OSR: The Monster Overhaul Is Now Available

The Monster Overhaul: A Practical Bestiary is now available for general sale!

Check out The Monster Overhaul Megapost for reviews, links, and other information. 

I'm at the stage of my DMing career -- in the neighborhood of 40 years, yikes -- where I want things to be immediately useful at the table. (I have inspiration for days at this point, thanks.) A book that instantly gives me a list of names for NPCs when my players would rather talk than fight, a random table of colorful descriptions, other things that answer the needs of an actual DM playing the actual game? Yes, please.

Too many books seem to have never been playtested and, moreover, have little to no connection to how they will be used in actual play. This is the exact opposite of that, and I love it.  

-Whizbang Dustyboots


Narracio de Mirabilibus Urbis Romae - More Wonders of Rome

In the previous post, I examined the anonymous 12th century guide to the city of Rome, the Mirabilia Urbis Romae. In this post, I'm going to examine two related but less widely distributed texts, the Narracio de Mirabilibus Urbis Romae and De Septem Mundi Miraculis.

Finding the Latin text of Gregorius' Narracio de Mirabilibus Urbis Romae wasn't difficult, and there's a good modern English translation from John Osborne. He's tried to preserve the register switches and grammatical... peculiarities of the original. As the traslation is not in the public domain, I'm going to quote selected portions rather than comment on the whole text

The Narracio is a personal account, not a collection of tales or a collaborative legendarium/guidebook. It still contains magic and wonders, but they're either firsthand accounts or plausible borrowings from known sources.

I do not, then, think of Gregorius as merely a Sir John Mandeville. I believe he had visited Rome. In the sections which are peculiar to his work he does seem to show an actual knowledge of what he describes,—of the spinario, the statue of Venus, the bath of Apollonius, the brazen tablet, and other things. He cites the authority of the Roman clerics for various stories, and refuses to believe all that the ordinary pilgrims have to tell. In short, though far from an intelligent observer, he is not an absolute and wilful liar.

-Magister Gregorius de Mirabilibus Urbis Romae, M.R.James, 1917
Gregorius is curious, but inexperienced. He starts off with a structure and a plan, but rapidly gives up. The text cuts off abruptly without explanation. Perhaps he ran out of time, content, or patience. He begins with a standard apologetic prologue, but with more sincerity than usual.
At the special request of my comrades, specifically Master Martin, Lord Thomas, and several others whom I greatly respect, I have been constrained to set down on paper those things which I have seen in Rome that are most worthy of admiration. I fear however that my poorly-composed report may disturb your sacred study and interrupt the delights of holy scripture, [1] and I blush to offend ears accustomed to the lectures of the foremost scholars with my unpolished prose. After all, who wouldn’t think twice about inviting to a plain and frugal repast guests who are accustomed to delicacies? That explains why my lazy hand has had to be prodded to take up my promised task, for often, just as I was about to pick up my pen, my mind would shrink from the subject when I considered the poverty of my disordered discourse. However, the wishes of my colleagues have finally overcome my bashfulness. In order not to delay the promised truth I have taken up my pen in my awkward and clumsy hand, and I have set for the work, as best I can, in the following manner.

[1] This could be ironic, as Gregorius’ report is largely secular and completely free of the usual biblical quotations and references, he doesn’t seem to like Pope Gregory, and he is heartily sick of pilgrims.

Here begins the account of the wonders of the city of Rome, which have been fashioned either by magic craft or by human labour…
Antiquae urbis Romae cum regionibus simulachrum
Marco Fabio Calvo, 1532

The City of Rome

I believe this ruin teaches us clearly that all temporal things will soon pass away, especially as Rome, the epitome of earthly glory, languished and declines so much every day.


The horse, the rider, and the columns were lavishly gilded, but in many places the gold has fallen victim to Roman avarice, and time has also taken its toll. The rider raises his right hand, as if to address the people or to give orders; his left hand holds a reign, which turns the horse’s head aside to the right, as if he were about to ride away in another direction. A little bird, which they call a cuckoo, sits between the ears of the horse, and under the hoofs there is a sort of dwarf, who is being trodden upon. He makes a wonderful image of the agonies of death.

Just as this admirable work has been assigned different names, so too have a variety of reasons been proposed for its manufacture. I shall give a wide berth to the worthless stories of the pilgrims and the Romans in this regard, and shall record what I’ve been told by the elders, the cardinals, and the men of greatest learning. 

This is the statue of Marcus Aurelius. We've read one story in the previous post. Gregorius offers two more.

Those who call him Marcus give this account of its origin. There was a certain king of the Miseni, a dwarf, who was more skillful than any other man in the perverse arts of magic. After he had subjugated the neighboring kings, he attacked the Romans, whom he easily defeated in several encounters. For his magic so blunted his enemy’s strength and the keenness of their weapons that they completely lost the will to fight, and their weapons the power to inflict wounds. Because he defeated the Romans easily in every engagement, they were reluctant to leave their fortifications, and eventually found themselves surrounded by a tight blockade. Penned up in this way, they were unable to obtain any reinforcements.

Every day before dawn this magician would come out of his camp alone, and while the loud cry of a bird could be heard coming from the camp, he would practice his magic arts alone in a field. By certain secret words and powerful spells he made it impossible for the Romans to muster their strength and defeat him.
The rest of the plan can be easily surmised, especially if you’ve read the version in the Mirabila.
Marcus was to go out by night, and when he discovered that the king of the Miseni had left his camp, he was not to attack him with his weapons, since these had no power to hurt the king, but to seize him and carry him back inside the walls. Marcus gave his complete assent, and in middle of the night passed through the wall.


Captured in a manner he had not foreseen, the magician was then carried back inside the wall, and fearing that any delay might allow their captive to free himself by his magic craft, Marcus trampled him to death beneath the hoofs of his horse as everyone looked on, for the king could not be harmed by weapons.

Gregorius follows this story with an alternative explanation based on a story from Livy. Just for fun, here's the original tale from Livy.

In this year, owing either to an earthquake or the action of some other force, the middle of the Forum fell in to an immense depth, presenting the appearance of an enormous cavern. Though all worked their hardest at throwing earth in, they were unable to fill up the gulf, until at the bidding of the gods inquiry was made as to what that was in which the strength of Rome lay. For this, the seers declared, must be sacrificed on that spot if men wished the Roman republic to be eternal. The story goes on that M. Curtius, a youth distinguished in war, indignantly asked those who were in doubt what answer to give, whether anything that Rome possessed was more precious than the arms and valour of her sons. As those around stood silent, he looked up to the Capitol and to the temples of the immortal gods which looked down on the Forum, and stretching out his hands first towards heaven and then to the yawning chasm beneath, devoted himself to the gods below. Then mounting his horse, which had been caparisoned as magnificently as possible, he leaped in full armour into the cavern. Gifts and offerings of fruits of the earth were flung in after him by crowds of men and women. 

-Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Book 7 Ch 5

Gregorius’ tale is... slightly different, both in detail and in theme.

Another explanation of this statue… A great chasm opened in the ground at the Palace of Sallust, spewing forth sulphurous fire and foul air. This caused a terrible plague which killed a great many Romans. When the daily death toll from this pestilence began to mount, the citizens consulted Phoebus and discovered that it would only abate if some Roman were to set the well-being of the populace ahead of personal consideration and willingly throw himself into the chasm. Accordingly a certain Roman citizen, of good family but getting on in years and leading an inactive life which brought no benefit to either himself or to his city, was implored to sacrifice himself for the common good, in return for which his family would be showered with wealth and raised to the ranks of the ruling class.
Having read the story in Livy, how do you expect this tale to end? Wrong!
He refused categorically, replying that the recognition of posterity was of little use to him if he had to enter the underworld alive.

When no one could be found in the whole city who would consent to perform this act of self-sacrifice, Quintus Quirinius addressed an assembly of the entire population. […] Undaunted and in high spirits, as if on his way to a party, he mounted his horse and in full view of everyone hurled himself at great speed into the opening. Immediately a cuckoo flew out, the chasm closed its jaws, and the plague departed.

