Campus Martius, Rome
The Column of Marcus Aurelius was set up in the Campus Martius, besides the Via Flamina in what appears to have been a large open space, similar to the dimensions of the modern Piazza Colonna that surrounds it today (Beckmann, “The Column of Marcus Aurelius”, p. 253). It is possible that one or two triumphal arches, decorated with the reliefs that were later inserted on the Triumphal Arch of Constantine or which are displayed in the Capitoline Museum, also formed part of the space (Coarelli, La Colonna di Marco Aurelio, p. 9-32). The column stands on a rectangular pedestal, originally decorated with an inscription that is now lost, along with various reliefs, which did not survive the ravages of time and were largely replaced during Domenico Fontana’s restoration of the base in 1588-1589 (Beckmann, “The Column of Marcus Aurelius,” p. 255). The column is made up of 30 (originally 31) blocks of Luna marble; the pedestal consists of 10 blocks, the Column itself is formed of 19 and one additional block – originally two – stands at the top of the pedestal to support the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius that originally surmounted the top (Beckmann, “The Column of Marcus Aurelius,” p. 254). Reaching a total of 100 Roman feet high, the Column shaft is decorated with a continuous frieze, following its spiral contour, and in imitation of those of the earlier Column of Trajan. The subject of the frieze is the two Marcomannic Wars, waged by Marcus Aurelius from 167 CE until his death in 180 CE against Germanic and Sarmatian tribes along the Danube frontier. The spiral reliefs progress from bottom to top, with each campaign recorded in almost sixty different reliefs, for a total of one hundred and fifteen scenes. The two campaigns are divided by a relief depicting Victoria, the goddess of victory, writing the achievements of Marcus Aurelius on a shield. The two key episodes of the campaign are the depictions of the Lightening Miracle (scene XI), and of the successive Rain Miracle (scene XVI), of which further discussion follows below.