Wednesday, March 07, 2007


6th C. tomb epigraph, S. Silvestro in Capite
I'm back from my first visit to Rome, where I discovered that one can pack a lot of quality sightseeing into 60 hours if one picks their spots carefully. I also discovered how very, very little I really know and understand about the Roman world, despite all the reading and studying I've done. I was an armchair expert without my armchair. It was very humbling (in a good way).

Just breaking the silence for the moment; there is more to come on my weekend in Urbs Aeterna. In the meantime, enjoy this 6th century tomb epigraph (I think? Anyone?) from San Silvestro in Capite.

ETA: As Judith mentions in the comments, she wrote about San Silvestro in Capite just a few weeks ago.


Judith Weingarten said...

David, how marvelous that you've visited the church of San Silvestro in Capite. I just wrote about this church's ancestry as the temple earlier dedicated to the Sun-god, Sol Invictus,and a bit about its subsequent history in San Silvestro in Capite. I'm eager to hear more of your on-the-spot impressions.


David said...

I had no idea that the site may have previously been associated with a temple to Sol Invictus, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised! In describing the construction of the 8th century basilica, Richard Krautheimer refers to "a fourth-century transept left over from an older structure" and "a Roman house buried underneath—perhaps a community center" (Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308, p.139).

My visit to San Silvestro was motivated by my traveling companion, Jeff Sypeck. Pope Leo III was attacked there (and at nearby San Lorenzo in Lucina) while preparing to lead a procession in 799, events which helped lead to the Christmas coronation of Charlemagne in 800. Jeff describes the whole sordid affair in his recent book, and he wanted to have a look the scene of the crime. I was pleased to tag along, and discovering all the Late Antique inscriptions on display was a huge bonus.

Morning mass was just getting underway, and we had many other places on our whirlwind itinerary, so we weren't able to explore far beyond the courtyard. If I make it back, San Silvestro will definitely warrant a return trip.

Judith Weingarten said...

Maddening not to know more of the history of pre-Christian site. Definitely marked on my itinerary for a next trip to Rome. By the way, the link I gave is not right: click
All Roads Lead to Emesa

Judith Weingarten said...

I wrote on my blog
>Christ's birthday is first known to have been celebrated on December 25 in 336, so it seems likely that [St] Silvester had fixed the date of the Christian event. In other words, Silvester usurped the Sun-god's birthday.<

To which David replied
>Constantine knew his end was near in early 337; perhaps dedicating the building to the recently-departed Sylvester was a gesture that went part-and-parcel with [his] so-called "deathbed conversion" a few months before his own death. In addition to helping the tally on his Christian ledger, it would have had the aesthetic virtue of echoing the honors previously afforded to deified emperors/pontifices.<

This is an intriguing idea. And it fits very well with the western version of Constantine's baptism: while you refer to the generally accepted eastern story, that he was baptised on his deathbed(as described by Eusebius),there is another, western story (included in the Actus Sylvestri) which claims that he was baptised by none other than Pope Syvester.

Pope Silvestro had been elected in 314, so this could only have happened -- if it ever did -- when Constantine visited Rome in 315, at the time he began construction of the
"" > Arch of Constantine

I just wonder what was going on between Constantine's death and the known inauguration of the church of San Silvestro in 761 AD. I'll try to learn more when I'm in Rome, perhaps later this year.