A Fresco of Rome ...? Updated

The Museion under the Baths of Trajan in Rome yielded a beautiful fresco of a city. We know that the structure it decorated dates to between AD 64 and 109 (more here). The fresco was found in 1997, and the archaeologists believe it's a view of Rome. Based on their identification, I tried to work out where in Rome it depicted.

I started off by thinking "hey that looks like a theatre" ... So I took a look at the Severan Marble Plan of Rome, the Forma Urbis Romae (here),, thinking maybe it still existed a century later. That's when I ran into problems. The main theatres of Rome - Pompey, Marcellus, Balbus and Domitian - existed at the right date, but were all in the Campus Martius, so outside the walls. This structure is clearly inside them. It seems to be covered and small, which suggests it could be one of the many temporary wooden theatres which were still erected during the Empire, usually for pantomimes, or more likely a smaller Odeon for musical performances. And frankly if the fresco is to scale, then it's a very small theatre ... Although it matches up best on the Marble Plan with the theatre of Pompey which had a large portico in front of it, as can be seen below:

Then I thought it might be more fruitful looking at the walls and gates of Rome, since these are clearly depicted in the fresco ... but this also had issues. The fresco pre-dates the Aurelian walls (shown in red below) when Rome expanded to include the Campus Martius, so the buildings depicted must fall within the Severan walls of Rome (in blue below) as expanded by Augustus ...
 The problem is that there are two gates in the fresco (blue and green circled) and the whole area seems to be surrounded by walls (in red).

So the fresco depicts a city, and it was found in Rome ... but does it actually represent Rome or another idealised city? Perhaps a depiction of Romulus' idealised city of Rome? The closest parallel I can suggest is the 6th century Byzantine Madaba mosaic map, which depicted the city of Jerusalem, as seen here.

I'd also like to highlight the marble map dating to the 1st century AD in the museum at Orange, which tends to get overlooked (source) but depicts the region.

After extensive discussions - Judith suggested Antioch - I realised that the Rome fresco was published here:
E. La Rocca, 2000, L’affresco con veduta di città dal Colle Oppio, in E. Fentress (ed.), Romanization and the City: Creation, Transformations, and Failures, (JRA Suppl. 38): 57-71.

Prof La Rocca feels that "shows a fortified city with a harbour, a theatre and temple, a forum and a small hill adorned with a Tuscan temple" (source) and whilst he discusses it in the context of other such ancient views, he does not claim it is Rome.


  1. Could the blue colour surrounding the walls indicate water? In which case, we could be looking at the Island in Antioch on which is the palace and other major buildings. A pity Prof. Kaplan's computer reconstruction of Antioch seems to have disappeared from the web (the link doesn't work now, but I found his reconstruction of the Palace at http://biblenest.com/?p=26). Must check with Libanius....

  2. I did wonder if the blue was water and tried to fit in the Tiber island ...

  3. Scratch Antioch. Libanius is quite clear that a whole columned face of the palace fronts the water; thus no walls on that side. Sorry.


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