I. The Site and Foundation of Rome

The Site and Foundation of Rome

Geographical Overview

Rome's landscape is best understood as a plateau of soft rock (primarily tufa, a sedimentary rock of volcanic origins) that has been worn down by the Tiber River about 30 km. from its mouth. This erosion created, in the case of the Palatine, Aventine, and Capitoline, free-standing hills along the riverbank almost detached from the plateau. The other hills traditionally included in Rome's seven—the Caelian, Esquiline, Viminal, and Quirinal—are rather finger-like extensions of the plateau, all on the left bank; the Janiculum is a similar extension of the plateau on the right bank of the Tiber. Especially the free-standing hills were steeper in antiquity and previously had a greater elevation above the surrounding floor, which has risen between 5 and 10 meters since antiquity on ruins and sediment.

The Site of Rome

1. The Site of Rome. Commentary.

It was natural enough that the Romans, after becoming masters of the Mediterranean, should look back and find the signs that they were destined for greatness. The most grandiloquent conception of this greatness—that it was indeed destined by a higher power, an idea which found classic expression in Virgil's Aeneid—proved quite popular later among European Christians, who saw Rome as the chosen vessel for the spread of their religion. In the passages that follow, Vitruvius also has recourse to divine intelligence to explain Roman greatness, as manifested and operative, however, through the agencies of climate. The accounts by Cicero and Livy (put in the mouths of great Roman patriots, Scipio and Camillus respectively) mediate this destiny through the inspired insight of the founder Romulus, who recognized the strategic and economic advantages offered by the specific geography of the site. After such accounts, Strabo's skepticism is refreshing. Even his glowing account of the Roman Campagna's resources is largely accurate, and touches on a famous insight of antiquity: a city is not its walls and buildings, but its people. In the case of Rome, Strabo argues, it was the very lack of certain natural advantages (such as an easily defensible site) that was responsible for forming the character necessary for Rome's subsequent greatness.

1. The Site of Rome. Sources.


It is a fact that southern nations, although keen in thought and extremely clever in strategy, give way when it comes to a contest of courage. This is because their spirit has been enervated by the hot sun. Conversely, people born in the frigid regions of the north, though better suited for the violence of warfare on account of their fearless courage, are slow of mind, and by rushing into things without reflection, these northern peoples fail to obtain their objectives because they take no thought of strategy.

Since such differences between people are founded by the nature of things in geographical location, and since all other nations, north and south, are distinguished by an unbalanced mixture, Rome then manifestly occupies a territory that is in the middle of the world and is the mean point of land on earth. For the peoples of Italy are temperamentally balanced in each direction, having both physical strength and a mental vigor suited to their courage.… Thus did divine intelligence situate the city of the Roman people in an extraordinary and temperate region, so that it might extend its empire across the world.

Vitruvius, Architecture 6.1.10-11


[Scipio Africanus the Younger begins his summary of Roman history.] “In choosing an advantageous site for his new city—a choice which requires careful consideration if you wish to found a lasting republic—Romulus showed great forethought by not placing his city directly on the coast.… The primary drawback of a coastal location is a city's vulnerability to surprise attacks. In addition, maritime cities are more vulnerable to the corruption and degeneration of morals, since various languages and customs get mixed together in such cities. Not only are goods imported from abroad, but ways of life as well, with the result that none of the traditional institutions can remain uncontaminated and pure.

[Seaside cities nonetheless enjoy one great advantage: convenience for importing and exporting goods.] Who then could show more divine guidance than Romulus, who was able to secure the advantages of seacoast cities and avoid their vices by founding Rome on the bank of a broad river that flows down to the sea with a smooth and unfailing current.… Even back then he must have divined that the city would one day furnish the seat and home of a mighty empire. In all probability, no other city located in any other part of Italy could have more easily secured such extensive power.”

Cicero, On the Republic 2.5-10


[After the city was sacked and burned by the Gauls in 390 BC, the general Camillus persuaded the Romans not to relocate their city:] “With good reason did the gods and men choose this site for the founding of the city. Rome's hills provide a healthy environment, the Tiber is favorable for navigation upstream to inland crops and downstream to the sea, and the sea itself is close enough for trade and yet far enough that we are not in danger of invasion by foreign fleets. Consider too Rome's location at the center of Italy. This site is uniquely suited by nature for the expansion of a city—as is proven by the size itself of our city while yet so young.”

Livy, History 5.54.4


After Numitor regained his rightful seat as ruler of Alba Longa, Romulus and Remus returned to their home to found the city of Rome. They site must not have been of their own choosing but rather dictated by necessity, since the location was not easily defended and comprised neither enough of the surrounding territory nor enough citizens to support a city.…

In my opinion, the founders of the city adopted a line of reasoning valid for both their time and for subsequent generations: the Romans ought to depend for their security and well-being not on their walls, but on their weapons and native valor. Walls, they reasoned, did not defend men, but men defended walls. Since in the beginning most of the fertile lands around them belonged to others, and the terrain of their own city was so open to attack, there is no reason to attribute any special good fortune to the site of Rome. But once the Romans acquired the territory around them by their own brave virtue and industry, there was an accumulation of resources that surpassed all natural advantage.…

The entire region of Latium is blessed with fertility, except for a few areas which are marshy and pestilential … and some other areas that are mountainous and rocky. Even these places, however, are not entirely barren and useless, since they provide abundant pasturage and wood, as well as some fruits that do well on marshy or rocky soil.…

The Romans enjoy an amazing abundance of quarries and timber, as well as rivers that accommodate the transportation of such materials, such as the Anio.

Strabo, Geography 5.3.2; 5.3.7; 5.3.5

The Tiber River

2. The Tiber River. Commentary.

As the passages above demonstrate, the Romans recognized the Tiber as a crucial factor in the location and prosperity of their city, but the inhabitants became increasingly vulnerable to its floods as they came down from the hills to develop the low-lying areas such as the Roman Forum, the Forum Boarium, and the entire Campus Martius. It is telling that a Tiber flood is integral to the city's foundation story, and is presumed by its chief icon, the wolf and twins. The travertine embankments constructed in the late 1800s have solved the flooding, but make it difficult to imagine the city's formerly intimate connection to the river, which, like all Greek and Roman rivers, had, or was itself, a divinity. Virgil's passage [2.2], in which the river god appears to Aeneas in a dream epiphany, helps restore some of Tiber's former personality, as does the reclining statue of the Tiber on the Capitoline in front of the stairs to the Palazzo Senatorio.

Virgil's “sky-blue” waters are as visionary as the rest of Aeneas's epiphany. Even the poets typically give the Tiber the epithet “tawny” or “yellow” (flavus), which it still is today when it runs high after storms; perhaps the flood-control dams upstream remove much of the colorful sediment under normal conditions. The same sediment that gave the river its color caused the channel and the harbors at the river's mouth to silt up.

The Tiber Island is in itself a significant piece of the city's topography. Just below where the island breaks the current, there was an early ford as well as the site of Rome's first bridge (treated in more detail under the Forum Boarium section [117.]). This easy crossing directed a good deal of traffic to the site of Rome long before there was a Rome. Although in antiquity the island did not form a break between upper and lower river traffic (as it does today with its rapids and the little weir nearby), this would have been a common place to off-load goods for surface transportation or for another stage of shipment by river.

Starting with Augustus there was a separate administrative post dedicated to the upkeep of the channel and its banks from Rome to Ostia. Dio's passage attributes a board of five officials to Tiberius's initiative, but this could be a committee assigned specifically to the flooding problem. Tacitus in fact documents a board of two officials charged with investigating the possibility of diverting major upstream tributaries into other watersheds, an ambitious proposal which never came to pass because of local protests and the philosophical objection that nature knew what she was doing when she assigned rivers to their mouths (see Annals 1.76, 79).

About 120 boundary markers (called cippi) have survived that identified both the extent of the river bank under official control and the names of the officials themselves who were responsible for the improvements and regulation. The emperors Claudius and Trajan both responded to the inadequacy of the river's natural mouth as a port by building new harbors just north of Ostia, where the Fiumicino airport is today. Claudius's port was created by building breakwaters, whereas Trajan's port, still more protected, was excavated inland from Claudius's port. Flooding was also addressed by the new channels to the sea, which effectively added more mouths for the river's egress.

2. The Tiber River. Sources.


The Tiber was once called the Albula, on account of the milky (albus) color of its water. It got the name Tiber from Tiberinus Silvius, an Alban king who perished in the river.

Festus 4


When Aeneas finally slept, the god of the lovely river,

The ancient Tiber himself, appeared to the troubled hero,

Rising above the poplar leaves that lined his banks.

Veiled in a grassy cloak and shaded by a crown of reeds

He spoke, and with his words he calmed the hero's cares:

“Aeneas: I am the god himself of the rolling river

You see here tugging at the banks and cutting the fertile fields,

Sky-blue Tiber, of all the rivers, dearest to the gods.

My mansion is here by the shore, my source in mountain towns.”

Virgil, Aeneid 8.31-35, 62-65


Some sections of the city walls are further fortified by the Tiber, which is about 400 feet wide and deep enough to carry large ships. It is also among the more rapid rivers, and generates large eddies.

Dionysius, Early Rome 9.68.2


Cicero send greetings to Atticus: [July, 45 BC] Capito happened to speak of the proposed expansion of the city: the Tiber, starting from the Milvian Bridge [upstream of the city], is to be re-channeled alongside the Vatican hills, and the Campus Martius opened up to development. The Vatican fields in turn will become a sort of Campus Martius.… “This law will be passed,” Capito said; “Caesar wants it.”

Cicero, Letters to Atticus 13.33a


So that more people might become engaged in the administration of the government, Augustus thought up new offices, including the Curatorship of the Tiber Channel.

Suetonius, Augustus 37


[Inscription on a boundary stone:] The Emperor Augustus,… by decree of the Senate, marked off the boundaries of the Tiber [in 7 BC]. The next boundary stone [upstream] can be found at 206 feet, direct measurement; another can be found at 205 feet downstream.

ILS 5924a = CIL 6.31542


[Omens abound:] We see the yellow Tiber, [27 BC]

Its raging waves flung back from the Tuscan bank,

Enter the Forum intent on toppling

The monuments of Numa and Vesta's temple.

Horace, Odes 1.2.13-16


[In AD 15] the Tiber flooded much of the city, requiring people to go around in boats. Many people thought this was an omen, as well as the violent earthquake that shook down part of the city wall.… The emperor Tiberius, however, took it as a sign that there was too much surface water, and appointed by lot five senators to a permanent board whose task was to ensure the Tiber flowed as steadily as possible all year round, rather than flooding in the winter and drying up in the summer.

Dio, History 57.14.7-8


[In AD 46] the Emperor Claudius, … while building a port for Rome, freed the city from the danger of floods by constructing canals that led from the Tiber into the sea.

ILS 207 = CIL 14.85


Gaius Pliny, a curator of the Tiber, its banks, and of the city sewers ….

ILS 2927 = CIL 5. 5262


Gaius Pliny sends greetings to Caecilius Macrinus

Here in Rome we have unceasing rains and frequent flooding. The Tiber has left its channel and spills out high above the low-lying banks. Even with the far-seeing Emperor Trajan's new canal draining it into the sea, the river buries the valleys, flows across fields, and has made a lake of the river plain. In addition, the streams, which normally empty into the Tiber as their common drain, are now backed up as if by a dam, and flood fields that the river itself does not touch.

The Anio, that most graceful of little rivers that so often gets invited and detained, as it were, by the villas along its banks, has uprooted and swept off a large part of the groves that gave it shade. It undermines whole hillsides, which collapse and block its channel, and the water, searching for a new way back to its bed, knocks down buildings, submerges them, and carries them away. People trapped on higher ground watch wealthy furnishings and heavy couches go floating by, mixed in with farm equipment, yoked oxen, plows and plowmen, and animals sent to pasture, all of this interspersed with tree trunks, beams from villas, and whole roofs that are swept far across the countryside.

Pliny the Younger, Letters 8.17.1-4

The Foundation of Rome

3. The Foundation of Rome. Commentary.

The early stories about Rome's origins, even where they recede and ascend to mythic level, not only tell us much about how later Romans thought and felt about themselves as Romans, but mirror the archaeological record in two significant ways. First, they show that settlements in the area go back before there was a Rome. The stories of both Aeneas's visit to the site of Rome (traditionally C12 BC) and Romulus's youthful raids portray an area sparsely populated by simple settlements before either of the heroes arrived on the scene, and archaeological records find evidence of habitation in the area going back from the Iron and Bronze Ages into the Stone Age. But starting in the eighth century BC, when legend has Romulus's foundation of the city (753 BC), archaeology finds that there was a population increase in the whole area, and in Rome an urban boom that soon called for walls and a city center.

The names of Romulus and Remus are, in contrast to what the ancients thought, both probably derivatives of the name of the city rather than the other way around, and the myth is possibly no older than the 4C BC. The legends have been interpreted not only as anachronistic projections of the political and social realities of later writers who have incorporated (disputed degrees of) historical tradition, but as instances of wide-spread archetypes and patterns that include foundlings, floods, and rival twins.

Rome's foundation was celebrated on April 21, and this date is still recognized today with certain traditions (though with nothing nearly so elaborate as the anniversary ceremonies which marked this date under Fascist government of the city). [15.1]

3. The Foundation of Rome. Sources.


[Thirteen generations after Aeneas's son Iulus (Ascanius) founded the town of Alba Longa in the Alban Hills, Numitor inherited the kingship.] Then his brother Amulius usurped the throne from Numitor and ruled Alba Longa. Piling crime on top of crime, Amulius wiped out all hope of a male heir to Numitor: under the pretext of honoring his brother's daughter Rhea Silvia, Amulius appointed her a Vestal Virgin, thinking to bind her to lifelong virginity and thereby put an end to Numitor's line.

But it was, in my opinion, fated that the great city of Rome should arise; fated, the beginnings of the mightiest power on earth after that of the gods. Though a Vestal, Rhea was raped, and gave birth to twins. She announced (whether she actually believed it, or simply thought that blaming a god lent stature to her misfortune) that Mars was the father of her uncertain offspring. But neither god nor man saved her or the infants from a king's cruelty: the priestess was bound and led off to prison, and the king ordered the boys to be cast adrift on the river.

By some divine chance the Tiber had just overflowed its banks. Since the quiet backwaters of the flood barred any access to the central current of the river, those charged with the task of exposure had to hope that the infants would drown as readily in stagnant pools as in the current, and they considered the king's command completed when they abandoned the boys at the margin of the flood, in the spot where the Ruminalis fig stands today (earlier called the “Romularis” fig, it is reported).

At that time the entire region was a wilderness. The story persists that a she-wolf, making her way down from the surrounding hills for a drink, heard wailing, and found the boys high and dry in their basket where the waters had receded. By the time a shepherd of the royal flocks happened by, the wolf was licking the babies and gently lowering her dugs to them. The shepherd—Faustulus by name—brought the boys home to his hut, and his wife Larentia took them in and raised them. Other people say, however, that the “she-wolf” was actually Larentia herself, who was given the nickname of she-wolf by the shepherds because she was a loose woman [lupa can mean both she-wolf and prostitute]. It was from this nickname, they say, that the miraculous legend later arose.

Such was the upbringing of Romulus and Remus. When the boys got older, after finishing with the day's chores at home and among the flocks, they would roam the woods hunting. Living such a life, the twins grew in strength and courage, and soon not only stood their ground against wild animals but would attack bandits loaded with booty, which they would then divide among the other shepherds. Their band of companions grew steadily, joining together in the celebrations of both serious and light-hearted occasions.

Livy, History 1.3.11-4.9


[With the help of the twins Romulus and Remus, the usurper Amulius was deposed.] When Numitor, their grandfather, was safely in place again as king of Alba Longa, Romulus and Remus became eager to found a city of their own, on the same site where they had been abandoned and brought up. An excess population of both Albans and Latins furnished emigrants; joined with the shepherd band led by the twins, they all had reason to hope that their new town would one day make Lavinium [founded by Aeneas], and even Alba Longa, look small in comparison.

Such concerns, however, were soon interrupted by the vice of their forefather—the lust for royal power—and an ugly struggle between the brothers broke out after a peaceful start. Since the brothers were twins and therefore age could not decide the issue, they let the gods, through bird-flight, decide which brother should take command and give the new city his name.

Each brother took up his station for marking out the augural lines of sight, Romulus on the Palatine Hill and Remus on the Aventine. Reportedly, the first sign came to Remus—six vultures—but they had no sooner announced the result than twice that number appeared to Romulus. Each of the camps claimed kingship for their leader, one side by virtue of priority and the other side by virtue of number. A fight broke out and in the heat of anger turned deadly: in the fracas, Remus was struck and killed.

A more common version of Remus's death is that he mocked his brother's new walls by jumping over them, whereupon Romulus killed him in a fit of anger and then added the threat, “The same fate awaits anyone else who jumps over my walls!”

In such fashion did Romulus gain sole power, and the city thus founded was named after him.

Livy, History 1.6.3-1.7.3


Calendar for April 21st:

After Amulius, brother of Numitor, paid for his crime,

The band of shepherds was led by the twins in tandem.

To both the time looked ripe to unite the rustics, to found

A city; the question remained: which brother would found that city?

“No need for a fight to decide the issue,” said Romulus:

“Much faith is put in the birds: let us then try the birds.”

All approved, and one to the cliff of the wooded Palatine went

at dawn to watch for birds, and the other climbed to the Aventine.

Remus saw six, but his brother a dozen. The twins' agreement

Remained, and Romulus received the rule of the city.

A fitting day was chosen for him to plough the walls;

When the festival of Pales arrived, the work began.

Ovid, Fasti 4.809-820


The city observed a holiday called the Feast of Pales,

The anniversary of the day when the walls of Rome first rose.

Propertius, Elegies 4.4.73-4

II. Walls and Aqueducts

Walls and Aqueducts

The Republic Walls

4. The Republic Walls. Commentary.

Although Rome must have had some defenses from its very beginning, around the Palatine, which Livy and others attribute to Romulus's foundation, and certainly around the Capitoline hill, which became Rome's last-stand defensive position, the Romans attributed the monumental Republican walls that enclosed all or part of all the major hills of the city to King Servius (dated traditionally to 578-534 BC), and these walls are often still called the “Servian” walls. The quotation marks, however, indicate a major failing of the literary record that the archaeological record can with some certainty correct. The key archaeological evidence concerns the primary stone of the Republican walls: their yellowish gray tufa (Grotta Oscura) comes from quarries of Veii, which would have been available only after Rome had conquered this town in 396 BC. The Gallic invasion a few years later (hardly time for such a wall to have been planned and built in the interim) no doubt provided a good impetus for the building of a massive and comprehensive wall to replace, and in places perhaps link together, the former defenses built at various times (the sources are conflicted) by a number of kings.

Perhaps Livy's reference [4.6] to repairs in cut stone in 377 BC could be a reflection of what was in reality the much more massive project of the Republican walls. At any rate, eleven kilometers in circumference, the Republican walls provided useful if increasingly decrepit protection into the C1 AD, by which time the borders of the empire were so distant and the threat of invasion so minimal that the capital was secure without them. In earlier centuries, however, they served not only to dissuade Rome's enemies from attack in the first place, but kept out her deadliest enemy Hannibal, who otherwise had both the means and the will to destroy the city. Livy's account of Hannibal at the gates of Rome, with its great story about the sale of the land where Hannibal was encamped [4.7], portrays in miniature the preparation, determination, and pride that saw Rome through this protracted threat to its existence.

Much of the wall's exact course is uncertain, although stretches remain standing, including some significant ruins on the south side of the Aventine. The most interesting remnant of the Republican walls, however, is on display in front of the Termini train station. This section (the Agger, or “Rampart”) was not freestanding, but part of a defensive system that, because unaided by any natural defensive escarpment of any sort for its run across the Esquiline, included a ditch on the outer side of it and a rampart on the inner side. The passages from Juvenal and Horace show that this stretch of the wall was a popular place to stroll, no doubt for a fine view of the Sabine and Alban hills as well as for the breezes on the top of the Rampart. Horace's “bleached bones” [4.8] is a reference to the mass graves that formerly occupied the land outside the walls here.

Of the many gates in the Republican walls, perhaps the most famous is Porta Capena, not only because it opened onto the “Queen of Roads,” the Via Appia, but because Juvenal [4.12] and Martial [4.13] have given it character and identity: it was the “dripping Capena,” due to the leaky channel of an elevated aqueduct (probably the Aqua Marcia) that crossed the valley between the Caelian and Aventine on top of or alongside the Republican wall.

4. The Republic Walls. Sources.


[After gaining sole power] Romulus's first act was to build a wall around the Palatine, the place of his own childhood.

Livy, History 1.7.3


The first founders of Rome walled in the Capitoline, Palatine, and Quirinal hills.… The fourth king Ancus Martius extended the walls across the Caelian and Aventine hills and the valley floor between them, … and the sixth king Servius added the Esquiline and Viminal to Rome's walled area.

Strabo, Geography 5.3.7


[The census report undertaken by the king Servius in the C6 BC reported that 80,000 (sic) citizens lived in the city, many of them newcomers.] To address the needs of this population, it was clearly necessary to expand the city. Servius added two more hills—the Quirinal and the Viminal—and then enlarged the enclosed area of the Esquiline as well, where he himself took up residence to lend this quarter some status. He surrounded the city with rampart, trench, and wall, thus extending the pomerium.

Livy, History 1.44.3


Servius enlarged the city by the addition of two hills, the Viminal and the Esquiline.… This was the last king who enlarged the circuit of the city, adding two hills to the existing five ….

Today [c. 20 BC] the homes of the city spread far beyond the walls, unprotected and vulnerable to attack, should an enemy come. Indeed, the extent of the city is deceptive for any observer trying to determine where it begins and where it ends, since the urban area is closely intertwined with the countryside around it and gives the impression that the city stretches on forever. If however you judge the size of the city from the circumference of the walls (not an easy thing to do, since buildings are now incorporated into the walls for much of their course, leaving visible however some traces of their ancient structure), Rome would appear to be not much larger than the walled section of Athens.

Dionysius, Early Rome 4.13.2-5


The section of the wall between the Esquiline and Colline gates has been made stronger by engineering. In front of the wall outside the city a trench was excavated one hundred feet wide at the narrowest point and thirty feet deep. The wall rises above this trench and is supported on the inside by an earthen rampart that is so high and wide that the wall cannot be shaken apart by battering rams or undermined by sapping. This portion of the walls is a little less than a mile long and is fifty feet wide [including the banked earth].

Dionysius, Early Rome 9.68.3-4


Additional debts were incurred by the poor [in 377 BC] when the censors contracted to build a wall of cut stone.

Livy, History 6.32.1


[As Hannibal approached the city with his army in 211 BC, the Senate and consuls deliberated.] They decided on the following plan: the consuls would place their camps near the Colline and Esquiline gates; Gaius Calpurnius, the city praetor, would take command of the Capitoline and Citadel fortifications; and the full Senate would remain in the Forum in case there was a sudden need for their deliberation.

Hannibal, meanwhile, arrived at the Anio River and stationed a permanent camp there three miles from the city. Hannibal himself left camp with two thousand horse and rode towards the Colline gate, right up to the Temple of Hercules, and then rode along the walls as close as he could, studying the defenses and the terrain of the city. Hannibal's careful and leisurely review struck the consul Flaccus as such an insult that he sent out cavalry against him to drive the enemy back to their camp.…

A small incident soon occurred which helped to sap Hannibal's determination to take the city. He learned from a Roman who was taken prisoner that the very field upon which his army was encamped had just been sold to a new owner in the city, with no reduction in price.

Livy, History 26.10.2-5; 26.11.5-6


Today the Esquiline is wholesome enough for homes,

And one can stroll along the sunny Rampart, where lately

One gazed across a landscape littered with bleached bones.

Horace, Satires 1.8.14-16


[At dinner parties, the wealthy get served the choicest fruits]

While you're stuck with a rotten apple given to monkeys

Performing tricks on the Rampart in a shield and helmet …

Juvenal, Satires 5.153-4


[The rich go elsewhere to have their fortunes told]

But plebeian fates are told by the Circus and on the Rampart.

Juvenal, Satires 6.588


[You foolishly think that you yourself deserve some credit]

Because your mother glows with aristocratic blood

Instead of weaving for hire at the base of the windy Rampart.

Juvenal, Satires 8.43


When all my friend's possessions were packed on a single cart

He lingered by the ancient arcade and the dripping Porta Capena.

Juvenal, Satires 3.10-11


Where big drops rain from the Porta Capena…

Martial, Epigrams 3.47.1

Aurelian Walls

5. Aurelian Walls. Commentary.

By the middle of the third century AD, Rome was once again in need of a defensive wall, since the borders beyond the Alps and the defensive lines of northern Italy had become increasingly porous. The new walls, 19 km. in circumference and defending three times the area protected by the Republican walls (the course of which had been laid out for a much smaller city six centuries earlier, when the Campus Martius was little more than a field), were named after the emperor Aurelian, under whose principate they first arose starting in AD 271. The Aurelian walls were augmented in the early fourth century, probably by Maxentius, and more significantly under Arcadius and Honorius in the early fifth century, when their height was doubled from 8 to 16 m., with still higher square towers every 100 Roman feet (30 m.).

The Aurelian walls, with various modifications and repairs made over the centuries, continued to defend the city until Garibaldi breached Porta Pia in 1870. Significant stretches have been torn down since then, but two-thirds of their course is still standing. Major stretches exist either side of the Via Appia's Porta S. Sebastiano, which also houses a museum that provides access to the lower level of the walls.

5. Aurelian Walls. Sources.


Responding to the tribal invasions that occurred earlier under the Emperor Gallienus, the Emperor Aurelius expanded the walls of Rome [in AD 271] after consulting with the Senate, although he did not enlarge the pomerium until a later date.

Imperial Lives, Aurelian 21.9


The Emperor Aurelian enlarged the walls of the city of Rome to such an extent that their circuit was nearly 50,000 feet.

Imperial Lives, Aurelian 39.2


Because our Illustrious [etc.] Emperors Arcadius and Honorius restored the walls, gates, and towers of the Eternal City [in AD 401] while removing massive quantities of rubble, as recommended by the distinguished … General Stilicho and carried out under the direction of the urban prefect … Longinianus, the Senate and the People of Rome set up these statues of the two emperors in lasting memory of their name.

ILS 797 = CIL 6.1189


Rome's new walls, built to the recent alarms of tribes

That threatened our borders, have given a fresh young face to the city.

Thus was fear the father of beauty and a strange renewal:

The city, grown old in peace, with war sloughed off its age,

Erecting sudden towers, rejuvenating all

The seven hills of Rome with one continual wall.

Claudian, On the Sixth Consulship of Stilicho, 531-6 [AD 404]


6. Pomerium. Commentary.

The pomerium was a line or band that marked the official limits of many Italian towns, including Rome—the town, however, considered not so much as an entity of brick and stone but as a ritually defined space inside which certain political, judicial, and religious behaviors and powers were allowed or forbidden.

The defensive walls of Rome did not necessarily coincide with its pomerium, but the foundation ritual and the etymologies (accurate or not) that Varro and others give to it, as well as Livy's description of the pomerium as the cleared space on either side of the city's defensive wall, all indicate that there was some ideal or original connection between the city's physical defense and its official augural limits. The Aventine, however, was within the Republican walls and yet not included within the pomerium until the time of Claudius, and several boundary stones designating Claudius's expansion of the pomerium were found north of today's Piazza del Popolo, far beyond the course of the Republican walls.

The most significant expansions of the pomerium can safely be attributed to Servius Tullius, Sulla, and Claudius, on the evidence of both the written and archaeological record. Sulla's expansion probably took in an additional swath of land on the Esquiline outside the Rampart. Since burial was forbidden inside the pomerium, Sulla's extension had the effect of reclaiming this area, which was notoriously unwholesome on account of its mass graves for the city's poor. Claudius's expansion, in addition to the Aventine, included much of the Campus Martius. The continued and subsequent presence of tombs and cremation sites in portions of the Campus Martius, as well as meetings of the military assembly (also forbidden inside the pomerium) suggest that certain parts of the Campus Martius lay outside of Claudius's expansion.

6. Pomerium. Sources.


Many people in Latium founded towns using an Etruscan ceremony. In this rite, on an auspicious day in accordance with religious observance, they would yoke two cattle together, a bull and a cow, and plow a furrow around the town-to-be, with the plow folding earth to the inside so that they might be defended by both ditch and wall: the furrow was called the defensive ditch, and the turned-up earth on the inside represented the wall behind it. The ring created by this action was the limit of the city. Because this ring was outside the wall (post murum), it was called the “postmoerium,” and it designates the outermost limits of the urban auspices.

Varro, The Latin Language 5.143


Those who look only at the word's etymological sense interpret the “pomerium” as being the strip “outside the walls” [postmoerium]. A better term would actually be “both sides of the wall” [circamoerium], since it is the space which the Etruscans, when founding cities, would ritually delimit on both sides of the wall that they intended to erect. The purpose of this was both to keep buildings away from the inside of the walls (although nowadays they are commonly even attached to the walls) and to preserve some space outside the wall cleared of cultivation.

Livy, History 1.44.4


Claudius also extended the pomerium of Rome [in AD 49], by an ancient custom whereby those who extended the empire might also expand the boundaries of the city. However, Rome's leaders, even those who greatly expanded the empire, had not availed themselves of this privilege, with the exception of Sulla and the deified Augustus.

The pomerium's expansion under the kings (whether in accordance with their vainglory or their true achievements) is variously reported, but I think that the beginning of Rome's foundation and the pomerium that Romulus established can be reliably traced as follows. From the point in the Forum Boarium where the bronze statue of the bull stands today (appropriately, since this is the species yoked to the ritual plow), a furrow was plowed to designate the city limits. It ran first to the Great Altar of Hercules [119.] and then along the base of the Palatine hill, in a line preserved today by regularly spaced boundaries stones. From here, the line extended to the Altar of Consus, then to the Old Assembly Grounds [Curiae Veteres] nearby, then to the Shrine of the Lares and on past the Roman Forum. Sources report that the Forum itself and the Capitoline hill were not part of Romulus's original city but added by Titus Tatius. The pomerium was soon enlarged to keep pace with Rome's fortunes.

The boundaries of the pomerium as extended by Claudius are easy to recognize and also documented in the public records.

Tacitus, Annals 12.23-24


The Emperor Claudius, after expanding the boundaries of the Roman empire, extended and demarcated the pomerium [in AD 49].

ILS 213 = CIL 6.1231

(boundary stone near the Rampart)


Lucius Sentius, son of Gaius, while praetor [in 83 BC] and in accordance with a decree of the Senate, oversaw the establishment of boundaries. May this act be propitious. It is forbidden to perform cremations inside the boundaries towards the city, or to dispose of dung or corpses here.

ILS 8208 = CIL 6.31614

(boundary stone near the Rampart)


It is forbidden that the Centuriate Assembly convene inside the pomerium, since an army can be commanded only outside the city; inside, there is no such right. Therefore the Centuriate Assembly is held in the Campus Martius.

Gellius, Attic Nights 15.27.5


On the meaning of “Pomerium”: in the books that they have written about the auspices, the augurs of the Roman people define the pomerium in the following manner: “The pomerium is the area marked off from the surrounding fields by the augurs and ringing the entire city; it is behind the walls and limited by fixed boundaries. The pomerium forms the extent of the urban auspices.” The oldest pomerium, established by Romulus, was limited to the base of the Palatine hill. But this pomerium was extended several times as the Republic expanded, and it eventually surrounded many of the major hills. Moreover, those who had increased the Roman people with the capture of land from the enemy had the right to extend the pomerium.

The question therefore arose—and still arises [in the C2 AD]—why, out of seven hills of the city, six lie within the boundaries of the pomerium and only the Aventine, which is neither far from the city nor sparsely populated, is excluded; also, why neither the king Servius Tullius, nor Sulla, who petitioned for permission to enlarge the pomerium, nor afterwards the deified Julius Caesar when he extended it, saw fit to enclose the Aventine within the augural boundaries of the city.… I should however not pass up the following information about the Aventine which I found recently in the Commentary of the early grammarian Elys: there it is written that the Aventine was originally excluded from the pomerium, as I just mentioned, but was later incorporated inside it by the authority of the deified Claudius and has since then been regarded as lying within the augural boundaries of the pomerium.

Gellius, Attic Nights 13.14.1-4, 7

Rome's Aqueducts

7. Rome's Aqueducts. Commentary.

The introductory passages by Pliny and Frontinus below suggest not only the engineering accomplishment of Rome's aqueducts—eventually 11 aqueducts totaling 500 kilometers, not including the elaborate and overlapping distribution network—but the passionate pride that the utilities of water supply and drainage could arouse in the Roman heart. Even the more sober and analytical Strabo ranks the aqueducts and sewers on par with the roads as Rome's greatest achievements.

The references to lead pipes by Ovid [7.5] and Vitruvius [7.6] support the archaeological findings, although most of the metal pipes in ancient Rome were eagerly scavenged and recycled by subsequent ages after the system fell apart. Ovid's striking simile (a water leak in a lead pipe = blood spraying from a wound) is a window into this poet's irreverent imagination as well as into the Roman world, combining a romantic Greek myth with an urban street scene and a Roman familiarity with spouting blood. In passing, however, it also illustrates an important feature of Roman aqueducts. After the water arrived in an open gravitational system (where it flowed in channels essentially as a stream with a cover) it entered an elevated water tank. From here the water ran under pressure in a closed system; pipes tapping the tank could take the water under streets and deliver it elsewhere to its original elevation. Although this pressure would have made it possible in lower neighborhoods to deliver water to upper stories of buildings, the Romans generally did not make use of this potential. Instead, water was made available at numerous public fountains, which, because of the pressurized plumbing, could be located at any elevation on any hill of the city, while many of the water mains could be buried beneath the streets.

Vitruvius's note of caution about the use of lead pipes for drinking water is interesting in light of modern concerns. In fact, the modern practice of using valves and stop-cocks, which lets the water sit in the pipes when not in use, only aggravates the problem. Although the ancient Romans occasionally used stop-valves, aqueduct water was generally left to run continuously through public and private fountains. As a result, their drinking water, even when it ran through lead pipes (as it often did), rarely paused to absorb the lead. In addition, Rome's water is heavy with minerals that quickly coated the pipes with deposits that acted like a sealant against the lead.

7. Rome's Aqueducts. Sources.


If anyone should carefully calculate the abundance of waters in Rome's public fountains, baths, pools, open canals, homes, gardens, and suburban estates, or the miles of delivery channels, the tall arcades, the tunnels under mountains and bridges across valleys, he would admit that there is nothing on earth more worthy of our wonder.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 36.123


[Frontinus has just finished his summary of the nine aqueducts that had been completed when he wrote his treatise in AD 97.] To so many indispensable structures of so many aqueducts compare, if you like, the idle pyramids or the many famous but useless monuments of the Greeks!

Frontinus, Aqueducts 16


[As a result of work carried out under the emperor Nerva in AD 97,] throughout the entire city most of the public water basins, new and old alike, have two supply lines coming from two different aqueducts. This way, a disruption to one of the aqueducts does not suspend service to the basin, which can be supplied by the back-up line.

The city herself, queen and mistress of the world, “Goddess of lands, who has no equal and no second,” senses daily this devotion of her most dutiful Emperor Nerva, and the health of the Eternal City will improve on account of this increase in the number of tanks, supply lines, fountains, and basins. The benefits are spread among private individuals as well, due to an increase in the emperor's grants of water; those who once stole the water in fear can now enjoy it legally as a result of such grants. Not even waste water goes unused, channeled to flush away the sources of the city's once oppressive atmosphere. The streets have a cleaner look, the air is purer, and the odor for which Rome was infamous in days gone by has vanished.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 87, 88


Whereas the Greeks have the reputation for choosing good sites for their cities, giving priority to natural beauty, natural defenses, harbors, and fertile soil, the Romans provided for matters little regarded by the Greeks: the paving of roads, water supply, and sewers able to wash the refuse of the city into the Tiber. Because their long-distance roads make use of rock-cuts through hills and of artificial embankments across hollows, the wagons that use them can carry as much freight as a ferry-boat, and their sewers, vaulted with cut stone, are in some places large enough to give passage to a hay wagon. As for water, the aqueducts deliver such quantities that rivers of it flow through the city and its sewers, and almost every habitation has cisterns, piping, and running fountains.

Strabo, Geography 5.3.8


[Thinking, wrongly, that his lover Thisbe was dead,]

Pyramus grabbed the sword at his waist and ran himself through,

Then quickly pulled the reeking steel from the mortal wound

And stretched out on his back: the blood leapt skywards

Gushing the way a faulty pipe that's made of lead,

When cracked, will shoot a jet of water out a slender

Hissing hole, spraying the air with its pulsing pressure.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4.119-124


Ceramic water pipes have the following advantages over lead pipes. First, if some defect is found in the work, it can be fixed by anyone. In addition, the water in ceramic pipes is much more wholesome than water that has run through lead pipes. A probable indication of lead's unhealthy effect on water is the toxic effect that cerussa (a white pigment made from lead) is said to have on human bodies.…

We can find further evidence for lead's harmful effects in the pale complexions of the people who make the lead pipes. The vapors that rise from lead when it is poured… rob the blood's strength from the limbs of the workers.

It would seem, therefore, that water should not be conducted in lead pipes if purity is a concern.

Vitruvius, Architecture 8.6.10-11

Rome's Individual Aqueducts, and Frontinus

8. Rome's Individual Aqueducts, and Frontinus. Commentary.

Aqueducts were a distinguishing feature of most Roman cities, one that was vital to basic needs, to social customs such as public bathing, and to displays of patronage. Rome, however, was exceptional for he complexity and size of its system. Extensive aqueduct archaeology in the last hundred years has revealed or elucidated a good part of the course of most of Rome's aqueducts (rendered obscure because aqueducts ran underground for most of their length), but we are also fortunate to have a remarkable account of the city's aqueducts written by Frontinus, a Roman senator who was appointed water commissioner in AD 97. Frontinus provides valuable information on numerous facets of the aqueducts, including the history, course, volume, elevation, and distribution network of the nine individual aqueducts that existed in his day (the Traiana and Alexandrina aqueducts had not yet been built), as well as information about the administration, laws, and maintenance of the aqueducts.

Inscriptions also testify to the need for the continual maintenance of the aqueducts, some of which, under the patronage of the Popes, continued running long after the western empire collapsed (wrongly, numerous modern accounts have all the high-level aqueducts falling into disuse after the Goths besieged the city in the C6 AD [8.24]). One aqueduct, the largely underground Aqua Virgo, never fully ceased running and provides water to fountains in the Campus Martius today, as testified by reliefs decorating the facade above Trevi Fountain, the terminus of the channel today.

Three of the inscriptions in the sources below [8.16-8.18] can be found at Porta Maggiore, which is by far the best urban site to visit for an understanding and view of the ancient aqueducts. Called a “Gate” because it was incorporated in the Aurelian Wall in AD 271, for several centuries before the wall's construction this site was simply a monumental road-crossing for two high-level aqueducts, one riding on top of the other on a single arcade. A right-angle jog in the aqueduct where it turned to cross the ancient Via Labicana and Praenestina roads provided the opportunity to create a sort of triumphal arch to the conquest of nature and its conqueror, the emperor Claudius. The two channels of these aqueducts (the Aqua Claudia and Aqua Anio Novus) can be seen in cross-section running through the travertine attic over the roadways. The upper two inscriptions refer to repairs that for some reason needed to be carried out shortly after they were finished [8.17, 8.18].

Although there are impressive remains of the Claudia further out of town (especially at Romavecchia, near Cinecittà), nothing else remains to be seen of it and the Anio Novus in downtown Rome. Nero, however, added an urban branch line to the Claudia, and notable ruins of this arcade can be tracked across the Caelian towards the Palatine, starting with the massive brick arcade abutting Porta Maggiore. This section has been heavily reinforced by later construction, including one in AD 201: “The Emperor Severus and Caracalla [etc.], at their own expense, repaired the Caelian hill arches from the ground up, which in many places were weak and collapsing from age” (ILS 424). In addition, a remnant of the Aurelian wall flanking the Porta Maggiore preserves a cross-section of the Aqua Marcia with Tepula and Julia channels placed atop it. The lower, brick aqueduct boring through Porta Maggiore below the Claudia is the Acqua Felice, a papal aqueduct of the late 16th century.

In all, eight of Rome's eleven aqueducts (two of them below ground-level) approached Rome at or near Porta Maggiore. The four longest carried water from the Anio (today's Aniene) valley between Tivoli and Subiaco. In his summations below of each aqueduct's statistics, Frontinus gives the distance for each aqueduct under three categories: underground channel, elevated arches, and substructure (a solid wall, used for above-ground stretches of low elevation). From these figures, it is readily apparent that the Romans preferred underground channels to the more spectacular arcades that spring to mind when one imagines a Roman aqueduct.

