New from ca. 160 CE: Dedicatory inscription of imperial freedman’s temple to Hercules hides in plain sight at Casino Aurora

Rediscovered: the inscription AE 1907, 125, integrated into garden fountain at the entrance of the Casino Aurora. Courtesy of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

A new study by ADBL head T. Corey Brennan in the St Petersburg-based journal Hyperboreus republishes an inscribed architrave/frieze that was found in northern Lazio on Boncompagni Ludovisi property at the turn of the last century, duly reported at the time (see L’Année epigraphique 1907, 125), and then stored away.

After World War I the head of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family gave over the relevant property—named Tor Mancina—to the Istituto sperimentale zootecnico di Roma (today’s CRA-PCM, which remains an important agricultural research center). So what happened to the architrave and its inscription? As Brennan discovered, for more than ninety years it has been hiding in plain sight at their Casino Aurora in Rome—repurposed as the face of perhaps the world’s most elegant trough for watering horses.

The context for the garden fountain; note Boncompagni dragon (and hence carved before the union of the Boncompagni and Ludovisi families in 1681?) positioned above in brick wall. The ensemble probably dates to ca. 1926. Courtesy of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

There is nothing mysterious about the origin and purpose of the architrave itself. The marble piece—originally about 12 feet long—formed the focal point of a small temple to Hercules constructed by Publius Aelius Hieron, imperial freedman and ab admissione (head of presentations) of the Roman emperor Hadrian (reigned 117-138). Probably around the middle of the second century CE, Hieron set up that temple at his villa along a main road in the territory of ancient Nomentum near modern Monterotondo in northern Lazio.

Site of Monterotondo in northern Lazio. Credit: Google Maps

The Boncompagni Ludovisi have an important connection to Monterotondo. In 1814 Luigi Boncompagni Ludovisi (1767-1841, Prince of Piombino from 1805) purchased the Ducato of Monterotondo from the Del Grillo family; his fourth great-grandson, Nicolo’ Boncompagni Ludovisi, the Prince of Piombino, is accordingly the 6th Duke of Monterotondo.

The latter stages of the Italian war for unification threw the family title to Monterotondo into high relief. In the preliminaries to the battle of Monterotondo (25 October 1867) Prince Luigi’s grandson Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913) offered the Boncompagni Ludovisi palace in that town to Garibaldi to serve as his headquarters. Since 1890 that palace has served as the administrative seat for the government of Monterotondo.

Detail of P. Aelius Hieron inscription. The text in full reads: HERCVLI SACRVM / P AELIVS HIERON AVG LIB AB ADMISSIO[—]. Courtesy of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

But back to the imperial freedman P. Aelius Hieron. After the Boncompagni Ludovisi found his inscribed architrave near Monterotondo on their Tor Mancina estate, they moved the piece to Rome to their Casino Aurora. The date of the actual transfer remains hazy. What is certain is that Prince Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi (1886-1955, Prince of Piombino from 1911) incorporated the piece by 1926 in a private garden fountain just within the gate of the Via Lombardia entrance to the Casino Aurora, where it has since escaped notice—though it is reasonably visible from the street.

Basic (indeed extremely basic) reconstruction of approximate original position of inscribed architrave

The rediscovery of the architrave/frieze with its dedicatory inscription allows resumed speculation about the financial means and ideology of its dedicator, P. Aelius Hieron. As it happens, the man is technically one of the most senior imperial freedmen known from the era of Hadrian, or for that matter his successor Antoninus Pius (138-161). There’s a lot more to be said: you can read the entire article (which forms part of a 90th birthday Festschrift for ancient historian Christian Habicht) in .pdf form here.

Oh, and by the way: today (9 August 2017) marks precisely the 1900th anniversary of the date when Hadrian learned of his adoption by Trajan (9 August 117), and 11 August the beginning of his 21 year reign. No one is celebrating these milestones with more knowledge, skill and verve than Carole Raddato, who with her amazing HADRIAN 1900 project aims “to follow Hadrian’s journeys according to the year they were undertaken”—from 2017 through 2038!

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