The Destruction of Ancient Rome

Rodolfo Lanciani was an archaeologist who produced “unsurpassed” plans of Ancient Rome.

Rodolfo Amedeo Lanciani (1845 – 1929) was an Italian archaeologist, a pioneering student of ancient Roman topography, and among his many excavations was that of the House of the Vestals in the Roman Forum.

Lanciani’s great work was the production of a map of the ancient city of Rome.

The work was realized as a set of 46 very detailed maps of ancient Rome issued in 1893-1901, which remains unsurpassed to this day, even if there have been many new discoveries since.

Rodolfo wondered how Roman pavements became buried 10 to 15 feet below street level.

We now enter the Via del Banco di S. Spirito, Via dei Banchi Vecchi, and Via del Pellegrino, all ancient as shown by the remains of Roman basaltic pavement which are constantly discovered under the modern pavement at a depth varying from ten to fifteen feet.

The Destruction of Ancient Rome – Rodolfo Amedeo Lanciani – 1901

Rodolfo wondered what force could demolish a palace and then remove the rubble.

I was trying to fathom the abyss which lay open at my feet, and to reconstruct in imagination the former aspect of the place. By measurements on the spot, compared with descriptions and drawings left by those who saw the Palatine in a better state of preservation, I have been able to ascertain that a palace 490 feet long, 390 wide, and 160 high has so completely disappeared that only a few pieces of crumbling wall are left here and there against the cliff to tell the tale.

Who broke up and removed, bit by bit, that mountain of masonry ?

Who overthrew the giant ?

Was it age, the elements, the hand of barbarians, or some other irresistible force the action of which has escaped observation ?

The Destruction of Ancient Rome – Rodolfo Amedeo Lanciani – 1901

Rodolfo Lanciani concluded that Barbarians were not responsible for the disappearance of Roman monuments in his native city of Rome.

Writers on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire have proposed several explanations, all of which are plausible ; all contain elements of truth.

But at the outset we may discard the current view that the disappearance of Roman monuments was due to the barbarians – as if these, in their meteoric inroads, could have amused themselves by pulverizing the 250,000 feet of stone and marble seats in the Circus, for example, or the massive structure of the villa of the Gordiani !

The Destruction of Ancient Rome – Rodolfo Amedeo Lanciani – 1901

Hopefully, before another century passes, academia will open it’s eyes and it’s mind…

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23 Responses to The Destruction of Ancient Rome

  1. Martin Sieff says:

    Agreed. Clear evidence of massive catastrophe.- most presumably in 234 AD

    However note also the absurdity of claiming a “Heinsohn Horizon” on (the suspiciously precise date of) July 21, 365 AD if “365” never existed and was folded into a 700 year “Grand Canyon” on allegedly no-existent history and time.

    On the Heinsohn model, the claimed “365” catastrophe after the death of Julian the Apostate would presumably have occurred somewhere around 50-60 AD. But there is no hint of any such tsunami or major catastrophe then in the allegedly parallel timeline of the “high” Roman Empire.

  2. Clark Whelton says:

    That photograph of the flooded Roman Forum — which in 1898 was still being excavated — is an important addition to the study of this buried city. btw the flood photo shows the 17th century Church of Santa Maria Liberatrice, and three columns from the ancient temple of Castor & Pollux. This church would be torn down two years later to allow the excavation of the Roman church of Santa Maria Antiqua, which was buried beneath it.

  3. Clark Whelton says:

    Santa Maria Antiqua was buried along with the rest of the Roman Forum. Its location was discovered in the 18th century, when two workers were able to descend to the level of the Forum pavement through an opening in the earth near the convent church of Santa Maria Liberatrice. The ancient church was gradually excavated to an extent that allowed 19th century tourists to make the descent. Finally, in 1900, Santa Maria LIberatrice was demolished and the ancient church beneath it was freed from its overburden of soil, mud, debris and sand. btw, excavation of the lower (i.e. “backstage”) areas of the Coliseum (the hypogeum) was only completed in the 1930s with the removal of some 18 meters of earth and mud.

    • There seems some interesting problems with this church and a good summary may be studied (, with the usual caveat for Wiki sources.

      It seems the church was built in the 5th or 6th C AD, became disused in the 9th C AD and buried afterwards for 1000 years or so.

      Apparently the floor of the Forum was also massively raised during the 1st C AD (see linked Wiki summary).

      There is a problem of this church dated 5th C /6th C AD also being buried under the debris of a catastrophe dated at 234 AD. The reference also states that the Church was buried under a much later avalanche.

      It’s springtime, summer having past and the fishing is now a bit difficult, (apologies to Porgy and Bess).

