The Ancient Egyptian Obelisks of Rome

When the Romans were not busy moving earth to build colossal amphitheaters and aqueducts, they were busy moving obelisks. The city of Rome has thirteen obelisks—the most in any city—out of which eight belonged to ancient Egyptian dynasties. The others were carved in Egypt at the request of the wealthy Romans, or made in Rome as copies of ancient Egyptian originals. They were transported across the Mediterranean Sea on huge vessels; the transportation itself was such a commendable feat that one of the ships that carried these granite monuments was placed on display after the successful delivery. As noted by Pliny the elder:

But the most difficult enterprise of all was the carriage of these obelisks by sea to Rome, in vessels that excited the greatest admiration. Indeed, the late Emperor Augustus consecrated the one that brought over the first obelisk, as a lasting memorial of this marvelous undertaking, in the docks at Puteoli; but it was destroyed by fire. As to the one in which, by order of the Emperor Caligula, the other obelisk had been transported to Rome, after having been preserved for some years and looked upon as the most wonderful construction ever beheld upon the seas, it was brought to Ostia, by order of the late Emperor Claudius; and towers of Puteolan earth being first erected upon it, it was sunk for the construction of the harbor he was making there.

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Erecting an obelisk on Peter's Square in Rome.


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