[On the measurement of distances: 1,000 paces equals a Roman mile, which is about 100 yards shorter than an English mile.]

8. Rome's Individual Aqueducts, and Frontinus. Sources.


For 441 years after the Founding of the City [until 312 BC] the Romans were content to use what water they could draw from the Tiber, from wells, or from springs. The reverence for old springs exists to this day, since they are believed to restore health to ailing bodies, such as the springs of the Camenae [129.]… and of Juturna. Today [in AD 97], however, the following aqueducts bring water to Rome: the Appia, the Anio Vetus, the Marcia, the Tepula, the Julia, the Virgo, the Alsietina (also called the Augusta), the Claudia, and the Anio Novus.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 4


The Aqua Appia

In the consulship of Marcus Valerius Maximus and Publius Decius Mus [in 312 BC], the Aqua Appia was led into the city by Appius Claudius Crassus (later known as “the Blind”) while he was censor —the same man who was in charge of building the Appian Way from the Porta Capena all the way to the city of Capua.…

The Appia takes its water from the Lucullan fields along the Via Praenestina …. The channel, from its source to its destination at the Salinae (near the Porta Trigemina), is 11,190 paces, 11,130 of which are underground; the remaining 60 paces are above ground on substructure and arches near the Porta Capena.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 5


The Anio Vetus (the “Old Anio Aqueduct”)

[In 272 BC] forty years after the Aqua Appia was built, … the censor Manlius Curius Dentatus contracted for the Anio aqueduct (now called the “Old” Anio), which was paid for with the booty from the war with Pyrrhus.…

The Anio Vetus begins above Tivoli at the twentieth milestone beyond the [… ? name missing] Gate, where it supplies some of its water to Tivoli. The Anio Vetus is 43,000 paces long (winding a great deal to follow a gradient); 42,779 paces are below ground, and 221 above ground on substructure.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 6


The Aqua Marcia

[In 144 BC,] one hundred and twenty-seven years after the Anio Vetus was built, … the Senate, seeing that the Appia and Anio Vetus aqueducts were damaged by age and losing much of their water to illegal usage by private individuals, commissioned Marcius, who was a praetor for civilian cases at the time, to repair these aqueducts and reclaim their water. In addition, since the intervening growth of Rome was now judged to require a greater supply of water, the Senate charged him with the task of building another aqueduct. Marcius fixed the previous two, and built a third with greater volume, which was named the Aqua Marcia after him. Fenestella [c. AD 20] tells us that Marcius was allotted 180,000,000 sesterces for the job …. At that time the Board of Ten, checking the Sibylline Books on another matter, are said to have found a prohibition against taking the waters of the Marcia (or the Anio, in a more common account) on to the Capitoline hill … but each time the case was argued, Marcius Rex won, and water was channeled to the Capitoline.

The Marcia has its source at the 36th milestone of the Via Valeria, 3,000 paces down a side road to the right (as you come from Rome). It is 61,710½ paces long, 54,247½ of it below ground. Of the 7,463 paces above ground, 463 are on arches in the many places where the channel crosses valleys far from the city; closer to town, beginning at the 7th milestone, substructures carry the channel for 528 paces, and arches carry the channel for the remaining 6,472 paces.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 7


I restored the aqueduct channels that were collapsing from age in many places, and doubled the volume of the water called the Marcia by adding a new spring to its channel.

Augustus, Achievements 20


Note: The following three inscriptions can still be found at Porta Tiburtina/S. Lorenzo, along the north side of the Termini train station. Here the channel of the Marcia crossed the road to Tivoli on a monumentalized archway that (like the Porta Maggiore, though much smaller) was later incorporated into the Aurelian Wall.



The Emperor Augustus, son of the deified Julius, Pontifex Maximus, consul for the 12th time [etc.] repaired the channels of all the aqueducts [in 4 BC].

ILS 98 = CIL 6.1244



[In AD 79] the Emperor Titus [etc.] rebuilt the old and ruined channel of the Aqua Marcia and restored its water, which had ceased to run.

ILS 98 = CIL 6.1246



[In AD 212] the Emperor Caracalla Antoninus [etc.] restored the Aqua Marcia, which had been disrupted by various damages, to the sacred city of Rome, after its source had been cleansed, mountains cut away and tunneled under, and its arcade rebuilt. In addition, he linked a new spring to the Marcia, the Fons Antoninianus.

ILS 98 = CIL 6.1245


The Tepula and the Julia

[In 127 BC] the censors Gnaeus Servilius Caepio and Lucius Cassius Longinus … had the water called the Tepula brought from the Lucullan estates to Rome and the Capitoline. The Tepula has its source at the tenth milestone of the Via Latina, 2,000 paces down a side road to the right.

Agrippa, when aedile [in 33 BC], tapped new sources of water out by the twelfth milestone of the Via Latina, down a side road 2,000 paces to the right. This new channel, named the Julia by its builder, intercepted and took on the waters of the Tepula, but since the separate distribution system of the Tepula remained intact, so did its name.

… In the same year Agrippa restored the Appia, Anio Vetus, and Marcia aqueducts, which had almost fallen out of commission from disrepair, and with extraordinary devotion to duty he supplied the city with a great number of fountains.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 8, 9


The Aqua Virgo

[In 19 BC,] thirteen years after constructing the Aqua Julia, Agrippa … also built the Aqua Virgo, which (like the Tepula) began on the Lucullan estates and ended in Rome.… It was named the Virgo [“The Maiden”] because a young girl pointed out some springs to Agrippa's soldiers who were out looking for water sources. When the men dug deeper here, they discovered a huge supply of water. In the little shrine next to these sources, a painting illustrates this event.

The sources of the Virgo are at the 8th mile of the Via Collatina, in a marshy area where a cement enclosure has been built to collect the gushing springs. These sources are augmented by many other feeder lines along the way. The Aqua Virgo is 14,105 paces long; of these, 12,865 paces of the channel are below ground. The remaining 1,240 paces above ground are divided into 540 paces on substructure at several places and 700 paces on arches.…

The arches of the Virgo begin below the Gardens of Lucullus and end in the Campus Martius in front of the Voting Pens.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 10, 22


When he was aedile, Agrippa, besides adding the Aqua Virgo as well as repairing and augmenting existing aqueducts, built 700 basins, 500 fountains, and 130 distribution tanks (many of which were beautifully decorated), and adorned these installations with 300 bronze or marble statues and 400 marble columns. [Note: perhaps these columns refer to the boundary stones that marked the underground course of the aqueducts.]

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 36.121



[In AD 46] the Emperor Claudius [etc.] rebuilt, from their foundations up, the arches of the Aqua Virgo that had been wrecked by his predecessor Caligula.

ILS 205 = CIL 6.1252


The Alsietina

Whatever reasoning led Augustus, who was otherwise an emperor of careful planning, to build the Alsietina aqueduct escapes my understanding. This water (also called the Augusta) has nothing to recommend it, and is in fact of such poor quality that it is not distributed for public consumption. Perhaps Augustus, when building his Naumachia [an artificial pond for mock sea-battles], did not want to divert any wholesome water to fill it and therefore built a separate aqueduct to supply it, granting the surplus water to adjacent gardens and for private use in irrigation. Nevertheless, whenever the bridges across the Tiber are being repaired and the aqueduct channels relying on these bridges cease delivery across the river, out of necessity water from the Alsietina is used to supply the drinking fountains in the Transtiber region.

The source of the Aqua Alsietina is Lake Alsietinus, at the fourteenth milestone of the Via Claudia, six and one-half miles down a side-road to the right. The channel is 22,172 paces long, with 358 paces on arches.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 11


The Claudia and Anio Novus

[In AD 38,] in the second year of his reign, the Emperor Caligula, who had succeeded Tiberius, began construction on two new aqueducts after it was apparent that the seven existing channels were no longer sufficient for public need and private luxury. His successor Claudius completed these aqueducts magnificently and dedicated them in the consulship of Sulla and Titianus [in AD 52]. One of the aqueducts is called the Claudia, which delivers water from the Caerulean and Curtian springs, and which rivals the Marcia in purity. The other line built by Claudius and the highest of all the aqueducts has come to be known as the Anio Novus [the “New” Anio], since it is the second aqueduct to derive water directly from the Anio River. The former Anio aqueduct has subsequently become known as the Anio “Vetus” [the “Old” Anio], to distinguish the two more readily.

The sources of the Aqua Claudia are at the 38th milestone of the Via Sublacensis, within 300 paces down a side-road to the left. Here there are two large and beautiful pools of spring water, the Caeruleus [“Sky-Blue”] named for its color, and the Curtius. It also taps a spring called the Albudinus, which is of such purity that whenever the Aqua Marcia system needs to be supplemented, the addition of the Albudinus does not diminish the Marcia's quality.…

The channel of the Claudia is 46,406 paces long, of which 36,230 are underground. Of the 10,176 paces above ground, 3,076 are on arches at various points in the upper portion of the route; near town, starting at the seventh milestone, 609 paces are on substructures and 6,491 on arches.

The Anio Novus is taken from the river at the forty-second milestone of the Via Sublacensis in Simbruine territory. Since the Anio flows through cultivated fields with rich soil, its banks erode quite easily, and as a result the stream flows muddy and turbid even without the added disturbance of rains. A settling tank was therefore constructed before the intake of the channel, where the water could form a still pool and clarify itself. Even so, whenever rainstorms pass over, unclear water is delivered to the city.…

The channel of the Anio Novus has a length of 58,700 paces, of which 49,300 are underground. Of the 9,400 paces above ground, 2,300 are on substructures and arches at various points in the upper portion of the route; near town, starting at the seventh milestone, 609 paces are on substructures and 6,491 on arches. These are the highest arches, rising to a height of 109 feet in some places.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 13-15


The public works carried out by the Emperor Claudius are notable more for their size and usefulness than for their quantity. Among the most notable are the completion of the aqueducts begun by Caligula, the drainage tunnel for the Fucine Lake, and the harbor at Ostia.… He conducted to Rome on stone arches both the Claudia's cold abundant springs (one called the Caeruleus and the other the Curtius and Albudignus) and the channel of the Anio Novus, and he distributed their waters in numerous basins of great beauty.

Suetonius, Claudius 20



[In AD 52] the Emperor Claudius [etc.] had the waters of the Claudia brought to Rome from the springs called Caeruleus and Curtius at the 45th milestone, and likewise the Anio Novus from the 62nd milestone, both at his own expense.

ILS 218 = CIL 6.1256



[In AD 71] the Emperor Vespasian [etc.] restored to the city at his own expense the Curtian and Caerulean waters, which had been led to the city by the deified Claudius but had fallen into intermittent use and disrepair for nine years.

ILS 218 = CIL 6.1257



[In AD 81] the Emperor Titus [etc.] at his own expense, had the Curtian and Caerulean waters, introduced by the deified Claudius and afterwards repaired for the city by Titus's deified father Vespasian, restored with new structures, beginning from its source, after the aqueduct was ruined to its foundations from age.

ILS 218 = CIL 6.1258


Elevations of the Aqueducts

All the aqueducts reach the city at different elevations, such that some can deliver water to the higher quarters and others cannot (the hills too have gradually grown higher from the rubble of so many fires). Five of the channels are high enough to reach all parts of the city, but some with greater pressure behind them than others. The highest is the Anio Novus, followed in descending order by the Claudia, the Julia, the Tepula, and the Marcia. The sources of the Marcia are in fact the same elevation as the Claudia, but the earlier builders of aqueducts laid them at a lower level, either because they had not yet fully mastered the art of surveying, or because they purposely laid the channels below the ground so that they would be less readily cut by enemies, since the Romans then still waged frequent wars against the Italians. Today, however, there are places where, whenever the old channel is ruined by age, the new channel abandons its circuitous subterranean route and crosses over a valley on substructures and arches to shorten its route.

Seventh in height is the Anio Vetus, which likewise could have supplied the higher elevations of the city if it had been supported by substructures or arches in the places required by valleys and lower elevations. Next in height are the Virgo and the Appia; because these two originate in the fields not far from Rome, their elevation is limited from the start. The lowest line of all is the Alsietina, which supplies the Transtiber region and other low-lying locales.

Six of these aqueducts empty into covered settling basins this side of the seventh milestone on the Via Latina, where they take a fresh breath after their run, so to speak, and deposit their load of impurities. Here too the amount of their water is measured with gauges inside the basins. Three of the aqueducts—the Julia, Marcia, and Tepula—continue the journey after the basin on the same arches, one channel on top of the other. The highest of the three is the Julia, with the Tepula and then the Marcia below it.

After the settling basin the Anio Novus and the Claudia are carried together on the same arches (these higher than the triple-decker just mentioned), with the Anio Novus on top of the Claudia. This arcade ends behind the Gardens of Pallas, and from here their waters are distributed by pipes for use in the city. Just before this terminus, however, near the Temple of Ancient Hope, the Claudia diverts a portion of its water down another channel called the Neronian Arches. These arches extend along the Caelian hill to end near the Temple of the Deified Claudius, and deliver water to the Caelian hill itself as well as to the Palatine and Aventine hills and the Transtiber quarter.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 18-20


Aqueduct Maintenance and Regulations

A few words should be said about the team of slaves assigned to the maintenance of the aqueducts. There are two of them, one the public's and the other Caesar's. The public body is older, bequeathed (as we said earlier) by Agrippa to Augustus, who handed it over to the state; it numbers about 240 slaves. The number of slaves on the Emperor's team, which Claudius established when he built his aqueducts into the city, stands at 460.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 116


Many landowners who own fields along the route of the aqueducts illegally tap the channels, so that waters destined for public use end their journey in private hands, irrigating a garden.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 75


[Frontinus identifies and castigates various fraudulent practices that aqueduct workers engage in for money]. The income that the watermen collect for what they call “punctures” also has to stop. For long distances in several places, secret pipes run across the whole city under the pavement. I discovered that these pipes (which had been tapped in numerous places by a man called “The Puncturer”) provided water to all the businesses along their routes, such that only a small amount of water got through for public needs. Just how much water has been saved in addressing this problem I judge from the considerable amount of lead pulled up in the eradication of the branch-lines of this sort.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 115


Damage to the aqueducts is frequently caused by the lawlessness of landowners, who injure the channels in a number of ways. First, they construct buildings or grow trees on the strip of land around or above the aqueduct that by senatorial decree should be kept vacant. Trees do the greater damage, since their roots break apart both the vaulted tops and the sides of the channels. People also build their village and country roads right down the track of an aqueduct. And recently, landowners have been denying maintenance workers right-of-way to the aqueducts. All of these problems have been anticipated in the following Senatorial Decree:

“… [I]t has been resolved that a space of fifteen feet shall be kept clear on either side of aqueduct sources, walls, and arches; around the underground sections of aqueducts and around the conduit within the city or within the built-up area around the city, a space of five feet shall be kept clear on each side, such that no one is permitted from this time forward to erect a tomb or building in these zones, or to plant trees there.… If anyone breaks these regulations, the fine will be 10,000 sesterces for each infraction, half of which will be paid to the person who brought the offense to notice, … and half of which will be paid into the public treasury.”

Frontinus, Aqueducts 126-7


Aqueducts and Goths

After the Goths had ringed Rome with their camps [in AD 537], they cut all the aqueducts so that as little water as possible might enter the city. The aqueducts of Rome are fourteen [sic] in number, constructed long ago out of baked brick. Their channels are wide and tall enough to ride through them mounted on a horse.

For his part, Belisarius [the commander of the imperial forces being besieged by the Goths] arranged for the defense of the city.… He blocked as securely as possible each of the aqueduct channels with stone walls, to prevent the enemy from entering the city by such a route.

Procopius, Wars 5.19.13,18


When the Goths wanted to damage the fortifications of Rome, they first tried to gain entrance to the city by sending some men with lamps and torches into one of the aqueducts at night, which had been empty of water since the Goths cut them at the beginning of the war. By chance, a guard stationed at the Pincian gate saw a glimmer of light through a small crack in the channel where it ran along just above ground level. He told some of the other guards, who said he must have seen a wolf pass by and mistook the gleam of its eyes for a flame.

Meanwhile, the barbarians who were exploring the channel reached the middle of the city and came upon an old passageway to the surface, leading right up to a part of the Palatine hill itself. A stone wall, however, constructed as a precaution by Belisarius at the beginning of the siege (as I recounted earlier), blocked both their forward progress and the passage leading to the surface. So they decided to turn around, taking with them a small stone from the obstructing wall, which they showed to their leader Vittigis when they returned and gave their report.

On the following day, while the Gothic king Vittigis was busy forming a plan with his chiefs, Roman soldiers guarding the Pincian gate talked among themselves about the suspected sighting of the wolf. When the story reached Belisarius, however, the general did not take the matter casually, but immediately sent some of his best men, led by his bodyguard Diogenes, down into the channel with orders to investigate everything at once. They found the lamps of the enemy and the droppings of their torches all along the channel, as well as the gap in the wall where the Goths had removed a stone. When Belisarius heard their report, he personally assigned guards to keep the aqueduct channel under close watch. Learning of his precaution, the Goths gave up this line of attack.

Procopius, Wars 6.9.1-11

III. The Capitoline Hill

The Capitoline Hill

Overview of the Capitoline Hill

9. Overview of the Capitoline Hill. Commentary.

Although the smallest of Rome's seven hills in area, the Capitoline was in several important ways both the utilitarian and talismanic core of ancient Rome. Here were the early city's last-stand defensive walls as well as its chief place of contact with its tutelary imperial deity, Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Together with the hill's Asylum, the geography of the Capitoline gave topographical expression to the greatness of the state: the Temple, Asylum, and Arx respectively grounded Rome's power in the heavens, enabled and defined its means of growth, and guaranteed its survival. As such, the hill often stands in ancient literature for Rome itself [9.1 to 9.3], especially in its capacity to endure over time.

Each of the three parts into which the hill, in accordance with its contours, is traditionally divided contributes to this picture. The hill has two summits, separated by a saddle occupied now by the Piazza designed by Michelangelo. On the southwest summit above the Tiber, the great temple of Jupiter [10.] towered over the city and ultimately over the empire: “I have given the Romans rule without limit,” runs the famous promise of Virgil's Jupiter (Imperium sine fine dedi). Appropriately, this temple was the destination point of a Roman military triumph, with the victorious general robed and painted like the cult statue of Jupiter himself.

The other summit, topped now by St. Maria d' Aracoeli, was sometimes distinguished from the rest of the hill as the Citadel (Arx) proper of the hill, although the fortifications of the hill circled the entire Capitoline Hill and not just the northeast end of it. Perhaps this end, the slightly taller of the two, retained a more fortress-like character, in contrast to the eventually crowded platform of the other summit; calling it the Arx also served to highlight this vital function of the entire hill as the most difficult part of the city to capture, on account of the Capitoline's natural escarpments in some sections and fortifications in others. Livy's account of the Gallic sack of Rome [9.9] emphasizes the emotional significance of the uncaptured Capitoline as the vital core of the city. The northeast summit also contained the Auguraculum, another important site that like the Temple of Jupiter linked weighty matters of state to the divine order.

The third major area, the saddle between the two crests, contained the sacred area called the Asylum [15.]. Tradition had it that Romulus, in need of a larger population to fill his city, designated this area as the point of arrival for newcomers to Rome who wished to start over—a strategy, Livy comments, that was crucial to Rome's advancement and eventual greatness. The Asylum-legend is a parable for Rome's subsequent policy of enfranchisement, and this part of the Capitoline, which apparently remained a distinct and designated open space even in Imperial times, represented Rome's ability to grow—not, as was guaranteed by the great Temple of Jupiter, by expanding geographically under Jupiter's all-seeing eyes through the agency of Rome's generals, but by incorporating peoples of diverse origins in the protective grove of the Roman state.

As the scene of executions, the Capitoline also provided stark visual reminders of the community's ultimate power over citizens and conquered leaders, whether the condemned were pushed off the Tarpeian cliffs [12.], or strangled in the Prison [20.] at the foot of the hill, after which the corpse might be exposed to public view on the Gemonian Steps that led up to the Capitoline from the Forum.

Even in imperial times, crowded buildings around the Capitoline's base would have diminished the hill's earlier acropolis-like profile, and several millennia of subsequent erosion along with a compost of building-rubble many yards deep around its base have done the same. Institutional changes in imperial Rome also diminished the symbolic profile of the hill. With his new Forum, Augustus stole some of Jupiter's thunder, and he moved the Sibylline Books to the Palatine [63.], where the imperial palaces eventually established that hill as a rival to the Capitoline in locating the nucleus of Rome's power.

Even so, the Capitoline retained into modern times its special role in expressing civic power. It was here that the noble families in the Middle Ages established a city government and built a town hall as a response to Pope's power, and here Cola di Rienzo (whose statue stands on the grass between the Cordonata and Ara Coeli stairways) self-consciously invoked ancient Rome in his charismatic foundation of a short-lived republic in the 1300s. Here too beginning in the 1920s Mussolini would give speeches at elaborate ceremonies that celebrated with renewed fervor the birthday of ancient Rome on April 21. And here, in circumstances richly ironic in the context of ancient praises of the hill, was the setting of Gibbon's epiphany: “It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the bare-footed fryars were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.” (Autobiography, 1897, p. 302)

9. Overview of the Capitoline Hill. Sources.


I will not wholly die: in poems, much of me

Will avoid the Reaper. With future fame

I sprout up green, so long as Pontifex

And silent Vestal climb the Capitolium.

Horace, Odes 3.30.6-9


Before the battle of Actium, wrong to uncork [31 BC]

The ancestral cellar's vintage wine,

While crazy Cleopatra planned the Capitolium's

Destruction, and death to Roman rule.

Horace, Odes 1.37.5-8


Cleopatra will fall, trusting too little in her Roman mate,

And vain will be her threat to make our Capitol

Bow down to her Delta.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.826-8


The Capitoline hill gets its name from the human head [caput] that they say was found when the foundations for the Temple of Jupiter were being excavated. Before then the hill was called Mt. Tarpeius, after the Vestal Virgin named Tarpeia, who was killed by Sabine shields and buried on the hill. A reminder of her name endures, since the cliff here is called the Tarpeian Rock.

Varro, The Latin Language 5.41


[Centuries before Rome was founded] Evander led Aeneas

To the Tarpeian seat and the Capitoline—

All golden now, then bristling with wild brambles.

Even then the site inspired the countryfolk

With religious dread, and they shuddered at its woods and cliff.

“This grove, this hilltop crowned in leaf,” Evander said,

“A god inhabits, we know not which:

Arcadians among us think they've seen

Jupiter himself on the hill, swirling again

His black mantle to summon up the storm.

Virgil, Aeneid 8. 347-354


“Tribunes of the plebs and fellow citizens of Rome,” Scipio said [in 187 BC], “today is the anniversary of the day on which I fought a pitched battle in Africa against Hannibal and the Carthaginians at Zama [in 202 BC], emerging victorious. This is no time to engage in trials and legal wrangling. And so without delay I will leave the Rostra and climb the Capitolium to pay my respects to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Juno, Minerva, and all the other gods who watch over the Capitolium and the Citadel, and I will give them thanks that on this date and on many others the gods have granted me the will and ability to carry out our nation's business with distinction.”

Livy, History 38.51.7-10


On the Capitolium we can find a reminder and demonstration of early building styles in the House of Romulus, and on the Citadel, in the thatched roofs of shrines there.

Vitruvius, Architecture 2.1.5


Climb down the family tree of anyone you wish: at the bottom you will find a humble birth. Why go into individual instances when I can prove my point by calling as a witness the entire city of Rome: these hills were once entirely devoid of buildings. In fact, amidst all of today's towering structures, nothing is more respected than the humble hut of Romulus, even though the Temple of Jupiter shines out above it, gleaming with pure gold. Can you find fault in the Romans for displaying their humble origins, which today could easily be hidden, and for believing that nothing is great unless it appears to have started small?

Seneca the Elder, Debates 1.6.4


[The Gauls of northern Italy descended on Rome in 390 BC] Since there was no hope of defending the city from the Gauls with the small force now left to them, the Romans resolved that the young men of military age as well as the able-bodied senators would withdraw with their wives and children to the Citadel and the Capitoline; from this fortification, after stocking it with weapons and provisions, they might defend the gods, the people, and the name of Rome.…

While Camillus was being appointed general by Romans in nearby Veii, the Citadel of Rome and the Capitolium fell into grave danger: the Gauls had found the footprints of the messenger from Veii who had made it through their lines, or perhaps had noticed on their own that the cliffs by the shrine of Carmentis favored an attempt there [by the Tiber, above the Temple of Fortuna at S. Omobono]. On a moonless night the Gauls sent up a few unarmed men to scout out a path, and then began their climb. Handing weapons up to others at the steep spots and bracing themselves on men below or bracing others in turn, they pushed and pulled their way up the mountain as the terrain demanded. They gained the summit so quietly that they not only escaped the detection of the watchmen but of the dogs as well, a creature attuned to nocturnal noise.

They did not, however, escape the notice of the geese on the hill. Because the geese were sacred to Juno, the besieged Romans, even when running out of food, had refrained from killing them. This religious observance proved to be Rome's salvation, for the sacred geese created such a uproar by honking and flapping their wings that they woke up Marcus Manlius, an outstanding soldier who had been consul three years earlier. Manlius grabbed his weapons and dashed outside, shouting for help. While other men hesitated in fear, Manlius dislodged a Gaul, just then reaching the summit, with one blow of his shield and sent him tumbling onto the men below. Terrified, the other attackers dropped their weapons and clung to the rock with both hands while Manlius went in for the kill. Soon other defenders joined him and routed the enemy with javelins and loose rocks, and the attack collapsed in total disaster for the Gauls as they were driven headlong from the cliffs.…

[After the Gauls withdrew from Rome, the general Camillus gave a passionate speech to dissuade the Roman people from turning their backs on the charred ruins of Rome and resettling elsewhere: “Romans, do not abandon your city.] Here, and nowhere else, stands the Capitolium; it was here that the buried human head (capite) was discovered and judged an omen that the Capitoline would one day be the head of the world and the summit of an empire; here is the ground that, to the joy of your ancestors, the god of Youth and the god of Borders refused to abandon when the Capitolium was being deconsecrated with augural rites to make room for Jupiter.”

Livy, History 5.39-54, selections

Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus

10. Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Commentary.

Of the more than a dozen temples to Jupiter in Rome which singled out this or that feature of the great god's aspect and domain, the temple of Jupiter “Best and Greatest,” as its name leaves no doubt, was the most central and magnificent, looming over the heart of the city as the primary home of its presiding deity. Unfortunately, no monument exhibits a greater disparity between the splendor of its ancient appearance, as attested by the written record, and the paucity of the remains today. Parts of the massive tufa podium of the temple, however, are visible inside the Palazzo dei Conservatori which at least help situate the building, as does the corner of the podium on display outside in a little pit along the Via del Tempio di Giove. In addition to the imagination's work on the following sources, perhaps the best visual impression of the temple's profusion of sculpture, painting, marble decoration, and cult-objects in ancient times can be gathered from some of the lavishly appointed churches in Rome today, one of which (S. Maria della Pace, near Piazza Navona) does indeed display statues carved from the giant Pentelic marble columns of Jupiter's vanished temple.

10. Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Sources.


Tarquinius Priscus [ruling 616-578 BC] undertook the construction of a temple to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, which he had vowed to the gods during his last battle against the Sabines. The hill on which he planned to place the temple needed a great deal of preparation, being neither accessible nor level, but rather precipitous and sharply peaked. Tarquinius surrounded the hill with high retaining walls and filled in the space between these walls and the summit to create a level platform able to support temples. He died, however, before he was able to lay the foundation for the Temple of Jupiter, outliving the end of the war by only four years. Many years later, Tarquinius Superbus, the second king after him (the one who was deposed) laid the foundations and built much of the structure, though he too did not complete it.…

The Romans finished the Temple of Jupiter [in 507 BC] in the third consulship of the Republic. Built on a high podium, the perimeter of the temple is 800 feet. Each of its sides is about 200 feet; in fact, the length of the temple does not exceed the width by a full fifteen feet. Although rebuilt a generation ago after it burnt down [in 83 BC], it rests on the same foundations and differs from the old temple only in the costliness of its materials. The front of the temple, towards the south, has three rows of columns; there is a single row of columns down each side. Inside there are three chambers, although they are under one pediment and one roof. Each of the side chambers—one for Juno, and one for Minerva—shares a wall with the center one, which is dedicated to Jupiter.

Dionysius, Early Rome 3.69 and 4.61


After taking control of Gabii, Tarquinius Superbus [ruling 534- 510 BC] made peace with the tribe of the Aequi and renewed the truce with the Etruscans. Then he turned his attention to urban concerns, the first of which was to leave behind him, as a monument to his own reign and name, the Temple to Jupiter on the Tarpeian mount. Both of Rome's Etruscan kings, he proclaimed, were responsible for the temple: the father, because he vowed it, and the son, because he completed it. In order that the whole area might be free from competing cultsites, reserved for Jupiter and his temple alone, Tarquinius decided to deconsecrate the existing temples and shrines there which Tatius vowed earlier at a critical moment in his battle against Romulus, and which Tatius later consecrated and inaugurated.

At the very start of this project it is reported that the gods signified their will assuring the solidity of the great empire to be. For although the birds gave signs approving of the deconsecration of all the other religious sites, they refused it in the case of the shrine of Terminus, the god of the Border. This divine omen was taken to mean that the immovability of Terminus, alone of all the gods in not vacating the site consecrated to him, portended that the realm would be strong and stable.

After this auspice of Rome's longevity, a second portent of the empire's greatness occurred: it is said that those digging the foundations of the temple to Jupiter came upon a human head with its features intact. This was a clear sign that this spot would be the citadel of the empire and the head of the world, and was interpreted thus by sooth sayers, both those residing in the city and those brought in from Etruria to consider the matter.…

In his eagerness to finish the temple, Tarquinius Superbus summoned workmen from all parts of Etruria, and not only used public funds but levied extra work from the plebs on top of their military duty.

Livy, History 1.55-56.1


The first Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which was built by Tarquinius Superbus but consecrated by Horatius, burned down in the civil wars [in 83 BC]. Sulla built the second temple, but Catulus got the credit for its dedication. This temple was likewise totally destroyed, this time in the rebellion of Vitellius [in AD 69], after which Vespasian began and finished the construction of a third temple.… Shortly after Vespasian died the Capitoline burned down again [in AD 80].

The fourth and present temple was both built and dedicated by Domitian [in AD 89].… Even the gilding alone of this temple's roof, costing more than 12,000 talents, is beyond the means of the richest private citizen in Rome today. Its columns were cut from Pentelic marble and were originally of beautiful proportions, as I saw for myself in Athens. When they were shaped and polished in Rome, however, they didn't gain as much in smoothness as they lost in symmetry and beauty, and now appear too thin and meager.

Plutarch, Publicola, 15.1-4


In all of Roman history since the founding of the city, the burning of the Capitoline in the fighting between Vitellians and Flavians [in AD 69] was the most distressing and disgraceful event that ever befell the republic of the Roman people. Not by any external enemy, but with the gods kindly disposed (if that were possible, given our behavior!), the very seat of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, which was founded with good omen by our ancestors as our guarantee of empire, and which neither Porsenna, when the city had been surrendered, nor the Gauls when it had been captured, were able to desecrate, was now destroyed by the madness of our emperors.

The temple was first vowed by King Tarquinius Priscus during the war against the Sabines; he too laid the foundations of it, on a scale that accorded more with the hope of future greatness than with the modest means available to the Roman people at that time. Soon Servius Tullius, with the aid of allies, and then Tarquinius Superbus, with spoils gained from the capture of Suessa Pometia, constructed the building. The honor of the work, however, was reserved for liberty, since only after the kings were expelled did Horatius Pulvillus dedicate the temple in his second consulship; since that time the immense wealth of the Roman people has ornamented the temple's magnificence more than it has increased it. After it burnt down 415 years later in the consulship of L. Scipio and C. Norbanus, the temple was rebuilt on the same footprint. The victorious Sulla undertook the task of reconstruction, but did not dedicate the new temple (in this alone Fortune failed him), and the name of Lutatius Catulus endured among all the great monuments of Caesars down to the time of Vitellius.

Vespasian assigned the work of restoring the Capitolium to Lucius Vestinus, a man of the equestrian class but among the leading men for his authority and prestige. The haruspices employed by him warned that the remains of the earlier temple should be carried away to the swamps and that the new temple should have the same dimensions as before: the gods did not want the old plan changed.

Tacitus, Histories 3.72; 4.53


[After the fire had destroyed the temple,] the Emperor Vespasian himself played an active role in the restoration of the Capitoline. He was the first person to begin the task of clearing away the rubble, carrying off a load of it on his own shoulders. In addition, he undertook the reproduction of three thousand bronze tablets that had also been destroyed in the fire, after a thorough search for other copies. These tablets were very old and precious documents of Roman rule, containing decrees of the Senate and votes of the people concerning alliances, treaties, and privileges granted at anytime to anyone, dating back almost to the beginning of the city.

Suetonius, Vespasian 8.5


With the exception of the Temple of Jupiter, whereby mighty Rome lifts itself into eternity, there is nothing more magnificent in all the world than the Serapeum in Alexandria.

Ammianus, History 22.16.12


There are five kinds of temples: … of these, the araeostyle temple has columns more widely spaced than they should be.… In the araeostyle temple it is not possible to use stone or marble architraves to span the columns; continuous wooden beams must be used. Moreover, the look of such temples is squat, top-heavy, low, and wide, and the pediment is ornamented in the Etruscan fashion with terra-cotta or gilt bronze statues. Such are the Temple of Ceres near the Circus Maximus, Pompey's Temple of Hercules, and the Capitoline Temple of Jupiter.

Vitruvius, Architecture 3.3.1, 5


As heard and reported by Varro, Catulus, who was in charge of rebuilding the Temple of Jupiter [after it burned in 83 BC], said that when he wanted to lower the ground level of the large foundational platform of the Capitoline so that more steps could lead up to the temple on a taller podium that corresponded better with the size of the pediment, the existence of subterranean rooms beneath the precinct prohibited this alteration. These were underground chambers and cisterns in which the Romans were accustomed to store old statues that had fallen off the temple and other religious items that were part of consecrated offerings.

Gellius, Attic Nights 2.10


Tarquinius Priscus summoned the sculptor Vulca from Veii to make the cult statue of the Capitoline Jupiter. The statue was made of terra cotta, though commonly painted red with cinnabar. The four-horse chariot on the roof of the temple was also of terra cotta.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 35.157


Wealth is more important now than for early Romans.

When the people were poor and Rome was new, Jupiter

Could barely stand up straight inside his humble temple,

And the thunderbolt his right hand held was made of clay.

Garlands were his decorations then, not gems.

Ovid, Fasti 1.197-203


The practice of coating ceilings with gold first began in Rome with the Capitolium, after the overthrow of Carthage [in 146 BC].… The contemporaries of Catulus held differing opinions about him, as the one responsible for gilding the bronze tiles of the Capitolium's roof [76 BC].

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 33.57


Times were more peaceful when we were poor; we fought our civil wars only after the Temple of Jupiter was gilded [in 146 BC].

Seneca the Elder, Debates 2.1.1


The eagles supporting the pediment, which were made out of old wood, spread the fire [in AD 69].

Tacitus, Histories 3.71.4


Marcius found Hasdrubal's shield when he captured his camp [in 207 BC]; this shield hung above the doors of the Capitoline Temple right up to the time of the first fire [in 83 BC].

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 35.14


In his term as censor [in 179 BC] M. Aemilius Lepidus contracted to have the Capitoline Temple of Jupiter and the columns around it smoothed and whitened. He also removed statues that were inappropriately placed among these same columns, and took off the shields and all manner of military insignia that had been affixed to the columns.

Livy, History 40.51.3


[Quintus, Cicero's brother, argues in favor of divination:] “When the statue of the thunder god Summanus (which was still made of terra cotta at that time) was struck by lightning on the pediment of Jupiter Optimus Maximus [in 278 BC], no one was able to find its head, until the soothsayers said it had been knocked off into the Tiber—where indeed it was found, in the exact spot the soothsayers predicted.”

Cicero, On Divination 1.16


The books of the Sibylline oracles were kept in a stone chest beneath the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter, under the guard of ten men. When the temple burned down [in 83 BC] (whether by accident or, as some believe, by arson), the fire destroyed these books along with the other offerings consecrated to Jupiter.

Dionysius, Early Rome 4.62.5-6


Nicomachus painted the Rape of Persephone, which hung in the temple of Minerva on the Capitolium, above the shrine of Youth.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 35.108


Gaiseric, leader of the Vandals, plundered the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus [in AD 455] and carried off half of the roof's tiles. These were not only made of the finest bronze but covered by a thick gold leaf that shone with a spectacular radiance.

Procopius, Wars 3.5.4

The Roman Triumph

11. The Roman Triumph. Commentary.

Although winding through much of the city and down the Sacra Via in the Forum, the famous Roman triumphal procession is best understood in connection with the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline: not only did the procession end here with a sacrifice and banquet, but it was the scene of the commander's vows before he set out to war. Painted with the same red pigment as the face of Jupiter's cult statue [11.2], the triumphing general was virtually an avatar of Jupiter, as the legions were an extension of the god's power radiating out from the Capitoline along the consular roads of Rome. In this light, it is no wonder that the Romans posted a slave in the general's chariot to remind him that he was mortal [11.6].

Of the several detailed accounts we have that describe specific triumphs, I have chosen one by Josephus [11.7] because of the great historical significance of the war which this triumph concluded. This was the war of the first Jewish Revolt, which not only resulted in the devastation of Jerusalem (captured by Titus in AD 70) and the destruction of the Temple there, but put an end to the priestly and sacrificial Judaism centered on the Temple and consequently led to the rabbinical and text-centered tradition of the Jewish diaspora. This conquest also had a significant effect on Roman topography, being commemorated by the Arch of Titus [57.] and his father Vespasian's Temple (Forum) of Peace [75.]. Josephus, although a Jewish priest and one-time resister, came to terms with the Romans, and blamed the revolutionary Jewish groups rather than the Romans for the destruction of Jerusalem.

Josephus's detailed account of the triumph shows how comfortable the Romans were with the open celebration of the destruction that they visited on their enemies (witness the graphic floats) and the material gain that they derived from it. He also notes the common practice of parading the enemy's commander in the triumph. Often the triumphal procession was in effect the death march of this human trophy, since he was slain at a signal given by the Roman victor after he had climbed the Capitoline.

11. The Roman Triumph. Sources.


[In 167 BC, Marcus Servilius, in a speech defending a certain general's right to a triumph, explained the wider significance of the Roman triumph:] “When a consul or praetor, accompanied by lictors in military dress, sets out to his command and to war, he declares his vows on the Capitoline. When the war is successfully completed, the victor returns to the Capitoline in his triumph, bringing well-deserved gifts to these same gods. The sacrificial animals that go before him in triumph are an important part of the triumph and make it clear that the general gives thanks to the gods for the success of his actions done in the interests of Rome's well-being.”

Livy, History 45.39.11-12


The substance cinnabar is found in silver mines. Even today it is a highly treasured pigment, but formerly had an even greater and sacred significance for the Romans: trustworthy sources say that the face of the statue of Jupiter was coated with cinnabar on holidays, as were the bodies of triumphing generals.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 33.111


Those who celebrate a triumph temporarily stay the executions of the enemy's leaders so that the people of Rome can witness the beautiful spectacle and the reward of victory when these men are paraded in the triumph. But when the wagons in the procession begin their turn from the Forum to the Capitoline, they order the captive leaders to be led into the Prison [Carcer] to their death. Thus does one same day put an end to both the command of the victorious general and the life of the defeated foe.

Cicero, Against Verres 5.77


That Caesar did not refrain from adulterous affairs even in the provinces is evident from this couplet, which his soldiers shouted during his Gallic triumph:

Townsmen, guard your wives: we bring the bald adulterer home.

In Gaul he screwed away the gold that he borrowed here in Rome.

Suetonius, Julius Caesar 51


As Caesar proceeded through the Velabrum in his Gallic triumph [in 45 BC], he was almost thrown from his chariot when its axle broke. He ascended the Capitoline by the light of lamps that were mounted on forty elephants to his left and right. In his Pontic triumph, among the show-pieces of the procession Caesar simply displayed a placard with three words—VENI, VIDI, VICI [I came, I saw, I conquered]—commemorating not the specific events of the war, as the other displays did, but the speed with which he had achieved his victory.

