Chapter IV - Pantheon

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Pantheon, or College of the Augustales, excavated in the years 1821-1822. This edifice, which is called on the spot the Pantheon, for no other reason than that twelve pedestals were found in its centre, is one of which the use is the least evident of any at Pompeii.

The plan, as may be seen by a reference to the plate, is, as nearly as possible, similar to that of the building miscalled the Temple of Serapis at Pozzuoli, but which, by the more recent excavations, is proved to contain the baths or thermae of Puteoli, with their appropriate medicinal spring, now cleared and applied to its original use.

In each of these edifices we find an open court, with its colonnades and little chambers, and, in each, we have a circular or polygonal tholos in the centre, corresponding with that which Pausanias describes at Epidauros as the place where patients waited till they could enter the bath.

In each we find, exactly in the same relative situation, a temple or building evidently more sacred than the porticos ; but these coincidences only serve to prove, that the convenience of such a disposition of the apartments of public buildings was the motive for its frequent adoption in places serving for the union of any great concourse of people.

Signor Carlo Bonucci, in his work printed at Naples in the year 1826, has called a part of this edifice the Temple of Augustus, and considers the remainder as the scene of the sacred banquet of the Augustales ; and there seems no reason to doubt this theory, except the difficulty of finding so large a piece of ground, in the centre of a city already built, for the erection of such a fabric, and for such a purpose, at so late a period. Yet Vitruvius, cited by Signor Bonucci, gives such a situation for the Temple of Augustus.

The Augustales were highly honoured, as we are informed by Vegetius, being chosen by Augustus, the founder of the order, to lead the troops in battle, and they seem to have presided at the feasts and games called Augustalia, in honour of that deified emperor.

Tacitus has given some accounts of the institution, and Lipsius has added almost every thing else that was known of the Augustales, till the numerous inscriptions at Pompeii proved that they were of great consequence in that city, though neither their office nor their antiquity is likely to conciliate the respect of the moderns, or give any interest to their history. They seem, by one inscription, to have been six in number at Pompeii. It appears, however, that the Augustales were possessed of funds which supplied them with the means of feasting, and inviting their fellow-citizens to partake in the banquet, for which purpose the building now called the Pantheon was so well calculated, that, whether belonging to a particular order or the common property of all the inhabitants of Pompeii, it may be safely considered as a place of feasting or carousal under the protection of some deity, who, from his more elevated sacellum, was supposed to overlook and patronize the banquet. That such was the destination of this edifice, and that it differed but little in its uses from that which the Greeks called Lesche, and the modern Italians a trattoria and coffee-house, seems to be rendered more probable by many of its internal decorations ; while its proximity to the Forum, the chief resort of the inhabitants of the city, would point out this situation as the most eligible for a place of conversation and refreshment.

Pausanias, in his account of Delphi, describes a building called Lesche, which, he says, was a place of meeting and conversation common in many of the more ancient cities of Greece, where, says Harpocration, citing Cleanthes, the Lesche was sacred to Apollo. In that was a temple, as in this at Pompeii, and the walls were covered with paintings, some of which represented the very personages repeated on the walls of our Pantheon.

The Lesche of Lacedaemon was even called Poikilos or painted ; and as most of the smaller temples had little light, these pictures must, like those of Pompeii, have been disposed on the walls of the portico or peribolus.

The Lesche of Delphi, among other historical paintings, had many Homeric subjects. Ulysses, Ariadne, Theseus, Penelope, Phaedra, Bacchus, and Aethra, were among the personages represented there, and we find many of these on the walls of the Pompeian edifice, with other scenes taken from Italian history.

It must be confessed that this coincidence of ornament proves little more than that the plans and decorations of many public buildings were not very dissimilar, as a portico, surrounding a court with a more sacred portion at one extremity, would be the characteristic of the greater number of them.

That feasting, however, was the principal motive for assembling in the porticos of Pompeii may be presumed from the subjects of many of the smaller paintings. The street which runs along the north side of the Pantheon from the Temple of Jupiter has been called that of dried fruits, from the number of figs, raisins, chestnuts, and plums, fruits in glass vases, lentils, hempseed, and other objects of the same kind, found in the shops. Bread, scales, money, and moulds for pastry were among the discoveries ; and a bronze statue of Fame, of small size and fine work, with golden armlets.

