#8.3: Curia Julia (Senate Building) - History

The name Curia comes from Rome's early beginnings and it was an assembly of people who represented their people (in their area and family clan). In the early days Rome was divided into three Tribes, each Tribe was divided into ten CURIAE, each CURIA was divided into ten Clans. Assemblies in the early Comitium were called 'Comitia Curiata' and composed of Senators from the '30 Curiae'.

We later end up with 300 Senators in the Republican-Age so I assume it's just a number that stuck from the early days of 300 Clans? Each Clan one Senator?

The dictator Sulla (about 80 BC) enlarges the Curia Hostilia and boosts the number of Senators up to 500-600, 600 is the commonly used figure. Julius Caesar (dictator 49-44 BC) boosts the number up to 900. And sometime in the years of social unrest after his murder it goes up to 1000. Emperor Augustus (31 BC-14 AD) boots the riff-raff out and brings the number back to 600.

In the period of this Curia voting was done by the 'pros' moving to one side of the building and the 'cons' to the other. Earlier this method and ballots were used but now secret ballots would mostly be used to elect Magistrates.

The Senate would only meet between sunrise and sunset except in emergencies. Women and foreign ambassadors are never allowed into the Curia.

The Senate would also meet in larger Temples (especially the Temple of Concord) when they needed the room and also sometimes in one of the Consul's homes.

The Curia is considered a 'Templum' which is a place (building or area) set apart by the Augurs (fortune-telling/omen finding Priests) and made sacred through a religious ceremony. The Senate can only met in a Templum, which is why they often met in Temples.

A Senator must have land and a certain large amount of money, basically he must be rich. If he loses either, he gets the boot. Under Augustus the Senate meets twice a month and regulation requires at least 400 members to be present, later Augustus lowers this number.

And later in the Imperial Period this number drops to 75 but higher for major event votes.

A Senator has special privileges. He gets to wear a toga with a purple stripe woven in the front and short boots with the letter 'C' on the front ('C' for the original 100 Senators). He is also entitled to the best seats at the theatre and Games. Gets to go to a big blow-out feast on the Capitoline Hill honoring Jupiter once a year. And the best perk is the 'Legatio Libera'. A Fodorite's Dream :-) , it means he can play tourist in the provinces for free. Free room and board at the local's expense for *years*. It was unlimited but Cicero put a one year limit on it but a little later Julius Caesar made it five years. In Roman politics murder, bribery, treachery, lies, slander, etc was the norm. Winning was everything, the losers would sometimes wind up penniless, exiled or dead.

And opposing sides were often brutal and warlike. In 100 BC while the voting was going on in the Curia Hostilia an opposing side hired thugs to beat their opponent to death. The Senate was outraged and declared the two leaders Public Enemies. Later the two opposing sides actually battled in the Forum. The Public Enemies and their followers were losing so they retreated to the Capitoline Hill.

The Capitoline Hill is basically a fortress and they held out until the water supply was shut off.

The Consul who was actually on their side but had to follow the Senate's orders promised the Public Enemies and their followers that they would not be put to death if they surrendered.

They did and were held in the Curia Hostilia. The opposing side climbed onto the Curia's roof and pulled off the roof tiles opening up holes in the roof. Using the roof tiles they then stoned the two Public Enemies and their followers to death (like shooting fish in a barrel). The first Curia is the Curia Hostilia which was said to be built by Rome's third King (Tullus Hostilius 673-642 BC). In 80 BC Sulla enlarges this Curia after he increases the number of Senators to 600. A couple years later Sulla gives his retirement speech in this Curia. He says he's going to his villa and write his memoirs. And also he comes out of the closet, he says that he has been the longtime lover of a male actor. The Senate is shocked! Not so much that he is Bisexual or Gay but because his lover is an 'Actor' :-) . Actors, Gladiators, slaves, etc are considered below even the lowest Roman social class.

Sulla ordered the death of Julius Caesar when he was a very young man because he refused to divorce his wife and marry Sulla's relative in a political bonding. Caesar fled Rome and over time and with help from the Vestal Virgins Sulla changed his mind. But he wrote in his memoirs that he should have killed Caesar because he just seemed too ambitious and this was years before Caesar (about 22) came into any kind of power. In 52 BC this Curia is burned down during the funeral riots for Clodius. His funeral pyre was built in front of the Curia and the rioters torched the building. Clodius was a gang leader/politician and killed in gang war on the Appian Way. Ten years earlier he dressed as woman and crashed a Vestal Virgin party at Julius Caesar's *house (*called the Domus Publica, Caesar was Pontifex Maximus) where all males even male animals had to leave beforehand. Caesar divorced his wife over this scandal. Also in these riot fires the Basilica Porcia was burned down. It was Rome's first Basilica built in 184 BC for judicial and business purposes. It was located just to the left of the Curia Hostilia, looking today it would be underground between the Church and the Carcer / Mamertine Prison. It's never mentioned after 52 BC so it was probably never rebuilt. 'M. Porcius Cato Censorius' in 185 BC, "bought two houses on the 'stone-quarry alley' and four booths and built there the Basilica which was named 'Porcia' after him."

