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).
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Cite this page as: Darius Arya, The American Institute for Roman Culture, “Ara Pacis Augustae” Ancient Rome Live. Last modified 11/11/2019. https://ancientromelive.org/tiber-island/
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