#13: Temple of Saturn

Still sitting behind the Rostra, look to the left at the eight standing columns with the top connecting section (architrave) still in place. That is the 'Temple of Saturn'. It is the oldest temple in the Forum that there actually are records on in the Pontifical Archives, the exact date is unclear but somewhere between 501-493 BC but usually placed about 497 BC. A couple of *Traditions* put it earlier, one to third King of Rome (673+ BC) and another to the last (seventh) King of Rome (535+ BC). Bottom line: A recorded temple was built here just after the Kings were overthrown and Rome became a Republic (509 BC) which possibly replaced an earlier temple.

Nothing much is known about this first temple except that it was probably built like an Etruscan temple and was similar to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. Tradition says it was built on the spot where Hercules dedicated an altar to Saturn. But that myth over the years got the *exact location* mixed up with the 'Altar of Saturn' *in front* of the temple?

Not much is known about the early God Saturn but originally he might have been a God for farming (crops and herds) or possibly an Etruscan god named Satre. (I think the evidence points to a farming God). But by the third Century BC Saturn merges with the Greek God Kronos and becomes a 'Party' God which makes him *very popular* with the Romans :-) .

His festival is called Saturnalia where adults exchange gifts and children get small earthenware dolls. Rules are relaxed and the Partying begins, public gambling is allowed, informal clothes are worn rather than the toga, everyone wears a pilleus which is a felt cap worn by Freedmen to show liberty, sometimes Masters and slaves even exchange roles but more often the slaves just get a vacation from their duties. After a huge number of animal sacrifices at the temple there is a large public feast. Originally just a one-day festival but by Julius Caesar's day it's a week-long party :-) . Party-pooper Emperor Augustus tried to limit it to three days but no one paid him any attention. Saturnalia originally started on Dec. 17 but by the time Paganism fell it was closer to New Years and with that fall this very popular Pagan holiday became Christmas.

Saturn's statue was unusual by Roman standards, it was hollow and held olive oil within it, many sources even say it was made of wood. Saturn wears a toga but is bare chested and veiled (toga draped over head, with face visible) and holds a pruning knife or sickle. Also the feet are bound in wool throughout the year but released for the Saturnalia. Olive oil and the sickle are related to farming and possibly the bound feet represent the farmers flock contained to his land and not wandering away. But later the unbound feet represent the freedom to cut-loose and raise Hell for the week of Saturnalia.

This statue would also be carried in military Triumphs. In 42 BC L. Munatius Plancus is Consul along with Lipidus. Plancus has a pocketful of war booty from his Alpine victory and decides he's going to rebuilt and enlarge this temple. This was the last major temple rebuilt/constructed by a private person which was very common to get your name out there for political purposes. But once Augustus becomes Emperor all temple projects will be state funded and the Emperors will get the credit.

No traces of the pre-42 BC earlier temples are visible today but we can see remains of this 42 BC temple. Like the podium (the foundation's concrete core 40×22.5 m height 9 m) and its outer Travertine facing.

In 283 AD a massive fire destroys this temple and much of the Forum. Emperor Diocletian rebuilds the temple on top of the 42 BC podium which keeps it the same size. But this temple's reconstruction is haphazard which is very common in the later Empire. And you can see this half-as... oops I mean haphazard construction technique today. This type of construction is called 'Spolia' which means using recycled elements from older buildings, so you get a lot of mismatching pieces.

The COLUMNS are mostly recycled and not all the columns, bases and capitals match up. The columns are all Egyptian Granite, the six in front are grey and the two on the sides are pink and they come from a few different colonnades. Three are monoliths but the others were made by joining two broken columns together some upside-down.

The BASES are also different Attic and Corinthian with and without a plinth.

The marble IONIC CAPITALS on top of the columns were made new for this rebuilding.

And the ARCHITRAVE blocks are very likely from the original 42 BC temple as they date to around that time. The inner side of these blocks are decorated with leaves and palmettes. And on top of the architrave there were statues of Tritons with horses (most likely bronze).

The INSCRIPTION on the architrave was once inlaid with bronze letters. It reads:"Senatus populusque romanus incendio consumptum restituit", meaning"The Roman senate and people restored what fire had consumed".

Now this temple was also restored in 360-380 AD by some disgruntled Senators hoping to revive Paganism.

