#8.2: Curia Julia (Senate Building) - Interior


Now let's go inside the Curia, you can only enter a couple of meters though, it's fenced-off. [This is not the case in fall of 2012 or 2013; you can go into the building and walk all the way around the edges of the inside. You just cannot walk on the Opus Sectile floor in the middle. -Jeff]

As you climb the steps and enter into the Curia I want you to imagine what happened there during Caligula's reign (37-41 AD) according to Suetonius. Caligula wanted a Senator brutally killed and mauled for his charge of being an enemy of Rome. He ordered some Senators to attack him as he enter the building. And you don't just say "No" to this whacko! As he entered the building the Senators attacked and stabbed him with their stylus' (a long metal pen, pointed at one end for ink writing and flattened at the other for smoothing wax which is written on). Either dead or dying he was then turned-over to the others to be mangled and mauled. The man's limbs, members (I don't even want to know :-( ) and bowels were dragged through the streets and piled up before Caligula...his sadistic cruelty now satisfied!

As you enter the first thing to catch you eye is the *beautiful* floor, it's original from Diocletian's post-283 AD fire rebuild. It's called 'Opus Sectile' and it's one of the best surviving examples of this type floor. It features fancy Rosettes in square panels, alternating with, two pairs of connecting pairs of Cornucopias in rectangular panels.

These are marble slabs with inlays of precious polychrome marbles (porphyry and serpentine).

This type of floor replaced mosaic floors in the Late Republican Period and later and was almost exclusively used in public and religious buildings.

On each side of the floor are three low broad steps paved in Phrygian Purple.

One source claims that on these steps were placed the Senator's chairs, each side held five rows and there were a total of 300 chairs for 300 Senators. There are actually 600 Senators, so for something major when the majority the Senators showed up they would have to meet in a temple elsewhere.

I've also read that the Senators stood while in session because sitting would be a sign of "Greek weakness". Perhaps in the early days but by the time of this building you can bet that those rich, powerful, fat-cat Senators were sitting down their fat butts down :-) . But this sees the most likely: The three Steps were defined by status: first Step the most notable, senior, powerful Senators *sitting* down in the front row. Second Step the 'up and coming' boys in the middle neither a newbie or a fat-cat. Sitting or standing I don't know. Third Step the junior least powerful 'newbie' Senators and they *stood* on this slightly wider step. Pliny The Younger's Consul acceptance speech here ran-on for hours :-) but normally a senator's speech was timed by a water clock. The Curia would also double as a courtroom for long trials of indicted Governors.


On the far wall is the 'President's Platform' (that's what the Italian archaeological guide calls it).

It is where the two Senate Consuls (two Senators elected each year as co-ruling Presidents) would always sit during the Republic. But now in the Imperial Age it is where the Emperor sits when he's presiding over the Senate, when the Emperor isn't there the two Consuls sit there. The statue base on the right is original but the statue is not. It's a porphyry statue possibly of Emperor Trajan that was dug up behind the Curia.

That base might have held a statue of 'Goddess of Victory' like the one on the roof. But is that base even in its original location? If not *perhaps* in that niche in the center of the platform against the wall? This statue I've read was gold, if not at least a golden bronze color.

It was captured by the Romans in 272 BC and Julius Caesar finally brought it to Rome from where ever it was. Augustus placed it here to celebrate his defeat of Anthony and Cleopatra. Victory is holding a Laurel Wreath (given to the victorious as a crown) in one hand and a Palm leaf in the other. That is what I've read of this statue but on coins it seems that *this* Curia Victory statue is holding what looks like a Roman Legion Military Standard in place of the Palm Leaf? Augustus was no fool, he had the statue placed so it looked like Victory was descending to crown with the laurel wreath whoever was sitting in the Emperor's chair :-) .

The Chair is called a Sella Curulis (Curule Chair), it's an elaborate folding stool for high ranking magistrates. It's also shown on coins as a symbol of legitimate political authority. www.vroma.org:7878/609/ Augustus (27 BC): "He restored the laws and the rights of the Roman people"

Somewhere on or near this platform was the Clipeus Virtutis ('shield of valor') which was an inscripted Golden Shield from the Senate to Augustus (27 BC) for winning the Civil Wars, giving the Republic back to the people and Senate (not really though) and for his valor, clemency, justice and piety.

[Remember the pedestal bases out front] Christian Emperor Constantius has this Pagan statue removed, later his Pagan cousin Emperor Julianus puts it back, next Christian Emperor Valentinian II let's it stay. And finally after a long debate St. Ambrosios gets it booted out for good in 384-5 AD.

