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Rome, archéologie et histoire urbaine : trente ans après l’Urbs (1987)

Cyril Courrier
Jean-Pierre Guilhembet
Nicolas Laubry
et al.

Deuxième partie – Lieux et contextes

Connected spaces: the Forum’s orientation to the Capitoline

Nicholas Purcell


Cet article s’appuie sur l’intérêt contemporain pour les transformations culturelles et sociales de Rome entre 338 et 280 av. J.-C. De nouvelles approches de l’histoire et de la spatialité, provenant notamment du monde grec, ont radicalement changé la communauté à cette époque. Le paysage urbain de Rome lui-même est devenu un support d’expérimentation. La relation entre le Forum et le Capitole, et le développement parallèle de leurs fonctions, permettent d’étudier de façon révélatrice certaines des façons dont ces nouvelles manières de penser se sont déployées, suggérant une origine dans cette phase cruciale pour un certain nombre d’aspects de la vie publique de la ville jusqu’à la fin de la période républicaine.

Note de l’auteur

This paper derives from the remarks delivered at the L’Urbs 2/Castagnoli conference in November 2018. It was reprised as a full lecture at the British School at Rome in May 2019. I am grateful to both audiences for their contributions. It has been composed in tandem with my paper Purcell 2021 forthcoming. While there are some overlaps, the focus of the present article is rather different. It is in the nature of a historical sketch, and I have therefore given only a sprinkling of the potentially enormous bibliography which might be cited.

Texte intégral

La piazza per eccellenza

  • 1 Homo 1951.
  • 2 Castagnoli 1978.
  • 3 It is hard to give even a representative bibliography of the Forum: apart from items cited elsewhe (...)

1It is a serendipitous pleasure to be able to salute in one place the memory of Ferdinando Castagnoli and his magisterial contribution to the archaeology of the city and the remarkable contribution to the study of ancient Rome made in 1987 by the volume L’Urbs, with, its urbanistic agenda, and tradition reaching back to the work of Léon Homo in 19511. The subject of the present study is the spatiality of the Forum as a piazza, the ‘piazza per eccellenza’, as Castagnoli rightly called it2. I attempt to investigate how Romans might have understood that spatiality and its implications. That involves reflecting on how spatiality itself conveyed meaning, functional, historical, religious, mythological, symbolic. In turn, pursuing those meanings entails situating this hugely significant open space within a tissu urbain of monuments, private buildings, and lines of communication. The Forum was connected to everything, as many studies have shown3. Here I have room to begin to consider only one of the synergies or symbioses which imbued the locality with meaning – that with the Capitoline Hill.

2The Forum did have a certain logical priority among Roman public spaces. It was, however, in the nature of Roman public institutions for hierarchies of importance to be intrinsically contestable: doublets and triplets, rivals, echoes, and counterpoints were habitual. So the Forum had two ancient rivals, the Circus Maximus and – all too often overlooked – the Area Capitolina, the immediate surroundings of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Juno Regina and Minerva. These three ancient open spaces and locations of citizen gathering in Rome deserve to be examined side by side, in the spirit of the great civic festivals which united all three, and especially the pompa Circensis and the triumph.

3That exploration has been inhibited by various accidents. One is hermeneutic. We think of the Capitoline as religious, the Circus as a place of spectacle, entertainment, sport – all these being themselves categories in question. While there is widespread recognition that the Forum was deeply sacred, and also a famous place of public spectacle, this polysemy has yet to result in much formal comparison of all three spaces. Another inhibition has been practical. The spectacle-function of the Circus was developed with massive architecture by Caesar and Trajan – the Republican Circus, a more fluid space with notable cultic associations was largely destroyed, and anyway remains unexplored. The Area Capitolina is even less known archaeologically, mainly because of its exceptional architectural history from the middle ages through the Renaissance. A thought-experiment may be suggestive: suppose that Giacomo Boni had been able to excavate on the hilltop, but that the valley had been almost entirely inaccessible. I might now be urging that the hidden Forum should not be underestimated by comparison with the well-known ground-plan of the Capitol, and that we cannot locate the Curia, the Comitium, or the Temple of the Castores should not deter us from asserting their importance. As things are, the basic fact that the southern hilltop of the Capitoline was a great piazza itself is familiar only to experts. All too often, Roman temples are considered from the podium up. The word Capitolium was certainly used in that sense of the Capitoline Temple itself, but in Rome the word also denoted the whole temenos (and often the whole hill). It is the vagueness of our understanding of the environs of the Temple which limits recognition of the complexity of the roles of the whole hill, and their intrinsic comparability even with the eloquent microtopographies of the Forum.

4In this paper, since space excludes the full examination of all three of these key examples of intra-urban public space, the aim is to examine one of the comparisons: to place the Area Capitolina and the Forum alongside each other, to illustrate how their functions overlapped, and to explore their physical and logical relationships. Closely connected in real physical terms, and in the thoughtworlds of the Romans, these instances of public space worked as laboratories for the theorising of the history of the Roman People and of what ‘public’ might mean, especially in relation to the space of the city, and to the performances which were expected within it.

The symbiosis of Forum and Capitol

  • 4 Mura Sommella 1998-1999; Hopkins 2008 and 2016.

5The relationship between the Forum and Capitolium was so close that they formed a complementary pair, and their study therefore offers new insights into both. This is an apt moment to propose the comparison. Although much remains uncertain about the topography of the Capitoline, by contrast with the Forum valley, some of the puzzles which have discouraged its proper incorporation in the history of the city are on the way to resolution. This is not the place to present these in detail, but it will suffice to say that the excavations conducted since the 1990’s, and especially under the auspices of Anna Mura Sommella, have decisively established that the great platform now so happily incorporated in the reworked Musei Capitolini dates from the end of the sixth century B.C., while John Hopkins has made convincing steps towards demonstrating how a temple of that date with the architecture attested for the Capitolium could have been successfully constructed across the whole area of the platform4.

