cujus moenia et turres etiamnum visuntur; ita ut sepulchrum Metellae quasi arx oppiduli fuerit. Ferventibus in urbe partibus, cum Ursini atque Colum nenses mutuis cladibus perniciem inferrent civitati, in utriusve partia ditionem cederet magni momenti erat, (p. 142.)]

* This is inaccurately expressed. The sepulchre is still standing See Hobhouse, p. 204. — M.]

44 See the testimonies of Donatus, Nardini, and Montfaucon. In the Savelli palace, the remains of the theatre of Marcellus are still great and conspicuous.]

45 James, cardinal of St. George, ad velum aureum, in his metrical life of Pope Celestin V., (Muratori, Script. Ital. tom. i. P. iii. p. 621, l. i. c. l. ver. 132, &c.) Hoc dixisse sat est, Romam caruisee Senatu Mensibus exactis heu sex; belloque vocatum (vocatos) In scelus, in socios fraternaque vulnera patres; Tormentis jecisse viros immania saxa; Perfodisse domus trabibus, fecisse ruinas Ignibus; incensas turres, obscuraque fumo Lumina vicino, quo sit spoliata supellex.]

46 Muratori (Dissertazione sopra le Antiquita Italiane, tom. i. p. 427 — 431) finds that stone bullets of two or three hundred pounds’ weight were not uncommon; and they are sometimes computed at xii. or xviii cantari of Genoa, each cantaro weighing 150 pounds.]

47 The vith law of the Visconti prohibits this common and mischievous practice; and strictly enjoins, that the houses of banished citizens should be preserved pro communi utilitate, (Gualvancus de la Flamma in Muratori, Script. Rerum Italicarum, tom. xii. p. 1041.)]

48 Petrarch thus addresses his friend, who, with shame and tears had shown him the moenia, lacerae specimen miserable Romae, and declared his own intention of restoring them, (Carmina Latina, l. ii. epist. Paulo Annibalensi, xii. p. 97, 98.) Nec te parva manet servatis fama ruinis Quanta quod integrae fuit olim gloria Romae Reliquiae testantur adhuc; quas longior aetas Frangere non valuit; non vis aut ira cruenti Hostis, ab egregiis franguntur civibus, heu! heu’ — Quod ille nequivit (Hannibal.) Perficit hic aries.]

* Bunsen has shown that the hostile attacks of the emperor Henry the Fourth, but more particularly that of Robert Guiscard, who burned down whole districts, inflicted the worst damage on the ancient city Vol. i. p. 247. — M.]

These general observations may be separately applied to the amphitheatre of Titus, which has obtained the name of the Coliseum, 49 either from its magnitude, or from Nero’s colossal statue; an edifice, had it been left to time and nature, which might perhaps have claimed an eternal duration. The curious antiquaries, who have computed the numbers and seats, are disposed to believe, that above the upper row of stone steps the amphitheatre was encircled and elevated with several stages of wooden galleries, which were repeatedly consumed by fire, and restored by the emperors. Whatever was precious, or portable, or profane, the statues of gods and heroes, and the costly ornaments of sculpture which were cast in brass, or overspread with leaves of silver and gold, became the first prey of conquest or fanaticism, of the avarice of the Barbarians or the Christians. In the massy stones of the Coliseum, many holes are discerned; and the two most probable conjectures represent the various accidents of its decay. These stones were connected by solid links of brass or iron, nor had the eye of rapine overlooked the value of the baser metals; 50 the vacant space was converted into a fair or market; the artisans of the Coliseum are mentioned in an ancient survey; and the chasms were perforated or enlarged to receive the poles that supported the shops or tents of the mechanic trades. 51 Reduced to its naked majesty, the Flavian amphitheatre was contemplated with awe and admiration by the pilgrims of the North; and their rude enthusiasm broke forth in a sublime proverbial expression, which is recorded in the eighth century, in the fragments of the venerable Bede: “As long as the Coliseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Coliseum falls, Rome will fall; when Rome falls, the world will fall.” 52 In the modern system of war, a situation commanded by three hills would not be chosen for a fortress; but the strength of the walls and arches could resist the engines of assault; a numerous garrison might be lodged in the enclosure; and while one faction occupied the Vatican and the Capitol, the other was intrenched in the Lateran and the Coliseum. 53

49 The fourth part of the Verona Illustrata of the marquis Maffei professedly treats of amphitheatres, particularly those of Rome and Verona, of their dimensions, wooden galleries, &c. It is from magnitude that he derives the name of Colosseum, or Coliseum; since the same appellation was applied to the amphitheatre of Capua, without the aid of a colossal statue; since that of Nero was erected in the court (in atrio) of his palace, and not in the Coliseum, (P. iv. p. 15 — 19, l. i. c. 4.)]

