#9.2: Rostra

Ok now, look at the front of the Rostra (the low, dark brown brick wall in this photo). On the extreme right see that ugly section of brickwork, in your mind make that section disappear. It's a late extension (405 AD) to the Rostra. Now what you have is a nice looking wall but is not original, it's a 1904 reconstruction by the Archaeologist Boni. But notice the between the nice-looking wall and that ugly 405 AD brick section there a section of large worn ugly stone blocks with holes in them. Those Tufa blocks are original to this Rostra, they were originally faced in beautiful marble and those holes were for mounting the bronze ramming prows (called rostra) of captured enemy ships. They were very likely the ones from the original Comitium Rostra, no reason that I've read that they shouldn't be.

But what you see is *not* the Rostra that Marc Antony delivered his famous speech from at Julius Caesar's funeral, and yes all those tour guides you'll overhear are wrong.

There are two Rostras built into that structure, this one was built over the original to extend it.

The first is in the back and it was built by Julius Caesar. It is just as long width-wise (left-to-right) but very narrow (front-to-back). It was like this )) and was basically a long curved soapbox for one man to address the crowd from. If he wanted to honor someone or a group they would have to stand in a line shoulder-to-shoulder. It was curved because the original Comitium Rostra was curved, and narrow because it was just a speaking platform to address the Senate in the Comitium or turn around and address the people in the Forum by one man usually. So it was a practical working pulpit. Caesar keep its design symbolic to their past and being a military man keep it simplistic, meaning give the speech, issue the decree, etc and move on. Augustus extended this Rostra forward into the Forum by 10 m turning it into a stage ))X]. Now the dignitaries, VIP's, Senators, Generals, etc could all be seated on the Rostra and now they could stage elaborate ceremonies for the crowds, just like today :-) . I'm going to start at the Augustus Rostra because you're standing in front of it :-) , then go to the side for the later extension, side entrance and then the Caesar Rostra.

So that is where it all happened starting with Emperor Augustus and all the famous Emperors afterwards stood upon that Rostra and addressed the crowds (Tiberius, Claudius, Caligula, Nero, Trajan, Hadrian, Commodus, etc).

So countless boring historical ceremonies took place there...Nero had temporary steps put in so some King could walk up from the Forum, so-and-so had his funeral there, etc, etc. But let's be honest; sex, murder, assassination, etc is what makes the best stories :-) . Augustus was a 'family values' Emperor; marriage and children vs adultery, prostitution, birth control, abortion, etc. But he liked his discreet affairs on the side with young women, especially virgins later in his life, well as Mel Brooks said in his movie "It's good to be the King" :-) . Now his daughter Julia he used as a political pawn to secure a successor to the throne (marry this man, he dies... then marry this one {future Emperor Tiberius, by the way}).

Julia is a princess, the Emperor's daughter, she could have countless discreet affairs but instead she becomes an open, out-of-the-closet, card-carrying Nymphomaniac (not that there is anything wrong with that :-) ).

She meets her lovers right by that tree (the tree marks an ancient location - more on it later) you see in front of the Rostra, right out in the open for everyone to see. And many of these men are her father's political enemies and even his supporters. Once asked why she had so many affairs she answered "When the boat is full, it's the best time to pick up more passengers" :-) .

She is 37 in 2 BC and it is claimed that she held a night time orgy in the Roman Forum using this Rostra. Augustus totally fed up exiles Julia to an island and has some of her lovers executed, one of them was Marc Antony's son (Iullus Antonius). So it seems that father and son *might* have both had a performance on this Rostra :-) . Ok back to the actual Rostra.

A good archaeological blueprint of the Rostra is at penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/Forum_Romanum/_Texts/Huelsen*/2/5.html Fig. 30 'Plan Of The Rostra'. The curved section labeled 'Hemicyclivm' is the Caesar Rostra and just above it on the right near the 'Vmbilicvs' some curved blocks. Those blocks are what remains today of the original Caesar Rostra's stairs. Julius Caesar walked on these stairs, and his coffin (bier) was carried up them, and Marc Antony ascended them to deliver his famous speech.