In Plautus's Comedy (180 BC) which he jokingly writes about the different types of people you can find in the Forum at different locations, says of this Basilica, "For husbands wasting their wives' fortunes meet in the Basilica and Courtesans with checkered history and fierce cut-throats meet there too".

After the 52 BC fire Sulla's son 'Faustus Sulla' starts to rebuild the Curia. He planned to rename it the Curia Cornelia which was their actual family name, although some sources say that Sulla renamed it the Curia Cornelia after his earlier rebuild and enlargement (80 BC). Three years later (49 BC) Julius Caesar comes to power as Dictator. Now Sulla almost had Caesar killed in his youth and Caesar's uncle by marriage (Gaius Marius, a very famous General who mounted his Roman enemies' heads on stakes around the Rostra) had died in 86 BC from natural causes while fighting a civil war against Sulla (Caesar was 14). And Sulla's son was also the son-in-law of the now dead Pompey who Caesar just defeated in their Civil War.

Caesar built his 'Forum of Julius Caesar' behind this Curia, reorganized the Comitium and moved the Rostra of Caesar which also now carries his name into the Forum. Now does he really want a newly rebuilt Senate Building named after his enemy's family within *his* rebuilding and renaming projects? The answer is No of course :-) , Caesar wants to distance his new building projects from Sulla's and put *his* family name on the Senate Building. But if he just takes-over the rebuilding of the Curia Hostilia/Cornelia and finishes it and calls it the Curia Julia his new name will probably never stick. Because it's the same building/same location but just rebuilt, it might legally be written 'Curia Julia' but the people will still call it it's old name out of habit, it's human nature and this does happen often in history and even today.

So Caesar builds a brand new Curia in a different location right next to the old Curia and then turns the older Curia location and building started by Sulla's son into the 'Temple of Felicitas'. Caesar's Curia is also angled different than the Curia Hostilia/Cornelia. Caesar's is to the right and angled to face the Niger Lapis. Whereas the Hostilia/Cornelia was to the left of the Julia and facing the Rostra to the right of the Niger Lapis. Sulla's son was also enlarging his father's Curia a little, if completed it's right-front corner would have been where the Julia's left-front corner is.

The Curia Julia was burned in 'The Great Fire of 64 AD' (Nero's Fire). It was restored by Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), some sources say he restored it in the 80's and others in 94. I just find it *very odd* that it wasn't restored by Nero in his rebuilding of Rome or by Vespasian or Titus or the three short term emperors in 68-69? But instead by Domitian 17-30 years later? I've always wondered if this was an historical mix-up with the facts? With so much destroyed in 64 AD it was just rebuilt without much fanfare. Also odd that if it wasn't rebuilt by Nero that Vespasian wouldn't rebuilt it. His building projects were 'For The People' (like the Colosseum) and the Senate Building would rank up there I'd imagine? But Domitian did rebuilt it for certain but could it have been after a localized fire in that area rather than the 64 AD Fire?

In 283 AD the Curia is burned in another great fire, the 'Fire of Carinus'. It is rebuilt by Emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD) and this is the building that we see today. He rebuilds it on the original foundations and puts in a beautiful interior (like the floor). He also adds the four buttresses at each corner of the building.

It's a hard read, some sources make it sound like the Curia was gutted but the original foundation and *walls* were used. And the buttresses were added by Diocletian to support the original walls. Either that or the original building was razed down to the foundations and completely rebuilt.

Roman walls are thick and they are actually a thick concrete core that is just faced with bricks. The actual wall is really the concrete core.

It also seems very certain that the Curia was burned in Alaric's Visigoth sacking and burning of Rome in 410 AD. An inscription on the adjoining building (Secretarium Senatus) shows that that building was rebuilt in 412 AD after the 410 fire.

In 630 AD Pope Honorius I makes the Curia into the Church of S. Adriano. I don't know when but by the twentieth Century this Church is abandoned and totally trashed. The roof has caved in and the original floor is 20+ feet beneath the church's floor.

Mussolini has this church Desacralized by the Catholic Church. It's excavated and restored (1935-38) back to as close as they can to Diocletian's original building.

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

Next: #9.1: Pozzi Rituali
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