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Pantheon › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 09 April 2018
Rome's Pantheon (Capitu)

The Pantheon (Latin: pantheum ) is the best-preserved building from ancient Rome and was completed in c. 125 CE in the reign of Hadrian. Its magnificent dome is a lasting testimony to the genius of Roman architects and as the building stands virtually intact it offers a unique opportunity for the modern visitor to step back 2,000 years and experience the glory that was Rome.

FUNCTION & DEDICATION

The purpose of the building is not known for certain but the name, porch and pediment decoration suggest a temple of some sort. However, no cult is known to all of the gods and so the Pantheon may have been designed as a place where the emperor could make public appearances in a setting which reminded onlookers of his divine status, equal with the other gods of the Roman pantheon and his deified emperor predecessors. We are told, for example, by Pliny, the 1st century CE Roman author, that there were once statues of Venus (wearing a pearl once owned by Cleopatra ), Mars, and Julius Caesar inside the Pantheon.
The Pantheon was built on the exact site of two earlier Pantheon buildings, one commissioned by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (27-25 BCE) and the second by Domitian. The first was destroyed by fire in 80 CE and the second was struck by lightning in 110 CE and again burned down. The third Pantheon was probably begun in the reign of Trajan (98-117 CE) but not finally finished until around 125 CE when Hadrian was emperor, who often convened the Roman Senate there. It is this version which still stands today in central Rome.

THE PANTHEON'S DOME IS CONCRETE & THE EXTERNAL SURFACE WAS ORIGINALLY COVERED IN SHEETS OF BRONZE.

Following Hadrian's usual practice of dedicating rebuilt buildings and monuments in honour of the original dedicator, the Pantheon is dedicated to Marcus Agrippa and the prominent inscription on the porch façade reads:
M. AGRIPPA LF COS TERTIUM FECIT
(Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, three-time consul, made this).
Below the main inscription is a smaller one indicating the restorations carried out by Septimius Severus and Caracalla in 202 CE and reads:
pantheum vetustate corruptum cum omni cultu restituerunt
(with every refinement they restored the Pantheum, worn by age).

EXTERIOR: THE PORCH

The whole building stands on a 1.3 metres high base which originally extended a further 7 metres in front of the colonnade.Steps in Numidian yellow marble extended from the outer ends of this base. The building consists of two principal parts - the porch, which is very Classical Greek in presentation, and the circular main building which is much more Roman in style and reminiscent of the architecture of the large Roman baths. The circular building is built using brick and concrete but was originally faced with white marble stucco to match the porch in appearance. The dome is concrete with the external surface originally covered in sheets of bronze but these were removed by Constans II in 663 CE.
Pantheon Front, Rome

Pantheon Front, Rome

The porch measures 33.1 x 13.6 metres and presents a front colonnade of eight Corinthian columns 11.8 metres high. The monolithic column shafts are in Mons Claudianus and Aswan grey granite with the bases and capitals in white Pentelic marble. The pediment above the columns is now empty but drill holes suggest there was originally an emblem of some sort, possibly an eagle or wreath which would have been in gilded bronze and symbolised Jupiter. The porch was faced with white Pentelic marble and is decorated with reliefs showing objects used in religious sacrifices (such as dishes, boxes and axes), garlands and candelabras. The interior of the porch measures 34 x 20 metres and has four rose-pink columns creating three aisles. The pavement is restored but reflects the original design with grey granite rectangles and circles in white marble. The interior of the porch was also panelled with marble but this has since been lost, revealing the brickwork.

AT THE VERY TOP OF THE DOME IS AN OPENING TO THE SKY (OCULUS) WHICH IS 8.8 METRES IN DIAMETER.

