Northern Italy – Verona

Passing eastward from Aosta and Ivrea across the base of the Italian lakes, around and above which were the nests of many unsubdued tribes in early Augustan times ; leaving behind us Mediolanum (Milan), capital of the region of the Insubres, Ticinum (Pavia), as well as the fortress-cities of Placentia (Piacenza), and Cremona, we reach the opening of the next great Alpine pass at Verona. Of the ancient Milan so little remains that it tells no story. There is little more of Pavia, hardly more than the knowledge that it was laid out on the scheme of the Roman city-camp, so much better illustrated in Aosta and Turin, and that it had an honorary arch to Augustus and his whole family, erected to commemorate the successful issue of the Dalmatian-Illyrian war of 9-7 Am. Of Roman Placentia and Cremona, great cities and earliest bulwarks on the Po of Republican Rome, there is nothing to be said. So we come to Verona as practically the only city in the north which still gives us the scheme of a large Roman city; I mean a city that, though of military importance, had also a civil and commercial position, a city far richer and larger than Turin or any other ancient site with still remaining buildings in any part of Italy north of Rome.

What Tacitus says in his analysis of the struggle between the armies of Vespasian and Vitellius, best gives the opinion held of it in the early empire, when the leader of Vespasian forces in the west, Antonius Primus, led the small Flavian army into Italy by way of Aquileia, “where to fix the seat of war was now the question. Verona seemed the better place, the surrounding plains being adapted to the operations of cavalry, which was their strength ; and to wrest from Vitellius an important colony seemed both useful and glorious. The reduction of Verona brought an accession of wealth, and gave an example to other cities. Moreover as it lies between Rhaetia and the Julian Alps, it was a post of importance where an army in force might command the pass into Italy, and render it inaccessible to the German armies.”

Long before, in Augustus’ lifetime, Strabo had called it a large city, larger than Mantua and Comum, though Comum had recently received five thousand new colonists.

The Verona of the Middle Ages strikes so dominant a note with its S. Zeno, S. Fermo and the Cathedral, with its S. Anastasia, its castle and tombs of the Scaligers, that it takes some time to realize not only how much of the Roman period still survives, but how vividly the ruins tell the story of a really great and rich city of the Augustan age such as Strabo and Tacitus lead us to infer. The immense amphitheater—one of the half-dozen largest and best preserved —the recently excavated theater, the two city gates called Porta dei Borsari and Arco dei Leoni, the piers of the ponte di pietra, the numerous sculptures and inscriptions in the two museums, form a rather imposing if somewhat disconnected total. If Roman Verona has hardly been taken at its real value, it is possibly be-cause its purpose and history in the light of its monuments have been misinterpreted. Its amphitheater is early, yet has been ascribed to Diocletian (about 290) ; and its two city gates are assigned to Gallienus on account of his restoration-inscription of 265 A.D. I propose a far earlier date for the gates, the first half of the reign of Augustus, and propose also to resuscitate a superb “triumphal,” or colony, arch of the city, which, though torn down, still lies, disjecta membra, under the arcades of the amphi-theater. Were this the place, I could revive, from drawings of the sixteenth century, several other monumental arches and gateways which must have placed Verona almost immediately, after Rome among Italian cities in the number of its monuments of this class.

Mommsen elects to follow Pliny, in calling Verona an oppidum or town, rather than the inscription of the Porta dei Borsari, accepted by Borghesi, which proclaims Verona a colony as early as the time of Augustus. It seems to me that there are three reasons for believing Verona to have been made a colony by Augustus : (1) The inscription of Gallienus calls it so: “Colonia Augusta Verona” ; (2) the gateway on which this inscription stands has all the characteristics in plan and style of the Augustan city gates, which are unknown after him ; (3) the increased importance of Verona as part of Augustus’s plan in northern Italy would logically make it a colony; and the intimate connection of the city at that time with Drusus confirms this view. Pliny calls other colonies oppida; as, for ex-ample, Eporedia, in this very region, which he in the same breath describes as a colony. The town in the colony was always called an oppidum when it was fortified, and I believe it is splitting hairs to use this expression of Pliny’s against Verona’s claim to be an Augustan colony. Tacitus also correctly refers to Verona as a colony.

