This splendid mosaic pavement, seems to be a fitting pendant to the, so called, Battle of Alexander at Pompeii. It represents scenes in the rural lives of the Egyptians, chiefly descriptive of their religious ceremonies, excellently treated as regards the grouping of the priests and priestesses, and the officiating attendants, of the warriors, fisher-folk, shepherded, and hunters who assist, and also as a presentment of Egyptian temples, country houses, and animals, all of which are admirably portrayed. It may be of later date than Silla, probably it belongs to the days of the Empire, possibly to Hadrian's reign. It was found in the ruins of the Temple of Fortune, where it had most likely decorated the floor of a recess or niche. The Barberini had it conveyed to their palace in Rome, but at the urgent petition of the municipality of Palestrina it was later on brought back to their town.
Ferdinand Gregorovius - About the Roman Campagna - 1856
The mosaic, now in the baronial palace, was discovered at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Prince Federico Cesi, the founder of the Accademia dei Lincei, first described it in 1614. The earliest colored copy was made soon after, at the expense of the Cavaliere Cassiano dal Pozzo, whose invaluable collection of archaeological drawings was bequeathed to the British Museum by the late Sir Augustus Franks. Cardinal Andrea Peretti, Bishop of Palestrina in 1625-1626, removed the floor to Rome, giving in exchange for it to the chapter of S. Agapito a few church vestments. In the mean time the principality of Palestrina having been sold by Francesco Colonna, on January 16, 1630, to Carlo Barberini, brother of Pope Urban VIII, for the sum of seven hundred and seventy-five thousand scudi drawn out of the coffers of the Holy See, and another brother, Francesco, having been made cardinal-bishop, the Peretti were compelled to restore the mosaic to its ancient position, where it has remained undisturbed for 213 years. Having been removed once more to Rome in 1852 to be submitted to a fresh restoration, it is now very decently exhibited in the hall of the baronial residence, to which the exquisite remains of the upper temple (Aedes Fortune) serve as foundations. (..) The mosaic undoubtedly represents, in a sketchy way, scenes of the lower middle and upper valley of the Nile, enlivened with scenes of divination by means of the flight of birds, of the buzzing of bees, of the crawling of snakes, and of the pecking of fowls.
Rodolfo Lanciani - Wanderings in the Roman Campagna - 1909
The fragments of the mosaic were assembled with the purpose of obtaining a meaningful and "nice to see" work of art; in the process some parts of the mosaic were lost and others were added.
But its most striking feature is the reproduction of twenty wild African beasts, with their names appended in Greek letters. Comparing the aspect and the names of these animals with the account given of them by Aelianus in his zoological treatise, ("De Animalium Natura"), and considering, furthermore, that the naturalist was a Praenestinian by birth, probably a priest of the goddess, and that he lived and wrote at the time of Hadrian, which is the date of the mosaic, we are inclined to call it an illustration-plate of the naturalist's text, or at least a composition inspired either by him directly or by the perusal of his treatise. Lanciani
Mosaic of the Nile: Lower Egypt during floods
There is scarcely any relic of ancient art which has been made the subject of so much learned controversy. Athanasius Kircher considered it to represent the vicissitudes of fortune; Cardinal Polignac, the journey of Alexander to the oracle of Jupiter Ammon; Cecconi and Volpi, events in the life of Sulla; Montfaucon, a panoramic sketch of the course of the Nile; Winckelmann, the meeting of Helen and Menelaus in Egypt; Chaupy, the shipping of wheat for the supply of Rome; Barthelemy, the journey of Hadrian to Elephantina; and Fea, the conquest of Egypt by Augustus. Lanciani
Archaeologists hold different views on the date of the mosaic which varies from the time of the Roman conquest of Egypt to the IIIrd century AD when the fashion for large coloured mosaics was at its apex.
Mosaic of the Nile: a possible depiction of the Canopus, a canal, and of the Temple to Serapis at Alexandria
Praeneste was chosen for its salubrity as a location for summer residences by emperors and wealthy members of the Roman society. Some archaeologists support the opinion that the Mosaic of the Nile was made at the time of Emperor Hadrian because it shows Egyptian monuments which the Emperor so greatly admired that he gave their names to parts of his villa at Tivoli, e.g. Canopus.
A large statue of Antinous was found in a Roman villa one mile south of the town and this has led to believe that it belonged to Emperor Hadrian.
The dead youth was enrolled amongst the gods. (..) The representations of his likeness in statues, busts, and bas-reliefs are innumerable (see a relief portraying Antinous as Silvanus). The one discovered by Gavin Hamilton in 1795 at Palestrina, reaches a degree of perfection, among full-sized statues. (..) In the Palestrina replica, Antinous is represented as Dionysus with the ivy wreath, the pine cone on the forehead, and the mystic cista on the plinth. (..) Emil Braun considers "this portrait of the wonderfully constituted youth - who has attained a greater personal celebrity than almost any other personage of pagan antiquity - as the most faithful and complete we possess. Every feature of the face is given with a sharpness proving that the master commissioned to execute so splendid a monument had confined himself strictly to the truth of nature". Lanciani
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Palestrina: fragments of an obelisk from Antro delle Sorti
Four fragments of an obelisk were found in 1791 (today in the Archaeological Museum of Naples) and two more in 1872 (today in Palestrina). Once the hieroglyphs of all the fragments were put together, it was possible to read the inscription, a text translated from the Latin, "To the Lord of Two Lands, Caesar Augustus Emperor, Titus Sextius Africanus dedicated". Scholars think the obelisk was made perhaps in the reign of Emperor Claudius, since one Titus Sextius Africanus was suffect consul in 59 AD. You may wish to see a page on the obelisks of Rome.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Palestrina: (left and right) twin altars dedicated to Pax and Securitas; (centre) altar dedicated to divinized Emperor Augustus
The twin altars are one of the first examples of the spreading of the cult of Augustus. The Emperor highlighted his success in ending the years of civil war and turmoil by erecting Ara Pacis Augustae, a grand altar to Peace in Rome. At Praeneste the local decuriones, magistrates in charge of the administration of the town, dedicated a second altar to Securitas, the goddess of security of the Roman Empire from external threats. After the death of the Emperor another altar with his portrait was added to the other two.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Palestrina: relief depicting a suckling wild boar and a detail of it
The relief was unearthed in 1962 by excavations at Via degli Arcioni, the street at the foot of the town. Its discovery was met with great interest by archaeologists because it was immediately linked to two other reliefs having the same size and a similar subject which were part of the collection of antiquities of the Grimani family in Venice. Cardinal Domenico Grimani (1461-1523) was known as a collector of antiquities, but there is no clear evidence that he personally acquired the reliefs and of when and where exactly they were found. In 1883 they were sold by the Grimani and in 1885 they were acquired by the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna.
Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna: "Grimani reliefs": (left) ewe with lamb; (right) lioness with cubs
The reliefs are slightly concave which suggests they were part of a monumental fountain; a fourth relief, perhaps depicting another domesticated animal, completed the series. The reliefs are dated late Ist century BC and similar to the altars to Pax and Securitas they are a celebration of peace and wealth. Their atmosphere is that which was chanted by Virgil in the Bucolics and the Georgics, two poems celebrating the happiness of a simple life in the countryside. A peculiar aspect of the reliefs is that perspective effects are obtained by blurring some parts of the scene, e.g. the stones framing the animals.
Museo Nazionale Romano: (left) Fasti Praenestini; (right) detail showing parts of the month of April and in particular of the festivities known as Robigalia (above), which consisted of a procession from Rome to a point outside the city, where a dog and a sheep were sacrificed to save the crops from blight (robigo, "wheat rust") and Floralia (below) after Flora, an ancient goddess of flowers and blossoming plants
Marcus Verrius Flaccus, a freedman, gained special fame by his method of teaching. For to stimulate the efforts of his pupils, he used to pit those of the same advancement against one another, not only setting the subject on which they were to write, but also offering a prize for the victor to carry off. This was some old book, either beautiful or rare. He was therefore chosen by Augustus as the tutor of his grandsons and he moved to the Palace with his whole school. (..) His statue stands at Praeneste in the upper part of the forum near the hemicycle, on which he exhibited the calendar which he had arranged and inscribed upon its marble walls.
Suetonius - On Grammarians: 17 - Loeb Edition
Fragments of the calendar were found at Palestrina in 1770 and in 1864. Other Fasti have been found in many locations of the Roman Empire: you may wish to see those of Veroli, which is not far from Palestrina, and of Coligny near Lyon; see also an altar with Menologium rusticum Colotianum, a farming calendar.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Palestrina: (left/centre) two sides of a chandelier portraying a muse and a bearded Dionysus; (right) marble leg of a table (Ist century AD - see similar ones at Pompeii)
The chandelier is dated late IInd century BC and it is thought to have been made in a workshop of Athens; its design is classified as Neo-Attic, a style following that of reliefs and statues of the Greek Archaic and Classical periods. It was first produced by a number of workshops at Athens, which began to specialize in it, producing works for purchase by Roman connoisseurs, and was taken up in Rome, probably by Greek artisans (see similar reliefs at Herculaneum and a chandelier which was found in Rome).
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Palestrina: (left) relief portraying a triumph of Emperor Trajan; (right) late IInd century AD funerary relief of a young participant in the "transvectio equitum", a yearly parade of the young men of the Roman equestrian class (see a statue from the Farnese collection which most likely portrays the same subject)
The relief of Trajan's triumph is part of the tomb of Quintus Fabius Postuminus, Praefectus Urbi (governor of Rome) in A.D. 112. It was discovered in 1967 and it was made after the death and divinization of the Emperor, who is portrayed on a larger scale than the other elements of the relief including his chariot. This does not occur or occurs only in a limited way in the many reliefs portraying Trajan in Colonna Traiana and is one of the first evidences of the development of techniques to represent the emperors as a divinity.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Palestrina: (left) Pedestal of a statue of Fortuna who is thanked for the safe return of Emperors Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and Commodus (erased) by Fortunatus, a slave (verna) of the imperial household; (centre) pedestal of a statue of T. Caesius Primus erected by Titus Caesius Taurinus, his son, and dedicated to Fortuna; a poem celebrates the deeds of the dead; (right) funerary inscription celebrating a practitioner by a friend of his; the upper part of the monument shows a folding surgical kit (see a similar one at Porto and a bronze surgical kit at Cologne)
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Palestrina: Small mosaic: the old man says: "She is really beautiful, by Olympic Jove", a very early example of comic; a detail of a geometric mosaic from Palestrina is shown in the image used as background for this page
Introductory page on Ferdinand Gregorovius
Next pages (in Gregorovius' walks): Cave, Genazzano, Olevano, Paliano and Anagni
Next page (in Giuseppe Vasi's Environs of Rome): Frascati
The Ernici Mountains: Ferentino; Alatri; Fiuggi (Anticoli di Campagna); Piglio and Acuto
The Volsci Mountains: Valmontone; Segni; Norma; Cori
On the Latin shores: Anzio; Nettuno and Torre Astura
Circe's Cape: Terracina; San Felice
The Orsini Castle in Bracciano
Subiaco, the oldest Benedictine monastery
Small towns near Subiaco: Cervara and Rocca Canterano; Trevi and Filettino.