The Wall of Aurelian

At Roman time, both via Latina and via Appia Antica exited from porta Capena, a gate in the republican wall, today disappeared, which was located between the Circo Massimo and the Passeggiata Archeologica. Both the streets formed then a common path until the fork still existing at piazza Numa Pompilio, beyond the termae of Caracalla.

From there, the normal traveller who, during the first centuries of the Empire started the walk toward South, met only a continuous sequence of sepulchers and suburban villas; nevertheless, during the III cent. AD a series of economic, political and military crisis, allowed the Germanic populations to move almost undisturbed along the Empire, putting in danger even the safety of Rome.

This situation forced Emperor Aurelian (270-275 AD) to undertake the building of a new belt wall, since the old one (the Republican Wall) was by this time a ruin, and since the city, after half a millennium of unopposed domination, was spread in all the surroundings.

Emperor Aurelian (270-275 AD)
Emperor Aurelian (270-275 AD)

The belt of Aurelian, finished in few years by civilian corporations, was built with a brick wall about 6 meters high and 3.5 meters thick; the perimeter was about 19 kilometers long and was protected each 30 meter by a square tower.

In the place where the wall intercepted the via Latina and the via Appia Antica, two great gates were built (porta Latina and porta S. Sebastiano); they, as all the main gates built by Aurelian, were covered by arches, protected by semicircular towers and coated with travertine.

drawing of Porta Latina
Porta Latina

The aim of Aurelian was limited to stop crowds of invaders not able to face long sieges or to launch powerful attacks; but the situation of Rome got worse at the point that, only 25 years later, Emperor Maxentius undertook a considerable reinforcement, recognizable in some parts by the building technique in opus listatum.

Emperor Maxentius (307-312 AD)
Emperor Maxentius (307-312 AD)

In 401-402 the danger of invasion by the powerful Gothic army induced Emperor Honorius to increase sensitively the walls: the height was doubled, the towers were raised and strengthened, the gates made smaller, the wall walks were covered and arrow loops were opened, while above a further walk was built and protected by merlons and crenels.

Emperor Honorius (395-423 AD)
Emperor Honorius (395-423 AD)

A further strengthening was undertaken in the VI century by the Byzantine general Belisarius, and some improvements were done also in the following centuries.

Aurelian's Wall have so protected the city until the end of last century (e.g., the "breccia" of porta Pia), and till now some parts belong to the Military Property.

Porta S. Sebastiano and porta Latina

If we observe carefully porta S. Sebastiano, we can survey all its history; at the origin it had two arches and was coated (like porta Latina) of travertine, but later (probably at the time of Emperor Honorius) was reduced in a single arch coated in marble; in the same way both the two semicircular towers of the Aurelian's time were at first enlarged and raised, and then strengthened again by the square basements coated by marble that are now visible.

Porta S. Sebastiano

The image of the angel Michael carved into the jamb of porta S. Sebastiano is a curious evidence of the Roman victory against Roberto D'Angiò, king of Neapel, here occurred in 1327.

angel Michael

Porta Latina, differently from porta S. Sebastiano, was already at the origin with a single big arch, and from the Aurelian'a time still remain both the semicircular tower on the right (looking at the gate) and the travertine façade.

During the strengthening works undertaken by Emperor Honorius, the arch was made smaller, whereas the gate was raised of a floor in which five little arch-windows were opened, as is nowadays visible.

The second semicircular tower on the left looking at porta Latina, in pieces of flint, is on the contrary of the second half of the XII century.

Porta Latina

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Text assembled by Mario Leigheb.

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