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Temple of Venus Genetrix

Temple of Venus Genetrix

The night before the battle of Pharsalus (48 B.C.), Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) vowed a temple to Venus Genetrix, the mythical ancestress of his family. It was inaugurated in 46 B.C. The Forum of Julius Caesar, in which the temple stands, was finished by Augustus (63 B.C.-A.D. 14) in 29 B.C. The cult statue was sculpted for Caesar by Arcesilas, and there were other statues and precious objects on display here. Trajan (A.D. 53-117) rebuilt the temple, which also had to be restored after the fire of A.D. 283. On this occasion, the front porch was enclosed in a brick wall, giving the façade its (for a temple) strange appearance.

Venus Genetrix

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 225-‑227.

At the battle of Pharsalus Caesar vowed a temple to Venus Genetrix, the mythical ancestress of the Julian gens, and proceeded to build it in the centre of his forum (App. BC II.68-69, 102; iii.28; Cass. Dio XLIII.22.2), which thus became in effect a porticus surrounding the temple, a type followed in all the later fora. Temple and forum were dedicated on the last day of Caesar's great triumph, 26th September, 46 B.C. (Cass. Dio, loc. cit.; Fast. Arv. Pinc. Vall. ad VI Kal. Oct., CIL I2 p215, 219, 240, 322-323, 330; Fast. Praen. in BC 1915, 170, 346), although the forum was not finished by Caesar (cf. Nic. Damasc. Caes. 22; Plin. NH XXXV.156), but by Octavianus after the dictator's death (Mon. Anc. iv.12; Cass. Dio XLV.6.4).

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Additional source material

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

    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.


    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


    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


    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

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