Suetonius, Julius Caesar 37


When celebrating a triumph, a general rode in a chariot different from ones used in races or combat. The general's chariot in a triumph was rather fashioned to look like a round tower.… Along with him in the chariot, however, rode a public slave. His job was to hold the gold jewel-encrusted crown over the victorious general's head, and to say to him “Look to the future!” meaning, “Consider that the future and the rest of your life are unknown, and do not let the success of the moment lead you to elevate and overrate yourself.” A bell (such as are worn by those condemned to die so that others do not incur pollution by accidentally brushing up against them) and a whip are also fastened to the victor's chariot, as a reminder that terrible things could still happen to him, things for which he might be whipped and even condemned to death.

Zonaras 7.21 (from Dio, Bk 6)


[The emperor Vespasian, with his sons Titus and Domitian, celebrated a triumph in AD 71 for victory in the First Jewish War, as described by the historian and Jewish priest Josephus:] Words cannot do justice to the multitude of amazing objects on display in a Roman triumph, or to their magnificence in the quality of the craftsmanship, in the variety of the valuables, or in their natural rarity. Almost everything wonderful and costly that a wealthy people manages to gather singly over a long time from various nations is here gathered together in abundance on one day to display the greatness of the Roman empire.

In this triumph, the mass of silver, gold, and ivory, worked into every shape possible, was carried past in such profusion that it seemed to flow by like a river, along with woven cloth dyed the most precious purple or embroidered with the finest portraiture of Babylonian art. The sheer quantity of transparent gems on gold crowns and other objects brought reports of their rarity into doubt. The procession also included images of Roman gods, astounding for their size, carefully made and all of costly material.…

Nothing, however, was more amazing than the contraptions of mobile stage-sets, many of which were so high—three or four stories—that there was some fear of their toppling over as they moved along.… On these floats, the various episodes of the war were recreated with vivid clarity: one showed a prosperous countryside laid to waste, another, entire regiments slaughtered; here the natives fled, there they were led into captivity; towering walls demolished by siege-engines, strongholds captured, cities ringed with defenders overtaken as troops poured through the walls, the ground drenched in blood. Other floats showed the helpless raising their hands in supplication, temples set on fire, and houses pulled down on top of people still inside.…

Such were the sufferings that awaited the Jews when they committed themselves to the war. The skill and magnificent scope of these stages rendered distant events present for those who had never been there. On each of the floats the general of a captured city was stationed in the manner he was taken. Many floats representing ships also followed.

The spoils of the war were paraded past in great heaps. The most conspicuous spoils were those taken from the temple in Jerusalem. These included a gold table of great weight, and a lamp-stand likewise made of gold, but in a different design from the lamp-stands used in everyday life. For this lamp [the Menorah], a central shaft was attached to the base; slender branches extended from this, arranged in the manner of a trident, and at the end of each branch a bronze lamp was attached—seven in all, in accordance with the importance the Jews ascribe to this number.

The last of the spoils paraded by was a copy of the Jewish law.… Then came Vespasian himself, followed by Titus and Domitian riding side-by-side.…

The procession ended at the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter. Here they halted, in accordance with the ancient custom of waiting until someone brought word that the general of the enemy had been executed. This was Simon ben Giora, who had just been paraded among the captives. With a rope around his neck, he was tormented by his captors as they dragged him to the place alongside the Forum where by Roman law those sentenced to death are executed. At the announcement of his death, all cheered, and they began the sacrifices.

Josephus, The Jewish War 7.132-155

Tarpeian Cliffs (Rupes Tarpeia, Saxum Tarpeium)

12. Tarpeian Cliffs (Rupes Tarpeia, Saxum Tarpeium). Commentary.

The radical alterations of the topography since classical times have so obliterated these once dramatic cliffs that even their general location on the Capitoline hill is still disputed. Traditionally topographers have located them above today's Piazza di Conciliazione, on the southwest side of the hill above the Vicus Jugarius, but others argue for a site more central to the Forum and its Prison.

12. Tarpeian Cliffs (Rupes Tarpeia, Saxum Tarpeium). Sources.


[This is how the name Tarpeian got attached to the Capitoline hill and the cliffs there. In response to Romulan Rome's abduction of women from surrounding tribes, Rome's neighbors mounted a series of attacks.] The last, and the fiercest by far, came from the Sabines.… Spurius Tarpeius, the commander of the Citadel, had a daughter who was a Vestal Virgin. On one of her trips outside the walls to collect holy water at the Camenae springs, Tatius, the Sabine king, succeeded in bribing her with gold to open up the Citadel to the Sabine soldiers. As soon as they gained entrance, however, the Sabines crushed her to death beneath their shields, whether to make it look as if they took the Citadel by force, or to make an example of her treachery by showing that a traitor could safely trust no one.

There is, however, another version of the story. In this, Tarpeia had stipulated as her reward whatever the Sabines wore on their left arms, with an eye on the massive gold armbands and the beautiful gem-studded rings they commonly wore; instead, she got their shields.

There is also a third account, in which Tarpeia is a heroine: in this version, she made the pact for “what they wore on their left arms,” and then surprised them by asking for their shields instead of the gold. When the Sabines perceived the trick, they destroyed her by giving her what she demanded.

Livy, History 1.11.5-9


[After they found him guilty of tyrannical ambitions,] the tribunes threw Manlius, the very same hero who had repelled the Gaul's attack from the Capitoline, down from the Tarpeian Cliff [in 384 BC]. Thus did one and the same place become a monument to both the unparalleled glory [9.9] and the capital punishment of the same man. Further marks of disgrace were attached to Manlius after death, one of which had lasting public consequences: since his home had been on the Capitoline (where the temple and mint of Juno Moneta are today), he people voted that no patrician might henceforth dwell on the Citadel or the Capitolium.

Livy, History 6.20.12-14


[In 192 BC] a giant boulder, whether detached by the rains or by an earthquake otherwise too slight to sense, toppled off the Capitolium onto the Vicus Jugarius and crushed many people.

Livy, History 35.21.6


[After Marcius, a leading aristocrat, refused to confess any wrongdoing or to beg for lenience from the plebs, the tribune Sicinius] ordered them to take Marcius to the hill lying above the Forum. There is a high sheer cliff there from which the Romans customarily throw people condemned to die.

Dionysius, Early Rome 7.35.4


[After Spurius Cassius, suspected of planning to make himself tyrant in Rome, was tried and condemned,] the quaestors led him to the cliff that lies above the Forum and, while everybody watched, threw him off (the traditional punishment in Rome then for those condemned to death).

Dionysius, Early Rome 8.78.5


The supporters of Vitellius quickly marched past the Forum and the temples that preside over the Forum, and advanced their front line up the facing hill, right up to the outer gates of the Capitoline citadel. Here, on the right side of the Clivus as one ascends, there were porticoes since ancient times. The defenders climbed out on these and hurled rocks and tiles down on the supporters of Vitellius.… Then the attackers made attempts from two other directions, one near the grove of the Asylum and the other where the Tarpeian Cliffs are surmounted by the Hundred Stairs. Each assault was unforeseen, though the one through the Asylum was closer and more intense.

Tacitus, Histories 3.71


Sextus Marius, the richest man in Spain, was falsely accused of having incest with his daughter and was thrown off the Tarpeian cliff.

Tacitus, Annals 6.19


[One legal judgment reads:] “Condemned of incest, she was thrown off the cliff, but lived: the punishment is repeated.”

Quintilian, Oratorical Training 7.8.3


The hillside plunges precipitously into a pit, interrupted with jutting crags that either crush the body on first impact or toss it down for worse; the whole cliff-face bristles with jagged rock.

Seneca the Elder, Debates 1.3.3


There is an oak plank attached to the [base of the] Tarpeian rock and the Capitoline cliff; it has iron hooks, and is used to catch the bodies of people thrown off the cliff.

Notes to Lucan B 2.125


Do you really think, Favorinus, that if the penalty prescribed in the Twelve Tables for lying had not become obsolete and that today, as then, those who were convicted of perjury were tossed off the Tarpeian Cliff, we would now [c. AD 180] be witnessing so many people telling falsehoods under oath?

Gellius, Attic Nights 20.1.53


Notes: In the ongoing debate over the location of the cliffs, Richardson (p. 377-8) argues for their traditional location above the Piazza di Conciliazione (near the Tiber), citing Livy's observation that Manlius's moment of greatest glory (fi ghting the Gauls above the Shrine of Carmentis) and his punishment (thrown from the Cliffs) occurred at the same place. Others (including Wiseman in LTUR 4.237-8, and Coarelli) place the cliffs near the Gemonian steps, citing Dionysius's description of the cliffs as “lying above the forum,” and arguing for a tighter topographical “organic” ensemble of imprisonment, execution, and display (the Prison, the cliffs, and the Gemonian stairs respectively). Livy's report [12.3] of a loose boulder killing people on the Vicus Jugarius certainly testifi es to the extreme steepness and cragginess of the Capitoline in the area where the Tarpeian cliffs are traditionally placed. As for Dionysius's description of the Cliffs as “lying above the Forum,” he uses the same phrase [12.4] in reference to the entire Capitoline hill (also in Dionysius 3.69.4, not quoted above); the phrase, that is, identifies the hill itself for his Greek audience, not a specific part of the hill. As such, the description does not conclusively place the Cliffs closer to the Forum than their tradition location closer to the river would allow.

Temple of Jupiter Feretrius

13. Temple of Jupiter Feretrius. Commentary.

The temple to Jupiter Feretrius (Jupiter in some capacity as a war god) was important as the repository of the Supreme Spoils (the spolia opima, explained below, 13.2), the sacred flint (silex) used in sacrifices marking the official declaration and conclusion of wars, and a scepter that symbolized Roman victory [13.6]. No traces of this small temple have been found; it may have stood on the Area Capitolina near the Temple to Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

13. Temple of Jupiter Feretrius. Sources.


Romulus carried the spoils of the enemy's dead leader up to the Capitolium on a stretcher and deposited them there next to an oak sacred to the shepherds. At the same time, he marked off the limits of a sacred precinct in honor of Jupiter and gave him an additional title: “Jupiter Feretrius,” he said, “I, Romulus, king and conqueror, bring [fero] these royal spoils for you, and I dedicate a sacred space, whose boundaries I have just measured off with my mind's intention, as the seat of these Supreme Spoils [the spolia opima]. In times to come, other Romans following my example will bring you the spoils of the enemy kings and leaders that they themselves have killed.” This is the origin of the first temple consecrated in Rome.

Since that time, after so many years and so many wars, the Supreme Spoils have been won only twice: so rarely do men attain this distinction.

Livy, History 1.10.5-7


Properly speaking, only spoils that one commander strips from another commander are considered Supreme Spoils.

Livy, History 4.20.6


After the triumphal procession and the sacrifice, Romulus built a temple to Jupiter Feretrius on the summit of the Capitoline hill. This temple was a small one, not larger than 15 feet on its long side, as shown by traces of its original dimensions. In this temple he consecrated the spoils of the Caeninian king, whom he killed with his own hands.

Dionysius, Early Rome 2.34.4


When the roof of the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius on the Capitolium, founded by Romulus, was caving in because of age and neglect, Augustus restored it on the advice of Atticus.

Nepos, Atticus 20.3


I will now explain how the name of Jupiter Feretrius came about, and the three spoils of three leaders that are kept in his temple.…

Romulus, you were the first winner of this prize, you set the pattern for the rest when you came back weighed down with the armor of your enemy, Acron, commander of Caeninia, after he attacked the gates of Rome; his horse stumbled, and you killed Acron with a thrust of your spear.

Cossus comes second; [in 437 BC] he killed Tolumnus, chief of Veii.…

Third and last was Claudius; [in 222 BC] he drove back the enemy who crossed the Rhine, and brought back the shield of Virdomarus, the giant Belgian commander.

These three spoils are preserved in the temple; hence the name Feretrius, because, through heaven's will, leader struck [ferit] leader with sword; Or perhaps the lofty altar of Jupiter is called Feretrian because they personally carried [ferebant] these conquered arms on their shoulders.

Propertius, Elegies 4.10


Jupiter is called Feretrius from ferendo (“bringing”), because he is considered to bring (ferre) peace. It is in his temple that the fetial priests involved in external affairs keep the scepter for swearing oaths and the flint for striking treaties.

Festus 81L


[Concluding the formula for striking a treaty, one of the fetial priests spoke as follows:] “If the Roman people are the first to break this treaty with public consent and conscious deception, then may you, Jupiter, so smite the Roman people as I now strike this pig!…” So speaking, the priest slashed the sacrificial pig's neck with the flint.

Livy, History 1.24.8-9

Temple of Jupiter Tonans (Jupiter the Thunderer)

14. Temple of Jupiter Tonans (Jupiter the Thunderer). Commentary.

Nothing remains to be seen of this temple vowed by Augustus. Its location has been tentatively identified with a concrete foundation found during the construction of the Via di Monte Tarpeio (on a line between Jupiter's main temple and the Temple of Saturn below, closer to the former). A coin depicting the temple shows the cult statue of Jupiter holding his traditional emblems of power, a scepter in one hand, a lightning bolt in the other.

14. Temple of Jupiter Tonans (Jupiter the Thunderer). Sources.


For his narrow escape from death Augustus dedicated the temple to Jupiter the Thunderer [in 22 BC]. When he was traveling once at night on the Cantabrican expedition [in 26 BC], a bolt of lightning grazed his litter and killed the slave who was lighting the road in front of him.

Suetonius, Augustus 29.3


Augustus was morbidly afraid of thunder and lightning and frequently attended the temple of Jupiter the Thunderer on the Capitolium. Once he dreamed that Jupiter Optimus Maximus complained that he was losing worshipers, to which he (Augustus) replied that the Thunderer was simply the doorman of Jupiter the Greatest. Accordingly, Augustus soon strung the gable of the Thunderer's temple with bells similar to those that frequently hang from doorways.

Suetonius, Augustus 90, 91


Marble was first used on walls in Rome in the stage of Marcus Scaurus, although I cannot say for certain if this marble was a veneer, or solid blocks that have been polished, such as one finds today at the temple of Jupiter the Thunderer on the Capitolium.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 36.50


The famous cult statue of Jupiter the Thunderer on the Capitolium is the unsurpassable work of the sculptor Leochares.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 34.79


Located in front of the Temple of Jupiter the Thunderer are two fine statues of Castor and Pollux carved by Hegias.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 34.78

Grove of Asylum

15. Grove of Asylum. Commentary.

The Asylum, apparently at one time a grove itself between two other groves on the slopes either side of it, remained a separate walled enclosure into imperial times. Ovid [16.2] suggests it was adjacent to the Temple of Veiovis (also “Vediovis”), which was at the northwest corner of the Tabularium platform that monumentalized the saddle of the Capitoline facing the Forum. This would locate the Asylum in the area around the steps of the current day Palazzo Senatorio (the seat of today's City Council).

The Asylum is one of several monuments in the city that insisted on Rome's humble beginnings. Its primary importance, however, may have been as a memorial to the Roman belief that their nation was founded not by a pure, homogeneous people “native to the land,” (as Greek and other accounts commonly mythologize communal origins) but rather as a collection of diverse people. The myth of the Asylum's foundation, especially in Livy's version, has in it the experience of Rome's subsequent history of incorporating as citizens both ethnically diverse peoples and former slaves.

15. Grove of Asylum. Sources.


The city's defensive works kept expanding to incorporate one location after another, since they fortified the town with an eye on future population rather than the existing numbers. Then, lest large parts of the city remain empty, they had recourse to an old tactic used by city founders for increasing population: they attract outsiders of obscure and humble origin who they then claim are native to the land. To this end, they designated a location (now an enclosure between the two groves as you ascend the Capitoline) as an asylum; a crowd of commoners, both free and enslaved, poured in from the neighboring territories, eager for new conditions. This was the first step towards the strength Romulus envisioned for Rome.

Livy, History 1.8.4-6


Romulus made the city large and populous in the following manner. First, he required all citizens to raise all of their male children as well as the first-born girl, and forbid them from killing any of their children under three years old, unless the children were maimed or deformed from birth, in which case the parents could expose them, provided they had shown the child to five neighbors who concurred with the parents' assessment.…

Next, knowing that many of the surrounding cities in Italy were under oppressive rule by tyrants and oligarchies, and that there were many fugitives from such rule, Romulus attempted to attract them and transfer them to his own rule, regardless of their misfortune or luck, provided they were not slaves; in this manner he hoped to increase Rome's strength while diminishing the strength of her neighbors. By consecrating an Asylum for suppliants in the area between the Capitoline and the Citadel, he accomplished his plan even as he gave it the appearance of piety.

The Romans still designate this space as “between two groves,” a phrase which then did accord with the landscape, when thick woods on the flanks of each hill-top overshadowed the saddle between them. He also built a temple there (its god is not known), and to those who fled there as suppliants he guaranteed safe haven from their enemies, as well as citizenship and a share of whatever land he subsequently acquired in battle. People came running from every direction, fleeing bad conditions at home. Nor did these new-comers later resettle elsewhere after arriving in Rome, but remained there, retained by Romulus's constant care and attention.

Dionysius, Early Rome 2.15.1-4

Temple of Veiovis

16. Temple of Veiovis. Commentary.

Remains of the Temple of Veiovis can be seen from corridors of the Tabularium/Palazzo Senatorio that are accessible from the Capitoline museum. The unorthodox design of the temple (approached by stairs on its long side, like the Temple of Concord) belongs to a rebuilding of the original temple and can be dated to the time of the Tabularium's surrounding construction.

16. Temple of Veiovis. Sources.


[Cypress, beyond all other woods, retains its polish in good condition.] Proof of this is the cult statue of Jupiter Veiovis on the Citadel, which has lasted [the 250 years] since the temple's dedication [in 192 BC].

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 16.216


[On the Seventh of March, only one event: the dedication]

Of the Temple of Veiovis in front of the two groves.

Romulus, surrounding a grove with a lofty wall,

Said, “Flee to us, whoever you are, and you will be safe.”

How small the start from which the Roman people arose!

No cause for another's envy back then in that population.

But, should the name Veiovis mean nothing to you,

Learn who he is …

Veiovis is Jupiter when he was young; witness

The youthful face of his statue, then notice

He holds no lightning in his hand yet.…

And note the goat beside him—they say a goat

Gave milk to the infant Jove.… So why should I not conclude

That the Temple of Veiovis is the Temple of Jupiter


Ovid, Fasti 3.429-448

Tabularium (Archives)

17. Tabularium (Archives). Commentary.

The remains of the Tabularium, best seen from the Forum, form the substructure for the present Palazzo Senatorio. Two levels of the ancient building are visible as the massive wall of gray tufa closing the Forum off on its northern-most end. The lower level, pierced by windows opening into small chambers backed by the foot of the hill, formed a substructure for an arcade above that runs along the length of the building. Two of the arcade's archways remain un-bricked, framed with Doric half-columns and a travertine architrave. Ruins found at the base of the wall suggest that there was at least one other arcade on top of the one remaining. Behind the remaining arcade are numerous hallways, rooms, and stairs dating to ancient times, made with concrete and faced with tufa stones.

The identification of this building as the tabularium, or “record office,” rests on the inscription below, found near the Tabularium in the fifteenth century AD and since lost. Tabula are writing tablets, and many buildings had a tabularium to store records and archives. This Tabularium was apparently a major one with perhaps other functions as well, but we know little more about it.

17. Tabularium (Archives). Sources.


Quintus Lutatius Catulus, son of Quintus, grandson of Quintus, when consul [in 78 BC] undertook by senatorial decree the construction of the substructure and record office (tabularium), and he certified the work.

ILS 35 = CIL 6.1314


[Living the good life in the countryside, the farmer]

Plucks the fruit that the trees and the Earth of its own accord

Bestow upon him freely, blissfully unacquainted with Rome's

Iron laws, the frenzied Forum, and the Bureau of Public Records.

Virgil, Georgics 2.500-2

Temple of Juno Moneta

18. Temple of Juno Moneta. Commentary.

Several basic questions persist concerning the Temple of Juno Moneta; its location, and the lack of vestiges, have been called “one of the great enigmas in the topography of ancient Rome”(Richardson, 215). That it stood on the summit of the Citadel rather than on the other two areas of the hill is certain, but some topographers place it under the church of S. Maria d' Aracoeli, while others place it closer to the edge of the hill in the direction of the Forum, on the ancient substructions visible in the little park there today alongside the stairway up to the back of the church.

Secondly, what is the relationship between the Temple of Juno Moneta and her earlier presence on the hill? Later tradition gave Juno a precinct on the Capitoline at least back to the time of the Gallic invasion in 390 BC, when her sacred geese honked their way into history, but tradition also has it that the temple dedicated in 344 BC was built on the site of the house of the patrician hero Manlius, not on the site of a previous temple or sanctuary.

As the ancients (incorrectly) understood the word, the epithet “Moneta” originated from Juno's role in warning (monere) the Romans. Subsequently, the temple also contained Rome's mint for four centuries, before it was moved to a new location near the Colosseum in Domitian's reign. Moneta thus came to mean “mint” in Latin, and was the origin of the English words “monetary” and “money.”

18. Temple of Juno Moneta. Sources.


[The Gauls climbed up the Capitoline at night without a single person noticing them,] but some of the sacred geese being raised in the sanctuary of Juno gave the alarm by honking and rushing at the intruders.

Dionysius, Early Rome 13.7.3


They say that on June 1st the Temple of Juno Moneta (vowed,

Camillus, by you) was dedicated on the summit of the Citadel.

The site was once the home of Manlius, who drove

The armies of Gaul away from Jupiter Capitolinus.

Ovid, Fasti 6.183-86


Since the Aurunci had begun the hostilities and were not shying away from battle, Lucius Furius Camillus, the appointed dictator [in 345 BC], decided that the aid of the gods ought to be summoned for the conflict and accordingly vowed a temple to Juno Moneta. Victorious and under the vow's obligation, he returned to Rome and resigned from his post.

The senate appointed two commissioners to build this temple in a style suited to the greatness of the Roman people. A site was chosen for it on the Citadel, where the house of M. Manlius Capitolinus had been.… The Temple of Moneta was dedicated one year after the vow.

Livy, History 7.28.4-6


[Cicero's brother Quintus argues for the validity of divination.] “According to many accounts, one time after an earthquake occurred, a voice was heard coming from the Temple of Juno on the Citadel, saying that an expiatory sacrifice of a pig had to be performed. This Juno was henceforth called Moneta [the “Warner”].”

Cicero, On Divination 1.101


The home of Manlius was located where the temple and mint of Moneta are located today.

Livy, History 6.20.13


I have written to Philotimus in Rome about getting money from the Moneta for my journey.

Cicero, Letters to Atticus 8.7.3


The Books of the Magistrates are written on linen and deposited in the Temple of Juno Moneta.

Livy, History 4.20.8

Auguraculum (Precinct for Augury

19. Auguraculum (Precinct for Augury. Commentary.

Although the exact location of this sacred precinct for augury and the augurs is not known, it was on the Citadel, with a view to the south over the Caelian Hill [19.3]. A possible site is the park (Giardino dell'Aracoeli) at the top of the stairs to the Forum, which would give the requisite view if cleared of trees. The ruins of an old wall here (near larger substructures identified by some with the Juno Moneta temple; see Commentary on Juno Moneta) perhaps formed part of the augural station. In the distance over the Caelian hill the Alban Hills, site of the important early sanctuary to Jupiter Latiaris on Mt. Albanus (Monte Cavo), are visible and perhaps played a role in orientation.

19. Auguraculum (Precinct for Augury. Sources.


The senators of Rome unanimously voted to confer the kingship on Numa Pompilius [715 BC]. When summoned, Numa insisted that they consult the gods concerning his appointment, just as Romulus, when the city was first founded, had gained his kingship by augury.

Accordingly, Numa was led by an augur to the Citadel and seated on a rock, facing south. The augur, with his head veiled, sat down to Numa's left, holding in his right hand a staff curved at the end and free of knots (they call this a “lituus”). Then, looking out over the city and countryside, the augur prayed to the gods and demarcated the sky with a line from east to west: anything south of the line was “right,” and anything north was “left.” Next, having oriented himself towards a landmark as far away as sight could reach, he passed the lituus to his left hand, laid his right hand on Numa's head, and prayed as follows: “Father Jupiter: if it be your will that Numa Pompilius, whose head I now hold, become king of Rome, we ask that you send us clear signs within the boundaries I have designated.” Then he specified the signs he wished to be sent. When these signs appeared, Numa was declared king and descended from the augural station.

Livy, History 1.18.6-10


[There are many forms of religious authority in the state,] but the highest and supreme authority is that of official augury. For what power, legally considered, is greater than the ability to dissolve assemblies and councils appointed by the highest authorities in possession of their full powers, or to rescind the decisions of those bodies? What authority carries more weight than the augur's power to dismiss any undertaking, simply by saying “Postponed to another day”? What power is greater than deciding when consuls must resign from their office? What power is more sacred than that of granting or withholding the right of assembly to the people and the plebs? Indeed, without an augur's authority, no act by a magistrate either at home or in the field has validity for anyone.

Cicero, On Laws 2.31


Once, when the augurs were preparing to take the auspices on the Citadel, they ordered Tiberius Claudius Centumalus, who had a home on the Caelian Hill, to pull down the higher parts of his house that impeded their observations. [Centumalus quickly sold his house to someone else, but without telling them such remodeling was necessary: was this right?]

Cicero, On Duties 3.66

The Prison (Carcer)/Gemonian Steps (Gemoniae Scalae)

20. The Prison (Carcer)/Gemonian Steps (Gemoniae Scalae). Commentary.

Rome's only known state prison, called simply Carcer (“the Prison”) or the Tullianum (its lower chamber) in antiquity, has already figured in accounts of the Roman triumph as the place of execution for captured leaders [11.3, 11.7]. Other places of detention and execution must have existed in the city, but this was the Prison, situated at the heart of Rome's public space and, with the Gemonian Steps where corpses were exposed, part of the Forum's political theater (see Overview of the Roman Forum below).

Today the “Mamertine” Prison (its post-classical name of unknown origin) is a popular shrine commemorating the alleged incarceration there (but not execution) of Saints Peter and Paul.

20. The Prison (Carcer)/Gemonian Steps (Gemoniae Scalae). Sources.


[Under King Ancus, c. 630 BC, many of the Latins defeated in battle were settled in Rome as citizens, especially on the Aventine.] The population grew enormously with these additions. When, as a result of this rapid growth in population, opinions grew confused over the right and the wrong way to do things, clandestine crime began to appear. In response, a prison was built overlooking the Forum in the middle of the city, countering the growth in daring with the threat of incarceration.

Livy, History 1.33.8


They say that the Tullianum, which refers to a specific part of the Prison, was built by Servius Tullius [c. 550 BC].

Festus 490


[On Cato's recommendation, the Senate passed the death sentence on the Catilinarian conspirators.] Cicero, as consul [in 63 BC], decided to carry it out before nightfall to forestall any further developments, and ordered the prison officials to prepare everything necessary for execution. After stationing guards around, he personally led Lentulus into the prison; praetors escorted the other conspirators.

There is a part of the prison which is called the Tullianum, where you ascend a short way on the left. The Tullianum is sunk into the earth about 12 feet and is constructed of stone walls on all sides; above this is a room with a ceiling of vaulted stone. Foul from neglect, darkness, and stench, it is an altogether terrifying sight. Into this chamber Lentulus was lowered, and the executioners of those who commit capital crimes did as they were told and strangled him. Thus did a patrician of the distinguished family of the Cornelii and former consul in Rome end his life, in a manner worthy not of his birth but of his character and his own deeds. Cathegus, Statilius, Gabinius, and Caeparius died in the same way.

Sallust, War against Catiline 55



The Consuls Gaius Vibius Rufinus, Son of Gaius, and Marcus Cocceius Nerva, son of Marcus, [repaired the Prison in AD 22] by order of the Senate.

CIL 6.1539


There on the Gemonian Steps, witnessed with horror by the entire Roman Forum, lay the body of Quintus Caepio, mangled by the deadly hands of the executioner [in 103 BC].

Valerius Maximus, Sayings 6.9.13


[Bad omens abounded as Sejanus, the right-hand man of Emperor Tiberius, approached his end in AD 31.] When Sejanus had finished sacrificing on the Capitoline and was descending to the Forum, the crowd of people surrounding him was so dense that his bodyguards were unable to follow, and they turned down the way that leads to the Prison. As they descended the flight of stairs on which the condemned criminals are thrown, they slipped and fell.

Dio, History 58.5.6


[Sejanus, accused of plotting against the imperial house, was executed in AD 31.] It was decided to move against his two surviving children next. And so they were carried off to the Prison, the boy old enough to understand what lay in store for them, the girl however so innocent that she kept on asking what she had done wrong and where she was being taken; she promised she would never do it again—a spanking had always seen to that in the past. Writers of that time say that because it was unheard of to apply capital punishment to a maiden, the girl was first raped, with the rope at her side. Afterwards, she and her brother were strangled and thrown out, young as they were, on the Gemonian Steps.

Tacitus, Annals 6.5.9


[After the Vitellian forces took the Capitoline during the civil war of AD 69, they killed the city prefect Sabinus] and dragged his stabbed, mutilated, and headless body onto the Gemonian Steps.

Tacitus, Histories 3.74

IV. The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

Overview of the Roman Forum

21. Overview of the Roman Forum. Commentary.

That the ancient world's most concentrated center of power was once a marshy basin with cattle-paths intrigued the ancient Romans almost as much as later centuries loved the next layer of historical irony, when the Forum reverted to pasture after the Fall of Rome. With characteristic reverence for utility, the Romans pictured the new order on dry land as beginning not with Ararat but with the Cloaca Maxima, the large central canal (eventually covered over) that dominated a network of drainage ditches. This drainage work, probably carried out in conjunction with some massive and deliberate land-fill, rendered the area suitable as a communal center. The Lacus Curtius shrine, however, long remained a testimony of the marshy area, a reminder also provided by the Tiber floods that not infrequently inundated the Forum area until the travertine embankment walls of the late 19th century effectively canalized the whole Tiber much as the Cloaca canalized the forum stream.

The later Romans envisioned burial as one of the pre-urban uses of the Forum, and the archaeological record confirms that indeed it was; the sites of just a few of the many graves found scattered beneath centuries of later pavings are indicated today by little grass plots next to the Temple of Antoninus. Traces of huts have also been found, and there was probably at least one important road among the early paths and cattle-tracks, the old salt-route (echoed in the modern “Via Saleria”), which directed traffic down from the Quirinal and Pincian heights, across the subsequent forum area at the foot of the Capitoline, and down the (later) Vicus Jugarius to the Tiber ford before continuing to the salt flats north of the river mouth. In early days the topography of the area was much more defined than it is today, with deeper gullies and more visible valleys fingering their way back up to the heights of the Quirinal and Esquiline. The forum basin would have also had a more enclosed appearance, bounded by the little ridges or saddles that connected the Capitoline to the Quirinal (a ridge removed by Trajan) and the Palatine to the Esquiline (a ridge removed by Mussolini).

Burials in the forum area ceased as the hill-communities developed the area for other purposes and coalesced into the community of Rome during the 8th and 7th centuries BC. There is archaeological evidence for late 7th century paving of some of the area, and the literary tradition (corroborated in places by archaeology) records the construction of the Regia, the Temple of Vesta, the shrine to Janus, the Senate House, and the prison, even before the reigns of the two Tarquin kings, who are credited with beginning the Cloaca Maxima in the 6th century. It is significant, however, that with the exception of the shrine to Janus (which may have been a bridge over the Cloaca stream), none of these early buildings was in what became the central forum square, which was the lowest part of the basin and precisely the area bisected by the drain.

Before turning to the individual sites of the Forum and their sources, I have included several famous ancient passages as an introduction to the activities and the atmosphere of the Forum [21.1-7]. Apart from the specific information that each introductory passage contains, together they provide a sense of the Forum as a space that is intensely public and open to view, dominated by action that is in each case some species of spectacle, whether involving political oratory, public trials, aristocratic funerals, gladiatorial shows, or actual performances of plays. The triumphs and executions described in the Capitoline section [11., 12., and 20.] are also relevant here.

Polybius's description of an aristocratic funeral [21.3], one of the most evocative portraits of Rome in ancient literature, shows how difficult it can be to separate theater, ceremony, and public business from each other in ancient Rome. The passages by Plautus, Horace, and Plutarch also stress the theatrical quality of most action in the Forum. Plautus's guide to the Forum [21.2] focuses not so much on the topography as on the stock characters associated with that topography. Horace's walk through the Forum [21.7] is a mock-tragedy that hinges on several recognition scenes and concludes with a deus ex machina. And Plutarch not only describes Galba's murder in the Forum [21.6] as if it were a play but assures us that the Romans who were present, instead of fleeing, quite naturally took their places on the balconies of the basilicas to watch the spectacle of an emperor's death.

The Forum's architecture of course complements this intensely public behavior, as Vitruvius notes [21.5]. The predominant style of Forum architecture might be called the architecture of the front porch, with all the visibility in both directions that this implies. In general, a good deal of important business that now is rigorously confined inside four walls and a roof—sessions of the Senate, for instance, trials, banking activity, schooling—occurred under porches and colonnades or out-of-doors in ancient Rome.

21. Overview of the Roman Forum. Sources.


The “forum” is so named because it is the place where people take issues to court [conferrent] and where people bring [ferrent] their merchandise to sell it.

Varro, The Latin Language 5.145


I'll show you where you'll find each sort of man in town,

To save you the trouble of tracking them down, be it men of virtue

You seek, or men of vice, men with and without morals.

If you need a man to perjure an oath, the Comitium's the place;

But for liars and braggarts, go to the shrine of Venus Cloacina.

Wealthy husbands incautious with cash haunt the Basilica—

There too the busiest hookers and the pimps who strike the deal.

Members of the dinner clubs you'll find in the Fish-market.

Gentlemen stroll at the end of the Forum, men of money;

In the center, near the Canal, linger the pure pretenders.

Above the Lacus Curtius the slanderers gather, bold

Malicious men who brazenly accuse the innocent

But who themselves make truer targets for their charges.

At the Old Shops are those who lend or borrow money,

And others behind the Temple of Castor—trust them at your peril.

On Tuscan Way, more hookers, of either sex;

On the Velabrum, bakers, butchers, and prognosticators,

And swindlers, or those who rent the stalls for swindlers' work.

Plautus, Curculio 467-82


The lengths to which Roman society goes to fashion men who will endure anything to gain a reputation for bravery can be demonstrated by the following example.

Whenever a distinguished public figure dies, as part of the funeral rites his body is escorted across the Forum (most often in an upright position visible to all, or more rarely lying down) and is carried up to the Rostra. There, with the whole community gathered around, a son of the deceased (if he should have one that is grown-up and present; otherwise, someone else from the family fills in) ascends the Rostra and delivers a speech on the man's virtues and the achievements of his life.…

After the burial and the customary rites, his family places an image of the deceased in the most conspicuous part of the house, where it is displayed in a wooden shrine. The image is a mask fashioned to resemble both the features and complexion of the person, and is extremely lifelike.… Whenever another distinguished member of the family dies, the family brings these ancestral masks to the funeral, where they are worn by living men who most nearly resemble the physique and bearing of each ancestor. These men also dress in the appropriate togas that signify the rank each ancestor attained: purple-bordered for consuls and praetors, solid purple for a censor, and interwoven with gold for those who attained a triumph or something similar.… When the funeral procession reaches the Rostra, all the members of this masked entourage take seats upon it in ivory chairs.

It would be hard to find a more powerful spectacle to inspire a young man eager for fame and virtue. Indeed, who would not be moved upon seeing this masked assemblage of ancestors renowned for their great deeds, seated there as if alive and breathing? What spectacle could be more inspiring than this? In addition, when the speaker is finished eulogizing the deceased, he recounts in turn the great deeds and achievements of the other ancestors represented by the masked men seated on the Rostra. In this fashion, by the constant renewal of the virtuous reputation of good men, both the fame of those who have accomplished something great is immortalized, and the glorious example of those who have benefited the community in the past instructs the many people present and is bequeathed to future generations.

In the end, however, the greatest effect of this ceremony is on the young men of the city, inspired to undergo any hardship for the communal good by the fame that follows upon the good deeds of such men.

Polybius, History 6.52.11-6.54.3


In honor of their father Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (who had been consul twice and an augur), his three sons held funeral games lasting three days [in 216 BC], which included twenty two gladiatorial duels in the Forum.

Livy, History 23.30.15


[The Greeks give their forums a square shape and enclose it in double colonnades with columns set close together.] In Italy, however, a different plan must be executed, in light of the custom established by our ancestors of holding gladiatorial displays in the forum. Because of this, the space between columns should be widened for better viewing. Place shops for bankers in the surrounding porticoes, and include viewing balconies on the upper stories; such arrangements are both convenient and bring in public revenue.

Vitruvius, Architecture 5.1.1


[The struggle between the Emperor Galba and his successor Otho in AD 69 ended up as street fighting in downtown Rome. Galba, in the palace on the Palatine, hears a rumor that Otho has been murdered.] Galba climbed into his litter and sallied forth from the Palatine, intending to sacrifice to Jupiter on the Capitoline and show himself to the people. While he was passing through the Forum, however, a very different report arrived like a sudden change of wind: Otho, much alive, controlled the praetorian troops.… Soon Otho's horsemen appeared. Then foot-soldiers advanced through the Basilica of Paullus, shouting for all civilians to clear the area. The crowd indeed cleared out, not scattering in flight, however, but gathering on the portico balconies and other vantage points of the Forum as if to take in a show.

In the first act of the hostilities a soldier overthrew Galba's statue in the Forum. Then, after failing to hit Galba's litter with their javelins, the soldiers advanced on him with drawn swords.… In the commotion, Galba tumbled out of his litter onto the ground at a place called the Lacus Curtius. Soldiers ran to strike him where he lay, protected by his armored breastplate, but Galba simply offered his neck to their swords and said, “If it is better for the Roman people, do it!”

They say that when the soldiers brought Otho the head of Galba on a spear, he shouted, “This is nothing, my fellow soldiers; show me the head of Piso!” And not long afterwards the head of Galba's adopted successor also arrived, after the young man, wounded and struggling to escape, was killed outside the Temple of Vesta.

Plutarch, Galba 26.2-4, 27.1, 4


As I was walking down the Sacred Way, worrying

As usual some bit of verse into shape and lost in thought,

A man, little more to me than a name, runs up

And grabs my hand and gushes, “Horace, so good to see you!

How is everything?” “Not bad, considering. Good to have seen you.”

Since the man won't leave me, I insist, “If there's anything I can do …”

“You can get to know me” he says; “I'm a writer!”

“No shame in that,” I say, desperately wanting to lose him:

I pick up speed, slow down, I talk some private business

With my slave, while the sweat rolls down to my ankles.

“My friend Bolanus wouldn't suffer fools like this!” I think

As the man drones on in praise of Rome and every little street.

Finally, not deaf to my silence, he says, “You're dying to get away,

I can see that. But it's no use, I'm sticking to you

Wherever you're headed.” “No need for you,” I insist,

“To go out of your way. I want to visit someone,

You wouldn't know him, quite sick in fact, in bed,

Across the Tiber, way over by Caesar's Gardens.”

“No trouble at all,” he says. “It'll do me good. Lead on!”

By the time we reach the Temple of Vesta the courts are in session,

And this man's scheduled to defend himself or lose his case.

“Please,” he pleads, “I can use your support; it won't take long.”

“Not a chance; I don't know the slightest thing about law.”

“Well,” he ponders; “which to abandon: you, or my trial?”

“Me! Choose me!” I beg. “I couldn't,” he decides, and marches on.

[Eager for gossip, the man grills Horace on the literary scene; Horace bumps into an old friend, who, pretending not to know that Horace is fishing for an excuse to get away from the Boor, leaves him to his fate. But Horace is unexpectedly rescued:]

Then who should appear from out of the blue but the very man

Who was taking my barnacle to court. “There's the bastard!”

He yells, then turns to me: “Are you willing to be a witness

To this encounter?” In assent, I let him touch my ear.

Shouting breaks out and people come running as he grabs his man

And hauls him off to court. Thus did Apollo save me.

Horace, Satires 1.9.1-19, 35-42, 74-78

Cloaca Maxima (“The Main Drain”)

22. Cloaca Maxima (“The Main Drain”). Commentary.

The literary sources credit the Tarquin kings of the 6th century with the first major work of changing the Forum's landscape from a marshy basin to solid building ground, and the drainage system they developed, centered on the Main Drain, does have much in common with the drainage canals (cuniculi) that were prevalent in the Etruscan countryside north of Rome. Much of the channel (as reconstructed by Agrippa and later builders) remains in service as part of Rome's drainage system today, its contents diverted however into the sewage system rather than flowing directly into the River. Plautus's description of the Forum [c. 200 BC] refers to the Cloaca as still an open canal; it was perhaps covered over in connection with the building projects of following decades.

