THE APPIAN WAY
It was the proud boast of the ancient Romans that all roads led to their city. Rome was the centre and mistress of the world; and as the loneliest rill that rises in the bosom of the far-off mountain leads, if followed, to the ocean, so every path in the remotest corner of the vast empire conducted to the great gilded column in the Roman Forum, upon which all distances without the walls were marked. To the Romans the world is indebted for opening up communications with different countries. They were the great engineers and road-makers of antiquity. This seems to have been the work assigned to them in the household of nations. Rome broke down the barriers that separated one nation from another, and fused all distinctions of race and language and religion into one great commonwealth. And for the cohesion of all the elements of this huge political fabric nothing could have been more effectual than the magnificent roads, by which constant communication was kept up between all parts of the empire, and armies could be transported to quell a rising rebellion in some outlying province with the smallest expenditure of time and strength. In this way the genius of this wonderful people was providentially made subservient to the interests of Christianity. At the very time that our Lord commissioned, with His parting breath, the apostles to preach the gospel to every creature, the way was prepared for the fulfilment of that commission. The crooked places had been made straight, and the rough places smooth. Along the roads which the Romans made throughout the world for the march of their armies and the consolidation of their government, the apostles, the soldiers of the Prince of Peace, marched to grander and more enduring victories.
Of all the roads of ancient Rome the Via Appia was the oldest and most renowned. It was called by the Romans themselves the regina viarum, the "queen of roads." It was constructed by Appius Claudius the Blind, during the Samnite War, when he was Censor, three hundred and thirteen years before Christ, and led from Rome to Capua, being carried over the Pontine Marshes on an embankment. It was afterwards extended to Brindisi, the ancient seaport of Rome on the Adriatic, and became the great highway for travellers from Rome to Greece and all the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. A curious link of connection may be traced between the modern Italian expression, when drinking to a person's health on leaving home, "far Brindisi," and the distant termination of the Appian Way, suggestive, as of old, of farewell wishes for a prosperous journey and a speedy return to the parting guest. The way was paved throughout with broad hexagonal slabs of hard lava, exactly fitted to each other; and here and there along its course may still be seen important remains of it, which prove its excellent workmanship. This method of constructing roads was borrowed by the Romans from the Carthaginians, and was tried for the first time on the Appian Way, all previous roads having been formed of sand and gravel. The greatest breadth of the road was about twenty-six feet between the curbstones; and on both sides were placed, at intervals of forty feet, low columns, as seats for the travel-worn, and as helps in mounting on horseback. Distances of five thousand feet were marked by milestones, which were in the form of columnar shafts, elevated on pedestals with appropriate inscriptions. The physical wants of the traveller were provided for at inns judiciously disposed along the route; while his religious wants were gratified by frequent statues of Mercury, Apollo, Diana, Ceres, Hercules, and other deities, who presided over highways and journeys, casting their sacred shadow over his path. Some of the stones of the pavement still show the ruts of the old chariot-wheels, and others are a good deal cracked and worn; but they are sound enough, probably, to outlast the modern little cubes which have replaced them in some parts. A road formed in this most substantial manner for about two hundred miles, involving cuttings through rocks, filling up of hollows, bridging of ravines, and embanking of swamps, must have been an arduous and costly feat of engineering. Appius Claudius is said to have exhausted the Roman treasury in defraying the expenses of its construction. It was frequently repaired, owing to the heavy traffic upon it, by Julius, by Augustus, Vespasian, Domitian, Nerva, and very thoroughly by the Emperor Trajan. In some parts, where the soft ground had subsided, a second pavement was laid over the first; and in the Pontine Marshes we observe traces of no less than three pavements superimposed above each other to preserve the proper level.
For a considerable distance outside the Porta Capena, where it commenced, the Appian Way was lined on both sides with tombs belonging to patrician families. This was the case, indeed, with all the other roads of Rome that were converted into avenues of death owing to the strenuous law which prohibited all interments within the walls; but the Appian Way was specially distinguished for the number and magnificence of its tombs. The most illustrious names of ancient Rome were interred beside it. At first the sepulchres of the heroes of the early ages were the only ones; but under the Cæsars these were eclipsed by the funereal pomp of the freedmen, the parasites and sycophants of the emperors. At first the tombs were built of volcanic stone, the only building material found in the neighbourhood; but as Rome became mistress of the world, and gathered the marbles and precious stones of the conquered countries into its own bosom, and as wealth and luxury increased, the tombs were constructed altogether of or cased on the outside with these valuable materials. And this circumstance gives us a clue to the age of the different monuments.
The custom of bordering the main approaches of the city with sepulchral monuments was, in all likelihood, derived from the Etruscans, to whom the Romans owed many of their institutions. These monuments were usually structures of great beauty and elegance. Some of them were fashioned as conical mounds, on the slopes of which trees and parterres of flowers were planted; others were built after the model of graceful Grecian temples; others were huge circular masses of masonry; and others were simple sarcophagi with lids, resting on square elevated pedestals. Most of them were adorned with busts and statues of the departed, with altars, columns, and carvings. What these tombs were in their prime, it is difficult for us to picture; but even their remains at the present day produce the conviction that no grander mode of approach to a great city could have been devised.
It would seem to us altogether incongruous to line our public roads with tombs, and to transact the business and pursue the pleasures of the living among the dead. All our ideas of propriety would be shocked by seeing a circus for athletic games beside a cemetery. But the ancient Romans had no such feeling. They buried their dead, not in lonely spots and obscure churchyards as we do, but where the life of the city was gayest. One of the grandest of their sepulchral monuments was placed beside one of the most frequented of their circuses. The last objects which a Roman beheld when he left the city, and the first that greeted him on his coming back, were the tombs of his ancestors and friends; and their silent admonition did not deepen the sadness of farewell, or cast a shadow upon the joy of return. Many of the marble sarcophagi were ornamented with beautiful bas-reliefs of mythical incidents, utterly inconsistent, we should suppose, with the purpose for which they were designed. Nuptials, bacchanalian fêtes, games, and dances, are crowded upon their sculptured sides, in seeming mockery of the pitiable relics of humanity within. They treated death lightly and playfully, these ancient Romans, and tried to hide his terror with a mask of smiles, and to cover his dart with a wreath of flowers.
Why is it that we Christians look upon death with feelings so widely different? Why, when life and immortality have been brought to light in the gospel, are the mementoes of mortality more painful and saddening to us than they were to these pagans who had no hopes of a resurrection? It seems a paradox, but the Christianity which has brought the greatest hope into the world has also brought the greatest fear. By increasing the value of life, our religion has increased the fear of death. By quickening the conscience, it has quickened the imagination; and that death which to the man conscious only of a physical existence is the mere natural termination of life, to the nature convinced of sin is a violent breach of the beautiful order of the world, and the gate to final retribution. The ancient Roman was but a child in spiritual apprehension, and therefore as a child he surrendered his happy pagan life as thoughtlessly as the weary child falls asleep at the end of its play. No terrors of futurity darkened his last hours; he had his own turn at the feast of life, and as a satisfied guest he was content to depart and make room for others. As cheerfully as he had formerly begun his ordinary journeys from Rome through a street of tombs, so now he took the last journey, he knew not whither, through the valley of the shadow of death, and feared no evil; not because a greater Power was with him to defend him, but because for him no evil except the common pangs of dissolution existed. All that he cared for in death was that he should not be altogether separated from the presence and the enjoyments of human life, from the haunts where he had been so happy. He wished to have his tomb on the public thoroughfare, that he might "feel, as it were, the tide of life as it flowed past his monument, and that his mute existence might be prolonged in the remembrance of his friends." I may observe that the Roman custom of bordering the public roads with tombs gives a significance to the inscriptions which some of them bore, - such as, Siste, viator - Aspice, viator, "Stop, traveller" - "Look, traveller"; a significance which is altogether lost when the same inscriptions are carved, as we have often seen them, on tombstones in secluded country churchyards where no traveller ever passes by, and hardly even friends come to weep.
Modern Rome is unlike all other European cities in this respect, that a short distance beyond its gates you plunge at once into a desert. There is no gradual subsidence of the busy life of the gay metropolis, through suburban houses, villages, and farms, into the quiet seclusion of the country. You pass abruptly from the seat of the most refined arts into the most primitive solitude, where the pulse of life hardly beats. The desolation of the Campagna, that green motionless sea of silence, comes up to and almost washes the walls of the city. You know that you are in the immediate neighbourhood of a teeming population; but you might as well be a hundred miles away in the heart of the Apennines, for any signs of human culture or habitation that you perceive within the horizon. There is no traffic on the road; and only at rare intervals do you meet with a solitary peasant, looking like a satyr in shaggy goat-skin breeches, and glaring wildly at you from his great black eyes as he crosses the waste. Far as the eye can see there is nothing but a melancholy plain, studded here and there with a ruin, and populous only with the visionary forms of the past; and its tragic beauty prepares your mind for passing into the solemn shadow of the great Niobe of cities. But it was not thus in the brilliant days of the Empire. For fifteen miles beyond the walls the Appian Way stretched to the beautiful blue Alban hills, through a continuous suburb of the city, adorned with all the charms of nature and art, palatial villas and pleasure-gardens, groves and vineyards, temples and far-extending aqueducts. These homes and fashionable haunts of the living were interspersed in strange association with the tombs of the dead. Through the gate a constant stream of human life passed in and out; and crowds of chariots and horsemen and wayfarers thronged the road from morning to night.
It is only seventeen years since the true point of commencement of the Appian Way was discovered. For a long time the Porta Capena by which it left Rome was supposed to be situated outside of the present walls, in the valley of the Almo. But Dr. Parker, at the period indicated, making some excavations in the narrowest part of the valley between the Coelian and Aventine hills, came upon some massive remains of the original wall of Servius Tullius, and in these he found the true site of the Porta Capena. This discovery, confirming the supposition of Ampère and others, cleared up much that was inexplicable in the topography of this part of Rome, and enabled antiquarians to fix the relative position of all the historical spots. The Via Appia is thus shown to have extended upwards of three-quarters of a mile within the present area of the city, over the space between the wall of Servius Tullius and the wall of Aurelian. And this is still further confirmed by the discovery, three hundred years ago, of the first milestone of the Appian Way in a vineyard, a short distance beyond the modern gate of St. Sebastian, marking exactly a Roman mile from that point to the site of Dr. Parker's discovery. This milestone now forms one of the ornaments on the balustrade at the head of the stairs of the Capitol.
