Obelisk of the Horologium Augusti

Photo by Adam Gage

The Obelisk of Horologium Augusti (Obelisk of Montecitorio) was used as the sundial for the Horologium Augusti. It is 21.79 meters high and made of Aswan granite. It was originally erected in Heliopolis in the early 6th century BC by Psamtik II. It was one of two carried off by Augustus in 10 BC with identical inscriptions - the other being the obelisk at the Circus Maximus
It was erected by Augustus in 10 BC on the twentieth anniversary of his conquest of Egypt. It was made the gnomon of a colossal sundial designed by the mathematician Facundus Novius. Its purpose was to demonstrate the accuracy of the new calendar introduced by Julius Caesar (which inserted an extra day every four years). It was part of the Augustan complex that included the Ara Pacis and the Mausoleum Augusti. The obelisk was presumably fitted with a gilded sphere surmounted by a short spire at its apex and probably mounted on a stepped base. There was network of bronze markers on the pavement to show the length of the shadow throughout the year and inscriptions indicating the seasons and signs of the zodiac and various meteorological phenomena.
Pliny observed that by his day the readings had been inaccurate for thirty years, apparently due to settling of the obelisk in the soft soil of the Campus Martius. The meridian line was reset, presumably during the reign of Domitian. 
The obelisk was still standing in the eighth century and was later discovered in the early 16th century. It was excavated in 1748 and reerected in 1792 in Piazza di Montecitorio. It was broken when it was discovered and was repaired using parts of the Column of Antoninus Pius

Personification of Campus Martius holding the Obelisk of Horologium Augusti

As depicted on the Column of Antoninus Pius

Photo by Sosnovskiy

Reconstruction of the Horologium Augusti, Mausoleum of Augustus and Ara Pacis Augustae

Pavement from the Horologium Augusti

Now in a basement at Via di Campo Marzio

Inscription
IMP(erator) CAESAR DIVI F(ilius) 
AUGUSTUS
PONTIFEX MAXIMUS
IMP(erator) XII CO(n)S(ul) XI TRIB(unicia) POT(estate) XIV 
AEGUPTO IN POTESTATEM 
POPULI ROMANI REDACTA
SOLI DONUM DEDIT

The emperor Caesar Augustus, son of the deified Caesar, Pontifex Maximus, triumphing general 12 times, consul 11 times, with tribunician powers 14 times, gave this obelisk as a gift to the Sun after Egypt had been brought under the power of the Roman people.

Erection of Montecitorio Obelisk in 1748 by Giuseppe Vasi

Sources

A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome by L. Richardson, Jr.

Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide by Amanda Claridge

Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, Vol. 1 by Bolchazy-Carducci

The Egyptian and Egyptianizing Monuments of Imperial Rome by Anne Roullet

Resources

Horologium of Augustus ( Encyclopaedia Romana)

Ara Pacis by Dr. Jeffrey Becker (Khan Academy)

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016