Maps of Ancient Rome Along Via dei Fori Imperiali

A reader contacted me recently to ask if I had any photos of four marble and bronze maps that lined a stone wall along Via dei Fori Imperiali in Rome. That stone wall is the exterior wall of the Basilica of Maxentius, and the road used to be called the Via dell’Impero.

It took me a few moments to remember, but I knew of the maps that he spoke of. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of my own photos to display, but I did find some sources for him. Our email exchange prompted me to write this post.

It should be noted that these maps are not remants of ancient times. They’ve been conveniently and conspicuously placed there and are a remnant of Fascist Italy and a product of Mussolini’s attempt to return the Roman Empire to its former glory. What better way to use propaganda than by placing maps of Rome’s expanding empire on one of the most symbolically important streets in Rome and by constructing those maps of marble and inscribing the maps with the Latin place names.

The four maps chronicle the extent of the Roman Empire through various phases. In the map pictured above, you see the Roman Empire as it was during the reign of Trajan, a very prosperous time for Ancient Rome. The other three maps show the extent of the Roman Empire at its beginnings at the 8th century BC, the borders of Rome after the Punic Wars (146 BC), the extent of the empire at the death of Augustus (AD 14). It’s fitting that Mussolini chose these four maps and stops with the Trajan, whose reign features the largest amount of territory. After the reign of Trajan, one can see Rome’s “decline” as territory becomes more difficult to hold.

A fifth map existed but was taken down after the fall of Mussolini and depicted not the extent of Italy’s boundaries but highlighted Italy’s conquest of N. Africa and the Horn of Africa as well as its aspirations of conquering Turkey, the Middle East and plunging deeper into Africa (notice that points north of Italy, such as France, Britain and Scandinavia don’t appear to be “targets” which were prized by the Germans). This fifth map was damaged and presumed destroyed until it was found some years ago. Plans were made to repair the map and place it back on display in EUR, but those plans as of yet have failed to materialize.

Many historians and researchers see these maps as simply Mussolini following in the footsteps of his ancestors: Sulla, Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, Augustus — the list goes on and on of dictators and emperors who used architecture, sculpture and public art to convey their message and values. These maps, placed along Mussolini’s carefully crafted thoroughfare (Via dell’Impero/Via dei Fori Imperiali) which linked the glory and splendor of ancient Rome with the modern seat of Rome’s power, conveyed a very important message to all that the grandeur of Rome had returned.

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*photo courtesy of Andrea Giovagnoli, all rights reserved