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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
The Roman Forum — Its History and Its Monuments

by Christian Hülsen

published by Ermanno Loescher & Co
Publishers to H. M. the Queen of Italy

Text, maps, and black-and‑white images
are in the public domain.
Color photos are © William P. Thayer.


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 p77  VI. The Temple of Saturn

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The remains of the temple of Saturn.
Partly visible behind it, the Curia and the Arch of Septimius Severus;
also the church of SS. Luca e Martina.

To it belong the eight unfluted granite columns with the lofty foundation of travertine blocks.

Next to temple of Juppiter Capitolinus the temple of Saturn is the oldest sanctuary dedicated after the fall of the kingdom. The Consul T. Larcius dedicated it December B.C. 498; but according to tradition an altar dedicated by Hercules stood originally on the same spot. The dedicatory festival, the Saturnalia,  p78 became one of the greatest and most popular festivals of old Rome, and when it ceased in Christian times it left a great heritage to Christmas. In B.C. 42 the temple was restored by Lucius Munatius Plancus, with the booty captured from the inhabitants of the Alps (it was in their country that he had founded the Colonia Augusta Rauracorum, the modern Basel). From the early times of the republic the temple served as a state treasury (aerarium Saturni); and even after the fall of paganism it was still used for this practical purpose. In the fifteenth century, so the humanist Poggio tells us, a part of the walls of the cella were still standing; they were not torn down until 1440, when the Romans wanted the stones for new buildings. The temple, which in the sixteenth century was buried deep in debris (see fig. 11, p41), was excavated partially in 1811, and more completely 1834‑1837.

In all probability the great substructures of travertine, which contained the vaults for the treasure of the state, belong to the building as restored by Plancus. When at the beginning of the civil war Caesar took possession of the treasury, he found in it 15,000 bars of gold, 30,000 bars of silver, and 30 million sesterces (about seven and a half million francs) in coin. In later time the superstructure of the temple was again restored; all the inscription on the architrave: SENATVS POPVLVSQVE ROMANVS INCENDIO CONSVMPTVM RESTITVIT — it had been destroyed by fire. Judging by the character of the letters in this inscription the restoration can hardly have occurred before the fourth century A.D. The columns of the vestibule are of grey granite, the columns at the side of red granite (about 4 ft. 3 in. in diameter, and about 36 ft. high); the bases are not uniform, and the whole thing makes the impression of a hasty and careless piece of work of a late period. The vestibule was approached by a flight of steps, the ground-plan of which has been preserved on a fragment of the Forma Urbis (see above p22); The entrance to the 'treasury' was probably on the south side, i.e. toward the 'Consolazione'; in the middle ages there was situated on this spot the little church of S. Salvator de Statera, with the relief described in the Mirabilia and said to represent the paying off of the army (see above p32). In front of the façade under the steps are found remains of old constructions of tufa (drains etc.): some of these have been wrongly identified as the remains of the altar of Saturn attributed to Hercules.

See: Varro l. l. V, 41; Livius II, 21, 1. XXII, 1, 19. XLI, 21, 12; Dionys. I, 34, VI, 1; Festus 322; Suet. Aug. 29; Tacitus ann. II, 41; Macrobius Sat. I, 8; Servius ad Aen. II, 216. VIII, 319; FUR. fr. 22. 23. 30; CIL. 937. 1316 (=Dessau 41). X, 6097 (=Dessau 886).

Jordan I, 2, 360‑363; Lanciani 293; Huelsen, R. M. 1902, 9; Vaglieri 162.

Page updated: 8 Jan 09