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p995 Rostra

Unsigned article on pp995‑996 of

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

ROSTRA, or The Beaks, was the name applied to the stage (suggestus) in the Forum, from which the orators addressed the people. This stage was originally called templum (Liv. II.56), because it was consecrated by the augurs, but it obtained its name of Rostra at the conclusion of the great Latin war, when it was adorned with the beaks (rostra) of the ships of the Antiates (Liv. VIII.14; Flor. I.11; Plin. H. N. XXXIV.5 s11). The Greeks also mutilated galleys in the same way for the purpose of trophies; this was called by them ἀκρωτηριάζειν. [Acroterium.]

The Rostra lay between the Comitium or place of meeting for the curies, and the Forum or place of meeting for the tribes, so that the speaker might turn either to the one or to the other; but down to the time of C. Gracchus, even the tribunes in speaking used to front the Comitium; he first turned his back to it and spoke with his face towards the forum (Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, vol. I p426, note 990). The form of the Rostra has been well described by Niebuhr (vol. III p144, note 268) and Bunsen (quoted by Arnold, Hist. of Rome, vol. II p164): the latter supposes "that it was a circular building, raised on arches, with a stand or platform on the top bordered by a parapet; the access to it being by two flights of steps, one on each side. It fronted towards the comitium, and the rostra were affixed to the front of it, just under the arches. Its form has been in all the main points preserved in the ambones, or circular pulpits, of the most ancient churches, which also had two flights of steps leading up to them, one on the east side, by which the preacher ascended, and another on the west side, for his descent. Specimens of these old churches are still to be seen at Rome in the churches of St. Clement and S. Lorenzo fuori le mura."º The speaker was thus p996enabled to walk to and fro, while addressing his audience.

The suggestus or Rostra was transferred by Julius Caesar to a corner of the Forum, but the spot, where the ancient Rostra had stood, still continued to be called Rostra Vetera, while the other was called Rostra Nova or Rostra Julia (Ascon. in Cic. Mil. § 12 p43, ed. Orelli; Dion Cass. XLIII.49, LVI.34; Suet. Aug. 100). Both the Rostra contained statues of illustrious men (Cic. Philip. II.61); the new Rostra contained equestrian statues of Sulla, Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Augustus (Vell. Pat. II.61). Niebuhr (l.c.) discovered the new Rostra in the long wall, that runs in an angle towards the three columns, which have for a very long time borne the name of Jupiter Stator, but which belong to the Curia Julia. The substance of the new Rostra consists of bricks and casting-work, but it was of course cased with marble: the old Rostra Niebuhr supposes were constructed entirely of peperino.

The following coin of M. Lollius Palicanus contains a representation of the Rostra.


[image ALT: A coin of M. Lollius Palikanus. The obverse shows a head with the inscription LIBERTATAS (sic, for LIBERTAS). The reverse shows an arcaded podium. It is the Rostra in the Roman Forum.]


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Page updated: 2 Dec 11