50 Joseph Maria Suares, a learned bishop, and the author of a history of Praeneste, has composed a separate dissertation on the seven or eight probable causes of these holes, which has been since reprinted in the Roman Thesaurus of Sallengre. Montfaucon (Diarium, p. 233) pronounces the rapine of the Barbarians to be the unam germanamque causam foraminum.

Note: The improbability of this theory is shown by Bunsen, vol. i. p. 239 — M.]

51 Donatus, Roma Vetus et Nova, p. 285.

Note: Gibbon has followed Donatus, who supposes that a silk manufactory was established in the xiith century in the Coliseum. The Bandonarii, or Bandererii, were the officers who carried the standards of their school before the pope. Hobhouse, p. 269. — M.]

52 Quamdiu stabit Colyseus, stabit et Roma; quando cadet Coly seus, cadet Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus, (Beda in Excerptis seu Collectaneis apud Ducange Glossar. Med. et Infimae Latinitatis, tom. ii. p. 407, edit. Basil.) This saying must be ascribed to the Anglo-Saxon pilgrims who visited Rome before the year 735 the aera of Bede’s death; for I do not believe that our venerable monk ever passed the sea.]

53 I cannot recover, in Muratori’s original Lives of the Popes, (Script Rerum Italicarum, tom. iii. P. i.,) the passage that attests this hostile partition, which must be applied to the end of the xiith or the beginning of the xiith century.

Note: “The division is mentioned in Vit. Innocent. Pap. II. ex Cardinale Aragonio, (Script. Rer. Ital. vol. iii. P. i. p. 435,) and Gibbon might have found frequent other records of it at other dates.” Hobhouse’s Illustrations of Childe Harold. p. 130. — M.]

The abolition at Rome of the ancient games must be understood with some latitude; and the carnival sports, of the Testacean mount and the Circus Agonalis, 54 were regulated by the law 55 or custom of the city. The senator presided with dignity and pomp to adjudge and distribute the prizes, the gold ring, or the pallium, 56 as it was styled, of cloth or silk. A tribute on the Jews supplied the annual expense; 57 and the races, on foot, on horseback, or in chariots, were ennobled by a tilt and tournament of seventy-two of the Roman youth. In the year one thousand three hundred and thirty-two, a bull-feast, after the fashion of the Moors and Spaniards, was celebrated in the Coliseum itself; and the living manners are painted in a diary of the times. 58 A convenient order of benches was restored; and a general proclamation, as far as Rimini and Ravenna, invited the nobles to exercise their skill and courage in this perilous adventure. The Roman ladies were marshalled in three squadrons, and seated in three balconies, which, on this day, the third of September, were lined with scarlet cloth. The fair Jacova di Rovere led the matrons from beyond the Tyber, a pure and native race, who still represent the features and character of antiquity. The remainder of the city was divided as usual between the Colonna and Ursini: the two factions were proud of the number and beauty of their female bands: the charms of Savella Ursini are mentioned with praise; and the Colonna regretted the absence of the youngest of their house, who had sprained her ankle in the garden of Nero’s tower. The lots of the champions were drawn by an old and respectable citizen; and they descended into the arena, or pit, to encounter the wild bulls, on foot as it should seem, with a single spear. Amidst the crowd, our annalist has selected the names, colors, and devices, of twenty of the most conspicuous knights. Several of the names are the most illustrious of Rome and the ecclesiastical state: Malatesta, Polenta, della Valle, Cafarello, Savelli, Capoccio, Conti, Annibaldi, Altieri, Corsi: the colors were adapted to their taste and situation; the devices are expressive of hope or despair, and breathe the spirit of gallantry and arms. “I am alone, like the youngest of the Horatii,” the confidence of an intrepid stranger: “I live disconsolate,” a weeping widower: “I burn under the ashes,” a discreet lover: “I adore Lavinia, or Lucretia,” the ambiguous declaration of a modern passion: “My faith is as pure,” the motto of a white livery: “Who is stronger than myself?” of a lion’s hide: “If am drowned in blood, what a pleasant death!” the wish of ferocious courage. The pride or prudence of the Ursini restrained them from the field, which was occupied by three of their hereditary rivals, whose inscriptions denoted the lofty greatness of the Colonna name: “Though sad, I am strong:” “Strong as I am great:” “If I fall,” addressing himself to the spectators, “you fall with me;” — intimating (says the contemporary writer) that while the other families were the subjects of the Vatican, they alone were the supporters of the Capitol. The combats of the amphitheatre were dangerous and bloody. Every champion successively encountered a wild bull; and the victory may be ascribed to the quadrupeds, since no more than eleven were left on the field, with the loss of nine wounded and eighteen killed on the side of their adversaries. Some of the noblest families might mourn, but the pomp of the funerals, in the churches of St. John Lateran and St. Maria Maggiore, afforded a second holiday to the people. Doubtless it was not in such conflicts that the blood of the Romans should have been shed; yet, in blaming their rashness, we are compelled to applaud their gallantry; and the noble volunteers, who display their magnificence, and risk their lives, under the balconies of the fair, excite a more generous sympathy than the thousands of captives and malefactors who were reluctantly dragged to the scene of slaughter. 59

