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Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus

Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus

This was the great temple on the Capitolium, one of the two peaks of the Capitoline Hill. It was dedicated the Capitoline Triad, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Tarquinius Priscus (reigned 616-578 B.C.) vowed this temple, but tradition states that a large part of the work was done by Tarquinius Superbus (reigned 535-510 B.C.). With his overthrow in 509 B.C., the first consul of the new Republic dedicated it on September 13. Here on each January 1 the new consuls took office in a colorful ceremony. Each month on the Ides, a white sheep was sacrificed to Jupiter. On the special Ides of September—the temple's annual festival—there was a great banquet for the people of Rome in which the statues of the three gods participated. It was prone to disaster, burning down in 83 B.C., A.D. 69, and 80. The last rebuilding occurred under Domitian (A.D. 51-96). Impressive remains of the temple can be seen today in and around the Conservators' Palace.

Aedes Iuppiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 297-302.

The great temple on the Capitol, dedicated to Jupiter and his companion deities, Juno and Minerva, the Capitoline Triad. Tarquinius Priscus vowed this temple while battling with the Sabines, and seems to have laid some of its foundations, but a large part of the work was done by Tarquinius Superbus, who is said to have nearly completed it. According to the tradition current in later times, there were shrines of other deities on the site intended for this temple, all of whom allowed themselves to be dispossessed in the proper way except Terminus (q.v.) and Iuventas (q.v.). These shrines were therefore incorporated in the new temple, and the action of Terminus was regarded as a prophecy of the permanence of the cult and of Rome itself (Cic. de rep. II.36; Liv. I.38.7, 55, 56; Plin. NH III.70; Dionys. III.69; IV.61; Tac. Hist. III.72; Plut. Popl.13-14). The dedication of the temple on 13th September was ascribed to the first year of the republic, when this honour fell to Horatius Pulvillus by lot (Liv. II.8; VII.3.8; Polyb. III.22; Tac. Hist. III.72; Plut. Popl. 14; cf. Plin. NH XXXIII.19).

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  • Ancient Library Sources (from Peter Aicher, Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, vol. 1, Bolchazy-Carducci: 2004) [Works cited]

    9. Overview of the Capitoline Hill. Sources.


    “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

    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.

    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 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

    70. Colosseum (Amphitheatrum Flavii). Sources.


    [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

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