OBELISKS IN AUGUSTAN ROME
Pliny, Historia Naturalis 36. 14 (69):
the Arsinoeion] eum navalibus incommodum Maximus quidam praefectus Aegypti transtulit in Forum, reciso cacumine, dum vult fastigium addere auratam, quod postea omisit. et alii duo sunt Alexandriae ad portum in Caesaris templo, quos excidit Mesphres rex, quadragenum binum cubitorum.
[Mesphres =Thutmose III. One of these latter obelisks is Cleopatra's Needle.]
(70) Above all, there came also the difficult task of transporting obelisks to Rome by sea. The ships used attracted much attention from sightseers. That which carried the first of two obelisks was solemnly laid up by Augustus in a permanent dock at Puteoli to celebrate the remarkable achievement; but later it was destroyed by fire. The ship used by the Emperor Gaius for bringing a third was carefully preserved for several years by Claudius, for it was the most amazing that had ever been seen at sea . . . . The obelisk placed by Augustus in the Circus Maximus was cut by King Psemetnepserphreus, who was reigning when Pythagoras was in Egypt, and measures 85 feet and nine inches, apart from its base, which forms part of the same stone. The obelisk in the Campus Martius, however, which is 9 feet less, was cut by Sesothis.
[Pliny has these kings reversed: the obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo was commissioned by
Seti I/Rameses II; the one on Montecitorio was commissioned by Psammetichus II.]
The third obelisk in Rome stands in the Vatican Circus that was built by the Emperors Caius and Nero. It was the only one of the three that was broken during its removal. It was made by Nencoreus the son of Sesostris, and there still exists another that belongs to him: it is 100 cubits in height and was dedicated by him to the sun god in accordance with an oracle after he had been stricken with blindness and then regained his sight.
Suetonius Augustus 104:
reliquias [Augusti] . . . Mausoleo condiderunt. id opus inter Flaminiam Viam ripamque Tiberis sexto suo consulatu exstruxerat circumiectasque silvas et ambulationes in usum populi iam tum publicaret.
Strabo Geography 5. 3.8:
The most noteworthy [of the tombs in the Campus Martius] is what is called the Mausoleum, a great mound near the river, on a lofty foundation of white marble, thickly covered with evergreen trees to the very summit. Now on top is a bronze image of Augustus Caesar. Beneath the mound are the tombs of himself and his kinsmen and his intimates. Behind the mound is a large sacred precinct with wonderful promenades. And in the center of the Campus is the Crematorium [ ustrinum ], surrounded by a white marble enclosure wall; it has an iron fence surrounding it on all sides; inside it is planted with black poplars.
Curiosum Urbis Romae
[Valentini & Zuchetti, Codice topografico della città di Roma
I (1940) 149]
in Musileo Augusti duo altae singulae pedes XLII semis.
The Esquiline Obelisk
- seen in city plans of Bufalini (1551) and Duperac (1577) lying in at least four pieces between the Mausoleum and the river, now the Via Ripetta . Duperac's drawing of ca. 1575 shows the obelisk without the benben.
- first excavation, July 14, 1519 (Lanciani, Storia degli scavi di Roma (Roma 1902-1912) I, 192.)
- Baldassare Peruzzi and Antonio da Sangallo immediately studied and sketched the obelisk (A. Bartoli, I monumenti antichi di Roma nei designi degli Uffizi di Firenze [Roma 1914-1922] II #201 and 202; III #355, 412, 420.).
- The second is referred to in 1527 by Andrea Fulvio, Antichità di Roma (Antiquitates Urbis 1527; translated by Ferrucci 1588, 138).
- In September 1585 Pope Sixtus V (Peretti) ordered the removal of the obelisk to the rear of S. Maria Maggiore. This work was carried out by Badino da Stabia. F. Artaud de Montor, Histoire des souverains pontifes romains IV (Paris 1851) 372-377.
- Space was obtained by the demolition of two churches, S. Alberto and S. Luca. Foundations for the obelisk were under way by March 11, 1587.
- Erection of the obelisk was completed under the direction of Domenico Fontana (who had moved and reerected the Vatican Obelisk in the previous year) and Carlo Maderno on July 29, 1587.
- Consecration of the obelisk took place on August 13, 1587, in the presence of the pope.
- The cornice, star, and cross were cast by Giacomo Tranquilli to designs of Giacomo della Duca.
Bufalini's map of 1551, with the obelisks
lying in the street next to the Tiber
(S) CHRISTVS PER INVICTAM CRVCEM POPVLO PACEM PRAEBEAT
QVI AVGVSTI PACE IN PRAESEPE NASCI VOLVIT.
(N) CHRISTVM DOMINVM QVEM AVGVSTVS DE VIRGINE NASCITVRVM
VIVENS ADORAVIT SEQ DEINCEPS DOMINVM DICI VETVIT ADORO.
(E) CHRISTI DEI IN AETERNVM VIVENTIS CVNABVLA LAETISSIME
COLO QVI MORTVI SEPVLCRO AVGVSTI TRISTIS SERVIEBAM.
(W) SIXTVS V PONT MAX OBELISCVM AEGYPTO ADVECTVM AVGVSTO
IN EIVS MAVSOLEO DICATVM EVERSVM DEINDE IN PLVRES
CONFRACTVM PARTES IN VIA AD SANCTVM ROCHEM IACENTEM
IN PRISTINAM FACIEM RESTITVTVM SALVTIFERAE CRVCI
FELICIVS HIC ERIGI IVSSIT A D MDLXXXVII PONT III.