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Bill Thayer

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p450 Rostra

Article on pp450‑451 of

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

This article passes under silence the mention in the Notitia and the Curiosum (Reg. VIII) — apparent evidence that the Forum had three sets of Rostra — to focus solely on the main Rostra. For the full picture, the gentle reader is therefore encouraged to refer to Platner's other articles:

but more importantly to Christian Hülsen's Il Foro Romano, which gives plans and reconstructions:

Rostra: the original platform from which the orators addressed the people. It took its name from the beaks of the ships captured from the people of Antium in 338 B.C. with which it was decorated (Plin. NH XXXIV.20; Liv. VIII.14.12). It was situated on the south side of the Comitium in front of the Curia Hostilia (Varro, LL V.155; Diodor. XII.26; Ascon. in Milon. 12: ad comitium prope iuncta Curiae; cf. Plin. NH VII.212) in close connection with the Sepulcrum Romuli (q.v.), i.e. between the Comitium and forum, so that the speaker could address the people assembled in either. It is spoken of as the most prominent place in the forum (Plin. NH XXXIV.24: senatus statuam poni iussit quam oculatissimo loco, eaque est in rostris; cf. Dionys. Hal. I.87: ἐν τῷ κρατίστῳ χωρίῳ παρὰ τοῖς ἐμβόλοις). It was consecrated as a templum (Liv. II.56; Cic. in Vatin. 24), and on it were placed statues of famous men (Cic. Phil. IX.16) in such numbers that at times they had to be removed to make way for others (Liv. IV.17; VIII.13; Plin. NH XXXIV.23‑25; Velleius II.61, etc.); while the Columna Rostrata C. Duilii (q.v.) stood on or close by it.

The name rostra vetera is only used in Suet. Aug. 100: bifariam laudatus est, pro aede divi Iulii a Tiberio et pro rostris veteribus a Druso; where it refers to the rostra transferred by Caesar to the north-west end of the forum in contradistinction to the rostra at the temple of Divus Iulius; though it is commonly and conveniently used to signify the republican rostra in contradistinction to the rostra of Caesar.

Excavations in the Comitium have brought to light remains which must be attributed to the republican rostra, though much doubt attaches to their exact interpretation. It would appear that about the middle of the fifth century B.C. the Comitium was separated from the forum by a low platform, upon which stood the archaic cippus, the cone, and p451probably an earlier monument, represented by the existing sacellum. After the fire that followed the Gallic invasion, the first platform was replaced by a higher, to which a straight flight of steps led up from the second level of the Comitium (q.v.). A wall, 3 metres in front of these steps, perhaps formed part of the rostra (Hülsen in Mitt. 1905, 29‑32 and pl. II — the best plan available of the rostra of both periods; cf. also HC pl. V). In this platform was an irregular space, bounded by walls on each side, enclosing the monuments in question. Whether remains of the platform of this period exist, or whether the cappellaccio slabs which have been attributed to it are really the bedding for the tufa slabs of the next period, is a moot point. According to another theory, a kerb along the northern edge of the cappellaccio pavement in front of the basilica Aemilia marked the front line of the original rostra (CR 1901, 138; JRS 1922, 7).

There is no trace of any alteration in the rostra corresponding with the third level of the Comitium; but in correspondence with the fourth we have a reconstruction of the rostra on a new plan. 'Its remains consist (1) of a curved structure of large blocks of Monte Verde tufa, forming two steps about 35 cm. high, which rested on a foundation of cappellaccio (grey) tufa 15 cm. high; (2) of a low corridor or canalis, 1 metre wide and about 75 cm. high, parallel to the curved line of the steps and about 9 metres from them; (3) of a platform, or suggestus, to the west of the niger lapis, and (4) of a row of shafts, or pozzi, running east and west, about 6.75 metres distant from the platform. The portion of the platform . . . on which the curved flight of steps rested, lay about one metre above the floor of the Comitium.' It has a fine pavement of Monte Verde tufa, along the front of which runs a raised kerb. According to one view these monuments are attributable to the period of Sulla (JRS 1922, 21‑25; Mitt. 1905, 32‑39; TF 61‑66). Whether the 'Tomb of Romulus' was hidden from view at this period or later, is uncertain.

The curved front of the rostra, as represented by the canalis with the beaks of ships with which it was adorned, is held to be represented in a coin of 45 B.C. of Lollius Palikanus (HC p69, fig. 26;a BM Rep. I.517, 4011‑3). The arcade at the back of the rostra Augusti, which Boni (NS 1900, 627‑634) has called the rostra Caesaris, belongs to the time of Sulla, and is simply a low viaduct to support the Clivus Capitolinus (q.v.) and a street branching off from it (Pl. 227‑228; CR 1901, 87‑89; HC cit., Mitt. 1902, 13‑16; 1905, 14‑15, 25; JRS 1922, 15‑16).

On the rostra, see Jord. I.2.353‑355; Petersen, Comitium, Rostra, Grab des Romulus (Rome 1904); Mitt. 102, 36; 1905, 29‑39; HC 105‑116; RE I. A. 450‑4612; DR 347‑358.

Thayer's Note:

a As mentioned, the (slightly earlier) Italian version of Hülsen's book is online on this site, and does indeed include an engraving of this coin; but the article Rostra of Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities also has a woodcut of it, and it's a better one.

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Page updated: 11 May 08