The Appian Way shared in the vicissitudes of the city. After the fall of the Western Empire, about the beginning of the sixth century, when it was finally repaired by Theodoric, it fell into desuetude. The people, owing to the unsettled state of the country, were afraid to move from home. A grievous apathy took possession of all classes; agriculture was neglected, and the drains being stopped up, the line of route was inundated, and the road, especially on the low levels, became quite impassable. For centuries it continued in this state, until it was overgrown with a marshy vegetation in the wet places, and covered with turf in the dry. About a hundred years ago Pope Pius VI. drained the Pontine Marshes, and restored other parts of the road, and made it available as the ordinary land-route from Rome to Naples. But it was left to Pio Nono to uncover the road between Rome and Albano, which had previously been confounded with the Campagna, and was only indicated by the double line of ruined tombs. After three years of hard work, and an expenditure of £3000, the part most interesting to the archæologist—namely, from the third to the eleventh milestone—was laid bare, its monuments identified as far as possible, and a wall of loose stones built on both sides, to protect it from the encroachments of the neighbouring landowners. And now the modern traveller can walk or ride or drive comfortably over the very pavement which Horace and Virgil, Augustus and Paul traversed, and gaze upon the ruins of the very objects that met their eyes.
Taking our departure from the site of the Porta Capena, we are reminded that it was at the Porta Capena that the survivor of the Horatii met his sister, who had been betrothed to one of the Curiatii, and who, when she saw her brother carrying the cloak of her dead lover, which she had wrought with her own hand, upbraided him in a passion of tears for his cruelty. Enraged at the sight of her grief, Horatius drew his sword and stabbed her to the heart, crying, "So perish the Roman maiden that shall weep for her country's enemy!" The tomb of the hapless maiden long stood on the spot. It was at the Porta Capena also that the senate and people of Rome gave to Cicero a splendid ovation on his return from banishment. Numerous historical buildings clustered round this gate—a temple of Mars, of Hercules, of Honour and Virtue, and a fountain dedicated to Mercury, described by Ovid; but not a trace of these now remains.
On the left, at the back of the Coelian Hill, is a valley covered with verdure, wonderfully quiet and rural-looking, though within the walls of a city. In this valley once stood the famous grove where Numa Pompilius had his mysterious interviews with the nymph Egeria. A spring still bubbles forth beside a cluster of farm-buildings, which is said to be the veritable Fountain of Egeria. The temple of the Muses, who were Egeria's counsellors, was close by; and the name of the gate of the city, Porta Capena, was in all likelihood a corruption of Camena, the Latin name for Muse, and was not derived, as some suppose, from the city of Capua. The spot outside the present walls, formerly visited as the haunt of the fabled nymph, before the discovery of the site of the Capena gate fixed its true position - beautiful and romantic as it is - was only the nymphæum of some Roman villa, used as a place of retirement and coolness in the oppressive heat of summer. Of all the legends of Rome's earliest days, none is more poetical than that which speaks of the visits of Numa to this mysterious being, whose counsels in these sacred shades were of such value to him in the management of his kingdom, and who dictated to him the whole religious institutions and civil legislation of Rome. Whatever historical basis it may have, the legend has at least a core of moral truth. It illustrates the necessity of solitude and communion with Higher Powers as a preparation for the solemn duties of life. All who have influenced men permanently for good have drawn their inspiration from lonely haunts sacred to meditation—ever since Moses saw the burning bush in the desert, and Elijah bowed his strong soul to the majesty of the still small voice at Horeb.
The romance of the grove of Egeria was, however, dispelled when the valley was turned into a place of imprisonment for the Jews. Domitian drove them out of the Ghetto, and shut them up here, with only a basket and a wisp of hay for each person, to undergo unheard-of privations and miseries. The Horticultural Gardens, where the shrubs and plants are grown that ornament the public squares and terraces of the city, now occupy the site of the celebrated grove. The shrill scream of the railway whistle outside the gate, and the smell of the gas-works near at hand—these veritable things of the present century—are fatal to all enchantments, and effectually dissipate the spell of the muses and the mystic fragrance of the Egerian solitude. But wonderful is the persistence of a spring in a spot. Continually changing, it is the most changeless of all things. For ever passing away, it is yet the most steadfast and enduring. Derived from the fleeting vapour—the emblem of inconstancy—it outlasts the most solid structure of man, and continues to well up its waters even when the rock beside it has weathered into dust. The Fountain of Egeria flows to-day in the hollow of the Coelian Hill as it flowed nigh three thousand years ago, although the muses have fled, and the deities Picus and Faunus, which Numa entrapped in the wood of the Aventine, have gone back to their native skies with Jupiter; and Mammon and Philosophy have exorcised that unseen world which once presented so many beauties and wonders to the imagination of man.
A little farther on to the right, a side path, called the Via Antonina, leads up to the stupendous ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, a mile in circumference, and covering a space of 2,625,000 square yards. The walls, arches, and domes of massive brickwork hanging up in the sky,—the fragments of sculpture and splendid mosaic pavements belonging to these baths,—produced a deeper impression upon my mind than even the ruins of the Colosseum. With the form and majesty of the Colosseum, owing to its compactness and unity, pictures and other representations have made us familiar from infancy, so that it excites no surprise when we actually visit it; but the Baths of Caracalla cannot be pictorially represented as a whole, on account of their vast variety and extent, and therefore we come to the spectacle wholly unprepared, and are at once startled into awe and astonishment. Notwithstanding the wholesale pillage of centuries, enough in the way of chambers and baths, marble statues, pillars, and works of art, still remains in this mountainous mass of masonry to witness to the unparalleled luxury by which the strength of the Roman youth was enervated, and the foundations of the empire sapped. Shelley wrote on the summit of one of the arches his "Prometheus Unbound;" and certainly a fitter place in which to seek inspiration for such a theme could not be found.
Beyond the Baths, on the same side of the road, is the most interesting little church of the two saints Nereus and Achilles, Christian slaves who suffered martyrdom in the reign of Diocletian. It is supposed that the Nereus whose body reposes in this ancient church is the person referred to by St. Paul in his greetings to the Roman saints at the close of his Epistle—"Salute Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them." Bolland, in his Acts of the Saints, mentions that he was a servant in the household of Flavia Domitilla, niece of the celebrated Christian lady of the same name, whose mother was the sister of the Emperor Domitian, and whose two sons were intended to succeed to the imperial throne. This younger Domitilla, although so nearly related to the imperial family, was banished to the island of Pontia, because of her refusal to sacrifice to idols. Her two Christian servants, Nereus and Achilles, accompanied her in her exile, and were afterwards burned alive, along with their mistress, at Terracina, and their ashes deposited in the same resting-place. It is a remarkable circumstance that this church and the catacomb where they were buried at first, should have borne the names of the lowly slaves instead of the name of their illustrious mistress, who was as distinguished by her Christian faith as by her rank. Time brought to these noble martyrs a worthy revenge for their ignoble fate; for when their ashes were taken from the catacomb to this church in the year 524, they were first carried in triumph to the Capitol, and made to pass under the imperial arches, on which was affixed the inscriptions "The Senate and the Roman people to Santa Flavia Domitilla, for having brought more honour to Rome by her death than her illustrious relations by their works." "To Santa Flavia Domitilla, and to the saints Nereus and Achilles, the excellent citizens who gained peace for the Christian republic at the price of their blood." Jeremy Taylor, in his splendid sermon on the "Marriage-ring," has a touching reference to the legendary history of Nereus. The church dedicated to the honour of these Christian slaves has many interesting associations. It stands upon the site of a primitive Christian oratory, called Fasciola, because St. Peter was said to have dropped there one of the bandages of his wounds on the way to execution. And its last reconstruction, retaining all the features of the old architecture with the utmost care, was the pious work of its titular cardinal, Cæsar Baronius, the celebrated librarian of the Vatican, whose Ecclesiastical Annals may be called the earliest systematic work on Church History. The church has an enclosed choir, with two ambones or reading-desks in it, surrounding the altar, as was the custom in the older Christian churches. The mosaics on the tribune representing the "Transfiguration" and "Annunciation" are more than a thousand years old, and are interesting besides as the first embodiments in art of these sacred subjects. Behind the high altar is the pontifical chair, supported by lions, with a Gothic gable, on which Gregory the Great was seated when he delivered his twenty-eighth Homily, a few sentences of which are engraved on the marble.
Beyond the church of Sts. Nereus and Achilles, on the opposite side,
where the ground rises thirty or forty feet above the level of the
road, there is a rude inscription above the door of a vineyard,
intimating that the Tomb of the Scipios is here. This is by far the
most interesting of all the monuments on the Appian Way. It was the
mausoleum of a long line of the most illustrious names in Roman
history—patriots and heroes, whose virtues and honours were
hereditary. Originally the sepulchre stood above ground, and the
entrance to it was by a solid arch of peperino, facing a cross-road
leading from the Appian to the Latin Way; but the soil in the course
of ages accumulated over it, and buried it out of sight. It was
accidentally discovered in 1780, in consequence of a peasant digging
in the vineyard to make a cellar, and breaking through a part of the
vaulted roof of the tomb. Then was brought suddenly to light the
celebrated sarcophagus of plain peperino stone, which contained the
remains of the Roman consul, Lucius Scipio Barbatus, after having been
undisturbed for nearly twenty-two centuries. Several other sarcophagi
belonging to members of the family were found at the same time, along
with two busts, one of which is supposed to be that of the poet
Ennius, the friend and companion of Scipio Africanus, whose last
request on his deathbed was that he might be buried by his side. Pliny
remarks that the Scipios had the singular custom of burying instead of
burning their dead; and this is confirmed by the discovery of these
sarcophagi. I found the mausoleum to consist of a series of chambers
and approaches to them, excavated in the solid tufa rock, not unlike
the labyrinthine recesses of the catacombs.