And above the word 'Rostra' is the Augustus Rostra, if the floor was intact this would look like one structure rather than two separate ones which it really is.

Many reconstruction drawings show Augustus' Rostra replacing the curved steps of Caesar's Rostra. I don't believe there is any proof that these curved steps were ever built over with straight steps. I think they were just incorporated into the extended Augustus' Rostra. Mainly because the area would have been filled in with concrete to make it straight and stepped and then marble slabs would have been added to make the actual beautiful looking steps.

Ok back to the front of the Rostra. The white marble along the base is original, it was slotted so the bottom row of marble facing slabs could be supported/fitted. And on top there are a few pieces of the white marble cornice remaining and you can see a slot on top of this cornice which would support a short safety fence that was on top of the Rostra. It would also keep people from being pushed off if things got hot and heavy :-) . A fence was on the sides and the front but in the middle of the front there was an open space so that the crowd could see the speaker from head to toe.

This front fence has been shown on engravings like this ####__#### so I'm inclined to believe if those two large marble reliefs we saw in the Curia were on the Rostra perhaps they were on the sides like shown in that website drawing above?

Augustus had statues erected on his Rostra, one of himself, two of Julius Caesar, one of Sulla and one of Pompey, some of them were equestrian (my guess would be one of him and one of Caesar?). And the later Emperors put themselves up there too.

It is also believed that during the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD) when he restored the Rostra after a fire, a columned roof was added to the Rostra to protect those on the platform from the sun and rain. Also during the reign of Diocletian (284 AD) a roof was built, I assume it was a rebuild perhaps after the Fire of Carinus. And traditionally and almost always shown in reconstruction drawings are five tall columns (remember the columns behind the custodian shack) with statues on top mounted on the Rostra. It's doubtful but we'll get into it behind the Rostra later.

Ok now look at the ugly brick section on the right end of the Rostra. That is called the ROSTRA VANDALICA which is the modern name for this section. It just extends the front facade of the Rostra 3 or 4 m for some reason. I've wondered if it was perhaps to screen those using the later addition stairs cut into the side of the Rostra? It would give those VIPs privacy while waiting in the wings before making their grand entrance up on the Rostra? And also perhaps to keep the crowd from being distracted from the speaker by the coming and goings on those entering and exiting the Rostra, like a stage's side-curtains? I haven't come across any explanations for this extension that seems to serve no purpose.

It's believed this extension is from about 470 AD when the 'Urban Prefect of Rome' 'Junius Valentinus' (455-76 AD) did a Rostra restoration in brick masonry.

The partial single-line inscription on the marble rectangular blocks on top is by Valentinus celebrating a naval victory over the Vandals under the reign of Emperors Leo and Anthemius in about 470 AD. Also note the top of these inscribed blocks is grooved, that is for the balustrade (rail fence).

I think they are grasping at straws here with this 'naval victory' inscription.

The Vandals have been kicking their butt all over, in 455 Rome surrendered and the Vandals plundered the city for two weeks along with grabbing an Empress and her two daughters as booty (no pun intended :-) ). And the short-reigning Emperor Petronius Maximus is stoned to death by a Roman mob outside the city while trying to flee (the Empress and daughters are from the Emperor he had killed when he took over). Actually it was a well ordered plundering under the terms of surrender, no raping, burning, torture or murder, just plunder and a few wealthy hostages taken for ransom.

So the Vandals got a bad reputation in history, Vandals=vandalism, vandal, vandalize.

In 468 the East and West Roman Empires come together and launch the most expensive fleet and army in history up to that point to attack the Vandals.

The fleet splits and in Sardinia they sink 340 out of 500 Vandal ships and win this battle. I wonder if that is the one they are celebrating with this inscription?

