About halfway along today’s via del Corso, once called via Lata, a large arch of Roman age spanned the street up to the mid 17th century. It was earlier known as the Arcus Hadriani, but in the 16th century, the arch was renamed Arco di Portogallo (Arch of Portugal) because it adjoined the residence of the Portuguese ambassador, the Palazzo Peretti-Fiano.
The arch was removed in 1662 by Pope Alexander VII to widen the Corso and facilitate the running of horse races during Carnival. Many drawings of this arch, dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, show that it consisted of a single archway, flanked on each side by a pair of columns and surrounded by a cornice.
The two features of the arch that have drawn the most interest are a pair of panel reliefs that were originally incorporated on the north side of the structure. These reliefs have been heavily restored and are now displayed in the main staircase of the Palazzo dei Conservatori Museum in Rome. One of the two reliefs shows the apotheosis of Hadrian’s wife, Sabina, who was deified after her death. Hadrian sits on an upright chair and watches as Sabina is carried away from her funeral pyre (ustrinum) on the back of the torch-bearing personification of Aeternitas (Eternity). The reclining semi-nude youth at Hadrian’s feet is a personification of the Field of Mars (Campus Martius).
When Sabina died in 136/137, Hadrian erected a monumental altar in her honour, probably on the northern Campus Martius to which this large marble relief may have belonged.
The second relief depicts Hadrian standing on the Rostra in the Roman Forum, reading from a scroll to two men and a child in front of a temple. Behind him are the Genius of the Senate and two attendants. It has been suggested that the panel commemorates Hadrian’s continuation of the institutio alimentaria, a public distribution of largess, began under Nerva or Trajan.
While the reliefs are either late Hadrianic or early Antonine in date, the architectural character of the arch seems to belong to a much later period (4th or 5th century AD), decorated with sculptures from earlier monuments, as was the case with the arch of Constantine.
- Boatwright, M.T. (1987). Hadrian and the City of Rome. Princeton University Press.
- Ancient Rome Live
- Musei Capitolini
5 thoughts on “The Hadrianic reliefs from the Arch of Portugal (Arco di Portogallo), Rome”
that emperor hadrian did such wonderful constructions in a time when he could have had absolute power and do nothing of the sort brings tears of joy to my eyes
Is that Pius stood behind Hadrian on the apotheosis?
I don’t think so. In Boatwright’s Hadrian and the City of Rome, the bearded man standing behind Hadrian is identified as an attendant.