Within a short distance of the tomb of the Scipios are the most celebrated of all the Columbaria of Rome. Previous to the fifth century of Rome, the bodies of the dead were buried entire, and deposited in sarcophagi; but after that period cremation became the universal custom. The ashes and calcined bones were preserved in ollæ, or little jars like common garden flower-pots, made of the same kind of coarse red earthenware, with a lid attached. These jars were deposited in rows of little niches sunk in the brickwork all round the walls of the tomb, resembling the nests in a pigeon-house; hence the origin of the name. One tomb was thus capable of containing the remains of a large number of persons; no less than six thousand of the freedmen of Augustus being deposited in the Columbarium which bears their name. The entrance to these sepulchral chambers was from the top, descending by an internal stair; and the passages and walls were usually decorated with frescoes and arabesques, illustrating some mythical or historical subject. The names of the dead were carved on marble tablets fixed above the pigeon-holes containing the ashes. Columbaria being only used for dependents and slaves, were generally erected near the tombs of their masters; and hence all along the Appian Way we see numerous traces of them side by side with the gigantic monuments of the patrician families. The Columbaria near the tomb of the Scipios are three in number, and contain the cinerary urns of persons attached to the household of the emperors from the reign of Augustus up to the period of the Antonines, when the system of burying the bodies entire was again introduced. The last discovered Columbarium is the most interesting of the group. Being only thirty-three years exposed, the paintings on the walls and the vases are remarkably well preserved. This tomb contains the ashes of the dependents of Tiberius, the contemporary of our Lord. One pigeon-hole is filled with the calcined bones of the court buffoon, a poor deaf and dumb slave who had wonderful powers of mimicry, and used to amuse his morose master by imitating the gesticulations of the advocates pleading in the Forum. Another pigeon-hole contains the remains of the keeper of the library of Apollo in the imperial palace on the Palatine. A most pathetic lamentation in verse is made by one Julia Prima over the ashes of her husband; and an inscription, along with a portrait of the animal, records that beneath are the remains of a favourite dog that was the pet of the whole household—a little touch of nature that links the ages and the zones, and makes the whole world kin. The whole of this region, called Monte d'Oro, for what reason I know not, seems to have been a vast necropolis, in which not only Columbaria for their slaves and freedmen were built by the great patrician families, but also family vaults for the wealthier middle classes were constructed and sold by speculators, just as in our modern town cemeteries.
Very near the modern gate of the city the road passes under the so-called Arch of Drusus. It consists of a single arch, whose keystone projects on each side about two feet and a half beyond the plane of the frontage; and is built of huge solid blocks of travertine, with cornices of white marble, and two composite columns of African marble on each side, much soiled and defaced, which are so inferior in style to the rest of the architecture that they are manifestly later additions. The whole monument is much worn and injured; but it is made exceedingly picturesque by a crown of verdure upon the thick mass of soil accumulated there by small increments blown up from the highway in the course of so many centuries. It was long supposed that Caracalla had barbarously taken advantage of the arch to carry across the highway at this point the aqueduct which supplied his baths with water. But the more recent authorities maintain that the arch itself, so far from being the monument of Drusus, was only one of the arches built by Caracalla in a more ornamental way than the rest, as was commonly done when an aqueduct crossed a public road. This theory does away at one fell stroke with the idea so long fondly cherished that St. Paul must have passed under this very arch on his way to Rome, and that his eye must have rested on these very stones upon which we gaze now. It is hard to give up the belief that the stern old arch, severe in its sturdiness and simplicity as the character of the apostle himself, did actually cast its haunted shadow over him on the memorable day when, a prisoner in chains in charge of a Roman soldier, he passed over this part of the Appian Way, and it signalised a far grander triumph than that for which it was originally erected. We should greatly prefer to retain the old idea that under that arch Christianity, as represented by St. Paul, passed to its conquest of the whole Roman world; and passed too in character, the religion of the cross, joy in sorrow, liberty in bonds, strength in weakness, proclaiming itself best from the midst of the sufferings which it overcame.
Immediately beyond the Arch of Drusus is the Gate of St. Sebastian, the Porta Appia of the Aurelian wall, protected on either side by two semicircular towers, which from their great height and massiveness have a most imposing appearance. They are composed of the beautiful glowing brick of the ancient Roman structures, and rest upon a foundation of white marble blocks, evidently taken from the Temple of Mars, which once stood close by, and at which the armies entering Rome in triumph used to halt. The gateway was greatly injured in the sixth century during the Gothic War, but was repaired by Belisarius; or, as some say, by Narses. The most remarkable incident connected with it since that period was the triumphal entry into the city of Marco Antonio Colonna, after the victory of Lepanto over the Turks and African corsairs in 1571. This famous battle, one of the few great decisive battles of the world, belongs equally to civil and ecclesiastical history, having checked the spread of Mohammedanism in Eastern Europe, and thus altered the fortunes of the Church and the world. The famous Spanish poet Cervantes lost an arm in this battle. The ovation given to Colonna by the Romans in connection with it may be said to be the last of the long series of triumphal processions which entered the Eternal City; and in point of splendour and ceremony it vied with the grandest of them,—prisoners and their families, along with the spoil taken from the enemy, figuring in it as of old. A short distance outside the gate, the viaduct of the railway from Civita Vecchia spans the Appian Way, and brings the ancient "queen of roads" and the modern iron-way into strange contrast,—or rather, I should say, into fitting contact; for there is a resemblance between the great works of ancient and modern engineering skill in their mighty enterprise and boundless command of physical resources, which we do not find in the works of the intermediate ages.
Beyond the viaduct the road descends into a valley, at the bottom of which runs the classic Almo. It is little better than a ditch, with artificial banks overgrown with weeds, great glossy-leaved arums, and milky-veined thistles, and with a little dirty water in it from the drainings of the surrounding vineyards. And yet this disenchanted brook figures largely in ancient mythical story. Ovid sang of it, and Cicero's letters mention it honourably. It was renowned for its medicinal properties, and diseased cattle were brought to its banks to be healed. The famous simulacrum, called the image of Cybele,—a black meteoric stone which fell from the sky at Phrygia, and was brought to Rome during the Second Punic War, according to the Sybilline instructions,—was washed every spring in the waters of the Almo by the priests of the goddess. So persistent was this pagan custom, even amid the altered circumstances of Christianity, that, until the commencement of the nineteenth century, an image of our Saviour was annually brought from the Church of Santa Martina in the Forum and washed in this stream. In the valley of the Almo the poet Terence possessed a little farm of twenty acres, given to him by his friend Scipio Æmilianus.
After crossing the Almo, two huge shapeless masses of ruins may be seen above the vineyard walls: that on the left is said to be the tomb of Geta, the son of the Emperor Severus, who was put to death in his mother's arms by order of his unnatural brother. Geta's children and friends, to the number, it is said, of twenty thousand persons, were also put to death on the false accusation of conspiracy; among whom was the celebrated jurist Papinian, who, when required to compose a defence of the murder—as Seneca was asked by Nero to apologise for his crime—nobly replied that "it was easier to commit than to justify fratricide." But so capricious was Caracalla that he soon afterwards executed the accomplices of his unnatural deed, and caused his murdered brother to be placed among the gods, and divine honours to be paid to him. It was in this more humane mood that the tomb whose ruins we see on the Appian Way was ordered to be built. The tomb on the right-hand side of the road is a most incongruous structure as it appears at present, having a circular medieval tower on the top of it, and a common osteria or wine-shop in front; but the old niches in which statues or busts used to stand still remain. It was long supposed to be the mausoleum of the Scipios; but it is now ascertained to be the sepulchre of Priscilla, the wife of Abascantius, the favourite freedman of Domitian, celebrated for his conjugal affection by the poet Statius. Covered with ivy and mural plants, the monument has a very picturesque appearance.
The road beyond this rises from the valley of the Almo, and passes over a kind of plateau. It is hemmed in on either side by high ugly walls, shaggy with a profusion of plants which affect such situations. The wild mignonette hangs out its pale yellow spikes of blossoms, but without the fragrance for which its garden sister is so remarkable; and the common pellitory, a near ally of the nettle, which haunts all old ruins, clings in great masses to the crevices, its leaves and ignoble blossoms white with the dust of the road. Here and there a tall straggling plant of purple lithospermum has found a footing, and flourishes aloft its dark violet tiara of blossoms; while bright tufts of wall-flower send up their tongues of flame from an old tomb peering above the wall, as if from a funeral pyre. The St. Mary thistle grows at the foot of the walls in knots of large, spreading, crinkled leaves, beautifully scalloped at the edges; the glazed surface reticulated with lacteal veins, retaining the milk that, according to the legend, flowed from the Virgin's breast, and, forming the Milky Way in mid-heaven, fell down to earth upon this wayside thistle. Huge columns of cactuses and monster aloes may be seen rising above the top of the walls, like relics of a geologic flora contemporaneous with the age of the extinct volcanoes around. But the most curious of all the plants that adorn the walls is a kind of ivy which, instead of the usual dark-greenish or black berries, bears yellow ones. This species is rare, but here it occurs in profusion, and is as beautiful in foliage as it is singular in fruit. The walls themselves, apart from their floral adorning, are very remarkable, and deserving of the most careful and leisurely study. They are built up evidently of the remains of tombs; and numerous fragments of marble sarcophagi, pillars, inscriptions, and rich sculpture are imbedded in them, suggestive of a whole volume of antiquarian lore, so that he who runs may read.
On the right of the road, in a vineyard, are several Columbaria belonging to the family of Cæcilius, an obscure Latin poet, who was a predecessor of Terence, and died one hundred and sixty-eight years before Christ; and on the left are the Columbaria of the freedmen of Augustus and Livia, divided into three chambers. These last when discovered excited the utmost interest among antiquarians; but they are now stripped of all their contents and characteristic decorations, and the inscriptions, about three hundred in number, are preserved in the museums of the Capitol and Vatican. On the same side of the road, in a vineyard, a Columbarium was discovered in 1825 belonging to the Volusian family, who flourished in the reign of Nero; one of whose members, Lucius Volusius, who lived to the age of ninety-three, was extolled on account of his exemplary life by Tacitus.
On the same plateau is the entrance to the celebrated Catacombs of St.
Calixtus. It is on the right-hand side of the road, about a mile and a
quarter from the present gate, and near where stood the second
milestone on the ancient Appian Way. A marble tablet over the door of
a vineyard shaded with cypresses points it out to the visitor. The
rock out of which this and all the Roman Catacombs were hewn seems as
if created specially for the purpose. Recent geological observations
have traced in the Campagna volcanic matter produced at different
periods, when the entire area of Rome and its vicinity was the seat of
active plutonic agency. This material is of varying degrees of
hardness. The lowest and oldest is so firm and compact that it still
furnishes, as it used to do, materials for building; the foundations
of the city, the wall of Romulus, and the massive blocks on which the
Capitol rests, being formed of this substance.
