The last full-scale treatment of the Campus Martius appeared in 1997 and covered the Republican period only. In many respects it could do with updating. 1 Albers’study, an extension of his dissertation at the University of Bern completed in 2009, is a welcome addition to the literature in that he covers the period from the monarchy into the imperial period until the second century CE.
The beauty and importance of the Campus Martius was captured by Strabo, writing in the early first century CE. For him this large area was still one of natural beauty and of remarkable size, covered in grass that in his day provided space for exercise and for leisure.2 It is hard to reconcile this description of the Campus as Rome’s pleasure grounds with the reality of the Campo Marzio as it exists today. The area was rapidly built over in the early medieval period and, while in the early twentieth century Corrado Ricci conceived of a plan to liberate the ancient monuments from these constructions, this never came to fruition. The areas around the Theatre of Marcellus (between 1928 and 1938) and the Area Sacra di Largo Argentina were cleared as part of Mussolini’s programme to present the glories of ancient Rome in 1940. The presence of many important buildings in the Campus Martius today, such as, the Italian Parliament and the Palazzo Madama, seat of the Italian Senate, prevent any such large scale demolitions. As a consequence, the archaeological record is not as complete as one would desire and the hasty excavations of the 1930s left much material poorly documented. The topographer labours under many uncertainties in attempting to attach a precise identification to many structures well known from the Latin authors.
What differentiates Albers’ study from previous works is his emphasis on the urban development of the area, concentrating on the ideologically driven functional changes of the Campus. This much neglected type of study was last attempted in 1939.3 He organizes his material around chronological periods and discusses buildings in archtitectural groups extending over a long time frame. The work is divided into three parts. The first part (chapters 2-5) is strictly chronological and each chapter begins with a map of the Campus for that period. This section is divided into four broad periods of monarchy to republic, the Augustan period, the first century CE, and the second century CE. The second part (chapter 6) contains a presentation of Albers’ insights into the changing functions of the Campus and how the axes or alignments of structures changed over time. He sets out the transformations of the Campus in function from an area originally given over to military activities, such as the triumph, the census and the comitia centuriata to one of recreational enjoyment for the public in the imperial period. Chapter 7 is a summary of the work of between 2-3 pages each in German, English and Italian. The third part is his Catalogue of monuments and buildings presented in alphabetical order. Each entry gives illustrations and diagrams, with a list of the ancient sources, a modern bibliography, and the numbers of the Forma Urbis Romae fragments where relevant. It is very well possible that this section will be the most well thumbed section of the book. This would be a pity because the main text is well worth consulting.
Albers pays due attention to the water-courses that flowed through the Campus and their taming that permitted the extension of building in the Campus. In the early phase the palus Caprae (the marsh in the central-western region) prevented building except in the outer areas of the Campus. Once this area was drained, construction began in the central and southern sections. Albers defines development in the southern area as based on a grid pattern delineated by the course of the Tiber. The central section was set out in an east-west orientation as may be seen in the four republican temples of the Area Sacra di Largo Argentina and the Theatre of Pompey. A third orientation was determined by the Via Flaminia. The pattern of building followed the course of the major roads in each of these three sectors. The earliest of these roads was the Via Triumphalis whose direction was determined by various topographical features, such as the banks of the Tiber and the orientation of the Trigarium and the Circus Flaminius. The Via Tecta while not exactly following the older grid pattern, did follow the alignment of key religious and civic buildings.
The earliest function of the Campus was military in nature, as its name would suggest, primarily because it lay outside the pomerium. It served as the exercise ground for the army, the location of the comitia centuriata and the staging area of the troops prior to their triumphal procession into Rome . Albers sees the Campus as the site for foreign cults in accordance with the rule prohibiting their construction within the pomerium. The Campus boasted many porticoes and originally they were installed to create a frontage in uniformity with the axis of that sector. The republican temples to Apollo and the temple adjacent (thought by some to be the Temple of Bellona) were laid out on a north-south axis.