54 Although the structure of the circus Agonalis be destroyed, it still retains its form and name, (Agona, Nagona, Navona;) and the interior space affords a sufficient level for the purpose of racing. But the Monte Testaceo, that strange pile of broken pottery, seems only adapted for the annual practice of hurling from top to bottom some wagon-loads of live hogs for the diversion of the populace, (Statuta Urbis Romae, p. 186.)]

55 See the Statuta Urbis Romae, l. iii. c. 87, 88, 89, p. 185, 186. I have already given an idea of this municipal code. The races of Nagona and Monte Testaceo are likewise mentioned in the Diary of Peter Antonius from 1404 to 1417, (Muratori, Script. Rerum Italicarum, tom. xxiv. p. 1124.)]

56 The Pallium, which Menage so foolishly derives from Palmarius, is an easy extension of the idea and the words, from the robe or cloak, to the materials, and from thence to their application as a prize, (Muratori, dissert. xxxiii.)]

57 For these expenses, the Jews of Rome paid each year 1130 florins, of which the odd thirty represented the pieces of silver for which Judas had betrayed his Master to their ancestors. There was a foot-race of Jewish as well as of Christian youths, (Statuta Urbis, ibidem.)]

58 This extraordinary bull-feast in the Coliseum is described, from tradition rather than memory, by Ludovico Buonconte Monaldesco, on the most ancient fragments of Roman annals, (Muratori, Script Rerum Italicarum, tom. xii. p. 535, 536;) and however fanciful they may seem, they are deeply marked with the colors of truth and nature.]

59 Muratori has given a separate dissertation (the xxixth) to the games of the Italians in the Middle Ages.]

This use of the amphitheatre was a rare, perhaps a singular, festival: the demand for the materials was a daily and continual want which the citizens could gratify without restraint or remorse. In the fourteenth century, a scandalous act of concord secured to both factions the privilege of extracting stones from the free and common quarry of the Coliseum; 60 and Poggius laments, that the greater part of these stones had been burnt to lime by the folly of the Romans. 61 To check this abuse, and to prevent the nocturnal crimes that might be perpetrated in the vast and gloomy recess, Eugenius the Fourth surrounded it with a wall; and, by a charter long extant, granted both the ground and edifice to the monks of an adjacent convent. 62 After his death, the wall was overthrown in a tumult of the people; and had they themselves respected the noblest monument of their fathers, they might have justified the resolve that it should never be degraded to private property. The inside was damaged: but in the middle of the sixteenth century, an aera of taste and learning, the exterior circumference of one thousand six hundred and twelve feet was still entire and inviolate; a triple elevation of fourscore arches, which rose to the height of one hundred and eight feet. Of the present ruin, the nephews of Paul the Third are the guilty agents; and every traveller who views the Farnese palace may curse the sacrilege and luxury of these upstart princes. 63 A similar reproach is applied to the Barberini; and the repetition of injury might be dreaded from every reign, till the Coliseum was placed under the safeguard of religion by the most liberal of the pontiffs, Benedict the Fourteenth, who consecrated a spot which persecution and fable had stained with the blood of so many Christian martyrs. 64

60 In a concise but instructive memoir, the abbe Barthelemy (Memoires de l’Academie des Inscriptions, tom. xxviii. p. 585) has mentioned this agreement of the factions of the xivth century de Tiburtino faciendo in the Coliseum, from an original act in the archives of Rome.]

