Late Antique Rome? Where?

Reasons to love Late Roman art: This mosaic from Santa Maria Maggiore

Rome is a city with a very long history, and much of it is on naked display here — although sometimes in a hard-to-comprehend jumble of masonry. I have seen many monuments from Rome’s long history — on the bus ride from Ciampino Airport I saw an aqueduct; I have seen bits of Republican temples, the second-century Pantheon, the second-century columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, a Gothic church, Renaissance churches, Baroque fountains, and much more. All on proud display.

Except … what about, y’know, the Later Roman Empire? The Early Middle Ages? If there were Romans building stuff in 30 BC and AD 120, 180, 1296, 1500, 1634, etc, there must have been people here in between, right?

Well, there were. The remains are a bit harder to find. A few reasons account for this. First, the city of Rome in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, like most cities, diminished in size. So there was less Rome to go around at that point.

Second, the Bablyonian Captivity (1309-1378 — a very crucial 70 years!) led to the deterioration of many of Rome’s early Christian monuments because their patron — the Pope — lived in Avignon. In France. So when the papacy re-relocated to Rome, there was a lot of fixin’ up to do — churches like San Pietro in Vinculi or Sant Agnese are, in fact, Late Antique-Early Mediaeval structures, but their decoration is mostly of later date.

Third, Early Modern people were like, ‘Screw you!’ to a lot of non-Classical Rome. And not just Early Modern people. Modern modern people, too. Late Antiquity was when Rome reached her decadence and everything went to crap. The Middle Ages were when superstition and bad taste reigned. So if there happened to be a fine specimen of Late Antique or Romanesque church architecture in the way of a crumbled ancient monument that could be re-erected or at least have its (meangingless-to-non-archaeologists) foundations exposed to the elements — it was gone!

I know someone, in fact, who was on a dig in Italy and watched them throw out uninventoried mediaeval artefacts. Because Classics is all that matters. And by Classics, we mean the Republic to like, Constantine, if you’re lucky.

But it turns out that Late Antique Rome can be found! You just have to look. Sometimes it’s hidden in plain sight. Sometimes it’s just a Metro ride away…

Today I visited some great Late Roman and Early Mediaeval sites: Mausoleo Santa Costanza (4th c), Basilica di Sant’Agnese (7th c +), San Pietro in Vincoli (5th c +), Santa Maria Maggiore (5th c+), the Baths of Diocletian (including Santa Maria degli Angeli, 3rd-4th c), and San Lorenzo Fuori le Muri (5th c w/13th c nave). I also visited the Palazzo Massimo site of the Museo Nazionale di Roma; amidst the glories of early imperial art (read: LIVIA’S VILLA), there was some worthy stuff from the Later Empire.

Over the next couple of days, I’ll post my musings on these places and items here. I mean, why go to Rome and have the same experience everyone else does, and then talk about all the same things everyone else talks about? I mean, I will do these things (I’ve already done a few [Pantheon x3, Trevi Fountain x3, Marcus Aurelius’ and Trajan’s Columns, Museo Nazionale di Roma {Palazzo Massimo & Terme di Diocleziano}), but why should a budding scholar of Late Antiquity not share with his friends the things that make his perspective on Roma Aeterna unique?

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4 thoughts on “Late Antique Rome? Where?

  1. Pingback: The Baths of Diocletian – more from Late Antique Rome | The Wordhoard

  2. Pingback: Discover Fifth-century Religion and Literature | The Wordhoard

  3. Pingback: Discovering Late Antique Rome: The Small Stuff | The Wordhoard

  4. Pingback: Discover Late Antiquity: Fifth-century Politics in the Eastern Empire | The Wordhoard

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