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Gardens of Sallust

Gardens of Sallust

Laid out in the valley between the Pincian and Quirinal Hills by the historian Sallust (86-34 B.C.), these gardens became imperial property, probably during the reign of Tiberius (42 B.C.-A.D. 37). They were much loved by the emperors: Nero, Vespasian, Nerva, Diocletian, and Constantine are reported to have lived here. Many famous works of sculpture were found here in modern times, including the Ludovisi Throne, the Ludovisi Gaul who kills his wife and himself, and the Dying Gaul. The obelisk now in front of the church of Trinità dei Monti originally stood in the gardens. The only remaining building, dating to the time of Hadrian, can be seen in Piazza Sallustio.

Horti Sallustiani

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 271-272.

The gardens of the historian Sallust in Region VI. It is possible that the nucleus of these gardens was the horti that Caesar had owned ad portam Collinam (Ps. Cic. resp. in Sall. 19). Sallust spent on them much of the wealth that he had amassed in Numidia, and they probably remained in the family until the time of Tiberius (supra, p216, n1; CIL VI.9005), when they became imperial property (Tac. Ann. XIII.47; CIL VI.5863, 8670-8672; xv.7249-7250; Dig. XXX.39.8), but they seem to have been open to some, if not to the general public (Ps. Sen. ad Paul. 1). They were a favourite resort of Vespasian (Cass. Dio LXV.10.4) and Aurelian (Hist. Aug. Aurel. 49). Nerva died here (Chron. 146), and they were still a resort in the fourth century (Incert. auct. Panegyr. in Const. 14 (ed. Teubn. 300,26)). In 410 they were sacked by the Goths under Alaric (Procop. B. Vand. I.2).

In these gardens was a conditorium, or sepulchral vault (Plin. NH VII.75), and a porticus Miliarensis (Hist. Aug. Aurel. 49), built by Aurelian, in which he exercised himself and his horses. Miliarensis should mean a thousand paces long, and a porticus of that length must have run about the gardens in various directions. v. Domaszewski (SHA 1916, 7.A, 13) regards this as a mere invention from the similar portico in the domus Aurea. There was also a temple to Venus Hortorum Sallustianorum (CIL VI.122, 32451, 32468; BC 1885, 162), of which nothing more is known. In the Acta martyrum (cf. Jord. II.124-5, 185, 410 for literature) there are references to thermae, palatium, forum, tribunal and pyramis Sallustii, names which were probably attached more or less correctly to some of the buildings in these gardens. Of them the pyramis, identical with that of Eins. (2.7; Jord. II.344; DAP 2.ix.396; cf. however, Mon. L. I.460; BC 1914, 373), is the obeliscus that was erected in the post-Augustan age (Amm. Marcell. XVII.4.16). (For history and description of this obelisk, see Obeliscus Hortorum Sallustianorum.)

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Additional source material

  • Ancient Library Sources (from Peter Aicher, Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, vol. 1, Bolchazy-Carducci: 2004) [Works cited]

    64. The Palace of Tiberius (Domus Tiberiana). Sources.


    The emperor Vespasian resided infrequently on the Palatine, spending most of his time at the estate called the Gardens of Sallust, where he would receive anyone who wished to see him, not just the senators.… He was considered an autocrat only in his care of the public welfare; in all other respects he lived a common life on the level of others.

    Dio, History 65.10.4, 11.1

    94. The Obelisks of Rome; Sundial of Augustus. Commentary.

    The obelisk of pink Aswan granite that now stands in the Piazza di Montecitorio, though not the largest of Rome's ancient obelisks (that distinction belongs to the obelisk at the Lateran), is perhaps the most interesting, and the inscription on its base gives the essentials of Rome's long-standing and continuing fascination with these counters of power and axial markers.

    The Roman conquest of Egypt under Augustus made these monuments available for the taking, and especially under Augustus they are fresh trophies of that victory, preserving however the Egyptian association with the sun and its rays (symbolized by the taper of both the shaft and of the little pyramid that sits on top). This particular obelisk, however, also served as the pointer (gnomon) of a large open-air sundial built by Augustus. The sundial, described by Pliny [94.3] and surviving in fragments (still in place but far below the street-level of today's Via di Campo Marzio), was located, as was the obelisk originally, on the other (north) side of the Chamber of Deputies. After lying buried and broken in five pieces, the obelisk was patched back together in the late C18 century with the help of granite left over from the ruined Column of Antoninus Pius, which stood nearby.

