#31: Basilica of Maxentius (aka 'Basilica of Constantine' or 'Basilica Nova')

First let's get a 'Layout of the Land' as it relates to Nero's post-64 AD Fire massive building projects in this area and will also be useful later on. Ok, still standing in front of the Sacellum of Bacchus turn left and look up the Via Sacra. In front of you the Via forks with a straight path and another path that forks-off to the right |/. The right path is the original Via Sacra path up to the Palatine Hill / Arch of Titus area pre-64 AD it would have rich houses and shops along it. The straight path was put in by Nero after the 64 Fire and it's now THE Via Sacra in a *Grand Monument* form.

The Via T's at the top (where the Church is, hidden by the trees but you can see its Belltower) and then 90°/Right to the Arch area. Pre-64 Fire this whole area from the Vestal's House to the Arch area, and in front of you, and from the street next to the Temple of Romulus up was all private rich aristocratic homes, with some Shrine and monuments and Shops along the original Via Sacra. That whole area burned down and Nero just took it over for his massive grand building plans.

The now straight Via Sacra is 30 m wide (!!!) from here up, with a broad elevated walkway (1 or 2 m high), and with three separate streets. On each side of this 30 m Via are 1-2 steps to a broad sidewalk (crepido) and then 3-4 steps up to a *Grand* colonnaded and roofed-over walkway _--|T|--_ It's BEAUTIFUL now the WOW!!! of all the past and future Via Sacra's.

Now on the right side of this Nero Via Sacra from the Vestal's House over to the Arch Titus area and from this Via Sacra over to the Via Nova that runs behind the Vestal's House Nero builds a Huge structure fronted by a Porticoed Arcade via [:[X] And then does the exact same on the left side of the Via [X]:]via[:[X] Now because the Via slopes down these [:[X] structures are made up of stepped-down wide platforms ___----`````` so you can just step down from the elevated sloped Via and walk into the front arcade[: and into the building behind [:[X]. What Nero did with them (high-end shops?) or intended to do with them is unknown they possibly even weren't yet completely finished? Because four years after the Fire Nero gets the Boot.

Vespasian becomes Emperor 1.5 years later after a Civil War where three others became the Emperor for a very short time. Vespasian makes the right building a seafood market (Horrea Vespasiani) with likely other functions and his later-Emperor Son (Domitian) made the one on the left a State owned Spice Warehouse (Horrea Piperataria).


Ok behind the Medieval Arcade is the SW corner of this Basilica, the long south side of the Basilica runs 100 m along the Left side of the straight Via Sacra path just beyond the trees. As you walk up the path look into the trees on the Left for some ruins about half-way (50 m) up, a staircase and some displayed column fragments. These are from a second entrance into the Basilica that we will later get to. You are walking dead-center of where Nero's 30 m wide elevated Via Sacra once was so imagine the [X]:]via[:[X] Arcades and Buildings 15 m to each side of you.

At the top of the path is a Church, just inside of it was where Nero's Via Sacra actually T'ed off left and right. So walk to the left of the Church to the Street/path takes you to the front of the Basilica. This street was columned for the Basilica.

Begun in 306 AD by Emperor Maxentius but the final finishing touches are completed by Emperor Constantine in 313 AD after he had defeated Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. It was the last Pagan Roman Basilica built in Rome and the structure resembled the huge Roman Baths (Thermae) more than it did earlier Roman Basilicas.

Actually we really don't know what Maxentius called his new Basilica but there is a theory. In the later Christian 'Liber Pontificalis' the Basilica is referred to as a Temple "Templum Urbis Romae" something like the 'Temple (for the) City (of) Rome'. So the Christians rename the Basilica building a "Temple". And "Romae" (Rome) is very possibly a Christian name change for the Maxentius' Basilica he possibly dedicated to 'Roma' who is the City's Pagan Protecting Goddess?

Following along with the theory, the large Temple of Roma and Venus is right in front of this Basilica with the "Goddess Roma" half of the Temple facing this way with a large seated statue of the Goddess. It burned in the 307 Fire and Maxentius is still rebuilding it when in 306 he started building his Basilica. And the most logical place for the Basilica's elaborate front entrance would have been on the long (south) side facing the Via Sacra. But he builds the entrance facing this 'Roma Goddess Temple' (east)? As I said earlier Maxentius is trying to preserve, promote and restore the Pagan ways against the growing Christianity. So it's very possible he named it the 'Basilica Urbis Roma' the 'City's Basilica (dedicated to Goddess) Roma'.

In Medieval Times it was called the "Temple of Romulus" likely because of some decorative feature still visible in the Basilica related to the 'Romulus and Remus and Wolf' legend. In the 625-638 Pope Honorius loots the roof's gilded bronze tiles to re-roof St. Peter's. In 847 an Earthquake caused the south Aisle and the Nave's roof to collapse likely caused by two centuries of the stripped roof being exposed to the elements and weaken.

