Saturday, September 19, 2009


Arco di Portogallo was a ruinous archway on Via del Corso demolished in 1662 to facilitate the running of horse races during Carnival. Partly because it is known exclusively through drawings and descriptions, the monument presents problems with respect to its date and identity. To judge by surviving representations, it was a barrel-vaulted arch with a single opening and was constructed in the late imperial period. Its association with Portugal dated from the end of the fifteenth century: the Portuguese prelate Jorge da Costa, titular cardinal of the nearby San Lorenzo in Lucina from 1489 to 1508, resided in the palace that it abutted.

Like many late-antique structures, Arco di Portogallo incorporated elements taken from earlier monuments. Its north side was decorated with two large relief panels whose principal figures are identified on stylistic grounds as either Hadrian (AD 117–138) and his wife, Sabina, or as Antoninus Pius (AD 138–161) and his wife, the elder Faustina. When the arch was demolished, the panels were preserved and mounted in Palazzo dei Conservatori with an impressive dedicatory inscription that erroneously identifies the figures as Marcus Aurelius (AD 161–180) and the younger Faustina (Latin Inscriptions of Rome, 1.6H).

Like most of the dedications on the Capitol, this one bears the names of the magistrates in office at the time. One of the officials sports a rather elaborate title: CAROLVS ANTONIVS A PVTEO EQVEST MILIT D STEPHANI PP ET MART EQVES COMEND. As often in Neo-Latin inscriptions, the name is Latinized. Fortunately, Vincenzo Forcella’s Iscrizioni delle Chiese e d’altri edificii di Roma includes an index nominum: the Latin Carolus Antonius a Puteo represents Italian Carlo Antonio Pozzi. The name, however, is the least of the difficulties.

The phrase EQVEST(rium) MILIT(um) – ‘military knights’ – reveals that Pozzi belonged to a military order. The phrase D(ivi) STEPHANI P(a)P(ae) ET MART(yris) – ‘of St. Stephen, Pope and Martyr’ – indicates that it was the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen. The St. Stephen in question is neither the protomartyr of the Christian church nor the first Christian king of Hungary: he is Pope St. Stephen (r. 254–257), whose feast-day recurs on August 2. On that day in 1554, the forces of Grand Duke Cosimo I of Tuscany defeated a Sienese army at the Battle of Marciano, in the wake of which the Republic of Siena was incorporated into the Grand Duchy. To commemorate the victory, Cosimo formed a new knightly order of St. Stephen, Pope and Martyr, in 1561.

In point of fact, Pope St. Stephen almost certainly wasn’t martyred; nevertheless, having pontificated during the Age of Persecutions, he acquired that status honoris causa. As for his title, he appears in the inscription not as sanctus Stephanus but as divus Stephanus. The designation divus is borrowed from pagan antiquity: it was the title of a deceased emperor whose apotheosis had been officially recognized by the Roman senate. Incongruous as it may seem, it was widely used as an equivalent for ‘saint’ in ecclesiastical Latin of the Renaissance and later, when medieval terms such as sanctus were replaced wherever possible by classicizing equivalents.

Finally, there is EQVES COMEND. The first word is ‘knight’; the second abbreviates COM(m)END(atarius), which derives from the verb commendare (‘commit’, ‘entrust’). In church history, the epithet commendatarius designates the tenant of an ecclesiastical benefice in commendam – that is, a tenant technically acting in the capacity of a provisional caretaker. In the case of a military order, it designates the tenant of a ‘commandery’ – an income-producing estate analogous to a church property supplying a benefice. An EQVES COMMENDATARIVS (‘Knight Commander’) was a member of the order who had been granted (or who had inherited) the tenancy of such an estate.

With all the suspensions filled out, the lines read: CAROLVS ANTONIVS A PVTEO EQVEST(rium) MILIT(um) D(ivi) STEPHANI P(a)P(ae) ET MART(yris) EQVES COM(m)END(atarius) – that is, ‘Carlo Antonio Pozzi, Knight Commander of the Military Knights of St. Stephen, Pope and Martyr’. A history lesson in a dozen words!

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