INTERIOR: THE DOME

The Pantheon may well be the first building from Classical architecture where the interior is deliberately made to outshine the exterior. The circular part of the building or rotunda was entranced via two bronze doors measuring 12 x 7.5 metres (those of today are ancient but not original). The rotunda measures 43.2 metres in diameter which is exactly the maximum height of the dome, itself a perfect hemisphere. At the very top of the dome is an opening to the sky (oculus) which is 8.8 metres in diameter and has a decorative bronze sheet frieze. The dome is made from a light tufa and scoria (a type of pumice) mix of concrete ( caementa ) and its interior is further lightened by five rings of 28 coffers which reduce in size as they rise towards the centre of the dome. These may have been originally covered in bronze sheets.
Hole in the Top of the Pantheon

Hole in the Top of the Pantheon

The wall of the rotunda is 6 metres thick and has seven alcoves which are alternatively semi-circular (3 alcoves) and rectangular (4 alcoves). The alcove opposite the door is the most impressive and reaches the ceiling. It has a decorative red porphyry frieze and cornice and is flanked by two Corinthian marble columns of Phrygian purple. Each of the other alcoves has two marble columns in Phrygian purple (semi-circular) or Numidian yellow (rectangular). Each alcove also had three niches for statues and a small window with another seven windows placed around the rotunda walls. The pavement is the original and consists of a square pattern using grey granite, red porphyry, Numidian yellow and Phrygian purple marble.

LATER HISTORY

The Pantheon, like all ancient monuments, has suffered a chequered history. Nevertheless, the building has survived remarkably well, probably because relatively early in its history it was converted into the church of St. Mary of the Martyrs in 608 CE. In 1270 CE a bell tower was added to the porch roof and later removed. Also, at some time in the Middle Ages the left side of the porch was damaged which necessitated the replacement of three columns. The first came from Domitian's villa at Castelgandolfo and was added in 1626 CE. The other two columns came from the Baths of Nero and were added in 1666 CE.However, these additions were rose-pink in colour whilst originally the front eight columns of the porch were all grey and only the internal four were pink Aswan. Also in 1626 CE Pope Urban VIII removed all of the bronze girders from the porch roof and recast the metal into 80 canons for the city ’s Castel Sant'Angelo. The presence of these girders suggests that the porch roof originally had heavy marble tiles.
Despite these changes the Pantheon is one of the best preserved ancient monuments in the world and it still has an important function and status today as within it are the tombs of the Italian monarchy from 1870-1946 CE and another notable tomb is that of Raphael (1483-1520 CE).

Claudius › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 18 October 2011
Claudius ()

Claudius was Roman emperor from 41 to 54 CE. After the death of Emperor Caligula and his family at the hands of the Praetorian Guard, the future Emperor Claudius was found quivering behind a set of curtains, fearing for his own life, and named emperor. Historian Cassius Dio wrote, “At first the soldiers, supposing that he was someone else or perhaps had something worth taking, dragged him forth; and then, on recognizing him, they hailed him emperor and conducted him to the camp. Afterwards they together with their comrades entrusted to him the supreme power....”

EARLY LIFE

Claudius, or Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus (10 BCE to 54 CE), was Caligula's uncle (brother to Germanicus ) and had always been thought of as being dimwitted (even his own mother agreed with this assessment) which is the reason why some believe he remained alive as long as he did. He drooled, stammered and limped -- an easy target for cruel jokes by the ever-abusive Caligula. According to his The Twelve Caesars, ancient historian Suetonius said Claudius's mother Antonia (daughter of Mark Antony ) considered her son “a monster, a man whom Mother Nature had begun work upon but then flung aside.” When she accused someone of being stupid, she would say, “He is a bigger fool even than my son Claudius.” His grandmother, Livia, could not bear to look him in the face. When it was predicted that Claudius would rule the empire, she “prayed aloud that the Roman people might be spared so cruel and undeserved a misfortune.” Later in life, Claudius explained his feeblemindedness as an act. According to Suetonius, “Instead of keeping quiet about his stupidity, Claudius explained, in a few short speeches, that it had been a mere mask assumed for the benefit of Caligula, and that he owed both life and throne to it.” While receiving no government office under Augustus, Claudius was appointed to a short-termed consulship by Caligula.Since he had few responsibilities, Claudius spent his free time reading and writing histories. Suetonius said that this idleness lead to a reputation for drunkenness and gambling.