Thus freed from this great curse, the Romans erect an eternal memorial in his honour, because of this supreme act of service. To this they added the horse, because Quntius had made his sacrifice while mounted on it, Between the ears of the horse they placed the bird which had flown out of the chasm, and beneath the horse’s hoofs they put the dwarf who lay with his wife.
This dwarf was not previously mentioned. M.R. James says, “The explanation of the nanus at the end is very awkward. The figure ought surely to have represented the lazy citizen who refused to sacrifice himself” I like the editorial critique six centuries after publication. The cuckolding dwarf is absolutely consistent with the prevailing sense of humour at the time and tourist stories since time immemorial. 
Italian engraving, 1831
The third statue is that of the Colossus, which some think to be a statue of the sun, while others call it the image of Rome. What is particularly astounding about this piece is how so great a mass could have been cast, how it was raised and how it could stand. For its height, as I have discovered it written, was 126 feet. This enormous monument stood on the island of Herodius, at the Colosseum, fifteen feet higher than the loftiest points in the city. It held a sphere in its right hand, and a sword in its left, the sphere representing the world, and the sword military prowess. The Romans entrusted the sphere to the right hand because it is more virtuous to rule than to conquer.


The bronze image was completely gilded with imperial gold and it shone in the darkness. The strangest thing of all about it was that it turned continuously in a motion equal to that of the sun, which it therefore always face, and because of this many believed that it was the image of the sun.


Although of horrific size, one can nonetheless admire in them the great skill of their maker, and indeed nothing of the perfect beauty of the human head or hand is lacking in any part. It’s quite amazing how the fluid craftsmanship can simulate soft hairs in solid bronze, and, if you look at intently, transfixed by its splendour, it gives the appearance of being about to move and speak. They say that no other statue was ever made in the city with such care or expense.

A Very Long Practical Joke?

There is another bronze statue, a rather laughable one, which they call Priapus. He looks as though he is in severe pain, with his head bent down as if to remove from his foot a thorn that he had stepped on. If you lean forward and look up to see what he's doing, you discover genitals of extraordinary size.
Genitals of extraordinary size? I don't think they exist.

Just to confirm, in Latin.
Est etiam aliud eneum simulacrum ualde ridiculosum quod Priapum dicunt. Qui demisso capite uelud spinam calcatam educturus de pede, asperamlesionem pacientis speciem representat. Cui si demisso capite uelut quid agat exploraturus suspexeris, mire magnitudinis uirilia uidebis.
-Magister Gregorius de Mirabilibus Urbis Romae: A New Description of Rome in the Twelfth Century, G. McN. Rushforth, 1919
The statue in question is the Spinario, which does not, as far as I can tell, have the... attribute described by Magister Gregorius. I've spent more time than I think is wise (i.e. any time at all) trying to find low-angle shots. Perhaps it was very cold in 12th century England? Perhaps there’s an angle where it looks bigger? Perhaps it's a little joke to mislead future statue-ogglers; a rickroll, but with one letter changed? "Ha ha, made you look?"

It's a pretty good joke, actually. Someone in the 12th century reads the manuscript, travels all the way to Rome, finds the statue, looks up at it, realizes the description is inaccurate, travels all the way back to England, and complains. "Why were you looking anyway, Stephanos?," comes the reply. "Eh? Eeeeh?"

Additional Wonders

Gregorius then describes the Salvatio Romae and the Iron Statue of Belerophon, closely following the text of De Septem Mundi Miraculis. See the discussion of that text below. But the next wonder has a personal touch.

Also much to be admired is the bath of Apollo Bianeus, which still exists in Rome. This bath was made with great skill in a bronze vat from a certain formula of sulphur, black salt, and tartar. When it had been prepared, Apollo Bianeus lit it with one consecrated candle, and it was thereafter kept hot by a continuous fire. I saw this bath myself and I dipped my hand into it, but although I had paid the fee I declined to bath because of the foul stench of the sulphur.
"Apollo Bianeus" is a corruption of the reference text, scribal error, or just poor memory, as the refernce should be to Apollonius of Tyana.

Digression: Apollonius of Tyana and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) influenced early Dungeons and Dragons. According to Rob Kuntz,

As a young chap I was part of the Gygax family, virtually adopted at one point, and always in attendance at their house on a daily basis. I ate, drank. and sometimes slept there, gamed (of course) helped with the garden, adopted their religion, and most definitely watched movies there!

That I was influenced by EGG's tastes is to say the least. He would later comment upon several that held deep fascination for him and inspired him in writing many of D&D's spells, particularly, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao; and of course, The Raven, a Roger Corman film.
The Raven is not a great film by any means, but 7 Faces of Dr. Lao is better than it has any right to be. I wouldn't say it's aged well, or that it's a brillaint film, but it has some redeeming qualities. It's gloomy, philosophical piece disguised as a special-effects heavy kids film. You don't get scenes like this in your standard Disney production:

The character, by the way, doesn't get a redemption arc or change their ways. Apollonius of Tyre predicts the future.

Judging by comments on youtube and elsewhere, the film was highly influential and memorable to young minds, for reasons they may not have understood at the time. The book is considerably weirder.

Anyway, back to the Narracio.

Marble Statues

Now I shall turn my attention to the marble statues, almost all of which were destroyed or toppled by blessed Gregory. I shall begin with one in particular because of its exceptional beauty.


The image is made from Parian marble with such wonderful and intricate skill, that she seems more like a living creature than a statue; indeed she seems to blush in her nakedness, a reddish tinge colouring her face, and it appears to those who take a close look that blood flows in her snowy complexion. Because of this wonderful image, and perhaps some magic spell that I’m unaware of, I was drawn back three times to look at it despite the fact that it was two stades distant from my inn.
I love Gregorius. In an endnote, Osborne speculates he also had tiny feet. I think he's just great.
Close by there are two marble horses of incredible size and skillful composition. It is said that they represent the first mathematicians, to whom horses were assigned because of the quickness of their intellects. 

These are the Horse Tamers, who get a much longer tale in the Mirabila.

In this account of the city’s monuments, I mustn’t forget to mention the Palace of Diocletian, although words are not adequate to describe its vast size and most skillful and admirable construction. It’s so large in fact that I couldn’t get an accurate impression of the whole structure despite spending the best part of a day there. I discovered columns so large that no one can throw a pebble as high as their capitals, and the cardinals say that a hundred men could scarcely cut, polish, and finish one of these in the space of a year. I shan’t say any more about it, since if I tell you the truth you won’t believe me.
Gregorius 100% threw pebbles at these columns. You cannot convince me otherwise.
But who really cares whether I describe at length all the palaces in the city of Rome, since I’m sure that no one could ever see them all? Therefore I shall skip the enormous structure which was the palace of Tiberius, and leave aside the palace of Nero, the wonderful building of the divine Nerva, and the palace of Octavian. I shall not even speak of the seven thrones, skillfully constructed at great height, about which, they say, Ovid wrote:
“The palace of the sun towered on lofty columns, made bright by gleaming gold and flame-like bronze.”
Concerning the palace of the sixty emperors: Who could describe the palace of the sixty emperors? Although much of it has crumbled, they still say that all the Romans of this day and age couldn’t destroy what’s left.

Now I shall add a few words about the pyramids, the tombs of the mighty, of enormous size and height, rising to a point in the manner of a cone. The first of these which I encountered was the tomb of Romulus, which stands by the castle of Cresentius near the church of St. Peter’s. The pilgrims erroneously claim that this is the grain heap of the apostle Peter, which was transformed into a stone hill of the same size when Nero confiscated it. It’s an utterly worthless tale, typical of those told by pilgrims. Hidden inside every pyramid is a marble sarcophagus, with carved reliefs on all sides, in which the body of the deceased was placed.

The pyramids in question are the Meta Romuli and the Meta Remi. According to Osborne, this tale is not known from any other sources. 

Gregorius then relates some facts about Julius Caesar’s tomb / St. Peter's needle, now known better as the Vatican Obelisk.

The pilgrims call this pyramid “St. Peter’s needle” and they make great efforts to crawl underneath it, where the stone rests on four bronze lions, claiming falsely that those who manage to do so are cleansed from their sins for having made a true penance.
Osborne relates that this is an “interesting insight into the mentality of the medieval pilgrim”.

