Relief from the Column of Marcus Aurelius

Relief from the Column of Marcus Aurelius


Even though people often remember Marcus Aurelius for the movie The Gladiator, he was a great Roman emperor.
From 166 to 180, the Emperor fought in the Marcomannic wars: with their success, Romans were able to stop all Barbarian invasions and rebellions. Such an important achievement needed to be celebrated properly.
In 39,7 mt and 27 blocks of marble, we can see the whole war, starting with the crossing of River Danube.

Through the years, we lost the original inscription: this means we don’t know whether Romans built it before or after Marcus Aurelius died.
In 1589, the architect Domenico Fontana restored it and replaced it with a new one: it reported a dedication to Emperor Antoninus Pius.
This confused historians for a while: some call it Antonine Column, others Aurelian Column.


The Column of Marcus Aurelius

In Rome, as you take that mandatory walk around the historic centre, that most tourists do, you will find yourself in a shopping arcade which hosts the latest fashion brands. This is the Galleria Colonna, which is now renamed as the Galleria Alberto Sordi . The 19th century building is done up in Art Nouveau style. As you emerge from the far end of the Galleria, towards Piazza Colonna, you are treated to one of the most spectacular sights of Rome- the incredible Column of Marcus Aurelius.

Looming high into the blue sky, the Column of Marcus Aurelius is a tall Doric Roman victory column bearing spiral relief. The exquisitely carved column with high-relief commemorates Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ victorious military campaigns across the Danube between 172 and 175 CE.

Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of Rome from 161 t0 180 AD. He is often called the ‘philosopher on the throne’. He is the last of the “Five Good Emperors” as described by Machiavelli. Italy faced a grave crisis then, as it had been infiltrated across its northern frontier by several tribes (Quadi, Marcomanni, Sarmatians). After initial setbacks, the tribes seemed to have been defeated. But war resumed after a brief truce, and Marcus Aurelius died at the front. It was his son Commodus who signed the peace treaty, when victory was ultimately attained.

Because the original inscription no longer exists, it is not known who started work on the column. But the column is popularly believed to be erected by Commodus to celebrate his parents, Marcus Aurelius and Faustina. Another inscription attests to the fact that work on the column was completed by 193.

The Column emulates the more famous Column of Trajan. When it was built, the Romans called it the Centanaria as it was 100 Roman feet or 29.6 metres tall. To give you more numbers, the column stands on a 10 m high base, which in turn stood on a 3 m high platform. However, that base is now below the ground level and can no longer be seen. It is built of 28 blocks of Carrara marble, each of which is 3.7 m in diameter.

The inscription at the base of the column

Inside the column is a spiral stairway of around 200 steps which runs up to a platform on the top. Narrow slits in the column allow sunlight to illuminate the stairway. A doorway to the stairway can be seen at the base of the column, though it is not open to the public. What is amazing about the column is that these blocks were hollowed while still at the quarry. How they were placed in such perfect alignment in that era is still a matter of astonishment.

The 700 foot helical frieze has remarkable sculptural detail

The stunning visual that the column presents comes from the painstakingly done high relief carvings all along its surface. These are engraved in 21 spirals. The 700 foot helical frieze shows images from Marcus Aurelius’ conquests against the Marcomanni and the Sarmatians. There are glimpses of the campaigns- with carvings showing emperor addressing his men, images of his cavalry and infantry, sieges, the taking of prisoners, and other anecdotes from the battlefield. What makes this column different from Trajan’s column are the violent nature of the graphics. This column seems to depict the gory consequences of war, that the Romans experienced during these armed campaigns.

At the lowermost section is a beautiful frieze of the army crossing a river on a pontoon bridge.

Over the years, the Column has weathered much damage. It was restored by Pope Sixtus the Fifth in 1589. Originally, a statue of Emperor Aurelius had been installed at the top of the column. This has now been replaced by a bronze statue of St Paul holding a sword.

The Italian Prime Minister’s official residence

TThere are other sights too in Piazza Colonna. In the north, is the Palazzo Chigi which is the official residence of the Italian prime minister. The Via del Corso runs through the eastern end of the piazza. On the west side is the Palazzo Wedekind with a colonnade of Roman columns. In front of the piazza is a fountain which has dolphins sculpted at the edge of the basin. This was designed by Giacomo Della Porta.


