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4. The temple of Liber Pater

The obvious destination of the Torlonia relief was a temple of Liber Pater. For this we must turn to three articles that have been devoted entirely to the Wine Forum, the Forum Vinarium. They were written by Micheline Fasciato (1947), Filippo Coarelli (1996), and Angelo Pellegrino and Antonio Licordari (2018). We will discuss these articles first, one by one.

Fasciato begins by drawing attention to the famous Gnaeus Sentius Felix inscription, now in the Uffizi in Florence, with the phrase gratis adlectus ad quadrigam fori vinari, "elected, without having to pay an entrance fee, at the quadriga of the wine square". So the square was decorated by a quadriga near which an association gathered. She then draws attention to the Torlonia relief, which was found in Portus, and agrees with those who maintain that it is a depiction of the harbour of Portus. She remarks that the head of Bacchus on the prow of one of the ships, a statue of Bacchus (as a pars pro toto for a temple) and Nymphs emptying an amphora are indications of the wine harbour of Portus. She then reminds us that on the north-east side of Trajan's basin remains were found of a round temple, together with a dedication to Liber Pater Commodianus.[1] Fasciato does not doubt that this temple is the templum fori vinari ("temple of the wine square") mentioned in several inscriptions. Furthermore a statue of Bacchus, later destroyed, was found nearby. It is this quay of Trajan's harbour that we see on the relief, and not the basin of Claudius. The lighthouse is not the one that was built by Claudius, but a lighthouse built by Trajan, between the two basins. Next to the statue of Bacchus on the relief is a triumphal arch, supporting a quadriga with four elephants. They pull a chariot with a triumphant man inside, perhaps a (deified?) Emperor. Fasciato considers it may be Bacchus, but then prefers to think of the protector of the Wine Forum, the Genius fori vinarii. She equates the religious guild of this Genius, the collegium genii fori vinarii, with the association ad quadrigam fori vinarii. She then recalls an inscription from Portus mentioning a sacerdos dei Liberi Patris Bonadiensium. She maintains that here we have a reference to a district of Portus, the vicus Bonadiensium, which she believes was also named after the quadriga: Bonadienses ad quadrigam fori vinari.

Fifty years later Coarelli reached different conclusions. He begins by stating that the altar with the iscription of Gnaeus Sentius Felix cannot be later than the early second century, adducing two stylistic parallels.[2] Gnaeus Sentius Felix was active in the Julio-Claudian and Flavian period, so that there can be no connection between the Wine Forum mentioned in the inscription and Trajan's harbour. The quadriga fori vinari may be identical to the collegium geni fori vinari, and the Genius may have been the deity of the templum fori vinari. Coarelli also draws attention to the existence of a Forum Vinarium and a Portus Vinarius in Rome.[3] This harbour in Rome must have been on the Tiber. Coarelli then follows a suggestion by Meiggs, who maintains that the Piazzale delle Corporazioni in Ostia most likely already had a commercial function before the harbour of Claudius was built, and that presumably the same is true of the Forum Vinarium; in other words, that the Forum Vinarium was located in Ostia, near the Tiber, and not in Portus.[4] According to Coarelli the forum, the temple and the quadriga were all located in Ostia.

Twenty years later Pellegrino and Licordari supported Coarelli's conclusion: the forum was located in Ostia. They repeat that the forum cannot have been in Portus, because Gnaeus Sentius Felix lived in the second half of the first century AD, before the construction of the harbour of Trajan. Strange to say, in note 22 they remark that Felix was patron of a guild in 135 AD.

The three articles discussed above contain some questionable identifications, assumptions and associations. It is surprising that there has been much confusion about the date of the funerary inscription of Gnaeus Sentius Felix, and also that in the discussions the harbour of Claudius in Portus seems to have been forgotten. What do we really know? To me it seems fair, at this stage, to deduce the following from the inscriptions. In the harbours two guilds of traders were active in the wine trade: traders from Ostia, who imported wine from overseas, and traders from Rome, who auctioned local wine. A guild of skippers in Ostia specialized in transporting wine from the Adriatic, but they may also have transported other commodities, and of course wine was also imported by skippers from several other cities and regions. These guilds were collegia that had corpus, a status (corpus habere) awarded because they performed work in the public interest. The guilds were overseen and supported by curatores, members of one or more separate corpora, who reported to the Emperor. There was a Wine Forum in Ostia or Portus. Standard measures were in use there, presumably in relation to the paying of taxes. Auctions were led by praecones, auctioneers. From the inscriptions cannot be deduced when and where this forum was built. One or more of the corpora were responsible for a temple on the Wine Forum, in which an unidentified deity was worshipped. Related to these corpora was a guild of the genius loci of the Wine Forum, that had its own shrine, presumably on the Forum. The Genius of corpora was also worshipped, presumably in guild seats in Ostia, where guild seats were concentrated.