6The Capitoline Temple, then, as an exceptional logistical achievement, as a remarkably daring architectural statement, as the home of a hugely ambitious cult, and as a landmark of the participation of west-central Italy in a Mediterranean koine, did indeed date from the end of the archaic period. Excavation likewise confirms that the far smaller temples of Saturn and of the Castores, date back to almost the same epoch: it is not a coincidence that these deities formed part of a Jovian cultic entourage. The Temple of Saturn stood above the end of the Forum on the lower slopes of the Capitol, beside its principal point of access: that of the Dioscuri was fully in the Forum, but still fronted on to the open space beside the Sacra Via.

  • 5 Hölscher 1991, p. 366-367.

7The vital monument which brought Forum and Capitol together was thus the relatively unsung Clivus Capitolinus, without which the Capitoline Temple could not have been constructed. The east end of the Forum reads today as a barrier, the impenetrable back of the Capitoline Hill, whose summit is now most usually reached from the west. In Antiquity, a much greater openness to the east must be imagined, an invitation to make the journey of ‘ascending the Capitol’, as it is repeatedly called in numerous contexts in Roman literature, and to continue, to one part of the hill or another, the route-way which was dignified with the name Sacred Way. Processions to and from the Capitoline Temple, visible high above the western end of the Forum, contributed to the sacred vocation of this road, which may be compared with the Hiera Hodos which ran through the heart of the Athenian Agora on its way to the Acropolis5.

8The valley floor between the Capitoline and Palatine had been drained and improved in the archaic period, and parts were probably already reserved as open space, in ways, and for purposes, which we cannot know. Over the long millennium which followed the creation of the Capitol, this set of spaces served many different purposes for a constantly changing community. At some point, by incremental development or specific decision, it became ‘the Forum’ in a sense continuous with and recognisable from the evidence of the middle and late Republic and the imperial period. That identity, however, was a complex of functions and ideas, and neither the reshaping of the land nor the maintenance of an open space entails as such the existence of anything like what came into being later. None of the functions of an agora, which the Romans later thought characteristic also of the Forum (as at Festus 74 L.) – market, assembly, religious space, location for spectacles or competition, archetypical instance of a public domain, judicial or legislative arena – can be taken for granted. Each had its own particularities and trajectories through time. The transformation of the Capitoline at the end of the sixth century was only one of the shifts which brought the later Forum into being, and itself the subject of changing representations to suit later interpretations and ideologies.

  • 6 See now Latham 2016; Östenberg – Malmberg – Bjørnebye 2015.

9The (relatively) unalterable built environment was only part of the picture. Festivals and other cultic activities animated the architecture, and set it in a much wider framework of meaning. The Capitolium was therefore the whole complex of the hilltop, including its place in the social cityscape, and not simply the Temple at its centre. Such functions might be imagined as taking place in isolation: but the religiosity of the Capitoline cults was, importantly, made most visible in processions which bound the sanctuaries to the rest of the city. The most important were the pompa of the Ludi Romani and the Triumph6. Both had to pass also through the Forum: but that is to put it too passively. Both processions concerned the Forum as well as the Capitoline, and came to express, articulate, display and perform the connection between the two spaces. The question is, when?

10Unfortunately, there is all too little to say about the place in the community’s thoughtworld of either locality, for the century and a half after the foundation of the Capitolium (most of what there is relates to the Comitium, another of the shaping influences on the complex which was gradually coming into being). Instead, it is to the later fourth century B.C. that we have to turn for the first more detailed vision of the changes in meaning, form and function. That the cultural, social and economic history of that period is now receiving fruitful attention is a further major advance on the older orthodoxies.

  • 7 Humm 1999 and 2005 are especially important in this regard.
  • 8 Padilla Peralta 2020; Bernard 2018 and 2019; Hölkeskamp 2004 and 2012.

11In the revolution of understanding of the city of the age of Appius Claudius the Blind, Michel Humm has a place of honour7. There are now signs, however, of a much wider interest in this once neglected period8. The nature of today’s new historiography of this age is importantly concerned with the conceptual, even cognitive, shifts and intellectual innovations with which Romans reacted to many different features of the rapidly changing Mediterranean world in the age of Philip and Alexander, creating mentalités and practices which formed the underlying grammar of the res publica right into the age of the Caesars. These new ‘institutions’ included religious behaviours and theological thought, a revised awareness and novel employment of narratives of the Roman past, several pioneering technologies of space, and the beginnings of a sense of the ‘public’, with reference to ethics, to time, and to law. As this confidence in writing early-middle Republican history has grown, a very proper concern for change and contestation has developed. The past of the spaces of the city, and their meaning, constituted a particular subject for debate.

12Whatever traditions and memories of earlier centuries existed in 338 B.C. – and there can be no doubt that many did – alongside them, new modes of commemoration, new types of historical narrative, explanation, suggestion and persuasion now came into being. This is not just another layer in the inevitable stratigraphy of tradition. Rather, this was an age in which the formation and deployment of tradition were themselves changed radically, serving new purposes of record, explanation, comparison, and persuasion. At the same time, bold novel claims could be made about the past which might owe more to the narratives of the Greek past than to actual Roman experience.

The interventions of the later fourth century

  • 9 A convenient summary: Miano 2011, p. 27-33; Hölkeskamp 2006; Bernard 2018, p. 118-158. For the tem (...)
  • 10 Meadows – Williams 2001; Viglietti 2010.

