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Roman Architecture - Tombs

( Originally Published 1921 )



Roman tombs are much more numerous than the Greek and are similar to the Etruscan, such as that of Regulini-Galassi at Cerveteri. The Romans practised both forms of burial, cremation and interment, and thus sarcophagi for the body and urns for the ashes are sometimes found in the same tomb chamber. During the first three centuries of the Christian Era, the body of nearly every emperor was burnt on a magnificent pyre, from which an eagle was released to symbolise his escaping soul. In the second century, when cremation became less usual, wealthy citizens were embalmed on their death and placed in massive and costly sarcophagi.

The Romans had five classes of burial places : Caemetaria, Monumental tombs, Pyramidal tombs, Temple-shaped tombs, and others included under Eastern tombs.

1. Caemetaria or subterranean vaults contained both columbaria and loculi. " Columbaria " (p. 177 Q), so named because of their resemblance to pigeon-holes, were niches formed in the rock to receive a vase containing the ashes of the deceased, and with the name inscribed thereon. ` Loculi " or recesses for corpses were sealed with a front slab inscribed with the name, as in the tomb of the Gens Cornelia, Rome. Sarcophagi, often beautifully carved with figures and festoons, and surmounted by lids like roofs terminating in scrolls, were also placed in the vaults (p. 177 P). Later these vaults were called Catacombs from a district of that name in Rome.

2. Monumental tombs consisted of square or circular tower-shaped blocks, on a quadrangular base or podium, crowned with a pyramidal roof, and they may have their prototype in the prehistoric tumulus of earth with its ring of stones.

The Tomb of Caecilia Metella, Rome (B.C. 6o) (p. 177 J), is a landmark on the Via Appia. It has a podium of Too ft. square, supporting a circular mass 94 ft. in diameter in which was the tomb chamber containing the sarcophagus, now in the cortile of the Farnese Palace, Rome. The exterior, faced with travertine, was crowned by an entablature, the frieze of which is carved with ox-skulls and festoons, above which there was probably a conical roof.

The Mausoleum of Augustus, Rome (B.C. 28), was erected for himself and his heirs. Little is now left of this monumental tomb, but it is known, from descriptions of Strabo, Tacitus, and others, to have had a square base surrounded with columns, supporting a circular mass, 220 ft. in diameter, which contained the mortuary chambers. The upper portion consisted of a mound of earth laid out in terraces, planted with cyprus and evergreen trees, and crowned with a colossal statue of Augustus. In the Middle Ages it was converted into a fortress by the Colonna family, and in the eighteenth century a theatre was formed in its precincts.

The Mausoleum of Hadrian, Rome (A.D. 135) (p. 177 E, F, G), one of the most important of these tombs, is now the Castle of S. Angelo. It originally consisted, as shown in the conjectural restoration, of a square podium about 300 ft. each way and 75 ft. high, all faced with white marble and with equestrian groups at angles, surmounted by an immense circular tower, 240 ft. in diameter and 150 It. high, with a peristyle of marble and porphyry columns with statues in each intercolumniation, capped by a conical marble dome in steps, planted with trees and crowned by a quadriga. It is built of concrete, and towards the centre of the mass the sepulchral chamber was formed to which converging passages slope upwards from the ground level (p. 177 E, F). The tomb chamber in the centre of the Mausoleum (p. 177 F) was lined with marble and protected by a trap-door arrangement, and the sarcophagus of Hadrian was placed in the centre. This sarcophagus, afterwards used as a tomb by Pope Innocent II, was destroyed in the fire at S. John Lateran in the fourteenth century, but the immense lid of Egyptian porphyry is now used as a font in the Baptistery of S. Peter's. The monument has been much despoiled by the Goths and later Vandals, and also much altered, for during the Middle Ages it was converted by the Popes into a fortress, was afterwards used as barracks, and is now a museum.

3. Pyramidal tombs were probably due to the introduction of Egyptian ideas after the conquest of Egypt (p. 16). The Pyramid of Caestius, Rome (B.C. 12) (p. 177 x), is formed of concrete faced externally with white marble, and has a tomb chamber the vaults and walls of which are decorated with figure paintings.

4. Temple-shaped tombs with prostyle porticoes were often erected along the roads outside cities, as on the Via Appia, Rome, and in the Street of Tombs, Pompeii ; for burial was not allowed within the city.

The Tomb of Naevoleia Tyche, Pompeii (p. 177 M), has a portico giving access to an upper mortuary chapel, which contained, besides the cinerary urns, statues of deities and portraits or busts of the deceased members of the family ; while surmounting the tomb is the sarcophagus with sculptured relief and inscription tablet. The walls have coloured reliefs in stucco, as in the Tomb of the Pancratii on the Via Latina, Rome. There was often a subterranean chamber for the sarcophagi and niches in the walls for cinerary urns.

5. Eastern tombs. There are Roman tombs in the districts round Palmyra, Jerusalem, Petra (Syria), Caria (Asia Minor), and Cyrene (North Africa), some of which are rock-cut and some structural.

The Tomb of " El Khasne," Petra (A.D. 150) (p. 177 N), is one of the most interesting of all the rock-cut tombs in that district, which number over 750. The facade, 65 ft. high, is of a debased type of architecture ; the lower storey has a hexastyle Corinthian portico from which central and side doors lead into tomb chambers, while the upper storey also has columns supporting a broken pediment and a central circular structure surmounted by a conical roof and urn.

The Tomb, Mylassa (p. 177 A-D), in Asia Minor, is one of the most interesting of the latter class ; for the dome is constructed of horizontal courses of stone, as in the celebrated Jaina domes of India (p. 789), and it is the only instance of this treatment in Roman structures. The Tomb at Dougga (p. 177 R), near Tunis, is somewhat similar, but has a walled-up colonnade.

Cenotaphs or memorial monuments to persons buried elsewhere were also occasionally erected, as in the following instances :

The Tomb of the Julii, S. Remy (B.C. 100) (p. 177 H), in Provence, is a cenotaph, and consists of a high pedestal ornamented with bas-reliefs and supporting engaged Corinthian angle columns with arched openings between. Above is a circular storey with fluted Corinthian columns and entablature, crowned with a conical stone roof. There is a similar, though more slender, cenotaph at Wadi Tagiti, North Africa, which has a high podium with angle columns surmounted again by four columns which support an entablature and pyramidal roof.

The Igel Monument, near Treves (A.D. 250) (p. 177 L), is of similar design, erected by the Secundini family. It consists of a sculptured podium about 16 ft. square, supporting an intermediate stage with an Order of Corinthian pilasters, enclosing a large sculptured panel above which comes an attic surmounted by a sculptured pediment and crowned by a curved pyramidal roof, terminating at a height of 75 It. above the ground.



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