Ok you are now facing the eastern end of the Basilica and standing the original columned street. The Basilica is built upon a rectangular concrete foundation (96 m x 65 m) that also leveled-off the area and it was 35+ m high at its center. A photo of the Basilica is here.

NOTE: on the Right the street continues into an narrow open hallway (fenced-off) that runs alongside the Basilica's wall (on the hallway's right wall on the outside is a modern roof protecting a wall painting, date unknown). Then according to my excavation diagram it 90° left and the Hallway runs along about 60% of the Basilica's outside Wall, then about 10% is missing but at about 80% my diagram shows stairs facing north. My guess is that the stairs go down to the "Via Carinae" I mentioned earlier next to the "Temple of Romulus" and this outer structure "Hallway" (likely once roofed-over) is an entrance/exit pedestrian path to the front entrance of the Basilica?

Now back to the street you are standing on. From this street there were steps leading up to a columned Vestibule 8 m deep which ran the entire width [```B```]v]|||. The vestibule had five entrances into the Basilica, three for the Center Nave and one each for the Aisles on each side of the Nave. Enter into the Basilica from the center of the Vestibule and stop.

Now journey back into Ancient Times... It's Oct, 28 312 AD and you are a Pagan and you have just come back from cheering-on Emperor Maxentius and his troops that were marching out of Rome to kick Constantine's butt. The Basilica is pretty much completed but the new Emperor Constantine will finish up the final touches the following year with a few changes of his own. You have just entered the Basilica's Central Nave (Hall) and the first thing you notice centered in the opposite far end (west) wall is a 20 m diameter { apse {```B```] (an outwards semi-circular projection centered in a straight wall in this case).

In this apse is a Colossal (about 15 m tall) seated statue of Maxentius. This type of statue was called an Acrolith where the head, hands and feet were finely sculptured marble but the rest of the statue is a wooden frame that forms the hidden body shape because the statue is dressed in clothes (big money saver). The head will soon be changed to that of Constantine. In 1486 statue remains were uncovered in this apse and today the very large head, hand and foot are displayed in the courtyard of the Capitoline Muesum (Palazzo Conservatori).

Now look to the right and see three huge interconnected rooms (vaults) |_|_|_| 20.5 m wide and 24 m high that makes up the entire north section of the Basilica and is called an AISLE. Now in your mind put the same exact |_||_|_| AISLE on the opposite left side (south) of the Basilica, that south side is entirely missing (destroyed in the 847 earthquake). Now walk over to the middle of that missing left side Aisle so you are now standing where the missing middle vault/room once was and look to the opposite intact side. They call these three (side rooms) Vaults that form an Aisle which are wide open to the large Central Nave (Hall).

On each side of these rooms there were four fluted columns (15.5 m) running the length of the Aisle that supported the Nave's three separate sections of a concrete vaulted roof 35 m high. (now totally gone but there is a hunk of it in the center of the Nave). You can see some of the marble remains of the column's Corinthian Capitals high up of the first three especially the first one in the far right corner. One of the missing columns was placed in the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore in 1614 with a statue of the Virgin Mary on top. [This is called the Column of Peace (Colonna della Pace) -Jeff] The ancient Romans looted obelisks from Egypt and the Christians later re-looted them to be reused elsewhere (like St. Peter's Square) but they have run out of obelisks so now they are using columns instead :-) .

The Floor in the Nave and six rooms was a pattern of squares with circles and diamond-shapes made up of multi-colored marble rather like the Pantheon's floor. The Nave's walls were faced with a marble veneer and the rooms with a gilded stucco finish.

Now Constantine comes along in 312-3 AD and changes the middle rooms/vaults in each of the two Aisles. All six vaults have a square rear wall with six large windows in two rows of three for Sunlight. |_|_|_|. But in the middle room on the intact north side he knocks down the square wall and replaces it with a semi-circular Apse ) wall with no windows. In the back of this Apse is a large niche with a base where Constantine puts a standing statue of himself. Guessing here: At the top of this niche are two supporting brackets perhaps for a narrow ornamental roof over the statue? And above that a rectangular niche perhaps for a marble inscription to Constantine?

On each side of that large niche are eight smaller niches (two rows of four) perhaps (historian's guess) something for his relatives and/or powerful VIP officials? And a few other niches higher up. Along the base of the eight lower niches are projecting support brackets for a line of marble seats that had a few steps leading up to the seats. And the Apse has six-sided hexagonal coffers in the ceiling.

