Column of Marcus Aurelius

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Column of Marcus Aurelius honours the Roman emperor and stands in Piaza Colonna in Rome (it is its original place). It is a Doric column with a spiral relief modeled on Trojan’s Column which stands at the northern end of Rome's imperial forums and was built some 80 years earlier.

It is not known when exactly the column was built, because the original inscription was destroyed, but the inscription that has been found in vicinity proofs that it was completed in 193, 13 years after the emperor’s death. The column was probably intended to be part of a larger complex including a temple to the deified Marcus Aurelius, porticos, etc., but there are no remains to indicate if anything else was actually built.

The height of the column is nearly 42 metres. 30 metres is the shaft which stands on the 10 metres high base. The base is placed on a 3 metres high platform. Since the restoration in 1589, about 3 metres of the base have been below ground level. The Column consists of 27 or 28 Carrara marble blocks. It is hollow with stairway of 190 – 200 steps inside. They lead to the platform at the top. The stairway is illuminated the same way as the Trojan’s Column, through narrow slits into the relief.

The restoration in 1589 was ordered by pope Sixtus V and was done by Domenico Fontana. He adapted the column to the ground level of that time. The bronze statue of St. Paul was placed on the top. Originally there might have been the statue of Marcus Aurelius, but it had been already lost in the 16th century.

The relief on the column has spiral shape and it tells the story of Marcus Aurelius’ Danubian or Marcomannic wars he wedged from 166 to his death. The story begins with the army crossing the river Danube, probably at Carnuntum. The chronology of the events is disputed. Despite many similarities with the Trojan’s Column, in the case of relief they are entirely different. The column is an anticipation of the development of artistic style into late antiquity, and a first artistic expression of the crisis of the Roman empire that would worsen in the 3rd century.
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