The Roman Empire in RiminiL’Arco di Augusto (The Augustus Arch)
This triumphal arch was dedicated to the emperor Augustus by the Roman senate in the year 27 BC, making it the oldest remaining Roman arch. It marks the end of the Via Flaminia which connected Rimini with the capital of the empire, merging with the modern day Corso d’Augusto - the decumanus maximus (main street) - which connected with the beginning of another road, Via Emilia. The structure is sombre, yet solemn in style. The wide, central barrel vault is flanked by two fluted semi columns crowned with Corinthian capitals. The structure is embellished with various rich decorations including a Latin inscription in honour of Augustus. Roman divinities are depicted on round shields next to the capitals. Jupiter and Apollo are facing externally in the direction of Rome, while Neptune and the goddess Roma are facing towards the inside. As well as acting as the city gate, the arch also supported an enormous bronze statue of the emperor Augustus on a quadriga chariot. The distinctive feature of this structure is that the arch was too wide to support a closable gate, at least in ancient times. Having achieved peace – the so-called Pax Augusta - following a long period of civil wars, a city gate which could be closed was considered unnecessary since there was no danger of attack.
Instead, the battlements in the upper part of the arch date back to the Middle Ages (around the X century), when the city was controlled by the Ghibellines. The arch acted as one of the gates to the city until the Fascist period, when the city walls were demolished and the arch remained as an isolated monument. Together with the Ponte di Tiberio (Tiberius Bridge), today the arch is one of the symbols of Rimini and appears on the coat of arms of the city.
L’anfiteatro (The Amphitheatre)
The amphitheatre of Rimini was erected during the II century AD and used essentially for gladiatorial shows. For the municipium of Ariminum, situated in ancient times at the northern confines of the Roman Republic and already home to a drama theatre and the famous Ponte di Tiberio (commenced by Augustus), the amphitheatre signalled an increase in the status of the city. The amphitheatre was constructed on the periphery of the city, as was traditional for this type of building, taking advantage of the proximity of the sea to render the show more exciting. The dimensions, and therefore a large part of the functions of the building, can be determined from the structures which remain today. Like many other amphitheatres built by the Romans throughout the empire, the form is elliptic, and the position of the main axis runs from north-east to south-west. The arena where the games took place measured 76.40 x 47.40 metres, almost equal to that (77 x 46.50) of the Colosseum. About 10,000 spectators could be accommodated in the four tiers of concentric rings, obviously elliptic in shape and with a global thickness of 21.80 metres. Spectators entered and exited through two main entrances, placed in correspondence with the tightest curves of the ellipsis, which led to a series of passages and staircases which gave access to the stands. Naturally, the centre of the amphitheatre was the area where the gladiators clashed, although its function as an arena for gladiatorial fights did not last long. Already during the late empire the amphitheatre had been incorporated into the city walls erected to counter the increasing threat posed by barbaric invasions, and was used as a fort for military purposes. The external façade facing the sea closed the archway for a front of 63 metres. This was certainly no novelty; the Castrensian amphitheatre in Rome was also incorporated into the Aurelian walls. Another function, a fate sadly common for many Roman monuments, became that of a ‘quarry’ from which stone and squared bricks were removed, useful in hard economic times for the construction of other buildings.Having lost its main purpose, and no longer necessary to the defence of the city, the amphitheatre was then deemed suitable for use as a leprosarium due to its massive, closed structure. By the Middle Ages the once grand building had been reduced to an immense mound of rubble surrounded by abandoned land which, if not uncultivated, was limited to simple vegetable gardens. Unpublished documents from 1763, kept in the Historical Archives of the City of Rimini, describe excavation works conducted by a builder, Stefano Innocenti, at the instigation of the apothecary Angelo Cavaglieri, who hoped to open a wall of the city under the Capuchin Friars. The works began in September, but by December complaints about the results foreshadowed the closure of works. In 1843 the remains of the construction were again brought partially to light by city historian Luigi Tonini (1807 – 1874). A hundred years later Rimini underwent heavy bombardment during the second world war and the area of the amphitheatre became a dump for debris.