And now this room also has large wooden doors or marble screens installed. Government and commercial business was done in the Basilica and the 'Prefect of the City' (highest imperial official below the Emperor) had his office in the Basilica and it's believed it was possibly there. Or this Apse room was used for a Tribunal (A specific Court. Perhaps in this case being based in the Basilica it was for Government/Public and/or Commercial business disputes?). The doors could be closed while conducting official business if need be (like US Mayors say "My door is always open to the Public"... except when I've got some 'Wheeling and Dealing' to do. Or if in the other case for closed Tribunal sessions).

And in the (imaginary) middle room of the south side you are standing in, the rear wall is removed and three double doorways are put in its place. The doorways open out to a porch whose roof is held up by four (porphyry) Columns and a monumental staircase leads down to the Via Sacra. So the Basilica now has a second beautiful entrance and the effect here is when you enter the first thing you see is the standing statue of Constantine in the opposite room/vault.

Also look over the wall to view the ruins again of the porch area, staircase and column fragments that you first viewed from the Via Sacra. Now walk over to the left (west) end of the building where the Apse with the Colossal seated Statue + was located {+```B```]v]|||. And look over the wall to the ground below, that is the side street I mentioned twice earlier on the side of the Temple of Romulus that leads to the Rich Carinae neighborhood. This street's passageway that cut through the Basilicas foundations are to the right (unseen) but it is an arch-shaped 4 m wide and 15 m long passage. In the Middle Ages this passageway was called the Arco di Latrone. "Latrone" means men who have nothing to lose so a dangerous place and I assume a very good place to get mugged or to hire the local bad guys :-) .

In the wall of the building across this street which is now the basement level of the Church of Cosma and Damiano which was once the ancient street's ground level for the Audience Hall in the Temple/Forum of Peace. You can see a partial white marble or travertine doorway (about 2 m x 3 m) that was walled up. I assume this was just a street side-door into the Audience Hall in 71-5 AD and that it wasn't practical for anything (a church side door?) when the first church was built there in 527, or if not, possibly walled up for the wall's structural support for later heavier churches built on top over the older church?

Ok now, walk back to the entrance but past the north side's intact Aisle Vaults for a closer, more detailed look inside. And now back at the entrance where you first entered, stop, and try to picture this Basilica with its beautiful multi-colored marble floor, walls in bright white marble veneer, the six vaults in painted stucco, a deep coffered ceiling in hexagonal and octagonal shapes likely painted with designs or gilded in them, the massive 35 m roof held up by eight large fluted beautiful columns, statues and decorations all around, sunlight streaming in through large windows in the vaulted roof's sides and through the windows of the six Vaults. It's now the most beautiful building in the Roman Forum. Built by the last Pagan Emperor from a long successive line of Pagan Emperors, Senate Consuls, Dictators and Kings going back over a 1000 Years but it will be completed by the first Christian Emperor.

So still a Pagan you leave here in Oct, 28 312 AD with your business complete. You wonder how Emperor Maxentius made out with his battle with Constantine outside the Walls of Rome. "Ahh... What could possibly be the big deal no matter who wins or loses 'Nothing Ever Changes', Rome's been though three dozen Emperors and Emperor 'wantabees' in the last 100 years and very, very few died of natural causes." What you don't realize on that day as you leave is that it's the beginning of Pagan Rome's "Swan Song" and in 82 years the Christians will close-down Rome's last Pagan Temple (the Temple of Vesta) and Paganism is officially Outlawed.

Ok, Just a location tidbit and nothing to see. Somewhere beneath the Basilica's Left (North) side because it would not have been destroyed by Domitian's warehouse market about 80's AD there was an aristocratic House. About 90 years later in the 170's AD it's recorded that the famous Greek Physician Galen lived there. His old house was still there in 306 AD but it is destroyed to construct this Basilica.

CLAUDIUS GALEN (129 - 216 AD) was the most famous doctor in the Roman Empire, today if we hear about him in documentaries or articles it's as the 'headline grabbing' "Doctor of the Gladiators". Which he was, but it was his first job after "graduating" where he was the Chief Physician to the gladiator school in Pergamum. No doubt there he learned A LOT about the inner body, I guess slashing swords would give him a lot of chances :-) . He set his sights on ROME and with his skills, knowledge, self-pushed public relations and ancient networking he became well known in the City. He hauled butt outta Rome during a Plague outbreak (168-9) but on his return he later became the Personal Physician of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Emperor Commodus and Septimius Severus. He was a great believer in experimental investigation like animal dissection to help doctors to improve their skills. He learned a lot and discovered a lot and was considered "The Man" in Medicine until the Renaissance when it was discovered he also got a lot wrong but still was "The Man".

Some of his Big Time discoveries were:

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

Next: #32: Arch of Titus
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