Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

darker ages, and the Romans, alone and unenvied, might have applied to their private or public use the remaining structures of antiquity, if, in their present form and situation, they had not been useless in a great measure to the city and its inhabitants.

The walls still described the old circumference, but the city had descended from the seven hills into the Campus Martius; and some of the noblest monuments, which had braved the injuries of time, were left in a desert, far remote from the habitations of mankind. The palaces of the senators were no longer adapted to the manners or fortunes of their indigent successors; the use of baths and porticoes was forgotten; in the sixth century, the games of the theatre, amphitheatre, and circus had been interrupted; some temples were devoted to the prevailing worship; but the Christian churches preferred the holy figure of the cross; and fashion, or reason, had distributed, after a peculiar model, the cells and offices of the cloister.

Under the ecclesiastical reign, the number of these pious foundations was enormously multiplied ; and the city was crowded with forty monasteries of men, twenty of women, and sixty chapters and colleges of canons and priests, who aggravated, instead of relieving, the depopulation of the tenth century. But, if the forms of ancient architecture were disregarded by a people insensible of their use and beauty, the plentiful materials were applied to every call of necessity or superstition ; till the fairest columns of the Ionic and Corinthian orders, the richest marbles of Paros and Numidia, were degraded, perhaps, to the support of a convent or—worse—a stable. The daily havoc which is perpetrated by the Turks in the cities of Greece and Asia may afford a melancholy example ; and in the gradual destruction of the monuments of Rome, Sixtus the Fifth may alone be excused for employing the stones of the Septizonium in the glorious edifice of St. Peter's.

A fragment, a ruin, howsoever mangled or profaned, may be viewed with pleasure and regret; but the greater part of the marble was deprived of substance, as well as of place and proportion : it was burnt to lime for the purpose of cement. Since the arrival of Poggius, the temple of Concord, and many capital structures, had vanished from his eyes; and an epigram of the same age expresses a just and pious fear that the continuance of this practice would finally annihilate all the monuments of antiquity. The smallness of their numbers was the sole check on the demands and depredations of the Romans. The imagination of Petrarch might create the presence of a mighty people ; but I hesitate to believe, that even in the fourteenth century they could be reduced to a contemptible list of 33,000 inhabitants. From that period to the reign of Leo the Tenth, if they multiplied to the amount of 85,000, the increase of citizens was, in some degree, pernicious to the ancient city.

IV. I have reserved for the last, the most potent and forcible cause of destruction, the domestic hostilities of the Romans themselves. Under the dominion of the Greek and French emperors, the peace of the city was disturbed by accidental, though frequent, seditions ; it is from the decline of the latter, from the beginning of the tenth century, that we may date the licentiousness of private war, which violated with impunity the laws of the Code and the Gospel, without respecting the majesty of the absent sovereign, or the presence and person of the bishop. In a dark period of five hundred years, Rome was perpetually afflicted by the sanguinary quarrels of the nobles and the people, the Guelphs and Ghibelines, the Colonna and Ursini. At such a time, when every quarrel was decided by the sword, and none could trust their lives or properties to the impotence of law, the powerful citizens were armed, for safety or offence against the domestic enemies, whom they feared or hated.

Except Venice alone, the same dangers and designs were common to all the free republics of Italy; and the nobles

usurped the prerogative of fortifying their houses, and erecting strong towers, that were capable of resisting a sudden attack. The cities were filled with these hostile edifices; and the example of Lucca, which contained 300 towers, and her law which confined their height to the measure of fourscore feet, may be extended with suitable latitude to the more opulent and populous states. The first step of the senator Brancaleone in the establishment of peace and justice, was to demolish (as we have already seen) 140 of the towers of Rome; and, in the last days of anarchy and discord, as late as the reign of Martin the Fifth, forty-four still stood in one of the thirteen or fourteen regions of the city.