Essential information about the temple of Liber Pater is provided by old reports of finds, discussed in 1868 by Rodolfo Lanciani, and by recent geophysical surveys carried out by the University of Southampton under the direction of Simon Keay.[5] In the centre of the north-east side of the Trajanic hexagon, facing the entrance to the basin, Lanciani places a cuirassed, colossal statue of Trajan (height 5.57 m.), standing on a base with sides measuring 4.46 m. These objects were found in 1794, as recounted by Carlo Fea in 1802: "... nell'anno 1794, sulla parte dritta alla metà del porto, dal P. Casini Somasco furono trovati frammenti grandi di una statua di Trajano con corazza, della proporzione di 24. in 25. palmi, in marmo Greco, detto volgarmente salone. La testa molto bella esiste ancora presso lo scultore sig. Annibale Malatesta. Il piantato del piedistallo quadrato era di 20 palmi, alto uno, e mezzo, e stava al suo luogo".[6]

The north-east part of Trajan's hexgon on a plan by Lanciani. Click to see the entire plan.

Reconstruction of Trajan's hexagon by Viviana Meucci.

The portrait is now in the Vatican, in the Museo Chiaramonti.[7] Several art historians have noted that there is something special about the features of this Trajan. Amelung: "Er hat einen ernsteren und festeren Ausdruck, als wir ihn sonst an den Bildnissen dieses Kaisers gewohnt sind"; Raissa Calza: "L'apparente modernità della testa e l'espressione forzata del volto, lontana da quella dell'imperatore in altri ritratti, è dovuta indubbiamente alla levigatura e ai restauri non molto felici, che l'immagine subì mentre si trovava in possesso dello scultore Malatesta, restauri che dettero alla scultura un sapore neoclassico". Gross even states: "Allgemein als Traian betrachtet. Der Kopf hat weder eine der bekannten Haartrachten noch die charakteristischen Züge des Traiansbildnisses; einzig die Profilansicht stark von unten erinnert an Traian, ohne dass die Ähnlichkeit besonders auffällig wäre. Ich sehe keinen Grund, Traian in diesem Kopf zu erkennen". To which Jucker replied: "Kann doch nur Traian darstellen. Abweichungen vom gewohnten rühren teilweise von den Ergänzungen und der tiefgreifenden Ueberarbeitung her".[8]

Photo: Wikimedia, Carole Raddato.

Explaining something unusual by a restoration is not the strongest of arguments. The sign accompanying the portrait in the museum says: "The portrait is highly idealized and was probably made following the death of the emperor in 117 AD, possibly commissioned by his successor, Hadrian" (I have not yet found a publication in which this is explained, but assume it is the point of view of the Vatican curator). If the portrait is indeed posthumous, then Hadrian is of course the most likely candidate for erecting the statue. But, assuming that the portrait is posthumous, it was not necessarily Hadrian who erected the statue. The divine Trajan and Plotina were commemorated on aurei, of which examples are illustrated below. The first has a portrait of Hadrian on the obverse, with the text HADRIANVS AVG COS III PP, and portraits of Trajan and Plotina on the reverse, with the text DIVVS PARENTIBVS. The second has a portrait of Trajan on the obverse and of Plotina on the reverse, with the texts DIVO TRAIANO AVGVSTI PATRI and DIVAE PLOTINAE AVGVSTI MATRI. Next to or above the heads of Trajan and Plotina are stars, indicating the deification.

Aureus sold on 5 February 2013 by Goldberg Auctioneers for $ 66.125,00 (auction 72, lot 4148).

Aureus sold on 1 October 2019 by Numismatica Ars Classica for CHF 190.000,00 (auction 177, lot 277).

