#6: Comitium Area

Now walk over to the 'Niger Lapis' or 'Black Stone'. It's that small fenced-in area (3 m x 4 m) in front of the Curia and the big Arch and alongside the Via Sacra.

Peek down the closed-off stairs to the area beneath the 'Niger Lapis'. That is the 'Volcanal', it was an open-air 'Shrine to Vulcan' which we'll get to.

Ok now stand on the right side of the fenced-off 'Niger Lapis' facing the Curia Julia. Notice that the Curia was built at a slight angle so that it is directly facing the Niger Lapis / Volcanal and not the Forum Square.

Now there is nothing remaining of the Comitium at this level, so we have to go back in time and sink down to the level of the Volcanal. The Forum is a marsh again and this is dry flat ground slightly higher than the marsh. You are now standing exactly where Rome began it's first expansion by making peace and merging with the Sabines after the Rape of the Sabine Women battle. And this is where they met. Comitium is from the Latin verb 'comire' which means 'meet'.

Picture this while looking to the left of the Curia at that church. The first Comitium was like a US football field but more square than rectangular, the sides are about 91 m / 300 feet and you are standing at the goalpost [ . ] at the southern end.

Think of it as a Town Square/Common where perhaps in the very beginning the male elders (heads of families) would meet and decide on public policy. Later Rome is divided into many districts called Curiae and representatives from each one assemble in the Comitium (large scale public voting takes place in the Forum). But they are still under a King's rule until 509 BC.

This outdoor rectangular/square Comitium is a consecrated or sacred area founded by a priest's Augury. Its four sides face the 'Four Cardinal Points of Heaven' and it's also marked off by ritual pits (21 have been found, called 'Pozzi Rituali' and covered by stone slabs).

Later the third Regal King (Tullus Hostilius about 673 BC) puts a screen or fence around the Comitium. Tullus Hostilius also enlarges an earlier temple and makes it into the first Curia (Senate building) and it was called the Curia Hostilia after him. Politicians behind closed doors...nothing good can come of that :-) . But now they can have outdoor and indoor meetings regardless of the weather. The remains of this Curia are located beneath that church. It lasted although rebuilt a few times until 52 BC when a Mob had a funeral riot over the murder of Clodius. They grabbed everything wooden in the area and built a funeral pyre for Clodius and the Curia Hostilia and other nearby buildings went up in flames, either accidental but probably on purpose. This Curia that burned down in 52 BC was actually called the 'Curia Cornelia'. The 'Curia Hostilia' stood for centuries but was too small for the 600 Senators.

So about 80 BC Sulla tore it down and built a Curia twice the size. After it was burned down a descendant of Sulla (Faustus Sulla) rebuilt it.

But just a few years later Julius Caesar built his Curia Julia and turned Sulla's Curia into the 'Temple of Felicitas'. So it's usually just referred to as the Curia Hostilia because the Curia Cornelia was so short-lived (30+ years vs Centuries) and occupied the same location.

[The Basilica Porcia (shown in this diagram) was the first basilica built in Rome. It was built by Cato in 184 BC for judicial and business purposes. It was also burned down with the Curia and was likely never rebuilt as it is never mentioned again after 52 BC. Also the 'Senaculum' shown in that diagram was just an unofficial outdoor meeting and waiting area where the Senators would assemble before entering the Comitium/Curia area together.]

Everything political happened here and was announced from here (Rostra) for 700 years until Julius Caesar moved the Rostra to the Forum and built a new Senate Building (Curia Julia). After Caesar's death and the Civil War, Augustus became Emperor (27 BC) and the Senate thereafter would be under the thumb of Emperors, like the early Kings of Rome (pre-509 BC). But the Senate did order a few Emperors to be whacked (killed, I just like the Soprano/Mafia term :-) ), like Nero.