To this mischievous purpose, the remains of antiquity were most readily adapted; the temples and arches afforded a broad and solid basis for the new structures of brick and stone; and we can name the modern turrets that were raised on the triumphal monuments of Julius Cæsar, Titus, and the Antonines. With some slight alterations, a theatre, an amphitheatre, a mausoleum, was transformed into a strong and spacious citadel. I need not repeat that the mole of Adrian has assumed the title and form of the castle of St. Angelo; the Septizonium of Severus was capable of standing against a royal army; the sepulchre of Metella has sunk under its "outworks ; the theatres of Pompey and Marcellus were occupied by the Savelli and Ursini families; and the rough fortress has been gradually softened to the splendour and elegance of an Italian palace. Even the churches were encompassed with arms and bulwarks, and the military engines on the roof of St. Peter's were the terror of the Vatican and the scandal of the Christian world.

Whatever is fortified will be attacked ; and whatever is attacked may be destroyed. Could the Romans have wrested from the popes the castle of St. Angelo, they had resolved, by a public decree, to annihilate that monument of servitude. Every building of defence was exposed to a siege ; and in every

siege the arts and engines of destruction were laboriously employed. After the death of Nicholas the Fourth, Rome, without a sovereign or a senate, was abandoned six months to the fury of civil war. “The houses" (says a cardinal and poet of the times) “ were crushed by the weight and velocity of enormous stones ; the walls were perforated by the strokes of the battering-ram ; the towers were involved in fire and smoke ; and the assailants were stimulated by rapine and revenge." The work was consummated by the tyranny of the laws; and the factions of Italy alternately exercised a blind and thoughtless vengeance on their adversaries, whose houses and castles they razed to the ground.

In comparing the days of foreign, with the ages of domestic hostility, we must pronounce that the latter have been far more ruinous to the city; and our opinion is confirmed by the evidence of Petrarch. “Behold” (says the laureate) “ the relics of Rome, the image of her pristine greatness! neither time, nor the Barbarian, can boast the merit of this stupendous destruction : it was perpetrated by her own citizens, by the most illustrious of her sons; and your ancestors" (he writes to a noble Annibaldi) “ have done with the battering-ram what the Punic hero could not accomplish with the sword.” The influence of the last two principles of decay must in some degree be multiplied by each other ; since the houses and towers, which were subverted by civil war, required a new and perpetual supply from the monuments of antiquity. · These general observations may be separately applied to the amphitheatre of Titus, which has obtained the name of the COLISEUM, either from its magnitude, or from Nero's colossal statue : an edifice which, had it been left to time and nature, might perhaps have claimed an almost eternal duration. The curious antiquaries, who have computed the numbers and seats, are disposed to believe, that above the upper row of stone steps, the amphitheatre was encircled and elevated with

several stages of wooden galleries, which were repeatedly consumed by fire, and restored by the emperors. Whatever was precious, or portable, or profane, the statues of gods and heroes, and the costly ornaments of sculpture, which were cast in brass, or overspread with leaves of silver and gold, became the first prey of conquest or fanaticism, of the avarice of the Barbarians or the Christians.

In the massy stones of the Coliseum many holes are discerned, and the two most probable conjectures represent the various accidents of its decay. These stones were connected by solid links of brass or iron, nor had the eye of rapine overlooked the value of the baser metals; the vacant space was converted into a fair or market, and the chasms were perforated or enlarged to receive the poles that supported the shops or tents of the mechanic trades.

Reduced to its naked majesty, the Flavian amphitheatre was contemplated with awe and admiration by the pilgrims of the North ; and their rude enthusiasm broke forth in a sublime proverbial expression, which is recorded in the eighth century, in the fragments of the venerable Bede: “As long as the Coliseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Coliseum falls, Rome will fall; when Rome falls, the world will fall."

In the modern system of war, a situation commanded by three hills would not be chosen for a fortress; but the strength of the walls and arches could resist the engines of assault; a numerous garrison might be lodged in the enclosure; and while one faction occupied the Vatican and the Capitol, the other was intrenched in the Lateran and the Coliseum.

The abolition at Rome of the ancient games must be understood with some latitude; and the carnival sports of the Testacean mount and the Circus Agonalis, were regulated by the law or custom of the city. The senator presided with dignity and pomp to adjudge and distribute the prizes, the gold ring, or the pallium, as it was styled, of cloth or silk. A

« ПредишнаНапред »