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The Temple of Saturn

Dedicated in 498 BC, the Temple of Saturn is the oldest sacred place in Rome, after the Temples of Vesta and Jupiter. It was rebuilt in 42 BC and again, in the fourth century AD, by the senate and people of Rome, as recorded on the architrave. The surviving Ionic columns, with their scrolled volutes, date from this period. Because of the link of Saturn with agriculture, the original source of Rome's wealth, the temple was the repository for the State treasury, the Aerarium Populi Roman (from aes, bronze), which was located beneath the stairs under the high podium. It also contained the bronze tablets on which Roman law was inscribed. In the cella was an ivory statue, its feet fettered with woolen bonds, which were loosened on the Saturnalia (December 17).

The reconstruction of the temple was undertaken by Lucius Munatius Plancus, at the encouragement of Augustus, who "often urged other prominent men to adorn the city with new monuments or to restore and embellish old ones, each according to his means" (Suetonius, Life of Augustus, XXIX.4-5).

The year before, he had founded Lyon in Gaul. It was Plancus, too, who officiated at the banquet at which Cleopatra, in a wager with Antony, impetuously dropped one of her pearl earrings into wine vinegar and drank it, stopping her before she could dissolve the other one (Pliny, IX.59). Deserting Antony "not through any conviction that he was choosing the right, nor from any love of the republic or of Caesar, for he was always hostile to both, but because treachery was a disease with him" (Velleius Paterculus, Roman History, II.83.1), Plancus, as one of the men who had attached his seal to the will of Cleopatra, revealed its whereabouts to Caesar (Dio, L.3.2). He also suggested that Octavian adopt the name "Augustus" (Suetonius, VII 2) and was one of the last two men to hold the office of censor, before it was abolished by the emperor (Dio, LIV.1.2).