The mouth of the drain can still be seen in the travertine embankments of the Tiber, just downstream of the Ponte Palatino. The opening gives some idea of the channel's dimensions (varying, but averaging about 3 m. square—large enough for Pliny and Strabo's hay wagon). In the 19th century, when easier of access, the Cloaca Maxima was popular with tourists, providing the young Henry James in 1869 with “the deepest and grimmest impression of antiquity I have ever received.”

22. Cloaca Maxima (“The Main Drain”). Sources.


The land where the forums of Rome now spread was once a swamp

And ditches were dank with the waters that flooded back from the river.

Ovid, Fasti 6.401-2


By means of sewers sloping into the Tiber, the king Tarquinius Priscus [616-578 BC] dried out the low and flat areas of difficult drainage both around the Forum and in between the hills.

Livy, History 1.38.6


Under Tarquinius Superbus [534-510 BC], the work of the plebeians was directed to two other projects, the construction of the seating for the Circus, and the building of the subterranean Cloaca Maxima as a receptacle for all the city's waste—two works that even the most recent marvels of construction [in the late first century BC] have scarcely been able to match.

Livy, History 1.56.2


[No wonders of the world equal the splendor and wealth of Rome, although by the late Republic the excesses had become obvious.] Even then, however, the older people still marveled at the huge expanse of the Rampart and the substructures on the Capitoline, as well as the project deserving the greatest praise of all, the drainage channels, tunneled through the hills, laid beneath a suspended city, and even navigated by Agrippa when aedile [in 33 BC].

Seven streams, collected into one channel, traverse the city, rushing like a mountain torrent and sweeping off everything in their path. When further swollen by a mass of rainwater, the currents pound the sides and bed of the channels, and when the Tiber on occasion floods and backs up into them, the waters inside clash from opposite directions; still the structures hold firm against the pressure. Floods might sweep away massive material above them, buildings collapse upon them, and earthquakes shake the earth around them, but the channels have endured 700 years since the time of Tarquinius Priscus and are almost indestructible. It is said that Tarquinius had the channels made large enough to accommodate the passage of a wagon loaded with hay.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 36.104-106,108


As aedile, Agrippa carried out all his repairs on public building and streets in Rome without using any public money. He also had the drainage channels cleared and then inspected them by boat, floating underground to the Tiber.

Dio, History 49.43.1

The Pool of Curtius (Lacus Curtius) and Forum Fig Trees

23. The Pool of Curtius (Lacus Curtius) and Forum Fig Trees. Commentary.

The location of the Pool of Curtius is, as Livy puts it, “almost in the middle of the Forum,” where the remnants of an altar and stone border can be seen (presently covered by a plastic canopy). Even in Ovid's time there was no trace of water there, but both legend and ritual preserved its connection to the underworld and to the Roman practice known as devotio. In this ritual (attested but not routine) an individual—typically a general, as in the second passage by Livy included here to illuminate the more pertinent story about Curtius—saved the imperiled community by consecrating his own life to the gods of the underworld. The most prominent legend regarding the name of the Pool has all the essential features of this practice, down to the proper vesture of the victim. Both Livy and Varro, however, refer to a different legend as well.

Perhaps the altar and its ritual came to replace the literal practice of devotio. It is tempting to regard the ceremony connected to the Pool in Augustus's day as procuring the communal well-being by providing gold coins to the Underworld, in place of offering a leader (suggesting that if death cannot be cheated, he can at least be temporarily bought off).

Some of the important landmarks in ancient Rome were not buildings, but plants. There were at least two important “monumental” fig trees in the Forum—these are alluded to by the fig growing near the Pool of Curtius today—and another by the Lupercal cave.

23. The Pool of Curtius (Lacus Curtius) and Forum Fig Trees. Sources.


In his histories, Piso recounts how during the Sabine War between Romulus and Tatius [in the late C8 BC], a brave Sabine named Mettius Curtius, forced to retreat in the face of a charge that Romulus and his men made from the heights of the Palatine, escaped into the marshy area that occupied the Forum area before the drains were constructed. Making his way out again, he rejoined his troops on the Capitolium. Such is Piso's account of how the Pool of Curtius got its name.

Varro, The Latin Language 5.149


It is said that [in 362 BC] the ground, whether from an earthquake or some other agency, caved in almost in the middle of the Forum, creating a gaping chasm of unknown depths; no amount of dirt that everyone brought and tossed into the pit was able to fill it. Then they learned from an oracle of the gods that if they wanted the Republic of Rome to endure, they would have to sacrifice, on that spot, that which above all else made them strong.

They then say that Marcus Curtius, an exceptional young soldier, criticized the others for doubting that Rome's strength could reside in anything other than the weapons and bravery of her citizens. Silence fell. Curtius, gazing up at the Capitolium and the temples that rise around the Forum, stretching his hands first to the heavens and then to the pit and the gods below, consecrated himself to the Underworld. Then, armed for battle and mounted on his horse in full caparison, Curtius leapt into the chasm, and the crowd of men and women threw gifts and fruits of the field in after him. Accordingly, the Pool of Curtius is, they say, named for this Marcus Curtius, and not for the ancient Curtius Mettius, the Sabine soldier serving under Titus Tatius. In truth, the more recent event recounted here is the more prevalent story for the origin of the pool's name.

Livy, History 7.6.1-6


[When he saw that the Roman troops under his command were losing a battle against the Latins south of Rome in 340 BC,] the consul Decius cried out to the pontifex: “Marcus Valerius, we need the help of the gods! As public pontiff of the Roman people, come and administer the oath with which I may devote myself to the Underworld in place of the legions.” The pontiff told him to put on the purple-bordered toga, to extend a hand from under the toga to touch his own chin, and to repeat the following words while standing upon a spear that lay upon the ground: “Janus, Jupiter, Father Mars, Quirinus, Bellona, Lares, gods both local and foreign, to whose power both we and our enemies are subject, and you gods below, I beseech you with prayer and seek your favor with supplication: may you promote the might and victory of the Roman people and afflict the enemies of the Roman people with terror, panic, and death. In speaking these words, on behalf of the Republic of the Roman people, the army, its legions and its allies I hereby devote the legions and allies of the enemy, along with my own self, to the gods of the underworld and to Earth.”

Then Decius, with his toga draped in Gabine manner, jumped fully armed onto his horse and galloped off into the enemy's midst. To men on both sides he appeared to take on a more than human majesty, as if he were sent from heaven to expiate in full the anger of the gods and to turn destruction away from his own people and bring it upon the enemy.…

The praise for victory in the battle went to the consuls, one of whom diverted towards himself alone all the menace and danger of the gods both above and below.

Livy, History 8.9-10


The Pool of Curtius, which now supports dry altars

On solid ground, was once a pool in fact.

Ovid, Fasti 6.403-4


[There is evidence that Augustus was widely popular during his reign.] Each year men from every class would throw a small coin in the Pool of Curtius, in fulfillment of a vow for his health.

Suetonius, Augustus 57.1


There is a fig tree worshiped in the Forum itself, in the Comitium. It is considered sacred, first, because it is planted where objects struck by lightning have been buried, and even more so as a memorial of the Ruminal fig under which the wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus had originally sheltered these founders of the empire.… The withering away of this fig is always a portent, and priests are responsible for planting a new one.… There is another tree of the same species, sown there by chance, in the middle of the Forum, at the spot where Curtius, using his most precious possessions—that is to say, his courage, his commitment, and his glorious death—shored up the foundations of Roman power that where slipping away in a portent of disaster.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 15.77


A statue of the augur Attus Navius still stands in the Forum today [c. 10 BC] in front of the Senate House near the Sacred Fig.

Dionysius, Early Rome 3.71.5

The Shrine of Janus Geminus

24. The Shrine of Janus Geminus. Commentary.

Although the precise location of this little temple is not known, Livy's passage locates it in the “lower Argiletum,” a street which entered the Forum between the Senate House and the Basilica Aemilia/Paulli. This was the most important of the several cult sites to Janus in Rome, an important and very Roman god who still makes his mark on the modern imagination. Janus was the god of gates (ianua) and passages, whether such passages are conceived spatially as crossing some important boundary, temporally as connecting past and future (hence “January”), or as a connector of differing states and conditions (from peace to war, or from the human to the divine). As such, Janus was commonly represented as a two-faced god, and his shrines seem to have been in the form of a covered passage-way, fitted with a gate at each end. It is possible that the shrine here was also originally a bridge over the open canal of the Cloaca Maxima.

24. The Shrine of Janus Geminus. Sources.


Numa Pompilius [715-673 BC], invested by the augurs with kingship over a city founded by the force of arms, prepared to found Rome anew on justice, laws, and morality. Perceiving that such reforms could not be successfully promoted during wars, which rather promote ferocity, Numa thought to tame his fierce people by weaning them from their weapons. To this end, he built the Janus shrine at the bottom of the Argiletum to signify whether Rome was at peace or at war: its doors stood open when the city was in arms, and were closed when all Rome's neighbors had been pacified. Since Numa's reign, the shrine has been shut twice: once after the First Punic War in the consulship of Titus Manlius [in 235 BC], and again, as granted by the gods in our own day, when peace was established on land and sea by the emperor Caesar Augustus after the battle of Actium [in 31 BC].

Livy, History 1.19.1-3


The shrine of Janus Quirinus, which in all of recorded memory since the founding of Rome was only closed twice before my birth (in accordance with our ancestors wishes that it be closed only when peace through victory reigned throughout the entire empire on land and sea) was ordered by the Senate to be closed three times during my rule.

Augustus, Achievements 13


The great antiquity of the art of sculpture in Italy is demonstrated by the statue of Janus Geminus dedicated by the king Numa. Janus is worshipped as the signifier of peace and war; the fingers on the statue are arranged to indicate the number 365, showing that he is also the god of passages of time.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 34. 33


But how do I describe you, Janus of the double face?

For Greece has no divinity with the same domain.

Janus, holding a staff in his right hand, a key in the other,

[Revealed himself, and answered all my questions.]

Why,” I wondered, “whenever I appease the other gods,

Do I first bring an offering of wine and incense to you?”

“So that through me you gain the passage,” Janus answered,

“To whatever gods you wish, whose thresholds I control.”

“And why, when so many passage-ways [jani] exist, do you stand

Worshiped only in one, at your temple next to two forums?”

[“Because I stopped the Sabines here with a gush of noxious water]

An altar was consecrated to me in a little shrine,

Where the flames consume your offerings of sacrificial cake.”

“But why do you hide during times of peace, and open in war?”

Without a moment's delay, Janus gave me the reason:

“So the way of return lies open to the men who go out in armies

My doorways open wide in war, with the bolts drawn back.

But I close my doors on Peace, to prevent her from leaving;

Long will I be shut, through the godly will of Augustus.

Ovid, Fasti 1.89-282, selections


Notes: In Pliny's passage [24.3], how did the god's fi ngers represent the number 365? Perhaps three were extended on the one hand, and all fi ve on the other to represent the Roman numerals III, VI, and V).

The Black Stone (Niger Lapis)

25. The Black Stone (Niger Lapis). Commentary.

One of the more curious remains in the Roman Forum is a small area, surrounded now by a metal railing, of grayish limestone slabs visible in the pavement of the Forum near the Arch of Severus today and originally alongside the Republican Rostra. The level of this pavement can be dated to the C1 BC, and was originally surrounded by a pluteus, an enclosure formed by waist-high stones. These darker slabs of limestone pavers are probably the Niger Lapis, or “Black Stone,” referred to by Festus in the passage below.

The real puzzle involves a much older stone lying beneath the Black Stone pavers and which the Black Stone simply serves to locate on the level of later pavement. This hidden stone, a tufa post set on an earlier pavement level of the Forum and adjacent to a small altar and column base (likewise covered over), contains one of the oldest Latin inscriptions in existence. Because the inscription is fragmentary—the top of the stone was cropped in antiquity to fit beneath the later pavement—and in very archaic Latin, both the meaning of the text and the function of the stone and site are unknown to us and probably to the imperial Romans as well. As excerpted in the sample below, the inscription seems to begin with words of a common malediction against anyone who would violate a sacred spot; elsewhere it probably refers to a king, perhaps in his capacity as a guardian of sacred spots. Since the paving of this tufa stele can be dated to the first half of the C6 BC, this may indeed refer to one of Rome's early kings.

Festus is definite in his belief that this inscribed stone was a burial marker. Archaeologists, however, have found no signs of burial in this little complex of monuments beneath the Black Stone, and some wonder if the inscribed stone originally commemorated a sacred event or deity and only later came to be understood as a funeral monument for a burial site important enough to prohibit traffic from the pavement above it (hence the Black Stone and bordering wall). Richardson suggests the possibility that it was originally a boundary stone.

25. The Black Stone (Niger Lapis). Sources.


The Black Stone in the Comitium marks off a place of burial. Some say it was destined to be the burial spot of Romulus, before he disappeared and made his burial impossible. Others say his foster-father Faustulus was buried here, still others, that it was Hostilius, grandfather of the Roman king Tullius Hostilius.

Festus 184L


Whosoever desecrates this site, let him be consecrated to the spirits below ….

ILS 4913 = CIL 6.36840

The Senate House (Curia), Assembly (Comitium) and Rostra

26. The Senate House (Curia), Assembly (Comitium) and Rostra. Commentary.

The Senate House and Rostra that exist today in the Forum are imperial structures which, while located close to their Republican predecessors, suggest nothing of the earlier topographical and political unity that joined these two sites to each other and to the assembly grounds between them called the Comitium. Though the Senate could and often did convene elsewhere, as could official assemblies of the People, these three sites were Republican Rome's political core. Their unity is evident in Varro's convenient summary of their functions; he groups the three sites together (and locates the Graecostasis as well, a waiting area for foreign ambassadors).

Further unifying this political ensemble of Republican times, the Senate House and Comitium were oriented by the cardinal points of the compass, which may have marked them out as specially augurated space and at any rate set them off obliquely from the Forum rectangle that formed over the centuries.

Perhaps the best way to situate these vanished Republican structures in today's landscape is by using the Black Stone [25.]; the Rostra and Graecostasis stood to either side of it near the southernmost part of the Comitium. The Republican Senate House, the Curia Hostilia, would have been north of here, about where the church of S.S. Lucae Martina is located today, outside the excavated area of the Forum.

The Senate House of Republican Rome goes under the single name of the Curia Hostilia, although, like most buildings in Rome, it underwent significant reconstructions and enlargements, one by Sulla in 80 BC, and another by his son Faustus after a fire in 52 BC. The Comitium was an augurally defined space in front of the Senate; it too changed in appearance and level over the centuries, and was probably ringed by steps at some point, perhaps descending into a sort of cavea. The first speaker's platform to be called the Rostra was the one on the southern rim of the Comitium fitted with the ships' beaks after a naval victory in 338 BC. Presumably the speakers could mount the platform by stairs from the Comitium, or from its sides; the beaks would have faced the open Forum area, as the speaker also had the option of doing.

The imperial Senate House, the Curia Julia, is by far the best preserved ancient building in the Forum because of its conversion into a church in AD 630. The surviving structure, deconsecrated in the 1930s, is Diocletian's restoration of the Senate House after a fire in AD 283. The original, dedicated by Augustus in 29 BC, goes back to the plans of Julius Caesar that reoriented the building on more “rational” lines, squaring it up with the rectangular lines of the Forum and even more closely with his new forum [73.], to which the new Senate House formed an architectural appendage more in keeping with the Senate's increasing subordination.

After the magistrates and Senators, the most important fixture of the Senate House was the Altar of Victory, established by Augustus to commemorate his victory over Egypt and, by synecdoche, all Roman victories. Later its presence became a powerful symbol in the fourth century struggle between Christian and pagan religions. The excerpts below of letters written to the emperor by the pagan senator Symmachus [28.5] and the bishop Ambrose [28.6] encapsulate much that was essential in this struggle, the one side citing the proven efficacy of their religion throughout the ages, and the other recoiling almost viscerally from the ritual of pagan sacrifice.

When the new Senate House was built, the Comitium area was paved smooth and the Rostra dismantled. Caesar began a new Rostra facing the Forum next to the Arch of Severus. This Rostra was apparently stepped on the Capitoline side, which, with its curve, preserved something of the look of the Republican rostra that followed the contours and the stepped seating around the Comitium. It was probably on this Rostra that Caesar refused the crown offered by Antony, and where Antony, in retribution for Cicero's scathing orations against him (the Philippics), displayed the orator's severed head and hand. [30.3]

Augustus subsequently extended the new Rostra towards the Forum, creating a larger area for displays such as statues (which were always a feature of Rome's Rostra) and the imperial family's funerals.

26. The Senate House (Curia), Assembly (Comitium) and Rostra. Sources.


The Comitium is so-called because the Romans came [coibant] here for meetings of the Comitia Centuriata and to hold trials. As for Curia (“Senate House”), there are two kinds: one, such as the Curiae Veteres, is where priests take care [curarent] of divine matters; the other is where senators take care of human affairs, such as the Curia Hostilia, which the king Tullus Hostilius first built. In front of this stands the speaker's platform, called the Rostra because of the beaks [rostra] of captured ships that are fastened to it. To the right of this (looking from the Comitium) is a lower platform where the foreign ambassadors to the Senate wait (although the ambassadors can be from any nation, this platform is called the Graecostasis—part for the whole, as is so often the case in our names for things).

Varro, The Latin Language 5.155

Republican Senate House (Curia Hostilia)

27. Republican Senate House (Curia Hostilia). Sources.

>Romulus appointed one hundred men as senators. [After Rome defeated the nearby city of Alba, c. 650 BC,] the king Tullus Hostilius selected the leading men of Alba for enrollment in the Roman Senate in order that this component of the republic might also grow. In addition to enlarging the senatorial order, he made the Senate House a ritually consecrated space; as a result, it was called the Curia Hostilia even into the times of today's senators.

Livy, History 1.30.2


Varro has written of the locations in which the Senate may legally pass a decree, and he demonstrates that if a decree is passed at a site which is not designated with augury as a “templum,” then the decree is not valid. For this reason, the Curia Hostilia, the Pompeia, and the Julia—all of them profane sites—were designated “templa” by the augurs, so that the Senate's business could proceed properly there in the tradition of our ancestors.

Gellius, Attic Nights 14.7.7


[In a philosophical dialogue set in 79 BC, Cicero has Marcus Piso comment on the powerful effect that the haunts of famous men have on later generations:] “Whenever I looked upon the Senate House (I mean the Hostilia, not the new one, which now seems to me smaller since its enlargement) I could almost see before me the great Scipio, Cato, Laelius, and my own grandfather Piso himself.”

Cicero, On Ends 5.2


[After his murder in 52 BC,] the people carried the body of Publius Clodius into the Senate House where, after piling up benches, platforms, tables, and books, they cremated him. With Clodius the Senate House itself went up in flames; the Basilica Porcia, which adjoined the Senate House, also burned down.

Asconius, on Cicero's Milo 29


[Rome, amid factional fighting, descended into chaos.] Milo, for instance, a candidate for the consulship, happened upon Clodius, his old enemy and opposing gang leader, on the Appian Way. In the confrontation, Milo first wounded Clodius and then, fearing retribution, killed him.… The tribunes carried the corpse of Clodius into the Forum at dawn, placed it on the Rostra so that all might see him, and gave voice to their grief. The people, stirred by the spectacle, … lifted up the body of Clodius and bore it into the Senate House, where they laid it out properly. Then, after heaping benches up into a pyre, they burned the body and with it the Senate building.…

The Senate soon met under Pompey's guard outside the pomerium near his theater and resolved to collect the bones of Clodius. They also charged Faustus, the son of Sulla, with the rebuilding of the Senate House, the Curia Hostilia, which Sulla had remodeled.

Dio, History 40.48-50

The Imperial Senate House (Curia Julia)

28. The Imperial Senate House (Curia Julia). Sources.


[The Senate itself heaped excessive honors and commissions on Caesar before his assassination.] They assigned him the construction of a new Senate House, since the Curia Hostilia, although rebuilt since the fire, had been torn down.

Dio, History 44.5.2


[As part of their policy of linking themselves to the deified Julius Caesar,] the triumvirs Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus, following an earlier vote [in 43 BC], built the new Senate House (called now the Curia Julia in Caesar's honor) next to the Comitium [in 42 BC]

Dio, History 47.19.1


I built the Senate House and the Chalcidicum adjoining it [in 29 BC]. During my sixth and seventh consulships [28-27 BC], with the power of the state entirely in my hands by universal consent, I extinguished the flames of civil wars, and then relinquished my control, transferring the Republic back to the authority of the Senate and the Roman people. For this service I was named Augustus by a decree of the Senate, … and a golden shield was placed on display in the Curia Julia. An inscription on this shield states that the Senate and the Roman People gave me the shield because of my courage, mercy, justice, and devotion.

Augustus, Achievements 19, 34


After the triumphal procession celebrating Egypt's subjugation, Octavian dedicated the [portico of] Minerva (also called the Chalcidicum) and the Curia Julia, built in honor of his father, Caesar. Inside the Senate House he set up the statue of Victory that stands there today [c. AD 200], no doubt intending to signify that he owed his rule to her. Bringing it to Rome from Tarentum, he had it placed in the senate chamber and decorated with Egyptian spoils.

Dio, History 51.22.1-2


From the Senator Symmachus to Emperor Theodosius: [AD 384] [The Altar of Victory was unjustly removed from the Senate House in deference to Christianity.] Let us restore the state of religion which proved so advantageous to our country for so long. Certainly emperors may be found of both religions, of both beliefs; the earlier ones worshiped in the same ceremonies as the Senators, and the more recent ones did not prohibit these ceremonies. If the piety of the former does not provide you with a model, let the tolerance of the latter do so.

Who is so far from civilization that he does not expect to find the Altar of Victory in the Senate House? … Your eternal glory owes much to Victory, and will depend on her greatly in the future; let them scorn her power, who have not benefited so greatly from it. Do not reject the support of a divinity so conducive to triumphs. All of us are in debt to her efficacy; no one would deny that that which must be sought after must also be worshipped. But however unjust the refusal to worship this spirit, it is at least proper that the ornaments of the Senate House remain intact. We beseech you: allow us as elders to pass down to our descendants that which we received in our youth.

Symmachus, Relationes 3.3-4


The Bishop Ambrose to the Emperor Valentinianus [AD 384]: … These senators seek to have the Altar of Victory erected again in the Senate House in Rome, that is to say, where many Christians convene. … Must it be tolerated, that a pagan sacrifices in the presence of a Christian?

St. Ambrose, Letters 18.31

The Republican Rostra

29. The Republican Rostra. Sources.


The consuls [in 442 BC] engraved the legislation on twelve bronze tablets and affixed these to the Rostra that was then in front of the Senate House.

Diodorus Siculus, Library 12.26.1


[After the Romans defeated the people of Antium (modern Anzio) in 338 BC, they captured all their ships, made the people citizens, and forbid them all use of the sea.] Some of the ships were transferred to the dockways in Rome and some were burnt. A motion was approved to use the ships' beaks [rostra] to adorn a raised platform that was constructed in the Forum. Accordingly, they called this platform, which was also inaugurated as a templum, the Rostra.

Livy, History 8.14.12


The Rostra [in 52 BC] was not where it stands today [c. AD 55], but nearly adjoined the Senate House.

Asconius, on Cicero's Milo 37


In measuring the hours of the day in Rome only the rising and setting of the sun are distinguished in the laws of the Twelve Tables [from the fifth century BC]. Years later, noon was also officially announced. This was done by an assistant of the consuls, who declared it noon when looking [south over the Comitia] from the Senate House he saw the sun positioned between the Rostra and the Graecostasis. When the sun passed to the Carcer side of the Column of Maenius, the assistant announced the final hour. Such reckoning (which was possible only on clear days) lasted down to the time of the First Punic War [264-241 BC].

Varro reports that the first public sun-dial was erected during this war, and that it was located on a column next to the Rostra. Quintus Marcius Philippus, when censor [in 164 BC], later located a more accurate dial next to it. Even then, however, cloudy weather obscured the hours, until in the next census when Scipio Nasica was the first to reckon Rome's official time with a water clock that divided the days and night into equal hours. He dedicated this time-piece, lodged under a protective roof [in the Basilica Aemilia, according to Varro, LL 6.4], 595 years after the founding of Rome [159 BC]: for so many years did the Roman people live in unmeasured light.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 7.212-5


When Lars Tolumnius, the king of Veii, murdered four ambassadors of the Roman people, statues of these men were placed on the Rostra, where they stood down to my own memory. And rightly so: for in such manner did our ancestors distinguish those who died in the service of their country, granting them lasting fame in exchange for their shortened lives.

Cicero, Philippics 9.4


Notes: Coarelli (in LTUR 4, 212-4) and Richardson (334-5) envision different histories for the Republican Rostra. Richardson argues, especially on the evidence of Asconius, for a speaker's platform between the Senate House and Comitia pre-dating the one (the fi rst to be called the “Rostra”) that faced the Forum at the southern end of the Comitium. Coarelli acknowledges only the latter, explaining Asconius by reference to the enlarged Senate House of Sulla, which Coarelli envisions as expanding south and encroaching over half the Comitia. The wording of Diodorus's passage [29.1] supports Richardson's arrangement.

The Imperial Rostra

30. The Imperial Rostra. Sources.


When Caesar was appointed dictator for the fifth time [in 44 BC], … the Rostra was moved from the middle of the Forum back to the position it now occupies [c. AD 220], and statues of Sulla and Pompey were restored to it. Caesar received praise for this, as well as for allowing Antony to take the credit in the inscription on the Rostra.

Dio, History 43.49.1


[Shortly before his assassination, Caesar and Mark Antony contrived the following test of public opinion during the festival of the Lupercalia.] Dressed in triumphal attire, Caesar observed the Lupercalia festival from a golden chair placed upon the Rostra. When Antony, who was consul at the time and accordingly one of the runners in the Lupercal rites, raced into the Forum, the crowd gave way as he approached Caesar to offer him a golden crown entwined with laurel. There was some applause, but it was more scattered and contrived than enthusiastic. As Caesar pushed the crown away, however, the entire crowd burst into applause. Antony offered it once more with the same result: offered, it drew faint clapping; rejected, loud applause. Seeing that their experiment had failed, Caesar stood and ordered that the crown be carried up to the Capitoline.

Plutarch, Caesar 61.3-4


Seeing that Cicero clung to the cause of liberty, Octavian no longer allied himself with him, and approached Antony through some friends to settle their differences. So the three of them—Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus—met on an small island in the middle of a river and spent three days in close conference. They agreed on most matters quite easily, quickly dividing up the entire empire as if divvying up ancestral property, but the issue of which men to put to death was a major source of contention. At first the desire of each man both to kill his enemies and save his relations led to conflicts between them, but in the end their anger against those they hated won out over concern for family and friends, and Octavian let Antony have Cicero.… When the three of them reached an agreement, three hundred men were marked for death, and killed. After Cicero was murdered, Antony ordered his head to be cut off, along with the right hand—the one guilty of writing those speeches [the Philippics] against him.

When the head and hands of Cicero were brought to Rome … Antony ordered them to be fastened over the ships' beaks on the Rostra. It was a sight that caused the Romans to shudder, thinking that what they saw was not so much the face of Cicero as the image of Antony's soul.

Plutarch, Antony 19-20; Cicero 49


For Augustus's funeral, a couch of ivory and gold was constructed, decorated with purple coverings embroidered in gold, while a coffin-like compartment below this concealed his body. In full view on the couch, however, was a wax effigy of the late emperor in triumphal garb.… Following in procession behind the bier came the images of his ancestors (excepting Julius Caesar, who had been enrolled in the ranks of the demigods) and images of Romans who had distinguished themselves over the centuries, beginning with Romulus himself.… The couch was then laid for display on the Rostra of the orators, where Drusus delivered the family's eulogy for Caesar; from the other Rostra (called the Julian Rostra), Augustus's successor Tiberius delivered the public eulogy.

Dio, History 56.34.1-4


Notes: 30.4 The Rostra of the orators is the Augustan Rostra; the Julian Rostra is another one extending out from the front of the Temple of Julius Caesar.

Temple of Concord

31. Temple of Concord. Commentary.

The Temple of Concord is not the earliest of the large temples in the Forum, but it is the closest to the Senate and Assembly area not only in distance (it sits nearby, slightly higher on the lower Capitoline slope), but in political significance, having been vowed and dedicated in political struggles between the Senate and the People. Even after Tiberius rebuilt it and emphasized the imperial family's role in establishing harmony and peace in the state, the building continued to be used to signify critical moments in the safety of the state. The Senate often met in its cella, which, after Tiberius's rebuilding, was quite large and unusually oriented with respect to the porch. It was magnificently decorated, as can be judged both by the remains of the entablature on display in the gallery of the Tabularium (accessible through the Capitoline museums), and by the sources (represented by the sampling from Pliny, 31.5), which locate enough works of art in the Temple of Concordia to make it resemble, even more than most temples, an art museum.

Though vowed in 367 BC, it seems that the Temple of Concord was not built until 131 BC.

31. Temple of Concord. Sources.


[While Camillus held the post of dictator, conflict arose between the Plebs and the Senate in 367 BC when the former group agitated for the creation of a plebeian consulship. Emotions on both sides grew heated, leading to a near-riot in the Forum.] Not sure what to do in this crisis, Camillus did not renounce his dictatorship but gathered the senators together and proceeded to the Senate House. Before going in, however, he turned to the Capitoline and prayed, calling on the gods to steer the present events toward some happy conclusion and vowing to build a temple to Concord if the conflict subsided.

Inside, the Senate hotly debated the issue, but the moderates prevailed and they conceded to the Plebs the right to elect one of the two consuls from their own number. When the dictator went out and announced this as the will of the Senate, the people expressed their approval immediately, as might be expected, happy to be reconciled with the Senate, and they escorted Camillus home to cheering and applause.

On the next day the people met in assembly and voted to build the Temple to Concord that Camillus had vowed, oriented to face the Forum and the Comitium.

Plutarch, Camillus 42.2-4


[After his supporters in Rome grew increasingly violent, Gaius Gracchus, a populist reformer, was killed along with thousands of his followers in 121 BC after Opimius, the consul, gave orders to suppress the populist faction.] What angered the people more than anything else, however, was the building of the Temple of Concord by Opimius; it seemed that he was glorifying himself and taking pride in murdering so many citizens, almost as if he were celebrating a triumph. As a result, under the temple's inscription, some people inscribed the line: “The Temple of Concord, built by Discord.”

Plutarch, Gaius Gracchus 17.6


[Calendar entry for January 16:]

Radiant goddess, today you moved to your snow-white temple

Where lofty Juno lifts her steps high up the hill.

Here you can oversee, Concordia, the Latin crowds

Now that sacred hands have performed your dedication.

Camillus, famed for his Etruscan conquests, vowed

The original temple, and carried out the vow he'd sworn

When the People revolted and took up arms against the Senate

And Rome had cause to fear the force of its own aggression.

The recent temple's cause is better; the Germans bowed

Their shaggy heads beneath your rule, Tiberius,

And with the booty of this conquest that earned you a triumph

You built a temple to honor a goddess special to you.

Ovid, Fasti 1.637-648


[After Sejanus, Tiberius's trusted vice-regent and commander of the Praetorian Guards, was suspected of treason and arrested] he was thrown into the Prison. [AD 31] Later that same day, however, the Senate, after seeing that the people also hated Sejanus and that his Praetorian Guards were nowhere in sight, gathered in the Temple of Concord and condemned him to death.

Dio, History 58.11.4


Baton made the statues of Apollo and Juno that are in the Temple of Concord.… A painting of Marsyas Bound is likewise there, … as are four elephants carved out of solid obsidian, which Augustus himself dedicated as objects of wonder.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 34.73, 35.66, 36.196

Mundus (“The Vault”)

32. Mundus (“The Vault”). Commentary.

Sources refer to three monuments in the upper Forum (Capitoline side) that commemorated in one way or another the center of Rome, whether conceived as a community or as a geographical center of the empire: the Mundus, the Milliarium Aureum (“The Golden Milestone”), and the Umbilicus Romae (“The Navel of Rome”). The disputes over whether all three actually existed and over their remains are discussed in the Notes below. Traditionally, the Umbilicus has been identified as the round brick ruin about 3 m. tall between the Rostra and the Arch of Severus, and the Golden Milestone is located by a pile of cut stones in front of the Temple of Saturn.

32. Mundus (“The Vault”). Sources.


When founding Rome, Romulus summoned men from Etruria who guided him in all matters in accordance with their sacred customs and writings, teaching him these things as religious rites. A trench was dug around the Comitium in the form of a circle, and the first fruits of everything, whether deemed good by custom or necessary by nature, were deposited in this trench. Finally, all of the newcomers, having carried a small portion of their home soil with them, cast it over the first fruits, mixing the soils together. The Romans call this trench the Mundus, the same word they use for the heavens.

Plutarch, Romulus 11


The Mundus that is said to be Ceres' is customarily opened three days in the year: on August 24, October 5, and November 8.

Festus 126L


When the Mundus is opened, it is as if the door to the grim gods below were opened.

Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.16.18


The Mundus gets its name from that heavenly vault [mundus] which is above us, for its form is similar, as I have learned from those who have entered it. Our ancestors determined that the lower part of the Mundus, being consecrated to the Spirits of the Dead, must be closed at all times except for those days mentioned above.

Cato (in Festus 144L)

The Golden Milestone (Milliarium Aureum)

33. The Golden Milestone (Milliarium Aureum). Sources.


Augustus, when appointed Commissioner of Roads [in 20 BC], set up the monument called the Golden Milestone.

Dio, History 54.8.4


If you measured the sum total of the distance from the mile-post that stands at the head of the Roman Forum to each of the city gates [and then to the limit of Rome's buildings, you would begin to get an idea of how big Rome is].

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 3.66


Otho, preparing his coup against the Emperor Galba [in AD 69], told his confederates to wait for him in the Forum at the Golden Milestone by the Temple of Saturn, and went up to the Palace in the morning to greet Galba.

Suetonius, Otho 6.2


Otho descended through the Palace of Tiberius into the Forum and approached the golden pillar erected where all the roads that cut across Italy terminate.

Plutarch, Galba 24.4

The Navel of Rome (Umbilicus Romae)

34. The Navel of Rome (Umbilicus Romae). Sources.


Notitia, Sites in Region VIII:

The Roman Forum (sometimes called the “Great” Forum), contains the following:

… the Temple of Concord;

the Umbilicus of Rome;

the Temple of Saturn;

the Temple of Vespasian and Titus;

the Capitolium;

the Golden Milestone,

the Basilica Julia;

the Temple of the Castors …


Notes: The existence in ancient Rome of three sites—the Mundus, Milestone, and Umbilicus—all dedicated to a ritualistic centering of the community and all located at the head of the Forum, seems redundant, and there is some confusion over the identity, terminology, and location of these three sites. The trouble begins with Plutarch's description of the Mundus as the trench drawn around the Comitium; he calls the Mundus the center of the wider boundary ploughed around the city by Romulus, whereas other accounts of the Romulean foundation place the Palatine Hill at its center, and do not even include the Comitium area of the Forum as part of Romulean Rome. Perhaps some anachronisms are at play in Plutarch's account. Richardson, moreover, believes that Festus and Macrobius [32.2-32.4] all refer to another Mundus, separate from the one described by Plutarch and dedicated to the spirits of the underworld, perhaps related in form and origin to archaic underground granaries on the Palatine. Coarelli (in LTUR 3.288-9), again favoring the organic whole (as with his location of the Tarpeian Cliffs), considers not only that the sources refer to one Mundus, but that this unified Mundus can be further identified with the Umbilicus Romae. Richardson addresses the redundancy by equating the Umbilicus and the Milestone (discounting the division of the two terms in the Notitia).

That a ceremonial milestone, decorated in some way with gold and therefore often called the Golden Milestone, stood at the head of the Forum near the Temple of Saturn, and that Augustus first set this up, seems fairly certain from the sources. Whether this monument was the same as the Umbilicus Urbis (“Navel of the City”) or existed separately nearby is disputed. There is no evidence that either such monument recorded distances to other cities.

The first reference to an Umbilicus Urbis is found in the Notitia [c. AD 300] as part of a list which places it after the Temple of Concord and before the Temple of Saturn. This list also contains a reference to the Milliarium Aureum as a separate item. There are three mentions of the Umbilicus in the Einsiedeln Itinerary for pilgrims [c. AD 800] that place it in the same area. None of the sources tells us anything about the monument, except that it was selected for the list and therefore considered more worthy of mention than many other monuments.

One thing that does emerge from the references to the Mundus, the Milestone, and the Umbilicus is the importance for the Romans of a symbolic center of the city, its center considered not as a talismanic or essential power (the Capitoline temple and the Temple of Vesta rather embody that) but as an earthbound geographical center, perhaps of a small agrarian community at first (Plutarch's Mundus), and then of an urban empire with distant reaches measured out in every direction by milestones on the major roads.

The notion of a Mundus, however hazy its nature and despite the lack of physical remains, has had a life of its own and appears—creatively interpreted as a global fountain and basin—in newly founded towns of Fascist Italy such as Littoria near Rome, where it was placed at the crossing of the two chief roads in the city center. The Foro Italico in Rome has another such Mundus fountain across the plaza from Mussolini's obelisk.

Temple of Saturn

35. Temple of Saturn. Commentary.

The worship of Saturn played an important part in both the mythology and calendar of Rome. His origins, which go further back than Livy's comment might suggest, are obscure, although very early his divine powers and domain included liberation. Later he became identified with the Greek god Kronos (since Dionysus, the wilder god of liberation in the Greek pantheon, was not an option for the Forum), and was subsequently styled in myth as the deity who was ousted from the gods' throne by Jupiter and ruled for a time over an agrarian Golden Age Italy, before Jupiter went on to occupy the Capitoline as well. His worship thus allowed the Romans to honor a simpler past even as they extended Jupiter's iron dominion in every direction, and his connection with myths of the Golden Age provided the poets the means to explore complex attitudes towards urban society and Roman rule.

The sources included below on the Saturnalia, the festival in honor of Saturn, fills out Saturn's role as a god of liberation. Held on December 17 and eventually lasting several days, it was a time in which the strict hierarchical social world of Rome was held in abeyance, or in many cases inverted. This inversion was symbolically represented in a ceremony on that day that apparently unwrapped the woolen bonds kept around the cult statue of Saturn for the rest of the year. Statius's description of the Saturnalia (an excerpt of a longer poem praising an especially lavish Saturnalia in Rome put on by the Emperor Domitian) indicates some of the terms of the inversion, in a Mardi Gras-like atmosphere [35.9]. Horace simply invites his slave to speak what is on his mind [35.10].

In light of this Saturnian spirit, it may seem odd that his temple was also the site of the public treasury of the Roman Republic. Macrobius offers two attractive explanations for this; perhaps the temple's solid vault within a large podium also had something to do with it.

The gloomy remains of the Temple of Saturn are from a late C4 restoration, perhaps carried out as part of the final spirited resistance mounted by pagan Senators to the advance of regulations favoring Christianity in these years. The restoration is second-rate, and involved the reuse of damaged components from various ages.

35. Temple of Saturn. Sources.


Sources have it that the Capitoline Hill was originally called Mt. Saturnius, and from this Latium got the name “Land of Saturn,” as the poet Ennius in fact calls it. It is also written that an ancient town named Saturnia once existed on this hill.

Varro, The Latin Language 5.42


When Sempronius and Minucius were consuls [in 497 BC], the Temple of Saturn was dedicated and the festival day of the Saturnalia [on December 17th] was established.

Livy, History 2.21.2


The founders of the Temple of Saturn wanted the building to be Rome's treasury as well, because it was said that under the reign of Saturn no robberies took place within Italy's borders, or because under his rule private property did not exist. “It was forbidden to own the earth and to divide up fields with borders; everyone strove for the common good,” as Virgil describes that time [in Georgics 1.126-7]. Therefore, the public funds of the people were lodged in the temple of the god under whose rule the wealth of the community was held in common.… Apollodorus says that the statue of Saturn is bound in wool fetters throughout the year, and is freed of them only on the day of the festival in his honor.

Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.8.3-5


[Caesar's men advanced on the Temple of Saturn.]

The tribune protecting the Treasury was thrown aside,

And the building was opened; the Tarpeian Cliff

Echoed the great groan of the doors swung back.

With that, the wealth of the Roman people vanished,

A treasure amassed since the temple's founding—

Booty from the Punic Wars, from Philip in defeat,

Whatever our frugal ancestors saved

And the rich lands of the East sent in tribute.

Grim the spoils that come from a Roman temple.

