CHAPTER VII. ROME: THE IMPERIAL CITY
In the year 64 the capital of the Roman Empire was, it is true, a large and splendid city and an "epitome of the world," but it had not yet reached either its zenith of splendour or its maximum, of size. Many of the largest and most sumptuous structures of which we possess the records, and in most cases the ruins, were not yet built or even contemplated. There was no Colosseum; there were no Baths of Trajan, Caracalla, or Diocletian. The Column of Trajan, still soaring in the Foro Traiano, and of Marcus Aurelius, now so conspicuous in the Piazza Colonna, are of a later date. So also are the three great triumphal arches which are still standing - those of Titus, Severus, and Constantine. The Mausoleum of Hadrian, now stripped of its outward magnificence of marble and sculpture, and known as the Castle of Sant' Angelo, was not built for two generations. On the Palatine Hill the palaces of the Caesars were wide and lofty, but not more than half so spacious and imposing as they became by the end of the following century.
Down in the Forum there stood no Basilica of Constantine; the place of several later temples and shrines was occupied by edifices of less dignity; many columns and statues, and much ornament of gilt or marble, were still to come. Beside and beyond the two embellished public places which had been added to the public comfort and convenience by Julius Caesar and Augustus, and which were known respectively as the Julian and the Augustan Forum, lay only the houses of citizens or streets of shops. Up from the Forum towards the later Arch of Titus and the Colosseum, the "Upper Sacred Way" ran as but a narrow road between buildings for the most part of ordinary character, principally shops catering for luxury. It was later by two centuries and a half that this street was converted into a broad avenue forming a worthy approach to the "hub of the universe."
In the ruins which lie on the Palatine Hill, or along the valley of the Forum below, or up the Sacred Slope towards the Colosseum, or across where the streets wind round from the "Roman" Forum through the Forum of Trajan to the Corso, the modern visitor to the Eternal City does not behold simply the remnants of the temples, halls, squares, and arches which actually existed in the days of Nero. We must not say of these places that St. Paul trod the very paving-stones or gazed on the very walls which we now find in their worn and broken state. In a few cases it may be so; in most it is certainly otherwise. Either the building was not there, or what we now behold is part of a reconstruction or an enlargement. Fire, flood, earthquake and the wear and tear of time called for many a rebuilding or restoration. In the very year upon which we have fixed, there swept over all this part of the city perhaps the most disastrous fire that it ever experienced. Another only a little less destructive occurred in A.D. 283, and when we say that the remains of the glory of ancient Rome are still visible in the excavated Forum, we must recognise that the glory which they represent is the glory of the place as restored after that year.
This does not mean that the general plan and appearance were markedly different under Nero, nor that there was any lack of magnificence; it is only meant by way of caution against a frequent misconception.
If there was no Arch of Severus in the Forum, there was an Arch of Augustus, near the Temple of Castor, surmounted by his statue in the four-horsed chariot of the conqueror, and there was an Arch of Tiberius near the temple of Saturn. If to the north there was as yet no bridge or "castle" of Sant' Angelo to celebrate the dead Hadrian, there was, on the near side of the Tiber, not far from the modern Piazza del Popolo, a splendid Mausoleum of the deified Augustus and his family. In the chief Forum the Temples of Vesta, of Julius Caesar, of Castor, Saturn, and Concord existed under Nero in the same spots and in much the same style as they did through all the remainder of Roman history. Above them towered the Capitoline Hill, with its resplendent Temple of Jupiter on the one summit and its great shrine of Juno on the other. Beyond, in the "Field of Mars" - the site of the densest part of modern Rome - was an almost continuous cluster of public buildings and resorts, of theatres, temples - including the first form of that incomparable edifice, the Pantheon, the only building of ancient Rome which still remains practically whole - of baths, porticoes, and enclosed promenades.
Away in the opposite direction stretched the Appian Way, and in the year 64 the beautiful tomb of Caecilia Metella, which is so familiar in picture, stood as perhaps the noblest among the multitude of patrician tombs. The Apostle Paul certainly passed close by it on his way from Puteoli. The aqueduct, of which so many arches still meet the eye as you cross the Campagna, was the work of Nero's predecessor, Claudius, and it still bears his name - the Aqua Claudia. Where now you go out of the gate to St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls there stood - more free and visible than now - that pyramid of Cestius, close to whose shadow lie the graves of the English Shelley and Keats. There was no gate at this spot in the days of Nero, for the great wall, of which so many portions - more or less restored - are still conspicuous, had no existence till a much later date, when the empire was already tottering to its fall, and when Aurelian was driven to recognise that the heart of the empire, after remaining secure for centuries, must at last look to be assailed. There was, it is true, an inner wall of ancient date (to be seen upon the plan) which had enclosed the "Seven Hills" before Rome was mistress of more than her own small environment. But the city had long ago overflowed this boundary, and the newer quarters lay as open to the country as do our own modern cities.