Looking at the Vatican Obelisk, it’s obviously supported by lions. But these are not the original lions. These are 16th century lions.
Gregory reports that the space between the obelisk and its base was created by four bronze lions. This is also curious, because the original bronze support pieces, or astragals, which are still in use today, are clearly not in the form of lions nor of any animal. The error is by no means unique to Gregory. It may be found in the writings of no less worthy an observer than Petrarch, who refers to the bronze lions in a letter written to cardinal Giovanmi Colonna in 1377, and two lions actually appear in a thirteenth century mural illustrating the Crucifixtion of St. Peter in the Church of S. Piero a Grado (near Pisa).


The internet is amazing. It only took me a few minutes to find the mural.

There can be no question of a switch having been made at some point between the fourteenth century and 1586, as this would have involved lifting the obelisk from its base. Moreover, the original curved astragals are shown in illustrations contained in the Modena and Princeton manuscripts of Johannes Marcanova’s Quaedam antiquitatum fragmenta of 1465, and again in a sixteenth-century drawing of the obelisk by Guiliano di Sangallo.

-The Marvels of Rome, John Osborne, 1987.

Johannes Marcanova

It is possible their shape suggested an animal foot to medieval observers, who were accustomed to the sight of lions supporting monuments and furnishings of all sorts, and that they simply assumed that the astragals were meant to represent lions.

As the Vatican obelisk stands today, there are indeed four lions at the corners, concealing the original astragals which are still in place), but these were added in the time of Pope Sixtus V and are the work of the artist Prospero Bresciano.

-The Marvels of Rome, John Osborne, 1987.

I vaguely recognized the name "Prospero Bresciano" as “the sculptor who made a Moses so bad that he died", so I did some digging.

The Fountain of Moses

But looking into the story, I was surprised to learn that it’s an “utterly worthless tale”. While it’s true that the statue was widely criticized after its unveiling, and over the intervening centuries, it did not lead to the poetic death of the sculptor from a broken heart. I was duped by the tales of credulous guides and pilgrims, just like Gregorius!

However appealing this story is, it simply is not true. In early 1591, almost two and one-half years after the final payment for the Moses, Bresciano was still very much alive, collaborating with Pietro Bordone on a copper angel and the stemma (coat of arms) of Gregory XIV for the Castel Sant'Angelo.124 He was still alive in August 1591, when he modeled the figures of the Virtues for the catafalque of Sixtus V erected in S. Maria Maggiore. Five months after the catafalque was erected, in January 1592, Bresciano filed a legal suit against Orlando Landi, his procurer of materials, for stealing a large quantity of wax from his home.

-Steven F. Ostrow, The Discourse of Failure in Seventeenth-Century Rome: Prospero Bresciano's "Moses"

Which is charmingly mundane. Back to the Narracio (again). 

Historically Accurate Giant Crabs

Osborne proposes that the lions of the obelisk suggested, to the mind of Gregory, the crabs supporting the lighthouse of Alexandria. Gregory uses “cancros / cancri”, and Osborne chose to translate this literally, as “crabs”, rather than architecturally, as “arches”. It’s possible that Gregory used the “crab” as architectural jargon, understood to him and to his colleagues. It’s also possible he envisioned giant crabs supporting the structure, as lions support the obelisk.

Another great wonder is the Alexandrian lighthouse, which stands in the sea on four crabs made of glass. One wonders how such enormous crabs could have been manufactured of glass, how they could be placed in the sea without being broken, and how the cement foundations supported by the crabs could survive underwater. It is also puzzling how the cement hardened underwater, why the crabs are not broken in the sea, and why the foundation doesn’t slip under the great weight of cement. Isidore describes a type of sand which had this property: if it is mixed with water, subjected to sun or to fire, reduced to its original sandy state, and then plunged into water, it solidifies and turns to stone. But it’s not my task to explain miracles.
This sort of thing could easily confuse later illustrators.

The Death of Handwriting

In front of [the statue] there is a bronze tablet, which is called the tablet “prohibiting sin”, on which are written the principal statutes of the law. On this tablet I read much, but understood little, for they were aphorisms, and the reader has to supply most of the words.
Osborne explains:
It seems strange to us in the twentieth century that these elegant capital letters can have posed any difficulty to a medieval viewer, but such was evidently indeed the case. An interesting parallel is provided by a Carolingian Aratea manuscript (Leiden, University Library, Cod. lat. Voss. 79), where the rustic capitals of the ninth century were transliterated into readable script by a thirteenth-century scribe. Erwin Panofsky, noting this odd occurrence, suggests that it can only have been done “because he evidently thought that the Carolingian ‘Rustic Capital’ would stump his contemporaries, as well as future generations.” One can also compare the comment of the fourteenth-century humanist physician, Giovanni Dondi, on the inscription carved on the Arch of Constantine; “multe litere sculpte, sed difficiliter leguntur.
-The Marvels of Rome, John Osborne, 1987.

Martin van Heemskerck

Some interesting light has been shed on Gregory’s use of this medieval account of the seven wonders of the world as a result of Margarete Demus-Quatember’s recent study of a sixteenth century painting by Martin van Heemskerck. The work in question, now in the collection of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, consists principally of a fantastic view of the city of Rome, in which a number of these seven wonders can be identified. Since it seems unlikely that Heemskerck can have based his painting on Gregory’s Narracio, it would appear that there must have existed a version of the De septem miraculus mundi in which the wonders were associated with the city of Rome. If such a version did exist, and it is otherwise rather difficult to account for the Baltimore painting), and if Gregory knew it, then his inclusion in the Narracio of six of the seven wonders is more readily explained.
-The Marvels of Rome, John Osborne, 1987.
I’d like to read the citation (Margarete Demus-Quatember, Ricordo di Roma. Mirabilia urbis Romae und Miracula mundi auf einem Gemälde von Martin van Heemskerck … 203-223). Unfortunately, it’s paywalled. But the painting is worth examining. It's a mishmash of wonders, artifacts, and characters. It's the Narracio in a nutshell. It's a mytho-historical Where's Wally?

Of the Seven Wonders of the World from The Complete Works of the Venerable Bede, trans. Rev. J.A. Giles

This text is in the public domain. As one of Gregorius' main sources, it's worth quoting in full.

The first of the seven wonders of the world, made by the hand of man, is the Capitol at Rome, the very salvation of the inhabitants, and greater than a whole city. In it were statues of the nations subdued by the Romans, or images of their gods, and on the breasts of the statues were inscribed the names of the nations which had been conquered, with bells hanging from their necks. Priests or watchmen attended on these by turns, day and night, and showed much care in watching them. If either of them should move, the bell made a noise, and so they knew what nation was rebelling against the Romans. When they knew this, they communicated the information by word of mouth or by writing to the Roman princes, that they might know against what nation they were next to turn the Roman arms.

The second is the Light-house of Alexandria, which was founded on four glass arches, twenty paces deep beneath the sea. The wonder is, how such large arches could be made, or how they could be conveyed without breaking; how the foundations, which are cemented together above, could adhere to them, or how the cement could stand firm under the water; and why the arches are not broken, and why the foundations cast in above do not slip off.

The third is the figure of the Colossus in the island of Rhodes, a hundred and thirty-six feet long, and cast of melted metal. The wonder is how such an immense mass could be cast, or how it could be set up and not fall.

The fourth wonder is the iron figure of Bellerophon on horseback, which hangs suspended in the air over the city, and has neither chains nor any thing else to support it; but great magnetic stones are placed in vaults, and so it is retained in assumption (position), and remains in balanced measure. Now the calculation of its weight is about five thousand pounds of iron.

The fifth wonder is the Theatre of Heraclea, carved out of one piece of marble, so that all the cells and rooms of the wall, and the dens of the beasts, are made out of one solid stone. It is supported on four arches carved out of the same stone; and no one can whisper in the whole circle so low, either to himself or to another, without being heard by every one who is in the circle of the building.

The sixth wonder is the Bath, which is such, that when Apollotaneus has lighted it with one candle of consecration, it keeps the hot baths continually burning without being attended to.

The seventh wonder is the Temple of Diana, on four pillars. Its first foundations are arched drains; then it increases gradually, upper stones being placed on the former arches. Thus: upon these four are placed eight pillars and eight arches; then in the third row it increases in a like proportion, and stones still higher are placed thereon. On the eight are placed sixteen, and on the sixteen thirty-two; the fourth row of stones is on the fifth row of arches, and sixty-four pillars complete the plan of this remarkable building.
It must have been a thrill for Gregorius to see one of these wonders firsthand.