61 Coliseum. . . . ob stultitiam Romanorum majori ex parte ad cal cem deletum, says the indignant Poggius, (p. 17:) but his expression too strong for the present age, must be very tenderly applied to the xvth century.]

62 Of the Olivetan monks. Montfaucon (p. 142) affirms this fact from the memorials of Flaminius Vacca, (No. 72.) They still hoped on some future occasion, to revive and vindicate their grant.]

63 After measuring the priscus amphitheatri gyrus, Montfaucon (p. 142) only adds that it was entire under Paul III.; tacendo clamat. Muratori (Annali d’Italia, tom. xiv. p. 371) more freely reports the guilt of the Farnese pope, and the indignation of the Roman people. Against the nephews of Urban VIII. I have no other evidence than the vulgar saying, “Quod non fecerunt Barbari, fecere Barberini,” which was perhaps suggested by the resemblance of the words.]

64 As an antiquarian and a priest, Montfaucon thus deprecates the ruin of the Coliseum: Quod si non suopte merito atque pulchritudine dignum fuisset quod improbas arceret manus, indigna res utique in locum tot martyrum cruore sacrum tantopere saevitum esse.]

When Petrarch first gratified his eyes with a view of those monuments, whose scattered fragments so far surpass the most eloquent descriptions, he was astonished at the supine indifference 65 of the Romans themselves; 66 he was humbled rather than elated by the discovery, that, except his friend Rienzi, and one of the Colonna, a stranger of the Rhone was more conversant with these antiquities than the nobles and natives of the metropolis. 67 The ignorance and credulity of the Romans are elaborately displayed in the old survey of the city which was composed about the beginning of the thirteenth century; and, without dwelling on the manifold errors of name and place, the legend of the Capitol 68 may provoke a smile of contempt and indignation. “The Capitol,” says the anonymous writer, “is so named as being the head of the world; where the consuls and senators formerly resided for the government of the city and the globe. The strong and lofty walls were covered with glass and gold, and crowned with a roof of the richest and most curious carving. Below the citadel stood a palace, of gold for the greatest part, decorated with precious stones, and whose value might be esteemed at one third of the world itself. The statues of all the provinces were arranged in order, each with a small bell suspended from its neck; and such was the contrivance of art magic, 69 that if the province rebelled against Rome, the statue turned round to that quarter of the heavens, the bell rang, the prophet of the Capitol repeated the prodigy, and the senate was admonished of the impending danger.” A second example, of less importance, though of equal absurdity, may be drawn from the two marble horses, led by two naked youths, who have since been transported from the baths of Constantine to the Quirinal hill. The groundless application of the names of Phidias and Praxiteles may perhaps be excused; but these Grecian sculptors should not have been removed above four hundred years from the age of Pericles to that of Tiberius; they should not have been transferred into two philosophers or magicians, whose nakedness was the symbol of truth or knowledge, who revealed to the emperor his most secret actions; and, after refusing all pecuniary recompense, solicited the honor of leaving this eternal monument of themselves. 70 Thus awake to the power of magic, the Romans were insensible to the beauties of art: no more than five statues were visible to the eyes of Poggius; and of the multitudes which chance or design had buried under the ruins, the resurrection was fortunately delayed till a safer and more enlightened age. 71 The Nile which now adorns the Vatican, had been explored by some laborers in digging a vineyard near the temple, or convent, of the Minerva; but the impatient proprietor, who was tormented by some visits of curiosity, restored the unprofitable marble to its former grave. 72 The discovery of a statue of Pompey, ten feet in length, was the occasion of a lawsuit. It had been found under a partition wall: the equitable judge had pronounced, that the head should be separated from the body to satisfy the claims of the contiguous owners; and the sentence would have been executed, if the intercession of a cardinal, and the liberality of a pope, had not rescued the Roman hero from the hands of his barbarous countrymen. 73

65 Yet the statutes of Rome (l. iii. c. 81, p. 182) impose a fine of 500 aurei on whosoever shall demolish any ancient edifice, ne ruinis civitas deformetur, et ut antiqua aedificia decorem urbis perpetuo representent.]

