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p546 Fornix

Article by Anthony Rich, Jun. B.A. of Caius College, Cambridge
on p546 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

FORNIX, in its primary sense, is synonymous with Arcus (Senec. Ep. 90), but more commonly implies an arched vault, constituting both roof and ceiling to the apartment which it encloses (Cic. Top. 4). It is composed of a semicylindrical and oblong arch like the Camera, but differs from it in construction, consisting entirely of stone or brick, whereas the other was formed upon a frame-work of wood, like the skeleton of a ship (Sallust, Jugurth. 18; Suet. Nero, 34; Camera); both of which methods appear to have been sometimes united, as in the roof of the Tullianum described by Sallust (Cat. 55), where the ribs of the Camera were strengthened by alternate courses of stone arches.1

From the roof alone, the same word came to signify the chamber itself, in which sense it designates a long narrow vault, covered by an arch of brick or masonry (tectum fornicatum), similar to those which occupy the ground floors of the modern Roman palaces. Three such cells are represented in the annexed woodcut, from the remains of a villa at Mola di Gaieta, which passes for the Formian Villa of Cicero. They are covered internally with a coating of stucco, tastily ornamented, and painted in streaks of azure, pink, and yellow.


[image ALT: An engraving of the ruins of an arched substructure of three round arches. It is the remains of Cicero\'s Villa at Formia.]

Being small and dark, and situated upon the level of the street, these vaults were occupied by prostitutes (Hor. Sat. 1.2.30; Juv. Sat. III.156; XI.171;a compare Suet. Jul. 49), whence comes the meaning of the word fornicatio in the ecclesiastical writers, and its English derivation.

Fornix is also a sallyport in the walls (Liv. XXXVI.23; compare XLIV.1); a triumphal arch (Cic. De Orat. II.66); and a street in Rome, which led to the Campus Martius, was called Via Fornicata (Liv. XXII.36), probably on account of the triumphal arches built across it.


The Author's Note:

1 "Tullianum . . . . muniunt undique parietes, atque insuper Camera, lapideis fornicibus vincta." If the stone chamber now seen at Rome under the Mammertine prisons was really the Tullianum, as commonly supposed, it is not constructed in the manner described; being neither cameratum nor fornicatum, but consisting of a circular dome, formed by projecting one course of stones beyond the course below it, like the treasury of Atreus at Mycenae, described at p125 [Arcus].


Thayer's Note:

a Also Firmicus Maternus, VIII.20.6.


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Page updated: 17 Apr 14