40k: HamWarmer 24.5 - Imperial Guard

HamWarmer 24.5 is my cobbled-together 40k homebrew. Here's the Imperial Guard faction.

Imperial Guard PDF v 0.1

After 5th edition, every official Imperial Guard rulesset included some type of Orders system, where, on a squad or army level, a player selects an Order each turn that grants units a situational bonus. This design choice was never really appealed. It adds a new subsystem (something HamWarmer 24.5 tries to avoid), it requires balancing (ditto), and there's usually one optimal choice in any given scenario.

These rules rely on simple mechanical benefits granted by the core rules. Instead of a complicated faction-only leadership system, the Imperial Guard use the standard Morale rules, modified slightly by vox casters. Vehicle facing and screening is critical. 

In other 40k news, here are a few recent conversions from the Leviathan boxed set.

A neurotyrant with a helmet. Always remember to wear your helmet.

A Screamer-Killer with a reposed neck and no eyes. All non-syapse creatures in my Tyranid swarm are eyeless.

A winged Tyranid Prime converted to match my other winged Tyranid Warriors with their old Forgeworld wings. I swapped the order of wings and talons and replaced the feet with Genestealer claws.


Mirabilia Urbis Romae - The Wonders of Rome

While tracking down a quotation for a post on Virgil's reputation as a sorcerer, I fell down a footnote rabbithole.

From Italy generally, Higden proceeds to a description of Rome in particular, which is made up of a strange assemblage of absurdities. A large part of these are derived from a small tract, whose author is generally considered to be unknown, though styled by Higden Magister Gregorius. Its title is Mirabilia Urbis Romae, and so popular did it become, that it went through more than 30 editions in the fifteenth century, apart from the translations into German and into Italian which were printed in the same period. Other marvels are transcribed from the Polycraticon of John of Salisbury.

The reader who has any taste for the investigation of such matters, may consult the recent work of Dr. Gregorovius, Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter (of which the first volume appeared at Stuttgard in 1859), in which the medieval legends are recounted with a patience and diligence rarely to be found except in a German. Willingly passing over these, I have only further to observe that Higden...

-Introduction to the Polychronicon of Ranulph Higden, Churchill Babington, 1865, pg. xxx.
After chuckling at the scorn of 19th century academics, I immediately* realized that Babington had confused two similar texts. The first text, De Mirabilibus Urbis Romae of Magister Gregorius, is a source Higden's used extensively for his Polychronicon, but was never popular or widely translated. The full text was rediscovered in 1917, and will be featured in a future post. For clarity, I'm going to refer to it by the title the translator John Osborne uses, Narracio de Mirabilibus Urbis Romae.

*well, after a few hours of confusion.

The second text, the anonymous Mirabilia Urbis Romae, was widely translated and very popular.
In this curious composition, written by an unknown scholar, concerning The wonders of the City of Rome, Roman archaeology, which has now attained such appalling proportions, puts forth its earliest shoots in a naive and barbarous form and in a Latin as ruinous as its subject. The good sense and absurdity, the accurate knowledge and pardonable mistakes therein mingled, are not wholly put to shame by the pretentious learning of later and present-day archaeologists, whose opinions, if united, would reduce Rome to a labyrinth utterly offensive to the historian.

-Ferdinand Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages, 1859, trans. Annie Hamilton, Vol. 4, Book VIII, Ch. VII.
This is the sort of massy ore I am smelting to forge my Iron Gates setting.

Unfortunately, Francis Morgan Nichols' 1889 translation of the Mirabilia Urbis Romae has a few issues. It's pointlessly stylized and uses the long s, which can ſuck right off. It's 1889! You should have known better! You didn't use it in your 1877 book The Roman Forum: a Topographical Study. It's not even a manuscript convention; you used it in the introduciton and the footnotes too!

There's a 1986 reissue of the text with modern typesetting and better maps. Unfortunately, it does not include any of Nichol's useful footnotes, and it makes several significant and vexing errors in transcription and modernization. I started using it, gave up, and decided to manually modernize the interesting parts of Nichols' original public domain text. Different manuscripts are noted by square brackets. Please refer back to the original text for academic purposes.

The Marvels of Rome
A Picture of the Golden City

Part I. Of the Foundation of Rome, and her chief places.

1. Of the Foundation of the City of Rome

After the Sons of Noah built the Tower of Confusion, Noah with his sons entered into a ship, as Hescodius [1] writes, and came to Italy. Not far from the place where Rome is now he founded a city of his own name where he brought his travail and his life to an end. Then his son Janus,[2] with Janus his son, [3] Japhet [4] his grandson, and Camese [5], a man of the country, built a city, Janiculum in the Palatine mountain [6], and succeeded to the kingdom. When Camese had gone the way of all flesh, kingdom passed to Janus alone. He, with the aforesaid Camese, built a palace in Transtiberim (Trastevere), which he called Janiculum, where the Church of Saint John at Janiculum now stands. But he had the seat of his kingdom in the palace that he built in the mountain Palatine, where all the Emperors and Caesars of later times gloriously dwelt.
[1] The 1989 reissue has "Hescondius" not the correct "Hescodius". That's not a good sign, and it made tracking down the identity of this source more difficult than it needed to be. C.J. Verduin has an excellent writeup on the potential source here. Did Hescodius exist, or was he a convenient vaguely historical figure (like Josephus in Perlesvaus) that the author of Mirabilia Urbis Romae borrowed to lend an air of plausibility to his collected tales? I secretly suspect he's a Greek philosopher of the same school as Hypocrisies and Appendices, but who knows.

[2] Genesis 10 is very clear that Noah's three sons are Shem, Ham, and Japeth (or Shem, Ham, and Green Eggs if you want to fail your theology exam). Janus is not mentioned.

[3] Janus' son, also named Janus, is also not mentioned in Genesis.

[4] Japhet is Noah's son, not his grandson or great grandson, but that's OK.

[5] Camese also invented the loose flowing shirt that bears his name.

[6] I'm not sure if "mountain" instead of the more traditional "hill" is Nichols' choice or the intention of the original author. Either way, it's better for RPG purposes. The palaces are in the mountain (in Nichols' version), not on it.
Moreover at that time Nembroth, who is the same as Saturnus that was shamefully treated by his son Jupiter, came to the realm of Janus and, with his aid, founded a city in the Capitol, which he called Saturnia after himself. [7] In those days king Italus with the Syracusans, coming to Janus and Saturnus, built a city by the river Albula, and named it after himself, and they named the river Albula the Tiber, after the likeness of the dyke of Syracuse.[8] After this, Hercules came to the realm of Janus with the Argives, as Varro tells, and made a city called Valentia under the Capitol. And afterwards, Tibris, king of the Aborigines, came with his nation and built a city by the Tiber, where he was slain by Italus in a fight. And Evander, king of Arcady, with his men made a city in the Palatine mountain. Likewise Corbias, with a host of Sicanians, built a city nearby in the valley. And Glaucus, the younger son of Jupiter, came with his men, raised a city, and built walls. After him Roma, Aeneas' daughter, with a multitude of Trojans, built a city in the palace of the town. Aventinus Silvius, king of the Albans, raised a palace and mausoleum in the mountain Aventinus.

Four hundred and thirty-three years after the destruction of the town of Troy, Romulus was born of the blood of Priam, king of the Trojans. When he was twenty-second years old, in the fifteenth day of the Calends of May, he encompassed all these cities with a wall, and he called the city Rome after himself. And in her Etrurians, Sabines, Albans, Tusculans, Politanes, Telenes, Ficanians, Janiculans, Camerians, Capentates, Faliscans, Lucanians, Italians, and all the noble folk of the whole earth, with their wives and children, came there to dwell.
[7] The appearance of Saturn and Jupiter as historical figures might be a bit confusing. Christian luminaries suggested that the pagan gods were merely elevated humans, whose myths grew larger over the years. Ambiguous figures like the Dioscuri and Hercules probably helped. Combining Saturn and Nimrod into one figure is a novel choice. It's origin stories all the way down.
[8] I'm not sure if this is a reference I should know automatically, or if it's something the author invented on the spot. I know of the famous dykes of Semiramis mentioned in Herodotus (1.184), but not the dyke of Syracuse.