66 In his first visit to Rome (A.D. 1337. See Memoires sur Petrarque, tom. i. p. 322, &c.) Petrarch is struck mute miraculo rerumtantarum, et stuporis mole obrutus. . . . Praesentia vero, mirum dictu nihil imminuit: vere major fuit Roma majoresque sunt reliquiae quam rebar. Jam non orbem ab hac urbe domitum, sed tam sero domitum, miror, (Opp. p. 605, Familiares, ii. 14, Joanni Columnae.)]

67 He excepts and praises the rare knowledge of John Colonna. Qui enim hodie magis ignari rerum Romanarum, quam Romani cives! Invitus dico, nusquam minus Roma cognoscitur quam Romae.]

68 After the description of the Capitol, he adds, statuae erant quot sunt mundi provinciae; et habebat quaelibet tintinnabulum ad collum. Et erant ita per magicam artem dispositae, ut quando aliqua regio Romano Imperio rebellis erat, statim imago illius provinciae vertebat se contra illam; unde tintinnabulum resonabat quod pendebat ad collum; tuncque vates Capitolii qui erant custodes senatui, &c. He mentions an example of the Saxons and Suevi, who, after they had been subdued by Agrippa, again rebelled: tintinnabulum sonuit; sacerdos qui erat in speculo in hebdomada senatoribus nuntiavit: Agrippa marched back and reduced the — Persians, (Anonym. in Montfaucon, p. 297, 298.)]

69 The same writer affirms, that Virgil captus a Romanis invisibiliter exiit, ivitque Neapolim. A Roman magician, in the xith century, is introduced by William of Malmsbury, (de Gestis Regum Anglorum, l. ii. p. 86;) and in the time of Flaminius Vacca (No. 81, 103) it was the vulgar belief that the strangers (the Goths) invoked the daemons for the discovery of hidden treasures.]

70 Anonym. p. 289. Montfaucon (p. 191) justly observes, that if Alexander be represented, these statues cannot be the work of Phidias (Olympiad lxxxiii.) or Praxiteles, (Olympiad civ.,) who lived before that conqueror (Plin. Hist. Natur. xxxiv. 19.)]

71 William of Malmsbury (l. ii. p. 86, 87) relates a marvellous discovery (A.D. 1046) of Pallas the son of Evander, who had been slain by Turnus; the perpetual light in his sepulchre, a Latin epitaph, the corpse, yet entire, of a young giant, the enormous wound in his breast, (pectus perforat ingens,) &c. If this fable rests on the slightest foundation, we may pity the bodies, as well as the statues, that were exposed to the air in a barbarous age.]

72 Prope porticum Minervae, statua est recubantis, cujus caput integra effigie tantae magnitudinis, ut signa omnia excedat. Quidam ad plantandas arbores scrobes faciens detexit. Ad hoc visendum cum plures in dies magis concurrerent, strepitum adeuentium fastidiumque vertaesus, horti patronus congesta humo texit, (Poggius de Varietate Fortunae, p. 12.)]

