A border stone laid by Emperor Claudius almost 2,000 years ago to mark the newly enlarged confines of ancient Rome has been uncovered in the Italian capital, the first discovery of its kind in more than 100 years.
The 6.2-feet-high travertine marble stone dates to 49 AD, when Claudius expanded the official confines of the “pomerium”, the sacred part of the city in which only Roman gods could be worshipped and no weapons could be carried.
“Expanding the pomerium was a symbolic move … but also served to welcome new citizens,” Claudio Parisi Presicce, head of Rome’s archaeological museums, said in a press conference.
The Senate bitterly resented the decision, he added, as they did not want to let in more “foreigners”.
The pomerium marked the boundary between the historic city of Rome and conquered territory. It gradually expanded over the centuries, but historians are still unsure about its perimeter at the time of Claudius, who oversaw the successful colonising of Britain, North Africa and parts of the Middle East.
The latest discovery could help dispel some of the mystery. “It’s like an extra piece of the jigsaw for the understanding of ancient Roman society,” said Mr Parisi Presicce.
The border stone was found half buried during excavation work one and a half months ago for the redevelopment of a piazza by the Mausoleum of Augustus, some 3.5 metres below street level.
After experts inspected it, it was dug out and temporarily moved to the nearby Ara Pacis museum, where it was put on display next to a copy of a statue of Claudius.
Daniela Porro, a top conservation official who followed the excavation work, said finding the stone where Claudius had originally ordered it was like seeing a “thrilling” testimony of “the will of the emperor”.
The stone originally had a nine-line inscription, but only a few parts have survived.
They introduce Claudius, list his titles and honours, and “announce to posterity” his decision to expand the pomerium’s borders, according to Mr Parisi Presicce.
The emperor had a reputation for being ruthless, unattractive and unpredictable, but was also keen on history, dice-playing and reforming Roman spelling.
He had his 13-year rule cut short in 54 AD after being poisoned by his wife Agrippina and was succeeded by his adopted son, the infamous Nero.
He is thought to have laid down more than 140 border stones around Rome but only 11 of them survived – including this latest discovery.
Some are held by the Vatican Museums and four have been left in their original location. This new one will eventually be displayed inside the Mausoleum of Augustus, which reopened in March after a £15-million restoration.—AP