Most (now dead) archaeologists and historians *always* placed the inscription with the 283 AD rebuilding but the 'Oxford Archaeological Guide' places it with the 360-380 AD rebuilding? I'm assuming it's a mistake or do they have more recent evidence? But most likely it was the 283 rebuilding caused by fire.

I've also read that Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211 AD) did some restoration on the Temple and also possibly some restoration (fire? architectural problems?) shortly after it was built during Augustus' reign.

NOW WALK OVER TO THE LEFT SIDE OF THE TEMPLE, see a couple of steps that leads into an area that would be beneath the massive temple's front stairs. This was the entrance into the AERARIUM or TREASURY. You can see the holes for the door on the left side and also in the threshold at your feet. Some of these holes were for the hinges and the round ones to support locking bars.

Also look to the left of this door, there is a large block of travertine projecting from the podium/platform with large holes for metal fastening there was either a statue or *column* once there. They never found exactly where the Milliarium Aureum was located in that general area...I wonder?

Also on this side of the podium holes remain from where a plate was attached for the posting of public documents and acts pertinent to the Aerarium. Also it's believed that other public notices might have been posted on the long street-level wall of the Temple on your left (perfect spot for a bulletin board).

This Aerarium/treasury was actually two separate treasuries located beneath the temple in the podium/foundation i.e. the basement of the building. And this doorway opened into a room beneath the temple steps in which this basement treasury could only be entered. (By the way, temple steps were always odd numbered so your first and last step into a temple was on the right foot, superstition.) One treasury was a common treasury funded by taxes and used to run the State. The other treasury was like a 'rainy day' fund. It was funded by war spoils and a 5% tax on freed slaves and only to be used in emergencies (war, famine, etc). The common treasury was started when Rome threw out the Kings and became a Republic (509 BC). The emergency treasury was started after the Gauls sacked Rome in 390 BC (and likely burned down this temple). Sometime during the Imperial Age (post 29 BC) the Emperors took charge of these treasuries and the money was considered theirs alone. But they left a separate smaller treasury section for the Senate to run day-to-day governmental things.

Also during the Republic 'The Standards of the Legions' were kept here along with bronze Law tablets, decrees from the Senate and financial records. These tablets, decrees and records were probably moved to the Tabularium (78 BC).

There was a pair of scales inside, it sounds like they were ceremonial but also functioning scales. I wonder if they were in this first room beneath the stairs? Weighing the gold and silver has it came in or out?

Now while standing in this doorway travel back to 49 BC. Julius Caesar has crossed the Rubicon River and marched into Rome unopposed. It's civil war and General Pompey and his troops with much of the Senate have left Rome, they plan to organize other Legions and fight Caesar when the time is right. But they left behind the Treasury and Caesar wants it! Wars and loyalties cost money and there is a Jackpot behind that door. So picture Caesar standing before this door. He has ordered the keys brought to him but they cannot be found. Caesar then orders his men to break down the door. A Tribune named Caecilius Metellus loudly protests to Caesar that it is wrong to break in to Rome's Treasury and steal the money! Caesar looks to the Tribune and then raised his voice and threatened to kill him if he did not stop interfering.

"And young man, you know well enough that I dislike saying this more than I would dislike doing it."
He then broke down the door and removed fifteen thousand bars of gold, thirty thousand bars of silver, and fifty million sesterces of coined money.

In the early days of Rome when its wealth was in the harvest and its flocks it's believed that the citizens brought small offerings of their crops and flocks to this temple for Saturn to bless and guard the remainder. Later as Rome expands and becomes rich Saturn is still called upon to guard their wealth which is now gold, silver, etc. So this might be why the Roman Treasury ended up in the Temple of Saturn.

And according to Plutarch:

"Or is this a matter of ancient history, and was Valerius Publicola the first to make the temple of Saturn the treasury, when the kings had been overthrown, because he believed that the place was well-protected, in plain sight, and hard to attack (rob) secretly?"
Also when Julius Caesar was in power there was an urban legend that he replaced many of the gold bars with gold painted lead bars to enhance his personal wealth.

For more information and photos, please see Temple of Saturn in A Tourist in Rome.

Next: #14.1: Schola Xantha
[Home]                         copyright (c) 2012-2018 by Jeff Bondono                         [Walter's Tours of Ancient Rome]