    Rome's other ancient obelisks have been similarly peripatetic. Their first journey of course was between quarry and the obelisk's ancient Egyptian site. From there, they were taken, in three separate feats of engineering, down the Nile, across the Mediterranean, and up the Tiber. Today, none of them stands in its original Roman location, having been moved (after excavation and reassembly, in most cases) by city-scaping Popes, chief among them Pope Sixtus V, who through his architect Domenico Fontana set up three of them during their intensive reshaping of the city in the 1580s, as did Pope Pius VI during his long reign two centuries later.

    For maximum visibility, Augustus located his other obelisk trophy on the spina of the Circus Maximus. It had fallen into three pieces and disappeared under rubble and sediment by the time it was found again by Sixtus V's crews and reassembled in the Piazza del Popolo in 1589. The base of this obelisk has the same inscription as the one quoted above.

    The obelisk in St. Peter's Square, also a Sixtus/Fontana project, was imported under Caligula and originally stood nearby in the Circus of Gaius (Caligula) and Nero. This obelisk had remained standing in its original location until Fontana contrived a way to transport it vertically to its new position in front of Christendom's prime basilica, the then relatively new St. Peter's. The spiked globe of bronze that originally topped this obelisk is on display in the Capitoline museum (Palazzo dei Conservatori).

    Of the two post-Augustan obelisks which posthumously became attached to his Mausoleum, Sixtus V moved one to the apse-end of St. Maria Maggiore. The other Mausoleum obelisk has stood in the Piazza del Quirinale since 1786. Like its counterpart at St. Maria Maggiore, it has no hieroglyphs and may have been cut specifically for the Mausoleum, although the occasion for this is not known.

    The obelisk that once decorated the sumptuous Gardens of Sallust was reassembled by Pius VI above the Spanish Steps, where, in front of St. Trinità dei Monti, it was prominently visible down the long street axis from the obelisk at Maria Maggiore in one direction, and up the Via Condotti in another. (The Gardens of Sallust were the most splendid of the suburban estates that ringed Rome, covering much of area dissected by the Via Veneto today, extending from the Aurelian Walls down to Piazza Barbarini.) This obelisk, as well as the two from Augustus's Mausoleum, is of a lesser size than the first three obelisks mentioned (roughly 14m. versus 25m.). Its hieroglyphs are not an Egyptian product, but inaccurate Roman copies of the glyphs on the Augustan obelisk now in Piazza del Popolo.

    The story of the Lateran obelisk is told by Ammianus and in the excerpted inscription [94.5, 94.6]. It is not only the largest obelisk known (32 m. high, 520 tons), but is the oldest in Rome, although the last to be transported there in ancient times. Pope Sixtus V had it excavated from the Circus, where it lay broken in three pieces under 6m of soil and rubble, and set up near the St. John in Lateran, at the head of the Via Merulana.

    Two other major obelisks in Rome deserve mention. The obelisk so brilliantly supported by the seemingly airy base of Bernini's fountain in Piazza Navona goes back at least to the time of Domitian, as can be inferred from the hieroglyphic hymn to Domitian and the Flavian dynasty carved on the obelisk. The obelisk's original Roman location is not known, however, since it is not mentioned in any ancient source and was found miles away, decorating the race track at the giant Villa of Maxentius on the Appian Way. Perhaps it is back at its original location on the spina of the Stadium of Domitian, but the Circus of Gaius and Nero, the Temple of Isis, and the Temple of the Flavians on the Quirinal have all been argued as possible Domitianic locations.

    In light of the obelisk's historical and visual associations, it should come as no surprise that Mussolini erected one. Forty meters tall and quarried from the same Cararra marble favored by Caesar and then Michelangelo, it stands in its original location at Foro Italico, fronting the Tiber on the north side of town. Dispensing with hieroglyphs, it simply proclaims “Mussolini Dux” in block letters running its length.

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