Sceptre of Emperor Maxentius Found
- Sceptre of Emperor Maxentius FoundRutelli in New York presents standards and insignia found on Romes Palatine Hill. Standards may have been buried during battle with Constantine. Wrapped in linen and silk and placed in wooden cases.The actual find dates from several months ago but Francesco Rutelli waited until scientific tests confirmed their authenticity and the right opportunity for the presentation came along. And it came here in Manhattan, on the final day of his visit to the United States, when the announcement would have worldwide resonance. It was already known that archaeologists had discovered the very first imperial Roman insignia to be found during excavations. After experts had examined the objects, it was clear that they belonged to Maxentius, the emperor defeated by Constantine at the battle of the Milvian Bridge.FINDS The film shot by the Ministry for the Cultural Heritage to illustrate the event was shown at the Italian Institute of Culture, directed by Claudio Angelici. Those present were able to admire three spears and four javelins found on the Palatine Hills, and scrutinise the balls of glass and chalcedony that almost certainly adorned the imperial sceptre. The small room was packed and the Italian deputy premier looked very satisfied.After meetings in the past few days with US Vice President Dick Cheney and congressional speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi, Mr Rutelli was concentrating on his ministerial duties. Until now, he explained, the only traces of imperial insignia and standards were on coins or other representations.Now at last we can see what they were actually like. At first, explained the ministers cultural adviser, Silvana Rizzo, who had kept a close eye on the progress in liaison with the excavation director, Clementina Panella, the iron objects looked like part of a gate but when they were extracted, they had obviously served another purpose. At least two of the spears and two of the javelins found are believed to have been used as poles to support the flag-like square and triangular imperial standards.Archaeologists also found a sceptre with a brass and iron hilt, two gilt glass balls and one made of chalcedony, a precious variety of quartz. The balls symbolised the Earth and would have been surmounted by an eagle or Victory.ATTRIBUTION All of the finds had been buried on the Palatine Hill, not far from the Sacred Way, the main thoroughfare of ancient Rome.The standards were found in wooden cases and had been wrapped in linen and silk. After scrupulous examination of the site and the materials, experts concluded that they date from the early fourth century. According to Salvatore Settis, director of the Scuola Normale in Pisa, it was this dating that permitted their identification as the insignia of Maxentius. It is also clear that the objects were buried in order to hide them.This was not the normal custom with the imperial insignia, held to be almost sacred, and could have taken place only when it was feared that they might fall into the hands of the enemy, the first Christian emperor, Constantine, who emerged victorious from the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312.Experts regard the find as exceptional partly because until now there has been no evidence of imperial insignia apart from depictions on coins and elsewhere and partly because of the similarities between the location on the Palatine where the insignia were found and another site in the Forum of Trajan.Both were probably sacred areas in which the emperors standards, objects of special veneration, were conserved in a temple-like zone.REPORT On the final day of his trip to the United States, Mr Rutelli visited the Metropolitan Museum, where he discussed with the director Philippe de Montebello how to reinforce cooperation. One indication of the good relations established is the loan of the Kylix Laconica, a vase whose shape and decoration date it to the sixth century before Christ.It is a sort of prize from Italy for the spirit of collaboration demonstrated by the Metropolitan, comparable to that shown by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, rewarded the previous day with the gift of a statue found near Palombara Sabina.Both moves are part of a clear strategyof repaying those institutions that collaborate in the return to Italy of illicitly exported works of art and punishing those that dig their heels in and hold onto them, like the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.Relations with Paul Getty Museum executives, whom Mr Rutelli did not meet during his stay, remain strained.Mr Rutelli warned,We will take no legal action, but neither will we abandon our battle, which is above all moral and cultural. The stolen works must come back to Italy, starting with the two most important: the one found off Fano [a bronze attributed to Lysippus - Ed.] and the Morgantina Venus, which was found in Sicily.