The Empire of Rome was born here and the decisions that made it one of the greatest empires on Earth were made here. From the first Iron-Age tribal gathering to later aristocratic Senate meetings, voting, receiving foreign envoys, criminal trials complete with scourgings/whippings and executions (a sexual encounter with a Vestal Virgin would get the man whipped to death here), priests/augers looking for signs from the Gods like from a flight of birds, animal sacrifices and possibly human (those found beneath the Forum in the marsh?) along with banquets, games and theatrical shows.

Where you are standing and to the right of you they built a speakers platform (later called a Rostra) at the time of the founding of the Republic (509 BC). Possibly wooden at first and later made of stone. In 338 BCE the sharp bronze beaks (Rostra) of ships captured in the Latin War, were mounted on the front of the speakers platform, thus giving it its name. Gaius Maenius captured them and was Consul, his column location is shown in the diagram as 'Columna Maenia'.

On the other side of the Volcanal (beneath the Niger Lapis) stood the Graecostasis. It was a raised platform just like the Rostra, and it was intended for ambassadors from other nations, mostly Greek, attending the meetings in the Comitium.

About 300-250 BC the Comitium was made circular like the Greek Ekklesiastéria (the Romans are infatuated with the Greeks around this time :-) . It's about 50 m across and like a small Colosseum, with rings of seats going down. In the center is an open area like a small stage or arena. The Graecostasis and the Rostra are still a part of this new Comitium and the Lapis Niger is also incorporated into this circular structure.

The diagrams show this circular Comitium and the Curia as one building. I think this Ekklesiastéria was still outside but surrounded a roofed colonnade? I have read of an awning put over it and the earlier Comitium for protection from the summer sun. But I wonder if in any of the later rebuilds if it was finally roofed over? By the way, this roofed Ekklesiastéria/Curia is shown as the Senate Building in 'HBO's Rome', nice but wrong it was already destroyed in this movie's timeline.

Also now the Rostra is curved to fit in with this new circular Comitium (this will come up later at the Rostra of Caesar). With this new Rostra the speaker can address those in the circular Comitium and if he turns around he can address the people gathered in the Forum also.

In front of the Rostra was fixed the bronze 'Twelve Tablets of Law' (about 450 BC), and, on occasion the heads of those who crossed men like Marius and Sulla. Cicero delivered his second and third orations against Catiline from this Rostra.

Also in the Comitium area was the 'Ficus Ruminalis' the Fig Tree that Romulus and Remus were found under, it was magically moved here :-) from it's site near the Tiber River. In 296 BC the famous bronze statue of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus (in the Capitoline Muesum) was placed beneath this tree. And as time went on there were statues everywhere :-) , even a couple of stucco wall paintings taken from Sparta and framed in wood.

An Oracle commanded the Romans during the 'Samnite Wars' to put up statues to the "wisest and bravest Greeks", Pythagoras and Alcibiades were chosen and placed here.

In 263 BC Consul Messalla put up a large painting of a battle he won over King Hiero.

In 260 BC Admiral C. Duilius got a statue on a column decorated with the beaks (Columna Rostraia) of defeated enemy ships placed near the Rostra.

The Comitium also served as the official clock of the city. The Herald of the Consul would stand on the stairs of the Curia Hostilia, and when he saw the sun precisely between the Rostra and the Graecostasis he would announce that it was midday, and when he saw the sun between the Columna Maenia and the Carcer, he would announce sunset. The hours of the day would be approximately determined from these fixed points in time. The Romans only learnt more accurate time keeping from the Greeks in Southern Italy later. The first Sundial (solarium) was brought to the Comitium in 263 BCE from Sicily but because of the difference in latitudes it wasn't accurate (99 years later they get an accurate one). I'm assuming it still was in front of this Comitium Rostra because Cicero says it was a common meeting place "I'll meet you at the Sundial by the Rostra or Forum" and the older one was placed there with the newer one nearby.

