#15: Basilica Julia

Ok still standing in this corner of the Forum with your back to the Temple of Saturn look down the Via Sacra. On the left side is the fenced-off Forum Square and on the right side is the fenced-off Basilica Julia (a photo from a slightly-different angle is here). I'm going to do the Basilica now but in the next section as you walk down the Via Sacra you will be hitting sites on the Forum Square side, sites on the Basilica side and some on the Via itself. The reason is the Basilica is 100 m long so it's easier to see them as you walk along the Via Sacra doing the Forum Square sites.

The original BASILICA JULIA was built by Julius Caesar but still unfinished at the time of his assassination. But let's start at the beginning and look at this football field size area we see today.

In Romulus' day this area was just a useless diseased marshland. But after the Forum area is canaled this land is reclaimed, legend is that during the fifth King of Rome's reign Tarquinius Priscus (616-579 BC) the first shops are built on this side of the Forum. These shops are called Tabernae and the ones on this side of the Forum are called 'Tabernae Veteres', meaning shops on the shady-side of the Forum and the shops on the other side of the Forum 'Tabernae Novae' or sunny-side. These are just wooden stalls probably ramshackle-like where the basics are sold, butchers with meats, farmers with produce, wine sellers and I assume craftsmen with pots and pans, iron goods, etc. I assume a lot of business was done by barter in this early marketplace.

And behind these shops are private homes, in the beginning probably just simple huts of some of these shop owners but later and for centuries after the homes of the rich and powerful. They have excavated (1960's) and found the atrium of one of these large aristocratic houses beneath the Basilica Julia and also part of the first Basilica built-over this house (it's either at the eastern end/center, look for ground level skylights and entrance door or dead center in the basilica where a large hole of an excavation *once* was or both).

The cool part is that they know whose house it was and he was a *major player* in ancient history. His tactics are still studied by the military Worldwide. His name was 'Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus' 236-183 BC, better known as just Scipio Africanus. I believe in the movie Gladiator when the chariots attack Maximus and crew in the Colosseum that was supposed to be a re-enactment of a battle Scipio was in and lost during the second Punic War against Carthage. After Maximus wins, someone in the stands or Emperor's Box mentions "I thought we (Romans) lost that battle". Anyway Scipio was a member of one of Rome's six major Patrician families, a great Statesman and one of the greatest military commanders in history. He was the General who defeated Hannibal. Here's the Wikipedia bio on him

One cool romantic story about him, was midway through the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) he goes on basically a suicide mission to Hispania (Spain). Hannibal's boys have conquered Spain which they will use as the beginning of an overland route to attack Italy via the Alps. Scipio attacks Cartagena, Spain and wins the city. But he also wishes to win the 'hearts and minds' of the locals and be seen as liberators rather than conquerors like Carthage was. Plus he also needs supplies and reinforcements for his small outnumbered army. Scipio loves his wife and he grants her much more freedom and spending money than most Patrician husbands. But he does have a weakness for beautiful women and it's said for pretty boys. After the city is taken his men capture a very beautiful woman and they bring her to their commander as a prize of war. Even Scipio is astonished by her beauty. But he learns that the woman is betrothed to a local Chieftain named Allucius. He returns her unharmed to her fiance along with the ransom money that was offered by her parents. They marry and Allucius allies himself and his tribe with Scipio. Throughout his career Scipio strongly believes in humanitarian conduct towards the conquered people and their lands also with prisoners and hostages. But in his army non-Roman deserters get beheaded and Roman deserters crucified.

After the war Scipio returns to Rome and this house, the people love him but he has political enemies who hassle him and his General brother for years. His ghost is walking past you right now :-) . He used to leave this house and walk up the Clivus Capitolinus to make daily sacrifices at the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. His enemies claimed this was just political public relations to show he was a devout Pagan.

In his later years he tires of the political attacks and retires to a villa far from the city he saved. After his death his son-in-law Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus has the house torn down and builds the Basilica Sempronia (his family name) on this site in 169 BC. It's like a sister basilica to the newly built (179 BC) Basilica Aemilia on the other side of the Forum. Nothing is known of its exact size or design but it still has shops in front facing the Forum Square (Livy mentions butcher stalls and other shops there). Also Gracchus will have two famous sons who will fight for land reform and rights for the common people. In a few decades one of his sons will be in the Forum with his followers at a political rally. His first cousin who is also Scipio's (adopted?) grandson is on the opposing side and will lead an armed charge of Senators and others against him. Gracchus' son is clubbed to death with a stool leg and hundreds of his followers killed.