In the Augustan principate, building was undertaken in the Hellenistic style. Augustus encouraged generals to contribute individual building projects from their war booty. Thus was built the temple of Apollo Sosianus, the Theatre of Balbus, the amphitheatre of Statilius Taurus and the Porticus Philippi. Augustus initiated a concerted programme of building (his own Mausoleum, the Horologium and the Ara Pacis) all of which emphasised the northern Campus Martius that had hitherto remained undeveloped. Older buildings lost their importance. Agrippa also opened up the northern Campus with his Pantheon, baths, stagnum Agrippae and his gardens. Other projects of Augustus on the Campus included the Theatre of Marcellus, the stadium Augusti and the renovated Theatre of Pompey.
The pons Neronis and the extension of the Via Tecta opened up the area across the Tiber which is now the Vatican. Here Nero built his Circus now known to lie on an east-west axis which has put paid to theories that all Roman circuses were on a southeast-northwest axis. On the northern Campus Nero built his large and luxurious bath complex which became hugely popular with the populace.
The fires in Rome of 64 and 80 CE presented opportunities for new building on the Campus. The largest building programme since Augustus was undertaken by Domitian who built his Stadium, Odeon, Iseum and Serapeum, Temple of Minerva Chalcidica and Divorum. He also undertook the reconstruction of the Theatre of Pompey and the Porticus Octaviae. Under Hadrian and Trajan there was a flourishing of new building activity. The most famous of which was the rebuilding of the Pantheon under the architect Apollodoros of Damascus. It is in this section that Albers displays his expertise gained from having joined the Parthenon Project under the auspices of the University of Bern between 2007 and 2009 whose mission was to construct a three dimensional model utilizing laser scanning of the whole building (163-169). The construction of the pons Aelius opened up the extreme north of the Campus and permitted the construction across the Tiber of Hadrian’s mausoleum built by Antoninus Pius. The latter’s column is well known but his other monuments, his temple, porticus and consecration altar in the area of piazza di Montecitorio have not been found. On the other side of the Via Flaminia to the west extensive private housing was built in the Antonine period. In the imperial period the Campus Martius had developed into the centre of the funerary monuments of the emperor and for the imperial cult.
Albers’ study provides an extremely welcome contrast to previous works on the subject in that he is not in a rush to identify structures where the evidence offers no certainty. So, for example, the “tempio ignoto” in Via delle Botteghe Oscure is discussed giving all the differing options but without labelling it definitively as the Temple of the Nymphs (54-55). Likewise, the four republican temples in the Area Sacra in the Largo Argentina excavated by Marchetti Longhi are still labelled as he set out as A, B, C and D while, at the same time, Albers offers the reader all the possibilities that have been presented to try to solve the puzzle of their identification (54-60). A further example of presenting all the modern suggestions is his discussion of the location of the Temple of Hercules Custos in the Circus Flaminius (242). Albers’s decision not to come down in favour of one view or the other is an important feature that distinguishes his work from his predecessors.
A few omissions were noticed. In the text he cites Albers (2009), which is not found in the bibliography. Perhaps this is a reference to Albers (2008). The course of the amnis Petronia that cut the Campus on a roughly east-west line is presented without indicating the heated controversy and extensive literature on the subject. The colour map (fig. 2 on p. 290) displays various numbers but no key is provided.
Despite these points, it is a huge undertaking that Albers has completed and those interested in the topography of Rome will find much of interest. The book is laid out in a thoroughly methodical manner which permits the reader to find with ease specific information. The work is a large handsomely produced coffee-table sized volume, richly illustrated with an Index of Persons and four colour plates consisting of two maps and two images of the Pantheon from the Bern Digital Pantheon Project. If your university library holds the Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae it should also have this volume on its shelves.
1. F. Coarelli (1997) Il Campo Marzio. Dalle origini alla fine della Repubblica, Roma.
3. G. Marchetti Longhi (1939) Evoluzione e sviluppo storico e topografico del Campo Marzio, Atti del VI Congresso Internazionale di Archeologia in Berlino, pp. 465ff. Not cited in Albers’ bibliography.