Curia Julia

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The Curia Julia (Curia Iulia) was the third senate house in ancient Rome, also known as Curia Iulia in Latin and Italian. Its construction was initiated by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE, when he replaced the Curia Cornelia that was reconstructed by Faustus Cornelius Sulla, which itself was previously known as the Curia Hostilia.

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Overview

Caesar aimed to restructure the Comitium and the Roman Forum and reduced the Senate's prominence by making changes within the Comitium and clearing the original space. However, his assassination at the Curia of Pompey of the Theatre of Pompey interrupted the work. Augustus Caesar, who succeeded Julius Caesar, completed the project in 29 BCE.

The Curia Julia is among the few remaining Roman buildings that have been preserved in largely original condition. It was transformed into the basilica of Sant'Adriano al Foro during the 7th century CE, and underwent multiple subsequent renovations. However, the modern roof, top sections of the side walls, and the rear exterior were added during the remodeling of the decommissioned church in the 1930s.

Facade of the Curia Julia with column of Phochus to the right.

Historical Background

circa 44 BCE

Numerous curiae were present throughout the course of Roman civilization, often coexisting simultaneously. The term "curia" denoted a "meeting house", and while the Senate convened regularly at the curia located within the comitium area, alternative structures were also designated for this purpose, especially when meeting with individuals who were forbidden from entering the sanctified curias of the Senate.

The Curia Julia is the third identified curia situated within the comitium, each having undergone numerous reconstructions. The original structure was an Etruscan temple constructed to commemorate the Sabine conflict truce. Following its destruction, Tullus Hostilius reconstructed the temple and named it after himself. It stood for several centuries until it was destroyed by the fire sparked by Publius Clodius Pulcher's unplanned funeral. Subsequently, a new building was established and named after its monetary supporter, Faustus Cornelius Sulla.

The current surviving edifice located in the Roman Forum is, in fact, the second version of Caesar's curia. Following a period of restoration under Domitian between 81 and 96 CE, a fire during Emperor Carinus' reign in 283 CE caused extensive damage to the structure. Between 284 and 305 CE, Diocletian spearheaded the rebuilding effort, and the remains of his structure still stand today. The Curia underwent another renovation in 412 CE, with Urban Prefect Annius Eucharius Epiphanius leading the restoration efforts.

Architecture

circa 44 BCE

Exterior
The exterior of the Curia Julia is characterized by brick-clad concrete, accentuated by massive buttresses at every corner. The bottom section of the front wall was embellished with marble slabs, while the upper part was covered with a stucco simulation of white marble blocks. A solitary flight of stairs provides access to the bronze doors. Presently, the bronze doors are modern duplicates, with the original ones having been moved to the Basilica of St. John Lateran by Pope Alexander VII in 1660 CE.

When the bronze doors were relocated, a coin was discovered within them, providing archaeologists with the means to date repairs made to the Senate House and the installation of the bronze doors back to Emperor Domitian's reign between 81 and 96 CE. The original design of the Senate House is discernible from a 28 BCE denarius of Emperor Augustus, which depicts the front wall of the edifice featuring a veranda supported by columns.

circa 44 BCE

Interior
The interior of the Curia Julia is quite simple in design, with the hall (inspect) measuring 25.20 meters in length and 17.61 meters in width. It featured three wide steps along the walls that could have accommodated about 300 senators, arranged in five rows of chairs. The walls, which were once veneered in marble up to two-thirds of their height, are now bare. The Altar of Victory and the impressive floor are the two primary highlights of the Curia Julia's interior.

The "Altar of Victory" was situated at the opposite end of the hall and featured a statue of Victoria, who symbolizes victory, standing on a globe while offering a wreath. Augustus had placed the altar in the Curia to commemorate Rome's military achievements, specifically his victory at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. However, in 384 CE, the altar was taken down due to a widespread rejection of pagan customs from Ancient Rome following the emergence of Christianity.

The interior of the Curia Julia, unlike its plain exterior, boasts a remarkable floor created using the opus sectile technique, a Roman art form that involves cutting and inlaying materials to form decorative patterns. According to Claridge, the floor design consists of stylized rosettes and intertwined cornucopias in green and red porphyry, set against backgrounds of Numidian yellow and Phrygian purple in alternating squares and rectangles.

Notable Reliefs Displayed

Undated

Plutei of Trajan
The Plutei of Trajan (known as the Plutei Traiani in Latin; commonly called the Anaglypha Traiani) are carved stone balustrades built for the Roman emperor Trajan. Today these carved reliefs are on display inside the restored Curia Julia in the Foro Romano, but are known to be not part of the original structure. It is also unknown exactly when where these commissioned or where Trajan had them erected. They are believed to have formed part of either on the edge of the Rostra or on the sides of the Lapis Niger marking the underground "Tomb of Romulus". In spite of this uncertainty, they are of great historical value because the carvings show the full length of both sides of the Forum at the time they were erected.

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Recommended Books

Early and Imperial Rome Or, Promenade Lectures on the Archaeology of Rome

Hodder Michael Westropp

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