2. Of the Town Wall

The wall of the city of Rome has three hundred and sixty one towers, forty-nine castles, seven chief arches, six thousand nine hundred battlements, twelve gates, and five posterns. The compass of the walls is twenty two miles without including the Transtiberim and the Leonine City [Saint Peter's Porch].

3. Of the Gates

The gates of the famous city are these:
  • Porta Capena, called Saint Paul’s Gate, by the Temple of Remus.
  • Porta Appia [where is the church that is named Domine quo vadis, where are seen the footsteps of Jesus Christ].
  • Porta Latina [because the Latins and Apulians used it]. There is the vessel that was filled with boiling oil and in which the blessed John the Evangelist was set. [8]
  • Porta Metrovia.
  • Porta Asinaria, called the Lateran Gate.
  • Porta Lavicana, called the Greater.
  • Porta Taurina, called Saint Laurence’s Gate, or the gate of Tivoli, [and it is called Taurina, or the Bull Gate, because there are two heads of bulls carved on it, on lean and the other fat. The lean head is without signifies that those of slender substance come into the city, while the fat and full head within signifies that they go forth rich].
  • Porta Numentana [that leads to the city of Nomentum]. [9]
  • Porta Salaria, [which has two Ways: the old Salarian way that leads to the Milvian Bridge, and the new way that goes to the Salarian Bridge].
  • Porta Pinciana, [because king Pincius had palace there].
  • Porta Flaminia [called Saint Valentine’s].
  • Porta Collina, at [the castle that is by Saint Peter’s bridge, which is called the emperor] Hadrian’s castle, [who made Saint Peter’s bridge].
Beyond the Tiber there are three gates:
  • Porta Septimiana, seven Naiads joined with Janus. [10]
  • Porta Aurelia or aurea, the Golden, [which is now called Saint Pancras’ Gate.]
  • Porta Portuensis.
[There are two gates in Saint Peter’s Porch; the Gate of the Castle of the Holy Angel and the Porta Virdaria, the gate at the Garden].
[8] See the illustration above.

[9] The gate to Nomentum is described by the equation p=mv, porta equals [holy] mass [in the] Vatican.

[10] Nichols adds “Septem Naiades iunctae Iano. These words, which were suggested by Ovid (Metam. xiv. 785), appear to be introduced to supply an etymology for the name Septimiana. The later copies substitute the words ubi septem laudes fureunt factae Octavino."

4. Of Triumphal Arches

The Triumphal Arches are the following [which were made for an Emperor returning from a triumph, and where they were lead with worship by the senators, and his victory was graven thereon for a remembrance to posterity].
  • Alexander’s Golden Arch at Saint Celsus.
  • The arch of the Emperors Theodosius, Valentinian, and Gratian at Saint Ursus.
  • The triumphal arch [of marble that the Senate decreed be adorned with trophies in honour of Drusus, father of Claudius Caesar, on account of his victories in the Rhaetic and German wars, where the vestiges barely remain] outside the Appian Gate at the temple of Mars.
  • The arch of Titus and Vespasian in the Circus. 
  • The arch of Constantine by the Ampitheatre.
  • The arch of the Seven Lamps of Titus and Vespasian [where Moses’ candlestick with seven branches, with the Ark, at the foot of the Cartulary Tower] at New Saint Mary’s between the Greater Palace and the Temple of Romulus.
  • The arch of Julius Caesar and the Senators between the Aedes Concordiae and the Fatal Temple, [11] [before Saint Martina, where now stands the Breeches Towers].
  • The triumphal arch of Octavian, near Saint Laurence in Lucina.
  • Antoninus’ arch, near his pillar [where now stands the tower of the Tofetti].
  • There is an arch at Saint Mark's that is called the Hand of Flesh, for once, in this city of Rome, Lucy, a holy matron, was tormented for the faith of Christ by the emperor Diocletian. He commanded that she should be laid down and beaten to death. And behold! He that smote her was made stone, but his hand remained flesh, unto the seventh day, which is why the name of that place is called Hand of Flesh to this day.
  • The Arch of Gold Bread is in the Capitol, [12] [and in the Aventine the arch of Faustinus is near to Saint Sabina].
[11] “The Fatal Temple” = the Temple of the Three Fates. A useful bit of wordplay to inflict on your players.

[12] Nichols adds “Arcus panis aurei. The Graphia has arcus aureus.” Mmm…delicious pandoro

There are also other arches, which are not triumphal but memorial arches, as is the arch of Piety before Round Saint Mary’s. [13] Once upon a time, when an emperor was ready in his chariot to go forth to war, a poor widow fell at his feet, weeping and crying, “Oh my lord, let me have justice before you go.” And he promised her that on his return he would hear her suit, but she said, “Perhaps you will die first.” Considering this,[14] the emperor leapt from his chariot and held court on the spot.

The woman said, “I had only one son, and a young man has slain him.” The emperor pronounced sentence. “The murderer,” said he, “shall die. He shall not live."

“Then your son,” the woman said, “shall die, for it is he that playing with my son has slain him.” But when the emperor’s son was lead to death, the woman sighed aloud and said, “Let the young man that is to die be given to me in place of my son, so I shall be recompensed, else I shall never confess that I have had justice.” This was done, and the woman departed with rich gifts from the emperor. [15]

[13] See the carol Silent Night. “Silent night. Holy night. / All is calm, all is bright. / Round yon virgin mother and child...”

[14] And being genre aware.

[15] Nichols adds, “The legend of the Justice of Trajan, and of St. Gregory being moved by the sculpture to obtain the admission of the heathen emperor into Paradise, is as old as the eighth century.” This version adds several details. See also Dante, Purgatorio X.73.

5. Of the Hills

The hills within the city are these.

  • Janiculus [that is commonly called Janarian, where the church of Saint Sabba is].
  • Aventine, that is also called Quirinal [because the Quirites were there, where the church of Saint Alexius is].
  • Caelian [where the church of Saint Stephen in monte Caelio is].
  • Capitol [or Tarpeian hill, where the Senator’s palace is].[16]
  • Pallanteum [where the Greater Palace is].
  • Exquiline [that is above the others, where the basilica of Saint Mary the Greater is].
  • Viminal [where Saint Agatha’s church is, and where Virgil, being taken by the Romans, escaped invisibly and went to Naples, hence the phrase vado ad Napulim. [17]
[16] The palace of the restored Senate of 1143.

[17] This series of posts started because I needed to track down a footnote for a post on Virgil and sorcery. Beware the footnotes! Bewaaaare!

6. Of Thermae

[There are great palaces called thermae, with great crypts underground. In the winter, a fire was kindled throughout, and in summer they were filled with fresh water, so that the court dwelt in the upper chambers in much delight, as may be seen in the thermae of Diocletian, before Saint Sufana].

Now there are the Antonian Thermae, the Domitian Thermae, the Maximian, those of Licinius, the Diocletian, the Tiberian [behind Saint Sufana], the Novatian, those of Olympias [at Saint Laurence in panisperna], those of Agrippa [behind Round Saint Mary’s], and the Alexandrine [where the hospital of the Thermae is].

7. Of Palaces

Palaces in the city are these.

  • The Greater Palace of the Monarchy of the Earth, which contains the capital seat of the whole world.
  • The Caesearian palace in the Pallantean hill.
  • The palace of Romulus near the hut of Faustulus.
  • The palace of Severus [by Saint Sixtus].
  • The palace of Claudius [between the Colosseum and Saint Peter in vincula].
  • The palace of Constantine [in the Lateran, where my lord the Pope dwells]. This Lateran palace was Nero's, and named from the side of northern region where it stands, or from the frog which Nero secretly produced. [18] In that palace there is now a great church.
[18] Nichols helpfully supplies the original Latin. "Dictum a latere septentrionalis plagae in quo situm est, vel a rana quam Nero latenter peperit." See? latenter (lateo), to hide. Rana, frog.