13It is in this vital period that we can first begin to construct a narrative of a dense sequence of monumental interventions in the Roman cityscape9. To 345 B.C., foreshadowing what was to come, was attributed the building – overlooking the Forum, below the northern summit of the Capitoline – of the Temple of Juno Moneta. Whether or not the date and tradition are reliable, two features of the monument are highly significant. ‘Moneta’ is the Remembrancer, and her cult is a harbinger of the interest of this generation in record and memorialisation. The temple, moreover, was put to use as a secure and commodious location for Rome’s first forays into monetisation, by no means the least important economic and institutional innovation of the middle Republic10. Moneta’s temple was the monumentum of victory over the Aurunci (Liv. 7, 28, 4-6), and a new architecture of triumph burgeoned from 338 B.C. and the conclusion of the Latin War. Between 340 and 291 BC the Augustan Fasti Triumphales recorded 31 triumphs.

14While the Capitoline Temple was the destination of and justification for the triumph, the Forum, through which it passed, where many observed it, participated fully in the new movement. The consuls L. Furius Camillus and C. Maenius received equestrian statues there, which Livy (8, 13, 9) regarded as unusual for the time: honorific language was in flux. Even more innovative was the display on the speaker’s platform (suggestus), an inaugurated space, of the rostra of ships captured by Maenius at Antium (Liv., 8, 14, 12). Both new honours became influential precedents, to which later equestrian monuments and rostral displays consciously alluded. Both forged links between the events which were so marked, and the ongoing daily functioning of the Forum. Both expanded the repertoire, and raised the status of, commemorable events in general, as something to be expounded and expanded in the long life of Rome and the shorter periodicities of the annual round.

15In the same age, the building of porticoes and upstairs galleries over the tabernae which bounded the Forum to north and south was specifically linked to the needs of spectators of public events (Festus 121 L.). The initiative, which points to the analogies between Forum and Circus, was attributed to the censorship of the same C. Maenius, in 318 B.C., who gave such structures his name (not an insignificant matter). Like the military ideology of the triumph, this initiative too was clearly indebted to contemporary notions of the agora in Greek cities of east and west. The Samnite triumph of L. Papirius Cursor in 309 was particularly magnificent, and the gilded shields were made over to the proprietors of the tabernae to hang over their premises and further embellish the Forum (Liv., 9, 40, 16). This one-off celebration involving private citizens was the origin, says Livy, of the annual public decoration of the Forum for the other great processional spectacle, the Ludi Romani, which was undertaken by the curule aediles. As with the perpetuating of Maenius’ idea, in this formative moment new initiatives generated long-running traditions – a passing moment was enshrined as long-lasting official practice. A good parallel is provided by the new annual ceremony of the transuectio equitum from 304 (Liv., 9, 46), which further expressed the centrality of its final destination, the Capitoline Temple. Alongside the Forum, the Capitol too became a place of new commemoration and architectural investment. 296 B.C. saw the thresholds of the Capitoline temple replaced in solid bronze, and the central acroterial statue on the roof was renewed (Liv., 10, 23, 13). Silver vessels were provided for the cult.

  • 11 Marsyas: Coarelli 1985, p. 91-119; Tremulus: Liv., 9, 43, 22; Cic., Phil., 6, 13; Pliny, Nat., 34, (...)
  • 12 See Hölkeskamp 2016, p. 180-181; cf. Flower 1996, p. 339-343.

16In the Forum, triumphal monuments were matched by interventions which addressed the world domi, statues such as the Marsyas that proclaimed the political achievements of C. Marcius Rutilus (cos. 310), and the equestrian statue of Q. Marcius Tremulus (cos. 306) outside the aedes Castorum11. That too was a principal location for the transuectio equitum: Tremulus’ statue, equestrian but togate, likewise proclaimed a civilian role for an ordo equester. Commemorative statuary provided long-lasting memorialisation, and its inscriptions which pinned down otherwise contested identifications, and formed the basis for later historical memory12. Here was another practice in which Capitoline and Forum formed a continuum.

Intellectual revolutions in the heart of Rome

17The new memorialisation of military achievements in this period was no merely local effusion of pride. It involved the domestication at Rome of ideas about success at war which were circulating in a much wider world. Here, for instance, was a larger theory of Victory itself, an attribute or corollary of the worship of Jupiter, now celebrated as a goddess herself. The first attestation is indeed in the Forum itself, a bronze statue on a stone pedestal which was significant enough to be the subject of a rather emphatic omen story of 296 B.C. (D. C., 8 fr. 36, from Zonaras 8, 1). The first temple of Victoria, on the Palatine, was vowed in around 307 and dedicated in 296 (Liv. 10, 33, 9).

  • 13 Thus, already, with some caution, the brilliant essay of Weinstock 1957. Davies 2016, p. 39-74 for (...)

18This is the age in which Greek consciousness of military triumph were transformed by the exploits of Alexander and the Successors, and the openness of Rome to messages from the eastern Mediterranean is of some importance for understanding other aspects of this moment of transformation, including the architecture of the new monumentalization – ‘the early reception of Macedonian dialects of conquest’, as it has been called13. No special demonstration of the parallel centrality of Capitoline observances to utterances in this language is required. They also have a central place in the establishment at Rome of other practices of the wider Greek world. One of these is a whole set of new ways of understanding time.

  • 14 Humm 2000 is the classic account; cf. also Purcell 2003.

19A very prominent role in the revolutionary changes of Rome’s thoughtworlds in this period was attributed by later tradition to the notorious scriba and radical politician Cn. Flavius, whose interventions in the religious and legal spheres, and liberation of the management of the calendar from the obscurantist control of the aristocracy, are famous14. One of the things the tradition had to go on was the dedication-inscription of the sanctuary of Concordia that Flavius dedicated at the foot of the Capitoline. As was appropriate for the time-conscious Flavius, it attempted a date. Since Flavius employed a unique chronology, the lectio difficilior principle may be invoked in favour of the genuineness of the report (Plin., Nat., 33, 17).

