Column of Marcus Aurelius Rome

The Column of Marcus Aurelius (Colonna di Marco Aurelio) is located in the centre of the Piazza Colonna along the Via del Corso shopping street in the heart of Rome. The reliefs on the column of honour depict some scenes from the emperor’s military exploits. The statue on the column depicts Saint Paul.

Column of Marcus Aurelius Rome

History

Construction of the Column of Marcus Aurelius’ probably started in the year 176, after the emperor’s victories along the Danube. When Marcus Aurelius died in 180, the work was not yet completed. It was finally completed between 187 and 192 by Commodus, the emperor’s son and successor.

Originally the column was topped by a statue of Marcus Aurelius himself. In 1589, the emperor was replaced by Saint Paul, after Pope Sixtus V had had the monument restored by Domenico Fontana. During the restoration, the frieze adorning the pedestal was replaced with an inscription, erroneously indicating that the column was dedicated to Emperor Antonino Pio, the father and predecessor of Marcus Aurelius.

Description

Column of Marcus Aurelius (detail)
Detail

Including its pedestal, the column stands about 42 metres tall. This is two metres taller than Trajan’s Column, which served as an example. It consists of 19 cylindrical blocks of marble from Luni (in present-day Liguria).

However, the style of the reliefs is somewhat more sober. They also depict fewer events. The frieze winds around the column only 21 times. (On Trajan’s Column this was 23 times).

When the emperor himself is portrayed, it is always in the foreground. Scenes on the various battlefields are interspersed with troop movements. It is generally assumed that approximately 115 events are depicted. “Approximately”, as different historians also have different interpretations.

The first battles depicted took place between 171 and 173 against some Germanic tribes including a people called the Marcomanni. A second campaign lasted from 174 to 175 and was fought against the Quadi (a people also of Germanic origin) and the Sarmatians (originally a Persian people, but who had moved west). The events are not depicted in chronological order.

Besides scenes based on true events, there is also room for mythology. One of the scenes shows Zeus, who, depicted as a river, rescues the troops when they are surrounded by the Quadi.

Column of Marcus Aurelius Rome

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