The imperial sceptre of the Roman Emperor Maxentius (306 – 312 CE) – the only surviving example known.

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
January 5, 2024

The insignia of Palazzo Massimo were found in 2005, during excavations carried out on the Palatine, in an area between the Colosseum and the current Via Sacra. The discovery took place inside a pit created in one of the semipogean rooms of the Flavian-Neronian age terrace of a small temple belonging to the Curiae Veteres , seats of a civic cult established according to tradition by Romulus, and cited by Tacitus as one of the summits of the sacred area of ​​the Palatine, also attributed to the mythical founder of the city. The discovery of the signa fits into this topographic framework , inside a pit, which, from a stratigraphic point of view, cut a floor which yielded material dating back to the beginning of the 3rd century AD; therefore, the deposition of the insignia must be set at a time between the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century AD. This dating is confirmed by the analyzes carried out using carbon-14 on the wooden remains of the cases that housed the blades of the spears.

The tip of the Imperial scepter of Roman Emperor Maxentius (306 - 312 AD) topped with a crystal sphere. It was discovered during excavations near the base of the Palatine Hill in

But who did these important objects, emblems of the Roman army, belong to?

Standard lances

Generally speaking, they could be the prerogative of high state and military officials, but it is precisely the entirety found that suggests they belonged to an imperial outfit. The methods of burial and relative concealment, the chronology and context of discovery (the insignia were in fact hidden in an ancient place of worship on the Palatine), lead us to believe that these signa belonged to Maxentius, killed by Constantine in the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312. In fact, one thinks of someone from Maxentius’s retinue who, having learned of his death, wanted to hide the insignia in a site like the Curiae Veteres , closely linked to Romulus and the Rome of the origins, referred to in the political propaganda of the princeps to legitimize the power taken by force.

The Late Third Century, 260–313 (Chapter 1) The Roman

The signs displayed at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme can be considered an absolutely unique and exceptional find. There are three sceptres, three parade spearheads and four standard spearheads. The objects were carefully wrapped in the silk of the banners and placed in a leather bag, then buried in the pit where archaeologists found them in an absolutely surprising state of preservation. The spearheads still retain traces of wood from the cases that protected them and, on all the objects, the fabric that wrapped them has mineralized. The technique with which these signa were made , the material and the decoration suggests that they came from a single workshop and, as no similar finds existed in the classical world, only the figurative documents allowed a reconstruction.

Scepters with spheres . The scepters had two golden glass spheres which could be mounted, depending on the ceremonies, at the end of long or short rods. The sphere, made of blue chalcedony perhaps coming from India, was fixed to a short rod and was surmounted by an object now lost, perhaps an eagle.

The scepter with the green sphere, supported by an eight-petalled crown, was made of iron, copper and orichalcum (a precious alloy very similar to the color of gold). The handle, also precious, was inlaid in wood and covered with gold leaf.


Ceremonial spears . Found in pairs, they have cannulas that open into a six-petalled flower onto which the multi-bladed cusp is grafted. The color, in both tips, is deliberately two-tone, obtained using iron and orichalcum. A variant is the one with a triangular iron tip with a pelt-shaped base,

Standard lances . The two tips found, made of iron with lateral fins, belonged to poles carrying quadrangular banners fixed to the fins by leather laces. The other two more elongated points, instead, had to carry elongated triangular or flame-shaped banners.