Still standing next to the Niger Lapis I'll point out some stuff :-) . Directly in front of the steps of the Curia are the (flush to the ground) remains of a round base for a fountain. So picture a very large fountain in front of the Curia in ancient times. Some claim it's the fountain basin of the Piazza del Quirinale's fountain? The Quirinale's fountain basin was used as a cattle-trough in the Roman Forum until it was brought to it's new location by Pope Pius VII (about 1800).

To the left-front of the fountain is a honorific base for a missing statue. The inscription on the side facing you reads: 'Marti invicto patri et aeternae urbis suae conditoribus' in the first three lines. But notice the fourth line is etched out and the fifth line reads 'Invictvs•Avg'. The fourth line had Emperor Maxentius' name on it, this is called a 'Damnatio Memoriae'. It means all trace of your existence is erased: your statues destroyed, your buildings renamed, your coins melted down, your inscriptions erased, etc. The best example will be on that arch behind you. Constantine beat Maxentius in battle, became Emperor and issued a Damnatio Memoriae on Maxentius. This base is from Emperor Maxentius (about 310 AD) who revived the cult worship of Romulus and dedicated this missing statue to the God Mars (Marti), the 'Father of Romulus'. Note that it is also directly facing the Lapis Niger. The Emperor also named his son Romulus who died very young.

Now look to your left in front of the arch, on the right end is the large base of an equestrian (missing) statue. Dedicated by Constantius II to commemorate his victory over the usurper Magnentius in 352 AD.

Behind you - over your left shoulder across the Via Sacra actually in the Forum is the Decennalia Base. It commemorates the tenth anniversary of the Tetrarchy (303 AD) when Emperor Diocletian split the Roman Empire in two with an Emperor and co-Emperor in the East and another set in the West. It was just one of four statue bases of a complex monument. One to each Augustus and Caesar and one to the God Jupiter.

Also behind you and over your right shoulder in the Forum is a large marble inscription on a base. It commemorates the victory of the Emperors Arcadius, Honorius and Theodosius over the hordes (Goths) led by Radagaisus in 405 AD. What is noteworthy is the erased fifth and sixth line from the bottom. It once named the campaign's conquering general Stilicon in the fifth line (I assume the sixth line was also part of his dedication?). But his fame was short lived, Emperor Honorius ordered him executed three years later and a Damnatio Memoriae on his name.

If you look 45° to your right you will see three other statue bases by the custodian shack/Janus. The third one is totally destroyed, the middle one is intact and it's dedicated to 'Emperor Constantius II' by Memmius Vitrasius Orfitus.

The first one is partially destroyed but has scant traces of a dedication to Emperor Julianus. Julianus was the last Pagan Emperor of Rome and had a Christian 'Damnatio Memoriae' put out on him and that *might* account for the pedestal's destruction? And possibly the third base's destruction also because it was a Pagan dedication? Seeing that the middle Christian Emperor's base is completely untouched it's a very good possibility.

Constantius II is *the* Emperor Constantine's second son. Julianus father was the half-brother of Constantine. So these two bases are cousins :-) but it's a dysfunctional family.

Constantine dies in 337 AD, Constantius II comes home and a large number of his relatives and others are killed. It's claimed that it was due to the infighting of two Christian cults after Constantine's death but Constantius very likely had a hand in it. The only males is his bloodline to survive is Julianus and his half-brother Gallus because they are very young children, their father was also killed. Gallus years later as an adult will be killed by Constantius for treason (he was guilty and his wife put him up to it).

Constantius keeps a watchful eye on Julianus as he grows up and into adulthood. But he gives him no reason to worry about revenge or his taking over as a blood relative of Constantine. Julianus studies Christianity and later Paganism in Greece. He is quite scholarly and practices Christianity but is a 'closet Pagan'. Constantius made him a general and sent him to repel invasions in Gaul. He even married Constantius' sister. But Julianus was too successful and Constantius feared that he was getting too powerful and tried to break up his command by sending many of his troops to Persia. Julianus troops mutinied and declared Julianus Emperor in 360. But before the two armies could meet in battle Constantius dies of fever (361) and Julianus became Emperor.