We find at the northern entrance, which has on a pilaster the name CELSVM, and near which was found a box containing an engraved stone set in a gold ring, with 41 silver medals and 1036 brass coins, Cupids employed in making Bread, or driving the ass, crowned with a wreath, that brought the flour. On the opposite side they are employed in making garlands for the guests. On the wall at the southern entrance is painted a hatchet for cutting the meat, while hams, boars' heads, fish, and other viands compose the picture. In other places we find geese, turkeys, vases full of eggs, fowls and game ready plucked for roasting, oxen and sheep, dishes of fruit, and a cornucopia poured out, with a variety of amphora for holding wine, and every other sort of accessory for the banquet.

To the evidence of the pictures may be added that of a drain or sink near the tholos or dodecagon, in the centre of the court, which was found obstructed with bones of fish and other indications of the remains of articles of food. A general idea of the present state of the tholos, the court, and the portico may be obtained by a reference to plate XIII.

The grand entrance from the Forum is from the portico north of the hall of the Decurions, and has two doors, between which statue, perhaps of the emperor, has been placed under a pediment supported by two Corinthian columns of marble not ten inches in diameter, the capitals of which have the Roman eagles in the foliage, probably in honour of the imperial portrait. It is possible that a small space open to the sky existed between these doors and the roof of the portico surrounding the Forum.

These doors do not exactly correspond with the centre of the interior portico, though the reason for this defect is not apparent. Near this entrance ninety-three brass coins were found at the excavation. On the left of the entrance the wall, with its paintings, has been remarkably well preserved, and, when it was fresh, nothing could exceed the beauty of the colouring, or the elegant effect produced by the contrast of its many vivid tints with the large black panels on which the principal pictures are painted. Though a roof has been placed over it, no idea can be now formed of the splendour of its appearance at the moment of excavation. It is in vain that one of that sort of architectural openings between the black panels is attempted to be given in plate XIV, the view of the entire wall only could present any adequate idea of the beauty of the decorations, and, in the size of this work, it was impossible to crowd so many minute objects, with any degree of distinctness.

Plate 15

Plate 16

Plate 17

It is to be understood that the panels on each side are of considerable extent, and that, in their centres, the beautiful paintings of Ulysses and Penelope, plate XV, Aethra and Theseus, plate XVI, and the Muse, plate XVII, are placed. These panels are, at intervals, separated by various architectural compositions, through the openings of which are seen other buildings. Along the whole runs a sort of podium or base, generally of a yellow colour and highly ornamented, in which are compartments with figures, one of which, a female, has been selected for the base in plate XIV, with a lyre, as more elegant than that which happeras to be placed there in the original, which is also much defaced. The drawing from which this figure was reduced for the work was made by M. Zahn, Architectural Painter to the Elector of Ilesse Cassel, an indefatigable and exact artist, who will contribute much to the embellishment of his native country on his return, and who kindly permitted the Author to copy and publish his picture.

The picture of Theseus regaining the sword of his father Aegaeus, by the advice of his mother Aethra, who showed him the rock under which the weapon lay concealed, has been selected for plate XVI, and that of Ulysses as a mendicant questioned by Penelope is given in plate XV. That of a Muse, probably Thalia from the mask in her lap, also from the panels of this portico, has been chosen for plate XVII.

All subjects mentioned by poets or historians have a value as conveying to our senses the conception which the ancients themselves had formed of circumstances, with which they were more intimately connected than ourselves. The work of Millin, aided by the treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum, may probably, in time, enable us to produce editions of the classics illustrated by ancient art. It may be necessary to add, that none of these pictures have that strong effect of light and shadow which is the characteristic of modern painting, and must have been the invention of a nation which lived more in the house than the Greeks and Romans. Though the pictures are shaded, it is only to a depth that might exist in the open air. In plate XV, Ulysses has a yellow robe or chlamys, under which he wears a white tunic. Penelope has a white veil and a violet-coloured robe, and, in her left hand, the implements of spinning.

The Penelope and Thalia have been published by Signor Nicolini, and Aethra by Signor Bonucci at Naples.

That this edifice was intended for a great number of people may be proved by the very considerable depth of the porticos, being twenty-four feet on the western side, which must have been covered by timber, and sloped inwards to the court, where a broad channel received the water from the roof. It is possible that the southern, western, and northern sides only had porticos, and that the eastern was left open toward the temple to admit light. The site of the twelve columns on the north and south, and those on the west, only eight in number, is very visible on the step which supported them. The step on the east may possibly have been replaced by the excavators if found imperfect, which is asserted.

