#20: Temple of Castor and Pollux

Ok, now on the right (south) of the Temple of Julius Caesar is the massive 'Temple of Castor and Pollux' (Temple of the Castores) with the three tall (14.8 m) Corinthian columns with an intact architrave on top, as shown here. These date to the 6 AD restoration and form an iconic photo of the Forum. During the Renaissance the street running by here was called the 'Via Trium Columnarum' (Street of three Columns).

This temple was dedicated to a Greek mythical twins from the Greek cult 'Dioscuri' (sons of Zeus). Greek version: Their Mom is the mortal Queen of Sparta and Dad is the God Zeus (Roman God Jupiter). Zeus takes the form of a swan and seduces the Queen and she has these twin boys (Castor and Pollux), later she has their sister 'Helen of Troy'.

Pollux takes after Dad and is immortal and a great boxer. Castor takes after Mom and is mortal and a great horseman. Both are great mythical warrior/soldiers and centuries later adopted by the Romans.

This cult was introduced to Rome very early (a plaque from the second half of the sixth Century BC written in Archaic Latin has been found) and accepted, it's normally against Roman law for a foreign cult temple to be in this Forum area. Roman version: Castor (mortal) and his twin brother Pollux (immortal) were demi-gods and semi-mythical cavalry heroes whose father was Jupiter (Greek Zeus). These two magically appeared on white horses at the height of the Battle of Lake Regillus (15 July about 496/9 BC) resulting in a Roman victory and final defeat of the Latins. And then right afterwards these two magically appeared at the LACUS JUTURNAE (Spring of Juturna) on the east side of this temple where they were watering their horses and telling of the Roman Victory about 13 miles away. And the Roman Dictator, Aulus Postumius Albinus, vowed to build a temple in their honor.

The temple was finished by his son in 484 BC. It was completely reconstructed and enlarged in 117 BC by L.Cecilius Metellus Dalmaticus after his victory over the Dalmatians. And later restored in 73 BC where Cicero claimed that during the urban Praetorship of Verres: "He found a way to amass a large amount of money by putting out contract work that was actually useless" (like the columns aren't straight). Stealing money through government contracts, I'm shocked :-) . A major Fire in 14 BC destroyed the temple and Tiberius (then heir to Augustus) rebuilt it and in 6 AD it was dedicated. This Tiberius rebuilding is what you see today except the for massive foundation which is from the 117 BC reconstruction.

The temple front was also used for an orator's platform like a Rostra from about 150 BC, it would be like the Rostra of Julius Caesar with the Temple behind that with narrow side stairs on each side but these likely faced backwards. This would be so the crowds or mob couldn't easily storm the speaker's platform if they got riled up. Mid-first-Century BC Clodius and his men during a riot in the Forum fortified themselves in the temple and broke up these steps to make access difficult. Julius Caesar when co-Consul spoke from this platform advocating his 'Agrarian Law' and again when the recall of Cicero from exile was proposed. Many other political struggles were also argued from this platform.

The temple was sometimes used as a meeting place (Curia) for the Senate.

In the early third Century AD front steps were added like a regular temple usually has so it went from this [XX:] to this [XX:]|||. These steps cut into a good section of the Via/Street in front as we will see next at the Arch of Augustus. The marble steps are gone (except some around the left corner) but the concrete sloping core of this staircase remains.

Which brings us to a small mystery site centered directly across the street from the temple. It's just a small slightly elevated rectangular area with four steps and short column pieces/fragments, just a very odd and out of place location with no record of its existence or purpose. Whether the standing column about 2 m tall and the other shorter pieces were part of this structure or were just placed there during the nineteenth Century excavations is unknown. I'd go with the later as its was done all over the Forum because after all the place is a Ruin with bits and pieces scattered all over the site and would be in the way like on a Via. Plus there is also large marble decorative fragment that would be too large for such a small structure's roof?

At first it was thought to be a Tribunal (an elevated platform for a Judge to sit during outside trials) that was in the area but it was later dismissed by archaeologists. No one knows exactly what this was but they believe it was somehow connected to this temple. Perhaps some kind of open-air shrine, altar or monument?

Suetonius said about Caligula: "...he built out a part of the Palace as far as the Forum, and making the Temple of Castor and Pollux its vestibule, he often took his place between the divine brethren, and exhibited himself there to be worshipped by those who presented themselves." A lot of what we hear about the Crazy Emperor Caligula were false rumors but an excavation in 2003 behind this temple pretty much confirmed that he actually did build this so he could just walk down from his Palatine Hill Palace into the Temple.

This temple had a large cult following especially Castor with the Roman Knights and the military in general and also travelers. Every July 15 they had a military parade in honor of the Twins. Emperor Augustus liked to bring back the old legends, heroes and myths of early Rome. And he did this with Castor and Pollux and even give them another holiday (Jan 27) as a feast day.

And now the Augustus Jinx :-) . First he tried to tie-in Castor and Pollux with his teenage heir grandsons and they both died. Later he tries this with his stepson Tiberius and his brother Drusus as his heirs. Drusus falls off his horse while on campaign and dies.

As you saw while on the Vicus Tuscus this concrete base/foundation has rooms in it, 25 in all. Most were connected with the temple including an office for 'Weights and Measures' that they oversaw plus offices for money-changers/bankers. And at some point in time (ancient or possibly Medieval) there was a Dentist's office in one of the rooms, teeth were found in the drain. Decrees and Treaties cut on bronze plates were occasionally fixed to the walls of the temple.

In the sixteenth Century Michelangelo used a fallen marble column for the pedestal base of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (Capitoline Muesum), and another was used in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo for the statue of Jonah (designed by Raphael and executed Lorenzetti).

They also did that Greek thing (Entasis) where a subtle optical correction where a slight upward curve of the columned sides doesn't make the sides look like they are sagging in the middle (like the Athens Parthenon).

Inside the temple were two large statues of Castor and Pollux and a bunch of other statues and a few paintings. One painting was of a very famous first Century BC Roman courtesan named Flora. Plutarch wrote, "And yet Flora is said to have flowered into such beauty, and to have been so famous for it, that when Caecilius Metellus was decorating the Temple of Castor and Pollux with paintings and statues, he gave her portrait also a place among his dedications."

Julius Caesar was quite the 'Lady's Man' I wonder if their paths ever crossed :-) as she was having a passionate affair with Julius Caesar's ally and future enemy Pompey? An affair that ended in Love Lost for her and possibly him also over a friendship? Plutarch write, "Flora the courtesan, when she was now quite old, always took delight in telling about her former intimacy with Pompey, saying that she never left his embraces without bearing the marks of his teeth. Furthermore, Flora would tell how Geminius, one of Pompey's companions, fell in love with her and annoyed her greatly by his attentions; and when she declared that she could not consent to his wishes because of Pompey, Geminius laid the matter before Pompey. Pompey, accordingly, turned her over to Geminius, but never afterwards had anything at all to do with her himself, although he was thought to be enamored of her; and she herself did not take this treatment as a mere courtesan would, but was sick for a long time with grief and longing."

I once read that one day Pompey was walking by this Temple when someone, likely a political enemy atop there, purposely dropped a large Roman dagger onto the marble floor, a unique sound that would be easily recognized and taken as a threat?

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

Next: #21.1: Arch of Augustus
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