Foro Romano Rostra

FORO ROMANO ROSTRA

Christian Hulsen. The Roman Forum, its history and its monuments, 1906.

The Rostra is preserved to us in the shape which it received in the time of the early empire. Caesar planned to move the old Rostra (which stood on the boundary of the Forum and the Comitium), but Augustus carried the plan to fulfilment. Probably the great walls of blocks of brown tufa which formed the body of the structure belong to his building. Of these only the lowest layers have been preserved, except at the north corner, where as many as four blocks lie above one another: most of the front wall is restoration (1904). On the outer side the blocks of tufa were covered with marble, and the front (80 Roman feet = about 78 English feet long) was decorated with the gilded bronze beaks of the captured ships of Rome’s enemies. There are still to be seen, arranged in pairs, the holes in which the beaks of the ships were fastened. The fa9ade was crowned by a marble cornice; the upper side of its blocks contains a groove for a balustrade of marble (and bronze). The facade of the Rostra (with the arch of Tiberius on the left) is represented on a relief on the north side of the arch of Constantine over the left-hand arcade: from this picture it is clear that the balustrade had an opening in the middle, possibly so that a staircase could be placed there, leading down into the Forum, on the occasion of some of the great ceremonies of State which took place on the Rostra. The same representation shows honorary statues at the corners of the facade; the bases of two ot these, erected in honour of Stilicho (beginning of the fifth century A. D.), were dug up here in the year 1539. The columns with statues, which are visible on the relief, stood either on the platform of the Rostra or behind it on the Clivus Capitolinus. In the middle of the side-balustrades there stood, since the time of Trajan. Front elevation of the Rostra. marble slabs, decorated with relief, which are described below (p. 100 ff.): from the rear the original platform was reached by a broad curved staircase of a few steps. The Rostra is surprisingly long and broad: the explanation of this is that it was intended not only for the individual speaker, but also often times for the emperor and all his suite. It may be permitted to mention here two such ceremonies of state, concerning which we possess detailed descriptions from antiquity: the reception of Tiridates by Nero, and the funeral ceremonies of Pertinax. In the year A. D. 66 the Parthian king, Tiridates, who had accepted the conditions of peace proposed to him by Nero’s general. The Rostra, seen from the Clivus Capitolinus. Domitius Corbulo, came to Rome to receive his crown anew at the hand of the Roman emperor. Nero prepared for him a magnificent reception which is said to have cost 800,000 sesterces (200,000 francs) a day; the ceremony of the coronation is described as follows:” Before dawn the centre of the Forum was filled with delegations of the Roman people, in white garments and with laurel wreaths on their heads; on the sides and at the entrances the soldiers, with gleaming weapons and standards, were drawn up; countless spectators occupied every available inch of ground, even the very roofs of the buildings. At the rising of the sun Nero appeared in the Forum, clad in the garb of triumph, accompanied by senators and praetorians. He took his place on the Rostra, in a curule chair. Then between the soldiers, who were drawn up along both sides, Tiridates with his suite wns led to the Rostra, where he paid homage to the emperor. When the public saw this Oriental ruler bowing humbly before their emperor, they raised such shouts of enthusiasm that Tiridates was terrified believing this was the signal for his death. Nero however bade him be of good courage, received his address of homage, ordered a praetor, who understood the language, to translate it for the benefit of the people, and himself made a gracious reply. Then Tiridates mounted a staircase, which had been built in front of the Rostra, came to the emperor, kneeled before him, and received the crown from his hand: a scene which aroused once more the loud applause of the Romans “. The funeral ceremonies of Pertinax (A.D. 193) are described by an eye-witness, the historian Cassius Dio: “on the Forum Romanum a wooden stage had been built, close in front of the stone one (the Rostra): upon this had f .*: 3»- Augustus and Agnppa on the Rostra been constructed a small building, the columns (Coin of Sulpicius Plato- of which were adorned with gold and ivory. rinus ‘ about l8 BC 0-In the building stood a couch of the same material, covered with purple cloth worked with gold: on the couch lay a wax figure of Pertinax, clad in the garb of triumph, and, as though the emperor slept, a beautiful young slave boy was engaged in keeping the flies away with a fan of peacocks’ feathers. The emperor and we senators and our wives came to the ceremony in garments of mourning: the women took their places under the porticos (of the Basilicas), and we under the open sky. Then the funeral procession began; first the statues of all the famous Romans of the old days; then choruses of boys and men, singing a funeral hymn in honour of Pertinax; and then bronze statues representing all the provinces of the Roman empire, each one in the national costume. Then followed the subordinate officials, for example, lictors, clerks, and heralds; then again statues of famous men, those who had won fame by great deeds or discoveries. Then came armed soldiery, on foot and on horse, and then race-horses too: then the funeral gifts which the emperor, we senators with our wives, the knights, the citizens, the guilds and the associations had presented. Finally came an altar and we senators and our wives came to the ceremony in garments of mourning: the women took their places under the porticos (of the Basilicas), and we under the open sky. Then the funeral procession began; first the statues of all the famous Romans of the old days; then choruses of boys and men, singing a funeral hymn in honour of Pertinax; and then bronze