A Tourist in Rome - Column of Marcus Aurelius

Location:In Piazza Colonna, about 6 blocks northeast from the Pantheon, or three blocks west and 1 block north from the Trevi Fountain
Metro:Spagna (or Barberini if you're going to the Trevi Fountain first)
Time:about 20 minutes
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time

The Column of Marcus Aurelius (Colonna di Marco Aurelio) is a Doric victory column in Piazza Colonna featuring a spiral relief which used Trajan's Column as a model. It was built sometime between 176 AD and 193 AD to commemorate the victories of Marcus Aurelius in the Marcomannic wars from 172 to 175 AD. The column is about 100 feet tall, on a 30-foot-tall base, which stands on a 10-foot-tall platform which has been below ground level since the 1589 restoration. During that same restoration a bronze statue of St. Paul was placed on the top platform, to go with that of St. Peter on Trajan's Column, and to replace the statue of Marcus Aurelius that was originally on the column but had been already lost by the 16th century. It also mistakenly added an inscription calling this the column of Antoninus Pius, a column which is now recognized as lost. (The base of that column is in the Vatican Museum, in the courtyard near the entrance to the Pinacoteca, but the column itself is lost.)

The column consists of 27 or 28 blocks of Carrara marble, each 12 feet in diameter, hollowed out with a spiral staircase of 200 steps inside which lead to the platform at the top. Just as with Trajan's Column, the stairway is illuminated through narrow slits in the relief. Climbing the stairs was quite popular in the Middle Ages and so profitable that the right to charge the entrance fee was annually auctioned. However, it is no longer possible to climb the stairs and the column can only be viewed from the outside.

The spiral relief begins with the army crossing the river Danube and the lower half tells the story of the war against the Marcomanni and Quadi in 172 and 173 AD. A victory then separates this from the upper half which depicts his expeditions over the Sarmatians in 174 and 175 AD. Closely related to the artwork of the 3rd century on the triumphal Arch of Septimius Severus, the figures' heads are oversized so the viewer can better interpret their facial expressions, and carved less finely than at Trajan's Column, but are carved more deeply into the stone so that they stand out better in a contrast of light and dark. The suffering and despair of the barbarians are shown well in the figures' facial expressions and gestures, while the emperor is represented as dominant, in control of his environment and with justified authority. So while Trajan's Column, carved between 100 and 150 AD shows cool and sober balance, this column shows drama and empathy. By this time, war had turned into a tragic affair, full of sorrow and brutality.

    
Column of Marcus Aurelius
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Column of Marcus Aurelius
See all Column of Marcus Aurelius photos.
    
Column of Marcus Aurelius
See all Column of Marcus Aurelius photos.
    
Column of Marcus Aurelius
See all Column of Marcus Aurelius photos.
    
Column of Marcus Aurelius
See all Column of Marcus Aurelius photos.
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