Then for the first time was Rome poorer than a Caesar.

Lucan, The Civil War 3.153-8; 161-2; 167-8


Julius Caesar, entering Rome for the first time after the beginning of his civil war, took from the Treasury 15,000 gold ingots, 30,000 silver ingots, and 30,000,000 sesterces in coin.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 33.56


Old olive-oil is considered useful in preventing ivory from rotting: at any rate, the statue of Saturn in Rome is filled inside with the oil.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 15.32


Munatius Plancus rebuilt the Temple of Saturn [in 42 BC] using the spoils of the war [against alpine Raetia].

ILS 886 = CIL 10.6087


[Inscription on the pediment of the Temple of Saturn from late C4 AD]


The Senate and People of Rome restored this temple after it was destroyed by fire.

ILS 3326 = CIL 6.937


Father Apollo and stern Minerva:

Take holiday with the polished Muses:

We will call you all back on the first of the year.

Now Saturn, slip your shackles and reign

With drunken December, insolent Wit

And the smiling god of Mockery.

Let Jupiter wrap the world in cloud

And threaten to flood the fields

With winter rain, so long as Saturn

Showers us with abundant gifts.

Today one table feasts us all

In common, mixing young and old,

Men and women, high and low:

Here Liberty puts Rank in its place.

Statius, Occasional Poems 1.6.1-7; 25-7; 43-45


[Horace to his slave:]

Come now, speak up!

Take advantage of the freedoms December allows,

As our ancestors intended.

Horace, Satires 2.7.4-5

The Temple of Castor and Pollux

36. The Temple of Castor and Pollux. Commentary.

As its three landmark columns testify, the Temple of Castor was one of the most imposing monuments in the Forum, looming over it on a large podium that was itself twenty feet tall. Built shortly after Rome became a Republic, the temple's origins reflects a spreading of the Dioscuri cult up the Italian peninsula (a cult in which the semidivine twins were worshipped as sudden saviors of men in peril, as befits their epiphany at Lake Regillus). It also reflects Rome's increasing dominance among other Latin communities in the Roman Campagna. The battle against the Latin coalition at Lake Regillus (near Frascati, but now dried up) in 496 BC was an important stage in the expansion of Rome's control. Since the Dioscuri are often associated with horses, it is natural that in Rome their cult at this temple became especially associated with the Equites, the cavalry-class of Roman citizens.

The podium (long spoiled of its cut-stone walls) provided not only the foundation for the temple architecture, but formed a large raised platform out in front of the columns, ascended originally by stairs on each side rather than in the front. This platform fronting the Forum provided another speaker's rostra and increased the space available for meetings of Senate and juries. In addition, the podium below was divided into numerous chambers for various activities and offices, especially those needing the protection of its thick walls. Some of the chambers served as money vaults, regarded as more secure than the Temple of Mars the Avenger, according to Juvenal [36.11]. Here too were kept the weights that formed the standard not only for the intense trading and banking business of the Roman Forum, but as the central standard for the weights of other cities as well; the inscriptions below were found on a set of weights in Aquileia.

Both the written and the archaeological record testify to the major restorations of the temple. Even the work under Verres may not have been as insignificant as Cicero's hostile speech suggests, since there are signs that the building was subject to settling in this low area near springs. The standing columns in Luna marble are from the rebuilding by Tiberius, perhaps hoping to style himself and his late brother Drusus (both of them victorious in border-wars) as imperial brothers with a divine ancestry (Ovid's “two brothers” in 36.8), analogous to the Dioscuri.

36. The Temple of Castor and Pollux. Sources.


[After turning the tide of battle against the Latins, the Roman army was victorious.] During this battle, it is said, two horsemen appeared to the Roman commander Postumius and the men fighting around him. In beauty and size far outstripping the mortal norm and just beginning to grow a beard, the two led a charge of the Roman cavalry. Using their spears, they drove all the Latins they met into flight.

After the Latins retreated and the Romans sacked their camp (which occurred in the late afternoon), they say that there appeared in the Roman Forum, at just about the same time, two young men, striking in their size and beauty and likewise in early manhood, dressed in battle gear and with the look of battle still fresh in their faces, leading horses that were drenched in sweat. After they watered and washed down their horses at the spring which wells up into a small but deep pool next to the Temple of Vesta, they told the crowd, which had gathered around them and were eager for news of the battle, how the battle had gone and that the Romans had won. Then the two left the Forum and were not seen again, despite an intensive search by the official left in charge of the city. The next day, when the officials in town received letters from the field describing the battle and in particular the epiphany of the heavenly spirits, they concluded that they had seen a vision of the same gods at the spring, identifying them (as seems reasonable) as apparitions of the Dioscuri twins, Castor and Pollux.

There are many memorials in Rome to this strange and marvelous epiphany. They include the Temple to Castor and Pollux that the city built in the Roman Forum on the site where the apparitions appeared, and the fountain next to it likewise named after the two deities and considered sacred to this day … . But the most spectacular observance occurs after the sacrifice at this temple, when all those who own a horse for military service ride in procession, grouped in rows by tribe and century … . The horsemen, as many as five thousand of them, ride through the Forum and past the Temple of Castor and Pollux, wearing whatever insignia their commanders have awarded them for bravery in battle. This parade is a stunning expression of the power of Roman rule.

Dionysius, Early Rome 6.13.1-4


[In 499 BC the Roman army at Lake Regillus began to bend the battle line of the Latins.] Then the dictator Postumius, neglecting neither divine nor human help, is said to have vowed a temple to Castor … .

Livy, History 2.20.12


The Temple of Castor was dedicated on July 15, in the consulship of C. Fabius and L. Aemilius [in 484 BC]. The temple had been vowed during the Latin War by Postumius when he was serving as dictator, but his son dedicated it after he was appointed to a Board of Two to see to the temple's completion [after his father's death].

Livy, History 2.42.5


[When Verres, one of the most corrupt politicians ever produced by Rome, was praetor,] he wanted the Temple of Castor and Pollux to be the most famous memorial of his corruption, something we would not just hear about occasionally but be able to see on a daily basis. He asked who was responsible for turning over the Temple of Castor in a state of good repair, and learned that it was the son of the late Junius, who was still a minor. He was also told that the statuary and gifts to the temple were all accounted for, and that the temple itself was in fine condition all around. For someone such as Verres, it seemed a shame if such a large and magnificent temple should go unused to make himself richer, especially at the expense of a minor.

So Verres personally goes to inspect the temple. He sees that the ceiling is beautifully paneled everywhere and that everything else was maintained in good order. Verres turns and asks one of the dogs in his pack of followers what he could possibly do with the place, and is told: “Verres, there's nothing here for you to work on, unless you want to put the columns on the perpendicular.” “'On the perpendicular?'” this most incompetent of humans asks; “What does that mean?” They tell him that no column can be set exactly on the perpendicular. “By Hercules, that's what we'll do then: these columns must be realigned on the perpendicular!”

All those columns that we see there, freshly whitened, were taken down with a scaffold-prop in their place, and then put back up using the very same stone as before. For this work, Verres, you accepted a bid of 560,000 sesterces. Furthermore, your contractor never even touched some of the columns, but simply scraped and re-coated them!

Cicero, Against Verres 1.130-133, 145


Metellus rebuilt the Temple of Castor and Pollux [in 117 BC]

Asconius, on Cicero's Scaurus 24


It came about that Caesar alone got credit for the works he and Bibulus financed together as aediles [in 65 BC]. Bibulus in fact stated openly that he suffered the same fate as Pollux: just as the temple in the Forum was built in honor of both of the twins but called simply the Temple of Castor, so were his and Caesar's good works called by Caesar's name alone.

Suetonius, Julius Caesar 10.1


With spoils [from the war in Germany] Tiberius rebuilt the Temple of Concord as well as the Temple of Castor and Pollux, and dedicated them in his own and his late brother Drusus's name [in AD 6].

Suetonius, Tiberius 20


January the twenty-seventh is the dedication date

Of the temple built in honor of Leda's immortal twins:

Close by the Pond of Juturna two brothers built this temple,

Brothers from a house divine in honor of brothers divine.

Ovid, Fasti 1.705-8


Up until now I have been discussing Caligula [AD 37-41] in his capacity as an emperor; we must now consider him in his capacity as a monster.…

Eventually Caligula began to claim for himself a divine majesty; … He extended a part of the Palatine palace all the way out to the Forum, transforming the Temple of Castor and Pollux into an entrance hall for the Palace. There in the temple he would often take his seat between the twin gods, presenting himself for worship to those who approached.

Suetonius, Caligula 22.1-2


Caligula went so far as to divide in two the Temple of the Dioscuri in the Roman Forum, making a passageway to the Palatine that went right between the two cult statues. As a result, he was fond of saying that he regarded the Dioscuri as his gate-keepers.

Dio, History 59.28.5


[I could show you entertainment superior to any stage]

If you could watch the mortal dangers people risked

To increase their holdings, stuff metal safes with money,

And put more cash under Castor's watchful eye

(preferred to Mars the Avenger's since he lost his own helmet

And couldn't keep the thieves away from the deposits in his care).

Juvenal, Satires 14.258-62


[Inscriptions found on a set of weights in Milan (ancient Aquileia); each is a bronze circular vessel, shaped such that the smaller size fits inside the larger.]

Weighed to the 10 lb. standard at the Temple of Castor

Weighed to the 5 lb. standard at the Temple of Castor

Weighed to the 3 lb. standard at the Temple of Castor

Weighed to the 2 lb. standard at the Temple of Castor

Weighed to the 1 lb. standard at the Temple of Castor

Weighed to the 6 oz. standard at the Temple of Castor

Weighed to the 4 oz. standard at the Temple of Castor

Weighed to the 3 oz. standard at the Temple of Castor

ILS 8636 = CIL 5.8119.4

The Spring and Pool of Juturna

37. The Spring and Pool of Juturna. Commentary.

The spring (fons) and pool (lacus) of Juturna (a water-nymph with a varied mythological background) are further urbanized links to Rome's marshy past, and are indications of the Roman reverence for pure spring water, which surfaced (now below ground level) beside the Temple of Castor at the base of the Palatine. The compact area between this temple and the Temple of Vesta was a water-center of sorts, including at least one shrine to Juturna, represented now by the attractive little late third century AD restoration with the inscription to Juturna on its architrave [37.1]. Immediately in front of this shrine there is a little altar found nearby, and there are the remains of a marble well-head overtop a well to the springs. This spring is not to be confused with the larger pool, the Lacus Juturnae, closer to the Forum and oriented to the Temple of Castor, to which it was connected by the legend of the battle at Lake Regillus. It is not clear just how the curative powers of Juturna were effected: by drinking her pure spring water, or by immersion in the basin built around the pool?

A further topographical puzzle is represented by Lollianus's inscription [37.4], found nearby on the base of a statue to the emperor Constantine. This inscription, with several others also found nearby, have led most topographers to conclude that the water administration in Rome moved its headquarters (the statio aquarum) here from the Campus Martius in or before AD 328, and was housed in the brick-faced buildings behind the pool of Juturna. Others find grounds for doubt, disputing among other things that statio refers to a central office.

37. The Spring and Pool of Juturna. Sources.


[Inscription at shrine] JUTURNA[i] S[acrum]


The water-nymph Juturna got her name because she helps (juvaret) people. On account of this reputation, many sick people seek water from her spring.

Varro, Latin Language 5.71


For 441 years after the Founding of the City [until 312 BC] the Romans were content to use the water they might draw from the Tiber, from wells, or from springs. The reverence for old springs exists to this day, since they are believed to restore health to ailing bodies, such as the springs of the Camenae … and of Juturna.

Frontinus, Aqueducts 4


“To the Emperor Constantine … Lollianus, Secretary of Water and Grain, dedicates this statue with the headquarters [in AD 328].

ILS 8943 = CIL 6.36951


Note: The debate over the existence and location of the water department's headquarters, which hinges in part on the translation of Lollianus's inscription [37.4], is laid out in detail (and in English) by P. Burgers under 'statio Aquarum' in LTUR 4.346-9).

Overview of Forum Basilicas

38. Overview of Forum Basilicas. Commentary.

Each of the long sides of the Roman Forum came to be dominated by the long colonnaded structure of a basilica: the Basilica Aemelia (= Basilica Paulli) on the east side, between the Temple of Antoninus and the Senate House, and the Basilica Julia, between the Temple of Castor and Pollux and the Temple of Saturn. Little remains of the magnificent structures of these basilicas, both of them famous for the beauty of their materials and decoration, but their ground plans and some of the stone that remains give a good indication of their size and some idea of their splendor. The literary sources refer as well to several earlier basilicas that occupied these and other spaces in the republican Forum, including an unnamed basilica (later replaced by the Basilica of Aemelia and Fulvia), Cato's Basilica Porcia in 184 BC, and the Basilica of Aemelia and Fulvia in 179 BC.

The origin of the Roman basilica has been variously traced back to Greek stoas (covered colonnades) and Hellenistic audience halls. The word itself is Greek and means “royal,” but the form came into its own in Roman towns, where it became the main center of business (especially banking transactions) as well as the venue for certain types of trials, such as the one Pliny describes. The open floor plan allowed for audiences of shifting sizes, depending on the notoriety of the case and the fame of the speakers, who had to compete not only against opposing lawyers but against the orators of other trials being held simultaneously.

The distinguishing architectural features of the Roman basilica were a multitude of columns supporting a truss roof, and a floor plan that includes a central aisle, or nave, flanked on each long side by a narrower aisle, sometimes double. Not only was the interior space an open design, due to the columns rather than walls as load bearers, but in many instances several sides of the whole building were open to the outdoors as well (in which case the structure was like an elaborately roofed pavilion without walls). A clerestory (a central story, or upper part of the nave, that rises into the clear above the roofs of the side aisles, allowing for windows down the length of the nave walls where they rise above the aisles) was not uncommon, and there was frequently a raised platform, the tribunal, where an official might preside over trials.

Starting with Constantine, when the Church acquired the liberty and wealth to construct large and prominent worship halls, the term basilica was applied to churches, for which the basilica architecture, with its capacious, open design was more suitable than the Roman temple, which was architecturally polluted by its pagan associations and was at any rate designed to house a deity in its most enclosed section, not to hold a congregation under roof (pagan assembly taking place around the sacrificial altar in front of the temple, in open air). Even the tribunal seat of the basilica was reconfigured as the seat of the bishop. That the church basilica was typically entered under a colonnade at its short side (a narthex) and had solid walls rather than columns for its outer perimeter, also had precedents in earlier basilica architecture (Vitruvius's “Chalcidian” vestibule, for example1), especially in its modifications as an audience hall for the emperor.

38. Overview of Forum Basilicas. Sources.


The basilicas ought to be placed in the warmest part of forums so that the businessmen can meet for business there throughout the winter without being disturbed by bad weather. The width of a basilica should be no less than a third and no more than a half of its length, unless difficulties of the site demand some other proportion. If the site does require a length of greater proportion than twice the width, put vestibules [chalcidica] at the ends, as at the Basilica of Julia Aquiliana.

Vitruvius, Architecture 5.1.4


My speech [c. 100 AD], which was in defense of one Attia Viriola, was remarkable for the rank of the woman, the rarity of the case, and the number of jurors. This woman, of noble parentage and married to a praetorian senator, was disinherited by her octogenarian father eleven days after the lovesick old man married and brought my client's new stepmother home. Her suit to regain her patrimony was being tried before a quadruple panel: all 180 jurors from the four courts combined. There was a host of lawyers on each side, benches filled with supporters, and a ring of standing spectators several rows deep around the entire court. Add to this crowd the jurors packed together up on the tribunal and still more spectators, women as well as men, leaning from the balconies above in their eagerness to see the proceedings (easily done) and hear (almost impossible).

The outcome of the trial was awaited with great suspense by fathers and daughters, not to mention stepmothers.… The stepmother, who was herself in line to get one sixth of the estate, lost.

Pliny the Younger, Letters 6.33.2-4, 6

Early Basilicas

39. Early Basilicas. Sources.


At this time [in 210 BC] the seven shops (which were later the five) and the bankers' offices that are now called the “the New Shops” [Tabernae Novae] burned down; next to catch fire (since at that time there were no basilicas) were the private houses, and then the quarter of the Quarries [Lautumiae], the Fish Forum [Forum Piscatorium], and the Hall of Kings [Atrium Regium].

Livy, History 26.27.2-3


Marcus Porcius Cato was the first to build a basilica named after its builder.

Illustrious Romans 47.5


[In 184 BC] Cato bought up two halls (the Maenius and the Titius, in the area of the Lautumnian quarries) and four shops, and, after donating the land to the state, built in their place the basilica which is called the Porcia.

Livy, History 39.44.7


[In 179 BC] an election was held for the censors. Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (who was also the Pontifex Maximus) and Marcus Fulvius Nobilior were elected—both men of noble families but bitter opponents of each other.… [Although both men undertook building projects in Rome,] Marcus Fulvius's projects were more numerous and of greater use. They included…the basilica behind the New Shops of the bankers, and the Fish Forum, which he surrounded with shops that he sold to private owners.

Livy, History 40.45. 6-7; 51.5

Basilica Aemilia (Basilica Paulli)

40. Basilica Aemilia (Basilica Paulli). Sources.


Among Rome's marvels, how could we not mention the Basilica of Paullus and its columns of Phrygian marble, one of the most beautiful works that the world has ever seen?

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 36.102


[While in Gaul, Caesar worked tirelessly to build support in Rome to counter those working against him in the city.] In the year after his enemy Marcellus was consul, Caesar put large quantities of the wealth he acquired in Gaul at the disposal of those engaged in public affairs in Rome, … including 1,500 talents to the consul Lucius Aemilius] Paullus, who used it to build his famous basilica in his family's honor, in the Forum where the Basilica of Fulvius used to be.

Plutarch, Caesar 29.3


Cicero sends greetings to Atticus: [54 BC]

Paullus has almost roofed over the basilica in the middle of the Forum, reusing the columns from the older one. The other basilica, however, the one that he has contracted out, he builds in magnificent style. In truth, no other monument equals it for popularity and prestige.

Cicero, Letters to Atticus 4.16.8


Aemilius Lepidus Paullus finished the Basilica [stoa] of Paullus, as it is called, out of his own funds, and dedicated it in the year he was consul [in 34 BC].

Dio, History 49.42.2


The Basilica of Paullus burned down [in 14 BC] …. It was rebuilt in Aemilius's name (a descendant of the man who had built the earlier one), but in truth the work was carried out by Augustus and the friends of Paullus.

Dio, History 54.24.1-3


At this time [in AD 22] Lepidus [probably a grandson of the L. Aemilius Paullus in Cicero's letter] sought permission from the Senate to restore and embellish with his own funds the Basilica of Paullus, the Aemilian family's public monument.… Though of modest fortune, Lepidus carried out this restoration of his family's honor.

Tacitus, Annals 3.72

Porticus of Gaius and Lucius

41. Porticus of Gaius and Lucius. Sources.


Augustus also constructed buildings in the name of others, including his grandsons, his wife, and his sister, such as the portico and the basilica of his grandsons Gaius and Lucius.

Suetonius, Augustus 29.4


To Lucius Caesar, son of Augustus, grandson of the deified [Julius Caesar], Prince of the Youth, Consul Designate at the age of 14, Augur. Dedicated by the Senate [in 3 BC].

CIL 6.36908

Basilica Julia

42. Basilica Julia. Sources.


I completed two works that Caesar had begun and nearly finished: the Forum of Caesar and the basilica located between the Temple of Castor and the Temple of Saturn. When this basilica burned down, I began its reconstruction after enlarging its site, now giving it the names of my sons, Gaius and Lucius.

Augustus, Achievements 20


The Basilica [Stoa] Julia, as it is called, was built in honor of Gaius and Lucius Caesar and dedicated at this time [in AD12].

Dio, History 56.27.5


In our own days [c. AD 80] the orator Trachalus seemed to tower above his contemporaries, possessing an imposing physique, intense eyes, a commanding brow, and highly expressive gestures. His voice, moreover, rather than equaling a tragic actor's, as Cicero desired, surpassed any actor's that I have ever heard. In fact, Trachalus was speaking once in the Basilica Julia before the court of the First Tribunal, when all four courts were in session at once, as is usual, and I remember that in spite of the crowd that had gathered and filled the whole building with noise, he could not only be heard and understood above the din, but to the chagrin of the other speakers he was even applauded by spectators of the other three trials.

Quintilian, Oratorical Training 12.5.5-6


For squandering fortunes in prodigality, the Emperor Caligula [AD 37-41] had no equal.… On one occasion he even went out on the roof of the Basilica Julia for several days running and scattered large sums in coins onto the commoners below.

Suetonius, Caligula 37.1


Notes: There are several puzzles that the sources raise over the identity and location of the various basilicas. First, Cicero's seeming reference [40.3] to two basilicas under construction by Paullus is confusing; is he referring to one location in which a simpler basilica was abandoned in favor of the more elaborate one (Richardson, 55), to the Basilica Julia, or to a third site (Steinby in LTUR 1.167)? Another confusion exists over the location and appearance of the Porticus of Gaius and Lucius, identified by many as the long portico of shops in front of the entire length of the Basilica Aemelia, and by others as a double monumental archway between this basilica and Temple of Julius Caesar. Shifting nomenclature does not help matters (e.g., the Basilica Julia was also called the Basilica of Gaius and Lucius, and the Greek word “stoa” can refer to both “basilica” and “porticus”).

On origins of the basilica and a topography of early basilicas in the Forum, see K. Welch, “A New View of the Origins of the Basilica.”

The Temple of the Divine Julius Caesar (Aedes Divi Julii)

43. The Temple of the Divine Julius Caesar (Aedes Divi Julii). Commentary.

The unsightly concrete core of the Temple of the Divine Julius Caesar contrasts with the vivid literary accounts of the dramatic events which determined the temple's location, as well as with the clear picture of the political implications of the site, which owes its origins both to a spontaneous outburst and calculated image-building.

In the confusion immediately following the assassination of Caesar in 44 BC, the Senators fled from the scene of the murder in Pompey's Theater [87.11]. The conspirators among them repaired to the security of the Capitoline Hill with an armed body of gladiators. On the following days, meetings of the Senate were held. In a compromise eventually fatal to the assassins, the Senate granted amnesty to the conspirators but also declared that Caesar's acts and decrees would have the force of law, and allowed the slain dictator a public funeral (and therefore all the elaborately staged drama and political interaction involved in such funerals). In the meantime, Brutus and Cassius had made various overtures to the people, including a visit to the Forum, where Brutus spoke without much effect. The funeral took place on March 20, with Mark Antony delivering the funeral oration. Ancient accounts of Antony's eulogy vary as to the length and emotional intensity of the speech, but they agree on its results. Although the cremation of Caesar had been scheduled to be carried out on a pyre in the Campus Martius, the crowd rioted and ended up cremating the corpse on the Forum-side of the Regia (the headquarters of the Pontifex Maximus, a post held by Caesar at the time of his death). Cicero, politically opposed to Caesar, harps in his passage on the wild, anarchic quality of his cremation, which apparently did not finish the job. Nevertheless, it was sufficient to sanctify the ground and subsequently, after the Caesarians won the day and Caesar was officially deified, to occasion a temple here.

Like the Temple of Castor nearby, the podium of Caesar's temple left ample room for a speaker's podium in front of the porch's foremost columns and level with their base. Still visible at the front of this rostra is a niche with the base of an altar, which was probably meant to designate the precise location of Caesar's cremation. Fortunately for Augustus, whose filial devotion to his now divine father was an important part of his political program, this spot was nicely aligned on an axis down the middle of the Forum, which intersected, in the middle of the opposite end, with Caesar's Rostra.

That a historical figure could be deified and worshipped with a temple and cult in the heart of the city was a momentous occasion in Roman history, even if the ancients worked with categories and gradations of divinity that have since atrophied under monotheisms (Caesar himself, after all, had just built a temple to Venus as his ancestor, and for over a century Roman generals active in the East were increasingly attracted to and experimenting with middle-eastern and Hellenistic practices of ruler-worship). The deification of emperors became standard practice; the sensible ones waited for death to receive this official and “political” honor, and it was not extended to reviled emperors such as Caligula, Nero, and Domitian. Augustus was careful, at least in Rome, to avoid living equation with a god. When he received a temple after his death, it was apparently located in the busy but relatively inconspicuous area behind the Basilica Julia, but its remains, if such exist, have not yet been identified.

43. The Temple of the Divine Julius Caesar (Aedes Divi Julii). Sources.


Caesar's last will was displayed to the people assembled in the Forum, and they demanded that it be read immediately. In the will Caesar declared Octavius, the grandson of Caesar's sister, to be his adopted son. He also bequeathed his private garden to the people, and gave 75 drachmas to every Roman citizen living in the city. This began to stir some anger in the crowd against the conspirators.…

Then Piso brought the corpse of Caesar into the Forum. A crowd swarmed around the body, giving it an armed escort to the Rostra with loud cries and a lavish procession.… Sensing the mood of the crowd, … Antony spoke as follows:

“Citizens, it would not be proper for me, a single individual, to deliver the eulogy for this great man; that is rather the duty of the entire country. I will therefore read to you all the decrees that the Senate and people, united in admiration, voted in praise of Caesar while he was alive, thereby giving voice not to Antony's sentiments, but to your own.”

With a sullen, gloomy expression on his face, Antony read aloud the decrees, giving special emphasis to those which voted Caesar into the ranks of gods by declaring him sacred and sacrosanct, or which pronounced him to be the father of his country, a great benefactor, a leader without equal. With each honor, Antony turned and gestured to the corpse.… Then he recited the oaths that the senators took to defend Caesar and his person with all their strength, and to avenge any conspiracy against him, or be damned.…

At the end of his speech, carried away by his emotions, Antony uncovered the body of Caesar and lifted the dead man's toga aloft, swaying it on the end of a spear so that all might see the gashes made by the daggers and the stains of the dictator's blood. Seeing this, the crowd keened like a chorus in a Greek tragedy, loudly joining Antony's expressions of grief. Once again, the emotion of lamentation aroused anger in them.…

While the crowd was in this state and on the edge of violence, someone raised a wax image of Caesar above the bier (the body itself, being supine on the bier, could not be seen). This image, which a mechanical device continuously rotated, showed each of the 23 stab wounds that had been savagely delivered to all parts of Caesar's body as well as his face. At the sight of this the crowd could no longer endure their grief.… [After rioting around the city against the conspirators] the people returned to the body of Caesar and carried it up the Capitoline to bury it in the Temple of Jupiter and place him among the gods. Forbidden to do this by the priest, they returned to the Forum with the body and placed it next to the Regia, the old palace of the kings. Then gathering benches and other pieces of wood that the Forum is filled with, along with anything else they could lay their hands on, they heaped it around him in a pile … and set it on fire. A great crowd stayed and watched it burn through the night.

The site of the pyre was first marked with an altar, but then the present temple was erected when Caesar was deemed worthy of divine honors. These were accorded him by Octavius, his son by adoption, who changed his name to Caesar and followed in his father's footsteps politically, greatly strengthening the rule which Julius Caesar founded and which continues to this day [c. AD 150]. Ever since this first divination, the Romans, who formerly could not tolerate that any living man should bear the title of king, continue to accord divine honors to each of the emperors upon his death, unless he has ruled in a cruel or tyrannical fashion.

Appian, Civil Wars 2.143-148


Mark Antony, you were the one who shamelessly presided over the funeral rites of Caesar—if you can call chaos a ritual. You delivered the eloquent funeral oration, the moving lament, you provided the incitement to riot: in a real sense, you lit the flames by which the great Caesar was half-burnt.

Cicero, Philippics 2.90-1


[The people] set up an altar at the site of the pyre after the remains of Caesar where taken up by his freedmen and deposited in the family tomb [probably the tomb of his daughter Julia, in the Campus Martius], but when some attempted to worship him as a god with animal sacrifice, the consuls overthrew the altar.

Dio, History 44.51.1


At the height of the public mourning, bands of foreigners had gathered, lamenting Caesar's death in their various fashions, none more so than the Jews, however, who assembled around his pyre the whole night through.… Afterwards the people erected a solid column of Numidian marble in the Forum nearly 20 feet high, with the inscription “To the Father of his Country.”

Suetonius, Julius Caesar 84.5, 85


When that limitless evil of affection for the late Caesar was snaking through the city and spreading daily, and the same people who had carried out that half-baked travesty of a cremation were now responsible for setting up a funeral altar in the Forum … the punishment inflicted against them by the consul Dolabella and his overturning of that vile column were so decisive that the change struck me as miraculous….

Cicero, Philippics 1.5


Among the honors the triumvirs gave the late Caesar, they laid the foundations [in 42 BC] for a shrine to him on the spot where he was cremated.

Dio, History 47.18.4


[After celebrating his triumph over Egypt and other lands,] Augustus dedicated the shrine to Julius Caesar and decorated it with numerous spoils of Egypt [in 29 BC].

Dio, History 51.22.3


I built the Temple of the Divine Julius … and from the spoils of war I consecrated precious gifts to the temple.

Augustus, Achievements 19, 21


[In 30 BC] the Romans decreed that the podium of the shrine of Julius should be decorated with the beaks of ships captured at Actium.

Dio, History 51.19.2


[To enumerate the penalties for damaging an aqueduct] I provide the text of the law: “The consul Titus Quintius Crispinus duly put the matter to vote before the people, and the people, assembled in the Forum in front of the rostra of the Temple of the Divine Julius, passed the law [in 9 BC]….”

Frontinus, Aqueducts 129


The only place in the world where a comet is worshipped is at a temple in Rome. The Divine Augustus judged the comet to be propitious to himself, since it appeared at the beginning of his rule during the games that he was putting on for Venus Genetrix…. Augustus declared his pleasure publicly: “During the very days of my games a comet appeared for seven days…. The people believed the comet signified that the spirit of Caesar had been received among the immortal gods; because of this, we added an emblem of this comet to the bust of Caesar that we consecrated in the Forum a short time later.”

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 2.93-94


[Jupiter consoles Venus after the death of Caesar:]

“Meanwhile make his soul, torn from his butchered body,

A radiance; then from his lofty temple he can gaze

Forever on my temple and the Forum, divine.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.840-42


It is not easy to say which of Apelles' paintings are his best. His painting of Venus emerging from the ocean (called Venus Anadyomene) was dedicated by the Divine Augustus to the temple of his father Caesar. This painting however decayed with age, and Nero replaced it with a painting by a different artist.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 35.915.9

The Temple of the Divine Vespasian

44. The Temple of the Divine Vespasian. Commentary.

As the down-to-earth emperor Vespasian was dying in AD 79, he was heard to quip, “Alas, I think I'm becoming a god” (Vae: puto dues fio). Indeed he was; Vespasian became the first emperor to attain divine status since Claudius a quarter-century earlier. After succeeding his father to the throne, Titus began construction on the temple during his short reign, and Domitian completed it before AD 90.

The Temple of Vespasian is almost on an axis across the forum square from the Temple of Julius Caesar, but is displaced off to the side by the presence of the Temple of Concord, and views of the structure would have been partially obscured from much of the square by the Temple of Saturn. From its high podium part way up the slope of the Capitoline, one could see two other Flavian structures built in the same years, the Arch of Titus on the crest of the ridge opposite, and the Colosseum towering behind it in the distance.

The two sources below provide grounds for a dispute over whether the temple was dedicated to Vespasian alone or to Titus as well. The architrave of the temple originally contained only the first line of the inscription in source 44.1 (if we can trust an eighth-century manuscript that records it; only the ESTITUER of the second line remains, referring to a restoration in the early C3 AD) and argues for a solo attribution, although some manuscripts of the Curiosum and other post-classical references pair Vespasian with Titus.

Three Corinthian columns of the temple, white Italian marble from the original structure, remain standing on the temple's degraded podium and support a section of the architrave containing relief carvings of sacrificial implements and priestly symbols. A reconstructed section of the entablature (a fine piece of architectural decoration that managed to avoid the lime-kilns) is on display in the halls of the Tabularium nearby.

The construction of this temple on the scarce forum real estate apparently usurped some of the land previously occupied by the building next to it towards the river. This is the Portico (or Temple) of the Dei Consentes (the “Harmonious Gods”), who represented the dozen chief deities of the Roman/Greek pantheon. Their cult arose, like the worship of the more exotic Magna Mater, during the crisis of the Second Punic War. Virgil's Aeneid may provide the key to the significance of the epithet “harmonious,” since it was divine disharmony and Juno's support of Carthage that caused so much suffering for the Trojans and later Romans. At any rate, a portico containing all their statues would have provided a visual boundary to this corner of the forum, especially before the Tabularium was built. The current ground plan contains remnants of a Flavian restoration required by the portico's reduction in size.

44. The Temple of the Divine Vespasian. Sources.



ILS 255 = CIL 6.938

The Senate and the People of Rome dedicate this temple to the Deified Emperor Vespasian. The Emperors Severus and Caracalla restored it.


Curiosum, Region VIII:

The Temple of Vespasian and Titus

Arch of Septimius Severus

45. Arch of Septimius Severus. Commentary.

The Arch of Septimius Severus, one of the best preserved structures in the Forum, was awarded by the Senate in AD 203 to commemorate the Parthian victories of the emperor Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta. The wars of this campaign, including the capture of Ctesiphon, the Parthian capital on the Tigris, are chronicled by the four massive relief panels above the side arches, and winged Victories blowing trumpets decorate the spandrels of the central archway. The Arch was the first major commission in the Forum since Hadrian's Temple to Venus and Rome eighty years earlier, and besides glorifying the Emperor's military deeds it staked Severus's claim to a dynasty with the prominent inclusion of the Emperor's sons, Caracalla and Geta, in the inscription.

One of the most interesting features of this monument is the obliteration of Geta's name from the inscription that fills the attic. Severus had first chosen Caracalla, his elder son, as heir to the throne but later named Geta to be a co-ruler with Caracalla. Upon his father's death in AD 211, Caracalla put an end to the long-standing feud between the two brothers by murdering Geta. He then subjected his brother's name to a damnatio memoriae, the “erasure of memory (or record),” involving the destruction of the person's statues and images, and the erasure of his name from inscriptions. Going back to republican times, the practice was also applied to emperors, including Domitian (hence the inclusion of Suetonius's passage on Domitian in this section, 45.3).

The “son of Marcus” as part of Severus's title and the name “Marcus Aurelius” as part of Caracalla's are the result of Severus's self-proclaimed “posthumous” adoption by the long-dead Marcus Aurelius.

45. Arch of Septimius Severus. Sources.



To the Imperator Caesar Lucius Septimius, son of Marcus, Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus [=Septimius Severus], father of his country, conqueror of the Parthians in Arabia and Assyria, Pontifex Maximus, with Tribunician powers 11 times, triumphing general 11 times, consul 3 times, and proconsul; and to the Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius, son of Lucius, Antoninus Augustus Pius Felix [=Caracalla], with tribunician powers 6 times, consul, proconsul, father of his country—**the best and bravest of princes**—on account of the republic restored and the empire of the Roman people increased by their outstanding virtues at home and abroad, the Senate and the Roman people dedicate this arch.

** This phrase was substituted for one that probably read: P(ublio) SEPTIMIO L(ucii) F(ilio) GETAE NOB(ilissimo) CAES(ari), preceded by ET at the end of the third line: “and to Publius Septimius, son of Lucius, Geta, most noble Caesar [=Geta]...”

ILS 425 = CIL 6.1033


When the senators granted Severus a triumph for the victory over Parthia, he had to refuse because he suffered from arthritis and was unable to stand up in the chariot for the procession.

Imperial Lives, Severus 16.6


[In AD 96, when hearing that the Emperor Domitian had been murdered], the Senate was so overjoyed that they jostled one another to get into the Senate House, where they gave themselves over to a verbal mutilation of the dead man's reputation, venting their hatred in the most insulting and bitter language imaginable. They even had ladders brought in to tear down objects adorned with Domitian's likeness. They watched as these were shattered on the ground, and then decreed that all of his inscriptions should be erased and all record of the man expunged.

Suetonius, Domitian 23

Column of Phocas

46. Column of Phocas. Commentary.

This 15-meter column standing on a large stepped base between the Pool of Curtius and the Augustan Rostra once supported a gilded statue dedicated by Smaradgus, governor of central Italy, to the emperor Phocas. It was this statue that the inscription at the base of the column commemorated; the fluted column and its Corinthian capital stem from earlier times and other locations, reassembled by Smaradgus on a base with steps of recycled marble veneer. These scattered origins reflect the time of the dedication in AD 608. Phocas (who never set foot in Rome) ruled in Constantinople when the imperial power in Italy was much reduced by the Germanic Lombard rulers and “the expiring dignity of Rome was only marked by the freedom and energy of her complaints,” as Gibbon puts it [p. 1496]. Both money and protection from the East were increasingly tenuous.

The marble words of the inscription are belied by Phocas's sordid career. Originally a centurion who first usurped the throne and then murdered the deposed emperor and his five sons in a scenario reminiscent of Czar Nicholas's final days, Phocas was a tyrant on the order of Caligula and Domitian, and like them was assassinated. He is significant, however, for a first and a last in Rome's topographical history: he was the last public figure in antiquity to receive an honorary monument in the Forum, and his donation of the Pantheon to the Church was responsible for the first conversion of a pagan temple in Rome into a Christian church.

46. Column of Phocas. Sources.



To the peerless, the most clement, and most pious Emperor, Our Lord Phocas, crowned by God for perpetual dominion, victorious and always Augustus: Smaragdus, appointed to the sacred palace, Patrician, Exarch of Italy, devoted to the Emperor's kindness for the innumerable gifts of his piety, for the peace he brought to Italy, and for the preservation of our liberty, hereby erects in his lasting honor a statue of his majesty gleaming with the splendor of gold upon this lofty column, and dedicates it on the first day of August, in the eleventh indiction, in the fifth year after the consulship of his Piety [AD 608].

ILS 837 = CIL 6.1200

V. The Upper Sacra Via

The Upper Sacra Via


By convention that has more to do with the arbitrary limits of the present archaeological park than with ancient terminology, the long slope between the Regia and the Arch of Titus is commonly considered part of the Forum. The presence of the Sacred Way certainly ties the two areas together, but this region, even after its relatively late regularization with Hadrian's Temple of Venus and Constantine's Basilica, lacked the architectural unity of the Forum Romanum proper, and it was never as intensely focused on public business. Even into the early Empire, this was an area of prestigious private homes, intermixed with shrines and temples, and especially as one proceeds uphill on the Sacred Way to the ridge connecting the Palatine and largely vanished Velia, it could be said to overlook the Forum rather than to belong to it. Such an arrangement, however, gave a high-profile visibility to such private residences, thereby using, as so often in ancient Rome, natural topography as an agent and display of social and political life. Homes (often more like mansions) here and on the adjoining slope of the Palatine kept their owners in the public eye and allowed them and their entourages to stage dramatic entrances down into the Forum, in an ancient version of a VIP motorcade.

Because the homes of the elite on the Forum-side slope of the Palatine were so closely connected to the life of the Forum, I have included them here. That there is nothing to be seen of this aristocratic housing is due to another characteristic and defining feature of the Roman experience, the imperial family's eradication of aristocratic “pluralism” and its competing displays of power, here in the form of conspicuous real estate. Accordingly, there is little sense, among the predominantly imperial ruins, of the Palatine's long residential phase, with its network of streets that included the Sacred Way, the Nova Via (the “New Way,” actually very ancient) part way up the Palatine, and connecting roads between them. Topographers generally place Cicero's house, with its address “on the Palatine”, [47.3-7] higher up the hill, on what we consider the Palatine today, but Coarelli may be right in arguing that anything built on the Palatine side of the Sacred Way could have been given the address “on the Palatine” (LTUR 5.109-112). Excavations have demonstrated the existence of sumptuous aristocratic houses beneath the now largely vacant area between the Arch of Titus and the Hall of the Vestals. These homes were destroyed in the fire of AD 64, after which Nero and Vespasian had other uses for the area.

One might imagine this area as the side of a bowl (in place of the current park's rectangle) with the Forum proper at the lowest level and the Sacra Via rising from it to a low point on the rim near the Arch of Titus, dividing the Palatine neighborhood on its right from the Velia neighborhood on its left. Further back on the left, in the direction of the St. Peter in Vincoli church, lay another fashionable neighborhood, the Carinae [48.], whose most famous resident had been Pompey the Great, before his property was taken over by Mark Antony [48.3]. The platform and hulk of the Basilica of Constantine, as well as the trench cut in the 1920s for the Via dei Fori Imperiali on the other side of it, obscure what must in some way have been a more continuous and unified zone with primarily upper-class residences that took advantage of the terrain placing them in close physical and visual proximity to the Forum below.

