The Hall Busts: You may not know it, but every time you enter the US Embassy Chancellery building, you pass through the "hall" of Palazzo Margherita. The hall of a palace was the official reception area where important visitors were first ceremoniously received by a seneschal, who would then conduct them to the royal or noble presence. The hall of Palazzo Margherita is what lies just inside the triple arches in the center of the main building fronting on Via Veneto. Except for the massive iron-bar security gates, it is open to the front garden (and parking lot) and to the carriage-way that runs between the reception area and the Grand Staircase. Most people just hurry through the open entrance gate on the right side and into the security area without looking at the eight dusty portrait busts that stare down on us from dark niches near the ceiling. They are back-lighted at night -- making the hall a dramatic foreground for the Giambologna Venus two spaces back -- but the lighting does little to make the faces of the busts more visible. We only know the identities of four of the persons depicted -- the others are only identifiable by their clothing as "a Consul", "a Vestal Virgin", "a General", and "an Emperor". But known or unknown, those are important folks up there -- important enough to have been singled out for marble portraiture, at least.

We will look at the busts in the conventional way, counterclockwise and starting from the side facing the front garden.

      • 1.  Lucius Icilius
      • 2.  Demosthenes
      • 3.  A Roman Emperor
      • 4.  Titus Livius
      • 5.  Vestal Virgin
      • 6.  Roman Consul
      • 7.  Lucius Licinius Lucullus
      • 8.  Roman General
      1. Lucius Icilius is a tragic figure. He lived in the times of the Decemvirates, committees of ten men appointed for one-year terms whose mission was to establish basic laws to protect the rights of the Plebians. The first two committee (451 and 450 BC) established the Twelve Tables, Rome's Basic Laws. The third (449) was corrupt, and one of the ten members plotted to debauch a young girl, Virginia, who was engaged to Lucius. One of his minions claimed the girl as an escaped slave and Appius himself presided over the court case, ruling, of course, in favor of his toady. Everyone knew it was a corrupt case, but the people were afraid to protest. Her father, having failed to protect Virginia by legal action, took her into one of the shops that then were in the forum, and killed her with a butcher's knife. The crowd protected him from arrest and went with him and Lucius Icilius to the father's military encampment outside of town. Soon other military units and all the plebians in Rome joined them there, and together they appointed twenty spokesmen -- Lucius was one of them -- to deal with the envoys of the Senate and aristocracy. The final result was that the Decemvirs were deposed and the Senate reinstated the traditional system of tribune magistrates that had protected the rights of the plebians before the Decemvirs had been appointed. Lucius Icillius presumably had a successful political career due to his active part in this revolution, but little else is said about him in later histories. (Sources: Livy, History of Rome; Dio Cassius [fragmentary and somewhat garbled]*.html; Thomas Babbington Macauley, Lays of Ancient Rome
      2. Demosthenes (384-322 BC) was a Greek statesman and orator most famous for rousing the Athenians to oppose the southward expansion of Philip of Macedon and, later, to oppose Philip's son, Alexander the Great. His "Philipic" speeches warned the Athenians about the economic, social, and political benefits they would lose under Macedonian hegemony and are, therefore, considered accurate portrayals of how upper class Athenians lived. Although greatly respected as a speaker, his caustic style made him the enemy of many powerful Athenians, some of whom wanted to accept Macedonian domination. Demosthenes eventually was imprisoned, escaped into exile, was recalled and rehabilitated, but then had to flee again when Antipater, Alexander's successor, again approached Athens. A former friend denounced him, and the Athenians condemned him to death in absentia. He killed himself by taking poison while being pursued by Antipater's troops. The story of Demosthenes and his eventual downfall was well known in republican Rome, and during the long period of rivalry between the "populares" (self-styled "common folks") and the "optimates" (who claimed to be the "best people") he was somewhat of a pop idol among the "populares". His speeches were used as study exercises by would-be Roman orators, and his "Philippics" were the model for Cicero's orations against Marc Antony. Demosthenes has often been compared to the Roman orator, Cicero. The comparison is apt -- both were extremely effective when before live audiences, but both were also completely unscrupulous in their use of slander and innuendo to score against their oratorical and political opponents, and, therefore, each made too many powerful enemies. Each was eventually neutralized and hunted to his death. (Sources: Plutarch and; Britannica (a subscription service)