On the south is a line of eleven chambers, of small dimensions, the twelfth division serving for an entrance, by several steps, from a narrow alley. Their size is about ten feet by eight. Some are inclined to imagine that these were the lodgings of the Augustales, who had the care of the place, but they do not appear to admit of privacy, and these chambers have every appearance of having served for separate repasts of small parties. They are all painted in red panels. Several marbles were found marked with large Roman numerals, but, being only one foot asunder, they are too near to each other to have served as numbers to the little apartments : XI. X. VIII. These fragments evidently formed part of a small frieze and architrave.

Above this range of cells, on the south side, has been a second story, as is evident from the beams which supported the upper floor, and the painted walls of the higher rooms. It is not easy to discover how these apartments were approached, unless by an external staircase, no stairs being seen at present in the interior of the building, but it seems evident that a long and narrow gallery, supported on the piers which divided the cells, must have been the only method of communication. This gallery was under the portico, and must have resembled that in a similar situation in the corridor of the theatre commonly called the Soldiers' quarters. These upper rooms were probably called coenacula which, according to Festus, were accessible by stairs. «Coenacula dicuntur ad quae scalis ascenditur». Apuleius mentions an upper coenaculum, by which he implies the common existence of the lower. In these rooms were low circular tables of fir or maple with three legs. On some occasions tables of great price were used, made of citron wood, or covered with plates of silver, and having legs of ivory. Mention is also made of mensae monopodiae, or tables with one foot ; and it is curious that the Greeks used no tablecloth like their descendants at present, while the great Romans indulged in draperies of wool or silk embroidered or striped with gold and purple. This, however, was not in fashion previously to the emperors. Guests brought their own napkins to dinner at private houses ; but as their slaves made it a common practice to steal what they could wrap up in them on retiring, the host at length supplied napkins to his friends. Guests came in white or gay dresses, the room was sprinkled with perfumes, they mounted by steps to a lofty triclinium, sometimes inlaid with ivory, bronze, and shells, or mother-of-pearl, and reposed on soft mattresses covered with costly drapery. Their hands and feet were newly washed, and the latter sometimes fitted with slippers. Dinner was preceded by oysters, eggs, asparagus, lettuce, onions, figs, and mulsum of wine mixed with honey to give an appetite. Such an extravagant banquet as must follow is the only one likely to be left on record. In the coenacula of Pompeii there was not space sufficient for those who were not content to sit at the table with their backs to the wall. Ladies, indeed, always sat at table till the time of the Caesars ; and the recumbent posture, derived through the Greeks from Asia, could only have been adopted a little previously to that period.

The open court is paved with a species of hard cement in which pebbles have been set, and, in the centre of it, is placed a tholos or dodecagonal building having no walls, but consisting, originally, merely in a roof supported by twelve piers. It was paved with white marble, and, from the situation and substance of the piers, it seems probable the roof consisted of light timbers meeting in an apex in the centre, and with projecting eaves. The roof of the tholos at Puteoli was supported by marble columns.

The court being a parallelogram, and the tholos of such a form that its angles might be inscribed in a circle, its distance from the lateral porticos was only four feet. In the centre may have been some sort of a support to the roof, but no traces of it remain. The excavators related that a hand holding a globe was found in this spot - certainly it was discovered in some part of the building. Some have imagined a statue in the centre.

At the north-eastern angle of the court is observed a singular projection frorn the wall of the building, which has been imagined a place for musicians or for distributing wines and liquors, and a sort of bar for the receipt of money. Its use is not easily understood. Beyond this, and forming the angle of the building, is an apartment or enclosure about thirty-five feet in length, and nearly of the same breadth, decorated with many now defaced paintings and panels, and, among other subjects, that of sea-horses touched with great spirit.

Here is also a sacellum which has had its statue and its altar ; and it does not seem impossible that the means of cooking for men, or of offering burnt sacrifices to the Gods, were afforded by elevated hearths yet found in this quarter. A Latin author says «Culina prope templa erant in quibus dapes funerum parabantur». There were kitchens near temples in which funereal repasts were prepared. If that were the case, the place was either open, or only partially covered by a roof, so that the smoke might escape. The walls are decorated with sea-horses and griffins, dogs hunting stags, and a lioness hunting two bulls. The central picture is defaced. Many Cupids appear on these walls, with and without wings, and a boy is seen feeding an eagle.

The centre of the eastern side was occupied by the temple, while the other angle, in a space nearly corresponding with that last mentioned, presents objects the uses of which it is equally difficult to ascertain. A sort of table here runs round three sides of the apartment, about three feet wide, at the distance of about three feetfrom the northern, as much from the eastern, and nine from the southern wall, leaving an unoccupied space in the centre of about thirty feet.

