Curia (Senate House)


Christian Hulsen, 1906.

The Curia Julia. The church of S. Adriano, with its bald facade of brick, corresponds to the main room in the senate-house of the Empire, the Curia Julia. The Curia Julia, constructed by the Dictator Caesar in place of the old Curia Hostilia which lay further north, occupied the largest part of the old republican Comitium. A coin of Augustus, struck between 35 and 28 BCE, shows the facade of the building, resembling a temple with a portico and an high pediment. The Curia has a similar form on the Anaglypha of Trajan: there it Coin F of Augustus is represented as a temple with a portico (on the frieze and a flight of steps in front. Caesar’s structure consisted of the large assembly-room, the Curia in the more specific sense of the word, and a smaller room for secret sessions or for the sitting of Committees (secretarium senatus): this latter room is now the church of S. Martina. In antiquity both buildings formed one whole, and as late as the beginning of the xvi. century there existed between the churches a courtyard with columns, and behind the church of S. Adriano there were various other rooms: either the courtyard or one of these rooms must be identified with the Ckalcidicunt, which Augustus in the Monumentum Ancyranum calls “an annex to the Curia.”

Caesar did not live to see the completion of the building, and it was dedicated by Augustus in 3. C, 29. He chose as patron-goddess Victoria, whose altar with a golden statue of the goddess was placed in the main room. Domitian restored the building and dedicated a chapel to his patron-goddess Minerva; possibly this was in the Chalcidicum of Augustus, which for this reason was given the additional name of the Atrium Minervae. The building was severely injured by a fire in the reign of Carinus (283), but it was restored by Diocletian, and at that time took the shape in which we now see it. Possibly it was dedicated in 303 CE in connection with the jubilee of the reign of the emperor and his fellow-rulers, and at that time the two colossal columns, mentioned above, may have been erected. A few years later the Prefect of the City Junius Flavianus (311) restored the Secretarium. At the close of the fourth century the altar of Victoria was the subject of a bitter strife between the Christian and the heathen party in the senate. When Alaric captured Rome (410), the whole north side of the Forum was devastated by fire: the Prefect of the City Flavius Annius Eucharius Epiphanius restored the Secretarium in 412, as we learn from a monumental inscription preserved in the apse of the old church of S. Martina down into the XVII century. Even in the time of Theodoric the building served for the sessions of the shadowy “senate”; the name ‘Liberty-court’ (Atrium Liber-talis), which was given it at this time instead of the classic ‘Curia’, was derived from an entirely distinct building in the neighbourhood. But when in its turn the kingdom of the Goths had fallen, the senate house was abandoned: in the middle of the vn. century the two churches of S. Adriano and S. Martina were built in it, and it is to this that we owe all that is left of the Curia. At the beginning of the XVI century, in connection with a projected alteration of both churches, which however was never carried out, A. da Sangallo, the elder, and Peruzzi made important studies of the remains that were preserved. Many old parts were destroyed when the Via Bonella was built, in the reign of Sixtus V (1585-90); and still others in connection with the restoration of S. Martina by Pietro da Cortona (1640). At that time the floor of the church was raised a whole story above the level of the mediaeval structure, which now serves as a crypt for the modern church.

In front of the Curia is a space paved with marble, on the outer side of which traces of the fence are yet to be seen by which the Curia was separated from the Forum and the Comitium. A flight of steps, of which however only the concrete core has been preserved, led up to the entrance door. The high brick wall of the facade was covered in its lower part with marble, and in its upper part with stucco in imitation of marble blocks. Old drawings show thaT in the XVI century a very considerable amount of this stucco decoration was still in existence; the beams of travertine which project out under the gable, and are at present devoid of decoration, were originally ornamented with stucco in imitation of a rich Corinthian cornice, with heads in bas-relief between the brackets.Those parts of the ancient structure which existed down to the XVI century arc indicated in black; parts supplied arc indicated by shading; mediaeval construction by dots; and the reconstruction as planned by Pcruzzi is given simply in contour.

The entrance-door of the Curia, 11 ft. 9 in. wide and 19 ft. high, lay in the time of Diocletian at the height of the platform of the flight of steps, but afterwards it was several times raised higher, along with the gradual rise in the level of the Forum. About ten feet above the original level two blocks of marble have been built into the wall to serve as corners for a new threshold; the lower half of the door of Diocletian has been blocked up with rough masonry, in which broken bits of marble, fragments of inscriptions, and porphyry columns have been used. In addition some pieces of ornaments, which are not older than the viu.-IX centuries, have been found in this rubble-work; accordingly the first raising of the level cannot be brought into connection with the founding of the church of S. Adriano, but must have occurred at the time of a mediaeval restoration of the church (after the attack of the Normans under Robert Guiscard, 1084, or in the reign of Gregory IX., 1229?). In the following centuries the level of the Forum was again raised, so that about 1570 one descended into the church by a flight of six or eight steps. In 1654 a Spaniard, Alfonso Sotomayor, the general of the order of the Mercenarii, restored the church again, and raised the level about lo feet higher: the threshold of the door of 1654 is almost exactly on a level with the lintel of the door of Diocletian. The door-jamb and the bronze doors were still the ancient ones: these doors were removed in the time of Innocent X, by Borromini, who used them for the chief portal of the Lateran in connection with his restoration of that basilica. When the doors were taken apart for transportation, several ancient coins were found between the panels, among them one of Domitian. The numerous graves which have been found partly under the staircase and partly hollowed out in the brick wall of the facade correspond, as far as the scanty indications enable us to judge, to the various epochs in the history of the building: the lower layers go back possibly to the X.-xi. centuries, the upper ones to the time of Cola di Rienzo.

Hulsen, Christian. The Roman Forum, its history and its monuments. Rome: Loescher; New York, G. E. Stechert, 1906.

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AUTHOR(S) AND LAST UPDATE Stephanie Sepúlveda &John William Bailly  14 April 2018 COPYRIGHT © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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