The Digital Piranesi

Plate VII

Many have raised questions about the spatial configuration of the scenarios of the Carceri series and whether they were truly meant to represent prisons. Piranesi, nonetheless, makes his intent of representing prisons clear in several different ways. One of the evidences is that he named his work as, in the first edition, Invenzione capric di Carceri (Capricious Inventions of Prisons) and, in the second, Carceri d'Invenzione (Imaginary Prisons). Another proof is the reference to the Marmetine Prison in Rome, distinctively addressed in Plate XVI. In the first state of this plate, Piranesi also elucidates that the series represent prisons in the lettering carved into stone that reads "subterranean prisons engraved by Piranesi." 

Nevertheless, the spatial configuration of the spaces Piranesi created are ambiguous enough to evoke additional scenarios and historical events. The prominent drawbridges in this plate are a reference to one specific event in ancient Roman history: the First Punic War (264 - 261 BCE), in which Romans fought against the supremacy of Carthage. To overcome their lack of experience in naval battles, Romans invented a device called corvus, a sort of drawbridge tossed over the enemies' ships to allow soldiers to invade them. After this key war, Rome conquered unchallenged notoriety across the Western Mediterranean, gaining the acknowledgement of Greece. Recognizing the naval power of Rome, Greek cities would ask for Roman intervention when attacked by other states and, therefore, became subordinated to Roman rule. 

It was also to commemorate Roman victories in the First Punic Wars that the first naval triumph was enacted in 260 BCE, in the regal period. Both Livy and the Greek Polybius, whom Piranesi referenced many times in his works, described this type of celebration in their histories. Piranesi shows his fascination with this sort of event for the first time this plate, and will unequivocally go back to triumphal celebrations and trophies in the following plates VIII and IX.

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