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Comitium

p134 Article on pp134‑137 of

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


Comitium: * the place of assembly of ancient Rome (Varro, LL V.155: comitium ab eo quod coibant eo comitiis curiatis et litium causa). Until Mommsen's article (Ann. d. Inst. 1845, 288‑318) the comitium was believed to have been a building situated at the east end of the forum. In reality it was an open space, upon which troops could march (Liv. V.55), and prodigies such as the raining of blood could be observed (ib. XXXIV.45); and when it is spoken of as tectum (ib. XXVII.36), this only means that awnings were spread over it (cf. Plin. NH XIX.23). Its site was p135conjecturally fixed as early as 1870 (Jord. I.2.318, n3), but certainty was only reached when the Curia Iulia (q.v.) was correctly identified. For comitium and curia were connected through all time (Liv. XLV.24.12: comitium vestibulum curiae).

The comitium was the political centre of ancient Rome until the second century B.C. Macrob. (Sat. III.16.15) refers to the administration of justice as still going on there in 161 B.C., though the tribes usually voted in the forum. In 145 B.C. the tribune C. Licinius Crassus was the first, we are told, to lead the legislative assembly of the people from the comitium to the forum (Cic. Lael. 25, 96; Varro, RR I.2.9; cf. Plaut. Curc. 400 ff.), and Plutarch must be wrong in attributing the step to Gaius Gracchus (5).

The republican comitium was a templum or inaugurated plot of ground (Cic. Rep. II.11: fecit et saepsit . . . comitium et curiam) orientated according to the cardinal points of the compass. In the centre of the north side was the curia; on the west were the carcer and the basilica Porcia; on the south were the rostra and the Graecostasis; while the Senaculum (q.v.) was further off. For the various archaic monuments which stood in the comitium, see Ficus Navia, Puteal in Comitio, Statua Atti Navi, Statua Hermodori, Statua Horatii Cochlitis.

Until recent excavations, the comitium was buried to a depth of over 30 feet; but it has now been completely cleared from the front of the curia Iulia, except on the north-west. The twenty-seven different strata recognised by Boni in his stratigraphic explorations may be reduced to fourteen main divisions, which represent five successive elevations (Van Deman in JRS 1922, 6‑11, whose account is here followed).

The whole question is closely connected with the problems concerning the Rostra Vetera (q.v.). It seems that the latter changed its orientation more than once, but whether we should suppose that the comitium and the curia did the same is doubtful, though one would naturally suppose a certain amount of symmetry.

The five successive elevations are as follows:

(1) At about 10.40 to 10.60 metres above sea-level, traces were found of a layer of beaten earth not unlike a primitive pavement; and a little above this a compact stratum of a large number of broken roof tiles of an early type was brought to light at the same time. They are clearly the debris of some building or buildings close at hand destroyed by fire, and belonging to the level below them. They cannot, it is held, be earlier than the 6th century B.C., and it may be the fire that followed the Gallic invasion of 390 B.C. that is in question.

(2) At 10.85 to 10.90 above sea-level, i.e. at the same level as the cappellaccio pavements of the forum, a hard stratum of tufa and earth beaten together was found. It was about 8 cm. thick, and was either the bed of a pavement or the pavement itself; for from it a low flight p136of steps led up to the platform of the rostra Vetera (the straight flight of steps in HC pl. v, where it is shown in black and lettered rostra Vetera?) and a similar flight of steps descended to the same level in front of the curia Iulia (also shown in black on the plan cited). The rostra Vetera separated the comitium from the forum on the south, and themselves faced due south, while the carcer, which faced almost due east, formed its western boundary; but its northern and eastern limits have not yet been ascertained at this period (later on, the former is marked by the tabernae of the forum Iulium; while on the east it cannot have extended, one would think beyond the cloaca Maxima).

(3) Half a metre higher, at 11.35 to 11.50 metres above sea-level, are portions of structures which point to a rise in level; no traces of a pavement have so far been found, though a thin layer of earth and tufa may have represented it.

(4) A foot higher again, at 11.80 metres above sea-level, is another floor, from which the curved steps of the rostra Vetera ascend. No actual pavement is preserved, but the level is clear from a line of tufa slabs on which the rostra rests.

(5) Higher again, at 12.63 metres above sea-level, is a pavement of finely cut and laid travertine slabs immediately in front of the curia, generally attributed to the restoration of Faustus Sulla (see Curia); their orientation does not agree with that of the curia nor of the rostra.

Above it, and directly in front of the later steps of the curia is a pavement of blocks of Luna marble, 13.50 metres above sea-level, which represents the level of the Comitium as established by Caesar. It was now quite a small area, divided off from the forum by a screen supported by pilasters, the holes for which are visible (or this line may have divided the comitium into two parts; but if so, it is difficult to assign any other boundary to it). Beyond this the pavement was of slabs of travertine, which still exists round the black marble pavement, or niger lapis (?), and towards the Arch of Severus. The reason for the reduction in size of the Comitium was the construction of the Saepta, in consequence of which it ceased to have any raison d'être.

The latest pavement of the comitium begins at about 11 metres from the front of the curia and extends in a fragmentary condition as far as the black marble pavement. It consists of roughly laid slabs of travertine, and is about 20 centimetres higher than the marble pavement just described. Resting partly on each of the two pavements is the circular marble basin of a fountain, with an octagonal space for the foot of a large bowl — perhaps that which now stands on the Quirinal (BC 1900, 13‑25). Good though the workmanship is, it is generally assigned to the fourth or fifth century A.D.

In the fourth century A.D. several pedestals with dedicatory inscriptions were set up in the comitium — a dedication by Maxentius to Mars Invictus and the founders of the city (see Sepulcrum Romuli), a p137 dedication to Constantius by Memmius Vitrasius Orfitus and a third with scanty traces of a dedication to Iulianus.

At various points in the comitium are twenty-one small, shallow pits made of slabs of tufa set vertically, of various shapes; they are generally covered with stone slabs, and are similar to those found in the forum, which, however, are rectangular. Most of those in the comitium were filled with debris of the end of the republic. Their purpose is quite uncertain — they may have served to contain the remains of sacrifices, and are therefore called 'pozzi rituali'; or they may have served (though this seems unlikely) to carry away rain water; or they may have been intended to hold wooden posts (like flagstaffs) for festivals (ZA 77).

See Mitt. 1893, 79‑94; 1902, 32‑39; 1905, 29‑39; NS 1899, 151‑169; 1900, 317‑340; BC 1900, 274‑280; 1903, 125‑134; CR 1899, 232‑234; 1900, 236‑237; 1900, 85‑87; 1905, 77‑78; 1906, 133‑135; Petersen, Comitium, Rostra, Grab des Romulus (Rome 1904); Pinza, Il Comizio Romano nell' Età Repubblicana (Rome 1905); RL 1900, 289‑303; HC 113‑16; DR 295‑317; RE Suppl. IV.487‑489.


Puteal in Comitio, a spot in the Comitium which had been struck by lightning, marked by a wellhead; under this it was supposed that the razor and whetstone of Attus Navius were buried (Cic. de Div. I.33). His Statue (q.v.) stood not far off (Dionys. III.71; Liv. I.36; Plin. NH XV.77). See Jord. I.2.357‑358; Mitt. 1893, 92.


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