Pantheon Rome inscription
The Pantheon in Rome features a prominent inscription on its façade that reads:
Translating to English, this inscription means:
“M[arcus] Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this building] when consul for the third time.”
This inscription refers to Marcus Agrippa, a close friend and son-in-law of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus. Agrippa is credited with the commissioning of the original Pantheon, which was constructed around 27-25 BCE. However, the Pantheon that stands today isn’t the original building. The current structure dates from around 126 CE, during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. It’s believed that Hadrian kept the original inscription as a tribute to Agrippa and the original Pantheon.
The Pantheon’s inscription and its history offer an intriguing insight into the architectural and political landscape of ancient Rome.
The Pantheon’s Evolution
The Pantheon we see today is not the first iteration of the structure. In fact, it’s the third. The original Pantheon was built between 27 and 25 BCE during the rule of Emperor Augustus. Commissioned by his right-hand man, Marcus Agrippa, as the inscription indicates, this initial version of the Pantheon was destroyed in a fire around 80 CE.
A second version was constructed, only to be destroyed again in another fire in 110 CE. The Pantheon that stands today was built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, around 126 CE. Unlike its predecessors, which were primarily traditional Roman rectangular temples, Hadrian’s Pantheon introduced the massive rotunda and dome that have made the structure so iconic.
The Inscription’s Significance
The decision to retain Agrippa’s name on the façade of a structure that he did not directly commission speaks volumes about the political and social dynamics of the time. Hadrian’s choice can be seen as a sign of respect towards his predecessors, and possibly an attempt to connect his reign with the glory days of the Pax Romana under Augustus. By preserving the memory of Agrippa’s contribution to Roman architecture, Hadrian bridged the past and the present, lending continuity to Rome’s architectural narrative.
The Pantheon remains one of the best-preserved buildings from ancient Rome, largely because it has been in continuous use since its construction. Initially a temple dedicated to all Roman gods (the word “Pantheon” is derived from the Greek words “pan” and “theos,” meaning “all gods”), it was converted into a Christian church in the 7th century and is known today as “Santa Maria ad Martyres.”
One of the most astonishing features of the Pantheon is its dome, with its famous central opening (oculus). The dome, which is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, is a testament to the engineering prowess of the ancient Romans. The oculus not only provides light but also serves structural and symbolic purposes. Rainwater occasionally enters through the oculus but drains away through a system of small holes on the Pantheon’s sloping floor.
Legacy and Influence
The architectural significance of the Pantheon cannot be overstated. It has inspired countless buildings around the world, especially during the Renaissance period, with famed architects like Brunelleschi and Michelangelo studying its dome to inspire their own designs. It remains a touchstone of architectural study and a testament to the enduring genius of Roman engineering and design.
In summary, while the Pantheon’s inscription provides a direct link to Marcus Agrippa and the structure’s origins, the building itself offers a deeper dive into the history, engineering feats, and political narratives of ancient Rome.