It has been argued that the coins belong to the early reign of Antoninus Pius, for example because Plotina has traits of Sabina. Hadrian is shown falsely youthful and idealized. The coins would testify to (successful) efforts of Antoninus Pius to have Hadrian deified, by showing him as the chosen successor of the revered and popular Trajan and Plotina.[9] We can therefore not exclude the possibility that a posthumous Trajan in Portus was the work of Antoninus Pius.

A depiction of a statue in the harbour, at the spot where the statue of Trajan must have been, emerged in July 2019 on the art market (Bertolami Fine Art) and was signaled by the present author in May 2020. The depiction is on an agate intaglio, measuring 18 x 20 x 5 mm. The object has not yet been studied in the archaeological literature. The provenance is given as "English private collection, before 1970". The present whereabouts are unknown.[10] Because there is no proper lineage, we must ask ourselves whether the intaglio is authentic or not.

Original (left) and cast (right). Image: Bertolami Auction Catalogue.

The intaglio, itself hexagonal, shows the hexagon of Trajan. The depiction bears a striking resemblance to the representation of the harbour on a famous Trajanic coin, on which we see the hexagon from above, obviously from the lighthouse of Claudius. This causes no surprise. Both a 2nd century and a 19th century engraver would have looked at the coin. The statue is not reminiscent of Liber Pater, rather it looks like Mars, holding a spear and a shield. Precisely above the statue, above the building in which or in front of which it is standing, is a star. It indicates deification, as on the coins discussed above. It seems likely then that we are looking, for the first time, at Trajan's statue. The fact that no other representations of the statue have been preserved in the visual arts does not imply that the intaglio is authentic. A forger might well have read Lanciani's description of the statue and its place of discovery (cf. the case of the copy of the Torlonia relief, described later on). The star is a different matter, however. The idea that the statue of Trajan was posthumous is not found in the literature up to and including Raissa Calza's description from 1964 in Scavi di Ostia, volume V. That a forger would have come up with that idea by himself seems unlikely, and would be a remarkable coincidence. At the end of the 15th century the intaglio may have formed part of the collection of Lorenzo de' Medici. The inventory of his art collection includes the following two objects: una verghetta d'oro drentovi legato una prasma nella quale è intagliato di chavo il porto d'Ostia; uno anello d'oro entrovi legato una corgniuola intagliatovi di chavo uno porto d'Ostia.[11]

The possibility might be considered that the Bertolami intaglio was a signet ring (annulus aureus?) of the Procurator Portus Utriusque. The combination of showing the entire hexagon, as it is represented on the coin, and the loyalty towards the divine emperor may point in that direction.

Click to enlarge. A Trajanic coin of the harbour.
Looking towards the north-east quay.

Another issue of the same coin.

Detail of the north-east quay.

Lanciani then discusses a temple of Bacchus: "Anche il tempio di Bacco è stato rinvenuto nei recenti scavi al N. del casino Torlonia, là dove vedemmo avere esistito i magazzeni vinarii. Esso apparve rotondo, perittero corinzio, rilevato su d'un alto stilobate e risarcito in periodo di massima decadenza. In un frammento dell'architrave curvilineo era scritto a pessimi caratteri: AUR RVTILIVS CAECILIA[nus]. Nella istessa escavazione fu rinvenuta l'epigrafe riferita dal ch. Lanci nel Bull. del 1864 p 82 in cui il nume è chiamato Liber Pater Commodianus" (see below, inscription LE; the Bullettino dell'Instituto di corrispondenza archeologica provides no further information; "scavi di S.E. il sig. principe Torlonia a Porto"). "La sua statua (così bene rappresentata nel bassor. Torlonia) fu scoperto fino dal XVI secolo" (see below, inscription LJ). The person in the inscription on the curved architrave (CIL XIV, 666), Aurelius Rutilius Caecilianus, might be the Praefectus Annonae of 397 AD.[12]

Whether Lanciani actually saw the base of the colossal statue of Trajan is not clear, all we can say is that the description of the location by Fea ("on the right side in the middle of the harbour") coincides with what he says. As to the Temple of Bacchus, Lanciani does not say that the statue found in the 15th century was discovered at this location. We may be confident on the other hand that the inscription mentioning Liber Pater Commodianus was indeed found at the site, because verbal communication about the then recent discovery is to be expected.

