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Pyramid of Gaius Cestius

Pyramid of Gaius Cestius

This well-preserved tomb has the shape of a pyramid, 36.8 meters high and covered with white marble slabs. It was constructed before 12 B. C. by the praetor and priest, C. Cestius, and, centuries later was incorporated into the Aurelian Walls. According to an inscription, Cestius' heirs finished building the tomb just 330 days after his death. The choice of an Egyptian form for the tomb recalls the “Egyptomania” that occurred in Rome after Augustus (63 B.C.-A.D. 14) incorporated Egypt into the Roman empire in 30 B.C.

Sepulchrum Caii Cestii

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 478.

The tomb of a C. Cestius, possibly the praetor who is mentioned once by Cicero (Phil. III.26; cf. RE III.2005). In any case he died before Agrippa, 12 B.C. (CIL VI.1375), and the monument dates from that period. It is a pyramid, standing in the angle between the Via Ostiensis and the street which skirted the south-west side of the Aventine, directly in the line of the later Aurelian wall close to the Porta Ostiensis. It is of brick-faced concrete covered with slabs of white marble, is 27 metres high and about 22 square, and stands on a foundation of travertine. In the interior is the burial chamber, 5.95 metres long, 4.10 wide and 4.80 high. On the east and west sides, about halfway up, is the inscription recording the names and titles of Cestius, and below, on the east side only, another which relates the circumstances of the erection of the monument (CIL VI.1374). In front of the west side two bases of statues were found in 1660, each with an inscription recording its erection by the heirs of Cestius (CIL VI.1375). In the Middle Ages this monument was called sepulcrum Remi (Petrarch, Ep. VI.11; Poggio var. Fortunae, Paris 1723, p7, ap. Urlichs 236; De Rossi, Piante pl. II.1), and meta or sepulcrum Romuli (Jord. II.430; BC 1914, 395; cf. also HJ 179-180; NA 1910, 193-204; Reber 540-542; Middleton II.284-286; DuP 137-139; RA 15, 16).

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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]

    127. Pyramid of Cestius. Commentary.

    One of the more curious monuments in Rome is a largely intact pyramid-tomb a short distance south of the Aventine on the road to Ostia, abutting the Protestant Cemetery today. It was built by one Cestius, who died in Augustus's reign sometime before the death of Agrippa in 12 BC, since the latter is mentioned as one of Cestius's heirs in a statue inscription. We know little or nothing more about him than the information given in the inscriptions on the east and west side of the pyramid [127.1]. Apparently he shared some of the fascination with Egypt or Nubia (annexed in 31 and 24 BC respectively) that led to the importation of obelisks in the same period.

    The tomb has a brick-faced concrete core, but is sheathed in a veneer of Luna marble. A passageway leads into the small burial chamber that was decorated with frescoes of a later century. In the C3 AD the tomb was incorporated into the Aurelian Walls.


    127. Pyramid of Cestius. Sources.

    127.1.

    [Inscription on the tomb]

    C(aius) CESTIUS L(uci) F(ilius) POB(lilia tribu) EPULO PR(aetor) TR(ibunus) / PL(ebis) VIIVIR EPULONUM OPUS APSOLUTUM (est) EX TESTAMENTO DIEBUS CCCXXX / ARBITRATU / PONTI P(ubli) F(ili) CLA(udia tribu) MELAE HEREDIS ET POTHI L(iberti).

    Gaius Cestius Epulo, son of Lucius, from the tribe Publilia, praetor, plebeian tribune, one of the seven priests in charge of religious banquets [is buried here].

    This work was completed in 330 days, in accordance with the will of the deceased, under the direction of Pontius Mela, Publius's son and heir from the tribe Claudia, and of the freedman Pothos.

    ILS 917 = CIL 6.1374


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