Excerpts from the electioneering handbook (attributed to Cicero's brother Quintus but perhaps of later authorship) give Cicero advice on how to run his campaign for consulship, and provide graphic evidence of the importance and value placed on the high visibility of these homes and their owners [47.9]. Cicero's home also became the focal point of an intense political battle, in which his enemies, led by Clodius, had the statesman exiled, his house burned, and its ground rendered sacred so that no residence could henceforth be built there. But Cicero and his allies fought through these problems to bring about both his return to Rome and the construction of a new home on the old site.

Republican Mansions

47. Republican Mansions. Sources.


[Sensitive to public sentiment against displays with associations of monarchical power, in 509 BC] Publius Valerius ordered the lictors who accompanied him to lower the fasces before he gave a speech to the people. He also moved his house lower down on the slope of the Velia when he noticed that his earlier choice of a site, high up on the Velia in the same spot where king Tullus had lived, was raising alarm among the people.

Cicero, On the Republic 2.53


The architect of private residences must concern himself with a plan for designing and arranging private space that is reserved for the master and his household, on the one hand, and public space that is shared with visitors. The public space—those areas of the home that any Roman, even uninvited, has the right to enter—are rooms such as the entrance hall, the courtyard, and peristyles…. The homes of high ranking politicians who are holding office and need space for public duties must therefore be designed with lofty, regal entrances, spacious atriums, peristyles, and gardens with broad walkways suitably landscaped for the dignity of their high office.

Vitruvius, Architecture 6.5.1-2


[In 91 BC] Marcus Livius Drusus turned his efforts…towards granting citizenship to the Italians. While he was working on this problem and was returning home one day to the Palatine surrounded by the large and unruly crowd that accompanied him wherever he went, he was stabbed in front of his house with a knife that the assassin left behind in Drusus's side. Within a few hours he was dead.

I should not omit to mention one instance that reveals Drusus's character. When he was building his house on the Palatine (on the same site where Cicero later built his house, subsequently owned by Censorinus and presently [c. AD 30] by Statilius Sisenna), his architect promised that he would build Drusus a house with total privacy, shielded from the view of all prying eyes. Drusus responded, “I want you, insofar as it is in your powers, to build me a house in which everything I do will be visible to everyone.”

Velleius, History 2.14.1-3


My house is on view to practically the entire city.

Cicero, On his House 100


Cicero sends greetings to Sestius in Macedonia: [62 BC]

Encouraged by your congratulations—you'll remember you wrote to me a while back, hoping things had gone well in my purchase of the house of Crassus—I went ahead and bought the property (sometime after your letter, actually!). I paid 3,500,000 sesterces. As a result, I'm so deep in debt now that, instead of uncovering a conspiracy, I want to join one (if anyone would have me).… At any rate, plenty of money is currently available at six percent.

Cicero, Letters to Friends 5.6.2


[Clodius, Cicero's bitterest political and personal foe, outmaneuvered him and had the orator exiled in 58 BC.] Cicero's property was confiscated, his house razed to the ground as though it belonged to a foreign enemy, and the site was dedicated for a temple to Liberty. Cicero himself received the penalty of exile, which he was forbidden to spend in Sicily, since he was banished 500 miles from Rome, with the further provision that if he should ever be seen inside this distance, both he and those who harbored him could be killed with impunity.

Dio, History 38.17.6-7


The violence with which Cicero's home was destroyed by Clodius [in 57 BC] was matched by the splendor to which the Senate restored it.

Velleius, History 2.45.3


[In court, Cicero defends a young ambitious politician against charges of political violence, arguing that the charges were trumped up by his ex-lover Clodia.] The prosecution finds it reprehensible that my client Caelius moved out of his father's house.… But that was at an age when he was old enough to run for public office, and since his father's house was far from the Forum, Caelius moved not only with his father's permission, but with his encouragement. He rented a house—at a modest rate—on the Palatine so that he would have readier access both to my and Crassus's homes and to his own supporters.

[Would, though, that he had never moved to the Palatine!] For you will find, judges, that the young man's move to the Palatine, and the Palatine Medea [his lover Clodia] whom he met there, were the cause of all his troubles, or rather the slander that caused his troubles.

Cicero, In Defense of Caelius18 [65 BC]


Quintus sends greetings to his brother Marcus Tullius Cicero:

Because of our closeness I do not consider it out of place to share with you some thoughts that have come to me concerning your campaign for the consulship [of 63 BC].

As concerns your entourage of supporters, see to it that you always have a crowd around you, of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. From such an abundance of supporters, others can conclude how much strength you will have at the polling place itself.… And if you can manage it, descend into the Forum with your followers at the same time each day. Such a crowd of supporters at a daily appearance boosts your reputation and confers great prestige on you.

Candidates who never leave the city are at a great advantage. This benefit of your continual presence, however, derives not simply from making appearances in Rome and the Forum, but from actively canvassing support, soliciting the same people many times.

Finally, see to it that your entire campaign is an entertaining spectacle that is dazzling, showy, and popular, and that it has high visibility and prestige. Also arrange, if at all possible, that moral scandals should arise concerning the crimes, briberies, and sex life of your opponents.

Handbook on Electioneering, 1, 34, 36, 43, 52

The Carinae (“The Keels”)

48. The Carinae (“The Keels”). Sources.


Evander and Aeneas resumed their walk from the river

to the lowly home of Evander, and saw the cattle at pasture

filling the Roman Forum and fashionable Keels with mooing.

Virgil, Aeneid 8.359-61


The district of the Carinae gets its name from buildings near the Temple of Tellus made in the manner of keels [carinae].

Servius, on Aeneid 8.361


[After the defeat and death of Pompey in their civil war, in 47 BC] Caesar returned to Rome from Alexandria and consigned the property of Pompey the Great to the piercing calls of an auctioneer. Only one Roman was shameless enough to make a bid: Mark Antony. As soon as he found himself surrounded by that man's wealth, he practically jumped for joy, like a clown on stage imitating a poor man who has just struck it rich. Along with the house came well-stocked wine cellars, pound after pound of the finest silver, costly wardrobes, and an abundance of elegant and magnificent furnishings—not indeed on the scale of someone with luxurious habits, but entirely appropriate to Pompey's considerable wealth. A few days after Antony took possession, nothing was left. Entire wine-cellars were given to low-lifes as presents. Actors looted some things, actresses others; the whole house, room after room, was filled with people gambling and drinking. It wasn't long before you could find purple tapestries from the house of the great Pompey covering cots in the cubicles of slaves.

You even had the nerve, Antony, to take up residence in that man's house, to cross over that sacred threshold and show your polluted face to the household gods of his home. But tell me: when you saw the ship-beaks in the entryway of his house, could you possibly think you were entering a house that belonged to you? Surely, even to a raving drunkard like yourself, apparitions of that great man must appear at night to terrify you from your sleep, they must torment you even in waking hours. For my own part, I pity the poor walls, the very ceilings of that house, which, until you moved in, had never looked on such filth.

Cicero, Philippics 2.64-69


When Sextus, son of the late Pompey the Great, received the triumvirs Octavian and Mark Antony on board his ship for dinner [in 39 BC], his wit was not without point when he welcomed them to his own Keels, referring to the name of the area in Rome where his ancestral home was located, and which was occupied by Antony at that time.

Velleius, History 2.77.1


When Tiberius returned to Rome [in AD 2], as soon as he had accompanied his son Drusus into the Forum for his formal initiation into public life, he moved out of the Pompeian mansion on the Carinae and up to the Gardens of Maecenas on the Esquiline, where he quietly spent his time on private affairs, keeping out of the public eye.

Suetonius, Tiberius 15.1

The Temple of Vesta Sources

49. The Temple of Vesta Sources. Overview.

Although the ruins of the Temple of Vesta and especially the Regia give little sense of their former importance, this group of buildings has some very rich history as preserved in the sources. These sites, along with the Hall of the Vestals and the Domus Publica (“Public Residence”), are also connected to each other by more than just physical proximity, and may even be another sort of bridge, this one historical, between the public and the private spheres, as characterized in the previous section on residences.

The clearest connection between these sites is the figure of the Pontifex Maximus, who was not only the head of the priestly order in Rome, which had its central offices and important religious observances in the Regia, but oversaw the Vestals as well (indeed, Horace, reaching for an image to express how long his poetry will last, says, in what turns out to be a conservative estimate, “as long as the Pontifex Maximus and the silent Vestal climb the Capitolium together”) [9.1]. His residence, moreover, called the Domus Publica, was adjacent to the Hall of the Vestals (and eventually attached to it, probably at the upper end), at least until Augustus, elected Pontifex in 12 BC after Lepidus's death, moved the residence to his own quarters on the Palatine, uniting the post of chief priest with the position of princeps.

It has been suggested, however, that these sites were even more closely connected originally, as functions of the palace of Rome's kings, an original Regia, or “Royal Palace,” more extensive than the portion now known as the Regia. After the fall of the monarchy, the complex was split and rendered public, but still retained its religious functions, transformed, however, into public rituals and posts. Some of the king's original religious duties split off, perhaps originally to a “rex sacrorum” but eventually to the post of Pontifex Maximus. The Vestals occupied part of the old palace, now called the Atrium Vestae, and the chief pontiff another part that, no longer the residence of the ousted king, was appropriately called the Domus Publica.

Although there are many references to the Vestals in ancient literature, giving us a glimpse into their elaborately circumscribed life that in some areas also allowed them freedoms no other women in Rome enjoyed, and although there are significant remains of their residence, we cannot be sure what activities were relegated to what part of their Hall. Its size, which was considerable at least by the time of its last major rebuilding under Trajan, following an earlier enlargement after Nero's Fire, suggests that not only did the Vestals have spacious personal quarters, but were part of a busy bureaucracy that helped them prepare and perform both the duties immediately associated with the vestal cults and other responsibilities. Apparently it was felt that willswere safe here (as money was thought to be safe in vaults below temples), perhaps because the Vestals were free of the attachments that might lead to the falsification of a will.

On the long northeast side of the courtyard in the Hall of the Vestals there are several rows of statues set upon inscribed bases. The inscriptions in each case honor a head Vestal Virgin, the Vestalis Maxima, but both the location of the statues and their pairing with their particular bases are modern conjectures. On the base of one statue is an inscription [50.10] to a head vestal whose name has been scratched out but who may be the Claudia referred to in Prudentius's poem as a convert to Christianity [50.11].

Of the Regia's structure, little more than the foundations remain, and even these are a confusing palimpsest of several pre-Republican designs and later re-buildings such as the opulent marble structure financed by Calvinus in 39 BC. Like the Temple of Vesta with its Palladium [49.4], the Regia housed a sacred object bound up with the well-being of Rome, in this case the Ancile, a sacred shield with an archaic figure-8 design. This shield and its replicas meant as decoys were used in the ritual dances of the Salii, priests of the war-god. The Regia was thus an important site in the military-religious life of Rome, sharing this concern with the Shrine of Janus Geminus [24.], the Capitoline temples to Jupiter [10., 13, 14.], and (in imperial times) the Temple of Mars Ultor [74.]. In addition to the talismanic shield, the sources tell us that the Regia also housed spears involved in the declaration of war [52.5], [and, in another rite connected with Mars, was sometimes (depending on the winning team) the destination of the decapitated head of the “October Horse” and its dripping tail [52.6].

49. The Temple of Vesta Sources. Sources.


The current temple's shape preserves the shape of old.

There is solid reason for its roundness: the Earth,

You see, and Vesta are one; for each, an undying fire,

And Earth, like hearth-place, signifies the Center.

The Earth, also, is round like a ball ….

Foolishly I used to think that Vesta had a statue,

Until I learned her curving dome held none.

A perpetual flame burns hidden in that temple,

But neither Vesta nor the flame have sculptured form.

Ovid, Fasti 6.265-269; 295-298


Varro also wrote that not all sacred buildings [aedes] are temples proper [templa]; not even the shrine of Vesta is an augurated temple.

Gellius, Attic Nights 14.7.7


[After the hostile Capuans had started a fire in the Forum in 210 BC, the Roman general said that the enemy] was attempting to destroy the Temple of Vesta, with its eternal fire and the divine guarantee of Roman rule hidden in its inner shrine.

Livy, History 26.27.14


People believe that the image of Minerva clad in armor,

The Palladium, sprang down from heaven to the hills of Troy.

Whoever it was who took it from Troy, it is Roman now,

And Vesta guards it here with her always watchful light.

Imagine the fear the senators felt, the time that Vesta

Caught on fire!

The pontifex Metellus ran to the scene and shouted,

“Vestals, run to the rescue! It will not help to weep!

Lift up the pledges of Rome's power in your virgin palms:

Their rescue calls for human hands, not prayer.”

Metellus scooped up water, then lifting his hands he prayed:

“Forgive me, sacred ones! I go, a man, where a man should not.

If this be a crime, let the punishment fall on me, not Rome:

Let the city be redeemed by the price of my own life.”

So saying, into the temple he burst; and the goddess, saved

By the actions of her pontiff, approved the deed.

Ovid, Fasti 6.421-54 (selections)


Metellus lived his old age in blindness caused by the fire [in 241 BC] from which he rescued the Palladium in the Temple of Vesta—a deed with an admirable motive but disastrous results. Because of this, you cannot call him unfortunate, but neither can you call him blessed; the People of Rome gave him the singular honor, accorded to no one else in history, of being taken to meetings of the Senate in a chariot, but he paid for this high and mighty honor with his eyes.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 7.141

House of the Vestals

50. House of the Vestals. Sources.


[Numa, king of Rome after Romulus, founded many religious institutions.] He appointed virgins to the cult of Vesta, to be supported by payments from the public treasury so that they could remain constant attendants at her temple. To confer sanctity and awe upon these priestesses, he set them apart with virginity and a variety of ceremonies.

Livy, History 1.20.3


There is a particular vase with a wide mouth and narrow base that is used in the rites of Vesta, since water which had been gathered for her rites cannot be set on the ground without sacrilege. Therefore this vase was designed so that it could not be set upright on the ground, but had to be poured before it was put down.

Servius on Aeneid 11.339


Originally there were four virgins serving the goddess Vesta, chosen by the kings according to regulations laid down by Numa. Their number later grew to six, however, due to an increase in their religious duties, and this remains their number today [c. 10 BC] ….

The Vestals are required to remain celibate and single for the 30 years in which they perform their sacrifices and other religious observances. Of this 30-year period they spend ten years learning their responsibilities, ten years in the performance of the rites, and the final ten years teaching their duties to others. When the priestesses have finished their term of service, nothing forbids them from getting married, provided they have laid down their garlands and the other insignia of the priesthood. Some very few of them have done this, but they came to such pitiable ends that the others consider these misfortunes an omen and remain in the service of the goddess until death, at which time the priests appoint another virgin to fill the vacancy.

The Vestals receive many distinguished honors from the Romans and as a result have no yearning for children or marriage. Stiff penalties are visited on those who fail in their duties. By law, the priests are responsible to investigate and punish the infractions of the Vestals. For a minor infraction the priests beat the Vestal with sticks, but if one has been unchaste, she is put to a shameful and gruesome death. While still alive, she is carried out on a bier in a funeral procession proper for the dead, accompanied by a keening procession of family and friends. When she has been brought to the Colline Gate, she is entombed in an underground chamber prepared for her inside the walls, dressed in funeral clothes but given no monument or libations or any other customary funeral rites.

There are many indications if a Vestal is not performing the holy rituals with the proper purity, but chief among them is the extinction of the flame. Whatever the cause of its going out, the Romans fear this above all other signs as portending the destruction of the city, and they bring a new flame into the temple with many rites of atonement.

Dionysius, Early Rome 2.67


[In 206 BC, the war against Hannibal dragged on.] In a country worn by the stress of a perilous war, people attributed the causes of all events, favorable and unfavorable alike, to the gods, and numerous prodigies were reported. North of the city in Caere, a two-headed pig was borne, as well as a lamb that was both male and female; in Alba, they say two suns were seen. But more terrifying than any of the portents, whether reported from other towns or seen in Rome, the fire in the Temple of Vesta went out, and the Vestal in charge of the fire that night was whipped, by the order of the Pontifex Maximus, Publius Licinus.

Livy, History 28.11.1, 3, 6


During the same year [420 BC], the Vestal Virgin Postumia was put on trial for the charge of unchastity. She was innocent, but had come under suspicion because she dressed too attractively and showed too free a spirit for a Vestal. After the trial was postponed, she was acquitted, but the Pontifex Maximus, speaking officially for the priesthood, ordered her to restrain her wit and to dress in a fashion more prim than prom-like.

Livy, History 4.44.11-12


In that year [337 BC] the Vestal Minucia, having first come under suspicion because she dressed more stylishly than was proper for a Vestal, was then accused of unchastity by one of her servants. The pontiffs who heard the charge ordered her to abstain from her sacred duties, and to retain her servants (so that, as slaves, they might be tortured for further evidence). She was convicted and buried alive near the Colline Gate, to the right of the paved road in the Accursed Field—named, I believe, as a result of her unchastity

Livy, History 8.15.7-8


The Senate prohibits by law the burial of anyone within the boundaries of Rome. The Vestal Virgins, however, are not bound by Rome's legal system, and have their tombs within the city.… Even the Vestal Virgins who have broken their vow of chastity are not bound by the burial laws, since they too are interred (admittedly while alive) within the city, in the Accursed Field.

Servius on Aeneid 11.206


[When the Vestal Cornelia, falsely accused of unchastity by the tyrant Domitian,] was taken down into the subterranean chamber for burial, her robe caught on something. She stopped and turned to free it, and when the executioner reached out a hand to help her, she flinched back to avoid his polluting touch—the last act of piety, it seems clear, to protect a pure and undefiled body.

Pliny the Younger, Letters 4.11.9


Pliny sends greetings to Priscus:

I am worried about Fannia's health. She came down with her sickness when she was nursing the Vestal Junia, which she was doing originally on her own (the two women are related) and then by the authority of the pontiffs, since Vestals forced by an illness to leave their compound are entrusted to the care and oversight of a married woman. It was during her performance of this duty that Fannia herself fell sick.

Pliny the Younger, Letters 7.19.1-2


OB MERITUM CASTITATIS PUDICITIAE ADQ(ue) IN SACRIS RELIGIONIBUSQUE DOCTRINAE MIRABILIS C / / / / / / E V(irgini) V(estali) MAX(imae) PONTIFICES V(iri) C(larissimi) PROMAG(istro) MACRINIO SOSSIANO V(iro) C(larissimo) P(ontifice) M(aximo)

In recognition of her chastity, purity, and her outstanding knowledge in ritual and religious matters, the pontiffs, under the illustrious Pontifex Maximus, Macrinius Sossianus, (dedicate this) to C[——]a, head priestess of the Vestal Virgins.

ILS 4938 = CIL 6.32422


[From the day that St. Lawrence was martyred, pagan worshipped dwindled.]

A pontiff whose cult wore a head-band

Now nods to the sign of the cross,

And the Vestal Virgin Claudia

Now enters, Lawrence, your shrine.

Prudentius, Crowns of Martyrdom 2.525-28

Domus Publica (House of the Pontifex Maximus)

51. Domus Publica (House of the Pontifex Maximus). Sources.


Caesar first lived in a modest dwelling in the Subura, but then moved to the Domus Publica when he became Pontifex Maximus.

Suetonius, Julius Caesar 46


When holding games while dictator, Caesar once used linen cloth to canopy the entire Forum as well as the stretch of the Sacred Way between his residence and the top of the Capitoline hill. Indeed, these awnings were a more amazing spectacle than his gladiatorial games themselves.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 19.23


52. Regia. Sources.


King Numa lived first on the Quirinal Hill, and then in what is still called the Regia, next to the Temple of Vesta.

Solinus, Handbook of Geography 1.21


Numa built what is called the Regia, or “royal house,” next to the Temple of Vesta. He spent much of his time here, performing religious duties, training priests, or simply spending time in solitary meditation upon the divine. He had another house on the Quirinal hill, which the Romans still point out today [c. AD 100].

Plutarch, Numa, 14.1


[Numa tells the people of a prophecy he heard from Jupiter himself:]

“When the disc of tomorrow's sun first clears the horizon

Jupiter will send us a guarantee of Roman rule.”

In the cloudless dawn, Jupiter flashed and thundered thrice.

Behold: a shield, twisting lightly in a gentle breeze,

Fell from heaven. Mindful that the fate of Rome

Was bound to this shield, the king contrived an ingenious plan:

He ordered identical copies made of the shield from heaven,

To fool the eyes of any enemy plotting its theft.

Ovid, Fasti 3.353-82, selections


After fighting in Spain, the general Calvinus was allowed a triumph by Octavian [in 39 BC]. He only used gold from Spanish cities to pay for the triumph, and even then only part of the gold; the majority of it went towards the Regia, which had been destroyed in a fire. Calvinus rebuilt the Regia and dedicated it, providing it with impressive decorations, especially statues.

Dio, History 48.42.4


At the start of any war, the one responsible for its conduct entered the shrine of Mars [in the Regia] and would first shake the divine shields and then the spear of the god's statue itself, saying, “Mars, awaken!”

Servius on Aeneid 8.3


The October Horse is the name given to the horse (specifically, the right-hand horse of the winning chariot) sacrificed to Mars each year after the race in the Campus Martius. The head of this horse becomes an object of fierce contention between two neighborhoods: those from the Sacred Way hope to mount it on the wall of the Regia, and those from the Subura want to attach it to the Tower of Mamilius.

The tail of the October Horse, however, is quickly transported to the Regia so that some of its blood can trickle onto the sacrificial hearth and make a link to Mars. Some people say that this is offered to the War-god in place of a sacrificial victim (not, as the story commonly goes, as a punishment visited upon this creature because the Trojans, ancestors of the Romans, were defeated by the Wooden Horse).

Festus 190

Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

53. Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Commentary.

Protected in some measure by its early status as a Christian church, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina offers more to see than to read about in sources. Although its original roof and much of its decorative elements are gone, its columns, the walls of the cella, and its attractive marble frieze remain standing, with portions here and there of the elaborate cornice. In addition, numerous architects of the Renaissance, including Pirro Ligorio and Andrea Palladio, sketched it, attracted by its proportions and design. Over the centuries as a property of the Church, its porch was enclosed for a period of time with chapels. A building was also attached to the front of the columns over the (since reconstructed) front steps of the temple. The notches in the upper part of some of these columns probably mark where the sloping tile roof of this building was fitted into the ancient structure, not (as one can sometimes hear on Forum tours) because the columns were grooved to give purchase to the ropes of Christians eager to pull the columns down. Certainly much good stone from the temple was reused elsewhere, including the Lateran.

“If a man were called to fix the period in history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous,” Gibbon boldly wrote, “he would without hesitation name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.” Of the “five good emperors” who ruled Rome in these eighty-odd years—Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius—Antoninus was the only one to receive a temple in the Forum. In truth, it was to Antoninus's wife Faustina that the temple was first built: originally only the second line of the prominent inscription appeared on the temple, on its architrave. Space for Antoninus's name was cleared on the frieze upon his death twenty years later. It is possible that Antoninus never envisioned sharing the temple with his mismatched wife [53.2], but he more probably assumed with the Senate that this would be his temple as well. If so, another passage from the Imperial Lives [53.4] gives some indication of how the temple's location helped to style the emperor's image in line with the epithet “Pius” that was accorded to him. The temple stands directly across the Sacred Way from the Regia, which was founded by King Numa, Rome's paradigm of piety.

53. Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Sources.



To the deified Antoninus and the deified Faustina, by decree of the Senate.

ILS 348 = CIL 6.1005


Much was said about the wildness and loose living of Faustina. Antoninus tried to suppress these reports, which caused him much grief.

Imperial Lives, Antoninus 3.7


In the third year of his reign [AD 141] Antoninus Pius lost his wife Faustina. She was deified by the Senate, who also voted her games, a temple, priestesses, and statues of gold and silver.

Imperial Lives, Antoninus 6.7


Upon his death [in AD 161] Antoninus was pronounced divine by the Senate. Everyone competed to praise his piety, clemency, intelligence, and upright life. He was voted all of the honors which were ever bestowed on the best emperors before him, and was awarded a flamen-priest, games, a temple, and a priesthood to serve the temple.

Practically alone of all the emperors Antoninus lived his personal life without shedding the blood of either countryman or foreign foe, and he is deservedly compared to Numa, whose prosperity, piety, tranquillity, and religious rites he always maintained.

Imperial Lives, Antoninus 13.3-4


The emperor Antoninus took away the salaries of many people who got money for doing nothing; he said that there was no one lower, no one more cruel, even, than the person who nibbled away at the state without contributing anything to it with their work. On these grounds he also lowered the salary of the lyric poet Mesomedes.

Imperial Lives, Antoninus 7.7-8

“The Temple of Romulus” (Temple of Jupiter Stator?)

54. “The Temple of Romulus” (Temple of Jupiter Stator?). Commentary.

The building that still stands between the Temple of Antoninus and the Basilica of Constantine is interesting not only for its peculiar design, but as an example of how gaps in the evidence, both written and archaeological, can leave the identity of even a centrally located building such as this a mystery. Its identification as the Temple of Romulus (the deified son of the emperor Maxentius, not Rome's founder) rests chiefly on coins struck in the early C4 AD that show a building in honor of Romulus and other family members that bears some resemblance to this once-domed structure along the Sacred Way. Many topographers, however, reject this identification, either maintaining an agnostic reserve called for by the uncertainty of the evidence, or arguing for various alternate identifications with other buildings that are mentioned in the written sources but have no established location. In addition to whatever other function it may have had, this building seems to have served as a connector between the differently oriented axes of the Sacred Way and the Forum of Peace.

The most interesting of the other candidates for this building's identity is the Temple of Jupiter Stator, which was clearly an important monument in this area of the upper Sacred Way. As the sources show, the Temple of Jupiter Stator had strong associations with the city's foundation by Romulus, and Cicero, perhaps to play on these old associations with the city's salvation during a crisis, called a meeting of the Senate at the Temple of Jupiter Stator to deliver the first of his famous speeches that exposed the conspiracy of Cataline to overthrow the government.

The sources locate the Temple of Jupiter Stator close to the Palatine, the Sacred Way, and the old Romulean (Palatine) city's Porta Mugonia. Most topographers place the nexus of these three locations close to the Arch of Titus and have tentatively identified ruins of a building near the arch as the remains of the Jupiter Stator temple (the site of the medieval Turris Cartularia, also since demolished). Coarelli, however, in part by relying on his extension of the Palatine zone, as noted at the beginning of this section, and questioning as well traditional locations of the Porta Mugonia and the course of the Sacred Way, interprets all the evidence for this temple as pointing to a site closer to the Forum, and argues that this site was none other than the erroneously named “Temple of Romulus.”

54. “The Temple of Romulus” (Temple of Jupiter Stator?). Sources.


[Aided by the treachery of the Tarpeian girl] the Sabines now held the Capitoline citadel. On the following day the Roman troops were stationed throughout the field that lay between the Palatine and the Capitoline.… When their champion Hostius was killed, the Roman line gave way at once and the soldiers retreated to the old gate of the Palatine. Romulus, also driven back by the crowd of those fleeing, raised his arms to the sky and prayed: “Jupiter, here on the Palatine in obedience to your birds I laid the foundations for this city: … take away the terror here and stay this shameful flight. I vow to build a temple here to you as Jupiter the Stayer, as a monument to posterity that the city was saved by a manifestation of your power.” When he finished his prayers, as if perceiving that they had been granted, he called to the troops, “Fellow Romans, here is the place where Jupiter Optimus Maximus commands us to take our stand and renew the fighting.” And the Romans stood, as if receiving a command straight from heaven.

Livy, History 1.12.1-7


The 27th of June is the day of the temple of Stator,

Which Romulus founded once at the base of the Palatine ridge.

Ovid, Fasti 6.793-4


[In battle against the Sabines,] Romulus vowed a temple to Jupiter the Stayer near the Mugonian Gate, which leads to the Palatine from the Sacred Way.

Dionysius, Early Rome 2.50.3


The consul [in 294 BC] Marcus Atilius Regulus raised his hands to the sky and in a clear voice that all might hear vowed a temple to Jupiter the Stayer if he should stay the retreating Roman troops, and by renewing the battle, cut down and defeat the legions of the Samnites.… Earlier, Romulus had also vowed a temple to Jupiter the Stayer, but only set aside a fanum, that is, a place reserved for a temple.

Livy,, History 10.36.11; 37.15


Yesterday, after learning that I had barely escaped assassination in my own home, I convened a meeting of the Senate in the Temple of Jupiter Stator and laid the matter before them [in my first speech against Catiline]. When Catiline arrived,…the leaders of the Senate even abandoned the area of the benches where he took his seat, leaving them bare and deserted.

Cicero, Against Catiline 2.12


Notes: Coarelli defends his position in LTUR 2.155-158, where he quotes or notes numerous other relevant sources. Of those quoted here, the one by Dionysius seems most at odds with Coarelli's theory, even allowing Coarelli's extension of the Palatine as a geographical locater, as I am inclined to do in the case of Palatine residences. Dionysius says that the temple was near a road that led to the Palatine away from the Sacred Way, a phrase that better suits the Arch of Titus area or higher as a location for the temple. In Livy's account [54.1], Romulus's reference to the augural birds “here on the Palatine” also demand something loftier than Coarelli's location.

Basilica of Constantine (or Basilica Nova)

55. Basilica of Constantine (or Basilica Nova). Commentary.

One of ancient Rome's most impressive buildings, and also one of its last, the Basilica of Constantine is scarcely mentioned in the literature. By Roman standards, its design may have been overreaching—its massive central nave may have fallen in an earthquake only (!) five hundred years after it was built—but the remains impressed and influenced the leading architects of the Renaissance, including Bramante's design of St. Peter's basilica. The design of the Basilica of Constantine, in turn, was influenced more by the central halls of the great imperial baths than by the post-and-beam architecture of the famous basilicas in the Forum. Some idea of the construction and effect of the central hall of the Basilica can be had from the nave of St. Maria degli Angeli (Piazza della Reppublica), formerly the central hall of the Baths of Diocletian, as refurbished by Michelangelo and others. One marble column remains from the nave of the Basilica of Constantine, now standing in front of St. Maria Maggiore.

The Basilica of Constantine was actually begun by Maxentius after he ascended the throne in AD 306. Maxentius then lost to Constantine both his life and the perpetuation of his name through this building. After Constantine defeated Maxentius in the famous battle at the Milvian Bridge in AD 312, he altered the design of the basilica, giving it a grand entrance in the middle of the long side facing the Sacred Way, adding a large niche (still standing) on the opposite side, thereby giving the building another axis in addition to the longer one down the center of the nave. This long axis (parallel to the Sacred Way, and entered by a narthex-like porch on the end towards the Colosseum) also ended at a semi-circular niche, which is probably where the giant statue of the seated Constantine was located, parts of which can now be found in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori museum on the Capitoline.

55. Basilica of Constantine (or Basilica Nova). Sources.


Each of the magnificent works which Maxentius constructed—the Shrine of the City and the Basilica—was credited by the Senators to Constantine.

Aurelius Victor, On the Emperors 40.26

Aicher's Note: The “Shrine of the City” (Urbis Fanum) was perhaps the Temple of Venus and Rome, which Maxentius restored after a fire. Others have identified it with the “Temple of Romulus,” which, at least in its present form, was built in the time of Maxentius and Constantine, and had (Renaissance drawings show) an inscription that identified it as the work of Constantine.

Temple of Rome and Venus

56. Temple of Rome and Venus. Commentary.

As with Hadrian's other masterpiece in Rome, the Pantheon, the Temple of Rome and Venus puts a traditional face on a unique interior. Here the traditional element is a classic Greek design of a temple on a low podium accessible from all sides, with the cella surrounded by columns on all sides. The unusual element is the arrangement of the cella's interior: rather than having an inner and an outer chamber, this temple had what was really two cellas back-to-back, one for each of the deities housed here. Although less dramatically than the Pantheon's dome, this design makes the spatial center of the temple a focal point, which nicely expresses the idea of Rome as the center of the universe. It is also an architectural arrangement—the cult statues of Roma and the goddess of Love (Amor) would have been seated back-to-back in the middle of the temple, facing opposite directions and separated by a common wall—which embodies in visual form the palindrome of Roma-Amor. Such a whimsical application of a literary trope to an architectural form is all the more plausible given Hadrian's avid participation in both literary and architectural arts, and in light of the imaginative designs of his villa near Tivoli, which included the multi-sectioned “pumpkin” domes ridiculed by Apollodorus.

In his chronology St. Jerome provides the date of AD 121 for the beginning of the building's construction, and a reference in Cassiodorus gives AD 135 as its dedication date, although archaeological evidence suggests completion under Antoninus Pius after Hadrian's death in AD 138. Dio, steering clear of such details, gives us, along with some background and judgment concerning the temple, a disturbingly believable picture of what an envious artist, given the power and impunity of an emperor, would do to rival artists. It is not clear whether Apollodorus's judgment (that Hadrian's cult statures were over-sized for their surroundings) was accurate; as for his other complaint concerning the elevation of platform area, it seems there would have been room even in Hadrian's “flawed” design” to store equipment below the Colosseum-end of the platform, since large vaults can still be seen there.

This was, at any rate, a splendid temple built on a massive scale. The whole platform on which it was built, which included the two long colonnades down each of the sides at some distance from the temple, was as large as the Forum of Augustus, although there is no evidence that it was as busy. Each of these colonnades ended in a flight of stairs above the Colosseum and would have provided an attractive, airy, and shaded way from the Forum to the arena. The number of solid granite and marble columns used in the colonnades and temple respectively is staggering, and nothing again in Rome, including Diocletian's and Caracalla's giant concrete baths with their veneers and strategic columns, can match this prodigal use of imported stone.

The passage by Prudentius analyzing the idolatry of Rome's topography can be seen as part of the concerted “consciousness-raising” efforts of Christian critics to expose, delineate, and then eliminate the ways in which pagan practices, from the cradle to grave, permeated society and surrounded the five senses in daily life.

56. Temple of Rome and Venus. Sources.


Hadrian's ambitions were all-encompassing. Along with his literary pursuits he tried his hand at numerous other endeavors, including some of the most insignificant, such as sculpture and painting. And his envy of others who excelled in anything was fearsome, ending the careers of some and the lives of many others.

One target of his anger was the architect Apollodorus, who had been Trajan's builder in Rome, designing the Forum of Trajan [78.], the Concert Hall (Odeon), and Stadium [89.]; Hadrian first banished and then killed him. Some charge was drawn up, but the real reason goes back to an earlier incident. Apollodorus was consulting with Trajan on one of their projects, when Hadrian, also present, chimed in with some remark that prompted the architect to turn to him and say “Go design some of your pumpkin-domes. You wouldn't understand these matters.” This occurred at a time when Hadrian was priding himself on designing a dome of such a description.

Then Hadrian became emperor [in AD 117] and neither forgot Apollodorus's slight nor tolerated his outspokenness. On one occasion Hadrian sent Apollodorus the plans of the Temple of Venus and Rome, intending to prove to the architect that a great building could arise without him: did he not think this building a masterpiece? Apollodorus responded that, first, the temple should be set higher, while the ground around it should be excavated away; this way, standing aloft, it would not only be more visible from the Sacred Way but would have more room below to store the Amphitheater's staging equipment, which could then be assembled out of sight and moved to the Amphitheater without drawing notice. Secondly, Apollodorus went on, the two statues of the temple's gods were too large for the height of their homes: “If they wanted to stand up to take a walk outside, they'd bump their heads!” Apollodorus remarked. Hadrian, angered by the bluntness of this critique and plagued by the awareness that he had made a mistake that could not be fixed, allowed his anger and grief to steer him, and he put Apollodorus to death.

Dio, History 69. 3.2-3; 4.1-6


The Senate [in AD 176, after the death of Faustina] decreed that silver statues of Marcus Aurelius and his wife Faustina should be set up in the Temple of Venus and Rome, as well as an altar on which all newly-wed couples in the city were to make a sacrifice.

Dio, History 72.31.1


[In pagan families, a child absorbs idolatry from the cradle on.]

Later, leaving the house during festivals and games,

He stands in awe, gaping as the priests in laurel wreathes

Tend the temples of pagan gods on the lofty Capitol,

And the Sacred Way resounds with the lowing of cattle consigned

To sacrifice on the altar of Rome (she too gets blood

Like a goddess—even the name of a city has godhead here,

Where the temples of Rome and Venus rise to equal height,

And the incense meant for one is shared with its goddess twin);

Impressed, and thinking whatever the noble Senate has sanctioned

Must be true, he entrusts his faith to idols ….

Prudentius, Against Symmachus 1.215-224

Arch of Titus

57. Arch of Titus. Commentary.

Of the three triumphal arches remaining in Rome—Severus's, Titus's, and Constantine's—the one in honor of the deified Titus (on the center coffer inside his arch, see him carried aloft by an eagle) is by far the most elegant, even as the surviving literary record provides, in Josephus's history of the Jewish Wars, the fullest and most harrowing account of Rome's destruction of an enemy's capital [11.7].

The relief-sculpture carved inside the arch on the Palatine-side depicts a scene from Titus's triumph, and includes two of the holiest objects from the Temple of Jerusalem, as described by Josephus below before they became the booty of Rome. In the center is the seven-branched menorah, and to its right the heavy table for the Shew-Bread (the Bread of Presence). The passage by Procopius helps to trace the whereabouts of these objects some five centuries later.

The inscription on the attic of the Colosseum-side refers to the restoration that Pius VII carried out in beginning in 1822. Giuseppe Valadier, the leading Italian architect of his day who also designed one of the buttresses to shore up the Colosseum, directed this restoration, which involved a complete rebuilding of the arch (with the Arch of Trajan in Beneventum as a model). By substituting travertine stone for missing sections of the original Pentelic marble, Valadier pioneered a technique of restoration that readily distinguishes the original portion of a monument from the reconstructed portion.

57. Arch of Titus. Sources.



The Senate and People of Rome dedicate this arch to the deified Titus Vespasian Augustus [d. AD 81], son of the deified Vespasian.

ILS 265 = CIL 6.945


[An inscription recorded on another arch to Titus, since destroyed, near the Circus Maximus:] The Senate and People of Rome dedicate this arch to the Emperor Titus… because, with the Senate's advice and counsel and with the auguries, he conquered the nation of the Jews [in AD 70] and destroyed Jerusalem, which all of the generals, kings, and nations before Titus had either failed to do or even to attempt.

ILS 264 = CIL 6.944


[The temple in Jerusalem was a splendid edifice with numerous parts.] After you passed through the monumental gates you entered the ground floor of the sanctuary. This structure was ninety feet high, ninety feet long, and thirty feet wide. Its length, however, was divided into two parts. The first hall was sixty feet long, and contained three of the world's most incredible and famous works of art: the lampstand, the table, and the incense altar. The lampstand, which branched into seven lamps, symbolized the seven planets; the twelve loaves of bread [the “Shew-Bread,” or “Bread of Presence”] on the table represented the circle of the Zodiac and the year; the altar of incense is kept replenished with thirteen aromatic incenses collected from both land and sea, and from places both inhabited and deserted, thus symbolizing that all creation is of God and for God.

Josephus, The Jewish War 5.215-18


[Belisarius, the emperor Justinian's famous general, defeated the Vandals in Africa in AD 534, and returned to Constantinople, now the capital of the Roman empire.] When he reached Constantinople with his captive Vandals and their king Gelimer, he was awarded honors given to the greatest Roman generals of old—honors which for nearly six hundred years had not been granted to anyone except emperors, such as Titus and Trajan and other victorious emperors who warred against the barbarian peoples. Belisarius displayed both the booty and the enslaved captives of the war in a procession that the Romans call a triumph.… Many thousands of pounds of silver were paraded, as well as the entire imperial treasury of Rome which the Vandals under Gaiseric had plundered [in AD 455] from the Palatine when they sacked the city, as I mentioned earlier [in Book. 3.5.3]. Among the booty were the treasures of the Jews, which Titus, the son of Vespasian, and others had brought to Rome after the sack of Jerusalem, As the triumphal procession went by, one of the Jews standing alongside an imperial official said to him, “The Romans, I predict, will come to regret taking this plunder of Jerusalem into the palace in Constantinople: these objects belong in one place only, where Solomon placed them long ago when he was king of the Jews. That is why Gaiseric was able to sack the palace of Rome, and why the army of the Romans has now captured the Vandals.” When his words were relayed to the emperor, Justinian quickly had the Jewish treasure delivered to Christian sanctuaries in Jerusalem.

Procopius, Wars 4.9.1-3, 5-9

VI. The Palatine Hill

The Palatine Hill

Overview of the Palatine Hill

58. Overview of the Palatine Hill. Commentary.

The pre-urban topography of the Palatine, like the Capitoline's, is lost to us, having undergone a far greater transformation than even Propertius could envision when, although writing before the imperial palaces took over the entire hill, he marveled at Rome's urbanity.