Travelers coming from the Tyrol through the Brenner Pass are always, as they emerge into the plain, impressed with the strength and picturesqueness of Verona’s situation. For a low-lying city its impregnability is remarkable. It nestles where the river Adige, as it broadens out, takes a narrow double curve; the city is contained almost entirely in the lower arm of the S which surrounds it on three sides, while the fourth is protected by the canal of the “Adigetto,” which cuts across the neck, so that the bulk of the city is really on an island. What makes the arrangement more remarkable is that across the river, where the original settlement evidently stood, is quite a precipitous hill which served as acropolis for the Augustan colony and was connected with it by a heavy stone bridge. The Lombard historian Liutprand compares it in this respect to Rome, where the Tiber cuts the city into two unequal parts, and speaks of the size and magnificence of the marble bridge and of the strength of the citadel on the hill. The piers of this Augustan bridge still remain in part.

At Verona the commercial east and west highway intersected the road up the Brenner Pass, the shortest and best means of communication between the valley of the Po and the region of the Danube and southern Germany. About sixty miles from Verona up the Brenner road lies Trent, the ancient Tridentum, which had been founded by the Rhaeti, was occupied later by the Cenomanni, but being the first city site of importance on the Italian side of the pass, was seen by Augustus to be necessary to his plans. His troops occupied it in or before 24 B.C., and he proceeded to make it the advanced point for the concentration of troops and stores in preparation for the campaign of Drusus in 16 and 15 B.C., when the Alps were crossed and the provinces of Rhaetia and Vindelicia added to the Empire. In this way the neighboring Alps received the name of Tridentine Alps. Here the Brenner road was joined by the Via Claudia Augusta, coming direct from Altinum in Venetia.

Trent, therefore, at the top, and Verona at the bottom of the military road, formed a third duet similar to Aosta-Ivrea and Susa-Turin. Does not this fact give some indication of the time when Verona became a colony? It is known that in late Republican and Augustan times the granting of colonial rights was coincident with the building of walls ; and it is hardly conceivable that Verona should have been on a different footing from Turin. Her foundation undoubtedly came a few years later. The name, Colonia Augusta Verona, shows it was after 27 B.C. The date of the occupation of Tridentum, 24 B.C., may be approximately that of the colonization of Verona itself. As for its earlier vicissitudes, the Rhaeti and the Gauls seem to have occupied the Acropolis. Pliny speaks of it as a city belonging to the Rhaeti and Euganei. It seems at one time to have been occupied by the Cenomanni. The Romans first came here in 89 B.C., under Pompeius Strabo, bringing with them, perhaps, Latin rights, and either then or under Augustus established themselves on the level site across the river where the bulk, of the Augustan city arose. It could not, on account of having its outlines determined by the curves of the river and the pre-existing acropolis, take on the exact rectilinear form of Turin and Aosta. The residence of Drusus at Verona is commemorated by inscriptions and statuary, and he undoubtedly contributed to the enlarging and beautifying of the city. Perhaps, as in a number of other cases, there existed here side by side a preexisting civil municipal town and a superadded military colony.

Verona was far larger than Turin or Aosta. Its amphitheater had 25,000 seats. It stood to reason, therefore, that its strip of clear sacred ground outside and encircling the walls, called the pomerium, would be wider than at Aosta, to make the defense the surer and the warning of an attack the quicker. When I was in Verona this time I decided to put to the test here my theory in regard to colony arches : that they were built whenever an Augustan colony was founded; that they stood outside the walls; that they were placed on the outer pomerium line, across the main highway, outside the principal city gate. I placed myself, therefore, at the principal gate of Augustan Verona, the Porta dei Borsari, and paced off the distance beyond it on the line of the old Roman road toward Rome, until I should reach the outer pomerium line, wondering if at this hypothetical point I might not find some trace, past or present, of the existence of a colony arch. Bearing in mind the 366 meters of Aosta, and supposing that the greater size of Verona implied a correspondingly larger pomerium strip, I reckoned the distance here should be between 500 and 600 meters. My delight may be imagined when, at a distance of about 550 meters, I found a curious thing. Stretched across the highway (Corso Cavour) was the outline of a Roman arch marked in the pavement by white cobble-stones edged with black. Here stood until 1805 what was called the Arch of the Gavii, an exquisite work of Augustan art.

