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Bill Thayer

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 p78  Basilica Julia

Article on pp78‑80 of

Samuel Ball Platner (as completed and revised by Thomas Ashby):
A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome,
London: Oxford University Press, 1929.

Basilica Iulia: on the south side of the forum, between the vicus Tuscus and the vicus Iugarius. It was perhaps begun by Aemilius Paullus on behalf of Caesar, probably in 54 B.C. (cf. the difficult passage Cic. ad Att. IV.16.8, a letter written in that year, and the commentators, especially Becker, Top. 301‑306; Jord. I.2.394; and contrast AJA 1913, 25, n2), dedicated in an unfinished state in 46 (Mon. Anc. IV.13; Hier. a. Abr. 1971), completed by Augustus, burned soon afterwards, and, when  p79 rebuilt in an enlarged form by Augustus, dedicated again in 12 A.D. in the names of Gaius and Lucius Caesar (Mon. Anc. IV.13‑16; Cass. Dio LVI.27;1 Suet. Aug. 29). It is not certain, however, that the building was entirely finished when dedicated for the second time (cf. Mon. Anc. loc. cit.). It was injured by fire under Carinus (Chron. p148) and restored by Diocletian (ib.), and again in 416 A.D. by a certain Gabinus Vettius Probianus, prefect of the city, who also adorned it with statues (CIL VI.1156, 1658, 31883‑31887; NS 1883, 47‑48; Mitt. 1902, 54; Klio, 1902, 269‑270). Notwithstanding its dedication under the names of Gaius and Lucius, it appears as the basilica Gai et Luci only in the three passages quoted above, and elsewhere as basilica Iulia, or tecta Iulia in the poets (Mart. VI.38.6; Stat. Silv.I.1.29). Its site is definitely described by ancient authorities (Mon. Anc. loc. cit.; Fest. 290; Stat. loc. cit.), and it is represented on the Marble Plan (frgs. 20, 23). From its roof Caligula threw coins among the people (Suet. Cal. 37; Joseph. XIX.11.1.11; cf. Mitt. 1893, 264; Chron. p145; JRS 1926, 134).

During the early empire the centumviral court held its sessions in this basilica (Mart. VI.38.5‑6; Plin. Ep. I.5; II.14; V.9; VI.33; Quint. XII.5.6) and a statue of Crispus was set up here as a reward for his frequent pleadings before the Emperor Domitian (Schol. Iuv. 4.81). The basilica is mentioned in several inscriptions (CIL VI.9709, 9711, 9712, 32296), in Reg. (Reg. VIII), and by Pol. Silv. (545). The amount and magnificence of the marble used in this basilica marked it as the special prey of the vandals of the middle ages, and a lime kiln was found on its very pavement (LD passim; BC 1891, 229‑236). In the seventh or eighth century the outer aisle on the west side was converted into a church (Archivio Storico dell' Arte, 1896, 164; Frothingham, Monuments of Christian Rome (New York 1908) 83); this has generally been identified with S. Maria de Cannapara, mentioned in the catalogues of the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, which must, however, have been at a considerably higher level (HCh 321). Nor can it be S. Maria in Foro (HCh 335); cf. HFP 15.

The basilica occupied a space 101 metres long and 49 wide, bounded on all sides by streets, the Sacra via, the vicus Iugarius, the vicus Tuscus, and a street on the south connecting the last two. In the later restorations the material of construction, but not the form, was changed (CR 1901, 136; Mitt. 1902, 60). The central court, 82 metres long and 16 wide, was surrounded on all sides by two aisles, 7.50 metres wide, over which were the galleries of a second story (cf. Plin. Ep. VI.33; Suet. Cal. 37). These aisles were formed by the pillars of the façade, which were of marble, and by inner rows of similar pillars made of brick and faced with marble. The first floor of the basilica was therefore an open arcade, divided by the marble balustrades which joined the pillars. Of these pillars there were eighteen on each of the longer sides, and eight, counting the ends of the spur walls, on the shorter. The entire outside of the  p80 building was constructed originally of white marble, and on the outer faces of its pillars were engaged columns of the Doric order. The floor sloped slightly towards the north-east corner, and was paved with slabs of marble, coloured in the central court and white in the aisles. The central area was covered with a wooden roof (Stat. Silv. I.1.29; Mart. VI.38.6), which rose above the roof of the side aisles and admitted light through its side windows, as in the basilica Aemilia. For the fragments of the vaulting of the side aisles, see Mitt. 1901, 13‑18.

A continuous flight of three steps leads down from the floor of the central court to that of the outer aisle in front, which, being lower, forms a sort of portico. From this aisles steps again lead down to the street, but as there is a considerable rise in the Sacra via, there are seven steps at the east end and only one at the west. On the south side was a row of rooms opening on the street, some of which, with massive tufa walls, have only been partially excavated. It is possible that there was a row of tabernae on this, the sunny side, as in the basilica Aemilia; there are traces of stairs ascending to an upper level, i.e. to the roof of these tabernae.

The existing remains consist of the foundation, with fragments of the marble pavement on which are inscribed upwards of eighty tabulae lusoriae (Mitt. 1896, 227‑252);2a the steps with portions of the marble casing; and on the vicus Iugarius some of the brick pillars and arches of the outer aisles belonging to the restoration of Diocletian, together with some fragments of the marble pillars of the outside. Against the second column from the front, on the west end, a heavy pier was built, which formed part of an arch across the vicus Iugarius. Some architectural fragments have been found, but the standing column of travertine and many of the brick piers are modern (Jord. I.2.385‑391; HC 61‑68; Théd. 150‑153, 218‑223; LS II.205‑206; LR 275‑279, with résumé of excavations since 1496; RA 202‑205; DR 408, 419; RE Suppl. IV.466‑469; ASA 83). See Pila Horatia.

The Authors' Notes:

1 Ἰουλία is a correction, the text (supra, 73) having Λιουία.

2 This article, cited by various writers, contains a description of tesserae lusoriae used for the ludus duodecim scriptorum, but not a word about the tabulae on the pavement of the basilica, which are best described by Thédenat, cit.a

Thayer's Note:

a upwards of eighty tabulae lusoriae: game boards, scratched into the pavement by bored bystanders. For a photo of one of them, and a rather mysterious bit of graffiti, see my page (with further links).

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Page updated: 7 May 12