It took until the 1960s to reach a real plan for restoration and development of the structure and surrounding area. Today the amphitheatre hosts events and shows which offer cultural and recreational alternatives to the classic days spent on the beach and nights in the disco. Guided tours are available every Thursday in July and August, and free visits can be arranged through the Education Centre CEIS in Via Vezia, which has the keys.
Ponte di Tiberio (Tiberius Bridge)
The Ponte di Tiberio was built during the ancient Roman age, with construction beginning under Augustus in 14 AD and completion during the reign of Tiberius in 21 AD. It appears on the coat of arms of the city. Like the Arch, the bridge is also made of Istrian stone and sombre yet harmonious in style. The structure was built with 5 arches increasing in size to the centre, where the biggest arch is located. At the edges of the paving there are slabs of stone with Latin inscriptions. Two consular roads commence at the bridge: Via Emilia, which leads to Piacenza, and Via Popilia-Annia which continues to Aquileia. The presence of two notches resembling the hoof prints of a goat in the stonework of the bridge helped spread the legend of an umpteenth ‘Devil’s Bridge’. More likely, however, these notches were used to fix pulleys to hoist material from the boats which arrived under the bridge.
A curiosity: The Ponte di Tiberio was the only bridge across the Marecchia river which survived the repeated efforts of the Germans to mine it, although all of the other bridges (much more recent) instead finished in rubble at the first explosion. Today the bridge remains part of the street network of the city and is open to normal traffic, to the exclusion of heavy vehicles.
Le mura (the city walls)
The first defensive bastion was built during the time of most militarily active period of the Roman Republic, around 268 BC. There is still uncertainty regarding other phases of construction, above all in relation to a phase of upgrading during the dictatorship of Sulla, for some considered a certainty while for others a simple supposition. There are no doubts regarding the final phase of building in the Aurelian period, during which the walls were rebuilt with urgency to resist the imminent barbaric invasion.
Le porte (the city gates)
The most famous Roman ‘gate’ in Rimini is probably the Arco d’Augusto, but it is important to note that this is not the only monumental entrance to Roman Rimini. In fact, the arch dedicated to Augustus substituted an earlier Roman gate which dated back to the Republican era, therefore a couple of centuries before.
As well as the previous version of the Arch, the Porta Montanara gate acted as an entrance to Roman Rimini from the south. This gate, originally built with two arches, has recently been restored in its ancient position after an absence of 50 years. Other gates include Porta Marina and Porta Gallica, both of which date back to the Roman epoch.
The Domus del chirurgo (The Surgeon’s House)
On 7 December 2007 Rimini opened the doors of the ‘Domus del Chirurgo’ (The Surgeon’s House) to the public. This important archaeological complex was first noted in 1989, and was finally delivered to the city after 18 years of patient restoration. The area of the find extends over 700 m2 and includes a number of buildings, the most interesting of which is the so-called Domus del Chirurgo, the remains of an ancient Roman domus which dates back to the second century AD. The excavation has also uncovered other interesting structures, including the remains of a late imperial habitation and traces of a settlement with an enormous burial ground beneath which dates back to the Early Middle Ages. This historical stratification shows us how the site has been reused throughout the centuries. A team of local archaeologists led by Jacopo Ortalli, scientific director of the excavation, worked with great care and patience to bring this unique historical patrimony back to life. The original two storey Domus del Chirurgo overlooked the sea, which has withdrawn outwards by about 1km over the centuries.
A number of well-preserved mosaics discovered inside the domus have given many clues as to the identity of its owner as well as shedding some light on a fascinating past. Perhaps the most exceptional find is a collection of 150 surgical instruments, leaving no doubt that the owner of the house was a doctor. It seems that Eutyches, as he was called, was of Hellenic background and did most of his professional training on battlefields, as was commonplace in ancient times. The instruments discovered were used above all to treat bone traumas and wounds, suggesting that Eutyches was a military doctor.