The Catacombs were specially excavated for Christian burial,—tombs beneath the tombs of the Appian Way. Unlike the pagans, who burned the bodies of their dead, and deposited, as we have seen, the ashes in cinerary urns which took up but little space, the Christians buried the bodies of their departed friends in rock-hewn sepulchres. They must have derived this custom from the Jewish mode of interment; and they would wish to follow in this the example of their Lord, who was laid in an excavated tomb. Besides, it was abhorrent to their feelings to burn their dead. Their religion had taught them to value the body, which is an integral part of human nature, and has its own share in the redemption of man. Their mode of sepulture therefore required larger space; and as the Christians grew and multiplied, and more burials took place, they extended the subterranean passages and galleries in every direction. It is computed that upwards of six millions of the bodies of the early Christians were deposited in the Catacombs. The name which these rock-hewn sepulchres first received was cemeteries, places of sleep; for the Christians looked upon their dead as only asleep, to be awakened by the trump of the archangel at the resurrection. And being used as burial-places, the Catacombs became the inalienable property of the Christians; for, according to Roman law, land which had once been used for interment became religiosus, and could not be transferred for any other purpose. It was long supposed that the Catacombs were subsequently made use of as places of abode, when persecution drove the Christians to seek the loneliest spots; but this idea has been dispelled by a more careful examination of them. There can be no doubt, however, that they were employed as places of religious meeting. Numerous inscriptions found in them touchingly record that no Christian worship could be performed in the imperial city without the risk of discovery and death; and therefore the members of the Christian flock were obliged to meet for worship in these dreary vaults. The passages in some places were expanded into large chambers, and there divine service was performed; not only for the benefit of those who came to bury their dead, but also for those who resided in the city, and were Christians in secret.
Passing from the roughly-paved road into the vineyard where the Catacombs of St. Calixtus are situated, the first objects that caught my eye were the dark, gaunt ruins of a tomb and a chapel of the third century, now wreathed and garlanded with luxuriant ivy. Beside these ruins I descended into the Catacombs by an ancient staircase, at the foot of which my guide provided me with a long twisted wax taper, calculated to last out my visit. A short distance from the entrance, I came to a vestibule surrounded with loculi or rock-hewn graves. The walls were plastered, and covered with rude inscriptions, scratched with a pointed iron instrument. These were done by pilgrims and devotees in later ages, who had come here—many of them from distant lands—to pay their respects at the graves of the saints and martyrs. Two of these pilgrims, from the diocese of Salzburg, visited these Catacombs in the eighth century, and left behind an account of their visit, which has afforded a valuable clue to Cavaliere de Rossi in his identification of the chambers and graves. Passing from this open space, I soon reached a sepulchral chapel, lined with the graves of the earliest popes—many of them martyrs—who were buried here for about a century, from the year 200 to the year 296 of our era. The gravestones of four of them have been found, with inscriptions in Greek. A beautiful marble tablet by Pope Damasus, who died in 384, stands where the altar of the chapel originally stood, and records the praises of the martyrs whose remains lay in the neighbouring chambers; ending with a wish that he himself might be buried beside them, only he feared that he was unworthy of the honour. This good Pope, like an older "Old Mortality," made it a labour of love, to which he consecrated his life, to rediscover and adorn the tombs which had been hidden under an accumulation of earth and rubbish during the fearful persecution of Diocletian.
From this chapel of the Popes I came through a narrow passage to a wider crypt, where the body of St. Cæcilia was laid after her martyrdom in her own house in Rome, in the year 224. There is a rude painting of this saint on the wall, clothed with rich raiment, and adorned with the jewels befitting a Roman lady of high station. And at the back of a niche, where a lamp used to burn before the shrine of the saint, is painted a large head of our Saviour, with rays of glory around it shaped like a Greek cross. This is said to be the oldest representation of our Lord in existence, and from it all our conventional portraits have been taken. Doubts have, however, been thrown upon this by others, who assert that all the paintings in this chamber are not older than the seventh century. After this, I wandered on after my guide through innumerable narrow galleries hewn out of the soft reddish-brown rock, and opening in all directions; all lined with horizontal cavities for corpses, tier above tier, in which once were crowded together old and young,—soldiers, martyrs, rich and poor mingling their dust together, as in life they had shared all things in common. Here social distinctions were abolished; side by side with the obscure and unknown slave were some of the most illustrious names of ancient Rome. These shelves are now empty, for nearly all the bones and relics of the dead have been removed to different churches throughout Europe. Even the inscriptions that were placed above each grave—on marble tablets—have been taken away, and now line the walls of the museums of St. John Lateran and the Vatican. A few, however, remain in their place; and I know nothing more affecting than the study of these. For the most part, they are very short, containing only the name and date; sometimes only an initial letter or a rudely-drawn cross, indicating that it was a time of sore trial, when such hurried obsequies were all that the imminent danger allowed. Sometimes I came upon a larger record—such as, "Thou sleepest sweetly in God;" "In the sleep of peace."
But the most touching of all the inscriptions were those which were scratched rudely in a few places on the walls by visitors to the tombs of their fellow-Christians. The survivors came often to weep over the relics of the dead. Here a husband records the virtues of a beloved wife; there, a son invokes the precious memory of a pious father or mother; and all of them express their calm resignation and unshaken hope. One inscription especially struck me. It was very rude, and almost obliterated, for seventeen hundred years had passed over it. It was a husband's lamentation over a dead wife: "O Sophronia! dear Sophronia! thou mayest live?—Thou shalt live!" How eloquently did that rough, faded scrawl, over a long-forgotten grave, speak of the human fear that perhaps his wife was lost to him for ever—"Thou mayest live?" and of the noble faith that triumphed over it—"Thou shalt live!" Nothing affects and astonishes one more in these inscriptions than this calm, assured confidence that death was but a profound sleep,—a rest unspeakably grateful after such a weary life of awful suffering,—and that they should see their beloved ones again. It was a literal realisation of the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews: "And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection." They surrendered all that life holds dear, and life itself, from loyalty to the God of truth, knowing whom they had believed, and persuaded that He would keep that which they had committed to Him against the great day. They made their family ties so loyal and sacred, that their human love, in the higher love of Christ Jesus, endured for evermore. In many of the crypts, the emblems of martyrdom are roughly denoted by a sword, an axe, or by faggots and fire. What sorrowful scenes must have taken place in these dreary passages, as the mangled forms of parent, child, brother, or friend were stealthily brought in from the bloody games in the Flavian amphitheatre, or from the cruel tortures of the prison-house, to their last dark, narrow home along the very path I was now treading!
A number of rude paintings ornament the walls of the chapels, which repeat over and over again the simple symbols of the Christian faith, and the touching stories of the Bible. The ark of Noah; Daniel in the lions' den; the miracle of Cana; the raising of Lazarus—are among the most common of these frescoes. And they are deeply interesting, as showing that down in these dim and dreary vaults, which presented such a remarkable contrast to the lovely violet sky and the grand architectural magnificence above ground, among men who cared little for the things of time and sense, because life itself had not a moment's security, were nevertheless nourished thoughts of ideal beauty and unearthly grandeur, which afterwards yielded such glorious fruit in the Christian art of Italy. The frescoes of the Catacombs are the feeble beginnings of an artistic inspiration which culminated in the "Last Supper" of Leonardo da Vinci, and the "Transfiguration" of Raphael.
The anchor of hope, the olive-branch of peace, and the palm-branch as the sign of victory and martyrdom, were seen everywhere. The fish, whose Greek name is formed by the initial letters of the titles of our Lord, was carved on the marble tablets and sarcophagi as the anagram of the Saviour; and an Orante, or female figure praying, was represented as the symbol of the Church. The most common of all the figures, however, was that of the Good Shepherd carrying the lost sheep on His shoulders, or leaning on His staff while the sheep were feeding around Him. And a most touching figure it is, when we think of the circumstances of those who carved or painted it in these gloomy aisles. It was into no green pastures, and beside no still waters, that the Good Shepherd led His flock in those awful days, but into waste and howling wildernesses, where their feet were bruised by the hard stones, and their flesh torn by the sharp thorns, and all the storms of the world beat fiercely upon them. But still He was their Good Shepherd, and in the wilderness He spread a table for them, and in the valley of the shadow of death they feared no evil, for He was with them, and His rod and staff comforted them.
I wish I could express adequately the emotions which filled my breast while wandering through these Catacombs. Save for the feeble glimmer of my own and the guide's lamp, I was in total darkness,—a darkness that might be felt. Not a sound broke the awful silence except the echo of our footsteps in the hollow passages. Not a trace or a recollection of life recalled me from the thought of absolute impenetrable death around. Each passage seemed so like the other, and the ramifications were so endless and bewildering, that but for the presence of my guide I should inevitably have lost myself. Horrible stories of persons who had gone astray in the inextricable maze, and wandering about in the empty gloom till they perished of exhaustion and starvation, recurred to my mind; and my imagination, intensified by the silence and darkness, vividly realised their sufferings. There is indeed no chill or damp in these labyrinths, and the atmosphere is mild and pleasant, but still the gloom was most oppressive. And yet a deep gratitude fills the soul; for the light there shone in darkness, and it was this very darkness that preserved our religion, when it ran the risk of being extinguished. These fearful subterranean passages were the furrows in which were planted the first germs of the Christian religion,—in which they were long guarded in persecution as the seed-corn under the frost-bound earth in winter, to spring up afterwards when summer smiled upon the world, and yield a glorious harvest to all nations.
On the opposite side of the Appian Way, in a vineyard, is the Catacomb of Pretextatus, which is almost as extensive as that of St. Calixtus, and hardly less interesting. It is especially remarkable for a large square crypt, inlaid with brick and plaster, and covered with very fine frescoes and arabesques of birds and foliage. The bodies of St. Januarius, Agapetus, and Felicissimus, who suffered martyrdom in the year 162, were interred in this Catacomb; and two churches, at a subsequent period, were erected over it in honour of the three saints who suffered martyrdom with St. Cæcilia. Recent explorations have brought to light, in a separate part of this Catacomb, curious paintings and inscriptions which have been referred to the mysteries of Mithras—an Oriental worship of the Sun—introduced into Rome about a century before Christ, and which was celebrated in caves. When Christianity became popular, and was threatening the overthrow of polytheism, an attempt was made to counteract its influence in the reign of Alexander Severus, who himself came from the East, by organising this worship. The two systems of religion became, therefore, mixed up together for a while; and hence it is not uncommon to find in pagan sepulchres symbols and arrangements of a Christian character, and in Christian Catacombs Mithraic features. The funeral monuments of those who were converted to Christianity in the earliest ages of the Church indicated the transition between the two religions. We find upon their tombs pagan symbols, which ceased to be identified with pagan worship, and became mere conventional ornaments. We have other evidences along the Appian Way of the eclectic revival of paganism at this time. When alluding to the classic stream of the Almo, I spoke of the associations of the worship of Cybele. This naturalistic cult was introduced from Phrygia, and its orgiastic rites and nameless infamies had a horrible fascination for an age of decaying faith. And not far from the mounds of the Horatii and Curiatii there is a monument, probably of the age of Trajan, with a bas-relief portrait, dedicated to the memory of one Usia Prima, a priestess of Isis; this worship, with its painful initiations and splendid ritual, being imported from Egypt in the second century. But although this Neo-paganism appealed more to the passions of men than the sunny humanistic worship of older times, and for a time inspired the most frenzied enthusiasm, it failed utterly to resuscitate the decaying corpse of the old religion. Great Pan was hopelessly dead!
