#16.5: Basilica Julia - Rectangular Outlined Structure in the Via Sacra

Ok you are still standing in front of the Basilica Julia between Brick Column Bases 3 and 4. In the middle of the street (Via) notice the long rectangular dirt space outlined in modern brick (in front of Brick Column Bases 3 and 2). It's shown in this close-up photo and in the wide view here (near the center of the right edge). This is an approximately 100 year old photo which shows it excavated hrsbstaff.ednet.ns.ca/waymac/images/Rome/Daily%2020.jpg (near the center of the left edge). You can also see it in this Forum map. To the left of #43, #41 is the Basilica Julia. www.hotelaroma.org/images/foro_romano_mappa.jpg

But before we get to this dirt rectangle I want to mention this. The Roman Forum Square was once used for the Games and Gladiator combats. In the beginning probably just a simple temporary fenced-off area with standing crowds around it with others on the roofs of the shops and later atop the basilicas. But in 318 BC it's recorded that they built a wooden structure called a 'Maenianum': "originally a projecting balcony which was erected round the Roman forum in order to give more accommodation to the spectators of the gladiatorial combats by the Censor C. Maenius 318 BC." Although the first Gladiator combat in Rome was said to have taken place in 264 BC? Perhaps it was originally used for other venues and then later for Gladiator combats?

"Projecting balcony": I'm thinking here standing room (not seats) on the ground plus standing room on this balcony? I'm assuming that they also used the roofs of the shops that bordered the two sides of the Forum (Tabernae Nova and Veteres) and just projected a wooden platform off them held up by wooden posts? Now when Julius Caesar comes to power he puts in underground tunnels beneath the Forum Square with twelve openings with elevators for either the gladiators or wild beasts or both to pop up from. By this time or possibly even earlier it seems this Forum Arena is now surrounded off and on by *temporary* wooden stands so the crowds can now be seated in an amphitheater setting. Julius Caesar has also placed (colorful, if I recall correctly) awnings over the Forum Square, the Clivus Capitolinus and the lower section of the Via Sacra for shade. This diagram shows the tunnels and openings: (sorry, broken link)

Also one theory is that the 'Pozzi Rituali' I mention in front of the Basilica Julia aren't really Pozzi Rituali but are just about 2 m deep post holes for these wooden stands or for the awning over the stands? Another theory was that Pozzi Rituali around the Forum was to set apart a sacred boundary for voting? But I think the theory that they were used in the sacrifice ritual of the animal's discarded remains and to possibly pour ritual libations (wine?) into makes more sense (pottery shards and small animal bones found in them dating to the Republic Era).

During Augustus' reign he ends these Games in the Roman Forum and they move elsewhere.

Ok now here's the *possible* tie in with this rectangular trench and these tunnels?

But I think first we should rule out what it isn't, at least in my opinion. It's not centered in front of the Basilica Julia's main center entrance, so probably not connected with the Basilica as something ornamental (fountain, altar, statue, etc). It's a big hole in the Via, if it was for an aboveground structure it would likely have a solid concrete foundation at and below ground level on which to build on. If it was an aboveground structure it would also block any type of wheeled traffic (triumphs, religious processions [Temple of Jupiter to Circus Maximus], etc). Also what type of aboveground structure of this size would need a void beneath it and to what purpose? I don't know of any other examples of this type structure elsewhere? And later if built in Medieval times this structure would be higher than the surrounding Via pavement (Julius Caesar/Augustus Era) and doubtful to me as it looks like it was neatly built :-) .

But a below ground structure here that could easily be covered-over when not it use would cause no problems. Now I asked about this site about 3.5 years ago on the soc.history.ancient newsgroup and got a response from Jona Lenderius en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jona_Lendering [URL of that post groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/soc.history.ancient/X-N0gYtaE4o]

Newsgroups: soc.history.ancient
From: Jona <adsl294...@tiscali.nl> Date: Fri, 20 Aug 2004 01:48:23
+0200 Local: Thurs, Aug 19 2004 7:48 pm
Subject: Re: Roman Forum Experts: Question About A Structure On The Via Sacra.
"This is probably one of the entrances to the system of underground tunnels created in the days of Julius Caesar. Back then, the Forum was used for gladiatorial contests and these tunnels were used for sudden appearances by lions etc."
[snip unrelated text]
Jona Lenderius www.livius.org
[End Quote]

(my simplified diagram)

Rostra->]----|--|--|--|

Now look at the first vertical tunnel ]----|- Draw a line straight down to the Basilica Julia and then draw the Via in front of the Basilica. This long rectangular structure is left of that line with one end right on that line in the center of the Via. You can line this up if you are standing there and also if you have a map showing both locations. In person you can see that first opening right next to the Lacus Curtius shown on the website above (if you lean over the fence you can see that hole, the top of the tunnel's structure and the void of the tunnel). So this structure *could* be a long ramp, stairs or just a hole that has a 90* tunnel at its end which leads over to this tunnel complex as it lines up perfectly. And this long rectangular opening would be likely under (or outside) the temporary wooden stands setup for these events, *possibly* an out of sight staging area for the lions, prisoners, gladiators, etc?).

Now notice the long horizontal tunnel that goes left over to the Rostra. Remember Caesar built a narrow Rostra and these tunnels. Later Augustus extended this Rostra 10 m out. *Perhaps* that was the original staging area in front of Caesar's Rostra which was very likely outside (or under?) the wooden amphitheater's boundary but that tunnel entrance and this open area was later covered-over by Augustus' Rostra?

But we still have a big problem with this rectangular structure being part of this tunnel system. There is no tunnel shown or mentioned that links this underground structure with the complex of tunnels beneath the Forum Square! A Guess??? Augustus eventually ends these Forum Games and this tunnel system is abandoned? About 3 centuries later they build those large *heavy* seven Honorific Columns on this side of the Forum Square that we see today.

Go back to that map URL and that line I asked you to draw. To the left of that line with one edge right on that line draw the large concrete/brick faced base of the third Honorific Column. These tunnels are 2 m high and 1.5 m wide and if there was a tunnel there it would be right under the east end of the third base. And the top of these tunnels are maybe about 0.75 m below the Forum pavement. Now no doubt when these (or possibly earlier) column bases were built the first thing was to rip up the Forum pavements below, dig a hole and put in a concrete foundation to build on. But *if* you have a major void caused by an abandoned tunnel you would have to fill it in. Seal the ends of it somewhere between this point and before the first opening and also somewhere between this point and the Via Sacra. Then just throw in any dirt and rubble lying around and fill it in with concrete. Of course this is all just a guess hinging on what, if anything was ever found below ground at the eastern end of that rectangular structure? (No opening=No tunnel)

Also Mr. Lenderius mentions lions. I recall reading that once during these Forum Games an execution was carried out against a Roman citizen, it was a high-profile case. I *believe* he killed his father to gain his inheritance and was sentenced to death by wild beasts (lions). The big crowd pleaser was, if I recall correctly, a group lions were all released *at once* into this small arena, I assume through these tunnel openings. *If* after the execution they sent in the wild beast-hunters they would have had a nice double-feature for the Mob :-) .

Next: #16.6: Assassination of Emperor Galba
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