If you don't know the legend of Nero's frog, you're in for a treat!
The same apocryphal history tells us that Nero, obsessed by an evil madness, ordered his mother killed and cut open so that he could see how it had been for him in her womb. The physicians, calling him to task over his mother’s death, said: “Our laws prohibit it, and divine law forbids a son to kill his mother, who gave birth to him with such pain and nurtured him with so much toil and trouble.” Nero said to them: “Make me pregnant with a child and then make me give birth, so that I may know how much pain it cost my mother!” He had conceived the notion of bearing a child because on his way through the city he had heard the cries of a woman in labor. They said to him: “That is not possible because it is contrary to nature, nor is it thinkable because it is contrary to reason.” At this Nero said to them: “Make me pregnant and make me give birth, or I will have every one of you die a cruel death!”

So the doctors made up a potion in which they put a frog and gave it to the emperor to drink. Then they used their skills to make the frog grow in his belly, and his belly, rebelling against this unnatural invasion, swelled up so that Nero thought he was carrying a child. They also put him on a diet of foods they knew would be suitable for the frog, and told him that, having conceived, he had to follow the diet. At length, unable to stand the pain, he told the doctors: “Hasten the delivery, because I am so exhausted with this childbearing that I can hardly get my breath!” So they gave him a drink that made him vomit, and out came the frog horrible to see, full of vile humors and covered with blood. Nero, looking at what he had brought forth, shrank from it and wondered why it was such a monster, but the physicians told him that he had produced a deformed fetus because he had not been willing to wait the full term. He said: “Is this what I looked like when I came out from my mother’s womb?” “Yes!” they answered. So he commanded that the fetus be fed and kept in a domed chamber with stones in it. All this, however, is not considered in the chronicles and is apocryphal.

-The Golden Legend, trans. William Granger Ryan. Vol 1 p.347.
Is this frog and chamber going in the Iron Gates setting? Absolutely. Hidden Frog, Golden Mice. We’ll get to the golden mice later.

  • The Sufurrian palace, where the church of Saint Cross is now.
  • The Volusian palace.
  • The Palace of Romulus [between New Saint Mary and Saint Cosmas], where are the two temples of Piety and Concord, and where Romulus set his golden image, saying, “It shall not fall until a virgin bears a child.” And as soon as the Virgin bore a son, the image fell down.
  • The palace of Trajan and Hadrian, where the pillar [twenty pace in height] is.
  • Constantine’s palace. 
  • Sallust’s palace.
  • Camillus’ palace.
  • Antonine’s palace, where his pillar [twenty-seven paces high] is.
  • Nero’s palace [where Saint Peter’s Needle is] and where rest the bodies of the Apostles Peter and Paul, Simon and Jude.
  • Julius Caesar’s palace, where the sepulchure of Julius Caesar is. 
  • Chromatius’ palace.
  • Eusimianus’ palace.
  • The palace of Titus and Vespasian outside Rome at the catacombs.
  • Domitian’s palace beyond the Tiber at the Golden Morsel. [19] 
  • Octavian’s palace [at Saint Laurence in Lucina].
[19] Nichols provides "Palatium Domitiani in transtiberim ad micam auream." “Golden sands” seem like a better translation than “golden morsel”, but who am I to judge?

8. Of Theatres

The theatres are these. The Theatre of Titus and Vespasian at the catacombs. The theatre of Tarquin and the Emperors at the Seven Floors. Pompey’s theater at Saint Laurence [in Damaso]. Antonius’ theatre by Antonius’ bridge. Alexander’s theatre near Round Saint Mary’s. Nero’s theatre near Crescentius’ castle. The Flamian theatre.

9. Of Bridges

The bridges are these. The Milvian bridge. The Hadrian bridge. The Neronian bridge [at Saffa]. The Antonine bridge [in arenula]. The Fabrican bridge [which is called the Jews’ bridge, because Jews dwell there.] Gratian’s bridge between the island and the transtiberim. The Senator’s bridge [of Saint Mary]. The marble bridge of Theodosius [at the Riparmea]. The Valentinian bridge.

10. Of the Pillars of Antonine and of Trajan, and of the Images that were of old time in Rome.

The winding pillar of Antonine is one hundred and seventy-five feet high. It has two hundred and three steps and forty-five windows. The winding pillar of Trajan is one hundred and thirty-eight feet high. It has one hundred and eighty five steps and forty-five windows. The colossean Ampitheatre is one hundred and eight submissal feet in height. [20]

In Rome were once twenty two great horses of gilded brass, eighty horses of gold, eight-four horses of ivory [21], one hundred and eighty-four common jakes, fifty great sewers, bulls, griffons, peacocks, and a multitude of other images, the costliness of which seemed beyond measure, and men coming to the city had good cause to marvel at her beauty.
[20]. No idea what “submissal feet” are in this context and I deeply regret googling it. Nichols adds “The word submissales (for which I do not know that any meaning has been suggested) seems to have arisen from the semis of the Noitia. 

[21]. Nichols adds, “In the Notitia it is De aurei LXXX eburnei LXXXIIII. By careless transcription the gods have been changed to horses.”

11. Of Cemeteries

The cemeteries are these. The cemetery of Calepodius at Saint Pancras. The Cemetery of Saint Agatha at the Ring. Ursus’ cemetery at Portesa. Saint Felix’s cemetery. Calixtus’ cemetery by the catacombs [at the church of Saint Fabian and Saint Sebastian]. Praetextatus’ cemetery near the Appian gate at Saint Apollinaris. Gordian’s cemetery outside the Latin gate. The cemetery between Two Bays at Saint Helen’s. The cemetery of the Capped Bear at Saint Viviana. The cemetery of the ager Veranus at Saint Laurence [without the walls]. The cemetery of Saint Agnes. The cemetery of Saint Peter’s well. Priscilla’s cemetery at the Salarian Bridge. The cemetery at the Cucumber Hill. Trafo’s cemetery at Saint Saturninus. The cemetery of Saint Felicity near that of Calixtus. [The cemetery of Saint Marcellus on the old Salarian Way. The cemetery of Balbina on the Ardeatine Way. The cemetery of the Innocents at Saint Paul.] The Pontian cemetery. The cemetery of Saint Hermes and Domitilla. The cemetery of Saint Cyriac on the Ostian way. [These cemeteries were chambers underground that sometimes stretched for three miles, and in which the holy martyrs were hidden.

12. Of places where Saints suffered.

These are the places that are found in the passion of Saints.
  • Outside the Appian gate, the place where the blessed Sixtus was beheaded, and the place where the Lord appeared to Peter (where he said “Lord, whither goeth thou?”), and the temple of Mars.
  • Within the gate, the Dripping Arch, then, the region of the Fasciola at Saint Nereus.
  • The Vicus Canarius at Saint George, which was Lucilla’s house, and where the Golden Vail is.
  • The aqua Salvia at Saint Anastasius, where the blessed Paul was beheaded [and the head thrice uttered the word Jesus, as it bounded, and where there are still three wells, which spring up diverse in taste.]
  • The garden of Lucina, the where the church of the blessed Paul is, and where he lies.
  • Interlude, that is, between two Games.
  • The hill of Scaurus, between the Amphitheatre and the Racecourse, before the Seven Floors, where the sewer is where Saint Sebastian was cast, who revealed his body to Saint Lucina, saying “Thou shall find my body hanging on a nail.”
  • The via Cornelia by the Milvian bridge, and, going forth into the street, the via Aurelia near the Ring.
  • The steps of Eliogabalus in the entry of the palace.
  • The chained island behind Saint Trinity.
  • The Dripping arch before the Seven Floors. [22]
  • The Roman arch between the Aventine and the Albiston, where the blessed Silvester and Constantine kissed and departed from one another.
  • In Tellure, that is the Canapara, where the house of Tellus stood.
  • The prison of Mamertinus before the Mars under the Capitol.
  • The Vicus Latericii at Saint Praxede.
  • The Vicus Latericii at Saint Praxede.
  • The Vicus Patricii at Saint Pudentiana.
  • The basilica of Jupiter at Saint Quiricus.
  • The thermae of Olympias, where the blessed Laurence was broiled, in Panisperna.
  • The Tiberian palace of Trajan, where Decius and Valerian withdrew after Saint Laurence’s death. [The place is called the Baths of the Cornuti.] The Circus Flaminius at the Jews’ bridge.
  • In the transtiberim, the temple of the Ravennates, pouring forth oil, where Saint Mary’s is.
[22]. This whole section is both obscure and confused, possibly owing to multiple authors and copying errors.

