The Beauty of Numbers

There is nothing quike like the magnificence of ancient Rome as expressed in numbers. We are lucky enough to have preserved such accounts in the so-called regionary catalogues that cover the city district by district. Two of these, the Notitia regionum and the Curiosum urbis Romae (henceforth N and C respectively) are especially far-reaching in their detail. Curiously, a version of this catalogue is preserved in Zachariah of Mytilene’s late 5th/early 6th century Church History in a list of ‘objects and buildings in the city of Rome’ (book 10, chapter 16), only preserved in Syriac and presented here in summary form:

24 churches of the blessed Apostles
2 great basilicae
324 spacious streets
2 great capitols
80 golden gods
64 ivory gods [TMK: N & C have 74 – this number must be an error of the copier]
46,603 insulae [TMK: N & C mention only 46,602!]
1797 houses of magnates [TMK: N and C have 1790 domus]
1352 reservoirs
274 bakers [TMK: N and C give 254 – undoutedly, another error of the copy process]
5000 cemeteries
31 great marble pedistals (baseis)
3785 bronze statues of kings and magistrates
25 bronze statues of Abraham, Sarah and other biblical kings
2 colossal statues (colossi)
2 ‘columns of shells’ (columnae coclides) [Hamilton & Brooks comment that this must be a misunderstanding, N & C have columns with spiral reliefs]
2 circuses
2 + 1 theatres
4 ‘beth ulde’ = ludi [TMK: gladiatorial training camps]
11 ‘imfiya’ = nymphaea [TMK: 15 in N and C]
22 great and mighty bronze horses
926 baths [TMK: N & C have 856]
4 ‘orbilikon’ = cohortes vigilum [TMK: fire stations]
14 ‘tinon enkofitoriyon’
2 ‘parenamabole’ of special bronze horses
45 ‘sistre’
2300 public oil warehouses
291 prisons or aspoke [TMK: this could be another misunderstanding, N & C mention 290 horrea, i.e. warehouses]
673 ’emparkhe’ = vicomagistri, 7 commanders [TMK: police force]
37 gates
Circumference of the city: 216.036 feet = 40 miles
Diameter from east to west: 12 miles
Diameter from north to south: 12 miles

It is a curious list. Some parts are clearly taken directly from the N and C, while others must have been added from another source. Sloppy copying is also evident throughout. A few things have been ‘edited’ out, e.g. brothels (45 in N & C), latrines (144 in N & C) and public baths (11 in N & C), which is understandable from the viewpoint that it was copied by a Christian. Temples are not mentioned either, which again can be explained by the fact that all forms of public cult were outlawed in 395. However, some of the temples are likely to still have been in use, more or less clandestinely. They were under all circumstances still part of the cityscape.

The Syriac Chronicle known as that of Zachariah of Mitylene, translated into English by F.J. Hamilton and E.W. Brooks. 1899. London: Methuen & Co. Online here.

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