At a short distance on the same side of the road is the Catacomb of Sts. Nereus and Achilles, which contained the remains of these saints, and are interesting to us as the most ancient Christian cemetery in the world. The masonry of the vestibule is in the best style of Roman brickwork; and the frescoes on its walls, representing Christ and His apostles, the Good Shepherd, Orpheus, Elijah, etc., indicate a period of high artistic taste. This Catacomb contains the oldest representation extant of the Virgin and Child receiving the homage of the Wise men from the East, supposed to date from the end of the second century, and was often made use of in support of Roman Mariolatry. Several days might be profitably spent by the antiquarian in investigating the contents of the different tiers of galleries; while the geologist would find matter for interesting speculation in the partial intrusion of the older lithoid tufa here and there into the softer and more recent volcanic deposits in which the passages are excavated, and in which numerous decomposing crystals of leucite may be observed. On the same side of the way, farther on, is the Jewish Catacomb, the tombs of which bear Jewish symbols, especially the seven-branched golden candlestick, and are inscribed, not with the secular names and occupations of the occupants, but with their sacred names, as office-bearers of the synagogue, rulers, scribes, etc. The inscriptions are not in Hebrew, but in Greek letters. It is supposed that in this Catacomb were interred the bodies of the Jews who were banished to the valley of Egeria by Domitian.
About a quarter of a mile beyond the Catacombs you come to a descent, where there is a wide open space with a pillar in the centre, and behind it the natural rock of a peculiarly glowing red colour, overgrown with masses of ivy, wall-flower, and hawthorn just coming into blossom. Below the road, on the right, is a kind of piazza, shaded by a grove of funereal cypresses; and here is the church of St. Sebastian, one of the seven great basilicas which pilgrims visited to obtain the remission of their sins. It was founded by Constantine, on the site of the house and garden of the pious widow Lucina, who buried there the body of St. Sebastian after his martyrdom. This saint was a Gaulish soldier in the Roman army, who, professing Christianity, was put to death by order of Diocletian. The body of the saint is said to repose under one of the altars, marked by a marble statue of him lying dead, pierced with silver arrows, designed by Bernini. The present edifice was entirely rebuilt by Cardinal Scipio Borghese; and nothing remains of the ancient basilica save the six granite columns of the portico, which were in all likelihood taken from some old pagan temple. It was from the nave of this church that the only Catacomb which used to be visited by pilgrims was entered; all the other Catacombs which have since been opened being at that time blocked up and unknown. Indeed it was to the subterranean galleries under this church that the name of Catacomb was originally applied.
In the valley beneath St. Sebastian, on the left, is a large enclosure, covered with the greenest turf, and reminding one more, by its softness and compactness, of an English park than anything I had seen about Rome. Here are the magnificent ruins of what was long known as the Circus of Caracalla; but later investigations have proved that the circus was erected in honour of Romulus, the son of the Emperor Maxentius, in the year 311. It is the best preserved of all the ancient Roman circuses, and affords an excellent clue to the arrangements of such places for chariot races and the accommodation of the spectators. The external walls run on unbroken for about a quarter of a mile. In many places the vaults supporting the seats still remain. The spina in the centre marking the course of the races, on either end of which stood the two Egyptian obelisks which now adorn the Piazza Navona and the Piazza del Popolo, though grass-grown, can be easily defined; and the towers flanking the extremities, where the judges sat, and the triumphal gate through which the victors passed, are almost entire. It would not be difficult, with such aids to the imagination, to conjure up the splendid games that used to take place within that vast enclosure; the chariots of green, blue, white, and red driving furiously seven times round the course, the emperor and all his nobles sitting in the places of honour, looking on with enthusiasm, and the victor coming in at the goal, and the shouts and exclamations of the excited multitude. On the elevated ground behind the circus is a fringe of olive-trees, with a line of feathery elms beyond; and rising over all, the purple background of the Sabine and Alban hills. It is a lonely enough spot now; and the gentle hand of spring clothes the naked walls with a perfect garden of wild flowers, and softens with the greenest and tenderest turf the spots trodden by the feet of so many thousands. In the immediate vicinity of the circus are extensive ruins, visible and prominent objects from the road, consisting of large fragments of walls and apses, dispersed among the vineyards and enclosures.
By far the best-known monument on the Appian Way is the Tomb of Cæcilia Metella. It is a conspicuous landmark in the wide waste, and catches the eye at a long distance from many points of view. It is as familiar a feature in paintings of the Campagna almost as the Claudian Aqueduct. This celebrity it owes to its immense size, its wonderful state of preservation, and above all to the genius of Lord Byron, who has made it the theme of some of the most elegant and touching stanzas in Childe Harold. Nothing can be finer than the appearance of this circular tower in the afternoon, when the red level light of sunset, striking full upon it, brings out the rich warm glow of its yellow travertine stones in striking relief against the monotonous green of the Campagna. It is built on a portion of rising ground caused by a current of lava which descended from the Alban volcano during some prehistoric eruption, and stopped short here, forming the quarries on the left side of the road which supply most of the paving-stone of modern Rome. The Appian Way was here lowered several feet below the original level, in order to diminish the acclivity; and the mausoleum was consequently raised upon a substructure of unequal height corresponding with the inclination of the plane of ascent. It was originally cased with marble slabs, but these were stripped off during the middle ages for making lime; and Pope Clement XII. completed the devastation by removing large blocks which formed the basement, in order to construct the picturesque fountain of Trevi. A large portion of the Doric marble frieze, however, still remains, on which are sculptured bas-reliefs of rams' heads, festooned with garlands of flowers. Usually the bas-reliefs are supposed to represent bulls' heads; and the name of Capo de Bove (the "head of the ox"), by which the monument has long been known to the common people, is said to be derived from these ornaments. But a careful examination will convince any one that they are in reality rams' heads; and the vulgar name of the tomb was obviously borrowed from the armorial bearings of the Gaetani family, consisting of an ox's head, affixed prominently upon it when it served them as a fortress in the thirteenth century. Pope Boniface VIII., a member of this family, added the curious battlements at the top, which seem so slight and airy in comparison with the severe solidity of the rest of the structure, and are but a poor substitute for the massive conical roof which originally covered the tomb. Nature has done her utmost for nigh two thousand years to bring back this monument to her own bosom, but she has been foiled in all her attempts,—the travertine blocks of its exterior, though fitted to each other without cement, being as smooth and even in their courses of masonry as when first constructed, and almost as free from weather-stains as if they had newly been taken from the quarry. Only on the broad summit, where medieval Vandals broke down the noble pile and desecrated it by their own inferior workmanship, has nature been able to effect a lodgment; and in the breaches of this fortress, which is but a thing of yesterday as compared with the monument, and yet is far more ruinous, she has planted bushes, trees, and thick festoons of ivy, as if laying her quiet finger upon the angry passions of man, and obliterating the memory of his evil deeds by her own fair and smiling growth.
The sepulchral vault in the interior was not opened till the time of Paul III., about 1540, when a beautiful marble sarcophagus, adorned with bas-reliefs of the chase, was found in it, which is supposed to be that which stands at the present day in the court of the Palazzo Farnese. This is likely to be true, for it is well known that this Pope, who was a member of the Farnese family, unscrupulously despoiled ancient Rome of many of its finest works of art in order to build and adorn his new palace. A golden urn containing ashes is said to have been discovered at the same time; but if so, it has long since disappeared. On a marble panel below the frieze an inscription in bold letters informs us that this is the tomb of Cæcilia Metella, daughter of Quintus Metellus,—who obtained the sobriquet of Creticus for his conquest of Crete,—and wife of Crassus. She belonged to one of the most haughty aristocratic families of ancient Rome, whose members at successive intervals occupied the highest positions in the state, and several of whom were decreed triumphs by the senate on account of their success in war. Her husband was surnamed Dives on account of his enormous wealth. He is said to have possessed a fortune equal to a million and a half pounds sterling; and to have given an entertainment to the whole Roman people in a time of scarcity, besides distributing to each family a quantity of corn sufficient to last three months. Along with Julius Cæsar and Pompey, he formed the famous first Triumvirate. While the richest, he seems, notwithstanding the above-mentioned act of munificence, to have been one of the meanest of the Romans. He had no steady political principle; he was actuated by bitter jealousy towards his colleagues and rivals; and that unsuccessful expedition which he undertook against the Parthians, in flagrant violation of a treaty made with them by Sulla and renewed by Pompey, and which has stamped his memory with incapacity and shame, was prompted by an insatiable greed for the riches of the East. On the field he occupied himself entirely in amassing fresh treasures, while his troops were neglected. The manner of his death, after the defeat and loss of the greater part of his army, was characteristic of his ruling passion. Tempted to seek an interview with the Parthian general by the offer of the present of a horse with splendid trappings, he was cut down when in the act of mounting into the saddle. His body was contemptuously buried in some obscure spot by the enemy, and his hands and head were sent to the king, who received the ghastly trophies while seated at the nuptial feast of his daughter, and ordered in savage irony molten gold to be poured down the severed throat, exclaiming, "Sate thyself now with the metal of which in life thou wert so fond."
