Monday, 29 July 2013

The Equites Singulares Augusti and the Roman X Catacombs.

I recently  wrote a small Facebook blog about the Roman monument, Trajans Column, which commemorates the Emperor Trajan's victory in the  Dacian Wars.

I have subsequently learnt that seven of the blocks that circle the column feature a group of elite soldiers known as the Equites singulares Augusti or Personal Cavalry of the Roman Emperor. These men were a group of young, handpicked, foreign soldiers from Spain, North Africa and Europe who knew that the rewards for the protection the Emperor of Rome, both at home and abroad, would be "a ticket to great wealth and high status". For over two hundred years, from the first to the third century, they did not fail in their duty.

Milvian Bridge in over the River Tiber

In 312 AD a civil war began between the forces of Emperor Maxentius who held Rome and Emperor Constantine causing the men of the Equites Singulares Augusti  to make a choice of whom to support....they chose Maxentius. The two opposing sides met when Constantine troops arrived at the Milvian bridge that crosses into Rome. During the battle Maxentius drowned in the Tiber and the victorious Constantine became emperor of Rome for thirty one years.  Constantine disbanded the Equites singulares Augusti  and the bodies of those who were killed at the Battle of Milvian Bridge were quickly buried and their story faded into time.

Roman Catacombs

The battle of Milvian Bridge is just one event that fits into Rome’s long history which covers over two and a half thousand years. The city is still referred to as the Eternal City with a population of over 2.8 million people, one of its many attractions is the ancient underground catacombs of which there are over thirty. In 2003, due to flooding, a totally new section, separated by a beautiful mural, was discovered. This new section, named the Roman X Catacombs, contained thousands of neatly buried bodies in over seven separate units over three levels. All of the bodies were buried on top of one another and new bodies were laid on top of the decomposing remains of the previous burial, some were found in groups and it is thought that they had died on mass suggesting that the cause of death was from an epidemic disease. What the archaeologists also found were what looked like a particular group of high status individuals, men and women of Spanish, African and European origins whose deaths may have been due to a pandemic. However these remains were wrapped in tight shrouds, some with expensive jewelry and other wearing clothing containing fine strands of gold and silver threads which lead them to consider a different scenario the answer to which is yet unknown.

What is known that men of the Equites singulares Augusti wore jackets with expensive gold and silver thread woven into the fabric and that they were buried with their wives and servants. Historian Dr Michael Scott of Warwick University, in his programme “The Mystery of Rome’s X Tomb” puts forward a theory that one 'high status' group of remains found in 2003, bricked up with the others behind a mural are that of the Equites singular Augusti and it is their ancient cemetery that the later catacombs are built upon.

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