20That chronology was the era of the dedication of the Capitoline Temple, post Capitolinam aedem dedicatam: the date was 204 years after that dedication. Three aspects of the notice are important. First, it shows that era-thinking was known in the city at that date. Second, it alleges that the accurate calibration of time (by means of the Annual Nail hammered into the wall of the cella Iouis of the Temple) went back more than two centuries. Third, it chooses the cults of the Capitoline and the religion of Jupiter as the appropriate reference-point for such a calibration, in the context of a dedication to the abstract cult of civic harmony, Homonoia-Concordia. It seems that no date for the foundation of the city was available. The dedication of the Capitolium served instead, and became the fixed point around which statements about the foundation and nature of the Republic, and what must have preceded it, might be elaborated.

21The Forum and Capitol in the age of Ap. Claudius, then, served as a new kind of stage on which a new narrative of the distant past was performed, and on which it would for ever more be remembered. That memory was the explicit purpose of the monuments, and of the records appended to them which enabled later writers to make sense of them. The nascent new history was, simultaneously, given depth and seriousness by evocations of a suitably long historical past. Sagas of the age of the foundation of the city, and tales of an age of archaic monarchy, could help achieve this. It is to this period that some have attributed the first crystallisation of the foundation tales and the early Roman monarchy, or their invention out of whole cloth. If it is prudent to remain agnostic on the larger issue of what (if anything) was then known (and in what way it was ‘known’) about Rome of two centuries and more earlier, it is at least clear that this period saw a newly creative (and long-lasting) evocation of a regal period, the events of which served to explain the monuments and functions of both Forum and Capitol, further welded together by this new shared past.

  • 15 Coarelli 1999 uses what we are told of the statues’ attire to date them to the fourth and third ce (...)
  • 16 For the statues, Pliny, Nat., 34, 23-4; De Rose Evans 1990. Coarelli 1999 argues for an early date (...)

22The idea of having statues of the Kings (including T. Tatius) and the Liberator in the Area Capitolina, which long survived, appears to date from this period15. From some point, they became proverbial for the inscriptions which attributed to them certain lengths of reign (Liv., 6, 41, 3)16. Similarly, it was in 296 B.C. that the Wolf and Twins took their place at the Ficus Ruminalis of the Comitium (Liv., 10, 23, 12). Whatever the pre-existing traditions and memories – and we can hardly doubt that there were some – alongside new modes of commemoration, new types of historical narrative, explanation and suggestion were clearly now used for the first time, or at least displayed afresh. This is not just another layer in an inevitable stratigraphy of tradition. Rather, this was an age in which the formation and deployment of tradition themselves changed radically, serving new purposes of record, explanation, comparison, and persuasion.

  • 17 See now Thomas 2019.

23It is essential to recognise that locality within the urban fabric played a vital part in this recovery or postulation of an aetiological past, and that this historical function, pari passu, transformed the spaces of the city and the very nature of urban space itself, and could say about the origins, and therefore the nature of the institutions and customs and laws of the community. That way of thinking had quite recently been pioneered by the local historians of Attica17. The Forum itself offers a chance to observe the early use of such thinking in its welcoming new home of the city of Rome. A set of representations which amount to an aetiology of the Forum as a space, as a place within a meaningful topography of hills and valleys (a concept which apparently new in this age) happens to be rooted in this very period. It is another mythic explication of very ancient and regal Rome: the tale of the battle between Romulus and the Sabine forces of Titus Tatius (Liv. 1, 11-13).

  • 18 Liv., 1, 13, 5: monumentum eius pugnae, ubi primum ex profunda emersus palude equus Curtium in uad (...)
  • 19 Plut., Rom., 20, 4; Solin., 21. Vasaly 1993, p. 49 correctly notes that wherever its exact situati (...)

24The Forum itself evokes the battlefield – the Sabines had ‘driven the Romans across the whole space which is now the Forum’ (toto quantum foro spatium est). The landscape has been transformed, but so has the scale: for Livy, the tiny Lacus Curtius of his day, in the centre of the paved open space of the Forum, was therefore the monumentum eius pugnae, and stood for a morass of swampland in which a warrior could be wholly concealed18. The battle of Sabines and Romans became, on this view, the first, and formative, explanatory event in the history of the Forum. The war was commemorated in various monumenta of the Forum, but the distinctive contribution of the battle-story is that it concerned a whole field of combat, not a single location, and so solved the problem of how to provide an aetiology for a wide open urban space. At the same time, the narrative locates the Forum in the closest relationship to the two hills from which the opposing sides came, Romulus from the Palatine, Tatius from the Capitoline: indeed tradition located the latter’s house just where the Temple of Juno Moneta then stood, looking out across the Forum valley19.

  • 20 Regulus’ vow, Liv., 10, 37, 13-16 (Fabius fr. 18 Cornell).
  • 21 Dench 2005, p. 316-321 and p. 342-344.
  • 22 Spadoni 2009, p. 30-35; for the temple, see now Wiseman 2017. Fulvius Paetinus triumphed over Sabi (...)

25The most important monument of the Battle in the Forum was the Temple of Jupiter Stator, where Jupiter had intervened to halt a Roman rout and save the future city. Fabius Pictor recorded the vowing of this temple in 294 and its subsequent construction20. Whether or not the sanctuary had been older, the story, which (we must assume) goes with the vow at Luceria, shows that the uneasy integration of Romans and Sabines into one body politic was in the minds of Romans of the age21. That made sense, since an incorporation, on seriously unequal terms, of lowland Sabinum into Roman territory was one of the several forms which Roman expansionist experimentation had taken over the previous decades. In the first decade of the third century, warfare against the upland Sabines was a resonant fact of life22.