      3. A Roman Emperor, unknown, but recognizable as an emperor by the insignia on the visible part of his breastplate.
      4. Titus Livius, most often known simply as Livy. Livy was one of the three great ancient Roman Historians. (The others were Tacitus and Sallust. The American Embassy is on the site of Sallust's "Gardens" -- another story). A member of the small provincial nobility (from Patavium) and educated in philosophy and rhetoric (public speaking), he is first mentioned in history after Augustus restored peace and order in the Empire by his defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. In about 29 BC he showed up in Rome with an apparent plan to write a history of the city since its founding. It was a good time for historians: Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek historian, came Rome the previous year with the same plan. It was Livy who, perhaps because he was more "local" who attracted the patronage o Augustus. Livy was the literary supervisor of the future emperor Claudius (who wrote the famous but lost multi-volume history of the Etruscans) and became a habitue of the salons of Maecenas and the Emperor along with the poets Horace, Virgil, and Ovid. Livy eventually wrote his history of Rome "ab urbe condita" ("from the founding of the city") in 142 volumes, each volume being the length of the standard Roman papyrus scroll. Livy wrote small, so there is a lot of content in the surviving volumes -- books one through ten and 21 through 45. Fragments of other books survive along with references, summaries, and quotations. The summaries, some of which were made as textbooks in the first century AD, are particularly valuable historical sources. Livy died peacefully, greatly honored in his own time, at his birthplace in Patavium, in 17 AD, three years after the death of his patron, Augustus. The last 20 volumes of his great history were said to have been published in those last three years -- when it was safe enough to publish his thoughts about recent history. As noted above, only summaries survive. There is some hope that perhaps the lost volumes may be among carbonized scrolls that found more than a century ago at Pompeii and are only now being unrolled and deciphered using modern technology. (Sources: Britannica on-line -- a membership service; the Ancient History guide to Livy; Complete translations of the surviving volumes of the history
      5. A Vestal Virgin -- female figure in characteristic vestal costume.
      6. A Roman Consul, also recognizable by costume.
      7. Lucius Licinius Lucullus "Ponticus" (110 - 57 or 56 BC) was one of Sulla's stalwart generals and had a series of commands on the eastern fringes of the Roman sphere of influence. He defeated the Pontic King, Mithradates, in one of the series of "Mithraditic Wars" but was profligate in his expenditure of men and equipment. This made it easy for political enemies in Rome, who were angry over his fiscal reforms in the east, to undermine his political base on the home front and to sow discontent among the troops at the front. Eventually, Pompey got himself appointed to replace Lucullus, who returned to Rome and an lush and undignified retirement. Lucullus kept out of state affairs, but, being one of the richest men in Rome -- lots of war booty -- he spent huge sums on parties and banquets. Soon he was, and still is, known more for his gluttony than for his early military successes -- two thousand years later, the word "Lucullan" still means gluttonous or excessive, and the phrase "Lucullus sups with Lucullus" means to "pig-out" alone, supposedly from a bon mot contrived by Lucullus himself.. Less well known is his contribution to library development. Amongst his wartime acquisitions were huge collections of scrolls which he made available to scholars and researchers. Cicero and Cato the younger were among the acknowledged beneficiaries of his literary generosity. Eventually, however, his self-indulgence caught up with him. He went insane -- contemporaries claimed it was from too much unwatered vintage wine, exotic foods, and "peculiar substances" like Anatolian poppies and African mushrooms. The naturalist, Pliny the Elder, is often quoted the effect that Lucullus introduced cherries to the Italian peninsula from Cerasonte in Asia Minor (not true, according to archeological evidence -- perhaps he just introduced a variety unknown in the area), and, according to legend, Lucullus insanely committed suicide when he realized that none were available for a snack (perhaps true). (Sources: Plutarch and; Britannica's membership service
      8. A Roman General, unknown, but wearing characteristic garb.

      There are four more staring busts overlooking the carriage-way behind the hall, but they will have to wait for another day.

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