I had found that Verona had a colony arch, and I had found where the colony arch stood, on the outer pomerium line. But this was not all. Of course, in preparing for my book on Roman Triumphal and Memorial Arches I had listed this destroyed arch at Verona. I knew that it had been famous for its beauty, had been drawn and copied by Renaissance architects, and had been barbarously torn down by the French soldiery while they occupied Verona in 1805. I had sup-posed that, barring a few fragments, the arch was but a memory, to be reconstructed perhaps from these Renaissance drawings. But when I went to the amphitheater to look up the supposed “few fragments,” what was my surprise to find many of its dark vaulted passages filled with the materials of the arch. Slowly I pieced its Odyssey. Hardly had it been torn down in 1805 when the French left the city and an Austrian archduke offered to pay half the cast of rebuilding the arch; but the Veronese, impoverished by the terrible reprisals for their rising of 1798, were unable to furnish the rest and unable to agree as to the site, so all the disjecta membra were carted, none too gently, to the amphitheater, and there they have remained, unknown to archaeologists. The Veronese contented them-selves by marking with those black and white cobbles the plan of the arch on the original site.

I know that the few specialists who have heard of this arch or read its inscriptions in the Latin Corpus will object that this is a private family arch because on it are the names of members of the Gavii family whose statues stood on the arch and in its niches. But this is an objection easily overcome. When Caesar and Augustus founded military colonies of veterans, the new establishment was often put under the guidance of a military leader and his family, which was hence-forth associated with the fortunes of the city. Thus the Julii and their colony arch at S. Remy, the Campani and theirs at Aix-les-Bains, the Sergii and theirs at Pola in Istria. That the Gavii were military leaders is shown not only by Veronese inscriptions but by others in military colonies of North Italy, such as Aquileia, and even in the cities of Campania, in the South. Most convincing of all is the arch of the Sergii at Pola, where we find the names of the various members of the family of the man selected as leader of the colony by Augustus, Sergius, who had been tribune of the Twenty-ninth Legion, disbanded after the battle of Actium. Needless to say that, later in the reign of Augustus, when the legal ritual in connection with public monuments became carefully regulated and all arches were dedicated to the Emperor, it would have been impossible to give to local authorities and military leaders such a prominent place on arches. I found some superb drawings of the Arch of the Gavii by the famous Renaissance architect Palladio in the Public Library at Verona : with their help and the financial assistance of a lover of art like J. Pierpont Morgan it would be easy to re-build and restore what is certainly the most beautiful of all the Augustan arches in Italy. The director of antiquities in Italy, the enthusiastic and indefatigable Camillo Ricci, has given me some hope that it will be done. One of the striking traits of the Veronese has been their consistent love of their city and respect for its ancient monuments. Even as early as the sixteenth century there were local antiquarians who began to guard and publish them. I will even mention, as a possibility which I am investigating, that the arch may be a remnant of the pre-Augustan colony, and if so the earliest known arch in the Roman world.

Hardly second in interest is the principal gate of the Augustan city, the much-misunderstood Porta dei Borsari. What we now see is a gate with two wide twin openings framed by engaged columns supporting architraves and gables, and surmounted by two stories of arched galleries. It would seem to take but a very slight knowledge of art to see clearly that we have two very different periods and styles, and that the lower arcades are early and pure, while the galleries are late and debased; the former a work of Augustus, the latter of Gallienus. It is curious that this elementary fact has not been generally, recognized, though known to some local specialists. The surface of the Augustan frieze was cut down and a new surface irregularly and crudely made to receive the restoration inscription of Gallienus, stating that the walls of Verona were built between April 3 and December 4 of the year 265 by order of the Emperor Gallienus. This statement is guilty of evident exaggeration. It would have been quite impossible to surround the entire city with walls and gates in these few months. We know, besides, from Tacitus, that in the struggle before the advent of Vespasian, two centuries earlier, in 69 A.D., the strongly fortified Verona was made the military center of the German and Gallic army. What Gallienus did was merely a work of restoration of the neglected fortifications. At the Porta dei Borsari he substituted a two-storied gallery for the Augustan superstructure and, removing the inscription of Augustus, substituted his own, destroying even part of the moldings of the early frieze.