There is one incident connected with this most disastrous campaign upon which the imagination loves to dwell. Publius, the younger son of Crassus, born of the woman who lay in this tomb before us, after earning great distinction in Gaul as Cæsar's legate, accompanied his father to the East, and was much beloved on account of his noble qualities and his feats of bravery against the enemy. While endeavouring to repulse the last fierce charge of the Parthians, he was wounded severely by an arrow, and finding himself unable to extricate his troops, rather than desert them he ordered his sword-bearer to slay him. When the news of his son's fall reached the aged father, the old Roman spirit blazed up for a moment in him, and he exhorted his soldiers "not to be disheartened by a loss that concerned himself only." In this last triumph of a nobler nature he disappears from our view; and he who built this magnificent monument to the mother of his gallant son had himself no monument. More fortunate than her husband, whose evil manners live in brass,—less fortunate than her son, whose virtues have been handed down for the admiration of posterity,—Cæcilia Metella has left no record of her existence beyond her name. All else has been swallowed up by the oblivion of ages. Whether her husband raised this colossal trophy of the dust to commemorate his own pride of wealth, or his devoted love for her, we know not. He achieved his object; but he has given to his wife only the mockery of immortality. The substance has gone beyond recall, and but the shadow, the mere empty name, remains.
Built up against this monument are the remains of the castle in which the Gaetani family long maintained their feudal warfare, with fragments of marble sculpture taken from the tomb incorporated into the plain brick walls. And on the other side of the road, in a beautiful meadow, covered with soft green grass, are the ruins of a roofless Gothic chapel, showing little more than a few bare walls and gables built of dark lava stones, with traces of pointed windows in them, and the spring of the groined arches of the roof. Like the fortress, the chapel has few or no architectural features of interest. It is very unlike any other church in Italy, and reminds one of the country churches of England. What led the Gaetanis to adopt this foreign style of ecclesiastical architecture is a circumstance unexplained. Altogether it is a most incongruous group of objects that are here clustered together—a tomb, a fortress, and a church—and affords a curious illustration of the bizarre condition of society at the time. An extraordinary echo repeats here every sound entrusted to it with the utmost distinctness. It doubtless multiplied the wailings of the mourners who brought to this spot two thousand years ago the ashes of the dead; it sent back the rude sounds of warfare which disturbed the peace of the tomb in the middle ages; and now it haunts the spot like the voice of the past, "informing the solitude," and giving a response to each new-comer according to his mood.
Beyond the tomb of Cæcilia Metella the Appian Way becomes more interesting and beautiful. The high walls which previously shut in the road on either side now disappear, and nothing separates it from the Campagna but a low dyke of loose stones. The traveller obtains an uninterrupted view of the immense melancholy plain, which stretches away to the horizon with hardly a single tree to relieve the desolation. Here and there on the waste surface are fragments of ruins which speak to the heart, by their very muteness, more suggestively than if their historical associations were fully known. The mystic light from a sky which over this place seems ever to brood with a sad smile more touching than tears, falls upon the endless arches of the Claudian Aqueduct that remind one, as Ruskin has finely said, of a funeral procession departing from a nation's grave. The afternoon sun paints them with ruby splendours, and gleams vividly upon the picturesque vegetation which a thousand springs have sown upon their crumbling sides. They lead the eye on to the Alban Hills, which form on the horizon a fitting frame to the great picture, tender-toned, with delicate pearly and purple shadows clothing every cliff and hollow, like "harmonies of music turned to shape."
I shall never forget my first walk over this enchanted ground. The day was warm and bright, though a little breeze, like the murmur of a child's sleep, occasionally stirred the languid calm. April had just come in; but in this Southern clime spring, having no storms or frosts to fear, lingers in a strange way and unfolds, with slow, patient tenderness, her beauties; not like our Northern spring, which rushes to verdure and bloom as soon as the winter snows have disappeared. And hence, though the few trees along the road had only put forth their first leaves, tender and flaccid as butterfly's wings, the grass was ready to be cut down and was thickly starred with wild flowers. Horace of old said that one could not travel rapidly along the Appian Way, on account of the number and variety of its objects of interest; and the same remark holds good at the present day. It would take months to go over in detail all its wonderful relics of the past. At every step you are arrested by something that opens up a fascinating vista into the old family life of the imperial city. At every step you "set your foot upon some reverend history." From morning to sunset I lingered on this haunted path, and tried to enter into sympathy with old-world sorrows that have left behind no chronicles save these silent stones. It is indeed a path sacred to meditation! One has there an overpowering sense of waste—a depressing feeling of vanity. On every side are innumerable tokens of a vast expenditure of human toil, and love, and sorrow; and it seems as if it had been all thrown away. For two miles and a half from the tomb of Cæcilia Metella I counted fifty-three tombs on the right and forty-eight on the left. The margin of the road on either side is strewn with fragments of hewn marble, travertine, and peperino. Broken tablets, retaining a few letters of the epitaphs of the dead; mutilated statues and alto-relievos; drums and capitals of pillars; a hand or a foot, or a fold of marble drapery,—every form and variety of sculpture, the mere crumbs that had fallen from a profuse feast of artistic beauty, which nobody considers it worth while to pick up, lie mouldering among the grass. At frequent intervals, facing the road, you see with mournful interest the exposed interiors of tombs, showing that beautiful and curious opus reticulatum, or reticulated arrangement of bricks or tufa blocks, which is so characteristic of the imperial period, and rows upon rows of neat pigeon-holes in the brickwork, which contained the cinerary urns, all robbed of their treasures, their tear-bottles, and even their bones. Ruthless popes and princes have done their best during all the intervening ages to destroy the monuments by taking away for their own uses the marble and hewn stone which encased them, leaving behind only the inner core of brick and small stones imbedded in mortar which was never meant to be seen. Pitying hands have lately endeavoured to atone for this desecration by lifting here and there out of the rubbish heap on which they were thrown some affecting group of family portraits, some choice specimens of delicate architecture, some mutilated panel on which the stern hard features of a Roman senator look out upon you, and placing them in a prominent position to attract attention. But though they have endeavoured to build up the fragments of the tombs into some semblance of their former appearance, the resuscitation is even more melancholy than was the former ruin. Their efforts at restoration are only the very graves of graves. In some places a side path leading off the main road to a tomb has been uncovered, paved with the original lava-blocks as fresh as when the last mourner retired from it, casting "a lingering look behind;" but it leads now only to a shapeless heap of brick, or to the empty site of a monument that has been razed to the very foundations.
One piece of marble sculpture especially arrests the eye, and awakens a chord of feeling in the most callous heart. It represents one of those Imagines Clipeatæ which the ancient Romans were so fond of sculpturing in their temples or upon their tombs; a clam shell or shield with the bust of a man and a woman carved in relief within it, the hand of the one fondly embracing the neck of the other. Below is a long Latin inscription, telling that this is the tomb of a brother and sister who were devotedly attached to each other. Who this soror and frater were, there is no record to tell. All subsidiary details of their lives have been allowed to pass away with the other decorations of the tomb, leaving behind this beautiful expression of household affection in full and lasting relief. I felt drawn more closely to the distant ages by this little carving than by anything else. The huge monuments around weighed down my spirit to the earth. The very effort to secure immortality by the massiveness of these tombs defeated its own object. They spoke only of dust to dust and ashes to ashes; but that little glimpse into the simple love of simple hearts in the far-off past lifted me above all the decays of the sepulchre. It assured me that our deepest heart-affections are the helpers of our highest hopes, and the instinctive guarantees of a life to come. Love creates its own immortality; for "love is love for evermore."
Along this avenue of death nothing can be more striking than the profusion of life. It seems as if all the vitality of the many buried generations had there passed into the fuller life of nature. You can trace the street of tombs into the far distance, not only by the ruins that line it on both sides, but also by its borders of grass of a darker green and greater luxuriance than the pale, short, sickly verdure of the Campagna; just as you can trace the course of a moorland stream along the heather by the brighter vegetation which its own waters have created. Myriads of flowers gleam in their own atmosphere of living light, like jewels among the rich herbage, so that the feet can hardly be set down without crushing scores of them: the Orchis rubra with its splendid spike of crimson blossoms, the bee and spider orchises in great variety, whose flowers mimic the insects after whom they are named, sweet-scented alyssum, golden buttercups and hawkweeds, Roman daisies, larger and taller than the English ones, with the bold wide-eyed gaze you see in the Roman peasant-girls, scarlet poppies glowing in a sunshine of their own, like flames in the heart of a furnace, vetches bright azure and pale yellow, dark blue hyacinths, pink geraniums, and "moonlit spires of asphodel," suggestive of the flowery fields of the immortals. My footsteps along the dusty road continually disturbed serpents that wriggled away in long ripples of motion among the tall spears of the grass; while green and golden lizards, sunning themselves on the hot stones, disappeared into their holes with a quick rustling sound at my approach. The air was musical with a perfect chorus of larks, whose jubilant song soared above all sorrow and death to heaven's own gate; and now and then a tawny hawk sailed swiftly across the horizon. Huge plants of gray mullein towered here and there above the sward, whose flannel-like leaves afforded a snug shelter to great quantities of wasps just recovering from their winter torpor. On the very tombs themselves there was a lavish adornment of vegetable life: snow-white drifts of hawthorn and honeysuckle wreaths waved on the summits of those on which a sufficient depth of soil had lodged; the wild dog-rose spread its thorny bushes and passionate-coloured crimson blooms as a fence around others; and even on the barest of them nothing could exceed the wealth of orange lichens that redeemed their poverty and gilded their nakedness with frescoes of fadeless beauty. On some of the rugged masses of masonry grew large hoary tufts of the strange roccella or orchil-weed, which yields the famous purple dye—with which, in all likelihood, the robes of the Cæsars were coloured—and which gave wealth, rank, and name to one princely Italian family, the Rucellai. Over the desolate tombs of those who wore the imperial purple, this humble lichen, that yielded the splendid hue, spread its gray hoar-frost of vegetation.
I have already spoken of the solitude of the Campagna; but this part of the Appian Way, leading through it, is exceptionally lonely. It might as well have led over an American prairie or Asiatic steppe on which the foot of man had never intruded. You see along the white reaches of the road at a little distance what looks like a cluster of houses overshadowed by some tall umbrella pine, with all the signs of human life apparently about them; but, as you come near, the sight resolves itself into a mere mass of ruins. The mirage of life turns out to be a tomb—nay, the ruin of a tomb! A carriage full of visitors may, perhaps, be seen at long intervals, their spirits sobered by the melancholy that broods over the scene; or a lumbering cart, laden with wine-casks from Ariccia or Albano, drawn by the soft-eyed mouse-coloured oxen of the Campagna, startles the echoes, and betrays its course by the clouds of dust which it raises. There are no sights or sounds of rural toil in the fields on either side of the way. Only a solitary shepherd, with his picturesque cloak, accompanied by two or three vicious-looking dogs, meets you; or, perhaps, you come unexpectedly upon an artist seated on a tomb and busy sketching the landscape. For hours you may have the scene all to yourself. Even Rome, from this distance, looks like a city of dreams! Its walls and domes have disappeared behind the misty green veil of the horizon; and only the colossal statues of the apostles on the top of the church of S. John Lateran stand out in a halo of golden light, and seem to stretch forth their hands to welcome the approaching pilgrim.
