Marvels

The Schola Praeconum

The Palatine

The building is located on the southern slopes of the Palatine, at the base of that part of the Hill that was affected over the course of time and on different levels, first by Augustus’s buildings, then by the construction of the Palaces of the Flavian dynasty (Domus Augustana and Domus Flavia), which also built the Paedagogium, and finally by a general renovation carried out by the Severans, who added the Baths district, the monumental Septizodium fountain and the Schola Praeconum.

The Schola Praeconum is located on the lowest terrace of the southern slope of the Palatine, but in a possible connection, especially in ancient times, with the building of the Paedagogium. These two contexts, despite their distance in time (the Schola dates from the Severan period, while the Paedagogium dates from the Domitian period, but was in use for a long time afterwards), performed a ‘service’ function. The Paedagogium, as the word itself intuitively suggests, was a sort of school for the education of imperial slaves that can be visited today along the southern route: The Schola Praeconum was the seat of the guild of heralds, the praecones, i.e., those who announced the circus parade (pompa circensis).

The construction of the Schola dates back to the 3rd century AD, undoubtedly based on pre-existing buildings and at a time when the Severan dynasty was carrying out a general restructuring of the southern side of the Hill. Its construction follows an orientation that respects the axis of the Circus Maximus. From an architectural point of view, it is characterised by the presence of a rectangular courtyard surrounded by a portico with pillars (no longer legible today except for the open space that can be walked on), overlooked by a tripartite system of vaulted rooms with masonry built entirely of brick, the central of which is larger than the lateral ones. The continuity of use up to the 5th century AD has been established above all by reading the sequence of the vertical and horizontal decorative devices.

The first intervention, in fact, concerned the pictorial decoration, dated 200-240 AD, depicting male figures in a standing position, dressed in servile clothes, inserted into an aedicule architecture, each holding a staff, a map, a wreath or a box, interpreted as tricliniarii. Later, the walls were covered with cipollino marble slabs, and the floor was covered with the large mosaic floor that gave the building its name: a unique black and white tessellated mosaic in which eight male figures dressed in short tunics appear in two groups of four, holding a caduceus, a banner and a staff. The floor could be dated back to the beginning of the 4th century AD when Emperor Maxentius undertook a further renovation of the southern side of the Hill.

These figures have been variously interpreted, some as heralds, or praecones, others as public servants in the service of the State, also called apparitores, others even as charioteers. What is fairly certain is that the building and those who ‘lived’ there performed functions closely connected with the Circus and the related events. Some even suggest that the building had a second floor used as an imperial tribune for circus performances.