Ask Benny: Are those Roman ruins really Roman?

Dear Benny,
I often walk past the Chemistry Building and canít help but notice what seems to be a collection of some old Roman-looking columns sitting in a little courtyard. Are those actually Roman ruins? If so, where did they come from?
—Curious about columns

Dear Archaeologist,
Yes, the three ruins you noticed are, in fact, true Roman ruins. The artifacts date back at least 2,000 years and were given to the City of Philadelphia—by way of Penn Museum—by Abdullah Salah, Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, as a Bicentennial gift.

Although the ruins are now arranged as a set of three individual pieces, the items were actually once a single column. The column, 26 feet high and 3 feet in diameter, was excavated near Amman, Jordan—a city that, in Roman times, was called “Philadelphia.”

No, we are not making that up.

At a special dedication ceremony held here at Penn, Salah told a crowd of onlookers: “This column, from the first Philadelphia, the biblical Rabbat-Amman, has endured for over 2,000 years. We are pleased that, for centuries into the future, it will join the great archaeological collections of this Museum for all to witness as a treasure and a symbol for enduring freedom and independence which we commemorate today.”

At the time, the column was the first Bicentennial gift Philadelphia had received from a foreign nation. After first being placed near the Museum, the column was later moved to a location near the English Building before finally reaching its current home, near 33rd Street and Smith Walk.


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Originally published on January 27, 2005