It is well known to historians that the villa of Seneca, in which he put himself to death by command of Nero, stood near the fourth milestone on the Appian Way. The circumstances of his death are exceedingly sad. Wishing to get rid of his former tutor, who had become obnoxious to him, the bloodthirsty emperor first attempted to poison him; and when this failed, he accused him, along with his nephew the poet Lucan and several others, of being concerned in a conspiracy against his life. This accusation was false; but it served the purpose of bringing Seneca within reach of his vengeance, under a colour of justice. A tribune with a cohort of soldiers was sent to intimate his fate to the philosopher; allowing him to execute the sentence of death upon himself by whatever means he preferred. Seneca was at supper with his wife Paulina and two friends when the fatal message came. Without any sign of alarm he rose and opened the veins of his arms and legs, having bade farewell to his friends and embraced his wife; and while the blood, impoverished by old age, ebbed slowly from him, he continued to comfort his friends and exhort them to a life of integrity. The last words of one so justly renowned were taken down, and in the time of Tacitus the record was still extant. We should value much these interesting memorials; but they are now irrecoverably lost. His wife, refusing to live without him, also endeavoured to bleed herself to death; but she was recovered by order of Nero almost at the last moment. She remained pale and emaciated ever after from having followed her husband more than half-way on the road to death.
No trace of the villa where this pathetic tragedy took place can now be seen; but near the spot where it must have stood, close beside the road, is a marble bas-relief of the death of Atys, the son of Croesus, killed in the chase by Adrastus, placed upon a modern pedestal; and this is supposed to have formed part of the tomb of Seneca. There is no inscription; probably none would be allowed during the lifetime of Nero; and we know that his body was burned privately without any of the usual ceremonies. But if this fragment of sculpture be genuine, the well-known classic story which it tells was an appropriate memorial of one who perished in the midst of the greatest prosperity. No one who is familiar with the history of this "seeker after God," this philosopher who was a pagan John the Baptist in the severity and purity of his mode of life, and in the position which he occupied on the border-line between paganism and Christianity, and who left behind him some of the noblest utterances of antiquity, can gaze upon this interesting bas-relief without being deeply moved. It speaks eloquently of the little dependence to be placed upon the favour of princes; and it points a powerful moral that has been repeatedly enforced in sacred as well as profane history, that he who becomes the accomplice of another in crime, strikes, by that complicity, the death-blow of friendship, and makes himself more hated than even the victim of the crime had been. When Seneca sanctioned, and then defended on political grounds, the matricide of Nero, from that moment his own doom was sealed. Over the former "guide, philosopher, and friend," the shadow of this guilty secret rested, and it deepened and darkened until the pupil embrued his hands in the blood of his teacher. This touching fragment of sculpture is all that now remains of the earthly pomp of one who at one time stood on the very highest summit of human wisdom. There is no likelihood that he ever met the Apostle Paul during his residence in the imperial city, or learned from him any of those precepts that are so wonderfully Christian in their spirit and even words; although an early Christian forger thought it worth while to fabricate a supposititious correspondence between them. The only link of connection between them was the problematical one that St. Paul, with his wide sympathies, may have gazed with interest upon Seneca's villa, as it was pointed out to him on his journey to Rome; and that he was on one occasion dragged as a prisoner into the presence of Seneca's elder brother, that Gallio who dismissed the charge and the accusers with contempt.
Passing two massive fragments of a wall, which are supposed to have formed part of a small temple of Jupiter, beside which numerous Christians suffered martyrdom, we come, at the fifth milestone, to a spot associated with one of those poetical legends which occur in the early annals of all nations, and whose hold upon the minds of men is itself an historic truth. Here was the boundary between the territory of Rome and that of Alba. Here was situated the entrenchment called the Cluilian Dyke, where Hannibal encamped, and where previously the Roman and Alban armies were drawn up in battle array, when it was agreed that the quarrel between them should be settled by three champions chosen from each side. Every one knows the story of the Horatii and the Curiatii: how these hapless brothers and cousins fought in sight of both armies with a bravery worthy of the stake; and how, at length, when two of the Roman heroes were slain, and all the Albans were wounded, the third Roman, who was unhurt, feigned to fly, and thus separating his enemies, who followed him as well as their failing strength would permit, easily despatched them one after the other, and thus gained the victory for the Roman cause. This terrible tragedy, which terminated the independent existence of the Alban power, took place in the fields around here; and on the right-hand side of the road are three huge circular mounds, overgrown with long rich grass, planted with tall cypress and ilex trees, and surrounded at the foot with a wall of huge peperino blocks, which antiquarians have determined to be the tombs of the five slaughtered combatants—the farther mound being that of the two Horatii, the second that of one of the Curiatii, and the third that of the other two Curiatii. These tombs are situated exactly where we should have expected to find them from the description of Livy; and they are evidently of far older date than any of the neighbouring tombs of the imperial period. Their form and construction carry us back in imagination to the earliest days of Rome, when Etruscan architecture was universally adopted as a model. For more than twenty-five centuries the huge tent-like mounds have stood, so strikingly different in character from all the other sepulchral monuments of the Appian Way; preserved by the reverential care of successive generations. The modern Romans have not been behind the ancient in the pride with which they have regarded these monuments. They have planted them with the splendid cypress-trees which now add so much to their picturesqueness, and annually repair the ravages of time. I climbed up the steep sides through the long slippery grass to the summits of two of the mounds, and had a grand view of the whole scene of the tragic story, bathed in the dim misty light which always broods over the melancholy Campagna like the spectral presence of the past. The sunshine strove in vain to gild the dark shadows which the cypresses threw over the mound at my feet, and the lonely wind wailed wildly through their closely-huddled shivering branches around me.
On the opposite side of the road, beyond the earthen mounds of the Horatii and Curiatii, a large mass of picturesque ruins covers the Campagna for a considerable distance. The peasants persist in calling this spot Roma Vecchia, under the idea that ancient Rome stood there, and that these ruins are the remains of the city. Antiquarians, however, are agreed that the ruins belong to the large suburban villa of the Quintilii, one of the noblest and most virtuous families of ancient Rome. One member, the celebrated rhetorician Quintilian, was the first who enjoyed the regular salary allotted by Vespasian to those who provided a solid education for the upper classes. In the time of the Emperor Commodus the villa was owned by two brothers of the Quintilian family, Maximus and Condianus, whose fraternal love is as well known almost as the friendship of Damon and Pythias. They were inseparable in all their pursuits and pleasures; they shared this villa and the surrounding property together; they composed a treatise in common, some fragments of which still survive. They were raised together to the consular dignity by Marcus Aurelius, who greatly valued their virtue and their mutual attachment, and were entrusted together with the civil government of Greece. They were both falsely accused of taking part in a plot against the emperor's life; and Commodus, who coveted their property, had them both put to death together. The tyrant then took possession of their villa, which became as notorious for the evil deeds done in it as it was famous before for the virtuous life of its owners. Here Commodus, the base son of a heroic father, practised those lusts and brutalities which have branded his name as that of one of the most unmitigated monsters that ever stained the pages of history. It was here that the people—exasperated by their sufferings through fire and famine, by the open sale of justice and all public offices, and by the blood shed in the streets by the prætorian cavalry—surrounded the villa, and demanded the head of Cleander, a Phrygian slave whom Commodus had placed at the helm of state because he pandered to his master's vices, and gratified him with rich presents obtained by the vilest means. At the entreaties of his sister and his favourite concubine, the emperor sacrificed his minister, who was with him at the time, sharing in his guilty pleasures; and threw out, from one of the windows of the villa, the bloody head among the crowd, who gratified their vengeance by tossing it about like a football. Here, too, the wretched emperor himself was first poisoned by a cup of wine given to him by his favourite mistress Marcia, on his return weary and thirsty from the Colosseum; and then, as the poison operated too slowly, was strangled in his heavy drugged sleep by his favourite gladiator Narcissus. One could not look upon the bare masses of ruins around without thinking of the terrible orgies that took place there, and of the shout of enthusiastic joy when the news reached Rome that the detested tyrant was no more, and the empire was free to breathe again. The fate of Ahab, who coveted the vineyard of Naboth, overtook him; and but for the interference of his successor, the maddened populace would have dragged his corpse through the streets and flung it into the Tiber.
A very extraordinary tomb arrests the attention near the ruins of this villa. It looks like an inverted pyramid, or a huge architectural mushroom. This appearance has been given to the monument by the removal of the large blocks of stone which formed the basement, leaving the massive superincumbent weight to be supported on a very narrow stalk of conglomerate masonry. It is a striking proof of the extraordinary solidity and tenacity of Roman architecture, defying the laws of gravitation. It is called the sepulchre of the Metelli, the family of Cæcilia Metella; but this is a mere guess, as there is no record or inscription to identify it. Next to this singular monument are the remains of a tomb which must be exceedingly interesting to every classical scholar. The inscription indicates that it is the tomb of Quintus Cæcilius, whose nephew and adopted son, Titus Pomponius Atticus, as Cornelius Nepos tells us, was buried in it. This celebrated Roman knight was descended in a direct line from Numa Pompilius. Withdrawing from the civil discords of Rome, he took up his abode in Athens, where he devoted himself to literary and philosophic pursuits and acquired a knowledge of the Greek language so perfect that he could not be distinguished from a native. At the Greek capital, the then university of the world, he secured the devoted friendship of his fellow-student Cicero, whose brother was afterwards married to his sister; and to this intimacy we owe the largest portion of Cicero's unrivalled letters, in which he describes his inmost feelings, as well as the events going on around him. The uncle of Atticus, the brother of his mother, whose family tomb we are now examining, left him at his death an enormous fortune, which he had amassed by usury. Atticus added greatly to it by acting as a kind of publisher to the authors of the day—that is, by employing his numerous slaves in copying and multiplying their manuscripts. He kept himself free from all the political factions of the times, and thus managed to preserve the mutual regard of parties who were hostile to each other,—such as Cæsar and Pompey, Brutus and Antony. He reached the age of seventy-seven years without having had a day's illness; and when at last stricken with an incurable disease, in the spirit of the Epicurean philosophy, since he could enjoy life no longer he starved himself to death, and was interred in his uncle's tomb on the Appian Way. Almost side by side with this ruin is the sepulchre of the family of Cicero's wife, the Terentii, who were related to Pomponius Atticus by the mother's side. In all likelihood Terentia herself, Cicero's brave and devoted but ill-used wife, was interred here with her own friends, for her husband had divorced her in order to marry a beautiful and rich young heiress, whose guardian he had been.