Column of Marcus Aurelius: photos, description (Colonna di Marco Aurelio)

Column of Marcus Aurelius is one of several triumphal columns in Rome. Located in Piazza Colonna. This is a Doric column with a spiral relief - it was built in honour of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. But because the original dedicatory inscription has not survived, it is unknown whether the column was created during the reign of the Emperor, or after his death in the year 180. It is known only that in 193 year it has existed.

Column of Marcus Aurelius once stood in the center of the square in the Northern part of the field of Mars. This area was located between the temples of Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius (from the last nothing left), or within the temple last. Nearby is the place where the ceremony of cremation of the Emperor.

The column shaft reaches of 29.62 m in height and stands on a base with a height of just over 10 m. the base in turn was initially at rest on another platform with a height of 3 m (after the restoration in 1589, the platform has been buried under the ground). The column itself consists of 27 or 28 blocks of Carrara marble. Inside it is hollow. Spiral relief illustrates the story of Marcomannic wars in which Marcus Aurelius was attended with 166 years until his death. The story begins with the transition of the army across the Danube. The precise chronology of those events is unknown. Here you can see the story of the so-called "miraculous rain" when the gods in answer to the prayer of the Emperor about the salvation army sent a terrible storm. In the Middle ages attempt to climb the column was so popular that it even took money. However, today to do that anymore.

In 1589 on the orders of Pope Sixtus V was carried out the restoration of the column in which it was a bronze statue of the Apostle Paul. During the renovation, we removed the damaged relief images. Now the column of Marcus Aurelius is a Central element of the square in front of Palazzo Chigi.


Quadi and Romans, from Column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome - stock illustration

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Relief from the Column of Marcus Aurelius - History

The Column of Marcus Aurelius is a Roman victory column in Piazza Colonna, Rome, Italy. It is a Doric column featuring a spiral relief: it was built in honour of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and modeled on Trajan's Column.

Because the original dedicatory inscription has been destroyed, it is not known whether it was built during the emperor’s reign (on the occasion of the triumph over the Marcomanni, Quadi and Sarmatians in the year 176) or after his death in 180 however, an inscription found in the vicinity attests that the column was completed by 193.

In terms of the topography of ancient Rome, the column stood on the north part of the Campus Martius, in the centre of a square. This square was either between the temple of Hadrian (probably the Hadrianeum) and the temple of Marcus Aurelius (dedicated by his son Commodus, of which nothing now remains - it was probably on the site of Palazzo Wedekind), or within the latter’s sacred precinct, of which nothing remains. Nearby is the site where the emperor’s cremation occurred.

The column’s shaft is 29.62 m (about 100 feet) high, on a ca. 10.1 m high base, which in turn originally stood on a 3 m high platform - the column in total is 39.72 m. About 3 metres of the base have been below ground level since the 1589 restoration.

The column consists of 27 or 28 blocks of Carrara marble, each of 3.7 m diameter, hollowed out whilst still at the quarry for a stairway of 190-200 steps within the column up to a platform at the top. Just as with Trajan’s Column, this stairway is illuminated through narrow slits into the relief.

The spiral picture relief tells the story of Marcus Aurelius’ Danubian or Marcomannic wars, waged by him from 166 to his death. The story begins with the army crossing the river Danube, probably at Carnuntum. A Victory separates the accounts of two expeditions. The exact chronology of the events is disputed however, the latest theory states that the expeditions against the Marcomanni and Quadi in the years 172 and 173 are in the lower half and the successes of the emperor over the Sarmatians in the years 174 and 175 in the upper half.

One particular episode portrayed is historically attested in Roman propaganda – the so-called "rain miracle in the territory of the Quadi", in which a god, answering a prayer from the emperor, rescues Roman troops by a terrible storm, a miracle later claimed by the Christians for the Christian God.

In spite of many similarities to Trajan’s column, the style is entirely different, a forerunner of the dramatic style of the 3rd century and closely related to the triumphal arch of Septimius Severus, erected soon after. The figures’ heads are disproportionately large so that the viewer can better interpret their facial expressions. The images are carved less finely than at Trajan’s Column, through drilling holes more deeply into the stone, so that they stand out better in a contrast of light and dark. As villages are burned down, women and children are captured and displaced, men are killed, the emotion, despair, and suffering of the "barbarians" in the war, are represented acutely in single scenes and in the figures’ facial expressions and gestures, whilst the emperor is represented as a protagonist, in control of his environment.