26Elaborating the Sabine narratives, and linking the rapidly-changing space of the Forum to them offered a reassuring perspective on civil strife – a vision of a Rome which had from the first incorporated different Italians in complex ways – as well as on incorporative subjugation. The Roman-Sabine struggle was a perfect metaphor for civil strife happily resolved, a persuasive myth-historical doublet for the real history of the times. The story is perfect for the age to which was attributed the first cult of Concordia in the city (like that of Victoria, drawing on Greek prototypes), the offering of none other then Cn. Flavius the scriba. In juxtaposing the Forum and the world of war, it made a statement relevant to the spatial conceptions of the time about the contrast of civilian and bellicose, worlds domi and militiae. But it had another striking nuance which also belongs in just this period.

  • 23 Plut., Thes., 27; Wiseman 2008, p. 234; Pausch 2018, p. 283-289.

27The battle in the Forum was, moreover, a remarkable calque on an episode of the mythical regal past of a different city, Athens – the fight between Theseus and the invading Amazons, across and beyond the site of the later Agora, as recorded by the Atthidographer Cleidemus23. At Rome, as at Athens, the story was about reconciliation within the city, the eventual accommodation of intractable foes leading to civic unity. And in the Roman version (more than the Athenian) the topographic token of all this is the open space of the Forum itself: still a battlefield, but a paradoxically ordered and peaceable one – says the story.

  • 24 For the history of public and private, Russell 2016, recognising the fluidity of ideology, and dev (...)

28Flavius was famously involved in the creation of a new sense of res publica, a common, participatory, proprietorship of matters of concern to all. He made public the workings of calendric time. He rethought the nature of Roman law, and made its principles more comprehensible. In his attempt to dedicate his aedes he challenged the religious regulations of the elite. He stood for the reworking of authority in the community. The reshaping of the Forum likewise was a radical vindication of the existence and institutional independence of a Roman public domain itself, emancipated from the domination of a few. One of the particularities on which locality and topography offered a historicizing commentary was precisely the definition and delineation of a public sphere itself, and its demarcation from other domains, social, cultic, economic, cultural24. This too was a major part of the development of the Forum as a civic space, surrounded by monuments which alluded to the functions of the politeia, at peace or war, in religion or in politics. The creation or re-shaping of a public sphere was a context in which it was outstandingly relevant and apt for Romans to consider contemporary Greek ideas about how communities and societies worked – and how they had developed, from monarchies towards a greater eleutheria.

  • 25 Taylor 1966, p. 40-45; Carafa 1998; Amici 2004-2005, p. 354-358; Humm 1999, p. 690-693; the precis (...)
  • 26 Humm 2004.

29A special role in shaping the changes to the Forum as a space for the populus Romanus must clearly be assigned to Ap. Claudius Caecus. The revolutionary change of the layout of the Comitium expressed a new political and institutional role for a larger and more inclusively conceived citizenship, which has been linked with the inception of the comitia tributa25. The very idea that an elite victorious at war should need a showplace for the records of its successes is new and eloquent. And it presupposes audiences – of newly engaged Romans from outside the elite, of subjects and neighbours, of outsiders, visiting willingly or not, from further afield. New languages of display, commemoration, and participation were formulated. New Roman institutions of domestic organisation and strategies for hard and soft power in the world at large were all indebted to these changes. To this period, alongside the enhanced prominence of the Capitol, refinement of the theory of spaces of civilian life and military activity may be attributed. Such thinking expressed a new centrality for Rome, reinforced by ambitious religious claims26.

  • 27 Liv., 9, .46, 14; Fraschetti 1999.

30In a parallelism which was to have a long history at Rome, creative thinking about the organisation of territory and its subject populations went hand in hand with new thinking about the space of the city itself. Indeed, the rethinking of the urban tribus as spatial subdivisions of the city, regiones, may be attributed to the censors of 304 BC27. It is also reasonable to attribute a new sense of the centrality of the city’s main open spaces and access points to the same age in which they were being constantly embellished by new victory-temples. This was the space occupied by the People when politically engaged – registered, assembled, visible, functioning, individuals in a company and in a place to which they gave meaning. Later, we hear of the iugera forensia, and it would be most appropriate to attribute to this age of new rural settlements a calibration of the public domain of the heart of the city in the conceptual language of allotment. At home, as across wider Roman territory, a new public domain was under construction.


31Three kinds of shared experience may now be adduced to show how Capitol and Forum converged after this pivotal age of change.

  • 28 Area Capitolina as meeting-place of the people, Varro, Men., 140 Riese; Liv., 26, 31; 34, 56; Tayl (...)
  • 29 Cic., in Cat., 3, 19; cf. the plebiscita de societate et foedere of Suet., Vesp., 8, 5.
  • 30 Polyb., 3, 26,1; Papi 1999.
  • 31 Purcell 1993; Coarelli 2010; cf. Tucci 2014. None of the hypotheses excludes the use of parts of t (...)

32From at least the middle Republic, the Area Capitolina became one of the more important venues for political assembly, complement and counterpart of Forum and Comitium in Rome’s public life. It was the proper setting for the concilium plebis and for certain comitia28. It was entirely proper that the exchanges between leaders and people which formed so important a part of public life should take place so close to the house of Jupiter. The display of texts of plebiscita was a natural corollary – a function shared by Jupiter’s precincts with the Forum below29. It is not a coincidence that the Capitoline precincts came to contain several archives, the populi tabularia which, with the ‘iron laws’ and the ‘mad Forum’, formed part of the hectic – and integrated – landscape of public affairs in the heart of Rome which Virgil (Georg., 2, 501-502) contrasted with the life of the countryside. An early date for the recording of treaties is entailed by Polybius’ reference to the tamieion of the aediles, for Rome’s relations with Carthage30. He may be referring to the practically and symbolically important record-keeping of the Treasury of Saturn, located significantly on the slope of the hill, beside the Clivus Capitolinus, and just above Comitium, Curia and Forum. Above the Temple of Saturn to the north, and visually even more a part of the Capitoline Hill, from the early first century B.C., lay the massive bulk of what we traditionally label the Tabularium, from an inscription recording work on such a facility carried out by the rebuilder of the Capitoline Temple, Q. Lutatius Catulus. Whatever the true vocation of this development as a whole, its monumental contribution – at the meeting-point of Capitoline and Forum space – to the visibility of public business is undeniable31.