If any further confirmation were required of the early date of the primitive gate, it has been supplied by some recent and still unpublished excavations, from which I am here drawing for the first time the evident conclusions. These excavations have shown that the present thin screen-like structure, usually thought to be merely a passageway, and to be the whole of the gate, was but the forefront of a massive gate-way, with central court and rear façade, more artistic than, but quite similar in scheme to, the other early Augustan military gates at Turin, Aosta, Nimes, and Salona. Verona not being a purely military and utilitarian foundation, but a city of wealth and size, it was natural that the gates as well as the Colony Arch should be of greater artistic beauty. Comparing now, all these various Augustan gateways, we find a varied galaxy, differing not only in materials and architectural style, but in the number of arcades: here there are two, at Aosta and Salona there are three, at Nimes and Turin four.

Of another Augustan gates the Arco dei Leoni, less remains, but it is less marred by later restoration, and it originally had the same plan, which has been traced and partly uncovered un-der the modern street. It may have been the Porta Principalis Sinistra. A most peculiar fact is that backing against it and separated only by a small space, was another gate. It bears an extremely interesting early Augustan inscription which disproves the late date assigned to these arches. There were, as I have said, other early city arches and gates : across the river, the so-called Janus arch, which, perhaps, belonged to the pre-Augustan city; the so-called Arch of Jupiter Ammon, that stood across the intersection of the two thoroughfares in the center of the city ; the early gate called the Arch of Valerius ; and that near the Church of S. Tommaso. Parts of these gates, of their galleries, similar to those of the Arco dei Leoni and Porta dei Borsari, show that there were at least four gates of this type. They can be seen in the two interesting little museums of antiquities, one of which was founded by the famous Muratori. From a study of these monuments it is possible to reconstruct in large part the plan of Roman Verona, and to see how, even at present, the city continues to follow the lines of the Roman streets, and that it contains unsuspected treasures of early Roman art.

At some time between c. 25 and 20 B.C. Verona was therefore recolonized and rebuilt by Augustus and served as base of supplies for Drusus in his great campaigns in the north, beyond the Alps, in connection with Tridentum. How the two brothers, Tiberius and Drusus, cooperated in these campaigns; Tiberius striking and closing in from the northwest beyond the Alps, and Drusus pushing up through the passes and high Alpine valleys, is a story of which the details are too little known to us. Drusus continued its construction and decoration, and the work appears to have gone on during the Flavian age. It seems as if we should attribute to this century the two other magnificent works of architecture : the amphitheater and theater. The amphitheater is so well-known that one is almost overcome with stage-fright in speaking of it. The fashion in amphitheaters was set by Campania before Rome adopted it, so it is not surprising that the one in Capua is almost as large as the Colisseum and that of Puteoli even larger.’ But while these two Campanian amphitheaters are in their present state extremely interesting for the arena and its substructures and passages, they cannot compare in architectural interest with those at Verona and Pola, which are somewhat smaller, and which curiously supplement each other: Verona having had her outer shell destroyed, while in Pola it is the outer row of arcades that remains intact while the interior was gutted. Outside of Italy the only amphitheaters that are the rivals of these two in monumental grandeur, are those of Nîmes and Arles in France, Tarragona in Spain, and Thysdrus in Africa. It is curious that in none of these cases is there any record of the date of their construction, so that we are left entirely to conjecture and stylistic indications.

At Verona we miss the change of order with which we are familiar at Rome. The Doric is used consistently in all three stories of arcades.