Passing on the same side of the road two or three tombs of obscure persons whose names alone are known, we come at the sixth milestone to one of the most extraordinary sepulchral monuments of the Appian Way, called the Casale Rotondo. This monument marks the limit to which most visitors extend their explorations. It is circular, like the tomb of Cæcilia Metella; but it is of far larger dimensions, being nearly three hundred and fifty feet in diameter. In the fifteenth century this colossal ruin was converted into a fortress by the Orsini family; and of the remains of this fortification a farmhouse and other buildings were constructed, and these now stand on the summit, surrounded by a tolerably-sized oliveyard and garden, with a sloping grass-grown stair leading up to them on the outside. Notwithstanding their dislike of death and their horror of dead bodies, the modern Romans have no more repugnance to the proximity of tombs than their ancestors had. Shepherds fold their sheep and goats in the interior of the old tombs, whose walls are blackened with the smoke of the fires, and retain an odour of human and animal occupancy more disagreeable than any which the original tenants could have exhaled; and it is by no means unfrequent to find a wine-shop, with a noisy company of wayfarers regaling themselves, in a sepulchre that happens to be conveniently situated by the wayside. So far as can be ascertained, the original appearance of the Casale Rotondo seems to have been that of an enormous circular tower, cased with large blocks of travertine, covered with a pyramidal roof of the same material carved into the semblance of tiles, and surmounted with appropriate sculpture. It was surrounded with a wall of peperino, supporting at intervals vases and statues; and on the outside were semicircular stone seats for the benefit of weary wayfarers. This wall is now grown over with turf, but it can be distinctly traced all round; and the hollow space between it and the tomb is covered with thick grass, and is sometimes filled with water like a fosse. Numerous altars, pedestals, and fine specimens of sculpture in marble and peperino, have been disinterred in this spot, and they are now arranged to advantage at the foot of the huge pile fronting the road. Some of these bear inscriptions which would indicate that the tomb was erected to Messalla Corvinus, the friend of Horace and Augustus, and himself a distinguished historian and poet as well as one of the most influential senators of Rome, by his son Marcus Aurelius Corvinus Cotta, who was consul some years after his father's death. Corvinus died in the eleventh year of our era, so that the tomb has stood for upwards of eighteen centuries and a half; and it is as likely to stand as many more, for what remains of it is as firm and enduring as a rock. In the farmhouse built on its massive platform several generations have lived and died. They have eaten and drunk, they have married and been given in marriage, they have cultivated their vines and olives and consumed their products. And all the time their home and their field of labour have been on a tomb! I did not see the tenants of this curious dwelling during my visit; but if the skeleton at the Egyptian feast was a useful reminder of human mortality to the revellers, one would suppose that the thought of the peculiar character of their home would be sufficient to impart a soberer hue to their lives. What is our earth itself but, on a vaster scale, a Casale Rotondo—a garden in a sepulchre—where the dust we tread on was once alive; and we reap our daily bread from human mould—
"Earth builds on the earth castles and towers,
Earth says to the earth—All shall be ours."
At a distance of about seven minutes' walk is an enormous circular tomb, with a medieval tower of lava stones erected upon it, called the Torre di Selce; but there is nothing to indicate who was interred in it, though it must have been a person of some celebrity at the time. An inscription upon a tomb beside it naively tells the passer-by to respect the last resting-place of one who had a shop on the Via Sacra, where he sold jewellery and millinery, and was held in much estimation by his customers. Beyond this point there is nothing of any special interest to arrest our attention, till we come to a considerable mass of ruins, consisting of broken Doric columns of peperino, part of a rough mosaic floor and brick pavement, and fragments of walls lined with tufa squares in the opus reticulatum pattern. These remains are supposed to mark the spot on which stood the Temple of Hercules, erected by Domitian, and alluded to in one of the epigrams of the poet Martial. Near this spot are the tomb of the consul Quintus Veranius, who died in Britain in the year 55 of our era; a lofty circular tomb, to some one unknown, with a rude shepherd's hut on the top of it, to which the peasants have given the name of Torraccio; and the tomb of a marble contractor. It may be remarked, in connection with this last mentioned tomb, that a Roman statuary had his workshops for the manufacture of sepulchral monuments and sarcophagi on the Appian Way, which were of great extent, judging from the quantity of sculpture, finished and unfinished, found on the spot. All the sculpture was manifestly copied from Greek originals, for it is hardly conceivable that such groupings and expressions as we see in these bad copies could have been first executed by such inferior artists. In this neighbourhood were the villa and farm of the poet Persius, and portions of the wall are still standing. At the ninth milestone are the tomb and the remains of the villa of the Emperor Gallienus, slain by a conspiracy among his officers at the siege of Milan in the year 268. This emperor has left nothing behind but the memory of his luxury and his vices. When the site of the villa was excavated by an English artist, Gavin Hamilton, at the end of last century, the famous statue of the Discobolus and several other specimens of ancient sculpture were discovered, which are now in the Vatican Gallery. The ground hereabouts produces a whitish efflorescence, and emits a most offensive sulphurous smell. It exhibits the same evidences of recent volcanic activity as the neighbourhood of Lakes Tartarus and Solfatara on the way to Tivoli.
The road after this descends into a valley, through which the stream of the Ponticello flows, passing a most massive circular tomb, reminding one of the mounds of the Horatii and Curiatii; and as it ascends gradually on the opposite side, two huge sepulchres of the Imperial period—one on the right hand and the other on the left—attract notice, and are the last on this part of the route. The railway to Naples passes across the road at the eleventh milestone, and disturbs the solemn silence three or four times a day by its incongruous noise. Beyond this is the osteria and village of Frattocchie, where the old Appian Way merges into the new, and ascends continuously to Albano. This neighbourhood is full of historical associations. It was at Frattocchie that the body of Clodius was left lying on the road after his fatal encounter with Milo. This fray furnished the occasion for one of Cicero's most eloquent speeches,—that in defence of Milo,—which was written, but owing to the disturbances in the Forum at the time was not delivered. On the left of the village, near a railway bridge and several quarries of very old hard lava, is the site of Appiolæ, one of the cities of the Latin League, destroyed by Tarquinius Priscus. All the male population were killed, and the women and children transferred to Rome; and with the spoils the Capitolium was completed. The remains of the old city are very slight, consisting of a wall, a few vestiges of a temple, and some foundations on a cliff surrounded by a stream, which could be dammed up and flooded so as to form a fosse. On the right of Frattocchie are the ruins of Bovillæ, taken and plundered by Coriolanus, and deserted in the time of Cicero. Some arches of the corridor of an amphitheatre, a reservoir for water, tolerably perfect, and a circus, are still visible. There are also the ruins of a forum. The view, looking back from this elevated position upon the long course of the Appian Way, is exceedingly striking. One feels, when gazing on the long perspective of rugged and mouldering sepulchres, the full force of the name Strada del Diavolo which the peasants give to this street of tombs; and can sympathise with the sentiment that made Charles Dickens say, when standing here at sunset, after having walked all the way from Rome, "I almost felt as if the sun would never rise again, but look its last that night upon a ruined world."
We can picture St. Paul's memorable journey from Puteoli to Rome by this route. The thought that the eye of the great apostle must have rested upon the same features of the landscape, and many of the same objects, though now in ruins, that we still behold, invests them with an indescribable charm. From beyond the gates of Albano, near which stood the lofty tomb of Pompey, whose ashes had only recently been brought from the scene of his murder in Egypt, by his devoted wife Cornelia, he would obtain his first glimpse of Rome. And if now it is the most thrilling moment in a man's life to see Rome in its ruin, what must it have been to see it then in its glory! We can imagine that, with the profound emotion of his Master when gazing upon the splendour of Jerusalem from the slope of Olivet, St. Paul would look down from that spot on the capital of the world, and see before him the signs of a magnificence never before or since equalled; but alas! as he knew well, a magnificence that was only the iridescence of social and spiritual corruption, as the pomp of the sepulchres of the Appian Way was but the shroud of death. Doubtless with a sad and pitying heart, he would be led by the cohort of soldiers along the street of tombs, then the most crowded approach to a city of nearly two millions of souls; tombs whose massiveness and solidity were but a vain craving for immortality, and whose epitaphs were the most deeply touching of all epitaphs, on account of the profound despair with which they bade their eternal farewell. Entering into Rome through the Porta Capena; and winding through the valley between the Coelian and Aventine hills, crowded with temples and palaces, he would be brought to the Forum, then a scene of indescribable grandeur; and from thence he would be finally transferred to the charge of Burrus, the prefect of the imperial guards, at the prætorium of Nero's palace, on the Palatine. And here he disappears from our view. We only know of a certainty that for two whole years "he dwelt in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him."
Of all the splendid associations of the Appian Way, along which history may be said to have marched exclusively for nigh six hundred years, the most splendid by far is its connection with this ever-memorable journey of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. We can trace the influence of the scenes and objects along the route in all his subsequent writings. He had a deeper yearning for the Gentiles, because he thus beheld with his own eyes the places associated with the darkest aspects of paganism; the scenes that gave rise to the pagan ideas of heaven and hell; the splendid temples in which the human soul had debased itself to objects beneath the dignity of its own nature, and thus prepared itself for all moral corruption; and the massive sepulchral monuments in which the hopeless despair of heathenism had, as it were, become petrified by the Gorgon gaze of death. That Appian Way should be to us the most interesting of all the roads of the world; for by it came to us our civilisation and Christianity—the divine principles and hopes that redeem the soul, retrieve the vanity of existence, open up the path of life through the dark valley of death, and disclose the glorious vista of immortality beyond the tomb. And as we gaze upon the remains of that road, and feel how much we owe to it as the material channel of God's grace to us who were far off, we can say with deepest gratitude of those apostles and martyrs who once walked on this lava pavement, but are now standing on the sea of glass before the throne, "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!"
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