    • There’s another issue of Christianity being an outcome, as Islam, of being a reaction to the Roman Termination Event, Unless the burial of S. Maria Antiqua was post Christian and interpreted by the Christians as punishment in addition to that meted out by destroying pagan Roman Empire. Was the church built on top of the raised Forum or was the Forum raised after the church was built?

  4. Clark Whelton says:

    Gunnar Heinsohn’s radically shortened chronology of the 1st millennium CE holds that the periods of history we call Antiquity, Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages — which mainstream historians place in sequence — were in fact contemporary. All three ended in the same catastrophe, which Gunnar dates to ca. 930 CE. However, because these three aspects of the 1st millennium have been mistakenly placed in sequence (thus accidentally adding some seven centuries to 1st millennium chronology), mainstream erroneously gives each of them its own separate termination date: for Antiquity, that date is 230 CE; for Late Antiquity, 530 CE; for the Early Middle Ages, 930 CE. Actually, Rome and its western empire (Antiquity), along with Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, all ended simultaneously about 1088 years ago. At this time (ca. 230 years after the birth of Jesus) Christianity was already established in Rome. Many Romans had converted during the twin disasters of Marcus Aurelius’ reign; the Antonine Fires and the Antonine plague, which Gunnar dates to ca. 160 CE (Antiquity date), which in the Heinsohn revision = 860 CE. So the church of Santa Maria Antiqua was buried in the ca. 930 CE (= 230 = 530) catastrophe, along with the rest of the Roman Forum. As the above photograph shows, much of the Forum (along with the S. M. A. church, with the 17th century S.M.L. church being demolished above it) was still being excavated in 1900 CE.

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  6. Thx1138 says:

    I spotted the same article on and at first thought they may have pilfered it from you. But they did give you attribution.

  7. malagabay says:

    One of the interesting points about Rome is that many of the structures have been built directly upon the previous level – see caption on the header image.

    Old structures are often the foundations of the new structures… and sometime several levels of pre-built “cellars” are inherited by the new buildings.

    It would often happen to one digging deep in the earth to come upon the capital of a lofty column which still stood on its base far below; and builders were wont to seek for their erections no other foundations than some mass of ancient masonry, or on arches such as are commonly seen in cellars, or on some old wall or substructure existing on the site.

    And upon the very wrecks of the ancient buildings, as they fall to ruin, the builders set out casually the foundations of new houses, as if these fragments were great masses of rock, firm and trustworthy.

    It is evident that many of the old streets lie more than thirty feet below the level of those now in existence.

    The Journal of Montaigne’s Travels in Italy 1580 and 1581
    Michel de Montaigne
    Translated and edited by W G Waters – 1903

    These inherited lower levels can be decorated and adapted to suit your tastes:

    Wine cellar – no problem.

    Gym or fitness centre – no problem.

    5th or 6th century style church – no problem!

    Striking subterranea underlie the most ordinary scenes.

    A trapdoor in the courtyard of a bustling apartment complex on Via Taranto, not far from San Giovanni in Laterno, opens upon two perfect Roman graves, festooned with fresco grapevines and pomegranates, bewailed by red and blue tragic masks, guarded by mosaic goddesses.

    The nondescript palazzo at Via della VII Coorte 9, in the Trastevere district across the river, sits atop a complete Roman fire station, with its broad internal courtyard and central fountain, sleeping quarters, latrine, and shrine to the divinity who protected firemen.

    The busy train tracks on the eastern border of Porta Maggiore conceal a mysterious hall known as the Underground Basilica, apparently the temple of a first-century neo-Pythagorean cult.

    Handsome mosaic floors, three aisles, and a semicircular apse give it the look of a church, but stucco friezes on the walls show Orpheus leading Eurydice back from Hades, Heracles rescuing Hesione from the sea monster, and other scenes of mythological deliverance.

    Underground Rome – Tom Mueller – The Atlantic – April 1997

    • Tim,
      Oh very good!
      So the catacombs under Rome are …….and this leads to present day Istanbul, which also possessing catacombs, must have succumbed to the same event though not as completely as Rome. I suspect the buried structures might have been converted into aqueducts.

      Now I understand. The Lyellians really have screwed up history with their obsessive denial of the past. And geology has also be right royally rogered by them.

      It’s a jolly large historical ice berg, to be sure.

