Archaeologists have discovered a rare stone delineating the city limits of ancient Rome that dates from the age of Emperor Claudius in 49 A.D. and was found during excavations for a new sewage system.
Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi was on hand for the unveiling Friday of the pomerial stone, a huge slab of travertine that was used as a sacred, military and political perimeter marking the edge of the city proper with Rome’s outer territory.
It was found June 17 during excavations for a rerouted sewer under the recently restored mausoleum of Emperor Augustus, right off the central Via del Corso in Rome’s historic center.
In ancient Rome, the area of the pomerium was a consecrated piece of land along the city walls, where it was forbidden to farm, live or build and through which it was forbidden to enter with weapons.
At a press conference in the Ara Pacis museum near the mausoleum, Claudio Parisi Presicce, director of the Archaeological Museums of Rome, said the stone had both civic and symbolic meaning.
“The founding act of the city of Rome starts from the realization of this ’pomerium,‴ he said of the consecrated area. The stone features an inscription that allowed archaeologists to date it to Claudius and the expansion of the pomerium in 49 A.D., which established Rome’s new city limits.
Raggi noted that only 10 other stones of this kind had been discovered in Rome, the last one 100 years ago.
“Rome never ceases to amaze and always shows off its new treasures,” she said.
The stone will be on display at the Ara Pacis museum, the Richard Meier-designed home of a 1st century altar until the Augustus museum opens.
While border stones are well known to scholars, this one is noteworthy for being discovered in situ. It was discovered during excavations for a new sewer system underneath the recently renovated Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome’s historic city center. In antiquity the stones marked the pomerium, the sacred boundary that soldiers were forbidden to cross with weapons. At a press conference, Claudio Parisi Presicce, director of the Archaeological Museums of Rome, said that, “The founding act of the city of Rome starts from the realization of this ‘pomerium.’’ The stones, in other words, are part of what founded and defined Rome. The enlargement of the pomerium in 49 A.D. had some practical effects on the city. The 139 border stones laid by Claudius now incorporated the Avertine hill, which previously lay inside of the city walls but outside of the pomerium, with the result of reconstituting Rome as the seven hilled city that we know today.
Dr. Lisa Marie Mignone, a research affiliate at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at NYU, and author of an important study of the border stones published in Historia, told The Daily Beast that “[Claudius’s] goal was not to increase the civic space of Rome, so much as to celebrate his expansion of the Roman Empire itself.” All the stones that marked the new boundary bear the same inscription, which states that Claudius (and his many official titles) “extended and redefined the pomerium because he had increased the boundaries of the Roman people.” The expansion of the boundary matched the expansion of the empire. Claudius, Mignone said, had overseen the annexing of several provinces in the east but his major accomplishment was the capture of Britain. Despite the large celebratory procession (known as Triumph) and arch he was granted in the city as a result, these conquests were hundreds of miles away. Extending the pomerium was “a sacral, topographical, and physical way to showcase at Rome his renewed expansion of the boundaries of the Roman Empire.” It was a way of marking his control over both foreign, domestic, civic, and sacred space.