Museum  April 4, 2023  Christopher Siwicki

Aeneas’s Journey in Ancient Italy

Christopher Siwicki

Terracotta statues from the sanctuary of Minerva at Lavinium (supposedly founded by Aeneas). Fourth to third centuries BC 

Greater attention is often paid to the causes of wars than to their aftermath. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 is immortalized in paintings, but the resettlement of defeated American Loyalists after 1783 is not. More books have been written on the diplomatic failings that led to World War I than on the international incidents that continued immediately after it. And the rise of Hitler in the 1930s is seemingly a more compelling story than the details of the 1948 Marshall plan.

Not so for the ancients. While the origin of the legendary Trojan War is well-known – Helen of Sparta being abducted by the Trojan prince Paris – the various stories of what happened to the surviving Heroes after the war ended are far more rich.

Christopher Siwicki

Marble relief of Aeneas, Ascanius son fleeing Troy. First century BC, Rome

The Greek playwright Aeschylus’ masterpiece, Agamemnon, revolves around the murder of the title character by his embittered wife after he returned home victorious. Euripides’ tragedy Trojan Women focuses on the fates of the female captives from that city. Odyssey’s decade of wandering across the Mediterranean is recounted in the epic by Homer.

An image depicted time and again in ancient sculpture and painting is of the fleeing Trojan Aeneas carrying his father and leading his young son away from their burning city. Aeneas’ subsequent search for a new homeland for his people led him to Italy and his descendants would go on to found Rome.

This is a myth, but it was of great importance to later Romans who did not view it as such, and the journey of Aeneas is the subject of a new exhibition in the Italian capital.

Christopher Siwicki

Terracotta statuettes showing Aeneas carrying his father and leading his son

Although small, the exhibition captures the enduring popularity of Aeneas’ story throughout ancient Italy, by including objects ranging from the seventh century BC to the second century AD. The image of the Trojan refugee depicted on painted vases and in terracotta statuary, in fresco paintings, and on marble relief panels attest to an ancient interest in the stories of what happened to people when the fighting stopped.

'The Journey of Aeneas: From Troy to Rome' is being held at the Temple of Romulus in the Forum Romanum. The exhibition is curated by Alfonsina Russo, Roberta Alteri, Nicoletta Cassieri, Daniele Fortuna, and Sandra Gatti.

About the Author

Christopher Siwicki

Christopher Siwicki is an architectural historian, specializing in the ancient world. He is a postdoctural Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute in Rome and an honorary research Fellow at the University of Exeter. He is the author of Architectural Restoration and Heritage in Imperial Rome (Oxford University Press).

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