Of the outer circuit of seventy-two arcades only four are standing to show the rhythm of the three stories and the outside finish. It is thought that when the walls of GalIienus were hurriedly constructed in 265 A.D. in prevision of the north-ern invasion and were carried past the amphi-theater, part of this outer circuit was embodied in the fortifications. It was closed up by a wall and used as a fortress in the Middle Ages: An earthquake overturned part of the outer arcades and others were used as building stone. But when the communal revival of the Middle Ages came we see the love of the Veronese for their monuments showing itself in a very remarkable, and for that time, almost unique way. In the earliest city statutes, a document of the year 1228, the Podesta, or chief magistrate, is directed to employ a certain specified sum during the first six months of his incumbency for repairs on the amphitheater, reparatione et ref ectione Arenae. The term Arena was the common Italian medieval term for Roman amphitheater and is used even now.

In its dimensions (153 x 122 m.) it surpasses Nimes, Arles and Thysdrus, and if it is not so impressive it is because of this loss of its upper story and because, of course, the inner arcades, not being intended to be seen in the glare of sunshine, were more roughly finished. One interesting feature is the fine condition of the interior arrangements, and the lines of seats. They were continually restored even in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (e.g. 1568), and were presumably used on public occasions. The fact that there are no traces of arrangements for suspending an immense awning over the interior proves nothing, as they would have disappeared with the destruction of the outer circuit. The close analogy with the amphi-theater of Pola makes it probable that the arrangements we shall find there were reproduced here. As for its age, far from attributing it to Diocletian and the decadence, against which there is every historic probability, I should lean toward the period between Claudius and Vespasian, when the bossed masonry, so prominent here, was most popular throughout Italy.

The theater was earlier in date than the amphi-theater. Perhaps it is even more interesting for that reason than for what remains of it, which is quite fragmentary. It belonged to the earliest section of the Roman city across the river, just beyond the great bridge at the foot of the citadel hill. Its orchestra rested against the hillside and the wall of the stage faced the river. The early antiquarians of Verona attributed it to Augustus and I believe they are quite right. I should even be inclined to take the extraordinary fact that it is built of the primitive, soft tufa as a sign of possible pre-Augustan date ! Its material made it more subject to decay from neglect, though it had been kept in perfect repair up to the time of Theodoric the Goth, who early in the sixth century, loved Verona and lived here, building a superb palace on the hill above the theater. Still, as early as 895 A.D. King Berengarius allowed the inhabitants to tear down to its foundations any part of the theater which threatened to fall. An enlightened citizen, Sig. Monga, excavated here and discovered not only a great deal of the architecture but a number of statues and inscriptions which showed that the theater existed in the time of Augustus and was decorated with statues of Drusus and other members of the imperial family. A large part of the podium remains, with seven rows of seats. More recent excavations, which involved the tearing down of thirty-six houses, have finally, since 1904, made it possible to get a clearer view of the structure. It is certainly one of the earliest known theaters, contemporary with those of Marcellus in Rome, and of Aosta, if not earlier. It would be interesting to make a reconstructed model of it, and determine how much of the tufa was concealed by decorative work in marble incrustation of blocks and slabs. It certainly had a wealth of decorative statuary.

Still further east than Verona we reach the ultimate military route in Italy, that starting from Aquileia at the head of the Adriatic, and leading northward past the second member of this fourth Augustan duet, Emona on the upper Save, across the Julian Alps to Pannonia: this was the great military artery of communication with the Danube, and so an integral unit in the scheme of Augustan conquest. Aquileia was a city more than the equal of Verona. The poet Ausonius, not many years before its destruction by the hordes of Attila, sings of the fame of its port and its walls. He places it ninth among the cities of the Empire, surpassed in Italy at that time only by Rome and Milan. “Nona inter claras Aquileia cieberis urbes Itala ad Illyricos objecta colonia montes, moenibus et portu celeberrima.” It was the meeting or starting point of no less than six military highways. Though founded in 181 B.C. its importance was not fully developed until the conquest of Istria and Dalmatia and part of their hinterland had been completed by Octavian in and after 35 B.C., when it began to serve as a base for movements north-ward. But thus far no architectural remains of his time have come to light in either Aquileia or Emona, and I shall turn to other cities still further eastward in Istria and Dalmatia for the abundant traces of the great work which Augustus planned and carried out in this region as a sacred inheritance from Julius Caesar even before he had worked out the complicated scheme in northern Italy which we have been studying.