Detail of a mosaic from the Domus del Chirurgo
The domus had clay walls which rested on a masonry base. A hall gave onto an internal garden from one side and various rooms on the other. There was a dining room (triclinium), a bedroom (cubiculum) and two living rooms. One of these boasts a precious mosaic depicting Orpheus among animals. This is the room in which the doctor examined and operated on his patients: a functioning surgery. There were also smaller rooms, for example a heated room (ipocausto), a toilet area and, upstairs, the kitchen and pantry. The collapse of the roof following a fire in the second half of the third century AD permitted the excellent conservation of mosaics, furnishings and utensils, which were hidden and preserved underneath the rubble. The mosaics can be appreciated during a visit to the domus itself, while the surgical instruments and various utensils are on display in the city museum.
‘The die is cast’ Caesar in Rimini
In 49 BC the tension between Caesar and Pompey reached its natural conclusion: the military confrontation which was to decide who would become the new ruler of Rome and therefore manage the transition from Republic to Empire.
Behind the dominant figures of these two important personalities was an entire civilization divided in two alignments. Julius Caesar enjoyed enormous popularity among the people, while Pompey was supported by the aristocratic senatorial class in Rome. The conflict between these two men was destined to erupt into civil war.
But how did they arrive to the point of war? What factors led to the degeneration of the situation from the stability created by the triumviral accords to a fratricidal war?
The clash between Caesar and Pompey had its roots in the distant past and was connected to an irreversible crisis in republican institutions, in particular the power of the senate and thus the rule of the aristocracy. All else was simply a pretext for war.
The enormous expansion of Rome, by now an empire, required new forms of government which the ancient aristocracy was unable to express. This created fertile conditions for ambitious men to make an attempt at power.
Following the Roman senate vote on 1 January 49 BC, confirmed the following 7 January, to refuse Caesar’s last offers of compromise, recourse to war on the part of the hero of the Gauls was inevitable. In any case, Caesar hesitated before taking the grave decision to march against his own city. An ancient Roman law forbade any general from crossing the Rubicon river with an army. To do so was treason.
Statue of Julius Caesar in Rimini
Suetonius writes that Caesar wandered for an entire night before moving to the banks of the Rubicon river, where the troops of the XIII legion were encamped. At dawn on 12 January 49 BC on the banks of this little stream, Caesar turned to his men and stated ‘Still we can retreat! But once let us pass yon little bridge, - and nought is left but to fight it out with arms!’
‘Let us go where the omens of the Gods and the crimes of our enemies summon us! THE DIE IS NOW CAST!’
The words with which Caesar decided his destiny as well as that of Rome and above all the Republic have gone down in history, indicating the point of no return, the sense of an irreversible decision.
Accordingly, he crossed the Rubicon with his legions and occupied the city of Rimini (Ariminum), where he was reunited with the tribunes who had fled Rome. Caesar used the presence of the tribunes to legitimize his decision, removing any remaining doubts from the minds of his soldiers. The right of veto by tribunes was considered sacred and inviolable, designed to protect the people of Rome from the arrogance of the aristocracy. The presence of the tribunes in Rimini was concrete proof that this right had been violated.
The conclusion to the story is well known: Caesar defeated his rivals and became ruler of Rome, marking the point of no return for the Roman Republic. It is important to note that the ancient commander chose Rimini as his military base when he entered Italy as an enemy. In fact, this province of Romagna was a strategic key point in the geography of the Roman state. He who ruled Rimini could regulate traffic in the Padana Plain and access Rome easily from the Via Flaminia.
Caesar’s adopted son, Augustus, was always very attached to Rimini, evidenced by the important works which took place here under the rule of Octavian Augustus. The first true prince of the new Roman Empire ordered the upgrading and paving of the Via Flaminia at his own expense, as well as erecting the Arco d’Augusto and initiating construction of the Ponte di Tiberio.