  • 32 Russell 2016, p. 105-110.

33The importance of kings to the logic of history from the later fourth century on is mirrored in the strong sense of the royal function of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, whose temple was throughout constructed as the abode of the deities. This divine king's house was the type of the meeting place of the senate; the king’s forecourt that of the meeting place of the people32. The enormous porch of the sixth-century temple was, truly, an Atrium Regium, the front-part of the King’s House, and among its progeny should also be seen the line of descent which ran through the building of that name in the Forum area to the first Basilicae. The porch of the Capitolium was thus Rome’s first proper public building, before such a category became specialised and subdivided: indeed, it was a major contributor to the very notion of a public domain at Rome. It shared its classification as a templum (that is to say, a consecrated precinct in which it was licit for certain ritual activities to proceed, as not all the structures were which we habitually think of as temples), with other places of significant public assembly and deliberation in the heart of Rome. In both its religious and its administrative or political roles, the Capitolium long constituted one of the Roman Republic’s most important public resources.

  • 33 Plut., Quaest. rom., 42 attributes the foundation of the Aerarium to Poplicola “when the kings had (...)
  • 34 Corbier 1984.

34The Capitoline came to function as an Acropolis: its construction as a defensive citadel may owe more to the urban values and internal or external politics of the late fourth century than to any real military uses in earlier times. The relative security, both physical and religious, of the hilltop, however, no doubt affected the use of the Temple of Ops as a further treasury, and that of Juno Moneta as the first mint. This linked the Capitoline closely with the fiscal management of the state. The treasury of Saturn, which appears in the Forum to the modern visitor, was actually at the base of the Capitoline hill, and in imo cliuo Capitolino rather than in Foro33. The most conspicuous initiative in the history of the fiscal Capitolium comes from long after the period principally considered here, but was perfectly in tune with earlier ideology: the establishment there, alongside the great Temple (as we now know: AE 1978, 658; AE 2002, 1770) in A.D. 6 of Augustus’ aerarium militare34. Advertising an association between the financial system on which the entire Roman army would rely and the Capitoline cult was a brilliant idea, greatly helping to promote confidence in the reliability of the paymaster, as was essential if the new monarchy was to avoid challenges. But it also reinforced the image of the army as the agent of Jupiter’s plans for Rome’s greatness.

  • 35 Delgado Delgado 2010, p. 265: “la presencia del flamen Dialis en el Senado... garantizaría a los s (...)

35As this case shows, it is not unreasonable to see a distinction between an extrovert, military function for the Capitol and a domestic, civilian one for the Forum. It was possible to divide the functions of peace and war between Forum and Capitol. Valerius Maximus (4, 1, 6) strikingly compares the honours given to Scipio Africanus in the Capitoline Temple with the statue of Cato the Censor in the Curia Hostilia, an outstanding tribute to services domi as Africanus’ was for services militiae. The meetings of the Senate in the Capitoline Temple were often concerned with external affairs; the setting for the concilium plebis was also that for the dilectus. While formally distinct, these roles could hardly have been more complementary in Roman thought. Neither was complete without the other – each presupposed the other, and constantly alluded to it. In both cases the public deliberations were under the supervision of Jupiter, and the presence in the Senate, wherever it met, of the flamen Dialis, made Jupiter present even outside his own house35.


36A final parallelism may be found in the deployment of the new visions of how Rome had come into being, and should now function, to make statements about the long and hopeful future.

  • 36 Cf Borgeaud 1987 for the genesis of these stories.

37The Forum was associated with some guarantees of Rome’s perpetuity and inner identity, the most enduring of which was the hearth of Vesta, the archaeology of which begins in the early archaic period, and which remained in pretty well continuous use to the fourth century A.D. Alongside Vesta, the Regia, with its curious architectural fossilization, naturally went on speaking of the mainstream narrative of early Roman history. The Palladium in Vesta’s shrine and the Ancilia in the Regia were two of those canonical pignora on which Rome’s future depended. Eternal talismans had origins, however, and long-occupied sites changed their meaning, and acquired new pasts, as had the Forum. All that we have said of the east end of the Forum applied to the Capitolium too. As the palace of the ‘only king in Rome’, the Capitoline Temple answered the Regia, and being a good deal more commodious, could house the business of state, and especially meetings of the Senate, in a way impossible at the other end of the Forum. The Capitoline palace had a sacred hearth too: “indeed Varro in his Res Divinae reports that it is the custom to consecrate hearths too among consecrated altars, as on the Capitol to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva” (fr. 68 Cardauns; Serv., ad Aen., 3, 34). The unbounded future, meanwhile, was not only under the control of Jupiter, but prodigiously represented by the omens which had accompanied the building of the Capitolium, the bleeding head, the chariot of Jupiter, and above all the immovable Terminus36. Terminus’ intransigence stood for the magnificent permanence of the Capitol – Capitoli immobile saxum, for Virgil – and for the eternal destiny of the whole city.

Some legacies

  • 37 Zanker 2000.
  • 38 Quinn – Wilson 2013.
  • 39 See recently Melfi 2016.

