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The Tiber Island is almost 300 X 70 meters, which the Romans referred to as “inter duos pontes” between the two bridges.  It seems most of its mass is owed to the formation of a sandbar, historically added to by the Romans, as an easier way to ford the Tiber River (versus the wooden Pons Sublicius).  Traditionally, the Romans credited its formation from the huge amount of grain dumped into the Tiber, after the expulsion of Tarquin the Proud. The grain, ready for harvest but in the Campus Martius, recently destined as ager publicus, was for religious purposes considered sacred and was forbidden to be consumed. The resulting mass of grain dumped in this spot led to the formation of the island. (Livy, History. 2.5.2-4). 

The first recorded event that mentions the island was in 293 BC, In response to a plague, the Romans brought a snake from the cult of Asclepius, god of healing, in Epidauros. Upon arrival in a boat, the snake slithered off the boat and swam ashore to the island, where the Temple of Asclepius was constructed (Livy, Summary Book II). The island was joined by many other temples, but it remained a noted place of healing, the sick isolated one the island from the rest of the population.  The tradition continued in the Christian period. The Church of S. Bartholomew (10C) stands were the Temple of Asclepius stood, and the Hospital FateBeneFratelli has been in operation since the fifteenth century. 

There is a section of travertine blocks carved to look like a ship’s prow, with a figure holding a caduceus, the staff of Asclepius, reinforcing the ship-like shape of the island with two oars (the two bridges, Pons Cestius and Pons Fabricius). 

From Platner & Ashby’s (1929) Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome:

The island in the Tiber, included in the fourteenth region of Augustus, and now called isola di S. Bartolomeo (111. 32; cf. also 111. 37). It seems to be the end of the ridge of which the Capitoline hill is a part, and owing perhaps to the harder character of its tufa, the river did not cut it away entirely but divided and flowed on either side.

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It was often called simply insula, but was also spoken of by different names-insula Tiberina (Vitr. iii. 2. 3; Acro Schol. in Hor. Sat. ii. 3. 36), inter duos pontes (Plut. Popl. 8; lustin. Martyr. apol. i. 26; Aeth. 83, Riese; Chron. 145; inscr. BCr 1905, 231; FUR 42), insula Aesculapii (Suet. Claud. 25; Dionys. v. 13), insula serpentis Epidaurii (Sidon. Apoll. Ep. i. 7. 12); and in the Middle Ages, insula Lycaonia (HJ 632, note 21; and esp. Besnier, 76-87). It was also called simply insula (CIL vi. 9824, 33864; Fest. 110).

The present length of the island is 269 metres, and its greatest width 67 metres. Tradition held that its nucleus was formed by the grain from the fields of the Tarquins, which was thrown into the Tiber in great quantities after the expulsion of the kings (Liv. ii. 5; Dionys. v. 13; see GAIA). In 292 B.C. the serpent of Aesculapius, which, with the statue of that god, was being brought to Rome, left the ship and swam ashore on the island. A temple was erected to the god and the island was consecrated as its temenos, although shrines to other divinities (e.g. IUPITER, FAUNUS, TIBERINUS, SEMO SANCUS, q.v.) were afterwards built on it.1 In consequence of this legend of the serpent the island itself was made to resemble a ship. A stone platform was built round it, and upon this a wall was erected which in shape reproduced exactly the sides of a Roman ship (Ann. d. Inst. 1867, 389 ff.; Durm, Baukunst, fig. 537). A considerable part of the travertine stern can still be seen at the east end of the island (LR 19). An obelisk, fragments of which are in the museum at Naples, is thought to have represented the mast. We are not informed as to the time when this was done, but the remains of the walls point to the same period as that of the construction of the pons Fabricius (62 B.C.) and pons Cestius (70-42 B.C.), and it is possible that the erection of these two bridges was part of the same plan as the building of the ship. Before the building of these stone bridges, the island was doubtless connected with the left bank by a wooden structure at least as early as the time when the cult of Aesculapius was established (cf. Liv. xxxv. 21. 5, where the flood of 193 B.C. is said to have destroyed ‘ duos pontes’).

For a complete discussion of the history, topography, and antiquities of the island, see Besnier, L’lle Tiberine dans l’Antiquit, Paris 1902 (Bibl. Ec. Franc. fasc. 87); see also HJ 630-638; Jord. i. I. 402; DuP 59-69; and for the discovery of remains, also LS iii. 246; iv. 79, 164. For a restoration, D’Esp. Mon. ii. 144-148; Fr. ii. 97, 98; and for a medallion of Antoninus Pius (Cohen, Antonin, 17-19) which perhaps represents it, see JRS 1911, 187-195; but cf. NAVALIA.

Where in Rome is Tiber Island?

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Cite this page as: Darius Arya, The American Institute for Roman Culture, “Ara Pacis Augustae” Ancient Rome Live. Last modified 07/10/2020. https://ancientromelive.org/tiber-island/

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Created by The American Institute of Roman Culture, published on 11/11/2019 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms. Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms.

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Cite This Page

Cite this page as: Darius Arya, The American Institute for Roman Culture, “Ara Pacis Augustae” Ancient Rome Live. Last modified 10/24/2019. https://ancientromelive.org/ara-pacis-augustae/

License

Created by The American Institute of Roman Culture, published on 10/24/2019 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms. Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms.