Civic Continuity at Rome: An Example from the Colosseum

Most people visiting the Colosseum are rightly preoccupied with the magnificent building itself, and the gruesome stories that have made it so famous. Some of the arena’s other sights are easily overlooked, but just as interesting, however. Contemporary exhibits from the vast collections of the Italian archaeological superintendencies are housed on the upper levels (the next one will be on the Iliad), and there is a small museum with finds (several are late antique) that relate to the site and its surroundings.

My favourites are two rather crude, identical inscriptions placed by the main entry point to the arena proper. A third one was also found in the 16th century, but has since been lost. The statue bases commemorate restorations paid for by Decius Marius Venantius Basilius, who is known to have been consul in AD 484. It is thus a very interesting example of civic continuity at Rome, even after the traditional date of the fall of the western Roman Empire (476).

Colosseum inscription dated AD 484
Inscription set up in AD 484 in the Colosseum. Photo: TMK, March 2006.

The inscription can be translated as follows:

Decius Marius Venantius Basilius, high-ranking senator, prefect of Rome, patrician, ordinary consul, restored at his own expenses the arena and the podium which had been destroyed by a terrible earthquake.

On the other side of the stone is an earlier inscription commemorating the emperor Carinus (AD 283-285). Such re-use is typical of late antiquity. Even so, this consul definitely wanted to make an impression. With originally four such inscriptions with accompanying statues, one by each main entrace to the Colosseum, he would have been hard to miss.

Colosseum inscription dated AD 484
The second (identical) statue base. Photo: TMK, March 2006.

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