Rostra Augusti

Richardson, L. jr

Rostra Augusti: the rostra of the imperial period at the northwest end of the forum square. Julius Caesar had decided on the removal of the old rostra (Cass. Dio 43.49.1), but their rebuilding does not seem to have taken place until after 42 B.C. Augustus certainly finished them (Dig. Pomponius), and he appears seated on the rostra with Agrippa on a coin (Cohen 1, Aug. 529 = B. M. Coins, Rom. Emp.1.23 no. 115 = Mazzini, Aug. 529). The rostra came to signify the northwest limit of the forum (Seneca Constant. 1.3), and the funeral orations for Augustus were delivered presumably from these rostra, called vetera, by Drusus (Suetonius Aug. 100.3; Cass. Dio 56.34.4), and from the Rostra Divi Iulii by Tiberius.

This was the site of two splendid spectacles described at length by Dio, Nero's reception of Tiridates of Armenia and Pertinax's funeral (Cass. Dio 62.4.3, Cass. Dio 75.4.2). Didius Julianus's head was displayed there (Aur. Vict. Epit. 19). There were always statues on the rostra (cf. the seated statues shown on the panel of the Arcus Constantini showing the rostra [L' Orange and von Gerkan pls. 5a, 14b, 15a]; S. H. A. Claud. 3.5; CIL 6.1195, 1731 = ILS 1278). An archaic statue of Hercules wearing a tunic stood beside it (iuxta: Pliny NH 34.93).

The existing remains are difficult to interpret but can be divided into four periods: 1. The Rostra Caesaris (?), a concrete core with curving front, over 13 m long, with five or six curving steps behind. This backs up against, and was probably built to encroach on, the line of low vaults supporting the Vicus Iugarius along the stair of the Temple of Saturn. It was 3.50 m high and revetted with marble; the façade shows plates of Porta Santa separated by slender pilasters of africano, probably remains of the original revetment. There are holes in the façade for the attachment of ornaments of some sort, but seemingly too small to have carried the great rostra of warships. This may be the rostra of the coin of Palicanus (see Rostra). 2. To this Augustus made an addition to make a larger and slightly higher core for the steps with an extension of the Caesarean steps on the west to reach the whole width of the construction, now with a front façade 23.80 m wide, and create a truly monumental flight. The formerly narrow Caesarean platform at the top now extended 10 m forward, with front and side walls of squared blocks of tufa faced with marble, to which were attached the bronze beaks in two rows. This has now been restored to full height. It evidently had a wooden floor supported on travertine beams that rested on the front and side walls and on three rows of travertine piers. Later brick pillars were added to strengthen or replace the travertine ones. A marble balustrade framed the sides and front, but a generous opening was left in the middle of the front, and to approach this a temporary frontal stair was erected on occasion. 3. The erection of the Arch of Septimius Serverus necessitated removal of most of the northeast wall of the rostra and a small court, known as the "hemicycle," was created by cutting away the core of the Augustan platform down to the level of the forum pavement for a bit more than one-half its length. This exposed the facing of the Caesarean rostra in Porta Santa and africano with a plinth of Pentelic marble and a richly decorated crown molding and created a small triangular room that must have been roofed with a wooden floor. The purpose of this room is not clear, nor yet whether it communicated with the platform above. The room was paved with tile, some of which bears Severan stamps (CIL 15.405). 4. About A.D. 470 the forward rectangular block of the rostra was lengthened by the addition of a clumsy, slightly trapezoidal construction in brick at the northwest end in front of the pier of the Arch of Septimius Severus, the front of which was also decorated with beaks. An inscription recording a restoration by the praefectus urbi Iunius Valentinus in honor of the victory of Leo and Anthemius (?) over the Vandals has given this the name Rostra Vandalica (CIL 6.32005; RömMitt 10 [1895]: 59-63 [C. Hülsen]). The two marble balustrades known as the Plutei, or Anaglypha, Traiani (see Plutei Traiani) found in the open area of the forum near the Columna Phocae are now commonly believed to have formed part of the Rostra Augusti and to have stood either flanking the approach or at the ends of the platform. They were found simply roughly mounted on blocks of travertine, clearly out of context. It is now fairly generally accepted that they date to the time of Hadrian. They show on one face of each a suovetaurilia procession, the victims decked out for sacrifice, at large scale, and on the other face at much smaller scale a historical event in its setting, on one the burning of bundles of tax records on the occasion of a remission of taxes (cf. CIL 6.967 = ILS 309), and on the other the princeps standing on a rostra addressing an assembly, while at the opposite end is a statue of Trajan receiving the thanks of a mother for the Institutio Alimentaria (CIL 9.1455 = ILS 6509 and CIL 11.1147 = ILS 6675). The topographical problems entailed in the correct reading of the backgrounds are difficult, and there is no agreement among scholars as to their solution, but it seems quite clear that both are intended to show the Forum Romanum and use the statue of Marsyas as a point of reference. However, because they are meant only to be read summarily, parts of the background are clearly arbitrary in the number of arches and columns and the angle of vision, and they do not help with the topography of the forum (see Plutei Traiani and Statua Marsyae).

Lugli 1946, 140-44; Nash 2.176-77; RendPontAcc 55-56 (1982-84): 329-40 (P. Verduchi); Coarelli 1985, 237-57; Roma, archeologia nel centro (1985), 1.29-33 (P. Verduchi).

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