Keay says the following about his surveys on this side of the hexagon (named by his team Side II, Areas 12 and 13): "It is clear that there was a temple at the centre of this side, directly on the axis to the entrance to the hexagon, although it would appear to have been rectangular (c. 20 x 16 m) rather than round (Area 12, structure 12.10). Moreover, there is clear evidence that it lay towards the rear of a large square portico c. 40 x 55 m (Area 12, structure 12.9), which was itself set back about 30 m from the rest of the façade running along this side of the hexagon. There is little doubt that this is a temple and temenos, particularly in view of the discovery of the altar consecrated to Liber Pater Commodianus. Although there is no evidence for the plinth that supported the colossal statue of Trajan in front of the temple, mentioned by Lanciani, we should note that the evidence from the survey in this area is incomplete. The centrality of this temple complex between flanking warehouses suggests that this complex was part of the original Trajanic scheme".

Click to enlarge. Trajan's hexagon, Side II, Area 12, results of geophysical survey.
Image: Keay et al. 2005, fig. 5.33.

Click to enlarge. Trajan's hexagon, Side II, Area 12, results of geophysical survey.
Interpretation. Feature 2.10: temple; feature 2.9: porticus / temenos.
Image: Keay et al. 2005, fig. 5.34.

Which takes us to the "magazzeni vinarii" (horrea vinaria) seen by Lanciani. Keay continues: "The survey results also confirm Lanciani's suggestion that the temple enclosure was flanked by a pair of parallel rows of warehouses facing the hexagon, more or less as he presented them in his plan. They are clearest on the western side of the temple, with each line of warehouses consisting of two parallel rows of conjoined chambers opening back to back off a central spine. They are less clear on the southeastern side, but appear to conform to the same arrangement." It is not clear whether there is anything specific that Lanciani saw, leading him to wine.

The overwhelming majority of the inscriptions from the harbours concerning the cult of Liber Pater was found in Portus, not in Ostia. This is particularly significant, because the number of inscriptions found in Portus is much smaller than the number from the old city. The inscriptions are listed in an appendix, below.

One inscription was set up on private property (nr. LC; nr. LD has the same family name). Another inscription (nr. LE) was set up after a vow had been made by a woman named Iunia Marciana, for the well-being of Commodus, to Liber Pater Commodianus. It was not usual for Commodus' name to be associated with things (a fleet, a city, a month).

There is a relation with organizations that took their name from topographical areas of Portus, a type of organization also known in Rome. One of the organizations is called Bonadienses, "those of Bona Dea". This organization may have been related to a vicus and a cult at crossroads (compitum). We hear of a "priest of the god Liber Pater of the Bonadienses" (nr. LG); apparently a temple of Liber Pater was in this vicus. Another group was called Traianenses, "those of Trajan".[13] Here there may not be a relation to a vicus, but to the entire area around Trajan's hexagon, the Portus Traiani Felicis. One inscription mentions Diana in relation to the Traianenses (nr. LA). A Greek inscription informs us that some of the members formed a so-called spira (the "coiling, winding line of those of Trajan"), with priests and priestesses (nr. LI). The language indicates that the members came from the east half of the Empire. Spirae, also called thiasi and of which several examples are known in the Empire, had a mystic-orgiastic character, taking their name from frenzied dances.[14]

A funerary poem speaks of Bromio ducentes sacra Lyaei (nr. LH). The epithets Bromios and Lyaeus of Liber Pater are used, meaning "noisy" or "roaring", and "he who releases from care and anxiety".[15]

In the 15th century a statue of Liber Pater and an inscribed base were found in Portus - and thrown in the sea by order of Cardinal Bessarion (nr. LJ). It is a dedication to Liber Pater Thyoneus, set up by the corpus lenunculariorum Portuensium ("the guild of the operators of the small boats in Portus"). Thyoneus means "son of Thyone", that is Semele. Liber Pater had rescued his mother from the underworld, and she then became immortal, between the gods on Mount Olympus. The inscription should be used cautiously (for exampe, the genitivus corporis may imply that a word is missing), and it has been sugested that it is a forgery by Pirro Ligorio.