The table is divided in the middle of the eastern side by a narrow passage, and inclines from the walls toward the centre, while a channel runs under it calculated to receive whatever fell from its sloping surface.

This channel runs through an aperture under the table on the south side by which the water or blood was carried off. Had this table or bench of the height of an ordinary table sloped to the other side, it might certainly have been supposed, though too narrow, a sort of triclinium, or the elevation on which cushions or beds were laid for a banquet ; but, from the proximity of the wall, it is only on the south side that tables could be placed, and the head must necessarily have been higher than the feet. The other benches, or triclinia, would have been useless according to this theory, which must consequently be abandoned. It is therefore probable that the table has been used for cutting up the victims for the Gods, or for carving different viands for the feast, or possibly for both purposes, and the slope might have been calculated for the better exposition of whatever was sold or offered. The whole being coloured with red paint gives an air of probability to this conjecture.

It is impossible, however, to observe the whole without being strongly reminded of the tables of refreshments at a modern entertainment, which are often placed round three sides of the room, and afford, as these may have done at Pompeii, every species of warm and iced beverage, as well as a variety of viands and sweetmeats. It is perhaps not generally known that snow was used for cooling water by the ancients, much in the same manner as among ourselves, and was sold in Rome as it is at present, as we learn from Pliny, Varro, and Suetonius. In the time of Seneca snow from the mountains was not only sold in ice-shops, but hawked about the streets of Rome. We have an account of snow preserved for summer use fifty years before the age of Alexander ; but the Greeks, as Athenaeus says, often cooled their water by evaporation, keeping boys all night employed in moistening jars for that purpose.

The only remaining picture in this quarter is that of Acca Laurentia with Romulus and Remus. The introduction of that personage in this place was probably only in compliment to the emperor as the representative of the Julian family. This space, if covered in part, must have had roofs hanging from and supported by the walls on three sides, for the whole could not easily have been protected from the weather.

We now come to the temple which occupies the central division on the eastern side of the edifice. Plate XVIII represents this part of the building. It is approached by a flight of steps, constructed in what may be termed the pronaos, and which may be best understood by reference to the plan.

It is not impossible that this pronaos may have been entered under a wide arch, rising from the ante, which return sufficiently in front to admit of two Corinthian pilasters and a painted panel between them on each side, and were by these rendered capable of supporting the weight.

On the south wall of this pronaos is painted a sedent figure which some have taken for the emperor. It seems, however, a female with a sort of Bacchic thyrsus in one hand, and a dish of fruits in the other, neither of which attributes appears applicable either to the emperor or the Genius of Rome. Another figure may be Mars, or a hero with a shield.

It is to be supposed that the statue of Augustus once stood on the pedestal at the extremity opposite the entrance, as one hand of a figure grasping a globe was found near the spot.

A statue, supposed of Livia, and one of Drusus, stood, at the time of the excavation, in the niches on the right and left ; two other niches were not yet filled. The whole cell is about twenty feet in length.

The walls were probably painted, but no traces of the colour remain.

As a temple, the building had little merit either in regard to magnitude, architecture, or materials ; but the whole edifice, now vulgarly called the Pantheon, was of considerable importance in a city like Pompeii, being at least 150 feet in length and above 90 in width ; and, whether dedicated to feasting in honour of the emperor, or to the daily resort of the citizens, it affords abundant proofs that, under one pretence or another, it was appropriated to the pleasures of the banquet.

Opportunities and occasions were not wanting to render such a building necessary.

Marcellus Donatus, who writes on the subject, gives three principal causes for a public coenatio. An epulum or visceratio at a great funeral, a public sacrifice, or a feast in honour or commemoration of any fortunate event.

It is commonly imagined that the festivals of the ancients were exclusively attended by males. The Romans, however, certainly admitted females in festive meetings, but did not permit them the enjoyment of wine. Aulus Gellius (X, 23), says the Roman women were sometimes obliged to kiss their relations, that the latter might detect them if they had transgressed this law.

The Greeks, however, did not admit females at feasts, except among near relations ; but, on the other hand, they were not prohibited from a moderate use of the gifts of Bacchus.

Bonucci says that near the great entrance of this building was found the fragment of an inscription with these characters :


Had the whole of the inscription remained, it is probable the nature of the edifice, commonly called on the spot the Pantheon, would have been determined beyond dispute.

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