This basilica lasts for about 146 years and probably needs replacement. So Julius Caesar with his war booty from the Gallic Wars decides to rebuild it in 54 BC and rename it after his family's name Julia. He is still five years away from crossing the Rubicon and taking absolute power so this is just political public relations for him. I'm just *assuming* he builds it the same size as the original basilica possibly with the shops still in front? Caesar dedicated this building before his death, even though it was unfinished at the time.

It burns down during his reign (9 BC?) and Augustus rebuilds it but larger (the size we see today) and dedicates it in 12 AD. But this time he renames it after his dead grandsons Gaius and Lucius Caesar (remember their Portico of Gaius and Lucius Caesar in front of the Basilica Aemila), the name never catches on and everyone still calls it the Basilica Julia.

It's originally used for banking and business but later in that century (first AD) it's used for civil court cases (Tribunals). 'Pliny the Younger' tried cases here including one that packed the place. His client was the daughter of an 80 year old man who married a very young woman and disinherited the daughter ten days later. Pliny won his 'Anna Nicole Smith' case :-) .

The Basilica burns down in the major 'Fire of Carinus' 283 AD and again in 410 AD when the invading Visigoths torched it and it's last rebuilt in 416 AD. In 476 AD Rome's last Emperor abdicates, the Fall of the Roman Empire is now official. In the seventh or eighth Century a church is built in the SW section of the Basilica. In the Middle-Ages the Basilica is used for a Cannaparia (rope-walk) where rope is made, they need a long building protected from the weather. Stone cutters and lime kilns setup shop inside and start stripping the building of it's marble. In 1496 the travertine is taken to be used in the Girand Torlonia Palace. More salvage excavations in 1500 and 1511/2. 1742 the eastern end is excavated and a cartload of the marble pavement is sold to a stone cutter. 1780 more pavement and architectural pieces sold. Also at one time the Basilica area is used as a cemetery for a hospital (I'm assuming about the Renaissance with the higher ground level in the Forum). 1848-1872 the Basilica is excavated by archaeologists. But they destroy the remains of the vaulted concrete ceiling with stucco molding (from a later rebuilding), I assume it had fallen in pieces and was lying on the ground...but still!

To picture this basilica imagine a row of arcade arches surrounding this large (101 x 49 m) rectangle, then 7.5 m inside another row of arches and again in 7.5 m another row of arches. Now put a roof over them and build three more sets of arches on top of them and roof them also. So you have two corridors on two floors that go all around the building. In the center is an open courtyard 82 x 16 m with no roof. Here's how the set designers of the HBO series 'Rome' portrayed the Basilica Julia.

So now on top of the second floor wall in this 82 x 16 m opening with wooden walls, add *large* windows and then roof it over in wood. The distance across the roof is too great for single beams of heavy stone and not practical for a heavy bulky concrete vaulted ceiling. Large wooden beams like on the Curia's roof are the way to go, this roof is just to stop the rain with wall windows to light this interior area which is the heart of this basilica.

Now look down the Via Sacra and notice the steps leading up to the basilica. At this end there is only one step but notice there are more steps as the distance grows which ends with seven steps at the far end. That is because the ground slopes downhill along the Via.

At the top of these steps three more steps lead into the actual building through the first set of arches or arcade. This first arcade/corridor is more like a portico for the front of this building. Then two steps lead into the second arcade/corridor and beyond that the large open central area (like an indoor courtyard). The front, rear and sides of Augustus' original basilica were of solid marble with the inner arcade arches using travertine faced-in marble.

Now after the 283 AD fire and rebuilding they will use concrete faced-in brick. And going by that interior stucco molding found and destroyed in the nineteenth Century, I think it is safe to assume that all the bricks in this rebuilding were faced-in white stucco to give the impression of marble (like the Curia facade after the 283 rebuilding).

But perhaps like the Curia the lower level was faced-in marble to make it look like real marble blocks at eye level? I don't know if any of the outside original Augustus' marble blocks (front and two sides) survived the fire. But perhaps they did? Two statements by the nineteenth Century archaeologists who first excavated the basilica.

