#17.9: Late Imperial Rostra

So leave this little nook in the Forum Square and turn left on the Via Sacra and walk to the brick remains (a small building) just after the last of the seven Honorary Column Bases [SE corner of the Forum Square]. It actually looks like a slightly larger version of an eighth Column Base which early excavators thought it was.

But it is the remains of the southern-end of a Rostra that occupied this end of the Forum Square. Except for this end it was mistakenly dismantled/destroyed in 1887 by Pietro Rosa during his Forum excavations, he thought it was a later Medieval building...oops!

It was a long concrete and brick-faced structure and the section that survives today has an inner staircase that would lead to the top of this Rostra (it's likely that another staircase was at the opposite end). The brick facing likely had a white stucco finish to give the appearance of marble. Today a rectangular patch of grass is grown to show the outline of this structure and it is also surrounded (on the ground) by some of the molded marble plinths that adorned this Rostra. Who built it is not positively known but narrowed down to the Early fourth Century by either Diocletian, Maxentius or Constantine.

Some nineteenth Century / early twentieth Century archaeologists believed it was the 'Rostra ad Divi Julii' (Rostra of Divine Julius [Caesar]) built by Augustus. And they claimed that later it was completely rebuilt in about the early fourth Century in an attempt to explain why the brick stamps show that fourth Century time period. But this is totally wrong because it was based on ancient sources that say *a* Rostra was *in front* of the 'Temple of Divus Julius' (Divine Julius Caesar). This is true but the Rostra and the Caesar Temple are the same structure. A large rectangular podium/base 3.5 m high was built to elevate the Temple. The Temple is set-back on this elevated podium so the area in front that faces the Forum Square is wide open, creating an elevated Rostra. Rostra[], Steps|||, Temple[T]... []|||[T]. Bottom line: Why would Augustus build three Rostra in a row especially since this one would block out the second one at the Temple? Plus zero physical evidence (brick stamps, etc) linking this structure to Augustus' reign about 300 years earlier.

One reason we don't know much about it is because it was built in the declining era of the Western Roman Empire (Rome) and the real power is in the Eastern Roman Empire (Constantinople). The most logical choice is that this is the 'Rostra Diocletian'. In 283 AD a major fire destroys much of the Forum one year before he becomes the Eastern Emperor. In 303 he rebuilds the Curia, Basilica Julia, etc and puts five columns on the old Rostra and very likely builds this new Rostra with matching five columns.

Now on the right side of this remaining Rostra structure there is a rectangular marble statue base (about 2 m long) with an inscription. On top of this base are holes where statues of the three Rulers were attached. Also on top of this base is a smaller square marble cube with a nice design on it. I doubt they are connected it was most likely just placed there by the early excavators of the Forum to display it but it is likely that it was part of this Rostra.

The inscription reads:

This translation is modern rearrangement of the inscription and easier to understand:
DEDICATION BY LUCIUS VALERIUS SEPTIMIUS BASSUS WHO IS THE 'PRAEFECTUS URBI' (Prefect of Rome; like a Mayor 379-383 AD) [These next two are step-brothers]
TO FLAVIUS GRATIANUS (Emperor and co-Emperor of the West/Rome 367-383, troops deserted him, later assassinated by inner circle officer)
(co-Emperor West 375-392; palace suicide but most likely murdered by his General)
AND THEODOSIUS I (co-Emperor and the last sole Emperor of the East and West in the last five months of his life 379-395, proclaimed Catholic as the one true Christian religion and in 391 banned Paganism and shut down their temples.

Turn around and look at the Shrine of Vesta, on his orders the sacred fire that has burned for about 1000 years is allowed to burn out and the Vestal Virgins are 'kicked to the curb'.

Info + photo half way down this page:


Closeup photos: www.flickr.com/photos/boakes/3371479126/, here and here

Next: #18.1: Vicus Tuscus
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