Luttrell Psalter, England ca. 1325-1340
British Library, Add 42130, fol. 104r

Part II. The Second Part containing diverse Histories touching certain famous Places and Images in Rome.

1. Of the Vision of Octavian the Emperor and of the Sybil’s Answer.

In the time of the emperor Octavian, the Senators, seeing him to be of such great beauty that none could look into his eyes [23], and of such great prosperity and peace that he had made all the world render tribute him tribute, said to him, “We desire to worship thee, because the godhead is in thee, for if it were not so, all things would not prosper with thee as they do.”

But he, being reluctant, demanded a delay, and called for the Sibyl of Tibur, to whom he repeated all the Senators had said. She asked for three days space, in which she kept a strict fast, and made an answer to him on the third day. “These things, sir emperor, shall surely come to pass:
Token of doom: the Earth shall drip with sweat;
From Heaven shall come the King forevermore,
And present in the flesh shall judge the world.

And other verses that follow. [24] While Octavian diligently hearkened to the Sibyl, the heavens opened, and a great brightness lighted upon him, and he saw in heaven a virgin, passing fair, standing upon an altar, and holding a man-child in her arms.[25] He marvelled exceedingly at this. He heard a voice from heaven say, “This is the Virgin that shall conceive the Saviour of the World.” And he heard another voice from heaven say, “This is the altar of the Son of God.” The emperor fell to the ground and worshipped the Christ that should come. He showed this vision to the Senators, and they also marvelled exceedingly. The vision took place in the chamber of the emperor Octavian, which is now the church of Saint Mary in the Capitol [where the Friars Minors are.] Therefore it is called Saint Mary in ara coeli

Upon another day, when the people had decreed to call him Lord, he stayed them with his hand and look, and did not suffer himself to be called Lord even by his sons, saying, “Mortal I am, and will not call me Lord.”

[23] Suetonius, Life of Augustus, c.79

[24] For the rest, see Augustine, The City of God, 1. xviii c.23.

[25] Nichols does not provide the Latin here, but I also marvel exceedingly at this mental image.

2. Of the Marble Horses, and of the Woman encompassed with Serpents.

Hear now why the Horses of marble were made bare, and the men beside them naked, and what story they tell, and what is the reason why there sits before the horses a certain woman encompassed with serpents, with a shell before her.

In the time of the emperor Tiberius, two young men came to Rome. They were philosophers named Praxiteles and Phidias. They emperor, observing them to be full of wisdom, called them to his palace and said to them, “Why do you go about naked?”[26]

They answered “Because all things are naked and open to us, and we hold the world of no account, and therefore we go naked and possess nothing. Whatever thou, most mighty emperor, shall devise in thy chamber by day or night, although we are absent, we will tell thee every word. “If ye shall do that ye say,” said the emperor, “I will give you whatever you desire.” They answered, “We ask no money, but only a memorial of us.” The next day, they showed the emperor what he had thought of in the night. Therefore he made them the memorial he had promised, namely, the naked horses, which trample on the earth, that is upon the might princes of the world that rule over the men of this world. And there shall come a mighty king, who shall mount the horse, that is upon the might of the princes of this world. Meanwhile there are the two men half naked, which stand by the horses, and with arms raised on high and bent fingers they tell the things that are to come. As they are naked, so is all worldly knowledge naked and open to their minds. The woman encompassed with serpents, that sits with a shell before her, [signifies the Church, encompassed with many rolls of scripture], to whom he that desires to go, may not, unless he is first washed in that shell [that is to say, unless he is baptized.]

[26] A valid question. This story is the inverse of the Emperor's new clothes.

3. Where the Horse was made that is called Constantine’s.

At the Lateran there is a bronze horse that is called Constantine’s horse, but it is not so. If you wish to know the truth, read it here. [27]

In the time of the Consuls and Senators, a certain mighty king from the East came to Italy, and besieged Rome on the side of the Lateran, and afflicted the Roman people with much slaughter and war. Then a certain squire of great beauty and virtue, bold and subtle, arose and said to the Consuls and Senators, “If there were one that should deliver you from this tribulation, what would he deserve from the Senate?” And they answered, “Whatever he asks for, he shall presently obtain.” “Give me,” he said, “thirty thousand sesterces, and make a memorial of the victory when the fight is done, a horse in gilded brass.” They promised to do all they asked. Then he said, “Arise at midnight and arm yourselves, and stand watch within the walls, and whatsoever I say to you, that ye shall do.” And they did as he asked. Then he mounted a horse without a saddle, and took a sickle. For he had seen many nights the king come to the foot of a certain tree for his bodily need, at whose coming an owlet that sat in the tree always hooted. The squire went out of the city and made forage, which he carried before him tied in a truss in the fashion of a groom. And as soon as he heard the hooting of the owlet, he drew near, and saw that the king had come to the tree. He therefore went straightaway towards him.

The lords that were with the king thought that he was one of their own people, and cried that he should take himself out of the way before the king. But he, not leaving is purpose for their shouting, while he feigned to go from the place, bore down upon the king, and such was his hardiness that in despite of them all he seized the king by force and carried him away.

When he came to the walls of the city he began to cry, “Go forth and slay all the king’s army, for I have taken him captive.” And they, going forth, slew some and put the others to flighty, and the Romans had from that field an untold weight of gold and silver. So they returned glorious to the city, and all that they had promised the squire they paid and performed: thirty thousand sesterces, and a horse of gilded brass without a saddle for a memorial, with the man himself riding and having his right hand stretched forth, that he took the king with, and on the horse’s head a memorial of the owelet, upon whose hooting he had won the victory. [28] The king, who was of little stature, with his hands bound behind him as he had been taken away, was also figured, by way of remembrance, under the hoof of the horse.

[27] The noise I made when I read this sentence is difficult to describe. Imagine a very old steam engine softly collapsing. Also, the version given in the Narracio de Mirabilibus Urbis Romae is better.

[28] The forelock of the horse does, from some angles, resemble an owlet or cuckoo. The statue of the bound king disappeared at some point.

4. Of the making of the Pantheon, and of its Consecration.

In the time of the Consuls and Senators, the prefect Agrippa, with four legions of soldiers, subjugated to the Roman senate the Suevians, Saxons, and other western nations. Upon his return the bell of the image of the kingdom of the Persians, that was in the Capitol, rang. For in the temple of Jupiter and Moneta in the Capitol was an image of every kingdom of the world, with a bell about his neck, and as soon as the bell sounded, they knew that the country was rebellious. The priest that was on watch, hearing the sound of the bell, informed the Senators, and the Senators laid the ordering of the war upon the prefect Agrippa. [26]

He denied that he had the ability to undertake so great a charge, but was at length constrained, and asked leave to take counsel for three days. One night, out of too much thinking he fell asleep, and a woman appeared to him who said, “What does thou, Agrippa? Thou art greatly troubled in thought.” and he answered, “Madam, I am.”

She said, “Take comfort, and promise me, if thou shalt win the victory, to make me a temple such as I show unto thee.” And he said, “I will make it.” And she showed him in the vision a temple made after that fashion. And he said, “Madam, who art thou?” And she said, “I am Cybele, the mother of the gods. Bear libations to Neptune, who is a mighty god, that he help thee, and dedicate this temple to my worship and to Neptune’s, because we will be with thee, and thou shalt prevail.”

Agrippa then arose with gladness, and rehearsed in the Senate all these sayings, and he went, with a great array of ships and with five legions, and overcame the Persians, and put them under a yearly tribute to the Roman Senate. And when he returned to Rome, he built this temple, and dedicated it to the honour of Cybele, mother of the gods, and of Neptune, god of the sea, and of all the gods, and he gave to this temple the name of Pantheon. And in honour of the famed Cybele he made a gilded image, which he set upon the top of the temple above the opening, and covered it with a magnificent roof of gilded brass.

