Pyramid of Cestius

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The pyramid of Cestius (Piramide di Caio Cestio or Piramide Cestia) is an ancient Roman funerary pyramid tomb or mausoleum, dating back to the late first century BCE. Constructed as a burial monument for Gaius Cestius, who belonged to the religious organization Epulones, this structure is situated at a crossroads where the Via Ostiensis intersects with another ancient road leading westward to the Tiber, roughly following the path of today's Via Marmorata.

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The pyramid was built around 18 to 12 BCE as a mausoleum or tomb for a Roman magistrate, Gaius Cestius, who was also a member of one of the four great religious corporations in the ancient city of Rome, the Septemviri Epulonum and because it was integrated in to the city's fortifications, it now stands as one of the most well-preserved ancient edifices in Rome.

At the time of its construction, the pyramid of Cestius most likely stood in the open countryside of ancient city of Rome (tombs being forbidden within the city walls). During the following centuries the city of Rome grew extensively during the imperial period, and, by the third century CE, the pyramid would have been surrounded by buildings. It originally stood in a low-walled enclosure, flanked by statues, columns and other tombs.

Architectural Details

circa 312 CE

The core structure of the pyramid is of brick-faced concrete covered with slabs of white marble standing on a square travertine foundation. The pyramid measures 100 Roman feet (29.6 meters) square at the base and stands 125 Roman feet (37 meters) high.

Two dedicatory inscriptions with the same text (inspect) are carved on both northwestern and southeastern faces, so as to be visible from both sides.

G · CESTIVS · L · F · POB · EPVLO · PR · TR · PL

The translation: Gaius Cestius, son of Lucius, of the Pobilia [voting tribe], member of the College of Epulones, praetor, tribune of the plebs, septemvir of the Epulones.

The south-eastern facade carries additional text, a second inscription recording the circumstances of the tomb's construction. The inscription reads:


The translation: The work was completed, in accordance with the will, in 330 days, by the decision of the heir [Lucius] Pontus Mela, son of Publius of the Claudia, and Pothus, freedman.

The lower part of the eastern facade carries another, relatively modern, inscription that dates back to the second half of the seventeenth century CE. It relates the excavations and restoration of the pyramid structure and the surrounding area during the pontificate of Pope Alexander VII.


This inscription translates to: established in the year 863 [CE].

Inside the pyramid there is a sole burial chamber, a simple barrel-vaulted rectangular cavity measuring 5.95 metres long, 4.10 meters wide and 4.80 meters high. When opened in 1660 CE, the burial chamber was found to be decorated with frescoes, which were recorded by Pietro Santo Bartoli. Today, olnly scant traces of these frescoes have survived, and no trace of any other contents were discovered inside the tomb. The mausoleum had been sealed when it was built in the late first century BCE, with no exterior entrance. Subsequently, during antiquity the pyramid of Cestius had been plundered.

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