The Dedication of Constantinople

On this day in 330 AD, the emperor Constantine presided over the dedication of a new capital of the Roman Empire, after six years of building on the site of the ancient city of Byzantium. Herodotus places the founding of Byzantium in 656 B.C., and in 334 AD, Constantine also presided over celebrations of its […]

The Cotton Collection of the British Library

I recently illustrated an article with an image of a manuscript in the British Library which is designated as “Cotton Vesp. d. xii.” The “Vesp.” here stands for the name of the Roman emperor Vespasian, for a rather interesting reason, connected to the collection from which it originally came. When King Henry VIII of England dissolved […]

St Helena, Evelyn Waugh, and the Finding of the Cross

In 1950, the English writer Evelyn Waugh published his only historical novel, Helena, a fictionalized account of the life of the Emperor Constantine’s mother, and her discovery of the relics of the True Cross. For well over a millennium, this event was celebrated with a feast day on May 3rd, the Finding of the Cross; […]

The Arch of Septimius Severus in Leptis Magna

Since yesterday we looked at the triumphal arch of Marcus Aurelius in Oea, the modern Tripoli in Libya, today we will see another such arch in the ruins of Leptis Magna, roughly 75 miles to the east. Like Oea, Leptis was founded by Phoenician colonists in the 7th century BC, and like the rest of […]

The Arch of Marcus Aurelius in Tripoli, Libya

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was born on this day in the year 121, just under 40 years before he acceded to the imperial throne. Despite his prominence as heir apparent to Antoninus Pius (138-61), and his own rule of almost twenty years, very few public monuments of his reign survive. We have recently looked […]

The Great Rogations and Plague-Causing Dragons

Today is traditionally both the feast of St Mark the Evangelist, and the observance known as the Greater Rogations. The latter is a penitential procession instituted by Pope St Gregory the Great at the very beginning of his reign (590 A.D.), to beg God’s mercy for the end of a terrible plague that struck Rome […]

How I Celebrated Rome’s Birthday 25 Years Ago

Apart from events like birthdays and wedding anniversaries, I suspect people very rarely know exactly where they were and what they were doing on any given day one year ago, never mind a quarter of a century ago, but I do remember exactly where I was on the evening of April 21, 1997. This day […]

Studium Urbis – The Foundation of the University of Rome

On this day in the year 1303, the last of his reign, Pope Boniface VIII issued the bull “In supremae praeeminentia dignitatis”, establishing the University of Rome. The university’s official motto is “Studium Urbis – the study of the city”, “studium” being the word most broadly used in the Middle Ages for academic institutions; since […]

Pope St Leo the Great on the Passion

Pope St Leo I is one of only two Popes (alongside St Gregory I, 590-604) to be recognized as a Doctor of the Church, and one of only three (along with the same Gregory, and Nicholas I, 858-67), who are traditionally given the epithet “the Great.” Born in Tuscany sometime around the turn of the […]

The Largest Medieval Manuscript of All

Yesterday, for the feast of St Isidore, we looked at his work known as the Etymologies, the widely used general encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. One of the indications of how important this work was to medieval culture is the fact that nearly 1000 manuscripts of it survive. Of these, one is a book also […]