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Bill Thayer

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Curia Julia

 p143  Article on pp143‑146 of

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

Black-and‑white images are from Platner; any color photos are mine © William P. Thayer

[image ALT: A 2‑story brick building. It is the Curia, or Senate House, of ancient Rome.]
The Curia, seen from the SE.

The domed building behind it is the church of SS. Luca e Martina; in the background, a small part of the neoclassical Monument to Vittorio Emanuele; in the foreground, the end of the Sacra Via and part of the Basilica Aemilia, separated from the Curia by the narrow street that in Antiquity was called Argiletum. For a different view, see Hülsen's article; and for a pulled-back view including most of the Roman forum, see Plutarch's Life of Caius Gracchus.

Curia Iulia: * the new senate house begun by Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. just before his assassination and continued by the triumvirs (Cass. Dio XLIV.5; XLV.17; XLVII.19). It was completed and dedicated in 29 B.C. by Augustus (Mon. Anc. IV.1: curiam et continens ei chalcidicum feci; VI.13; Suet. Calig. 60; Cass. Dio LI.22). Like its predecessor, the curia Hostilia, and the curia Pompeia, it was inaugurated as a templum (Varro ap. Gell. XIV.7.7). See also CIL VI.877a (=32324), 1718, 32326 (Act. Lud. Saec. Sever. i.5); s.c. de Mytilenaeis in Berl. Sitzber. 1889, 966.  p144 Augustus set up in it a statue of Victory (Dio LI.22; v.  Victoria, ara) and built an annex called the Chalcidicum (q.v.). The Secretarium Senatus, another annex of the senate house, probably also formed part of the structure of Augustus, though we have no direct evidence of its existence before the time of Diocletian.

The curia Iulia, like the older curia, was built in comitio (Plin. NH XXXV.27, 131); in fact several senatus consulta which have come down to us in their Greek form state that they were voted ἐν κομετίῶ; one under Hadrian, however, is more explicit (in comitio in curia, EE II.273, 282).

The curia as restored by Augustus is believed by Hülsen (Neueste Ausgr. 12, fig. 7*), who had previously (HC 51) connected them with the basilica Iulia, to be represented in coins of 29‑27 B.C. (Cohen, Aug. 122; BM Rep. II.16.4358, 4359 = Aug. 631, 632; cf. p. cxxiii, n4, where it is referred to the temple of Julius; while Richmond (JRS 1914, 218) wrongly refers it to a little shrine just outside the Atrium of Augustus on the Palatine). The statue of Victory standing on a globe which came from Tarentum is shown in the apex of the pediment, and is represented on other coins of the same date (BM Aug. 622‑3; Cohen, Aug. 113; BM Rep. II.14, 15.4356‑7, where it is wrongly stated to have been placed in the basilica Iulia).

Domitian restored the curia in 94 A.D. (Hieron. 161),1 and it was no doubt he who took the opportunity of dedicating the Chalcidicum to his patron goddess Minerva, whence it acquired the name of Atrium Minervae (Notit. Reg. VIII). This curia is represented in the famous Anaglypha Traiani (see Rostra). It is perhaps also represented in one of the reliefs of the arch of Benevento (Mitt. 1892, 257; SScR 194). The curia was burnt down in the fire of Carinus, and rebuilt by Diocletian (Chron. 148), and the existing building dates from his time.

We learn from sixteenth century drawings (Lanciani, Mem. L. 3.XI.5‑21; Mitt. 1895, 47‑52) that it formed part of a group with the Atrium Minervae and the Secretarium Senatus.

The curia proper is a hall 25.20 metres by 17.61 metres, of brick-faced concrete, with a huge buttress at each angle; the lower part of the front wall was decorated with slabs of marble, while the upper part (like the exterior of the thermae of Caracalla and Diocletian) was covered with stucco in imitation of white marble blocks with heavily draughted joints. The travertine consoles and the brick cornice which they support (which are continued round the triangular pediment) were also coated with stucco. A flight of steps led up to the entrance door, to which belonged an epistyle bearing this inscription: [i]mperant[e] . . .|[n]eratius in . . .|[c]uriam sen[atus] . . . The second line no doubt contained the name of an unknown praefectus urbi (fifth century). When the building became  p145 a church, a metrical (?) inscription was painted over it, of which only the first word, aspice, is preserved. Over the door were three large windows. A small portion of the pavement of the interior, of various coloured marbles, was recently exposed to view, but covered up again.

