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Funerary Altar of Quintus Julius Miletus

Roman art


This altar was reported in 1650 and 1700 in the second enclosure of the Villa Borghese, where it remained until 1832, when it was recorded in its current location in the portico.

The four-sided sculpture has complex moulding at the top and bottom and, on the sides, representations of tools used for ritual sacrifice: a patera and a small pitcher. The front has a funerary inscription dedicated to the marble carver Quintus Julius Miletus, who was originally from Tripoli and built a ‘labyrinth’.

The mention of Septimius Severus in the inscription suggests a date for the sculpture in the early third century CE.


Object details

Inventory
XVa
Location
Date
early 3rd century A.D.
Classification
Medium
white marble
Dimensions
height 118 cm; width 73 cm; depth 40 cm; letter height 3.5-4 cm
Provenance

Borghese Collection, cited for the first time in the first enclosure of the Villa Borghese, along the ‘vialone di Olmi e Cipressi’ (Manilli, 1650, pp. 12–14). Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 41, no. 1. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Inscriptions

KYINTOC IOYΛIOC MIΛHTOC

ΠΡOΛIΠΩΝ ΑCIAC TΡΙΠΟΛΙΝ

ΠΑΤΡΙΔΑΝ ΠΟΛΙΝ ΑΓΝΗΝ

ΕΝΘΑΔΕ ΗΛΘΑ ΑΓΩΝΑ ΙΔΕΙΝ

ΠΡΟΚΑΘΕΖΟΜΕΝΟΥ ΒΑCΙ

ΛΕΥΟΝΤΙ CΕΒΗΡΩ ΚΑΙ ΠΟ

ΡΙCΑC ΒΙΟΝ ΕΚ ΚΑΜΑΤΩΝ

ΙΔΙΩΝ ΤΑΥΤΑ ΕΠΟΙΗCΑ

ΕΓΩ ΑΠΑΤΗΝ ΤΟΙC

ΖΩCΙΝ ΕYΦΡΑΙΝΕCΘΑΙ

ΦΙΛΟΙ ΕΙC ΛΑΒΥΡΙΝΘΟΝ

ΑΕΙ ΜΑΡΜΑΡΑΡΙΩΝ

ΤΟ ΓΕΝΟC ΣΩΖΕ

CΕΡΑΠΙ

Ο ΤΟΠΟC ΛΑΒΥΡΙΝΘΟC

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1994-95 Abacus di Nicoletta Naldoni and G. Tautschnig
  • 2008 Consorzio Capitolino of Elisabetta Zatti and Elisabetta Caracciolo

Commentary

The base of this four-sided altar has a socle composed of a listel, a cyma reversa, a second listel and a band worked coarsely with a claw chisel. The upper moulding comprises a listel, a smooth ovolo and a cyma reversa. On the right and left sides are, respectively, a bowl for libations called a patera and a small pitcher called an urceus. On the front, the epigraphic field is framed by a band and a cyma reversa. The Greek, fifteen-line funerary inscription refers to Quintus Julius Miletus. Jan Gruter published it in Inscriptiones antiquae totius orbis romani (1602), without, however, indicating the source (p. MLXXX, no. 3):

KYINTOC IOYΛIOC MIΛHTOC

ΠΡOΛIΠΩΝ ΑCIAC TΡΙΠΟΛΙΝ

ΠΑΤΡΙΔΑΝ ΠΟΛΙΝ ΑΓΝΗΝ

ΕΝΘΑΔΕ ΗΛΘΑ ΑΓΩΝΑ ΙΔΕΙΝ

ΠΡΟΚΑΘΕΖΟΜΕΝΟΥ ΒΑCΙ

ΛΕΥΟΝΤΙ CΕΒΗΡΩ ΚΑΙ ΠΟ

ΡΙCΑC ΒΙΟΝ ΕΚ ΚΑΜΑΤΩΝ

ΙΔΙΩΝ ΤΑΥΤΑ ΕΠΟΙΗCΑ

ΕΓΩ ΑΠΑΤΗΝ ΤΟΙC

ΖΩCΙΝ ΕYΦΡΑΙΝΕCΘΑΙ

ΦΙΛΟΙ ΕΙC ΛΑΒΥΡΙΝΘΟΝ

ΑΕΙ ΜΑΡΜΑΡΑΡΙΩΝ

ΤΟ ΓΕΝΟC ΣΩΖΕ

CΕΡΑΠΙ

Ο ΤΟΠΟC ΛΑΒΥΡΙΝΘΟC

 

I, Quintus Julius Miletus,

leaving Tripoli in Asia,

venerated city of my birth,

came here to see the games

presided over by Emperor

Severus and, earning

a living with my

work, made this

myself, a deception

for the living, so that friends

could enjoy themselves in the labyrinth.

Always protect the

line of marble workers

O Serapis

The place [is] the labyrinth.

It is therefore the funerary altar of a marble worker who came from Tripoli, in Asia, and, having come to an unnamed city to watch the games in honour of Septimius Severus, boasted of having built a labyrinth where he urged his friends to enjoy themselves. His passion for his work not only provided him with the means to make a living but also to supply his friends with a divertissement: the construction of a labyrinth.  The absence of further documentation makes it impossible to identify this monument and its use.

Manilli reported that the altar was in the first enclosure of the Villa Borghese, along the ‘vialone di Olmi e Cipressi’, where it was used as a base for a statue of Plotina Augusta (1650, pp. 12–14). In 1700, it was mentioned in the same location by Montelatici, who described it as inside a large niche where it was used as a base for a ‘marble group sculpted in the middle with a vase, and two putti and two dolphins to the sides’, above which was a portrait of a man, ‘a head or marble bust, that can be identified by the band across the figure’s chest as a portrait of an unknown consular official’ (1700, pp. 30–31). Nibby reported it in its current location in the Portico and offered a detailed interpretation of the inscription and the dedicatee. The scholar interpreted ΠΡΟΚΑΘΕΖΟΜΕΝΟΥ as ‘prefect’, with reference to the patron of the games, and imagined, on basis of the invocation to Serapis at the end, that the ‘labyrinth’ could have been made by digging ‘underground tangles’ in the ‘stone quarries’ in Alexandria during the games held by the prefect of Leto in 201 CE in honour of Septimius Severus. Nibby also mentioned a second altar, cited by Gruter, that was dedicated to a certain Quintus Julius Miletus (described as an ‘Ionian man’) and preserved at the ‘Baths of Agrippa in the House of the Maffei’. He imagined that this was the same person as the Quintus of the Borghese altar, who he came to describe as ‘one of the most industrious engineers of the early third century’ (Gruter 1602, p. CCCXXX; Nibby 1832, pp. 17–20). Moreno instead thought the games were the ludi secularis held in Rome in 204 CE in honour of Septimius Severus and dated the sculpture to the early years of Caracalla’s rule (Moreno, Viacava 2003, pp. 83–84, no. 36). The mention of Septimius Severus suggests a date for the sculpture in the early third century CE.

Giulia Ciccarello




Bibliography