Rome Reborn

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Rome Reborn



This is the most famous of all Roman temples and survives largely intact. In 27 B.C., Marcus Agrippa (63 B.C.-12 B.C.) built a temple near his public baths, as the inscription on the frieze of the façade relates. Agrippa's building burned in 80 A.D. and was restored by Domitian (A.D. 51-96). During Trajan's reign (A.D. 98-117), it was struck by lightning and burned again. After A.D. 126, Hadrian restored the temple leaving Agrippa's name on the dedicatory inscription but largely rebuilding it. Hadrian's Pantheon had a porch facing due north with eight gray granite columns in front and eight rose granite columns behind. The sanctuary is a rotunda (diameter: 43.2 meters). Buttressing the building on the south is the Basilica Neptuni. In A.D. 609, the building was converted into the church of S. Maria ad Martyres, which helped ensure the structure's survival through the ages.


From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 382-386.

A temple which, with the thermae, Stagnum and Euripus, made up the remarkable group of buildings which Agrippa erected in the campus Martius. According to the inscription on the frieze of the pronaos (CIL VI.896: M. Agrippa L. f. cos. tertium. fecit) the temple was built in 27 B.C., but Cassius Dio states that it was finished in 25 (LIII.27: τό τε Πἁνθειον ὠνομασμένον ἐξετέλεσε‧ προσαγορεύεται δὲ οὒτω τἁχα μὲν ὂτι πολλῶν θεῶν εἰκόνας ἐν τοῖς Ἀγἁλμασι, τῷ τε τοῦ Ἀρεως καὶ τῷ τῇς Ἀφροδίτης, ἒλαβεν, ὡς δὲ ἐγῇ νομίδω, ὂτι θολοειδὲς ὂν τῷ οὐρανῷ προσέοικεν, ἠβουλήθη μὲν οὗν ὁ Ἀγρίππας καὶ τὸν αὒγουστον ἐνταῦθα ἱδρῦσαι, τήν τε τοῦ ἔργου ἐπίκλησιν αὐτῷ δοῦναι). This passage is not altogether clear (Gilb. III.116), but it seems probable that the temple was built for the glorification of the gens Iulia, and that it was dedicated in particular to Mars and Venus, the most prominent among the ancestral deities of that family. In the ears of the statue of Venus hung earrings made of the pieces of Cleopatra's pearls (Plin. NH IX.121; Macrob. III.17.17). Whether the name refers to the number of deities honoured in the temple (cf. πἁνθειον, Rosch. III.1555, and the various πἁνθεια in Greek lands, DS IV.315), or means 'very holy' (hochheilige, cf. HJ 582; Jord. Symbolae ad historiam religionum Italicarum, Königsberg, Index lectionum, 1883) is uncertain: but Mommsen's conjecture that the seven niches were occupied by the seven planetary deities is attractive, and Hülsen is now in favour of it. There is no probability in Cassius Dio's second explanation (v. supra).

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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]

    89. Stadium of Domitian; Concert-Hall (Odeum). Sources.


    [The Emperor Constantius, entering Rome for the first time in AD 357, gazed in amazement on one after another of its monuments:] … the Pantheon, which seems to vault an entire neighborhood with its beautiful, lofty dome; the columns inside of which one can climb to platforms that hold statues of former emperors; the Temple of Rome, the Forum of Peace, the Theater of Pompey, the Odeum, and the Stadium, among other marvels of the Eternal City. But when he came to the Forum of Trajan….

    Ammianus, History 16.10.14

    90. Pantheon. Commentary.

    Ancient Rome's best preserved building (due to its sturdy construction, as well as its conversion into a church in AD 608), one of the finest structures of antiquity, also exhibits among its relatively few sources one of the most deceptive inscriptions of antiquity [90.1]. Agrippa did indeed build the original Pantheon, but the present building was built by Hadrian from the ground up with a design radically different from the design of the original, which burnt in the fire of AD 80 and again under Trajan.

