THE APPIAN WAY

Beyond the church of Sts. Nereus and Achilles, on the opposite side, where the ground rises thirty or forty feet above the level of the road, there is a rude inscription above the door of a vineyard, intimating that the Tomb of the Scipios is here. This is by far the most interesting of all the monuments on the Appian Way. It was the mausoleum of a long line of the most illustrious names in Roman history—patriots and heroes, whose virtues and honours were hereditary. Originally the sepulchre stood above ground, and the entrance to it was by a solid arch of peperino, facing a cross-road leading from the Appian to the Latin Way; but the soil in the course of ages accumulated over it, and buried it out of sight. It was accidentally discovered in 1780, in consequence of a peasant digging in the vineyard to make a cellar, and breaking through a part of the vaulted roof of the tomb. Then was brought suddenly to light the celebrated sarcophagus of plain peperino stone, which contained the remains of the Roman consul, Lucius Scipio Barbatus, after having been undisturbed for nearly twenty-two centuries. Several other sarcophagi belonging to members of the family were found at the same time, along with two busts, one of which is supposed to be that of the poet Ennius, the friend and companion of Scipio Africanus, whose last request on his deathbed was that he might be buried by his side. Pliny remarks that the Scipios had the singular custom of burying instead of burning their dead; and this is confirmed by the discovery of these sarcophagi. I found the mausoleum to consist of a series of chambers and approaches to them, excavated in the solid tufa rock, not unlike the labyrinthine recesses of the catacombs. The darkness was feebly dispelled by the light of wax tapers carried by the guide and myself; and the aspect of the narrow, low-browed passages and chambers was gloomy in the extreme. Here and there were Latin inscriptions attached to the different recesses where the dead had lain; but they were only copies, the originals having been removed to the Vatican, where the sarcophagus of Lucius Scipio Barbatus and the bust of the poet Ennius may now be seen. The very bones of the illustrious dead have been carried off, and after a series of adventures they are now deposited in a beautiful little monument in the grounds of a nobleman near Padua. The gold signet-ring of Scipio Africanus, with a victory in intaglio on a cornelian stone, found in the tomb of his son, who was buried here, is now in the possession of Lord Beverley. It must be remembered, however, that Scipio Africanus, the most illustrious of his family, and the noblest of all the Roman names, was not interred in this mausoleum. A strange mystery hung over the manner of his death and the place of his burial even in Livy's time. Some said that he died at Rome, and others at Liternum. A fragment of an inscription was found near the little lake at the latter place, beside which he resided during the dignified exile of his later years, which contained only the words—"... ta Patria ... ne ..." Antiquarians have filled out this sentence into the touching epigraph recorded by Livy, which Scipio himself wished to be put upon his tomb: "Ingrata Patria, ne ossa quidem, mea habes," "My ungrateful country, thou hast not even my bones." Empty as the tomb of the Scipios looks, no one can behold it without feelings of profound veneration. The history of the most heroic period of ancient Rome is linked with this tomb; and all the romance of the Punic Wars, of Hannibal and Hasdrubal, pass before the mind's eye, as one gazes upon the desecrated chambers where the son and relatives of the great conqueror had reposed in death.