The marble facing of the internal walls was destroyed in 1562 (LR 266; LS III.221 (for details, see Archivio Boccapaduli Arm. II. Mazzo IV.46.10).2 The brick facing of the exterior and cornice were coated with stucco to represent marble (ib.), just as was the case in the Thermae of Diocletian.

In 303 A.D. there were erected in front of the curia, outside the comitium, two colossal columns, in celebration of the vicennalia and decennalia of Diocletian and his colleagues in the empire. The first base, found in 1490, is lost; but the second, decorated with inferior reliefs (one of which represents the suovetaurilia, in imitation of the Trajanic slabs) which was found in 1547, still lies not far from the niger lapis (Mitt. 1893, 281; HC 95‑96; CIL VI.1203‑1205, 31261, 31262). For a glass cup commemorating the same vicennalia see BC 1882, 180‑190.

Near here are also fragments of a large base for a quadriga erected in honour of Arcadius and Honorius after Stilicho's victory over Gildo in Africa in 398 A.D. (CIL VI.1187, 31256; Mitt. 1895, 52‑58; LR 261) and another inscription celebrating Stilicho's victory over Radagaisus at Pollentia in 403 A.D. (CIL VI.31987).

The church of S. Adriano was founded in the curia by Honorius I (625‑638; LP LXXII.6), who added the apse. It is called in tribus fatis from a group of three fates which stood near the temple of Janus (Jord. I.2.259, 349; BCr 1912, 146; HC 24, 26; HCh 260‑261). After this several bodies were buried in niches cut in the front wall, in the concrete core of the steps, and in front of them, on the pavement of the comitium. The doorway, 5.90 metres in height, probably remained in use until after the fire of Robert Guiscard the Norman in 1087, when its level was raised by 3.25 metres: and so it remained (with steps descending into the church from the higher ground outside) until the restoration of the church in 1654, when it was raised again by about the same amount. When the ancient bronze doors were removed to the Lateran by Borromini a few years later, various coins were found inside them, among which was one of Domitian. Between 1654 and the end of the nineteenth century there has been another rise in level of about 1 metre.

To the left of the curia was the Chalcidicum or Atrium Minervae (q.v.) (the last remains of which disappeared when the Via Bonella was made in 1585‑90), a courtyard with a colonnade running down each side; while to the north-west again was the Secretarium Senatus, a hall measuring 18.17 by 8.92 metres, with an apse at the north-east end. An inscription shows that it had been restored by Junius Flavianus in  p146 311 A.D. and that it was repaired in 412 A.D., after its destruction by fire, by the then Praefectus Urbi, Epifanius (CIL VI.1718). The passage of Cassiodorus, Var. IV.30, curvae porticus, quae iuxta domum palmatam (q.v.) posita, forum in modum areae decenter includit, etc., referred by Jord. I.2.257, 258 to the apse of this building, should more probably be taken to signify the south-western hemicycle of the forum of Trajan (BC 1887, 64‑66; 1889, 363; 1899, 188).

The ancient basilica of S. Martina, built in the ruins of the Secretarium Senatus, is first mentioned under Hadrian I (772‑795; LP XCVII.51, 96). It is called S. Martinae sita in tribus fatis under Leo III (LP XCVIII.90; HCh 381). It was restored by Pietro da Cortona in 1640 and its level raised, so that the older structure (in which no traces of antiquity are actually visible) serves as the crypt.

See Jord. I.2.250‑262; LR 263‑267; Mitt. 1893, 86‑91; 1902, 39‑41; 1905, 47‑52; BC 1903, 143‑149; BCr 1912, 146; HC 112‑119; JRS 1919, 174, 182; RA 202; ZA 69‑71; DR 331‑346; HFP 30, 31.

Chalcidicum: * an annex to the Curia Julia built by Augustus (Mon. Anc. IV.1; cf. Mommsen, ad loc.), called τὸ Ἀθήναιον (Cass. Dio LI.22). It seems to have been a sort of porticus — perhaps a repository for records (RE III.2039). The Chalcidicum was probably what was afterwards called the Atrium Minervae (Not. Reg. VIII; Jord. I.2.255), and in the Curia of Diocletian (q.v.) it was the central court, through which the via Bonella now runs. See DR 336‑338.

The Authors' Notes:

1 Ed. Schoene; so also Tiro, Epit. Chron. in Chron. Min. I.417: according to Fotheringham (p273), the date would be 89‑90.

2 There is a full list, with sizes, signed by Pirro Ligorio, of 29 slabs of porphyry and 150 of marble removed by the Pope's orders.

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Page updated: 26 Nov 06