  8. Clark Whelton says:

    Well done, Tim. An article written 21 years ago for the Atlantic monthly provides an interesting perspective on buried Rome
    It also repeats traditional explanations for why the capital city of the western world, with a population of one million, had been turned into underground ruins. Montaigne blamed Rome’s enemies, speculating that jealousy and revenge made them bury the city on purpose. A 19th century guidebook blames lazy Romans for failing to sweep their streets. Little by little, the unswept dust overwhelmed them. Latter day Roman architects are supposed to have deliberately buried buildings of classical Rome in order to build new structures on them. However, uniformitarian tales of slow, gradual change are cosmetic camouflage for what should be obvious to all who care to see: ancient Rome was struck down — perhaps in a matter of hours or days — by a massive natural catastrophe that wrecked the aqueducts, toppled obelisks and monuments, and transformed Roma aeterna into a backward, buried refuge for some 15,000 survivors.

  9. johnm33 says:

    Cement was prohibitivly expensive, so only the wealthy used it, their buildings remain. To build a 2 story building with dried brick and puddled clay mortar you need a 60cm thick wall at the base. Where land is very valuable 5/6 stories which is about all that’s managable/livable without lifts becomes the norm. If these are built with fired clay bricks at the base the walls will have to be wide enough to accomadate the cheaper dried brick/puddled clay structure above so maybe 90cm thick made of 2 skins of 225mm linked at corners/windows and every 1,2m or so otherwise then filled with rubble. With a lime render/wash maintained regularly and a weather proof roof these would stand for centuries. Take away the roof, the clay begins to get mobile, the lime render/wash gets ‘blown’ gradually the water permeates and softens even the baked clay bricks at the base, it all just melts away. Any ‘jerry built’ buildings, and i understand there were many, would crumble very quickly.
    This takes nothing away from your main thesis, but would account for the phenomenal amount of debris.

  10. Clark Whelton says:

    Speaking of bricks and concrete: the most notable structure ever built with Roman concrete would have to be the dome of the Pantheon, which rests on Roman bricks, and brick arches. This remarkable architecture survived the catastrophe that ruined and buried much of ancient Rome. The Pantheon thus became a living advertisement for the strength and durability of domes, which, in the post-catastrophe era, proliferated throughout the world of religious architecture.

  11. malagabay says:

    The Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome
    Rodolfo Amedeo Lanciani – 1897

    The inundations are the great historical feature of the Tiber.

    The flood of 1598, the highest recorded in history, began on Christmas eve ; at noon the next day there were 6.50 metres of flood in the Via di Ripetta, 6.58 metres at the Pantheon, 5.28 metres at the Piazza Navona, 4.56 metres on the Corso by S. Lorenzo in Lucina.

    A boat went ashore in the Piazza di Spagna, where the Fontana della Barcaccia was erected by Bernini to commemorate the event; two arches of the Pons Æmilius were overthrown at three p. m. on the 24th, a few seconds after Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandino had crossed it to rescue some families surrounded by the foaming waters.

    Houses were washed away by hundreds ; 700 persons were drowned in the city, and 800 in the suburbs, besides thousands of cattle.

    As usual, famine and pestilence followed the flood.

    In the flood of 1702, which rose to only 15.41 metres, fifty-two streets and squares were submerged on the left bank, north of the Capitol, eighty-five south of that hill, and sixty-two on the other side of the river.

    The last flood, on December 28 and 29, 1870, which gave rise to King Victor Emmanuel’s first visit to his new capital on a merciful errand, marks another important date in the history of the city, because to it we owe the construction of the new embankments, which, when finished, will have cost the state, the county, and the city over 200,000,000 lire.

    The curve of the flood of 1870 is represented in this diagram : —

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  13. johnm33 says:

    “Panthoen” I worked for a while doing underpinning in London, often we had to recast the entrance steps, which were arch based and had lost all integrity. Somehow I’d heard about how the dome of the Pantheon was the most pollution resistant concrete in Rome, all the professionals i asked told me it must have been laid almost dry and all the air rammed out of it, so I used to play a little to see how that worked. Waste of time, years later a friend was building stone walls, between tides, to protect a garden in Devon from the sea using a mix of crushed brick, crushed limestone and hydraulic lime as mortar which he called roman cement. Then the penny dropped, we’d frequently come across really strong concrete foundations made of crushed brick……etc.
    Pozzolans, I suspect Aeneas knew about the resource beneath Rome when he chose the site,

  14. Martin Sieff says:

    Also, the destruction of the Great Circus in 234 /5AD must have been seen – among many other things – as a divine judgment on the ancient tradition of chariot racing which itself commemorated a far earlier cosmic catastrophe. So the overthrow of “pagan:” Rome in 234/5 AD by cosmic bombardment and tectonic upheaval is followed the 70 year-long contest between Mithras-ism – the worship of the Unconquered Sun and early Christianity to rule the faith of the later Roman world.

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