from: In Search of Ancient Italy, translated from the French by P.D. Cummins, Pierre
Grimal, Evans Brothers, 1964.
"No siege, no invasion, inflicted such damage on Ancient Rome as the
Emperors themselves. Personal vanity, followed by the NEED TO WOO THE PEOPLE
and hasten the process of economic revolution, led to the work of destruction. The aspect
of various quarters was completely altered by the continual erection of new buildings; to
create space, the existing monuments were demolished and their material and the
ornaments that had enhanced them were used elsewhere. The medallions of the Arch of
Constantine, for instance, were undoubtedly removed from two, possibly three other
arches; the circular medallions of hunting scenes, were taken from an arch erected in
honour of Hadrian [Emperor 117 - 138]. The great panels in the attic [wall, above cornice]
belonged to an arch raised to commemorate the victories won by Marcus Aurelius
[Emperor 161 - 180] in the campaign of A.D. 172-176 against the Huns and Sarmatians.
Shamelessly, Constantine [Emperor 306 (312) - 337 (280? - 337)], the conqueror of
Ponte Milvius, appropriated for himself the glories of the past, and to sate his
mania for building, treated Rome as a vast quarry." .
"From Pagan Temple to Christian Church
It was not till the beginning of the seventh century that Pope Boniface IV began to
TRANSFORM TEMPLES INTO CHURCHES. In 609, the Pantheon, ceded to him at
his request by Phocas [Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire 602 - 610 (died 610)],
was Christianized and consecrated to the Virgin. The Pantheon, even though it was
assured of protection, suffered cruel mutilations. Fifty years after its consecration,
Constans II [Byzantine Emperor 641 - 668] stripped it of its gilt-bronze tiles, and at the
time of the Great Schism, during the period when the Orsini were at war with the Colonnas,
it was used as a fortress. An agglomeration of wretched buildings arose between its
columns and along the outer walls. Finally, round about 1444, Pope Eugenius IV
neutralized the Pantheon. The sordid mass of structures that had been run up was
demolished, the porticoes were unblocked, and the beauty of its original paving was
revealed. Because it was greatly admired by the Romans, and because it was
transformed into a church, the Pantheon exists to this day.
THE LIST OF CHURCHES THAT WERE FORMERLY TEMPLES IS FAIRLY
LONG.7 [see footnote below]...." .
["Notes"] "7. In addition to the christianized temples mentioned in this chapter, we
would draw the attention of readers to the following: Sta Maria Antica installed in
the Temple of Augustus in the Velabrum; S. Lorenzo, in the Temple of Antoninus
and Faustina, in the Forum Romanum; the chapel dedicated to St. Peter in the
Temple of Venus and Rome on the Velia, and the Church dedicated to SS. Sergius
and Bacchus in the Temple of Concord. There are, of course, numerous others."
'Pillages and Vandalism
Pope [Alexander Pope 1688 - 1744], in his celebrated Epistle to Addison [Joseph
Addison 1672 - 1719], has this to say about the monuments of Ancient Rome:
| Some felt the silent stroke of mouldering age,
Some hostile fury, some religious rage;
Barbarian blindness, Christian zeal conspire
With papal piety and Gothic fire.
Pope is both harsh and unjust. While a certain amount of destruction is attributable
to 'Christian zeal', 'religious rage' was mainly directed against the idols. Furthermore,
these idols were rarely smashed to pieces; THE GODS AND GODDESSES WERE
removed, and duly TRANSLATED INTO SAINTS AND MARTYRS, set up
"The Temple of Venus was EXPLOITED in much the same way as the
neighbouring Colosseum. For the vestibule of St Peter's alone, materials were
EXPROPRIATED from the most varied sources: the Capitolium, Caesar's Forum, the
Portico of Octavia in the Forum Holitorium, the Baths of Caracalla, to mention but a
few. Architects engaged in restoring ancient churches helped themselves freely to
porphyry columns and precious marbles, as well as to the stones required for the walls.
MARBLE-CUTTERS BECAME ADEPT AT TRANSFORMING GODS AND
GODDESSES INTO SAINTS. Obelisks that had been raised in the squares of ancient
Rome were taken down and erected on other sites. The city was tidying up its ruins, and
had no scruples about removing and re-utilizing anything and everything that would
enhance its renascent splendour." .
"That the two longest Etruscan inscriptions are both concerned with religious
observances is quite certainly not due to sheer coincidence. In the days of antiquity, the
Etruscans were regarded as a deeply devout people, who, ceaselessly seeking to
propitiate the gods, conformed meticulously with the rites prescribed by an extremely strict
tradition--THE ETRUSCAN RELIGION WAS SAID TO OWE ITS ORIGINS TO A
DIVINE REVELATION. Even though our understanding of the inscriptions is imperfect,
we can nevertheless form some idea of the effect this sacred literature produced on
Roman religion, the part it played in shaping its most ancient ritual....
It was in the interior of the peninsula [Italy], in the heart of the Mediterranean community
which embraced such widely divergent ethnic and cultural elements, that a great part of
the Roman religion was formed and developed." .
"From the amulets of Sybaris and the gold leaf of Petelia, which are inspired by
orphic beliefs, we can form an idea of the spiritual milieu in which the Romans found
themselves when, at the time of Pyrrhus [King of Epirus 306 (295) - 272 B.C.E.], their
legions were forced to make war on the Greek colonists of Calabria. ORPHISM [see #24,
488-490] was a living religion whose initiates were assured of immortality provided
that they were ritually pure, followed the sacred way to the underworld and pronounced the
prescribed formulae when they crossed its threshold. The spirit of the dead addressed
itself to Persephone, but since it was taboo to invoke the great
goddess by name, it might only use her ritual titles. The same was true of Dis, her
husband, the king of the infernal regions; Dis was 'The Illustrious One'. To this divine
couple, the faithful added the 'Good Counsellor', the Orphic Dionysos who had first
taught mankind how to overcome death.
While we do not know exactly how these beliefs originated, it is certain that the
essence of the doctrine to which the amulets of Sybaris and the gold leaf of Petelia refer,
was imported from Greece and was linked to the Eleusynian Mysteries. It may have
undergone certain changes in Italy, but whether it did or not, the existence of a living faith in
pre-Roman Italy can no longer be denied. Between the funerary realism of Etruria and
the mystical orphism of the south, the religion of Rome could not fail to be
enriched by all the ritual currents that flowed into the valley of the Tiber." .