After many ages pope Boniface, in the time of Phocas, a Christian emperor, feeling that so marvellous a temple, dedicated in honour of Cybele, mother of the gods, before which Christian men were often stricken with devils, asked the emperor to grant him this temple. As it was consecrated to Cybele, mother of the gods, in the Calends of November, so he wished in the Calends of November to consecrate it to the blessed Mary, ever-virgin, that is the mother of all saints. This Caesar granted him, and the pope, with the whole Roman people, in the day of the Calends of November dedicated it, and ordained that upon that day the Roman pontiff should sign mass there, and the people take the body and blood of our lord as on Christmas day, and that on the same day all saints with their mother, Mary ever-virgin, and the heavenly spirits, should have a festival, and the dead have, throughout the churches of the whole world, a sacrifice for the ransom of their souls.
[26] This instrument is the Salvatio Civium or Salvatio Romae, which will be covered in the next post.

5. A Homily of the Passions of the Holy Abdon and Sennen, Sixtus and Laurence.

I can’t be bothered to transcribe this part, as it’s not relevant to the topic at hand.

6. Why Octavian was called Augustus, and the dedication of the Church of Saint Peter at the Chains.

Ditto. This section includes this cautionary tale on the use of the long s.

7. Of the Colosseum, and of Saint Silvester. [27]

[The Colosseum was the temple of the Sun, of marvellous greatness and beauty, disposed with many diverse vaulted chambers, and all covered with a heaven of gilded brass, where thunders and lightnings and glittering fires were made, and where rain was shed through slender tubes. Besides this there were the Signs supercelestial and the planets Sol and Luna, that were drawn along in their proper chariots. And in the midst stood Phoebus, that is the god of the Sun, who had his feet on the earth and reached unto heaven with his head, and held in his hand an orb, signifying that Rome ruled over the world.

But after a space of time the blessed Silvester wished to destroy that temple, and other palaces, to the intent that the orators which came to Rome should not wander through profane buildings, but pass with devotion through the churches. But the head and the hand of the aforesaid idol he caused to be laid before his Palace of the Lateran in remembrance, and the same is now called by the vulgar Samson’s Ball. And before the Colosseum was a temple, where ceremonies were done to the aforementioned image.] 

[27] With all the long s-es in Nichols’ translation, I started to read the text in Sylvester the Cat's voice. “Thuffering succotash! The thepulchure of Conthanthine!”

8. Of the Foundation of the three great Churches of Rome by the Emperor Constantine, and of his Parting from Pope Silvester.

In the days of Pope Silvester, Constantine Augustus made and adorned the Lateran Basilica. And he put the Ark of the Covenant there, that Titus had carried away from Jerusalem with many thousands of Jews, and the golden candlestick having seven lamps with vessels for oil.

In the ark are: the golden emerods, the mice of gold, [28] the Tables of the Covenant, the rod of Aaron, manna, the barley loaves, the golden urn, the coat without seam, the reed and garment of Saint John the Baptist, and the tongs with which Saint John the Evangelist was shorn. He put in the same basilica a civory with pillars of porphyry. And he set there four pillars of gilded brass, which the Consuls of old brought into the Capitol from Mars’ Field, and set in the temple of Jupiter. [29]

[28] What, you don’t remember the golden emerods and the mice of gold? From Samuel 5 and 6? The plague of haemorrhoids?

[29] Other sources, including Rabban Bar Sawma, say these columns were brought from Jerusalem.

He made also, in the time of the said pope and at his request, a basilica for the Apostle Peter before Apollo’s temple in the Vatican. The emperor first dung the foundation, and in reverence of the Apostles carried out twelve baskets full of earth. The said Apostle’s body is thus bestowed. He made a chest closed on all sides with brass and copper, which may not be moved, five feet in length at the head, five at the foot, on the right side five feet, and on the left side five feet, five feet above, and five feet below, and so he enclosed the body of the blessed Peter, and the altar above in the fashion of an arch he adorned with bright gold.

And he made a civory with pillars of porphyry and purest gold. And he set there before the altar twelve pillars of glass that he had brought out of Grecia, and which were of Apollo’s temple at Troy. He set above the blessed Apostle Peter’s body a cross of pure gold, a hundred and fifty pounds in weight, on which was written Constantinus Augustus et Helena Augusta.

He also made a basilica for the blessed Apostle Paul in the Oftian Way, and bestowed his body in brass and copper, in the same fashion as the body of the blessed Peter.

The same emperor, after he became a Christian nad made these churches, also gave the blessed Silvester a Phrygium, and white horses, and all the imperialia that pertained to the dignity of the Roman empire, and he went away to Byzantium, with whom the pope, decked in the same, went as far as the Roman Arch, where they embraced, and kissed one another, and so departed.

Pieter Jansz Saenredam

Part III. The Third Part contains a Perambulation of the City.

Rather than rewrite this entire section, I'm going to quote the parts that are relevant to this project.

Near that is the memorial of Caesar, that is the Needle, where his ashes nobly rest in his sarcophagus, to the intent that, as in his lifetime the whole world lay subdued to him, even so in his death the same may lie beneath him forever. The memorial was adorned in the lower part with tables of gilded brass, and engraved with Latin letters, and above at the ball, where he rests, it is deck with gold and precious stones, and there it is written:

Caesar, tantus eras quantus et orbis / Sed nunc in modico clauderis antro.

And this memorial was consecrated after their fashion, as still appears and may be read. And below in Greek letters these verses are written.

If one, tell how this stone was set on high. / If many stones, show where their joints lie.


The Capitol [is so called, because it] was the head of the world, where the consuls and senators dwelled to govern the Earth. The face was covered with high walls and strong, rising above the top of the hill, and covered all over with glass and gold and marvelous carved work. [And in the Capitol were molten images of all the Trojan kings and of the emperors. Within the fortress was a palace all adorned with marvelous works in gold and silver and brass and costly stones, to be a mirror to all nations, [which was said to be worth the third part of the world].


Near this house was the palace of Catiline, where the Church of Saint Anthony stood. Near that is a place that is called Hell, because in ancient times it burst forth there, and brought great mischief upon Rome, until a certain noble knight, to the intent that the city should be delivered after the responses of their gods, donned his harness and cast himself into the pit, and the earth closed, and the city was delivered.

There is the temple of the Vesta, where it is said that a dragon crouches below, as we read in the life of Saint Silvester. [30]

[30] Nichols adds, in two separate footnotes.

"Locus qui dicitur inferno, eo quod antiquo tempore ibi eructabat. This name is still preserved in the Church of S. Maria Libera nos a poenis Inferni. The hollow vaults under the towering ruins of the Palatine seemed to have suggested fearful associations, which recalled at the same time the yawning pit of Curtius and the legendary cave of St. Silvester.

The legend of St. Silvester and the dragon was associated with various localities in Rome. The ancient legendaries place it in the Capitol, the Ordo Romanus of Benedict ner St. Lucia in Orpheo. Among the pilgrims of the Infernus, by the temple of Vesta was believed to be the spot. In later medieval legendary not specific locality is mentioned, but the saint descends into the pit by a hundred and fifty-two steps, binds the mouth of the dragon, and shuts him there until the day of doom.”
There was a candlestick made of stone Albiston, which, once kindled and set in the open air, was never by any means quenched. There, moreover, is the image of our Lord behind the altar, painted by no human hand, after the fashion of our Lord in the flesh.


At Saint Mary in Fontana, the temple of Faunus, was the idol that spoke to Julian and beguiled him. [31]
[31] Nichols adds, “The legend, that Julian was lead astray by the speech of an idol in the temple of Faunus, is not found elsewhere. There is another legend, that he took an idol of Mercury out of the Tiber, and the demon within it induced him to renounce Christianity and gave him an empire.”


These and many more temples and palaces of emperors, consuls, senators, and prefects were in the time of the heathen within this Roman city, as we have read in old chronicles, seen with our eyes, and have heard tell of ancient men. And moreover, how great was their beauty in gold, and silver, and brass, and ivory, and precious stones, we have endeavoured in writing, as well as we could, to bring back to the remembrance of mankind.

Hubert Robert

Final Notes

The Mirabilia Urbis Romae is supririsngly competent. Sure, there are errors and tall tales, but it's also a practical guidebook. It's far more grounded than In Cath Catharda or the travels of John Mandeville. The nomenclature is speculative at best, but it's a work of practical sense over entertaining fantasy... most of the time.