38Other cities in Italy and the empire paid various kinds of homage to the topography and architecture of the metropolis in the last centuries of the Republic37. The subject is much more complicated than was thought in the days when a Capitolium was considered a requirement of a colonia38. Under the empire, temples with that formal designation continued to imitate the whole setting of Capitoline Temple and multi-functional precinct: at Formiae (AE 1927, 124), where the dedication of a familia gladiatoria was celebrated with a banquet ‘in the Capitolium, with bread and wine laid out all over’ for much of the populace; or at Uchi Maius in Africa, where the temple was constructed “with porticoes and an arch and statues to the number of 12” (AE 1903, 138). Temples of the Capitoline cult known archaeologically are indeed frequently located in colonnaded enclosures. More revealingly, their frequent topographical, visual, architectonic, and functional integration with the spaces of the Forum, and with the principal spectacle-buildings of cities, suggests their importance for the public self-consciousness of the community, and in this too they echoed the situation in Rome. The twinning of major temple and public assembly place, that becomes an axiom of the Roman planned city, was ultimately a reflection of ancient Roman practice, and the importance of the Area Capitolina, as well as of the close physical link between Capitol and Forum embodied in the topography from the sixth century. The rather clear example of Caesar’s colonia at Corinth will have to suffice. Pausanias explained the worship of ‘Zeus Kapetolios’ there to his readers (2, 4, 5). The temple to which he refers has been plausibly identified as the excavators’ Temple E, high above, and axially related to, the colonnaded piazza of the new Roman Forum, on an artificial terrace – to the west, as at Rome39.

  • 40 The Temples of Saturn and Concordia looked into and configured the terrace a little above the Foru (...)
  • 41 This is not to say that there were no other genealogies behind the pairing of temple of Venus Gene (...)

39At Rome, the end of the Republic brought a paradoxically different change. The complex and important religious vocations of Forum and Comitium need no emphasis. For all that, the sense made familiar by so many reconstructions of the imperial architecture should be resisted – that it read as the kind of precinct, in front of lofty temples, in the manner of so much Hellenistic city-planning. The great temple of the Castores was the only one which looked into (and so modified) the Forum’s space until the building of the Aedes Divi Iuli – an intervention which deserves the more attention from historians40. That new sanctuary looked down the length of the Forum – towards the Capitol. The asylum connected with it underlined its evocation of the hill; in a sense, the temple can be considered a substitute for the overheated plans to inter, or even to burn, the dead Dictator in the Capitolium itself. The first appropriation of the Capitol-Forum relationship was, however, a little earlier – the design of the Forum Iulium, subsequently imitated in the fora of Augustus and Nerva41. These complexes of course in turn further enriched the temple-precinct-and-Forum association in the cities of the empire.

40I hope to have shown rather briefly how close the ties between Forum and Capitoline remained down to the age of Caesar’s ascendancy. With the building of the later Fora, both ancient spaces lost their unique place in the cityscape. Now the functions of the Forum were spread more widely, and some of the role of the Area Capitolina was either greatly diminished – as in the case of meetings of the comitia – duplicated, especially in the studied parallelism of Augustus’ Palatine mirror of the Capitol, or distributed to other parts of the city, such as the Forum Augustum. Climbing the Capitol remained a powerful image of what could be expected of the citizen, just as the Forum continued to stand for the res publica. Studying the hill continues to shed light on the Forum, and vice versa, but both were now refracted in the lens of the topographical revolution wrought in their capital by the Caesars.

En guise de conclusion

41I have attempted to demonstrate a close theoretical congruence and practical convergence between Capitoline and Forum down to the Augustan age – not that the two zones ceased to be co-dependent after that date. In conclusion, however, I offer an exception, a real distinction between the two localities, which may in some sense serve ‘to prove the rule’.

  • 42 Morel 1987.

42One of several classic articles in the 1987 volume L’Urbs was by J.-P. Morel, on the retail topography of the city of Rome42. The place of the Forum in this facet of the space of the city was controversial. Julius Caesar’s new Forum is explicitly described as being ‘a forum for the Roman people, not for buying, but a meeting-place for the transaction of public business, like the public squares of the Persians, where the people assemble to seek justice or to learn the laws’ (App., BC, 2, 102). The public aspirations of the People, in other words, should exclude the sordid domain of retail: but their ancient centre, the Forum which was now explicitly labelled ‘Romanum’, had, despite the growth in its dignitas which Varro (Varro fr. 72 Riposati, ap. Non. 853 L.) had praised, probably referring to just that pivotal period which has been my main focus, clearly failed in this challenge.

  • 43 Tert., Nat., 1, 10, 19-25; for a secular analogy, Petron., 88.

43By contrast, the topic ‘sale and the Capitoline’ appears to be close to an empty set. No moneychangers required expulsion from this Temple. To all appearances, dignitas Capitolina was easier to maintain than the good moral order of the Forum, an argument from silence indeed, but one which may have some value given the prominence of this precise preoccupation in surviving Roman literature. Too much might be spent on embellishing the Capitoline Temple, but it appears not to have been vulnerable to the intrusion of buying and selling. When Christian writers sought to smear the cult with unseemly associations, it was to the financial underpinnings of the administration that they had to turn43. So perhaps the moral order of the Area Capitolina was preserved, while that of the Forum was more contested. That it had been thought important to attempt to keep the Forum to the same high standard remains a sure sign of the close comparability of the two segments of the Roman public domain.


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1 Homo 1951.

2 Castagnoli 1978.

3 It is hard to give even a representative bibliography of the Forum: apart from items cited elsewhere below, one might cite the classic general studies of Coarelli 1983 and 1985; Ziółkowski 2004; Freyberger 2012 and Muth 2014.

