The reworking of portraits was a widespread custom during the imperial age. There are a number of portraits of emperors who suffered damnatio memoriae (a judgement which consisted in eliminating all traces of a person). Their features were effectively deleted and replaced with those of a successor. From the third century AD, the reuse of a portrait by individuals stemmed instead from the desire to speed up and simplify the work of the sculptors' workshops or to save on raw materials.
Guide to the museum rooms
The finds unearthed
beneath the Palazzo
A city whose life has never stopped preserves in its genetic heritage the legacy of centuries of history. The exhibits in this room were found when digging the building's foundations.
The consistent eradication of the traces of pagan culture carried out by the church and the imperial power it had submitted to starting from the fifth century A.D. Temples were destroyed or turned into churches, and artefacts were modified to be reused and adapted to Christian worship. Statues, columns and capitals, slabs bearing inscriptions and sarcophagi, on the contrary, were smashed up and turned into lime. A number of limekilns were built in Rome, where the material to be calcined could be recovered directly on the spot. This system allowed to erase all memory of pagan culture and religion while procuring the raw materials and lime needed for erecting new buildings.
The walls and floors of ancient public buildings (amphitheatres, porticoes, baths and basilicas) preserve the painted or engraved traces of those who spent their leisure time there. These inscriptions and graffiti of wrestling and boxing athletes, depicted either during the fight with their boxing gloves on, or in victory with the winner's palm leaf in their hands, were carved by fans, who often also added the names of the fighters, most likely famous athletes who were admired for their frequent wins. The engravings often have grammatical and spelling errors because they were carved by ordinary people, whose language was normally colloquial.
Between the third and fourth century A.D. a new type of capital – called semi-finished composite – was produced in Rome's workshops. The composite capital combines elements of the Ionic capital, such as the volutes, and elements of the Corinthian capital, such as the characteristic acanthus leaves. The late imperial capital, on the other hand, has smooth leaves, hence its name. Its use was brought about by the need to save time due to the great demand for the construction of private homes, since the number of large workshops in Rome had by then considerably decreased and they were mostly engaged in constructing public buildings.
The capital is the top element of the column. It serves to differentiate between the three main architectural orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The Ionic order was estalished in the seventh century BC in a Greek-Asian context. The Ionic capital evokes the shape of the spiral, which is recognized in particular in the two coils at the ends decorated with floral elements. The volutes are linked together by a pulvinus tapered in the middle.
The Peplophoros figurine (from the Greek: wearer of peplum) portrays a female figure wearing a peplum, a woollen garment fastened on the shoulders by brooches and held at the waist by a belt. This model was used in Greece for depicting both deities and young offerers. From the second century BC the Romans produced a large number of copies of Greek originals. The many Roman-age copies made it possible to learn about works by renowned Greek sculptors.
The exhibits in this room come from the archaeological excavations carried out between 1902 and 1904 during the construction of the Palazzo Assicurazioni Generali. Its foundations were in fact laid on the site of an insula (a multi-storey building consisting of numerous apartments), which was built between the late second and early third century AD.
The finds were described by the archaeologist Giuseppe Gatti in his journals at the beginning of the last century. Among the retrieved items were columns – both whole and broken up – as well as bases and capitals, fragments of cornices, sculptures, including portraits and small statues, and tools and fire-damaged pottery. The excavations carried out recently by the Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Rome, during the works for underground line C, have allowed to add new data and to reconstruct the outline of a second building, an auditorium, where readings and literary contests took place.