Catherine Hulton

ADAM, R. Ruins of the palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia (London, 1764) 

Plate XXXVIII - Bas Relief which forms a Frise in the Inside of the Temple of Jupiter

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Split is the modern version of Spalatro, its main centre was the palace of Diocletian which was built near Salona (this was the capital of Dalmatia which was at this time a Roman province)1. Diocletian insisted upon the maintenance of Roman Law within his provinces, it is also seen that Diocletian wanted the preservation of roman religion as well through his persecution of the Christians. This city of Spalatro is situated on the Adriatic Sea which is where the ports are situated when seen in Adam’s drawings of the Harbour.

Jupiter was the Latin name for Zeus, who was the God of the sky and most powerful of all the Gods on Olympus. Seen here in the Temple to Zeus at Spaltro where many friezes are situated. A frieze is a decoration of many pictures situated as a band across a wall or room, in this instance depicted as a bas relief2. These reliefs or castings protrude from the original stone and are carved to depict depth from the background. This one in particular depicts many images of a cherub within different settings. Despite appearing damaged within the drawing it is clear that these bas reliefs have survived well through time and Adam draws them with much fine detail.

Plate XL - Plan of the Temple of Aesculapius 

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Robert Adam was a British Architect of the Neo-Classical style. He published a book in 1764 surrounding the drawings that he had made of the architecture of the Palace of Dioclesian in Spalatro. Spalatro was an Ancient Roman city, now known as Split in Croatia, on the Dalmatian Coast, it was taken over by the Roman Republic as it originally started out as a Greek colony of Aspalathos3.

Here is found the Temple of Aesculapius which is part of the Palace of Dioclesian. Aesculapius was the Latin name for the Greek God, Asklepios, he was the god of medicine and healing and was allegedly the son of Apollo4.

Robert Adams’ drawing of the Temple was very accurate although not very detailed. But we are informed that inclusive of this plan was the body of the cell of the Temple which is an aerial view of how the temple appears on the inside with letters marking out different aspects, the main door to the temple, the portico (a colonnade leading to the entrance), and the stairs which are currently partly sunk underneath the ground5.

Plate XX - View of the Peristylium of the Palace

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Emperor Diocletian was a facing a lot of military problems during the time of his rule trying to keep the Empire under control, it was a vast Empire and he split it up between many generals, though he ended up abdicating in 3056. He wished to reintroduce the idea of Imperial power and was perhaps influenced in his Christian purging by Galerius, who ruled the East of the Empire7. In 303 he launched a persecution of the Christians8 and was highly in favour of the old Roman and Greek pagan religion of numerous gods. This was clear from his palace which housed both Temples to Jupiter and Aesculapius. 

The drawing seen here by Robert Adam shows a very decorative and detailed Peristylium (a courtyard surrounded by columns and arch ways), there are also many people seen in the picture going about their daily lives. There is also a sphinx seen in the background which was formerly supposed to be within the Temple of Jupiter and other archways that lead out on to the street from the Peristylium9.  This picture was printed into the book via copper printing method which means the image was incised on to the surface, a very precise way of printing pictures onto paper, dating back to the 1430’s10.

  1. Bjork, R. E. The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press; Oxford, 2010
  2. Darvill, T. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archeaology. Oxford University Press; Oxford, 2008
  3. Wilkes, J., Diocletian's Palace, Split : Residence of a Retired Roman Emperor, 17. The name Aspálathos had referred to a white thorn common in the area. Thus, contrary to popular belief, the name "Spalatum" has nothing to do with the Latin word for palace, palatium. According to Wilkes, the erroneous etymology was notably due to Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus.
  4. Dent, S. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. Chambers Harrap Publishers; Oxford, 2012. Oxford Reference Online.
  5. Adam, R. Ruins of Diocletian’s Palace. 1764
  6. Knowles, E. The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Oxford University Press; Oxford, 2005
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Adam, R. Ruins of Diocletian’s Palace. 1764
  10. Woods, Kim. Making Renaissance Art. Yale University Press; Yale, 2006.

 Catherine Hulton