4 Mura Sommella 1998-1999; Hopkins 2008 and 2016.

5 Hölscher 1991, p. 366-367.

6 See now Latham 2016; Östenberg – Malmberg – Bjørnebye 2015.

7 Humm 1999 and 2005 are especially important in this regard.

8 Padilla Peralta 2020; Bernard 2018 and 2019; Hölkeskamp 2004 and 2012.

9 A convenient summary: Miano 2011, p. 27-33; Hölkeskamp 2006; Bernard 2018, p. 118-158. For the temple-dedications of the age, Ziółkowski 1992.

10 Meadows – Williams 2001; Viglietti 2010.

11 Marsyas: Coarelli 1985, p. 91-119; Tremulus: Liv., 9, 43, 22; Cic., Phil., 6, 13; Pliny, Nat., 34, 23. On the latter, see now the extended account of Hölkeskamp 2016, p. 175-181. Also Sehlmeyer 1999.

12 See Hölkeskamp 2016, p. 180-181; cf. Flower 1996, p. 339-343.

13 Thus, already, with some caution, the brilliant essay of Weinstock 1957. Davies 2016, p. 39-74 for Victoria and new architecture, including Rome’s first stone entablatures, cf. Bernard 2018. ‘Dialects of conquest’: Dench 2018, p. 16.

14 Humm 2000 is the classic account; cf. also Purcell 2003.

15 Coarelli 1999 uses what we are told of the statues’ attire to date them to the fourth and third centuries. Wiseman 1995 and 2008 also sees regal traditions shaped or reshaped in this age. Roman history in general configured in this period: Gabba 2000, p. 16-19. Oakley 2005, p. 378: early third-century contexts for the myths of Romulus and the Forum.

16 For the statues, Pliny, Nat., 34, 23-4; De Rose Evans 1990. Coarelli 1999 argues for an early date for the images of Romulus and T. Tatius: for him the tunic beneath the toga excludes a date before the third century.

17 See now Thomas 2019.

18 Liv., 1, 13, 5: monumentum eius pugnae, ubi primum ex profunda emersus palude equus Curtium in uado statuit, Curtium lacum appellarunt.

19 Plut., Rom., 20, 4; Solin., 21. Vasaly 1993, p. 49 correctly notes that wherever its exact situation, Jupiter Stator was conceptually ‘where the Palatine begins’. We now know that the temple was indeed in Palatio: Zevi 2016, p. 290.

20 Regulus’ vow, Liv., 10, 37, 13-16 (Fabius fr. 18 Cornell).

21 Dench 2005, p. 316-321 and p. 342-344.

22 Spadoni 2009, p. 30-35; for the temple, see now Wiseman 2017. Fulvius Paetinus triumphed over Sabines in 299 (Acta Triumphorum give ‘Umbrians and Samnites’); 296 war against ‘Sabelli’ extended the Etruscan war; 290 war of M’ Curius Dentatus. One tradition ascribed a prominent role in Sabine wars to Ap. Claudius himself: Humm 2005, p. 49-60 on Vir. Ill., and InscrIt, XIII, 3, 12 (Appius’ elogium from the Forum Augustum).

23 Plut., Thes., 27; Wiseman 2008, p. 234; Pausch 2018, p. 283-289.

24 For the history of public and private, Russell 2016, recognising the fluidity of ideology, and devoting chs. 3 and 4 particularly to the Forum Romanum; see also Saliou 2016.

25 Taylor 1966, p. 40-45; Carafa 1998; Amici 2004-2005, p. 354-358; Humm 1999, p. 690-693; the precise chronology is still subject to discussion. Cf. also F. Pina Polo and C. Rosillo-López in this volume.

26 Humm 2004.

27 Liv., 9, .46, 14; Fraschetti 1999.

28 Area Capitolina as meeting-place of the people, Varro, Men., 140 Riese; Liv., 26, 31; 34, 56; Taylor 1966, p. 6, 46 and 132-133; Thommen 1995, p. 366; Mouritsen 2001, p. 25-26, 40; Courrier 2014, p. 439, 447, 451, 498, 613-615.

29 Cic., in Cat., 3, 19; cf. the plebiscita de societate et foedere of Suet., Vesp., 8, 5.

30 Polyb., 3, 26,1; Papi 1999.

31 Purcell 1993; Coarelli 2010; cf. Tucci 2014. None of the hypotheses excludes the use of parts of the building for other purposes, including archival ones, or the Mint; cf. also P. Fleury and S. Madeleine in this volume.

32 Russell 2016, p. 105-110.

33 Plut., Quaest. rom., 42 attributes the foundation of the Aerarium to Poplicola “when the kings had been overthrown, because he considered that the place was well-protected, in clear sight, and hard to attack by stealth”.

34 Corbier 1984.

35 Delgado Delgado 2010, p. 265: “la presencia del flamen Dialis en el Senado... garantizaría a los senadores que Júpiter se encontraba entre ellos”.

36 Cf Borgeaud 1987 for the genesis of these stories.

37 Zanker 2000.

38 Quinn – Wilson 2013.

39 See recently Melfi 2016.

40 The Temples of Saturn and Concordia looked into and configured the terrace a little above the Forum and Comitium on the way to the Capitoline; after the reworking of the Comitium by Caesar and Augustus, the Forum came to include that zone more fully, so that the temple of Vespasian and Titus could respond to that of Divus Iulius. Antoninus and Faustina completed the subordination of the Forum to temple-façades, in an effect which must certainly not be retrojected to the period before 52 BC.

41 This is not to say that there were no other genealogies behind the pairing of temple of Venus Genetrix and Forum Iulium – although this architectural template had not been used in the city of Rome to our knowledge, it was familiar from other cities.

42 Morel 1987.

43 Tert., Nat., 1, 10, 19-25; for a secular analogy, Petron., 88.


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