Elephas Herbarius

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Not too far from the subject of our last discussion, the Milk Column, was said to be an unusual statue of an elephant in the middle of the market districts. It was called the “Elephas Herbarius”, the Grass Elephant. It was either in or very near to the Forum Holitorium, and most likely made of bronze – no sign of it exists today.

We find this statue listed in the Regionary Catalogue in region VIII, and the area was colloquially known as Ad Elephantum”, or At the Elephant. This nickname really stuck around, even being used in the 9th century CE. It was a strange statue to find in a vegetable market, that’s for sure. It is highly likely that it was brought in from somewhere else, rather than crafted for the location specifically.

The fact that it is called a grass (herbarius) elephant stumps historians. The statue was most probably bronze, unlikely to be made from any natural material. Perhaps the epithet is just indicative of the kinds of things sold nearby the statue. It is hard to say, for whatever remains of this statue is, just like the Milk Column, buried beneath the busy modern city.


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