Although most of the hill looks today as if it has reverted to the conditions of Evander's day (with herds of a different species), the greenery is deceptive, rooted on platforms and debris several stories above the natural bedrock in some places.

Much of the Palatine has remained unexcavated, but there is one part of the Palatine—the corner of the hill closest to the Tiber, overlooked by the southern balcony of the Farnese Gardens—that not only has been plundered and excavated down to very early levels, but which contains the core sites that determined the hill's later imperial makeover. Here in close proximity to each other are the houses of Augustus's compound [62.], with the Temple of Apollo [63.] on one side of them and the older temples of Victory [60.] and the Great Mother Goddess [61.] on the other. In meaningful proximity to Augustus's residence was the Hut of Romulus [62.], and further down the slope of the hill here was the Lupercal cave [59.]. Admittedly none of these remains is impressive. Some attractive frescoes are preserved in the House of Augustus; the temples have mostly disappeared, and the exact locations of the Hut of Romulus and the Lupercal cave are not known. But if the ruins of this zone are surpassed by both the ruins and the lurid stories of the subsequent palaces, it is the richest section of the Palatine for the intersection of archaeology, legend, and history.

58. Overview of the Palatine Hill. Sources.


Visitor to mighty Rome: wherever you look

Was simply grass and hill before Aeneas came;

Along the Palatine's crest where Apollo's temple stands

Evander's cattle roamed and ruminated at will.

Propertius, Elegies 4.1.1-4

The Lupercal Cave

59. The Lupercal Cave. Commentary.

The Lupercal Cave remains something of a mystery, both in its location and in the meaning of its ritual, which combines a purificatory circling of communal boundaries with fertility magic, while involving in some capacity wolf (legend), goat, and dog (sacrifice). The rites of the Lupercalia were at any rate important for the Romans. In the last years of the fifth century AD some prominent Roman senators, at least nominally Christian, sought to revive the February 15 rites of the Lupercalia, worried that the city's health and well-being depended on their performance—a flare-up of idolatry that was swiftly doused by Pope Gelasius.

The general location of the cave is clear: between the Circus Maximus and the Temple of the Great Mother. Legend puts it above the flood-plain, but perhaps not far above; there was a grove around it, and eventually a theater between it and the Temple of the Great Mother [59.4, 5]. Augustus rebuilt it, perhaps as part of his attempt to style himself as a founder of a new Rome à la Romulus. But that one could “build” a cave suggests that it was by then a largely artificial grotto, perhaps more building than cave. If so, when such a structure was dismantled and destroyed in later centuries, it is understandable that the location of the cave would have vanished with it.

59. The Lupercal Cave. Sources.


[The wolf suckled the abandoned infants where she found them near the Tiber. When some shepherds approached, she calmly left the twins and walked away.] Not far off there was a holy place, thickly shaded by trees surrounding a cave with springs. It was said that this was the grove of Pan, and there was an altar here to that god. This is where the wolf went and hid herself. Today [c. 20 BC] the grove is gone, but the cave and spring are still pointed out, built into the side of the Palatine along the road that leads from the hill to the Circus, and there is a sacred precinct nearby which contains a bronze statue of ancient workmanship commemorating the event, depicting the wolf suckling the two boys.

Dionysius, Early Rome 1.79.8


[Romulus and the other young men living near the Palatine prepared to celebrate the festival of the Lupercalia on February 15.] After offering sacrifice to Pan, the young men ran a course around the city, naked accept for loin-cloths fashioned from the animals just sacrificed. This was—and still is [c. 20 BC]—performed as a traditional rite of purification for the community.

Dionysius, Early Rome 1.80.1


[The festival called the Lupercalia derives its name from the shewolf (lupa) story.] We see that the course that the Luperci run around the city begins where Romulus was left to die as an infant. The rites of the Lupercalia, however, rather obscure this connection, since the priests sacrifice not wolves but goats, after which some of them touch the bloodied sacrificial knives to the foreheads of two young men of noble birth, who are required to laugh when others wipe the blood away with wool soaked in milk. After this ceremony, they cut the goat-skins into strips, and clad in nothing but these they run through the city using the swags of goat-skin to lash people along the course. Women of child-bearing age make no effort to avoid the contact, believing it promotes fertility and an easy delivery. In another peculiarity of the ritual, the Luperci sacrifice a dog.

Plutarch, Romulus 21.4-5


[In 154 BC] the censor Cassius built a theater behind the Lupercal towards the Palatine.

Velleius, History 1.15.3


Our ancestors wanted the Megalesian games to be performed and celebrated in front of the Temple of Magna Mater, under the very gaze of the goddess.

Cicero, Response of the Soothsayers 24


[Among my many works in Rome] I built the Lupercal.

Augustus, Achievements 19

The Temple of Victory

60. The Temple of Victory. Sources.


Before joining his soldiers in Sora for battle against the Samnites, [in 294 BC] the consul Lucius Postumius dedicated the Temple of Victory, which he had built using money from fines he collected earlier as aedile.

Livy, History 10.33.9

The Temple of the Great Mother Goddess (Magna Mater)

61. The Temple of the Great Mother Goddess (Magna Mater). Commentary.

The origins of the worship of the Great Mother in Rome are, as with so many temples in Rome, ascribed to a crisis in war time. Having trouble defeating Hannibal, on the advice of the Sibylline Books the Romans imported the goddess from Asia Minor, where she was worshipped under the names of both Cybele and the Great Mother (the Greek word for “great” is Megale; hence the “Megalesian” games in her honor). The goddess's connection with victory in war (as the motivation for importing her) is strengthened by the location of her temple beside the Temple of Victory, which was in fact her home until her temple was finished.

This much sounds very Roman, but there were at least two unusual features about the worship of the Great Mother. First, her cult-image was not a statue but simply a black stone [61.2], which was set onto an enthroned statue of the goddess in the place of a representational head. (A headless statue, flanked by two lions, was found near her temple and is on display in the Palatine Antiquarium).

Secondly, her yearly rites in Rome were led by non-Roman priests who continued to come from Phrygia and who, in becoming devotees of the goddess, had castrated themselves, after the pattern of Attis, a mythological prototype of the devotees of Cybele. Catullus responded to the strangeness of her worship with one of the more imaginative poems in Latin literature [61.12], which attempts to get inside the head of young Attis “the morning after” his ecstatic initiation; perhaps, after his affair with Lesbia, Catullus himself could identify. At any rate, the excerpt is interesting for its dichotomy of urban and wilderness landscapes, which parallels the careful ritual divisions between Roman and foreign participants, as described by Dionysius of Halicarnassus [61.11].

61. The Temple of the Great Mother Goddess (Magna Mater). Sources.


At that time [in 205 BC] a sudden religious fear overtook the Romans when, after the frequent volcanic showers of stone that year, they consulted the Sibylline books and found an oracle stating that any foreign enemy who attacked Italy could be driven out of Italy and defeated only if the Mother of Mt. Ida was brought to Rome from Pessinus.… The Roman ambassadors went to King Attalus of Pergamum, who received them kindly and led them to Pessinus in Phrygia [central Turkey]. There he presented them with the sacred stone that the natives say is the Mother of the Gods, and he invited the Romans to take it back to Rome.

When the ship carrying the Mother of Mt. Ida approached the mouth of the Tiber [in 204 BC], Publius Cornelius Scipio sailed out, as required, to the offshore waters to receive the goddess from her priests, and he brought her in to the shore where the leading matrons of Rome were waiting to receive the goddess. (Among these women the name of the Vestal Quinta Claudia is conspicuous, since her help in bringing the goddess to Rome caused her reputation for purity, until then apparently under some suspicion, to shine into posterity.) Passing the stone hand to hand in unbroken succession, the women sent the sacred stone on its way to Rome. The entire city poured out to watch. Incense-burners were placed at the doorways of homes all along the route, and when the stone passed, they lit incense and prayed that the goddess would enter Rome willingly and look upon them favorably. The matrons brought her to the Temple of Victory on the Palatine on April 12, her holy day, and a crowd of people brought the goddess gifts; a banquet for the gods was held, as well as games called the Megalesia.

Livy, History 29.10.4-5; 11.7; 14.11-14


They say that nothing else was transported from Phrygia by King Attalus besides a stone, and a smallish one at that, able to be carried by a single man without any strain. Its color is a deep black, and it has tiny irregularities in its shape. As we can all see today [c. AD 300] where it sits in place of a head on the statue itself of the Great Mother, it bears only the crudest resemblance to a face.

Arnobius, Against the Pagans 7.49


Not far downstream of Rome, the smoothly flowing Almo

Meets the Tiber and loses it name to the larger river.

Here in his purple robe the ancient priest of the goddess

Washed her stone and sacred tools in the Almo's stream.

Ovid, Fasti 4.337-340


Down by the Almo, where they wash

The eastern ore of the Mother …

Martial, Epigrams 3.47.2


They say that the summer harvest of the year in which the Mother of the Gods was brought to Rome was the biggest in ten years.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia, 18.16


The censors M. Livius and G. Claudius [in 204 BC] contracted the building of the Temple of the Great Mother on the Palatine.

Livy, History 29.37.3


At about the same time [in 191 BC] the Temple of the Great Mother of Mt. Ida was dedicated,…thirteen years after the temple was commissioned. Marcus Junius Brutus dedicated it, and games, called the Megalesia, were also established with the dedication. Valerius Antias says these games were the first to include dramatic performances.

Livy, History 36.36.3-4


The statue of Quinta Claudia that stood at the entrance to the Temple of the Mother of the Gods twice remained untouched by flames when that temple was destroyed by fire, once [in 111 BC] in the consulship of Scipio and Bestia and again [in AD 3] in the consulship of Servilius and Lamia.

Valerius Maximus, Sayings 1.8.11


I rebuilt the Temple of Magna Mater on the Palatine.

Augustus, Achievements 19


I wondered why the Megalesian games were the first

To be held each year in Rome. But the Muse had sensed my query

And answered: “The other gods, because she gave them birth,

Yield and give the games of the Mother Goddess this pride of place.”

Ovid, Fasti 4.357-360


If on rare occasions Rome does introduce a foreign religious rites into the city, she nonetheless observes them according to her own customs, jettisoning the esoteric mythical nonsense. The worship of the Idaean Mother is a good example [of how the Romans deal with outlandish cults]. Every year the praetors perform sacrifices and hold games in her honor, in accordance with Roman customs, but both the priest and priestess of the goddess are Phrygians, and they are the ones who parade her image through the city, begging alms in the Mother's name as is their custom, wearing images around their chests, beating on drums and accompanied by the ritual flute music of their followers. By custom and a decree of the Senate, no native Roman begs alms for Cybele or parades to flute music in multi-colored robes or worships the goddess with ecstatic Phrygian rites.

Dionysius, Early Rome 2.19.3-5


[Attis, in a frenzy of worship, castrated himself

And led a band of devotees to Cybele's wild mountain]

But when the clear-eyed sun rose up with his golden face

Illuminating sky, firm earth, and wild sea,

Attis, unpossessed, saw where he was and what

He wasn't, and spoke in torment to his homeland:

“Is this really me in the forest, so far away from home,

Away from forum, stadium, wrestling-ring and gym?

I, who was once the star of the schoolyard and the pride of the ring,

A serving-girl of the gods, Cybele's slave-girl?

Now I can see and suffer, only now regret my loss!”

But Cybele heard; unleashing the lions yoked to her cart,

She lashed the one on the left, the foe of flocks, and said:

“Be off! Attack that man! I want him wild again.

See that the whip of fury drives him back to the woods,

for thinking that he is free, for wanting to slip my rule.”

O Great Goddess, Cybele, Mistress God of the Mountain,

May the fury you inspire be distant from my home:

Arouse your frenzy in others, drive others, not me, insane.

Catullus, Poem 63 (selected lines)

The House of Augustus (Casa di Livia)

62. The House of Augustus (Casa di Livia). Commentary.

Between Domitian's palace and the Temple of Victory the remains of two residences can be seen today. The one to the north, abutting the Farnese Gardens, is traditionally ascribed to Augustus's wife Livia and called the Casa di Livia, and the other was traditionally assigned to Augustus himself. Although the division between separate spousal quarters is no longer accepted, together they formed part of the imperial compound Augustus gradually assembled on the Palatine, and the “Casa di Livia” may indeed have been the refurbished home of Hortensius that Augustus bought before he became sole ruler [62.1].

Although this whole area was a nice neighborhood in any event, there were some features of this part of the hill that, if they didn't determine Augustus's purchase, were nonetheless significant for his developing image. Nearly contiguous with the back of the house was the Temple of Victory, a goddess much esteemed by Caesar's heir [28.4]. Also somewhere nearby was the Hut of Romulus, held to be a facsimile of his simple hut on its original site. Directly in front of the temples of Victory and the Great Mother, in fact, archaeologists have discovered post-hole traces of Iron Age huts, and a small enclosure there may have contained the dwelling that the Romans preserved and honored as their founder's (oddly, another was preserved on the Capitoline; 9.7). At any rate, we gather elsewhere from Suetonius that Augustus, as a sort of second founder of Rome after the chaos of the civil wars, cultivated a connection with Romulus, and was even close to receiving “Romulus” as a title instead of “Augustus” (Suetonius, Augustus 7.2, 95.2). As so often in Rome but rarely with a finesse equal to Augustus's, topography came to the aid of topology, and did the same work as an overt title, with much more subtlety.

With Victory and Romulus behind the house, that left the front for an even bigger message, and it was here, in the space between his house and the later Palace of Domitian, that Augustus built the famous Temple of Apollo on land that he had personally owned but then made over to the public (thereby both allowing for a temple, which could be built on private land, and yet closely tying it to his person). It is not clear how this temple precinct included a large portico as well as two libraries—possibly on a platform in the direction of the Circus Maximus; the portico may also have surrounded the temple on three sides.

Ancient accounts refer to the splendor of this temple. Augustus's own private residence, remaining simple, allowed him to project a character of frugal Republican virtue, while the precinct in front, separate and yet part of his compound, could be lavish to a remarkable degree, justified as an expense for the god even as it projected in no uncertain terms Augustus's own economic and political power.

The temple was vowed five years before the sea-battle at Actium in 31 BC, in which Augustus defeated Antony and Cleopatra, but it was finished afterwards, and the passage by Virgil shows that the presence of a temple to Apollo on the heights at Actium was a serendipity that didn't go to waste. The sculptural program described by Propertius may also be significant reminders of Rome's (Augustus's) victory over the wild forces of Antony and Cleopatra in the East: the daughters of Danaus murdered their aggressive cousins from Egypt, and Apollo himself had a hand in punishing the recklessness of the Gauls and Niobe.

Another side of Augustus's character and of his power to suppress is dramatically displayed in the passage by Ovid [63.7], who had been exiled to distant borders by Augustus in AD 8 because of a “poem and a mistake” offensive to the emperor (certainly the puritanical moral reformer must have been galled by Ovid's Art of Love). Later in his career, writing in exile, Ovid imagines one of his books as a visitor who has made it back to Rome. Displaying his creator's characteristic combination of humor with pathos and cheek with flattery, the walking, talking book goes around the Augustan city looking for lodging in one of its libraries, only to find out he has been banned from all of them, including the one at the Temple of Apollo.

62. The House of Augustus (Casa di Livia). Sources.


At first Augustus lived near the Roman Forum above the Stairs of the Ringmakers [in the region of the upper Sacra Via], in a house which had belonged to the orator Calvus. After that he moved to the Palatine, but to the no less modest house of Hortensius, which was conspicuous for neither its size nor elegance, having short colonnades with columns of Alban tufa and rooms without marble or fancy flooring. Here he remained for more than forty years, sleeping in the same room both winters and summers, even though winters in Rome did not agree with his health and were hard on him. If he felt the need for doing business in secrecy or without interruption, he could withdraw to a special room elevated above the rest of the house, which he called either his “Syracuse” or “the Shop,” or would take refuge in a nearby villa that belonged to one or another of his freedmen. If he was sick, however, he would convalesce at the home of Maecenas. During longer retreats, he frequented the coast and islands of the Bay of Naples or towns nearer Rome such as Lanuvium and Praeneste, as well as Tivoli, where he frequently held court under the colonnades of the Temple of Hercules.

Suetonius, Augustus 72.1-2


The emperor's residence is called the Palatium, not because of any official designation, but because Caesar Augustus lived on the Palatine hill and had his military headquarters there. Augustus's house, however, gained a degree of fame from the hill itself, as the place where Romulus had built his house.

Dio, History 53.16.5


Romulus and Remus lived the life of herdsmen and earned their living with their hands. They lived for the most part on the hills, building huts entirely out of wooden poles and reeds. One of these huts survives even to my own day, preserved on the slope of the Palatine facing the Circus and called the Hut of Romulus. Those in charge of its care preserve its sanctity and resist improvements that would make it more stately. When the hut gets damaged by storm or routine wear, they replicate its earlier appearance as closely as possible.

Dionysius, Early Rome 1.79.11


The Hut of Romulus also burnt down [in 12 BC] when crows dropped flaming sacrificial meat they had taken from an altar somewhere.

Dio, History 54.29.8


During my sixth and seventh consulships [in 28-27 BC], with the power of the state entirely in my hands by universal consent, I extinguished the flames of civil wars, and then ceded control, transferring the Republic back to the authority of the Senate and the Roman people. For this service I was named Augustus by a decree of the Senate, the doorposts of my house were wreathed with laurel, and the Civic Crown [of Oak-Leaves] was fastened above my door ….

When serving my thirteenth consulship [in 2 BC], the Senate, the equestrian order, and the entire Roman people named me Father of the Country, and decreed the title to be inscribed in the reception hall of my house, in the Senate House, and in the Forum of Augustus below the chariot statue awarded to me by the Senate.

Augustus, Achievements 34-5


[On January 13, 27 BC] the Senate decreed that the Crown of Oak-Leaves be fastened above the doorway of the house of Emperor Caesar Augustus, because he restored the Republic to the Roman people.

Calendar Inscription (Fasti Praenestini)


Calendar for April 28:

Vesta, accept your day of honor! Vesta has been received

in the home of her kinsman Augustus: justly has the Senate decreed.

Apollo has his portion, another portion is Vesta's,

And what remains, a third one claims for himself.

Palatine laurels, may you prosper; long prosper the home

wreathed with oak leaves: one house for three immortal gods.

Ovid, Fasti 4.949-54

The Temple of Apollo

63. The Temple of Apollo. Sources.


[After the war against Sextus Pompeius in Sicily, in 36 BC] Augustus returned to the city and announced that he was dedicating to public use those homes which he had purchased earlier through his agents to expand his own home. He also promised to build a temple to Apollo with a portico around it, a project he carried out with exceptional magnificence.

Velleius, History 2.81.3


Augustus built the Temple of Apollo on that part of his compound that, after lightning struck it, the soothsayers said was wanted by the god. He included colonnades with Greek and Latin libraries and when he was old often convened the senate here and reviewed the senatorial panels of jurors.

Suetonius, Augustus 29.3


[In 28 BC] Augustus finished and dedicated the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine, along with the precinct around the temple and the libraries there.

Dio, History 53.1.13


[The poet contrasts Cynthia's wild ways with his own upstanding use of time:]

You wonder why I'm late, my love? The mighty Augustus

Just opened Apollo's golden portico.

Columns of African marble border the temple grounds,

And the fifty daughters of Danaus stand between them.

A marble Apollo seems to outshine the god himself,

Lips parted to sing along with his silent lyre,

And spaced around the altar, looking almost alive,

Four bulls from the famous hand of Myron stand.

Then, in the middle, a temple of radiant marble rises,

A home more dear to the god than Delos itself.

The chariot of the Sun is upon its pediment.

The doors are Libyan ivory, finely wrought,

One door lamenting the Gauls tossed from the peak of Parnassus,

The other mourning the death of Niobe's children.

Next, the god himself, between his mother and sister,

The Pythian Apollo sings in a lengthy robe.

I wish that you, in your free time, would stroll such grounds!

Propertius, Elegies 2.31; 32.7-8


Looking down from his temple above the battle of Actium,

Apollo bent his bow, and all our eastern enemies

from Arabia, Egypt, and India turned and fled in terror.

The shield portrayed Augustus sitting on the snow-white threshold

Of radiant Apollo, receiving the gifts of foreign peoples

On the god's behalf and attaching them to the lofty door-posts.

Virgil, Aeneid 8.704-6, 720-2


After Augustus assumed the office of Pontifex Maximus [in 12 BC], he collected all the Greek and Latin prophetic writings in circulation that were anonymous or attributed to unqualified authors, and burned more than two thousand of them. He preserved only the Sibylline verses (though editing even these) and deposited them in two gilded cases beneath the pedestal of the Palatine Apollo.

Suetonius, Augustus 31.1


[Ovid, exiled by Augustus, sends a book (or scroll) of poems to the reader in Rome; the book itself is addressing the reader:]

“Sent to Rome by my author in exile, I come with misgivings.

Lend a kindly hand, dear reader, to a weary book,

And have no fear that in welcoming me you may be disgraced:

Not a couplet in this poem on the art of making love.

Reader, if it isn't much trouble, could you show me the way?

Where can a book from the borders find some lodging in Rome?”

[Ovid's book manages, after difficulties, to find a reader to be his guide, and they walk together to the Palatine and its new library. Ovid continues the conceit of his talking book:]

Marveling at each of the sights in turn, I spot a dwelling

Fit for a god, its doorposts gleaming with weapons.

“Is this the home of Jupiter?” I ask, my mind

Divining as much from the crown of oak-leaves dear to the god.

When I learn the mansion's master, “Ah, then I did not err;

This truly is the home of mighty Jupiter.

But why is the doorway adorned with a screen of sacred laurel,

Why does the dusky laurel frame this august entry?

Because that house has earned for itself perpetual triumph?

Or perhaps the house is always loved by the god Apollo?

An inscription explains the wreath of oak that crowns the door,

a witness to citizens protected by the power of the man within.”

Then with an even pace I am led up the lofty steps

To the bright and towering temple of the young and beardless god,

Where statues alternate with columns of foreign marble,

The Danaid brides with their savage father, his sword unsheathed.

Here whatever ancient or modern authors have captured

With a writer's craft and insight awaits the public's perusal.

I look for my brothers there (except of course for those books

That even my father Ovid now wishes he never begot),

But while I search for them in vain, the head librarian

Approaches and says he must ask me to leave this sacred ground.

Ovid, Tristia 3.1, selections

The Palace of Tiberius (Domus Tiberiana)

64. The Palace of Tiberius (Domus Tiberiana). Commentary.

After Augustus, the building of palaces began. His successor Tiberius must have built something grander than Augustus's collection of homes, since the large area now taken up by the Farnese Gardens became known as the Palace of Tiberius (the Latin word for this and Domitian's palace continued to be domus). The earliest palace foundation here, however, appears to go back only to Nero, who no doubt had to rebuild the palace after the Fire, and perhaps took the opportunity to make it larger. The Palace of Tiberius, whatever transformations and expansions it underwent, would have been the principal Roman imperial residence for Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero in the early part of his reign. Nero made several attempts at a wholesale expansion via independent structures, first with his Domus Transitoria and then after the fire of AD 64, with the Domus Aurea, and there are significant though mostly subterranean Palatine remains from his reign. The colorful marble floor exposed in the western courtyard of Domitian's banquet hall, a consummate example of ancient Roman stonecraft, goes back to the Domus Aurea phase of Nero's reign.

After Nero's death, Vespasian, perhaps as part of a general attempt to dissociate himself from the excesses of Nero, seems to have avoided the palace. His son Domitian was responsible for the next, and grandest, expansion of palace buildings, and in the process built over much of what was distinctive from Nero's reign. The Palace of Tiberius, however, continued to be used under its own name at least into the reigns of the Antonines and perhaps much longer.

There is little in the sources on the construction and appearance of the Palace of Tiberius in any of its phases, with the exceptions of Caligula's extension of the Palace of Tiberius out over the Forum and the bridge he built to connect the Palatine to the Capitoline. Although in the first instance Caligula's architecture, in the service of his intimacy with Castor and Jupiter, is illustrative of a notoriously unbalanced megalomaniac, it is also part of the ongoing and evolving imperial attempt to increase and express the power of the imperial office. It is as if what the other emperors (above all, Augustus) were able to manipulate symbolically, Caligula tried to embrace all too literally, a not uncommon dysfunction.

64. The Palace of Tiberius (Domus Tiberiana). Sources.


Up until now I have been discussing Caligula in his capacity as an emperor. We must now consider him in his capacity as a monster.…

When Caligula was on the verge of assuming a royal crown, converting the appearance of the Principate into the institution of monarchy, and someone pointed out to him that he already rose above both emperors and kings, Caligula began to claim for himself divine status. He gave out orders that the exceptionally revered and beautiful statues of deities, such as the Jupiter at Olympia, were to be brought to Rome from Greece, decapitated, and supplied with a head of his own likeness. He also extended a part of the Palatine palace all the way out to the Forum, transforming the Temple of Castor and Pollux into an entrance hall for the Palace. There in the temple he would often take his seat between the twin gods, presenting himself for worship to those who approached. Some even greeted him as Jupiter Latiaris, [a form of Jupiter worshipped on Mt. Albanus].

On clear nights when the Moon was full, he would welcome the lunar deity into his bed with passionate embraces, but by day he had private words with Jupiter Capitolinus, and would whisper in the god's ear or put his own ear to Jupiter's lips. At times he would raise his voice and even quarrel with the god: once he was heard to quote Homer in threatening tones, “Either you move me, or I move you…!” Finally Caligula announced that he had been won over by Jupiter's entreaties to live together. He then built a bridge above the Temple of the Deified Augustus to connect the Palatine and the Capitoline, and soon laid the foundations of a new house near the Temple of Jupiter.

Suetonius, Caligula 22.1-4


[The praetorian conspirators assassinated Caligula.] Even when the emperor fell dead they did not hold back, but kept stabbing him savagely, some of them even tasting his flesh.… Thus did Caligula learn that he was not in fact a god.

Dio, History 59.29.7


[Claudius, the uncle of Caligula, was long the object of jokes and humiliation. But when Caligula was assassinated in a conspiracy of centurions and tribunes,] Claudius, at the age of fifty, became emperor in the strangest manner imaginable.

When the conspirators had killed Caligula and were dispersing the crowd by pretending that the emperor was still alive and just wanted to be alone, Claudius, excluded along with the others, withdrew into a summer room called the Hermaeum. A short time later he heard a report that Caligula had been murdered. In terror, Claudius slipped outside to a balcony off the Hermaeum, concealing himself behind the curtains that hung across the doorway. By chance, one of the rank-and-file wandering around the Palace saw his feet sticking out from under the curtain. Checking to see who it was, the soldier recognized Claudius and pulled him inside. As Claudius fell to his knees in fear, the soldier hailed him emperor.

The soldier led Claudius back to his fellow soldiers, who were still raging and roaming about without a plan. They placed Claudius on a litter, and since his own litter-bearers had run off, they took turns carrying him back to the [Praetorian] Camp.… But on the following day, while the Senate delayed out of weariness and disagreement over what should be done next, and while the crowd that had gathered outside demanded a single ruler and shouted for Claudius by name, Claudius allowed the soldiers to assemble in arms to swear an oath of allegiance to him. Claudius also paid them 15,000 sesterces each (becoming the first of the Caesars to secure the loyalty of troops with a cash payment).

Suetonius, Claudius 10.1-4


You're shocked by the vices of an ordinary woman?

Regard the ones who rival gods, and hear what Claudius

Endured in Messalina. No sooner was he snoring

Than our hooker for a Highness donned a hooded cloak,

Willing to trade her Palatine sheets for a tattered blanket

And leave the Hill behind with a single servant in tow.

No longer brunette but blonde, thanks to a wig, and wrapped

In a ragged quilt, she'd sneak inside a hopping whorehouse

To the room reserved for the Empress under the name of “Wolf-girl.”

Then stripping down to her gilded nipples she went to work,

Offering up the loins that bore the prince Britannicus,

Absorbing the impact of man after man without a break,

And when the boss dismissed his girls, it was too soon

for Messalina; reluctantly she'd close up shop

and sadly limp her way back up the Palatine.

Juvenal, Satires 6.115-130


The emperor Vespasian resided infrequently on the Palatine, spending most of his time at the estate called the Gardens of Sallust, where he would receive anyone who wished to see him, not just the senators.… He was considered an autocrat only in his care of the public welfare; in all other respects he lived a common life on the level of others.

Dio, History 65.10.4, 11.1


At the beginning of his reign [c. AD 81], Domitian customarily spent hours in seclusion each day, doing nothing other than catching flies and stabbing them with a finely-pointed stylus. When someone once asked if anyone was inside with Caesar, Vibius Crispus aptly quipped: “No one … not even a fly.”

Suetonius, Domitian 3.1


[There are many examples of Antoninus Pius's (AD 138-161) peaceful and generous character.] There was a Greek philosopher from Chalcis named Apollonius who had been summoned to Rome by the emperor. When Antoninus sent word for him to come to the Domus Tiberiana (where the emperor was then living) to tutor Marcus Aurelius, Apollonius said, “The teacher should not come to the pupil, but the pupil to the teacher.” Antoninus only smiled, saying “It was easier for Apollonius to get from Greece to Rome than from his own house to the Palatine.”

Imperial Lives, Antoninus Pius 10.4


[A tomb inscription:] Julia Gemella, wife of Isidorus, died at age 25. Albanus, slave of Caesar, assigned to the furnishings at the Domus Tiberiana, died at age 45.

ILS 1773 = CIL 6.8654

The Palace of Domitian (Domus Augustiana)

65. The Palace of Domitian (Domus Augustiana). Commentary.

The bulk of the visible ruins on the Palatine today belong to the Palace of Domitian. Extensive as these ruins are, the work under Domitian transformed even more of the hill than is apparent today. By the time Domitian's builders were done, the imperial residences spread in a broad horseshoe around the Palatine—the Palace of Tiberius taking up much of the west side, ending at the compound of Augustus and associated temples above the Circus, continuing along the south side with the various sections of the Palace of Domitian, and then ex-tending back towards the Forum again along the east side on a large platform, first built under Domitian for gardens and a temple. Much of the remaining space in the center of this horseshoe was itself given over to the main approach to the temple from the Forum, and included a Domitianic temple (perhaps a rebuilding of Jupiter Stator) and a public gathering space [65.8] in front of Domitian's towering audience hall.

Although confusing in detail, the overall layout of the Palace of Domitian is clear enough if one approaches it from one of its public entrances, across the way from the House of Augustus, behind the Temple of Apollo. Approached from this entrance (as guests invited to a banquet probably did) the space makes sense as an aristocratic house writ large.

First there is the space devoted to the public, a section of the palace sometimes separately named the Domus Flavia, although this designation is modern; the customary ancient name for the whole palace was the Domus August(i)ana. After the entrance hall connected to the street, one comes upon a large courtyard with a pool (schematically, like an atrium with the impluvium in a traditional domus). On the left, towards the Forum, the emperor and his officials conducted business in three rooms; the room in the corner is sometimes called the “basilica” because of its architecture. Plutarch refers to a splendid “basilica” in the palace [65.1], but that may refer instead to the huge central audience hall next to it,, which would have formed another prominent and more official component to the complex, with its own entrance towards the Forum. On the opposite side of the courtyard, towards the Circus, the emperor held public if still exclusive dinners, such as the one in AD 94 that elicited Statius's description of the great banquet-hall.

Past this layer of public space are the more private quarters of the palace, a multi-layered warren of rooms between and around two further courtyards. Beyond this more residential zone (partially excavated, and partially reconstructed in the 1930s), in place of the traditional peristyle, a long two-storied peristyle garden stretches across the “back” of the house. Although it looks like a race-track (much like the one Domitian built in Piazza Navona area), it probably was not used for sports, although in late antiquity someone had a small amphitheater installed at the Circus-end of it. The palace continued beyond this garden with services such as baths and perhaps some of the quarters for servants, concubines, etc. Subsequent emperors greatly expanded the palace in this direction (towards the Caelian hill), especially Septimius Severus, who built the towering substructions that artificially extended the hill towards the Septizonium, and apparently contemplated another monumental entrance to the palace from this direction [65.6]. Also on the southeastern side of the hill is a large section of an aqueduct extension by Domitian, which supplied the new palace with the copious supply of water that the ponds, fountains, baths, and staffing demanded.

65. The Palace of Domitian (Domus Augustiana). Sources.


Anyone who is amazed at the expense of Domitian's restoration of the Temple of Jupiter should see just one colonnade in the Palace of Domitian, or its basilica, its bath, or the quarters there for the concubines.… Then he would be moved to tell Domitian, “You are not pious, or even ambitious: this obsession to build is a sickness. Like King Midas, you want everything you touch to turn to gold or marble.”

Plutarch, Publicola 15.5


Rabirius: you piously brought the stars and heaven to earth

When your genius built Domitian's palace on Evander's turf.

Martial, Epigrams 7.56.1-2


The ceilings of the palace rest on columns that cannot be counted

And the cross-beams glitter brightly, coated in Dalmatian gold.

Coolness drops from the shade where ancient trees arrest

The heat, and sparkling fountains jump in marble ponds.

Here Nature obeys no seasons; the Dog-Star chills,

Winter warms, and the house conforms the year to its wishes.

Statius, Occasional Poems 1.2.152-157


[Virgil and Homer have each described great banquets of heroes,]

But how shall I, whom Caesar has granted the novel delights

Of dining with divinity at the imperial table, [AD 94]

Tune my lyre to match my sense of debt and tender

Adequate gratitude?


The hall is sublime and vast: no hundred columns merely,

But enough to hold the gods and heaven above the earth,

Should Atlas retire. Jupiter in his temple gapes

At your home in awe, Domitian, and the gods rejoice

In your equal footing. No need for you to hasten to heaven;

That structure spreads immense, and the reach of its giant hall,

More open than a field and holding in its embrace

More space than the sky, is only outdone by its lord: he fills

The happy home with his mighty spirit. Here stone competes

With stone, Numidian yellow rivaled by Phrygian purple,

Granite from Egypt, blushing marbles, and sea-green stone;

White slabs of Luna are relegated to the bases of columns.

The ceiling is a distant view, and the eyes must strain to reach

Its summit, to glimpse, it seems, the gilded panels of heaven.

Such was the setting where Caesar commanded the senators

Of Rome to sup together with knights at a thousand tables

Statius, Occasional Poems 4.2.5-8;18-33


Feared and hated by all, Domitian was finally overthrown [in AD 96] by a conspiracy composed of his friends, intimate freedmen, and even his wife. For a long time he had had a premonition of the year and final day of his life …. As the time of suspected danger approached, he grew more anxious by the day and had the walls of the colonnades where he like to stroll covered with a veneer of moonstone, so that he could see in its polish the reflections of whatever was happening behind his back.

On the day of his death, when Domitian asked the time, one of the conspirators told him it was the sixth hour, knowing that Domitian feared the fifth. Thinking the danger past, Domitian happily hurried off to exercise and bathe, but was stopped along the way by his chamberlain Parthenius, who said someone had to see him about some weighty matter or other that couldn't be put off. And so Domitian, having dismissed his attendants, entered his bedroom, where he was killed.

Suetonius, Domitian 14.1, 4; 16.2


When Septimius Severus constructed the Septizonium [in AD 203], he simply intended it as a monument to greet travelers arriving from Africa by the Appian Way. He is said, however, to have wanted an entrance to the Palatine (the imperial residence) from that quarter of the hill, but was thwarted when a Prefect of Rome put up a statue of Severus in the middle of the monument when Severus was out of town. Alexander Severus was planning to create an approach to the palace from there as well, but was prohibited by the soothsayers.

Imperial Lives, Severus 24.3


In honor of the spirits of the dead, Tiberius Claudius Thallus, in charge of the awnings of the Domus Augustiana, made this tomb for himself and his children.

ILS 1775 = CIL 6.8649


While we were waiting in the Palatine Square [area] to pay our respects to Caesar, the philosopher Favorinus spotted Caecilius, the great law-scholar, and approached him.

Gellius, Attic Nights 20.1.2

VII. The Golden House, Colosseum, and Esquiline Hill

The Golden House, Colosseum, and Esquiline Hill

The Fire of AD 64

66. The Fire of AD 64. Commentary.

Although Nero's famous fire started in the Campus Martius and spread over most of downtown Rome, the Colosseum-basin is a fitting place to include ancient descriptions of it, not only because Nero's signature work in Rome, the famous Golden House (the Domus Aurea) was built around the basin, but because the fire gave Nero greater liberty in its creation.

In addition to a famous passage about Crassus's profiteering that testifies to the frequency of fires in Rome [66.1], I have also included here a few sources that indicate the possible impact that Nero's fire may have had on the Christian topography of Rome. The first known persecution of Christians in Rome was a result of the fire. Tacitus reports that Nero blamed the fire on the Christians to deflect the suspicion that he started it, and he had many of them executed, some of them used as torches in mockery of the crime they were charged with, others by crucifixion. Tacitus further tells us that some of the executions took place in Nero's circus in the Vatican fields, a racetrack (apparently begun by Gaius Caligula; see 94.2) that stretched all along the left side of the present Basilica of St. Peter. Alongside this racetrack was a street lined by tombs, and it is possible that Simon Peter was not only one of the Christians killed in this persecution, but that he was killed in Nero's circus and buried in this cemetery. Early Christians, at any rate, believed his bones rested here [67.3] and built a shrine above them in the C2, followed, under Constantine, by the large basilica that was the forerunner of the current St. Peter's.

The ruins of Nero's circus are no longer visible, but the obelisk located at its center still stands, transported by Pope Sixtus V in 1586 a short distance to the piazza in front of the new St. Peter's Basilica. The ancient cemetery, complete with street and mausoleums that are preserved deep underground among the massive foundations of the present basilica, is one of the more astounding sites in Rome and can be visited with advance reservations.

66. The Fire of AD 64. Sources.


The best indication of Crassus's love of wealth is the size of his fortune and the means he used to acquire it [c. 60s BC].… Perceiving that deadly fires and building collapses were a common and predictable occurrence in Rome because structures were built too high and too close together, Crassus began to purchase slaves trained in architecture and construction. When he had amassed a crew of 500, he would buy up properties on fire or those next to a fire, which their owners, out of fear and uncertainty, sold for bargain prices. In this manner Crassus came to own the greater part of Rome.

Plutarch, Crassus 2.5


At this time [AD 64] a disastrous fire occurred. Whether it was an accident or due to the treachery of Nero is not known (since writers have handed down both accounts), but it was clearly the most serious and destructive fire ever to ravage Rome. It began in the part of the Circus that borders on the Palatine and Caelian hills. Feeding on the highly flammable merchandise there, the fire grew rapidly. Whipped by the winds, it raced down the length of the Circus, encountering here none of the obstructions, such as walls that surround mansions and temple precincts, that might have delayed the flames. Spreading quickly, it charged across the level areas, then up the hills and back down again to destroy the lower spots, outstripping all preventive measures by its speed. The city was all the more vulnerable because of the narrow alleyways and the irregular, twisting blocks of buildings that characterized old Rome. … In addition, no one dared to fight the fire, since anyone making an attempt was subjected to repeated threats by many people; others were even openly throwing torches about, claiming they had the authority to do so (whether to plunder more freely, or because they were indeed under orders).

When the fire started, Nero was in Antium and did not return to the city until the fire was nearing the palace he built to connect the Palatine Hill to the Gardens of Maecenas. The fire, however, could not be stopped before it consumed the Palatine, the palace, and everything around it. By way of relief for the people made homeless by the fire, Nero opened up to them the Campus Martius, the monuments of Agrippa, and even his own gardens [on the Vatican Hill], and erected temporary structures to house the large numbers of homeless. Food supplies were brought upstream from Ostia and neighboring towns, and the price of grain was lowered to three sesterces a peck. But all of these efforts, although popular in nature, won Nero no favor with the people, since the rumor had surfaced that while the city was still on fire he got up on his private stage and sang his poem “The Fall of Troy,” noting the correspondences between the present calamities and that ancient catastrophe.

Finally on the sixth day the fire died out at the lower slopes of the Esquiline hill, where a wide swath of buildings had been purposefully demolished so the advancing inferno would come up against open field and empty sky. But before there was time for either fear to subside or hope to return, the fire broke out again and this time ravaged the more open quarters of the city, where the loss of life was smaller than in the first fire, but the destruction to temples and porticoed parks was even greater. This second blaze aroused more suspicion because it originated in the Aemilian estates [probably located in the Campus Martius just north of the Capitoline] of Nero's associate, Tigellinus, and because it seemed that Nero wanted to be famous for founding a new Rome named after himself.

