Base and column for statue of Phocas, emperor. Rome, Forum. 608.

In 16 lines. Letter height 6cm.

Optimo, clementiss[imo piissi]moque / principi, domino n(ostro) F[ocae, imperat]ori / perpetuo, a d(e)o coronato, [t]riumphatori, / semper Augusto, /(5) Smaragdus, ex praepos(ito) sacri Palatii / ac patricius et exarchus Italiae, / devotus eius clementiae, / pro innumerabilibus pietatis eius / beneficiis et pro quiete /(10) procurata Ital(lia) ac conservata libertate, / hanc sta[tuam maiesta]tis eius, / auri splend[ore fulge]ntem, huic / sublimi colu[m]na[e ad] perennem / ipsius gloriam imposuit ac dedicavit, /(15) die prima mensis Augusti, indict(ione) und(ecima), / p(ost) c(onsulatum) pietatis eius anno quinto.

'To the greatest, most merciful and most pious ruler, our lord Phocas, perpetual emperor, crowned by God, triumphant, forever Augustus. Smaragdus, former prefect of the imperial bedchamber (praepositus sacri cubiculi), patrician and exarch (exarchus) of Italy, devoted to his clemency, because of the innumerable good deeds of his (= the emperor's) piety, and because of the peace gained for Italy and the preservation of freedom, placed and dedicated to his eternal glory this statue of his majesty, gleaming in the splendour of gold, on this tall column; [dedicated] on the first day of the month of August, in the eleventh indiction, in the fifth year after his piety's consulship .'

The inscription records the dedication of a statue to the emperor Phocas by the exarch of Italy Smaragdus. The inscription praises the emperor for his military achievements, but also portrays him as a pious ruler and a good Christian. This is a significant departure from other Roman dedications, which emphasizes its 'late' character.

It is usually suggested that the name of Phocas was intentionally erased as part of a damnatio memoriae, but Coates-Stephens 2011, 401 n. 41 suggests that the disappearance of his name might actually be due to the corrosion of the edge of the blocks.

Fluted marble column, re-used, 13600 cm high and 139 cm diameter (Plattner and Ashby 1929, 133). The column stands on top of a marble plinth, supported by a concrete base faced with brick surrounded by flights of squares built with re-used tufa blocks and faced with re-used marble. On top of the column, a Corinthian capital, also re-used, supported a statue that, according to the inscription, was gilded.

The steps that still survive, on the West and South sides, are badly put together, and belong to the 7th century phase. The column was earlier, however, and scholars now consider a late third or early fourth century date (but even a Theodosian date was suggested, see references in Verduchi 1993, 307). The brick-work of the base suggests a Diocletianic date, but the fact that our column does not appear on the rostra relief on the arch of Constantine suggests a late Constantinian (or even post-Constantinian) date instead (Bauer 1996, 46). A drawing of the top of the capital shows one dowel hole, for one statue only. This would not fit well with the Tetrarchic ideal of concordia and collegiality, unless the statue represented an abstract imperial virtue - or unless it is actually post-Tetrarchic.

The marble plinth had an inscription which, although erased, can still be seen (but is said to be illegible) at parts. This inscription was erased for the carving of the dedication to Phocas. The inscription is carved on the West side of the plinth, facing the Senate-house. The inscription records the dedication of the statue, probably also re-used, and not of the whole column.

Our monument is still in its original place of dedication. It is one of the few monuments that remained visible in the Forum throughout its post-antique history.

The statue was dedicated to the emperor Phocas (Augustus from 602 to 610) by the exarch Smaragdus, who was in office in Italy between 602 and 608. The inscription dates the dedication to the 1st of August, 608 (PLRE III, 1164-1166 Smaragdus 2). As Coates-Stephens 2011, 401 pointed out, Phocas is hailed for bringing peace to Italy, but it was Smaragdus who orchestrated the settlement with the Lombards.

Carlos Machado

Main Reference

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum; , VI, 1200 (+p. 3778 and 4335)

Verduchi, P., "Columna Phocae", in E. M. Steinby (ed.), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, vol. 1, Rome 1993, p. 307

Discussion References

Bauer, F. A., Stadt, Platz und Denkmal in der Spätantike, Mainz 1996,

Coates-Stephens, R., "The Forum Romanum in the Byzantine Period", Marmoribus Vestita. Miscellanea in onore di Federico Guidobaldi, vol. 1 (Studi di Antichità Cristiana 63), Vatican City 2011, 385-408

Martindale, J. R., The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. Volume III A. D. 527-641, Cambridge 1992, pp. 1164-1166 (Smaragdus 2)

Platner, S. B. and Ashby, T., A Topographical Dictionary of Rome, Oxford 1929,

Verduchi, P., "Columna Phocae", in E. M. Steinby (ed.), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, vol. 1, Rome 1993, p. 307