The symbolic language is altogether clearer and more expressive, if clumsier at first sight, and leaves a wholly different impression on the viewer to the whole artistic style of 100 to 150 as on Trajan’s column. There, cool and sober balance – here, drama and empathy. The pictorial language is unambiguous - imperial dominance and authority is emphasized, and its leadership is justified. Overall, it is an anticipation of the development of artistic style into late antiquity, and a first artistic expression of the crisis of the Roman empire that would worsen in the 3rd century.


Column of Marcus Aurelius: Overall view, of base and column

Roman victory column, with a spiral relief, built in honour of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and modeled on Trajan’s Column. Because the original dedicatory inscription has been destroyed, it is not known whether it was built during the emperor’s reign (on the occasion of the triumph over the Germanic tribes and Sarmatians in the year 176) or after his death in 180 however, an inscription found in the vicinity attests that the column was completed by 193. As with Trajan’s column, there is an interior stairway. About 3 metres of the base have been below ground level since 1589 when, by order of pope Sixtus V, the whole column was restored by Domenico Fontana and adapted to the ground level of that time. Also a bronze statue of the apostle St. Paul was placed on the top platform, to go with that of St. Peter on Trajan’s Column (27 October 1588). (Originally the top platform probably had a statue of Marcus Aurelius, but it had been already lost by the 16th century.)


Columna M. Aurelii Antonini

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 132-133.

The column erected between 176 and 193 A.D. to commemorate the victories of Marcus Aurelius over the Marcomanni and Sarmatians in 172-175 (Aur. Vict. Caes. 16: patres ac vulgus soli omnia decrevere templa columnas sacerdotes Ep. 16: ob cuius honorem templa columnae multaque alia decreta sunt) on the west side of the via Lata, opposite the campus Agrippae it is still standing. An inscription (CIL VI.1585) found near its west side records the building of a separate lodge for the procurator of the column in August-September, 193. In this inscription the column is called columna centenaria divorum Marci et Faustinae, columna divi Marci, columna Centenaria, and columna centenaria divi Marci and in Reg. (Reg. IX) columna Cochlis, either because of the spiral band of relief surrounding it (cf. Cels. 8.10.1: fascia circa fracturam ter voluta sursum versum feratur et quasi in cochleam serpat), or because of the spiral staircase in the interior (cf. Thes. Ling. Lat. s.v. for the use of cochlea in this sense, both literally and metaphorically), as Isid. Orig. 15.2.38 suggests. It was called centenaria because it was one hundred feet high.

This monument was more carefully preserved than most of those in Rome, having been given in the tenth century by Popes Agapetus II and John XII to the Benedictines of S. Silvestro in capite, with the little church of S. Andrea de Columna (HCh 182, 183), but it suffered somewhat from fire and earthquake. In the sixteenth century repairs were made by the municipal authorities, and also by Sixtus V in 1589 and the following year, when Fontana, his architect, placed on top of the column the present statue of St. Paul. He also chiselled off from the pedestal what remained of the reliefs on its four sides — sacrificial scenes with Victories and garlands — and encased its upper part, above ground, with marble, some of which came from the Septizonium (LS III.146-149). The dedicatory inscription had long ago disappeared, and is not recorded by any author.


Marcus’ Progressive System of Governance

Marcus himself ruled as co-emperor with Antoninus' other chosen heir Lucius Verus until Verus' death in 169 AD. Marcus was married to Antoninus' daughter Faustina the Younger (after his first marriage was, of course, annulled by the emperor), when he was formally adopted as Antoninus' heir. However, the two men butted heads over Marcus' philosophical inclinations and Antoninus' preference for, what some might call, an overly lavish court life. Though this author believes Marcus made an unforeseeable error in choosing his own son to inherit the Empire, Marcus' philosophical education and independent studies certainly aided in this rule. He, like Emperor Hadrian, greatly admired Greek thought and rhetoric, and studied both in great depth. Most of his personal writings were recorded in Ancient Greek rather than Latin, in fact. His studiousness is likely one of the reasons he was—and still is—such a highly respected and beloved emperor.

