THE APPIAN WAY

Within a short distance of the tomb of the Scipios are the most celebrated of all the Columbaria of Rome. Previous to the fifth century of Rome, the bodies of the dead were buried entire, and deposited in sarcophagi; but after that period cremation became the universal custom. The ashes and calcined bones were preserved in ollæ, or little jars like common garden flower-pots, made of the same kind of coarse red earthenware, with a lid attached. These jars were deposited in rows of little niches sunk in the brickwork all round the walls of the tomb, resembling the nests in a pigeon-house; hence the origin of the name. One tomb was thus capable of containing the remains of a large number of persons; no less than six thousand of the freedmen of Augustus being deposited in the Columbarium which bears their name. The entrance to these sepulchral chambers was from the top, descending by an internal stair; and the passages and walls were usually decorated with frescoes and arabesques, illustrating some mythical or historical subject. The names of the dead were carved on marble tablets fixed above the pigeon-holes containing the ashes. Columbaria being only used for dependents and slaves, were generally erected near the tombs of their masters; and hence all along the Appian Way we see numerous traces of them side by side with the gigantic monuments of the patrician families. The Columbaria near the tomb of the Scipios are three in number, and contain the cinerary urns of persons attached to the household of the emperors from the reign of Augustus up to the period of the Antonines, when the system of burying the bodies entire was again introduced. The last discovered Columbarium is the most interesting of the group. Being only thirty-three years exposed, the paintings on the walls and the vases are remarkably well preserved. This tomb contains the ashes of the dependents of Tiberius, the contemporary of our Lord. One pigeon-hole is filled with the calcined bones of the court buffoon, a poor deaf and dumb slave who had wonderful powers of mimicry, and used to amuse his morose master by imitating the gesticulations of the advocates pleading in the Forum. Another pigeon-hole contains the remains of the keeper of the library of Apollo in the imperial palace on the Palatine. A most pathetic lamentation in verse is made by one Julia Prima over the ashes of her husband; and an inscription, along with a portrait of the animal, records that beneath are the remains of a favourite dog that was the pet of the whole household—a little touch of nature that links the ages and the zones, and makes the whole world kin. The whole of this region, called Monte d'Oro, for what reason I know not, seems to have been a vast necropolis, in which not only Columbaria for their slaves and freedmen were built by the great patrician families, but also family vaults for the wealthier middle classes were constructed and sold by speculators, just as in our modern town cemeteries.

Very near the modern gate of the city the road passes under the so-called Arch of Drusus. It consists of a single arch, whose keystone projects on each side about two feet and a half beyond the plane of the frontage; and is built of huge solid blocks of travertine, with cornices of white marble, and two composite columns of African marble on each side, much soiled and defaced, which are so inferior in style to the rest of the architecture that they are manifestly later additions. The whole monument is much worn and injured; but it is made exceedingly picturesque by a crown of verdure upon the thick mass of soil accumulated there by small increments blown up from the highway in the course of so many centuries. It was long supposed that Caracalla had barbarously taken advantage of the arch to carry across the highway at this point the aqueduct which supplied his baths with water. But the more recent authorities maintain that the arch itself, so far from being the monument of Drusus, was only one of the arches built by Caracalla in a more ornamental way than the rest, as was commonly done when an aqueduct crossed a public road. This theory does away at one fell stroke with the idea so long fondly cherished that St. Paul must have passed under this very arch on his way to Rome, and that his eye must have rested on these very stones upon which we gaze now. It is hard to give up the belief that the stern old arch, severe in its sturdiness and simplicity as the character of the apostle himself, did actually cast its haunted shadow over him on the memorable day when, a prisoner in chains in charge of a Roman soldier, he passed over this part of the Appian Way, and it signalised a far grander triumph than that for which it was originally erected. We should greatly prefer to retain the old idea that under that arch Christianity, as represented by St. Paul, passed to its conquest of the whole Roman world; and passed too in character, the religion of the cross, joy in sorrow, liberty in bonds, strength in weakness, proclaiming itself best from the midst of the sufferings which it overcame.