THE APPIAN WAY

Immediately beyond the Arch of Drusus is the Gate of St. Sebastian, the Porta Appia of the Aurelian wall, protected on either side by two semicircular towers, which from their great height and massiveness have a most imposing appearance. They are composed of the beautiful glowing brick of the ancient Roman structures, and rest upon a foundation of white marble blocks, evidently taken from the Temple of Mars, which once stood close by, and at which the armies entering Rome in triumph used to halt. The gateway was greatly injured in the sixth century during the Gothic War, but was repaired by Belisarius; or, as some say, by Narses. The most remarkable incident connected with it since that period was the triumphal entry into the city of Marco Antonio Colonna, after the victory of Lepanto over the Turks and African corsairs in 1571. This famous battle, one of the few great decisive battles of the world, belongs equally to civil and ecclesiastical history, having checked the spread of Mohammedanism in Eastern Europe, and thus altered the fortunes of the Church and the world. The famous Spanish poet Cervantes lost an arm in this battle. The ovation given to Colonna by the Romans in connection with it may be said to be the last of the long series of triumphal processions which entered the Eternal City; and in point of splendour and ceremony it vied with the grandest of them,—prisoners and their families, along with the spoil taken from the enemy, figuring in it as of old. A short distance outside the gate, the viaduct of the railway from Civita Vecchia spans the Appian Way, and brings the ancient "queen of roads" and the modern iron-way into strange contrast,—or rather, I should say, into fitting contact; for there is a resemblance between the great works of ancient and modern engineering skill in their mighty enterprise and boundless command of physical resources, which we do not find in the works of the intermediate ages.

Beyond the viaduct the road descends into a valley, at the bottom of which runs the classic Almo. It is little better than a ditch, with artificial banks overgrown with weeds, great glossy-leaved arums, and milky-veined thistles, and with a little dirty water in it from the drainings of the surrounding vineyards. And yet this disenchanted brook figures largely in ancient mythical story. Ovid sang of it, and Cicero's letters mention it honourably. It was renowned for its medicinal properties, and diseased cattle were brought to its banks to be healed. The famous simulacrum, called the image of Cybele,—a black meteoric stone which fell from the sky at Phrygia, and was brought to Rome during the Second Punic War, according to the Sybilline instructions,—was washed every spring in the waters of the Almo by the priests of the goddess. So persistent was this pagan custom, even amid the altered circumstances of Christianity, that, until the commencement of the nineteenth century, an image of our Saviour was annually brought from the Church of Santa Martina in the Forum and washed in this stream. In the valley of the Almo the poet Terence possessed a little farm of twenty acres, given to him by his friend Scipio Æmilianus.

After crossing the Almo, two huge shapeless masses of ruins may be seen above the vineyard walls: that on the left is said to be the tomb of Geta, the son of the Emperor Severus, who was put to death in his mother's arms by order of his unnatural brother. Geta's children and friends, to the number, it is said, of twenty thousand persons, were also put to death on the false accusation of conspiracy; among whom was the celebrated jurist Papinian, who, when required to compose a defence of the murder—as Seneca was asked by Nero to apologise for his crime—nobly replied that "it was easier to commit than to justify fratricide." But so capricious was Caracalla that he soon afterwards executed the accomplices of his unnatural deed, and caused his murdered brother to be placed among the gods, and divine honours to be paid to him. It was in this more humane mood that the tomb whose ruins we see on the Appian Way was ordered to be built. The tomb on the right-hand side of the road is a most incongruous structure as it appears at present, having a circular medieval tower on the top of it, and a common osteria or wine-shop in front; but the old niches in which statues or busts used to stand still remain. It was long supposed to be the mausoleum of the Scipios; but it is now ascertained to be the sepulchre of Priscilla, the wife of Abascantius, the favourite freedman of Domitian, celebrated for his conjugal affection by the poet Statius. Covered with ivy and mural plants, the monument has a very picturesque appearance.