But the *Winged* Pagan Goddess Victory has the last laugh, she becomes the Christian winged Angel :-) .

These was also an 'Altar of Victory' on the President's Platform and homage was paid to her at the start of each Senate meeting. The two modern doors on each side of the platform exit into the 'Forum of Caesar' which was no accident. He's showing the Senators 'Who's the Man', it's *his Curia and it's named after *his family and these doors open right into *his Forum.

Now for a short time over the President's Platform there was a huge painting of Emperor Elagabalus (218-222 AD) doing his Priestly duties of a sacrifice to his foreign Syrian-Phoenician Sun-God El Gabal. He's Syrian and his Great-Uncle is Emperor Septimius Severus (his Arch is outside). He looks just like Septimius' son Emperor Caracalla and was probably his illegitimate son.

He becomes Emperor at 15 and is murdered four years later and he is one of the wacky Emperors who just asks for it. And he ticks-off the Romans a number of ways like: He orders his Sun-God to replace Jupiter as the #1 Roman God! Marries a Vestal Virgin! Proclaims himself a God! Loves to dress up as a female prostitute in heavy makeup and proposition passers-by from the Palace. Offers half the Roman Empire to any physician who can equip him with female genitalia! Makes his Mom and Grandmother the first female Senators and women aren't even allow inside the building! And besides this painting he wants the Senate to offer sacrifices to both his Sun-God and Victory at the start of each session! He plots to kill his young cousin because he's afraid he'll be overthrown. His Grandma and his Aunt (also dead kid's mother and grandmother) bribe the Praetorian Guard to kill him. He's killed crying in his mother's arms while hiding in a latrine on the Palatine Hill, their bodies are thrown into a sewer which they clog up and then in the Tiber River. The painting is torn down. That cousin he plotted to kill became emperor 'Alexander Severus'.


[I suggest going to the 'Reconstructed Photos' website and click on the second photo for an interior view. That photo is fairly accurate; compare it to today's interior]

Well the first thing you will notice are the six niches (three on each wall). These held honorific statues within each niche. On the side and bottom of each niche you will see carved brackets (leaves and spread eagles) that held thin columns, parts of these columns are still in place in some of the brackets. These brightly-colored alabaster columns went up to a projecting pediment above each niche. The niches on the ends had triangular pediments /\ but the center ones had oval ( pediments.

The statues are long gone but if you look into some of these niches you will see the remains of Christian Byzantine-era paintings. Around the walls you will see two strips of molding, one at knee-level and the other at chest-level. Look at the wall behind the 'President's Platform' and you will see somewhat of what those two sections of wall looked like. Those two sections today would be called 'Wainscoting', it's a material that is put up on the lower part of a wall to protect it from damage usually caused by furniture. The Curia's Wainscoting is gray marble-facing. The lowest section protrudes out a bit, this would keep the chairs away from the wall. The upper section is flush with the wall and this prevent damage from people (a crowded hall's walls over the centuries would be damaged by people leaning or bumping into it).

Above the niches roughly where the top of the pediment would have been, there was a Cornice around the walls. In this section between the wainscoting and the cornice there were large gray marble and porphyry rectangular panels and within these panels were colorful diamond, rectangular and other geometric designs. Also flat relief Corinthian columns and pilasters.

The next upper band was white marble rectangular panels. And above this band (roughly 2/3 up the wall) to the ceiling the walls were painted stucco (probably whiteish to imitate marble and reflect light). In 1562 these wall panels (150 marble and 29 Porphyry) were removed by a Cardinal under the Pope's orders.

Augustus had two huge antique Greek panel pictures on the wall. One was a wax painting by Nikias 332 BC and another by Philocares.

The ceiling (21 m) is a modern reconstruction. The original was wood, flat and coffered like this reconstruction. Except it was very beautiful with richly gilded designs, some say in gold but probably in shiny golden copper/bronze.


These are called the 'PLUTEI OF TRAJAN' or sometimes just 'THE TWO MARBLE BALUSTRADES'. These are PARAPETS which is a protective low wall or railing at the edge or around something, like encircling a sacred place or around a *platform edge*. They were found in the Forum Square in front of the Rostra next to an unpaved spot where today a Fig Tree, Olive tree and Vine grow (turn around and you will see them). Between the Via Sacra and those trees are two long low narrow blocks of Travertine and atop these blocks was where these two Parapets were found during the Forum excavations in the late-1800s.