That is not to say Marcus did not have his fair share of strife while in power and his rule was marked by almost continual war. Yet in spite of the various wars fought under his reign, Marcus' stoic reputation was never combined with one of bloodshed or violence. Marcus took on the role of leader in every sense of the word—he was a man men wanted to follow in both political and military affairs. Interestingly, scholarship asserts that it was Marcus' idea, not Antoninus', that he and Lucius Verus should rule as equal co-emperors. According to WHO, Marcus would not accept imperium otherwise. Thus, Marcus became the Augustus and Verus, the Caesar. These titles for co-emperors would resurface in the breakup of the Empire in the third and fourth centuries.

Ancient literature regarding Marcus and Lucius' early reign is littered with references of the co-emperors well-received differences from previous leaders. Famine in the city received personal responses from the emperors rather than their subordinates literature could roast the emperors for comedic purposes without fear of punishment. (Previous emperors, Nero for instance, likely would have requested those writers' heads.) Neither man was fond of the lavishness Antonius preferred, meanwhile both heaped praise and credit on the generals who fought on the front lines of the wars against Parthia. Though Verus did enjoy a triumph on his return from the East, the value of the generals does not appear to have been overlooked. The Roman people appreciated such modesty.

Marcus Aurelius Distributing Bread to the People ( Public Domain )


Relief from the Column of Marcus Aurelius - History

The column of Marcus Aurelius is one of several triumphal columns in Rome. Located in Piazza Colonna. It is a Doric column with a spiral relief – it was built in honour of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. But since the original dedicatory inscription has not been preserved, the unknown column was created during the reign of the Emperor, or after his death in 180. We only know that in 193 year she was already in existence.

The column of Marcus Aurelius once stood in the center of the square in the Northern part of the field of Mars. This square was located either between the temples of Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius (from the last nothing left), either within the Church of the past. Nearby is the place where the ceremony of cremation of the Emperor.

The shaft of a column reaches 29, 62 m in height and stands on a base height of slightly more than 10 m. the base is in turn initially rested on another platform height of 3 m (after restoration 1589 this platform was buried under the ground). The column itself consists of 27 or 28 blocks of Carrara marble. Inside it is hollow. Spiral relief illustrates the history Marcomannic wars in which Marcus Aurelius was involved with 166 years until his death. The story begins with the transition of the army across the Danube. The exact chronology of these events is unknown. Here you can see the plot of the so-called "miracle rain" when the gods in answer to the prayer of the Emperor of the salvation army sent a terrible storm. In the Middle ages attempts to climb the column was so popular that it even took money. However, today do that anymore.

In 1589, by order of Pope Sixtus V was carried out the restoration of the column in which it was placed a bronze statue of the Apostle Paul. During the same restoration were removed damaged relief images. Now the column of Marcus Aurelius is a Central element of the square in front of Palazzo Chigi.


Warriors from the column of Marcus Aurelius

Ancient civilization. Interest in ancient civilization has always been very high. The achievements of civilizations that existed before it, that is, the Bronze Age, may even be comparable with it, but they did not leave written monuments for us. Her creations do not speak to them, “all the evidence”, as modern investigators would say, is exclusively circumstantial. Not so with antique history. Her monuments in stone, ceramics and metal, in gold and silver, of lead and copper, and even fragile glass have come down to us we also have written texts. Made on stones and clay, papyrus and parchment. They all talk about different things, and there are many of them. For example, the diaries of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius have come down to us. And their value is so great that it was said: "If they were the handbook of every official and every ruler, the world would be different!" In addition, the written sources of this time supplement the found and preserved artifacts, and they begin to talk to us, that is, their evidence is much more significant than the silent megaliths of previous eras. However, in addition to many texts, statues and bas-reliefs have survived to our time, looking at which we can personally imagine, let's say, the appearance of the same Roman soldiers during the war of Rome with the tribes of barbaric Marcomanians. The monument in question is called the column of Marcus Aurelius. And that's just about her today and we will tell you.

Let's start with what kind of monument it is. where is it, what it is. So, the Column of Marcus Aurelius is a monumental column of the Doric type that stands in Rome on the Piazza Colonna, and this square is named after her. It was built between 176 and 192 years as a monument to the events of the Markoman war. Its prototype was the famous column of the Emperor Trajan. It is known that Marcus Aurelius lived in 121-180 AD, and ruled from 161 to 180 AD. That is, they began to build it during the life of the emperor and, of course, with his approval, but finished already 12 years after his death. And this is not surprising, since the work on this monument required a lot of effort, time and expense. The fact is that the entire surface of the column, as in the case of Trajan's column, is covered with spiraling bas-reliefs telling about the events of the Marcomanian war. And making them all was undoubtedly a rather difficult and lengthy affair.

