Richardson, L. jr

Rostra: the platform from which orators addressed the people in assembly, both formal and informal. The original platform-- if there was only one, which must remain doubtful, because the word itself was plural and the need for more than one suggestus must have been felt very early-- must have been that in the Comitium, the traditional place of assembly, and was a platform in front of the Curia, on axis with it, possibly the whole breadth of the Comitium (Varro Ling. 5.155; Asconius ad Cic. In Milon. Arg. 28-29 [Stangl 31-32] and Asconius ad Cic. In Milon.12 [Stangl 37]). Here the praetor urbanus traditionally had his tribunal and the laws of the Twelve Tables were put on display in 442 B.C. (Diod. Sic. 12.26.1).

This platform was augmented after the victory over the Latins at Antium in 338 B.C. by a suggestus (perhaps already in existence) in foro (not in the Comitium) that was decorated with the beaks of some of the captured ships (Livy 8.14.12; Pliny HN 34.20). This was the first suggestus to be called rostra, and it was made a templum. It is located by its proximity to the stone lion marking the grave of Faustulus or Romulus (Dion. Hal. 1.87.2) and by the custom of having the accensus consulis announce noon when he saw the sun from the door of the Curia between the rostra and the Graecostasis (Pliny HN 7.212), at which time he must have been looking due south. It almost certainly had the form of a segment of the Comitium, as the Rostra Augusti did later, with curved steps approaching it, but whether one spoke over the steps or, as seems more likely, from the front now decorated with beaks, no one tells us. This was the most conspicuous feature of the forum square, quam oculatissimo loco, eaque est in rostris (Pliny HN 34.24), and statues of those who had met their death in public service or done deeds of singular valor were repeatedly erected there, as they had been earlier on the rostra of the Comitium (Cicero Phil. 9.16; Livy 4.17.6; Vell. Pat. 2.61.3; Pliny HN 34.23-25). This platform was then dismantled and rebuilt farther to the northwest sometime between 46 and 42 B.C. (see Rostra Augusti).

At some point, probably after one of the signal naval victories of the First Punic War, the rostra of the Comitium were rebuilt and decorated with the beaks of enemy ships. This complex will than have resembled the Comitium of Paestum (the so-called Teatro Circolare) with a suggestus cutting across the ring of the steps of the Comitium and accessible at the ends, rather than axially. This is implicit in the story of Cato's saving himself from the fury of the mob by hauling himself up to his feet by hanging onto the beaks themselves (Plutarch Cato Min. 44.1-4).

Excavations in the Comitium adjacent to the Niger Lapis have brought to light remains of republican construction that have been interpreted as remains of the rostra. Five building periods are distinguished, the last three with some form of rostra. But the first two of these, as reconstructed, are architecturally bizarre and unworkable, buildings that can never have existed, and it is not until we get to the final phase, dated to the time of Sulla, that architectural logic emerges. What we see is the stepping of the Comitium rising to a broad platform behind it, although the latter might have been considerably narrower, because the number of steps is restored arbitrarily. But it is not the rostra, which should be on the opposite side of the Comitium in front of the Curia; this is part of the Comitium's stepped cavea. The fact that the group of monuments under the Niger Lapis is preserved at a level where it interrupts the stepping and includes remains of a monument interpreted as the tomb of Faustulus or Romulus shows that, as far as the remains go, the stepped plan need not be of high antiquity, but it is implicit in the story of how Tarquinius Superbus seized up the aged Servius Tullius bodily in the Curia and threw him down the steps into the Comitium (Livy 1.48.3; Dion. Hal. 4.38.5). If we cannot restore steps in stone, we must do so in wood.

The coins of Lollius Palicanus of 45 B.C. showing rostra with a curved front decorated with beaks may represent either the Antiate Rostra, at that time presumably dismantled, or a design for the new Rostra Augusti, which had, when dedicated in 42, a straight front, but the former is, of course, more likely.

OpRom 2 (1941): 97-158 (E. Gjerstad); Lugli 1946, 115-21; RömMitt 80 (1973): 219-33 (L. Richardson).

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