(1) CIL XIV, 30.
(2) Altmann 1905, 40 fig. 26, 42 fig. 30.
(3) All these inscriptions are listed later on, on the page "Rome and the Adriatic Sea".
(4) Meiggs 1973, 287-288.
(5) Lanciani 1868, 165-166, 181; Keay et al. 2005, 283-284.
(6) Fea 1802, 35-36.
(7) At first in the Museo Chiaramonti as nr. 578, from the early 1830's in the Cortile Belvedere - Sala del Meleagro, today (since 1933?) again in the Museo Chiaramonti (inv. nr. 1931). Fea 1819, 90. Platner et al. 1834, 75-76, 125 note. Bernoulli 1891, 78 nr. 20. Amelung 1908, p. 63 nr. 21, Taf. 5 (like some others, he mixes up the findspot with that of another colossal portrait of Trajan, found in Ostia in 1803: "Gefunden im Dezember 1803 in dem inneren Hafen, den Trajan bei Ostia anlegte"). Gross 1940, 134, nr. C ee. Jucker in G.M.A. Hanfmann et al. 1957, 252 nr. 26. Calza 1964, 54-55 nr. 80. Sign accompanying the portrait in the museum (giving the name of the excavator as Giovanni Maria Cassini).
(8) The height of the ancient part is 0.56 according to Amelung. This seems to be from the chin upwards, when compared with the Belvedere sarcophagus that can be seen behind the portrait on the photo published by Amelung (to be checked in the museum). That implies a total height of the statue of around 4.20 metres (formula: x 7.5; Ruck 2007, 21). This is about 1.20 less than the height suggested by Fea, 24-25 palmi, on a base 1 palmo high. Presumably the statue was standing on a base with an inscription, such as CIL XIV, 90 or 96.
(9) P.V. Hill, The Dating and Arrangement of the Undated Coins of Rome AD 98-148, London 1970 (non vidi).
(10) See the Bertolami Fine Art auction catalogue, link 1, link 2. See also an interview with Gabriele Vangelli de Cresci.
(11) Lorenzo de' Medici (Lorenzo il Magnifico) died in 1492. The second object is apparently a carnelian, a gemstone of which the colour (orange to reddish brown) is the same as that of the Bertolami intaglio. A candidate for the other object might be in the British Museum: an intaglio that seems to have a depiction of the harbour of Claudius. It is however made of transparent blue glass paste, whereas the inventory speaks of a prasma, which should be a green emerald. The inventory says nothing about the origin of the objects. In 1488 Giovanni Antonio was searching for antiquities in Ostia, on behalf of Lorenzo. He describes this work in a letter dated 1 August. In 1494-1495 the collection partly stayed in the family and was partly confiscated by the government, while many small objects were stolen by private people and disappeared (Müntz 1888, 57, 70-71, 97-98; Paschetto 1912, 107-108).
(12) See Ebbeler 2007, 236 note 37.
(13) Traianenses are also known in Rome. It has been suggested that they lived and worked around the Baths of Trajan (Ross Taylor 1912, 28-29).
(14) Wissowa 1912, 303-304. Names of the ranks were spirarches, orgiophanta, parastata, hierophantes, archibucolus.
(15) Becatti 1951, 10.


- ID: LA. CIL XIV, 4 (see also IG XIV, 925); EAGLE EDR147035. From Portus, now in Villa Albani.


- Comment CIL: Spira igitur Traianensium Portuensis non solum Liberum coluit, sed etiam Dianam (cf. CIL VI, 261).

- ID: LB. CIL XIV, 27; EAGLE EDR149967. From Portus. Marble base.


- ID: LC. CIL XIV, 28; EAGLE EDR149968. From Portus. Small base. "151-300 AD" (EAGLE).


- ID: LD. CIL XIV, 29; EAGLE EDR149980. From Portus. Small base.

D(ono) D(edit)

- ID: LE. CIL XIV, 30; EAGLE EDR149981. From Portus, now in Rome, Villa Albani. "185-191 AD" (EAGLE).

PRO SALVTE IMP(eratoris)

- Comment CIL: IMP in line 1 in small letters and perhaps added later.

- ID: LF. CIL XIV, 4299; EAGLE EDR106133. Found in Ostia. "98-150 AD" (EAGLE).

