Basilica Paulli

Richardson, L. jr

Basilica Paulli (Fig. 39): always one of the most celebrated buildings of ancient Rome, located at the juncture of the Argiletum and the Sacra Via, balancing the Basilica Iulia on the the opposite side of the Forum Romanum, but technically in Regio IV (Not.). Soundings under the floor have brought to light remains of two earlier basilicas, but the earliest of all, that mentioned by Plautus (Plautus Curc. 472) must have stood east of the Cloaca, because it is listed after the shrine of Cloacina in a sequence moving from west to east. This was unnamed and apparently built between 210 B.C., when fire devastated the area and there were as yet no basilicas (Livy 26.27.2-5), and the reconstruction of the Tabernae Novae in 193 by the plebeian aediles M. Iunius Brutus and L. Oppius Salinator (Livy 35.23.7; Festus 258L), because for Plautus it was not separated from the forum by a row of shops. In 179 M. Fulvius Nobilior as censor let the contract for building a basilica post argentarias novas (Livy 40.51.5), at which time the Cloaca must have been diverted from the so-called Braccio Morto that runs through the substructures of the basilica to the channel that runs around its west end, while the Braccio Morto was roofed and buried. Of the basilica, a foundation wall of Grotta Oscura tufa with the settings of two columns and part of a third was recovered, together with small parts of a tufa pavement, in 1946-1948. The columns were 1.10 m in diameter; the intercolumniation of 4.93-4.95 m shows that the superstructure must have been entirely of wood. This lay parallel to the northern line of columns of the nave of the imperial building, about 0.50 m south of it. Parallel to this, about 2 m south of it, a small section of a second, lighter foundation wall of similar tufa, but differing in construction, was found. Other finds included an archaic cistern with beehive-shaped dome, which had been deliberately filled with blocks of cappellaccio. Although it is not possible to reconstruct the basilica completely from these remains, one can see clearly that it had light, open architecture like the early basilicas of Cosa and Ardea. It has since been reburied, but its place is marked on the existing pavement.

In the same exploration a second foundation came to light parallel to the west colonnade of the imperial basilica, consisting of three footings for columns of blocks of Grotta Oscura tufa connected in series by somewhat lighter walls. These show columns of the same dimension as before (diameter 1.05 m), but with the astonishing intercolumniation of 5.85 m, and they have remains of a pavement of travertine slabs clearly associated with them. This must be remains of the rebuilding of L. Aemilius Paullus, of which Cicero writes indignantly in 54 B.C. (Cicero Att. 4.16.8), saying that Paullus had salvaged the columns of the previous building for reuse. As Tenney Frank (Buildings, 67) acutely perceived, Paullus's work must have been twofold, a restoration on which he spent as little as possible and used as much of the older building as he could, and a magnificent rebuilding financed by Julius Caesar from the spoils of the Gallic wars (Plutarch Caes. 29; Appian BellCiv 2.26). After 54 this is always called Basilica Paulli, except once by Varro (Varro Ling. 6.4: Basilica Aemilia et Fulvia) and once by Pliny referring to an event of 78 B.C. (Pliny HN 35.13: in Basilica . . . Aemilia).

Between Fulvius Nobilior's original construction and Aemilius Paullus's magnificent rebuilding there is almost no record of the building. In 159 B.C. P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica installed a water clock adjacent to it (Varro Ling. 6.4; Censorinus De Die Nat. 23.7; Pliny HN 7.215). And in 78 B.C. M. Aemilius Lepidus decorated it with imagines clipeatae of his ancestors (Pliny HN 35.13). There is no record, literary or archaeological, of any restoration or rebuilding. By 54 it must have seemed a very antiquated and dilapidated edifice.

The rebuilding by Paullus was extravagant, and he did not live to complete it. He was proscribed by the second triumvirae, fled, and died in exile. The basilica was finished and dedicated by his son, L. Aemilius Lepidus Paullus, when he was consul in 34 (Cass. Dio 49.42). It burned in 14 B.C. and was restored by Augustus and the friends of Paullus (Cass. Dio 54.24). Later, in A.D. 22, it was restored by M. Aemilius Lepidus at his own expense (Tacitus Ann. 3.72). Pliny (Pliny HN 36.102) considered it, the Forum Augustum, and Templum Pacis the most beautiful buildings in Rome and speaks of its Phrygian marble columns as especially beautiful. After the first century the basilica is scarcely mentioned, though it continued in use down to the early fifth century, when a fire destroyed the roof.

