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From the origins to Italy's Capital

From May 11, 2011, to January 29, 2012 at Musée de la civilisation

The eternal city, an unrivaled center of art and history. Experience 2,600 years of wealth and splendor in this marvelous exhibition created in collaboration with the most prestigious museums of Rome, the Capitol,
and the Vatican.

In collaboration with Sun Life Financial

Ancient Rome

The capital of the world

Rome was the center of a vast empire that spanned much of Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia Minor. It was an empire united by the weapons, the laws, and the language of Rome (Latin).
iTimeline: -750 to 500

The city founded by Romulus grew to become the capital of the Mediterranean.

Mosaic of a port scene Mosaic with bust of an athlete
Mosaic of a port scene

Late 2nd, early 3rd century AD
Tesserae in marble and glass paste
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Municipal Antiquarium, inv. 32360
From Rome, Via Nazionale, Palazzo Rospigliosi

The mosaic illustrates the lighthouse of Alexandria (considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), crowned with a statue, perhaps of Neptune. On the right, a commercial ship is setting sail. Trade in all kinds of goods—including slaves—was typical of life in Rome and its empire. The busy port of Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber was closest to the city.

Mosaic with bust of an athlete

Second half of the 3rd century AD
Colored tesserae
Rome, Municipal Antiquarium, inv. 4492
From Rome, Porta Maggiore

The panel was part of a larger decoration featuring portraits of athletes in the Terme Eleniane near the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, who grew up under the reign of Septimius Severus. Well-known athletes, as darlings of the public, were often shown in baths in glorifications of brute force.

Portrait of Octavian with a crown of thorns
Portrait of Octavian with a crown of thorns

White and Pentelic marble
Vatican City, Vatican Museums, inv. 715
Possibly from the Vigna Galletti vineyard, Rome, 1570

The head represents Octavian (30 BC to 14 AD), the first emperor of the Roman Empire, with his typical curly fringe. It appears to have been reworked, as indicated by the double layering of the hair above the fringe. The original portrait may have been of Domitian, Roman Emperor in 81 AD, then changed to Octavian posthumously.


At its pinnacle,
Rome boasted some
1,000,000 inhabitants.
iLiving conditions

Over the centuries, the Senate and emperors transformed the city, further enhancing its beauty. All major roads converged on Rome. Magnificent aqueducts supplied it with water. Gleaming masterpieces showcased human achievement.

Statue group of Mithras slaying the bull

3rd century AD
Synnada marble
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Centrale Montemartini, inv. MC 915
From Rome, Piazza Dante

The scene evokes the most decisive episode in the myth of Mithras, a sun god of Persian origin, whose cult spread remarkably quickly throughout Rome during the time of the empire. Exclusive to men, the sacred rituals required formal degrees of initiation and spiritual asceticism. The Mithraeum—or places of worship—represented the cave where Mithras killed the bull.

Statue group of Mithras slaying the bull i
The decline

of Rome coincided with the foundation of Constantinople, or "New Rome" (now Istanbul, Turkey), by Constantine the Great in 330 A.D. The last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed in 476 by the Germanic king Odoacer.