CLAUDIUS BROUGHT RELATIVE PEACE TO ROME WITH THE RESTORATION OF THE RULE OF LAW.

CLAUDIUS AS EMPEROR

Although not the preferred choice of the Senate, Claudius proved to be an efficient emperor. His first act was to execute Cassius Chaerea and his co-conspirators, the assassins of Caligula. He brought relative peace to Rome with the restoration of the rule of law. He built a new harbour at Ostia, established an imperial civil service, and brought about agrarian reform.When food riots broke out in the streets during a prolonged drought, he imported corn to feed the citizenry. He reclaimed land by draining the Fucine Lake in Central Italy. He abolished the treason trials of Caligula and expanded the empire further into the Middle East and the Balkans. Lastly, he completed the conquest of Mauritania begun by Caligula and conquered Britain.In search for military glory, Claudius personally led his army through Gaul and across the Channel into Britain where, with little opposition, he reduced much of the island into submission.
But the man whom many considered too weak to rule could also be as merciless as those who ruled before him. Like his predecessors, he was paranoid, quick to anger, and did not hesitate to put supposed enemies to death. This paranoia was not without foundation. Although a revolt led by Scribimanus, governor of Upper Illyricum, was easily put down with many of the participants being executed, ties to the conspirators led to many high ranking officials in Rome. Claudius had thirty-five senators and four hundred others executed or forced to commit suicide. Cassius Dio wrote, “,,,,he caused all who came near him, men and women alike to be searched, for fear they might have a dagger, and at banquets he was sure to have some soldiers present.” His paranoia did not stop with conspirators, like Caligula, he had problems with the city ’s Jews and to avoid further rioting, he had them all expelled from the city.
Roman Emperor Claudius

Roman Emperor Claudius

CLAUDIUS & MARRIAGE

Married four times, Claudius had very poor luck with women. In reference to these marriages and his relationship to his freedmen associates ( Narcissus and Pallas), Dio wrote, “It was not these infirmities, however, that caused the deterioration of Claudius so much as it was the freedmen and the women with whom he associated.” He married twice during his time as emperor - neither marriage being a wise choice. All the women he married (in particular Messalina and Agrippina) had immense influence over him as did the two freedmen. Dio added, “Moreover, he was afflicted by cowardice, which often so overpowered him that he could not reason out anything as he ought. They (his wives and freedmen) seized upon this failing of his, too, to accomplish many of their purposes.”
His marriage to Messalina ended in her premature death. Although she had given him a son, Britannicus, Messalina was not one to remain very faithful. When one potential suitor spurned her advances, Narcissus told Claudius the young man had plans to kill him. The man was executed. Later, Messalina and her lover Gaius Silius planned to kill Claudius and place Britannicus on the throne where they would then serve as regents. The plot was spoiled and Narcissus convinced Claudius that Messalina must die. Although she was given the opportunity to commit suicide, she failed and so was stabbed to death. In his The Annals Tacitus wrote, “…for the first time she understood her fate and put her hand to the dagger. In her terror she was applying it ineffectively to her throat and breast, when a blow from the tribune drove it through her…Claudius was still at the banquet when they told him that Messalina was dead….he showed no sign of hatred or joy or anger or sadness.”
Claudius as Jupiter

Claudius as Jupiter

DEATH & SUCCESSOR

His marriage to Agrippina (urged to do so by Pallas) was something he regretted shortly after exchanging vows, for it was also disastrous. The manipulative Agrippina (who was also his niece) was intent on having her son Nero named the next emperor.Initially, she had planned to have Nero marry Claudius's daughter, Claudia Octavia, but changed her mind when Nero was adopted by Claudius, becoming his successor.
As with those who came before him, Claudius was not to die naturally. Agrippina is suspected in his death, for Claudius died shortly after eating poisoned mushrooms that were given to him by his beloved wife. As his mother had wished, Nero soon ascended to the throne of the Empire, and a new era of depravity and corruption began.

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