This was NOT their original location, they were just haphazardly set up there sometime in late Antiquity to form a square base. Each Parapet formed a side and the ends were made up of a carelessly built (stone or brick) wall. When found, the inside of this square was filled with rubbish. They have no idea what this square structure was built or used for.

This unpaved tree grove is believed to be the spot where the 'Ficus Ruminalis' (the Fig Tree that the she-wolf found Romulus and Remus under) was moved to. It was first magically moved from the Tiber River to the Comitium and then later to this location. Next to this Fig Tree stood the 'Statue of Marsyas' (294 BC), this scene will be on both parapets.

It's *very likely* that these two parapets were just part of a longer parapet that was on top of the Rostra which formed a protective rail in the front and sides.

The style of the parapets is dated to about 120 AD but could be later. Emperor Trajan is shown on both parapets so it's probable that either Trajan or his adopted son Emperor Hadrian had these built (but possibly even a later Emperor).

The backsides that you cannot see show the same scene, a sow, ram and bull being led to sacrifice (the suovetaurilia). This side would have face the people standing in the Forum. [Since you can now walk through the Curia, you can see these sides. See my photo -Jeff]

The side you can see would be the SAME view that someone would have from atop the Rostra looking into and around the Forum, which was the intention. These scenes also would have been beautifully painted.

Look at the PARAPET ON THE LEFT from left to right. It starts off with the Fig Tree and the headless 'Statue of Marsyas' which symbolizes a freedom from debt slavery for the common man. The attendants are carrying the Registers (wooden tablets with a wax face where the writing was done) in which their debts are recorded and piling them in a heap to be burned in front of the Rostra. Behind these attendants you can slightly see the arches of the Basilica Julia. Next an empty space representing a Street (the Vicus Jugarius between the Basilica and the Temple of Saturn).

Next is the six-columned Temple of Saturn, followed by a Triumphal Arch leading to the Capitoline Hill [this arch might just be one of the eleven arcades of the first floor of the Tabularium -Jeff] and then the six-columned Temple of Vespasian and Titus. The next narrow panel is missing, this *very likely* would have shown the 'Temple of Concord' above the Rostra. The headless seated man between these two temples is Trajan, he's overseeing the destruction of these debts from in front of the Rostra (you can see a ship's beak in the very bottom corner, to the right of last man's shin).

Look at the PARAPET ON THE RIGHT from left to right. The first scene shows Trajan addressing a crowd of Plebians (common people) while standing on the *other* Rostra which is at the opposite end of the Forum. This Rostra was the front part of the 'Temple of Divus Julius' (Divine Julius {Caesar}). The Temple and Rostra were both built *on top* of a high concrete and brick platform foundation which is all that remains of this site. The actual Temple was set-back a bit on this platform leaving the front section open which was called the Rostra ad Divi Julii. Guidebooks often mistakenly put *this* Rostra actually in the Forum Square about 20 m in front of the Temple, there will be a Rostra built there but not until the fourth Century.

You can find more about the Plutei of Trajan here and also here (Click on photos to enlarge, also click on 'View Original' to enlarge even more).

Also notice the 'ship's beak-rostra' mounted on the front of this Rostra on the parapet. Augustus mounted these on the front of the Temple of Julius Caesar's Rostra. They were from the ships of Antony and Cleopatra's defeated navy.

Behind Trajan are men (Lictors carrying the Fasti, bundles of Rods but without the axes) and behind them is the 'Arch of Augustus' (now gone except for the foundation) and next behind the Emperor is the 'Temple of Castor and Pollux'. Followed by an empty space showing the street (Vicus Tuscus) and then the arches of the Basilica Julia. In front of the Basilica seated on a platform is Trajan with men in togas behind him and a woman with a child in her arms in front of him. The woman represents Italy, Trajan is instituting 'Alimenta' which is economic aid to needy families to support/feed their children. And the last scene again shows the Fig Tree and the Statue of Marsyas. Just guessing but I wonder! These two parapets show Trajan's good will/deeds to the people. And the background is of the South side of the Forum. I wonder if there was a twin to this parapet showing his same good will/deeds but with the North side background of the Forum? Those VIPs sitting on the right side of the Rostra would see those scenes from their perspective and those on the left would see the same scenes from theirs?

Also there was a short open section in the center of the Rostra's parapet to allow the speaker to be seen full-length when addressing the crowd.

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

Next: #8.3: Curia Julia (Senate Building) - History
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