"some of the brick pillars and arches of the outer aisles belonging to the restoration of Diocletian, together with some fragments of the marble pillars of the outside".

This is in the SW corner saved by the church. So there were *marble* pillars still on the outside wall after the 283 rebuilding? "The amount and magnificence of the marble used in this basilica marked it as the special prey of the vandals of the middle ages, and a lime kiln was found on its very pavement". If everything was later brick-faced concrete then just faced with thin marble slabs it wouldn't have been that big of a deal for the reuse of the large marble blocks (vandals) and for the lime kiln?

Now look into that SW corner and you will see the brick-faced concrete arches still intact from the 283 rebuilding. Also I assume that those still standing arches only survived because of the seventh/eighth Century church that was built there, they probably used the arches as a foundation for the church.

Now notice the large lone brick wall section closest to you, the one I pointed out earlier as part of the unknown arch that spanned the Vicus Jugarius. If you look on the side of it that faces the basilica you'll notice it is thicker than the other walls, that is because it was reinforced and was actually part of this arch and the basilica.

The rear of the basilica wasn't open like the front but instead had a line of two-storied Tabernae (stair remains were found, SE corner) opening into the basilica. But often it's claimed they opened out into the street but excavation plans show them opening into the basilica and closed on the street side. Very likely there was another row of (commercial) shops behind them that opened into the street (proof later).

These earlier Basilica shops very likely were for bankers and moneychangers but later when it became a courthouse they think these were for court related offices with a few bankers/money changers.

The floor in the courtyard was colored marble (Numidian Yellow, Phrygian Purple, Lucullan Black) and the two surrounding corridors were white marble. This floor is slightly sloped and tilted to allow any water to run-off to the NE corner, this was noticed by an archaeologist during the 1878 flood of this area. A Middle Age 'lime kiln' was found on the floor when it was excavated, marble is burned which makes lime. The many short brick piers you see on the floor are just nineteenth Century recreations to show where the original arcade piers were located. But any fragments placed on top of them are original.

We'll pass on the basilica early career as a boring business center and straight to it's use as civil courtrooms (Judge Wapner and Judge Judy are more entertaining :-) ). Now before this trials/tribunals were held outside in and around the Forum. This courtyard using three large curtains (some say large wooden partitions) could be divided up into four, three or two separate courtrooms, if it was a really big high-profile case one courtroom (like that Pliny trial). The spectators would be in that second corridor with low marble balustrades (fences) between the arches to keep them back and also on the second floor watching the proceedings. Also men on one side and woman on the other.

These trials were a thrilling spectator sport, where anything went. Private citizens brought the charges against another often for revenge, power, money or for the accused political position. Outright lying, bribery, buying witnesses, spreading rumors, etc was all par for the course. Cicero (not here though) once hired a woman and her young children and made them pitiful looking and told the court that if his client was convicted what would happen to his poor wife and children, he wasn't married :-) . But once Cicero definitely was going to win his prosecution of Clodius but a couple of days before the verdict an unknown slave visited the juror/judges at their homes. And with offers of money, sex with beautiful women or young upper-class boys (that class was forbidden fruit)...Clodius was acquitted.

The Romans had the same word for both a prosecutor of these cases and a person on the stage...'actor'. It wasn't so much a lawyer by today's standards that did these cases but an orator whose powerful and witty words often won these cases like a popularity contest (OJ?).

A Roman orator named Vibius Crispus has a statue in this courtroom put there by Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD). Crispus was a favorite and yes-man to the Emperor, which is a wise thing to be with someone like Domitian. He was very rich and influential and a great orator and would take the side most favorable to the State while under Domitian. He is also a delatore (political informer) but that's par for the course. He once prosecuted another delatore who ratted him out to Nero.

It was called the Centumviral Court and there were 180 judges total. They didn't all have to present and would divide up among the two, three or four courtrooms. But for a big case they might all show up. And Emperor Trajan presided over this court a few times. The judges sat on benches with the orator/lawyers before them on each side. Also a slave's testimony in any trial about anything was never truly valid unless it was also taken under torture :=(.

For more information and photos, please see Basilica Julia in A Tourist in Rome.

Next: #16.1: Basilica Julia Game Boards, Via Sacra
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