    In contrast to our knowledge of the Pantheon's structure is the confusion over the building's function. Dio's speculation [90.6] is significant for most interpretations: his suggestion that the dome is meant to resemble the Heavens has given impetus to those who would see it as a temple to the cosmos with all its deities (the stunning opening in the center of the dome also encourages this), but his openly avowed uncertainty has led others to doubt this and posit more mundane functions. Dio also notes [90.7]that it was used by Hadrian as a tribunal, suggesting that the building may have functioned primarily as an imperial audience hall, for which any religious associations of the building (its statuary, and the traditional temple architecture of its porch) would have been an ambiguity welcomed by an emperor.

    There is perhaps some meeting of the ways in the mathematical harmonies of the dome's design. The cupola, which is a perfect hemisphere, has the same height as the diameter of the cylindrical drum on which it sits, and the number of the rows of coffers which divide the cupola—28—was recognized in antiquity as one of the rare “perfect” numbers, equal to the sum of its divisors (1, 2, 4, 7, 14).

    90. Pantheon. Sources.


    M(arcus) AGRIPPA L(ucii) F(ilius) CO(n) S(ul) TERTIUM FECIT

    Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made this building when consul for the third time [in 27 BC]

    ILS 129.1 = CIL 6.896


    Diogenes of Athens adorned the Pantheon of Agrippa. The columns of the temple include some in the shape of Caryatids that are ranked with the very finest sculpture, as are the statues placed on the pediment although these are less celebrated because of their distance from the viewer).

    Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 36.38


    [Cleopatra made a wager with Antony that she could spend 10,000,000 sesterces on a single banquet.] As arranged by Cleopatra, her servants placed a single cup before her, filled with a vinegar strong enough to dissolve even pearls. As Antony watched wondering how she could possibly win the wager with one cup, she detached an earring that held one of the most precious pearls on earth. She then dropped it in the cup and drank the liquefied gem. The story continues with the pearl in the other earring that she was wearing (the uneaten second helping, as it were): later, when Cleopatra was captured by Augustus, this pearl was cut in half to decorate the ears of Venus's statue in the Pantheon.

    Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 9.120-1


    On January 12th, during the same consulship [in AD 59], Calpurnius Piso, chairman of the Arval Brethren, made sacrifice at the Pantheon to the goddess Dia, in the presence of … the Arval Brethren.

    ILS 229 = CIL 6.2041 (selection)


    In Rome, Hadrian rebuilt the Pantheon, the Saepta, the Basilica of Neptune, many temples, the Forum of Augustus, and the Baths of Agrippa. He dedicated all of these buildings in the names of their original builders.

    Imperial Lives, Hadrian 19.10


    Agrippa also completed the building called the Pantheon [“All- Divine”]. Perhaps it got this name because it had the statues of many gods among the sculptures that adorned it, including those of Mars and Venus, but I personally think it is because the dome resembles the Heavens. Agrippa had intended to place a statue of Augustus there and to name the building after him, but when the emperor denied the honor, Agrippa placed a statue of Julius Caesar in it instead, while placing statues of himself and Augustus in the porch.

    Dio, History 53.27.2-3


    The emperor Hadrian always carried out the more important and urgent business with the help of the Senate, and gave his rulings in the presence of the leading men, whether in the palace, the forum, the Pantheon, or various other places—always from a tribunal seat so that the transactions were officially public.

    Dio, History 69.7.1


    The emperor Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus, conqueror of the Parthians in Arabia and Assyria, Pontifex Maximus, with tribunician powers 10 times, triumphing general 11 times, consul 3 times, Father of his Country, and proconsul; and the emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus [= his son Caracalla], with tribunician powers 5 times, consul, proconsul, rescued the Pantheon and all its ornament from the damage of old age [in AD 202].

    ILS 129.2 = CIL 6.896

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