Of the fourteen regions into which Rome is divided, four of them remained untouched by the flames and three were completely leveled; in the remaining seven regions, scattered remnants of buildings still stood in burnt ruin.

It would not be easy to list all the fine homes, apartment buildings, and temples which were destroyed by this fire. Among the losses were the some of the oldest sacred sites in Rome, including Servius Tullius's Temple of the Moon-Goddess, the large altar and shrine that Arcadian Evander consecrated to Hercules for his help, the Temple of Jupiter Stator vowed by Romulus, Numa's Regia, and the Temple of Vesta along with the Penates of the Roman people. Also lost were treasures gained in numerous victories, masterpieces of Greek art, and the old, original manuscripts of great writers. As a result, even though the city rose again in such great splendor, the older people remembered many losses which could never be made good.

Some people noted that the fire began on July 19, the same date of the fire the Gauls once started when they sacked the city [in 390 BC]. Others went to the trouble of calculating that the interval between the two fires can be divided up into the same number of years, months, and days [454 years equaling 418 years, 418 months, and 418 days].

Tacitus, Annals 15.38-41


[Nero blatantly started the fire.]

Viewing it from the tower of Maecenas and inspired, as he said, “by the beauty of the flames,” Nero sang his “Sack of Troy” from beginning to end, dressed in his customary stage costume.

Suetonius, Nero 38.2


Those parts of Rome left over from Nero's new palace were not rebuilt in the random and disorderly fashion that characterized reconstruction after the Gauls burned the city, but rather in rows of measured streets, wide thoroughfares, and open spaces. Building heights were regulated and porticoes protected the fronts of apartment buildings. Nero promised that he would build the colonnades at his own expense, and that he would hand properties back over to their owners when he finished clearing away the rubble. In addition, he offered a reward, varying according to each person's station and the size of his property, for rebuilding homes and apartment buildings within a certain time. He also designated the marshes of Ostia as a land-fill for the rubble, which was taken down the Tiber on boats that had unloaded their shipment of grain.

As for the new buildings themselves, Nero stipulated that a certain portion of them must be built without wooden beams, using either Gabine or Alban stone [= peperino tufas], since this type of stone stands up to fire.

To increase the volume of the water-supply and deliver it to more places in public, guards were assigned to stop the illegal tapping of the aqueducts, and each building (which could no longer share a wall with another building) had to have fire-fighting equipment on the premises.

Such regulations adopted for utility led to a more beautiful city as well. There were some, however, who believed that the old look of the city was more conducive to the well-being of the inhabitants, arguing that the narrower streets and taller buildings had helped to break the heat of the sun that baked the open and shadeless spaces of the new Rome.

Tacitus, Annals 15.43


Nero devised a new arrangement for buildings in the city, and provided his own money to construct porticoes in front of apartment buildings and homes so that fires could be fought from the roofs of these porches. He also planned to extend the walls all the way to Ostia, and to bring the sea into the city center with a canal.

Suetonius, Nero 16.1

The Circus of Gaius and Nero and Christian Persecutions

67. The Circus of Gaius and Nero and Christian Persecutions. Sources.


Nero had a space in the Vatican valley enclosed where he might practice his chariot-racing. At first he raced in private, but soon he was inviting the public in to cheer him on.

Tacitus, Annals 14.14.4


[After the fire, various rituals were performed to appease the gods.] But neither the emperor's expense and generosity nor the appeasement of the gods could avert the suspicion that Nero ordered the fire. To quell this rumor Nero falsely accused others—“Christians,” as they were commonly called, already hated for their scandalous conduct—and he subjected them to the most elaborate tortures. (Their founder was a man named Christ, who was executed in Tiberius's reign by the orders of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. The deadly cult was thus suppressed for the moment, but then burst forth anew, not only in Judaea, the source of this evil, but throughout Rome as well, where all things shocking and disgraceful gravitate and thrive.)

First some Christians were arrested who confessed to the crime, and by their evidence a host of others were convicted, not so much for the crime of arson as for their hatred of humankind. Mockery attended their death: dressed in the hides of animals they were torn apart by dogs, nailed on crosses, or were themselves set on fire after dark and used as torches. Nero opened his gardens to this spectacle and made a show of their executions in his circus, dressed as a charioteer and mingling with the people, or riding on a chariot. As a result of his behavior, people felt pity for these Christians, not because they didn't think them guilty and deserving of novel punishments, but because it seemed that they were being slaughtered not for the public welfare but to satisfy the savagery of one man.

Tacitus, Annals 15.44


It is recorded that the Apostles Paul and Peter were killed under Nero in Rome itself, the former by decapitation and the latter by crucifixion. That this occurred in Rome is corroborated by the existence of cemeteries there in their names, and by no less an authority than Caius, a church historian who wrote when Zephyrinus was Bishop of Rome [c. AD 210].…

Discussing the location of the relics of the apostles in question, Caius reports: “I am able to point out the burial monuments of these apostles: if you care to go out to the Vatican field or the road to Ostia, you will find the monuments of the founders of our Church.”

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.5-7

Nero's Golden House (Domus Aurea)

68. Nero's Golden House (Domus Aurea). Commentary.

Although Julius Caesar and Nero differed so greatly from one another in character and temperament, they shared a fatal independence and lack of tact with regard to some of Rome's sacred institutions and time-honored ways that got them both killed by aristocratic conspiracies. Their approach to Roman topography is symptomatic of this offensive independence: the one, had he lived, might have moved the Tiber [2.4], and the other actually did create, practically in the heart of the city, a rural estate centered on a man-made lake.

The lake, located where the Colosseum stands today, was the geographical centerpiece of the Domus Aurea, Nero's new imperial estate stretching from the Palatine to the Gardens of Maecenas on the Esquiline. The most famous and well-preserved part of the estate, an architecturally innovative wing on the lower Esquiline, goes by the name Domus Aurea today, but Suetonius uses the term to refer to the whole property, which comprised numerous buildings, long colonnades, and faux-countryside with farms and vineyards on the slopes around the lake. Although the Colosseum-basin is still fed by springs, perhaps with enough volume to form a pond when dammed, Nero's extension of the Aqua Claudia down the Caelian could have been used to feed the lake after supplying fountains and gardens with water (perhaps even powering the machinery that rotated the domed ceiling of his dining room).

Several of the sources show how deeply offended the Romans were at this cavalier use of Roman space for private enjoyment, and subsequent emperors reaped the benefits of returning this land to the people's use, most dramatically in the form of the Colosseum.

68. Nero's Golden House (Domus Aurea). Sources.


After the fire, Nero took personal advantage of his country's calamity and built himself a downtown residence. The cause for amazement was not so much its profusion of gems and gold (luxuries common enough by then) as its fields and ponds, with woods resembling a wilderness on one side and open spaces with vistas on the other. This was all designed and directed by Severus and Celer, who possessed both the talent and the audacity that were needed to create by art what nature herself refused, and to beguile away the resources at an emperor's disposal.

Tacitus, Annals 15.42.1


For all Nero's extravagance elsewhere, nothing matched his wastefulness in building. He built a palace that stretched from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which he at first called the Passage House [Domus Transitoria] and then, after this was soon destroyed in the fire and rebuilt, renamed the Golden House [Domus Aurea]. The following details will suffice to give an idea of its size and luxury.

In the forecourt of the Golden House stood a statue in the likeness of Nero 120 feet tall. The palace was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. A pond, in imitation of the sea, was bordered with buildings to look like cities. In addition there were various types of countryside, with cropland, vineyards, pastures and woods, plentifully stocked with all manner of wild and domestic creatures.

In the rest of the palace, everything was overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of-pearl. The dining rooms had ceilings with ivory panels that swiveled aside so that pipes might shower petals and perfume on banqueters below, and the main dining room had a dome that revolved day and night like the heavens. The baths flowed with waters from the sea and the Albulan sulfur springs [near Tivoli]. When Nero dedicated the palace constructed in such a fashion, he simply expressed his approval by saying, “Finally a home fit for a human being.”

Suetonius, Nero 31.1-2


Nero proved surprisingly tolerant towards those who made him the target of their witticisms and verse-lampoons. There were many of these in circulation, in Greek as well as in Latin. The following about the Golden House is one example:

Rome is now a private home,

It's time to emigrate—

Assuming other lands exist

When they finish this estate.

Suetonius, Nero 39.2


[In 65 BC a conspiracy (betrayed before it was carried out) formed against Nero, with the aim of replacing him with Calpurnius Piso.] The conspirators wanted to rush the assassination along and do it while Nero was still staying at Piso's villa near Naples. But Piso refused, saying it was better for them to kill him in Rome, either in the hated home that Nero had built on land plundered from Roman citizens, or out in the open, to finish in public what they had undertaken for the Republic.

Tacitus, Annals 15.52


Vespasian built the Temple of the Deified Claudius on the Caelian Hill. The temple had actually been begun by Claudius's widow Agrippina, but Nero demolished it nearly down to its foundations.

Suetonius, Vespasian 9.1


Where now the Sun's Colossus has its closer view of the stars

And towering scaffolds loom above the street,

The hated entrance halls of that wild king once gleamed

And a single dwelling stood in all the city.

Where now the venerable mass of the Amphitheater rises

High above Rome, the pond of Nero spread.

Where now we gaze in wonder on the sudden Baths of Titus,

A haughty estate deprived the people of homes.

Where now the Claudian colonnade unfolds its spreading shade

The furthest part of the palace came to an end.

Rome has been restored to Rome, Titus, with you as her defender,

And pleasures grabbed by a tyrant return to the people.

Martial, On Spectacles 2

Colossus of Nero

69. Colossus of Nero. Sources.


In the entry area of Nero's Golden House stood a statue in the likeness of Nero 120 feet tall.

Suetonius, Nero 31


There exists a giant class of bronze statues called Colossi, tall as towers. The Colossus of the Sun-god in Rhodes, built by Chares, was the most famous of them. Larger than all of them, however, was a colossus made in our own time by Zenodorus. Summoned to Rome by Nero, he made a colossus 106½ feet tall, intended originally to represent the emperor, but since dedicated to the Sun-god after the crimes of Nero were condemned.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 34.39, 41, 45


In Vespasian's sixth consulship and Titus's fourth [AD 75], … the statue called the Colossus was set up on the Sacred Way. They say that it is one hundred feet high and has the face of Nero, according to some, or Titus, according to others.

Dio, History 65.15


Among his many architectural activities in Rome, Hadrian had the Colossus moved from the site of his new Temple of [Venus and] Rome. The architect Decrianus directed the work, suspending and transporting the statue in an upright position, an object so massive that it required twenty-four elephants. Hadrian then had the features of Nero removed (the statue's original dedicatee) and consecrated it instead to the Sun-god, which he planned to accompany later with a colossus of the Moon designed by Apollodorus.

Imperial Lives, Hadrian 19.12-13


[The emperor Commodus (ruling AD 180-192) was obsessed with the idea of being a famous gladiator.] He actually had the head of the Colossus removed and replaced with a new one in his own features. He also gave the Colossus a club and had a bronze lion placed at its feet to suggest the figure of Hercules, and then added the inscription: “Best of the Gladiators.”

Dio, History 73.22.3


So long as the Colossus stands, Rome shall stand; when the Colossus falls, Rome too shall fall; and when Rome falls, so falls the world.

Pseudo-Bede (P.L. 94.543)

Colosseum (Amphitheatrum Flavii)

70. Colosseum (Amphitheatrum Flavii). Commentary.

It is not known exactly when the Colosseum got its name from the colossus next to it, although it was well into the Middle Ages; in antiquity Rome's most famous building was known as the Flavian Amphitheater, or simply as the Amphitheater. A recent reconstruction of an inscription found on one of the Colosseum's blocks [70.1] confirms that the monument had the standard financing, in this case booty from the Jewish War waged by the first Flavian emperor Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian. The Romans since time immemorial had staged gladiatorial combat at various venues, including the Forum and Pompey's Theater, and Seneca's account below, written under Nero, shows how sated and desensitized the audience had become even before the Colosseum was built, but Vespasian gave the city an installation it could be proud of, and on land reclaimed for the people from Nero's hated estate.

As an icon of ancient Rome, the Colosseum's attractive power today is generated by a strong polarity: on the one hand the structure is a marvel of engineering and design still not exhaustively documented, and on the other it stands as a symbol of depravity, decadence, and cruelty. Our condemnation itself of the arena is, like that of Alypius so famously depicted by St. Augustine, no simple matter, and popular portrayals of the arena in cinema today suggest that any investigation and condemnation of the arena, with its manic emperors and craven (but ultimately good-hearted) crowds, that didn't at the same time give us serious bloodsport would be a box-office flop; we condemn, and get in line. Even the crosses later stationed in the arena as a witness to its crimes partake of the complexity of the fascination with gruesome deaths.

In several ways, the Colosseum is also a fitting symbol for the Roman empire in its physical extent. The entertainment there was geographically coded, featuring both human combatants from distant lands trained in the characteristic fighting skills of those lands, and exotic animals from all reaches of the empire. The environmental impact was significant: ecologically as well as architecturally, the Colosseum resembles nothing so much as the mouth of a lamprey. One curious consequence of Rome's voracious consumption that emptied some lands of animal species was a proliferation of species of plant life in the Colosseum: before the overgrowth of vegetation was cleared away in 1871, over 400 species of plants grew on the ruins, a variety made possible both by the seeds attached to or ingested by animals supplied for the games, and the Colosseum's special microclimate.

Frequently damaged by lightning and earthquakes, the Colosseum was repaired up into the C6, when the last of the animal hunts was held there (gladiatorial games, gradually withering under a Christian ethos, ceased to be held there in the early fifth century). After that, although falling progressively to ruin, the amphitheater was put to use as shelter by rich and poor, and the powerful family of the Frangipani built their palace there c.1200. Rome's revival in the Renaissance was at first detrimental for the monument, which was treated as a quarry. In the C15 and C16 many of the large travertine blocks that compose the Colosseum's two outer rings, as well as miles of marble seating, went into the construction and decoration of both municipal and Church and projects, including the facade of St. Peter's. When it was declared sacred ground in 1675, the pillaging stopped, and it was fitted with stations of the cross to commemorate the Christian martyrs who formed one class of the criminalized who met their end here. The massive structural buttresses that terminate the outer rings, retarding further dilapidation, are papal projects of the early 1800s.

70. Colosseum (Amphitheatrum Flavii). Sources.


The Emperor Vespasian ordered a new amphitheater to be built from the booty [of the Jewish War in AD 70].

Inscription (see Claridge, p. 278)


Vespasian built an amphitheater in the middle of Rome, a building he knew Augustus had also been planning.

Suetonius, Vespasian 9.1


The emperor Titus was second to none of his predecessors in his provision of public entertainment. When the Amphitheater was dedicated [in AD 80] along with the baths hastily constructed next to it, Titus gave phenomenally lavish and expensive games. He also put on a mock naval battle in the old Naumachia [a stadium designed to be flooded], and then held gladiatorial combats in the same place, which on one day alone included 5,000 wild animals of all kinds.

Suetonius, Titus 7.3


During his reign [AD 79-81] Titus did little that was exceptional, apart from the incredible shows he gave for the dedication ceremonies of the hunting theater [the Colosseum] and the baths that are named after him. One contest pitted whooping cranes against each other; in another four elephants fought. Animals both tame and wild were slaughtered, to the number of 9,000. Women (though none of any standing) took part in the killing; many men fought in single combat, but many others fought in squads, on both foot and in boats, since Titus had this same theater quickly flooded … Others also fought on boats in the basin in the Gardens of Gaius and Lucius [the Naumachia], which Augustus had excavated for just such battles.… Such spectacles lasted for one hundred days. Titus supplemented them with some more useful entertainment: he threw little wooden balls down on the audience of the amphitheater, each inscribed with a little picture of the prize that those who caught the balls could pick up from the appropriate officials: the prizes included food, clothing, vessels of silver and gold, horses, mules, cattle, and slaves.

On the last day of his games, Titus was seen to weep. When they were over, he accomplished nothing great, dying the following year.

Dio, History 66.25


The Emperor Commodus [AD 180-192], initially an avid spectator of the gladiatorial shows, then participated in them is well. In the arena, he would drape his bare shoulders in a purple cloth.… Although the audience would cheer his frequent appearances in the arena as they would a god's, he suspected it was all in mockery and had the naval crew (stationed at the Colosseum to work the awnings) execute spectators.

Imperial Lives, Commodus 15.3,6


[Bad omens abounded in the short reign of Macrinus, Caracalla's successor. In AD 217] the hunting theater was struck by lightning on the very day of the Vulcanalia which started such a serious fire that the entire upper ring and the arena at the bottom were consumed by flame, and the rest of the structure in between was cracked and weakened by the fire.… For several years, gladiatorial combats had to be put on in [Domitian's] Stadium.

Dio, History 79.25.2, 3


The Emperor Alexander Severus [c. AD 230] placed a tax on pimps and both male and female prostitutes, with the stipulation that the income thus raised go not into the public treasury but towards the cost of restoring the Theater, the Circus, the Amphitheater, and the Stadium.

Imperial Lives, Severus Alexander 24.3


[Visiting Rome for the first time in AD 357] the emperor Constantius II gazed over the regions of the city and suburban estates that ringed it, thinking, as each object met his view in turn, that it excelled everything else in height: the Temple of Jupiter, rising above its surroundings the way divine things rise over earthly; the imperial baths, piled high to the volume of a province; the sturdy mass of the Amphitheater encased in its frame of travertine, soaring to heights difficult to reach with the human eye.

Ammianus, History 16.10.14


[In AD 508] the consul Venantius Basilius repaired at his own expense the arena and the podium around the arena after they were destroyed by a terrible earthquake.

ILS 5635 = CIL 6.32094


Seneca to Lucilius: [Note: Seneca's account was written before the Colosseum was built.]

You ask me what, above all else, we should avoid in life? The crowd, I say. You are not yet ready to expose yourself to it unscathed. In fact, I'll confess my own weakness in this regard: I never bring back home the same morals I had before I entered a crowd.

Nothing, however, compares with the damage done to a good character by spending time in the crowd at the games.… The other day I happened to attend the midday intermission of a gladiatorial show, expecting to catch something amusing and refreshing, something to give the eye a break from all the human gore. I couldn't have been more mistaken. The midday show made the earlier fighting look like compassion; this was pure homicide, without any of the former frills.… There were no helmets and no shields. Why involve armor, or skill? Such things would just get in the way of death. In the morning, men are thrown to lions and bears; at midday they are thrown to the spectators. Those who are victorious and kill their opponent are forced to face others who will kill them; the victor must always fight again, until he dies; there is no way out but death. To make sure the fights continue, the criminals are prodded with spears and branded by fire. This is what happens when the arena is empty, between shows.

“But the man in the arena is a robber, he killed someone!” you might respond. But why should you have to sit through such a spectacle because he killed someone? What did you do wrong, that you deserve to witness this? “Kill! Strike! He hangs back: burn him! … Why doesn't he die with more enthusiasm? Whip him back into the fight.” And if there is a break in the action: “Boring! Let's have some throats slit!”

Seneca the Younger, Letters 7, selections


My friend Alypius had come to Rome before me [c. AD 380] with the intent of learning law, and was swept away by a violent and extraordinary passion for gladiatorial shows. Until then he detested and avoided such entertainment, but one day some of his friends and schoolmates ran into him on their way back from lunch, and although he resisted and spoke strongly against joining them, they dragged him off with friendly force into the amphitheater on a day that featured cruel and mortal combat. “Maybe you can drag my body into the stadium,” Alypius said, “but can you force my mind and eyes to attend such entertainment? I will be present, and yet absent, and so defeat both you and the games.”

When his friends heard this, they pulled him along with no less enthusiasm, perhaps eager to find out if he was able to make good on his boast. By the time they were able to find seats, the crowd was in a state of brutal rapture. Alypius shut tight the doors of his eyes, forbidding his mind from paying attention to such evils. If only he could have sealed his ears! For when, in response to some knock-down in the arena, the giant roar of the entire crowd pounded on him, Alypius, overcome by curiosity but still confident that he could condemn and be the master of whatever he looked on, opened his eyes. Struck with a wound more deadly for his soul than for the body of the man who was the object of his sight, he fell, and fell more pitifully than that man whose fall occasioned the uproar.… For as soon as he saw the blood, he drank up the savagery, and did not then look away, but stared and swallowed the fury without knowing that he drank, thrilled by the crime of the combat and intoxicated by the bloodlust. No longer was he the person who had entered, but one of the crowd he had joined; he was now the true companion of those who had led him in.

St. Augustine, Confessions 6.8

Arch of Constantine

. Arch of Constantine. Commentary.

The Arch of Constantine, as proclaimed in the inscription on its attic, celebrates his victory over Maxentius, the reigning emperor (styled “the tyrant” in the inscription) whom Constantine deposed. The friezes immediately below the round reliefs were specifically sculpted for this occasion. The one over the right-side archway, on the Circus-side of the arch, portrays the battle at the Milvian Bridge, where Constantine defeated Maxentius in AD 312. Most of the decoration of the arch, however, was taken from other monuments built under Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius, a sign (soon to be confirmed in Constantine's foundation in 324 of the New Rome of Constantinople) that the city was in decline.

Constantine, though famous for promoting Christianity in the empire, proceeded carefully in the capital, locating his most impressive donations to the Church—the basilicas of St. Peter and St. John of the Lateran—on the periphery of the city. The Senate who awarded the arch was still composed primarily of pagans; hence also the vagueness of the phrase instinctu divinitatis in the inscription, “by divine inspiration,” which is probably a reference to Constantine's vision of a cross in the sky before he defeated Maxentius.

. Arch of Constantine. Sources.



To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus Maximus Pius Felix Augustus the Senate and the Roman People dedicate this arch [in AD 315] as a memorial to his military triumphs, who by the inspiration of divinity and his own genius avenged, with righteous arms in one instant, the Republic against the tyrant [Maxentius] and his faction.

ILS 694 = CIL 6.1139


[In AD 312 Constantine and his armies descended from Gaul into Italy to fight Maxentius, who had usurped the throne.] Realizing that he was in need of assistance more powerful than an army, on account of the deadly and demonic magic assiduously employed by the tyrant Maxentius, Constantine looked for divine aid.… As he weighed the evidence, he reflected that his foes who trusted in numerous gods had all met with various forms of destruction, leaving behind them neither family, sons, lineage, name, nor monuments among men, whereas the God worshipped by his father Constantius had given many clear signs of his power.… He therefore called on this deity in prayer, beseeching him to reveal who he was and to offer his right hand to Constantine in his present difficulties.

As he was praying for this with intense fervor, a most marvelous sign from heaven appeared to him.… About noon, with the sun just beginning its descent, he said that he saw with his own eyes the victorious sign of the cross, formed out of light in the sky above the sun. This image was accompanied by the inscription “In this Sign Conquer.”

Constantine said that he continued to ponder and reason out the meaning of this vision as night came on, and that in his sleep, Christ the Son of God appeared to him along with the same sign he had seen in the sky, urging him to fashion a likeness of this heavenly sign and to use it as a protection in all his battles against his enemies.… Afterwards, the emperor made use of this sign of salvation as a safeguard in every battle against enemy forces, and ordered that similar emblems of the cross should be carried in front of all his armies.… Strengthened in his position by well-founded hopes in Him, Constantine advanced to quench the remaining fire of tyranny.

Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 1.27-32, selections

Gardens of Maecenas

72. Gardens of Maecenas. Commentary.

Maecenas was for a time one of Augustus's closest advisors, and a famous patron of artists, including the poets Horace, Virgil, and Propertius. The land for his estate on the Esquiline was acquired by covering over the burial pits located just outside the Rampart of the Republican Wall on the Esquiline. Both Horace and Suetonius refer to some sort of tower on the estate that gave views of both the city and the mountains, but this has not survived. A suggestive hall, however, does remain, near the crossing of Via Merulana and Via Mecenate called the Auditorium of Maecenas today, it was probably a banquet and performance hall, perhaps where the artists under his patronage would debut some of their work.

Many tombs from the earlier burial ground have also been found, as well as some of the pits. Observing work on the new Via Napoleone III in 1887, the topographer Rudolf Lanciani describes the excavations of seventy-five pits, which also included the remains of animals “reduced to a uniform mass of black, unctuous matter.… The field of death served also as a dumping place for the daily refuse of the city. This hotbed of infection was suppressed by Augustus at the suggestion of his prime minister Maecenas. The district was buried under fresh earth to the depth of 24 feet, and a public park, a fifth of a mile in extent, was laid out on the newly made ground”(The Destruction of Ancient Rome, p. 14).

72. Gardens of Maecenas. Sources.


The word “Pitkins,” referring to graveyards one finds outside the walls of cities, is formed from “pit,” because human corpses were thrown into pits there; or perhaps it was formed from “putrefaction,” because the bodies would rot there, in the public burial ground outside the walls on the Esquiline.

Varro, The Latin Language 5.25


Evicted by death from their tiny rooms, the corpses of slaves

Were commonly carried to the Esquiline hill in a cheap box;

Here too were the burial grounds for the poorer citizens.

But today the hill is wholesome, healthy enough for homes,

And one can stroll along the sunny Rampart, where lately

One gazed across a landscape littered with bleached bones.

Horace, Satires 1.8.7-10,14-6


Maecenas, it is time you pay my country home

A visit; viewing the lovely Alban Hills

And the watered slopes of Tivoli from Rome,

You've gazed enough on beauty at a distance.

Tear yourself away from tiring abundance,


From your tower aloft in piles of Esquiline clouds,

Free yourself from this endless fascination

With the smoke, splendor, and noise of the city below.

Horace, Odes 3.29.5-12


Viewing the fire from the tower of Maecenas and inspired, as he said, “by the beauty of the flames,” Nero sang his “Sack of Troy” from beginning to end, dressed in his customary stage costume.

Suetonius, Nero 38.2

VIII. The Imperial Forums

The Imperial Forums

As the business of Rome expanded over the centuries, the central Forum grew with it until gradually, under pressure for space, the legal and political business took precedence over private trade and squeezed out the various markets from the central Forum. Even so, by the 50s BC, the Forum could no longer contain the political, legal, and financial business of an empire increasing by the size of France every few decades. Caesar responded to this pressure with a new forum alongside the old one. By the time the fifth and final of the imperial forums was created by Trajan in AD 112, Rome had not only increased by several fold the room available for official business but had created a magnificent and monumental center that, in conjunction with the massive building and rebuilding going on all over the city in this period, overcame the time-lag between Rome's power and its ability to project that power architecturally to both natives and visitors.

Although the space of the Roman Forum itself was increasingly “rationalized,” especially by Caesar and Augustus, and although the imperial forums themselves remained active and underwent development for many centuries after their creation, it seems that the imperial forums were largely free of the archaic topographical idiosyncrasies—primitive shrines, sacred figs, pits to hell, etc.—that dotted the older forum. The imperial forums were the result not of centuries of haphazard accommodation and aristocratic competition but of five internally unified plans, with all the major lines and axes of each of them oriented by the lines of the Forum of Caesar. In part because the present Via dei Fori Imperiali cuts across the forums at their crucial intersections, we can only presume that their connections with one another were also carefully worked out.

The imperial forums show the familiar connection between practical urban necessities, political programs of Roman rulers, and the booty that not only paid for the premium real estate and construction but stocked the finished forums with foreign art works and precious gems. Vespasian's Forum of Peace and the Forum of Trajan were specifically paid for by the conquest of Jerusalem and Dacia (Romania) respectively, and were, in at least some of their decoration, monuments to these foreign victories. Although Caesar and Augustus before them were able to fill public and private coffers with their own respective victories in Gaul and Egypt, their choice of deities for the temples that dominate their forums reveal two rulers who, at this early stage of the Principate, were more overtly concerned to consolidate their still novel position among fellow Romans.

The Forum of Caesar (Forum Caesaris, Forum Julium)

73. The Forum of Caesar (Forum Caesaris, Forum Julium). Commentary.

Cicero's breezy evaluation of urban real estate and construction [73.1] shows that the need for the Forum's expansion was widely acknowledged and that Caesar's addition would be part of other projects extending the city over the saddle between the Capitoline and Quirinal, and up to the Voting Pens (Saepta) in the Campus Martius. The Forum of Caesar, begun by Caesar, who dedicated the temple in 46 BC, and finished by Augustus, set both the orientation and the general pattern for the subsequent imperial fora (with significant variations by Trajan): a plaza lined with a colonnade (or double colonnade) down each of its long sides, culminating in a temple on a high podium at the center of the long axis.

According to Appian [73.3], Julius Caesar first vowed a temple to Venus Victrix, Venus as a bringer of victory, but then dedicated it to Venus Genetrix—Venus in her capacity as a creative force in general (as poeticized by Lucretius) and as the mother of the Julian clan in particular, through Aeneas and his son Iulus. Perhaps this is an instance of uncharacteristic tact on Caesar's part. Caesar had vowed a temple to Venus Victrix in a civil war, and the victory she celebrated was over senatorial forces led by Pompey the Great. Pompey, in fact, had himself built a temple to Venus Victrix earlier [87.2], as part of his theater complex (where Caesar would fall at the foot of Pompey's statue). By dedicating his temple to Venus Genetrix, Caesar could steer the emphasis away from deadly politics and towards the Roman past, while still glorifying the family name. It was Caesar's imperial behavior at this same temple, however, that more than anything else engendered the mortal hatred in the senators against him, according to Suetonius [73.6].

The sources document some of the works of arts which Caesar displayed on a novel scale—gems, paintings, and numerous statues, including two of Caesar, standing and riding, and one of Cleopatra that remained there at least into the third century.

The tufa and concrete core of its podium lies open to view from the balconies along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, as does a portion of its travertine pavement. The three standing columns of the temple are from a restoration in the time of Trajan after a fire, carried out in conjunction with the construction of the adjacent Forum of Trajan.

The major street to the Campus around this side of the Capitoline was known in the Middle Ages, and probably in antiquity as well, as the Clivus Argentarius. Between this street and the new forum numerous vaulted rooms were built and later expanded with a second floor. These housed a variety of activities, including senatorial offices and a large latrine in a hemicycle. Graffiti nearby also testify to an elementary school located on the Capitoline side of the temple, in part of a structure there identified as the Basilica Argentaria. The graffiti include the beginning of the alphabet, the first line of Virgil's Aeneid, and names of people and places [73.14].

73. The Forum of Caesar (Forum Caesaris, Forum Julium). Sources.


Cicero sends greetings to Atticus: [54 BC]

Nothing is more impressive than Paullus's new basilica, nothing more suited to advance a reputation. And so, I must confess, we “friends of Caesar” (I refer to myself and Oppius, even if that causes you to explode) have spent without any qualms sixty million sesterces towards that monumental work you used to praise so highly—the expansion of the over-crowded Forum, and its extension all the way to the Atrium of Liberty. The private owners of the land would not have sold for a lesser sum. But the results of our efforts will be magnificent, since we also have in mind to reconstruct the Voting Pens [Saepta] for the tribal assemblies in the Campus Martius, this one made of marble and roofed over, and we will surround it with a lofty colonnade a mile long. The Villa Publica will be attached to it as part of the same project. I know you're probably wondering what possible advantage I get out of these show-pieces, but let's not go into that now.

Cicero, Letters to Atticus 4.16.8


[To gain favor in Rome while he was still waging war in Gaul, c. 54 BC] Caesar let no opportunity pass to lavish funds and favors in all directions both publicly and privately. Using booty from his wars, he began his Forum, the property for which cost more than a hundred million sesterces.

Suetonius, Julius Caesar 26.2


[In 48 BC, learning that Pompey meant to face him in battle at Pharsalus the next day, Julius Caesar readied his forces.] Then in the middle of the night he performed a sacrifice, calling on the aid of Mars and his own ancestress Aphrodite (for the Julian clan considers its name, with slight changes, to be descended from Ilus, son of Aeneas). He vowed that if successful in battle, he would set up a temple in Rome as a thank-offering to Venus, Bringer of Victory [Venus Victrix].

Appian, Civil Wars 2.68


Caesar built a temple to Venus Genetrix, which he vowed just before he fought Pompey at Pharsalus. He surrounded it with a space intended as a forum for the Romans, although not for commerce, but for the exercise of civic business (as in Persia, where people come to the forum to seek justice or to study the laws). Alongside the statue of Venus he placed a beautiful statue of Cleopatra, which stands there today [c. C2 AD].

Appian, Civil Wars 2.102


On the last day of his triumph [September 26, 46 BC], after the banquet, Caesar entered his own Forum, wearing slippers and a garland of various flowers.… This forum, which he built and which bears his name, is far more beautiful than the Roman Forum, although it has increased the reputation of the old forum, which is now known as “the Great Forum.” Having constructed his forum and the Temple of Venus (as the founder of his family), Caesar dedicated them on this same date.

Dio, History 43.22.1-2


It was the following incident that aroused the extreme and deadly hatred towards Caesar. When the entire body of the Senate approached Caesar with numerous resolutions of the highest honor, Caesar stayed seated as he received them in front of the Temple of Venus Genetrix. Some believe that he was on the verge of standing but was restrained by Cornelius Balbus; others, that not only did he not rise, but even glared at Gaius Trebatius when Trebatius suggested that he stand.

Suetonius, Caesar 78.1


I completed the Forum of Caesar.

Augustus, Achievements 20


Of the five types of temples, the first is called pycnostyle; that is, with crowded columns.… In pycnostyle temples, the space between each column is only the width of one and a half columns, as in the Temple of the Divine Caesar and the Temple of Venus in the Forum of Caesar.

Vitruvius, Architecture 3.3.1-2


The late Cleopatra herself, although defeated and captured by Rome, has been glorified: her ornaments are now dedicated in our temples, and a gold statue of the queen herself is on view in the Temple of Venus.

Dio, History 51.22.3


Julius Caesar permitted a statue of himself, in breastplate, to be dedicated in his forum.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 34.18


It is reported that Caesar's horse allowed no one else to ride him, and that his fore feet were similar to those of a human, as is represented on the statue of the horse located in front of the Temple of Venus Genetrix.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 8.155


But it was Julius Caesar who by example especially encouraged the public display of art, dedicating paintings [by the great Timomachus] of Ajax and Medea in front of the Temple of Venus Genetrix.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 35.26


Among other gifts to Capitoline Jupiter, Pompey the Great dedicated a gem case that had belonged to King Mithridates.… Following his example, Julius Caesar consecrated six gem cases in the Temple of Venus Genetrix.

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 37.11


ABCDEFGIL … “The town of Mantua gave me birth”… “I sing of arms and the man who first from the shores of Troy”… Mt. Soracte … Hector… Caecilius, a former student… Farewell, Smirina!

Graffiti at the Basilica Argentaria (from Dudley)

The Forum of Augustus

74. The Forum of Augustus. Commentary.

Of all Rome's ancient monuments, the Forum of Augustus provides the most satisfying collusion of archaeological and literary evidence, both of which are relatively substantial. Without the former, we would be ignorant of something so basic as the forum's signature hemicycles (exhedras); without the latter, we would miss much of the forum's meaning and function in antiquity, especially its ceremonial role in resolving the internal political difficulties confronting Augustus and the Romans as he consolidated his power.

On a utilitarian and routine level, the Forum of Augustus was a response to the crowding of the existing forum space and its inability to handle the volume of legal cases that the burgeoning city and empire were generating. That the forum was open for business before its completion testifies to the urgency of this practical matter [74.6]. Most of the legal business must have taken place under the colonnades and hemicycles on each side of the courtyard—a considerable area, since the long rectangular space of each colonnade is approximately 15m by 110m, with another 15m added by the hemicycles. (The width of the forum can be readily observed today from the street cutting across it, the Via Alessandrina; more than half of the forum's length remains buried.)

The forum had other functions in addition to the forensic. Its ceremonial functions and programmatic decoration made it an unparalleled display of Augustan propaganda. As might be expected in a forum presided over by a temple to Mars, these other elements coalesce in the act of War.

Augustus's original impulse for the forum was a vow before the battle at Philippi in 42 BC, before Octavian (as Augustus was then known) defeated Brutus and Cassius (the senators who led the conspiracy to assassinate his adoptive father). The Temple to Mars the Avenger stresses the reactive, rather than aggressive, nature of Augustus's violence against fellow Romans: “Thus they would have it,” as Caesar famously put it before his civil war. The forum and its temple cast Octavian's role in civil war as an act of pietas toward both his family and the god who granted victory.

The special ceremonial functions which Augustus later prescribed for his forum also deal with war. Here young men assumed the toga virilis that signifies they have reached military age. Matters of military distinction were decided here by the Senate, and a commander going forth to war, or to rule a province, officially set forth from here [74.8]. Mars as the Avenger also oversees this activity, since (as the popularity of Virgil's Aeneid suggests) the Romans were fond of the ideal that they waged war against violators of civilized standards, as avengers of offenses, not as aggressive war-mongers. Also under the category of vengeance is Augustus's pointed designation of the inner temple as the repository for the recovered standards of Crassus's expedition against the Parthians [74.13]. Although most of these aspects of war concern the state as a whole rather than its single ruler, they now take place under the sponsorship of Augustus (whose name, Ovid's verse indicates [74.10], was prominently displayed on the temple).

The decoration of the forum continues the theme. The hemicycles and colonnade walls were lined with the statues of great Romans, one of the prime qualifications for whose inclusion was their role in the expansion of Rome's territory [74.12]. The individual inscriptions of notable achievements that accompanied each statue were written, Pliny suggests, by Augustus, although we also know that statues were added after the emperor's death. The elogium of Appius Claudius Caecus [74.16] shows how central warfare was to his résumé, although his famous road and Rome's first aqueduct also receive mention.

Ovid's description of the Forum of Augustus allows us to reconstruct another component of the forum's message. The statues set up on one side of the forum had as a focal point a tableau of Aeneas with his father and son (probably located in the central niche of the hemicycle), and were all descendants of Aeneas. On the other side, Romulus was the central figure. Thus the pride of place on each side is given to the two great founders of Rome, who both figure prominently in Augustan literature, especially in Livy and Virgil. Also prominent, however, in the image-making generated by Caesar and Augustus was their family's descent from Aeneas, the son of the goddess Venus. The forum, in ranking Augustus's family as equal in distinction to the entire parade of other Roman heroes chosen from all the other Roman families, both elevates Augustus above the rest, and yet situates him as a part of the greater whole and demonstrates his respect for Roman tradition. His proclamation that this gallery of heroes was meant to provide a standard of achievement for both himself and his predecessors suits the primus inter pares message of the statuary. Further programmatic unity exists in connection to Mars, who is not only the consort of Venus, but also the father of Romulus (somewhat problematically, Ovid hints [74.11], since Romulus's mother was Rhea Silva, not Venus).

Excavations of the Forum of Augustus in the 1920s brought forum inscriptions to light that help reconstruct the colonnades' galleries of famous Romans; these are supplemented by inscriptions for statues in Arretrium and Pompeii that were organized in imitation of Augustus's Forum. Of the 108 statues that Degrassi estimates lined the colonnades and hemicycles, evidence remains to identify about thirty with some certainty. This leaves much in the dark, such as how Augustus handled his personal foes in the civil wars, from Brutus to Mark Antony; certainly the latter, by military standards, deserved a place, but probably did not get one. Pompey, however, the foe of Caesar, was included (a posthumous reconciliation foreshadowed by the statues that Caesar allowed on his new Rostra; see 30.1). We also know that Marius and Sulla each had a statue—men who were mortal foes in earlier civil wars, but here harmoniously united in the Forum's parade of heroes.

The entire forum in its original condition—Pliny calls it one of the three most beautiful works in Rome, and there are many remains of its polychromatic marbles and decorations imported from distant parts of the empire—was both a visual marvel and a sophisticated piece of propaganda. Begun as the partisan vow of a young warlord engaged in the violence that had pitted Roman against Roman for generations, the forum evolved into an elaborate vision of Rome at peace with itself, safe in the embrace of the Pater Patriae and united in the forum's business of taking the war to someone else who deserved it.

74. The Forum of Augustus. Sources.


Are not the Basilica Paulli, with its columns of Phrygian marble, the Forum of the Deified Augustus, and the Temple of Peace built by the Emperor Vespasian the most beautiful works that the world has ever seen?

Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 36.102


Augustus made his forum smaller than planned, out of his reluctance to appropriate the adjoining homes from their owners.

Suetonius, Augustus 56.2


When the Forum of Augustus was being constructed, the builder kept postponing its completion. During this period it happened that many people prosecuted by Severus Cassius were being acquitted, prompting Augustus to quip “I wish Cassius would prosecute my forum.”

Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.4.9


I built with war booty the Temple of Mars the Avenger and the Forum of Augustus on my own land.

Augustus, Achievements 21