With the bank of tabernae that preceded it, the basilica occupied the space between the Argiletum and a small street along the west side of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina (Corneta?) and from Sacra Via to the Macellum. The line of tabernae was still in effect a separate structure screening off the basilica proper from the forum. From the Sacra Via one mounted a flight of seven steps with a landing at halfway to a very deep arcaded portico, above which was a second arcaded storey reached by a stair at either end and from which spectators could view events in the forum. At the east end a porch a single intercolumniation wide and deep projected out toward Sacra Via, a rather curious annex. Behind the arcaded portico opened the row of fifteen tabernae, three of which were really simply entrances to the basilica, while two were stairs to the gallery above. These were all given vaulted ceilings in concrete. The granite columns in the portico today do not belong to the basilica, but to a late-antique rehandling of parts of the ruin of it. The interior was treated as a great central nave surrounded on all four sides by an aisle and with a second, narrow aisle along the north side. The columns of the nave were of africano from Teos with white marble bases and Corinthian capitals, and those of the northeast extra aisle were of cipollino. The pavement was of polychrome marble. The distribution of architectural elements, of which a great many lie scattered in the area, is disputed and awaits definitive study and publication, but above the ground storey was a second storey with columns of africano at smaller scale. Everything else seems to have been of white marble. The most interesting feature is a frieze laboriously reconstructed from a multitude of fragments showing scenes from the early history and traditions of Rome, which seems to have been part of the entablature of the lower storey of the nave (now in the Antiquarium Forense, Helbig4 2.2062), while the upper had a frieze decorated with an elaborate anthemion. The façade of the front portico on the Argiletum is preserved in a drawing by Giuliano da Sangallo (Cod. Vat. Barb. Lat. 4424, fol. 26; Nash 1.178). This shows an engaged order of very elaborate design, Doric, the columns raised on plinths, carrying an entablature in which the metopes are decorated with bucrania and paterae. Because blocks of a freestanding order of the same design are found in the area, we can presume this order was carried as a colonnade at the short ends of the basilica. The doors to the portico in the drawing have ornate frames with ornament corresponding to that found elsewhere in this building.

At the east end one mounted three steps on the line of the colonnade; at the west end the steps precede the colonnade. The approach from the north (northeast) side was originally over three steps and through a colonnade like that on the southeast; this had a travertine pavement, and the columns were closer spaced than those of the nave, some twenty-five in all with footings revetted with africano. During or after the construction of Templum Pacis and Forum Nervae the colonnade was removed and replaced by a solid wall, so that the portico became in effect a narrow extra aisle of the basilica.

Discovering in 1899 of a large inscription, a dedication to Lucius Caesar (CIL 6.36908), grandson and adoptive son of Augustus, near the southeast corner of the portico, led E. B. Van Deman to identify the little projecting porch here as the Porticus Gaii et Lucii (q.v.) mentioned by Suetonius (Suetonius Aug. 29.4) and Dio (Cass. Dio 56.27.5). The inscription, though broken, is substantially complete, and it seems that it cannot be far from its original place. In this identification Van Deman was followed by Gamberini Mongenet and Nash, who slightly modified her reconstruction of the monument to make it an arcade that ran south to join the lowest storey of the Temple of Divus Iulius. But because the Fornix Fabianus spanning the Sacra Via very near here survived at least as late as the time of Saloninus Gallienus (S.H.A. Salon. 19.4), this interpretation is questionable. Besides, one would not have expected so insignificant a building to have been dedicated to such beloved grandsons (see also Epigraphica 31 [1969]: 104-12 [S. Panciera]). One might better think that the portico in front of the Basilica Paulli was rededicated to Gaius and Lucius after the rebuilding of 14 B.C., but, as was the case with the Basilica Julia, the older, more familiar name remained in common use and eventually drove the new name out.

NSc 1948, 111-28 (G. Carettoni); Nash 1.174-79; BCSSA 29 (1983) (A. Ghisetti Giovarina, La Basilica Emilia e la rivalutazione del dorico nel rinascimento); Coarelli 1985, 135-38, 201-9; Arctos 21 (1987): 167-84 (M. Steinby); RömMitt 94 (1987): 325-32 (M. Wegner).

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