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Curia Iulia

a Pleiades place resource

Creators: Kelly Petrarca, Laura Elizabeth Alderson, Mary Cooper Copyright © The Contributors. Sharing and remixing permitted under terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (cc-by).
Last modified Mar 11, 2024 04:55 PM History
Construction of the Curia Julia was begun by Julius Caesar and completed by Augustus in 29 BCE. It replaced the former senate house, the Curia Hostilia.

41.8928750593, 12.4853900456

architectural complex


Julius Caesar commissioned the Curia Julia as a replacement for the earlier Curia Hostilia. The old senate house was supposedly built by Tullus Hostilius. The building needed repairs from fire after some of the furniture was used for the funeral pyre of Publius Clodius Pulcher in 52 BCE. The senate commissioned Faustus, the son of Sulla, to rebuild the building, which he did. However, when Julius Caesar came to power, he wanted to rebuild the senate house as part of his Forum Iulium project. It is possible that Caesar was trying to rival Pompey who had recently built a theatre. The senate building, however, was not completed before his death. His adopted son Octavian, who would later become the emperor Augustus, took on the initiative to complete the senate house begun by Caesar. The house was finished in 29 BCE. The Curia Julia remained relatively the same and served its purpose as a meetinghouse until 283 CE. There was a fire which damaged the building thus requiring repair. Diocletian repaired the curia in 303, and it is the one that still stands today. In 630 CE the senate house was converted to a Christian church and Pope Honorius I renamed it the Church of St. Adriano. It is this conversion to a church that has allowed for the building to be so well preserved. Instead of being destroyed like other pagan symbols, it was protected.

The exterior of the Curia Julia featured brick-faced concrete with a huge buttress at each angle. The lower part of the front wall was decorated with slabs of marble.  The upper part was covered with stucco imitation of white marble blocks. A single flight of stairs led up to the bronze doors.  The current bronze doors are modern replicas because the original bronze doors were transferred to the Basilica of St. John Lateran by Pope Alexander III in 1660. There was a small stoa, the Chalcidium, in front of the Curia that housed a statue of the goddess Minerva.  A winged Victoria sat atop the crest of the rooftop.  Minerva and Victoria represented both the wisdom of the senators and the power of the empire. In the assembly hall, there was seating for about three hundred senators, which was only half the Senate at that time. Originally the walls of the room were decorated with colored marble, mosaics, and stucco work, and the wooden roof was gilded. In the back of the hall, there were seats for the consuls and the emperor. There was a depiction of Victoria that appeared to be descending upon the emperor

The Senate House played an important function in Roman government and the religious aspects of Roman Society can be seen in its use. In its first iteration as the Curia Hostilia, built at the end of the fifth century, BCE, it served as a meeting place for the original senate, the council of elders. It was bordered by two temples, one to Saturn and the other to Castor and Pollux. By the third century, the Curia Hostilia itself was dedicated to the gods. The dedication of the place of assembly was required for the senate to meet there. As the senate grew, it became necessary to enlarge the senate house to accommodate its numbers. It was also required that the people would be able to hear senatorial meetings, but non-senators were not allowed in the building itself, so it needed to be near an open area. Thus the Senate house’s placement near the Forum was imperative. When the Curia Hostilia was burned down for Pulcher’s funeral pyre, Julius Caesar chose a slightly different placement for his Curia Julia, which was to overlook two forums: the Roman Forum, and the Forum Iulium, which hadn’t been built yet. The gifting of a large and beautifully appointed building can be seen as a token nod to the prestige of the senate, indicating that they still had some power even after the republic. As Pontifex Maximus, Augustus was able to dedicate the building to the gods himself after construction was complete. Thus even the meeting place of the senate was beholden to the powers of the principate, though not overtly.

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Kelly Petrarca, Laura Elizabeth Alderson, Mary Cooper, Jeffrey Becker, Brady Kiesling, and Tom Elliott, 'Curia Iulia: a Pleiades place resource', Pleiades: A Gazetteer of Past Places, 2024 <> [accessed: 22 June 2024]

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