The height of the column is 29,6 m, the height of the pedestal is 10 m. The total height of this monument was 41,95 m, but over time 3 meters from its base after the restoration carried out in 1589 turned out to be below the surface of the earth. The column's shaft is made of blocks of Carrara marble (28 blocks) with a diameter of 3,7 meters. Just like Trajan's Column, Marcus Aurelius's Column is hollow inside and there is a spiral staircase with about 190-200 steps leading to its top. On a square platform there once stood a sculpture of Marcus Aurelius himself. Staircase lighting is provided through small vertical windows.

But the most important thing, of course, is its bas-reliefs. Moreover, everything that is depicted on them is very noticeably different from the reliefs on Trajan's column. Differs primarily in much greater expressiveness. The play of light and shadow on the surface of the column of Marcus Aurelius is much more noticeable, since the stone carving here is made deeper than on Trajan's column, where the figures are flatter. In addition, here the heads of the figures are slightly enlarged, which, apparently, was originally conceived for greater accuracy in conveying facial expressions. But at the same time, we see at the same time a decrease in the quality level of elaboration of clothing details, and weapon characters. True, the sculptors can be understood, because there are literally thousands of figures depicted on the column!

The preservation of the figures on this column is somewhat worse than on Trajan's column, but since the carving here is deeper, that is, it is essentially a high relief, they make a much stronger impression. That is, Trajan's Column seems smoother, and Aurelius's Column - more embossed, and so it is in reality.

Interestingly, in the Middle Ages, climbing the stairs to the top of the column was such a popular pastime that the right to receive an entrance fee for it was put up for auction every year in Rome. Over time, namely by the 1589th century, the statue of Marcus Aurelius was already lost, and in XNUMX Pope Sixtus V decided to restore the column. This was entrusted to the architect Domenico Fontana, who decided to erect a sculpture of the Apostle Paul on it, smeared over the destroyed reliefs (about which the corresponding inscription was made on the pedestal), but in it he made a mistake and called the monument "Antoninus Pius's Column".

By the way, the difference between these two columns, Trajan and Aurelius, is only eighty years, but not only the change of relief to high relief is striking, but also the general artistic manner. If you look closely, you can see that the scenes of war on the column of Marcus Aurelius are shown less pretentiously than on the column of Trajan. Experts believe that the style of the column of Marcus Aurelius is closer to the famous Arch of Constantine the Great than, again, to the column of Trajan. Amusing can be considered the fact that heroizing the Roman legions, now consisting of mercenaries, and not only the indigenous inhabitants of Rome, at the time of Marcus Aurelius ceased, which was reflected in their image on the column. That is, it is believed that both the Arch of Constantine and the column of Marcus Aurelius show us the transition from ancient art, heroizing its characters, to art that is more simple, realistic, Christian. And this was, of course, still a beginning, which later received its full development.

Well, as for the battle scenes, we can say the following about them: in the lower part of the column we see the battles of the Romans with the Germanic tribes, and on the upper ones they are already fighting against the Sarmatians. Again, it is obvious that in the image of the soldiers of the Roman legions, which already consisted mainly of mercenaries, their heroization began to be absent during the time of Marcus Aurelius. Moreover, the sculptors seem to sympathize even more with the beaten Germans: those with the most primitive weapons in their hands resist the legionnaires, chained in plate armor and chain mail, and they burn their houses and fields and take women into slavery. In general, we do not see robbers in the Germans and Sarmatians, but the Romans appear as such on this column.

Separate images from the column were repeatedly used as illustrations for books on the history of Ancient Rome. But here you should keep in mind the time of creation of this monument: the end of the II century AD, and, accordingly, only about the warriors of this time, he can tell us!

Already in the 1613th century, exceptionally accurate sketches were made from the bas-reliefs of the column, the authors of which were the famous painter and antiquarian Bellori, Giovanni Pietro (1696-1635) and Bartoli, Pietro Santi (1700-1704). There is a well-known book "Column of Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome" published by these authors in XNUMX, images from which have now been digitized by Emory University and the Robert W. Woodruff Library, thanks to which they can now be used without actually referring to this old edition.


Watch the video: Column of Marcus Aurelius, Rome, Italy 2019