SACRVM LIBER(o patri?)
C(aius) NASENNIVS HI[---]
SVA [pe]CVNIA FEC[it ob]
MER[ita in] VLPIA
NVM F[ilium e]T OB M(?)

- Comment CIL: the M in line 5 is uncertain; rasuram (erasure).

- ID: LG. CIL XIV Suppl., 4328; EAGLE EDR106250. From Portus, Monte Giulio (to the east of the basin of Claudius).


- Comment CIL: Ius aucupandi a fisco? Cf. Digesta 8,3,16: Nemini in alieno territorio aucupari licuisse per se patet, et confirmatur; 7,1,9,5; 47,10,13,7.

- ID: LH. CIL XIV Suppl., 5186; Carmina Latina Epigraphica Suppl., 2176; EAGLE EDR109500. Found in Ostia, to the south of the Grandi Horrea (NSc 1920, 46).

15 [---] DEDI SIC HO[---]
[---]ENDVNT [---]

- ID: LI. IG XIV, 925; EDR118567. From Portus, now in Villa Albani. "171-230 AD" (EAGLE).

Ἁγνῆς εὐσέμνοιο σπείρης Τραιανησίων οἵδε
ἱερεῖς ἱέρ<ε>ιά τε θεοῦ μεγάλου Διωνύσου
Λ(ούκιος) Σουάλιος Λ<ε>ωνίδης καὶ (vacat)
καὶ Ἰουλία Ῥουφεῖνα· ἐπὶ παραστάτῃ Σεκούνδῳ

"Voici, de la sainte et vénérable speira des Trajanésiens,
les prêtres et la prêtresse du grand dieu Dionysos:
Lucius Sualius Leonidès et (uacat),
et Julia Rufina. Du temps du parastate (assistant du prêtre) Secundus"
(translation Van Haeperen).

- ID: LJ. In 1734 Giuseppe Rocco Volpi (Vetus Latium 6, page 156) wrote:

"Ad Ostiensem pariter Portum Bacchi Statua detecta fuit, a Collegio Lenunculariorum ei numine publice posita; ut constitit ex basis Inscriptione in haec verba (Ligor. v. Fiumicino):


Hanc Statuam Bessarion Trapezuntius Cardinalis Nicaenus cum sui juris fecisset, profani cultus impietatem detestatus, in mare demergi iussit." So in the 15th century a statue of Bacchus was disovered in Portus by Cardinal Bessarion, together with an inscribed base. Because it was profane, Cardinal Bessarion had it thrown into the sea.

Volpi mentions the known forger of Latin inscriptions Pirro Ligorio, and in CIL XIV (page 1*, nr. 9) Dessau lists the inscription under the falsae et incertae. The comment in the CIL is: "Ligorius ms. Taur. (inde Gudius ed. 44, 2; ex exemplo Ottoboniano Vulpi Lat. 6 p. 156)". Dessau adds (CIL XIV, page xv) that Gudius is Marquardus Gudius Rendsburgensis (1635-1689) and mentions inscriptions inter Ligorianas quas Giudius ex voluminibus Taurinensibus in volumen suum nunc Guelpherbytanum n. 198 rettulit. The inscription was on a marble base according to Marquard Gude (Antiquae inscriptiones quum Graecae tum Latinae olim a Marquardo Gudio collectae, Leovardiae (Leeuwarden) 1731, page XLIV, nr. 2). I have not seen the manuscript of Ligorio, nor the manuscript that he must have used.

Another inscription in the category falsae et incertae is CIL XIV page 24*, nr. 433, which begins with libero patri thyaneo, also mentioned by Pirro Ligorio.

- ID: LK. CIL I(2), 2440, with photo; EAGLE EDR072823. Once in Vienna, collection Trau. From the collection of Cardinal Pacca in Rome. "His collection was formed primarily though not exclusively from excavation at Ostia. The quaestor who made the dedication was probably the Roman quaestor stationed at Ostia. If he were a local official the family name would probably have survived in other Ostian inscriptions." (Meiggs 1973, 176 note 4, 347). Second century BC (EAGLE).

NO(merius) OFALIVS NO(vi) F(ilius) Q(uaestor) PRO