They might have won the battle but they didn't win the war. Near Carthage the Romans get their sterns handed to them :-) . The Vandals sink over half their fleet, the Romans retreat. Neither is a victor, this expedition cost the Empire bundles of money and eight years later in 476 AD the Western Roman Empire falls. The Vandals are also on the downswing after this war and in 533 they are finally finished when their last King is captured.

Ok now, walk over to the left side of 'Arch of Septimius Severus' and look into the middle of the Rostra's substructure. In the reign of Septimius Severus the Rostra was rebuilt with some changes because of the erection of this arch (203 AD). In order to make a direct approach to the speaker's platform from this side, a triangular section was cut out of the northern half of the Rostra with steps leading up to the top of the Rostra.

[ See Fig. 33 at penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/Forum_Romanum/_Texts/Huelsen*/2/5.html ]

So in that section in front of you the Rostra's sidewall was broken away making a little courtyard-like area which was believed to be shut off from the public by a simple gate. I assume this made it easier to enter and exit the Rostra vs going through the arch and around to the back of the Rostra plus VIP's could wait there probably seated in the shade rather than waiting behind the Rostra on the street until called upon for some ceremony. Also seeing the Rostra is now like a stage any minor comings and goings would be less distracting during a speech plus a lot easier to coordinate and communicate the event's going-ons unseen by the crowds.

Ok now, still looking straight into the Rostra's substructure make everything to the left disappear.

[ See Fig. 30 at penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/Forum_Romanum/_Texts/Huelsen*/2/5.html ]

The curved wall on the right are the remains of the original Rostra built by Julius Caesar. The curve was done to copy the original Rostra that was in the Comitium, remember the large circular arena-like structure mentioned earlier.

On the end closest to you, you can see the marble base that fronted this curved wall and the remains of four marble slabs that lined or faced the ugly concrete core.

On the top you can see the remains of the marble cornice that ran along the top (best viewed from the backside of this Rostra). Also later when you are behind the Rostra you will see the remains of the long curved steps that lead to the narrow top (speaking area) of this Rostra.

Picture yourself standing in the Forum looking at this Rostra. With Julius Caesar standing on top addressing the cheering crowds. But on March 18, 44 BC his body will be carried up the backstairs on a bier (a richly decorated open coffin) and placed in the middle of the Rostra. Marc Antony steps up to the edge of the Rostra and addresses the crowd. He has written a eulogy for his close friend, Julius Caesar. Cassius Dio said it ended with these words:

"Of what avail, O Caesar, was your humanity, of what avail your inviolability, of what avail the laws? Nay, though you enacted many laws that men might not be killed by their personal foes, yet now mercilessly you yourself were slain by your Friends! And now, the victim of assassination, you lie dead in the Forum through which you often led the Triumph crowned; wounded to death, you have been cast down upon the Rostra from which you often addressed the People. Woe for the blood-bespattered locks of gray, alas the rent (cut) robe, which you assumed (a purple robe, the regal color), it seems, only that you might be slain in it!"
Antony then grabs and holds up Caesar's blood-soaked robe to the crowd so they see the all the cuts made by the assassins knives. The crowd goes crazy, his bier is taken from the Rostra and brought to the other end of the Forum. Shops are looted of tables, chairs and they are piled up. His body is placed on top and it is set afire. This is a very honorable cremation because it is within the city walls and in the Forum, which was not allowed then and was only done for the ancient Kings of Rome.

Social unrest follows and then civil war, the great orator Cicero is caught by Marc Antony's troops while trying to escape Italy in 43 BC. His head and hands are chopped-off and brought back to Rome where they are publicly displayed on this Rostra.

Marc Antony and Cicero are bitter enemies and Cicero has personally attacked Antony in many public and Senate speeches especially about his drinking and womanizing.

Later Marc Antony's wife goes up to Cicero's head and pulls his tongue out past his lips and then runs a large hatpin through it and leaves it in place, symbolically rendering him unable to speak. Definitely a "Stand by your man" type of woman :-) .

For more information and photos, please see Rostra of Augustus in A Tourist in Rome.

Next: #9.3: Stilicho Statue Base
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