Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Items of Interest

A couple of things of note from Ross Holloway's article in the most recent newsletter of the Classical Society of the American Academy in Rome:

[A]cross the remains of medieval and later Rome brought to light in the recent excavations in the Forum of Trajan, there is even more recent news, the discovery of an over-life-size marble head of the Emperor Constantine in the main sewer under the Forum. In making announcement of the find the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, remarked that the sculpture was not in the sewer by chance but had been put there deliberately. Damnatio memoriae or even crimen maiestatis, if Constantine were alive when the head was decapitated from the statue it once adorned and flushed? Walter Veltroni goes for the second explanation, recalling Constantine's unhappy return to Rome in 326 when, according to Zozimus, he had to retreat from the city followed by hoots and cat calls. I'm with him (for more on the subject see Orizzonti IV, 2004). The sculpture could have had a pracical use in the a heavy mop dragged through the sewer to assist in cleaning it, but this possibility begs the question of how an imperial image came to be relegated to the sewer in the first place.


But of all archaeological work in Rome filled with a sense of anticipation perhaps the most fascinating is the investigations being carried out at the basilica of S. Paolo Fuori le Mura by archaeologists from the Vatican Museums under the direction of Dr. Giorgio Filippi. Below the high altar of the basilica and the stone with the inscription "Paolo Apostolo Mart" this work has revealed an intact sarcophagus. Its cover has a small opening creating a cataract through which strips of cloth could have been lowered to touch the saintly remains within. It appears more than likely that the remains venerated as those of the Apostle in the fourth century A.D. will indeed be brought to light. The sarcophagus is not in the position that it would have occupied in the Constantinian basilica because the building was thoroughly remade after his time, but it has evidently occupied its current position since the time of Theodosius the Great.

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