So a Civil War is averted and Julianus comes out of the closet. His goal is to return Rome to Paganism and for the Roman Empire to return to its past glory. He enacts anti-Christian laws along with an anti-Christian public relations campaign.

But he dies 2 years later while on military campaign when he catches a spear in the abdomen during a guerilla raid. So in 363 AD Julianus died as the last Pagan to rule over Rome.

This is a translation I found online of what is written on the statue base of Constantius II. Orfitus is the second most powerful man in the Empire under Constantius. He's a stand-up guy with a good career behind him and was probably biting his tongue when he dedicated this to Constantius.

"To him who has enlarged the Roman empire, our Master Flavius Julius Constantius, the Greatest, who conquers and triumphs over the entire world, Augustus. His Excellency Memmius Vitrasius Orfitus, in his second term as Praefectus Urbi, in his third as high interrogating judge; devoted to the emperor's numen and majestas".

***Some scant remains to the right of the Niger Lapis have baffled me. I have found nothing in any books, on websites and have even posted on history and archaeology newsgroups with no luck. It's a very prestigious spot just by being in the Comitium, in front of the Curia and alongside the Lapis Niger. As you can see all that remains is one corner (about 2 m x 1.5 m) and lone short straight section (about 1 m) of marble which I'm certain formed a curb around this structure and this curb was slotted to hold upright marble slabs forming a fence around this structure. Exactly like the Lapis Niger has around it.

And within this rectangle/square is a small concrete/rubble pile. That concrete pile is very likely the remains of the concrete podium of this structure which was probably marble faced.

The structure could not exist there (on *that* paving) any time before the Sulla?-Julius Caesar-Augustus era. Perhaps because it doesn't *seem* to be mentioned anywhere it's from late in the Empire? Like the so-called 'Temple of Janus' brick structure, it's in a prime location and was built sometime late second Century to third Century AD but no one knows what it was for.

Actually 'HBO's Rome' got me thinking about this scant ruin. Quite a few times it showed a fat Herald announcing the News from a podium (speaker's platform) in front of the Curia. Even though it was the Curia Hostilia which was destroyed by that time.

In 193 AD the 'Temple of Janus Geminus' was moved to "in front of the Curia". It was a smaller shrine than the previous ones and completely made of bronze. A concrete podium to elevate a small bronze shrine? With a fence to make a sacred boundary?

Also the early Comitium had a Tribunal (where a judge would hear specific types of court cases in the open). But *that* Tribunal was moved before this paving over was done. Plus it would have been mentioned for sure.

If I had to bet or guess on what it was, I'd put my money on the 193 AD 'Temple of Janus'.

It was placed somewhere in front of the Curia and there is not a lot of room there. We can see the remains of the large fountain directly in front of Curia's steps and the Lapis Niger. But no recorded Temple of Janus remains, so why not there? And from across the Forum it would architecturally frame the Curia nicely. Large fountain in front, facing the small *short* Lapis Niger and slightly to the side a beautiful small bronze Janus Temple.

I read an online paper by an Associate Professor at Harvard and published author, he said the 'Temple of Janus' was "adjacent" to the 'Niger Lapis'? Also I once saw a 100+ year old picture of this site, the ground section of the photo was blocked but that concrete mound was a lot bigger and wider. So perhaps that structure was a lot more defined when first excavated and the concrete core was removed? Either on purpose or by accident thinking it was a later Medieval structure's foundation (both have happened before in the early Forum excavations)? I mention this because of this map of the early excavation shows the remains of a building right there. It shows a square base structure that certainly seems to be surrounded by a fence.

For more information and photos, please see Comitium in A Tourist in Rome.

Next: #7: Niger Lapis and the Volcanal (Shrine of Vulcan)
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