statues representing all the provinces of the Roman empire, each one in the national costume. Then followed the subordinate officials, for example, lictors, clerks, and heralds; then again statues of famous men, those who had won fame by great deeds or discoveries. Then came armed soldiery, on foot and on horse, and then race-horses too: then the funeral gifts which the emperor, we senators with our wives, the knights, the citizens, the guilds and the associations had presented. Finally came an altar covered with gold, and decorated with ivory and precious stones from India. After the procession had passed by, Severus mounted the Rostra and made a eulogy on Pertinax. The emperor’s speech was frequently interrupted by manifestations of applause or of sorrow for Pertinax; and at the end the applause was loud. Then when the bier was about to be carried out great weeping and wailing ensued. The bier was carried from the catafalque by the pontifices and the magistrates, not only those who were at present in office but those who had been appointed for the following year; then it was given over to be borne by men appointed from among the knights. We senators walked in front of the body sorrowing and wailing; behind the bier came the emperor, and so the procession moved to the Campus Martins”, where (on Monte Citorio) the ceremony of cremation and consecration took place. In the reign of Septimius Severus the Rostra was rebuilt with considerable changes, necessitated by the erection of the arch in honour of Severus. In order to make possible a direct approach to the speaker’s platform from the side toward the arch, a triangular courtyard was cut out of the northern half of the Rostra, and the curved west wall (Jiemicyclium) of this court was ornamented with slabs of red marble (Porta Santa) and pillars of mar mo africano. Some of these slabs – which have been fastened to the wall again in modern times – still show the holes for the nails by which the bronze ornaments were attached. On the side toward the arch of Severus the wall was broken away and the court-yard seems to have been shut off merely by a gate. In quite late times the facade of the Rostra was extended northwards by an addition built of poor brick work, in which also the holes for the fastening of ships’ beaks are to be seen. An explanation of this is probably to be found in a long inscription, consisting of a single line, engraved on rectangular blocks of marble which on their upper side originally supported a balus- — 79 — trade. The inscription states that about A. D. 470, in the reign of the emperors Leo and Anthemius, a prefect of the city [Ulpi]us (?) Junius Valentinus restored the structure – probably after a naval victory over the Vandals; accordingly the building has been named ‘ Rostra Van-dalica ‘. The various transformations of the Rostra can best be studied from above. One should go back accordingly past the Schola Xantha and the arch of Tiberius and up the Clivus Capitolinus. In this way one comes to the temple of Saturn. VI. The Temple of Saturn. To it belong the eight unfluted granite columns with the lofty foundation of travertine blocks. Next to the temple of Juppiter Capitolinus the temple of Saturn is the oldest sanctuary dedicated after the fall of the kingdom. The Consul T. Larcius dedicated it December 17 B- C. 498; but according to tradition an altar dedicated by Hercules stood originally on the same spot. The dedicatory festival, the Saturnalia, became one of the greatest and most popular festivals of old Rome, and when it ceased in Christian times it left a great heritage to Christmas. In B. C. 42 the temple was restored by Lucius Munatius Plancus, with the booty captured from the inhabitants of the Alps (it was in their country that he had founded the Colonia Augusta Kax-racorum, the modern Basel). From the early times of the republic the temple served as a state treasury (aerarium Salurn-i), and even after the fall of paganism it was still used for this practical purpose. In the fifteenth century, so the humanist Poggio tells us, a part of the walls of the cella was still standing; they were not torn down until 1440, when the Romans wanted the stones for new buildings. buildings. The temple, which in the sixteenth century was buried deep in debris, was excavated partially in 1811, and more completely 1834-1837. In all probability the great substructures of travertine, which contained the vaults for the treasure of the state, belong to the building as restored by Plancus. When at the beginning of the civil war Caesar took possession of the treasury, he found in it 15,000 bars of gold, 30,000 bars of silver, and 30 million sesterces (about seven and half million francs) in coin. In later time the superstructure of the temple was again restored; according to the inscription on the architrave: SENA-TVS POPVLVSQVE ROMANVS INCEND1O CON-SVMPTVM RESTITVIT – it had been destroyed by fire. Judging by the character of the letters in this inscription the restoration can hardly have occurred before the fourth century A. D. The columns of the vestibule are of grey granite, the columns at the side of red granite (about 4 ft. 3 in. in diameter, and about 36 ft. high); the bases are not uniform, and the whole structure makes the impression of a hasty and careless piece of work of a late period. The vestibule \vus approached by a flight of steps, the ground-plan of which has been preserved on a fragment of the Forma Urbis. The entrance to the ‘ treasury’ was probably on the south side, i. e. toward the ‘ Con-solazione ‘; in the middle ages there was situated on this spot the little church of 6″. Salvator de Stalera, with the relief described in the Mirabilia and said to represent the paying off of the army. In front of the facade under the steps are found remains of old constructions constructions of tufa (drains etc.): some of these have been wrongly identified as the remains of the altar of Saturn attributed to Hercules.

Hulsen, Christian. The Roman Forum, its history and its monuments. Rome: Loescher; New York, G. E. Stechert, 1906.

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