73 See the Memorials of Flaminius Vacca, No. 57, p. 11, 12, at the end of the Roma Antica of Nardini, (1704, in 4to).]

But the clouds of barbarism were gradually dispelled; and the peaceful authority of Martin the Fifth and his successors restored the ornaments of the city as well as the order of the ecclesiastical state. The improvements of Rome, since the fifteenth century, have not been the spontaneous produce of freedom and industry. The first and most natural root of a great city is the labor and populousness of the adjacent country, which supplies the materials of subsistence, of manufactures, and of foreign trade. But the greater part of the Campagna of Rome is reduced to a dreary and desolate wilderness: the overgrown estates of the princes and the clergy are cultivated by the lazy hands of indigent and hopeless vassals; and the scanty harvests are confined or exported for the benefit of a monopoly. A second and more artificial cause of the growth of a metropolis is the residence of a monarch, the expense of a luxurious court, and the tributes of dependent provinces. Those provinces and tributes had been lost in the fall of the empire; and if some streams of the silver of Peru and the gold of Brazil have been attracted by the Vatican, the revenues of the cardinals, the fees of office, the oblations of pilgrims and clients, and the remnant of ecclesiastical taxes, afford a poor and precarious supply, which maintains, however, the idleness of the court and city. The population of Rome, far below the measure of the great capitals of Europe, does not exceed one hundred and seventy thousand inhabitants; 74 and within the spacious enclosure of the walls, the largest portion of the seven hills is overspread with vineyards and ruins. The beauty and splendor of the modern city may be ascribed to the abuses of the government, to the influence of superstition. Each reign (the exceptions are rare) has been marked by the rapid elevation of a new family, enriched by the childish pontiff at the expense of the church and country. The palaces of these fortunate nephews are the most costly monuments of elegance and servitude: the perfect arts of architecture, sculpture, and painting, have been prostituted in their service; and their galleries and gardens are decorated with the most precious works of antiquity, which taste or vanity has prompted them to collect. The ecclesiastical revenues were more decently employed by the popes themselves in the pomp of the Catholic worship; but it is superfluous to enumerate their pious foundations of altars, chapels, and churches, since these lesser stars are eclipsed by the sun of the Vatican, by the dome of St. Peter, the most glorious structure that ever has been applied to the use of religion. The fame of Julius the Second, Leo the Tenth, and Sixtus the Fifth, is accompanied by the superior merit of Bramante and Fontana, of Raphael and Michael Angelo; and the same munificence which had been displayed in palaces and temples was directed with equal zeal to revive and emulate the labors of antiquity. Prostrate obelisks were raised from the ground, and erected in the most conspicuous places; of the eleven aqueducts of the Caesars and consuls, three were restored; the artificial rivers were conducted over a long series of old, or of new arches, to discharge into marble basins a flood of salubrious and refreshing waters: and the spectator, impatient to ascend the steps of St. Peter’s, is detained by a column of Egyptian granite, which rises between two lofty and perpetual fountains, to the height of one hundred and twenty feet. The map, the description, the monuments of ancient Rome, have been elucidated by the diligence of the antiquarian and the student: 75 and the footsteps of heroes, the relics, not of superstition, but of empire, are devoutly visited by a new race of pilgrims from the remote, and once savage countries of the North.

74 In the year 1709, the inhabitants of Rome (without including eight or ten thousand Jews,) amounted to 138,568 souls, (Labat Voyages en Espagne et en Italie, tom. iii. p. 217, 218.) In 1740, they had increased to 146,080; and in 1765, I left them, without the Jews 161,899. I am ignorant whether they have since continued in a progressive state.]

75 The Pere Montfaucon distributes his own observations into twenty days; he should have styled them weeks, or months, of his visits to the different parts of the city, (Diarium Italicum, c. 8 — 20, p. 104 — 301.) That learned Benedictine reviews the topographers of ancient Rome; the first efforts of Blondus, Fulvius, Martianus, and Faunus, the superior labors of Pyrrhus Ligorius, had his learning been equal to his labors; the writings of Onuphrius Panvinius, qui omnes obscuravit, and the recent but imperfect books of Donatus and Nardini. Yet Montfaucon still sighs for a more complete plan and description of the old city, which must be attained by the three following methods: 1. The measurement of the space and intervals of the ruins. 2. The study of inscriptions, and the places where they were found. 3. The investigation of all the acts, charters, diaries of the middle ages, which name any spot or building of Rome. The laborious work, such as Montfaucon desired, must be promoted by princely or public munificence: but the great modern plan of Nolli (A.D. 1748) would furnish a solid and accurate basis for the ancient topography of Rome.]

Of these pilgrims, and of every reader, the attention will be excited by a History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; the greatest, perhaps, and most awful scene in the history of mankind. The various causes and progressive effects are connected with many of the events most interesting in human annals: the artful policy of the Caesars, who long maintained the name and image of a free republic; the disorders of military despotism; the rise, establishment, and sects of Christianity; the foundation of Constantinople; the division of the monarchy; the invasion and settlements of the Barbarians of Germany and Scythia; the institutions of the civil law; the character and religion of Mahomet; the temporal sovereignty of the popes; the restoration and decay of the Western empire of Charlemagne; the crusades of the Latins in the East: the conquests of the Saracens and Turks; the ruin of the Greek empire; the state and revolutions of Rome in the middle age. The historian may applaud the importance and variety of his subject; but while he is conscious of his own imperfections, he must often accuse the deficiency of his materials. It was among the ruins of the Capitol that I first conceived the idea of a work which has amused and exercised near twenty years of my life, and which, however inadequate to my own wishes, I finally delivere to the curiosity and candor of the public. Lausanne, June 27 1787

This web edition published by:


The University of Adelaide Library

University of Adelaide

South Australia 5005

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55