Rostra Suggestus Tribunal

Richardson, L. jr

Rostra, Suggestus, Tribunal: Rostra is the term always used for the speakers' platform in the Comitium, although it was not decorated with the ships' beaks that gave it that name before sometime in the third century. But there must have been a speakers' platform there from the beginning, and the Curia was supposed to have been built by Tullus Hostilius. Earlier the kings are said to have used the Volcanal for that purpose. But after the Romans' great naval victory over the Latins at Antium in 338 B.C. some of the captured ships were added to the Roman fleet, and the rest were burned, and the beaks of those that were burned were used to decorate a suggestus erected in medio foro to celebrate that victory. Being in the forum, it was distinct from the speakers' platform in the Comitium, but before long that platform, too, received a contingent of beaks, probably after one of the great naval victories of the First Punic War. If the comitium/curia complex of Cosa can be taken as a fair copy of the Comitium and Curia of Rome, then the original speakers' platform was simply a space at the top of the steps of the Comitium in front of the door of the Curia and extending the width of the Comitium. Here the magistrates wishing to address the people stood between the senate and the assembly, and here the praetor urbanus set up his tribunal to one side of the Curia door. The creation of a more imposing speakers' platform of the sort we see in the comitium of Paestum would have come in the middle of the third century, for the colonies of Cosa and Paestum were both deductions of 273 B.C., but Cosa was to an entirely new site while Paestum was to an existing town. So it is reasonable to see the incentive to the creation of a second rostrate suggestus in Rome as one of the naval victories of the First Punic War. Because Comitium and Curia were both inaugurated templa, it follows that the speakers' platform was, too. The Antiate rostra must have bee inaugurated separately, for it was a templum, but no one informs us on that detail.

The difference between a rostra and a suggestus may have been only in the beaks, though possibly it extended to size, for a suggestus could be quite small, while a rostra was always very large. Many Roman temples were preceded by suggestus, the stair of approach being broken at the middle by a platform that might hold an altar and also be used as a speakers' platform or magistrate's tribunal. Two of the temples of the Forum Holitorium show such an arrangement, and the Temple of Castor in the forum offered a refinement on it by having the platform approached by small stairs leading off left and right at either end, so the crowd could gather immediately in front of the platform and that front, too, could conceivably be decorated with beaks.

The need for speakers' platforms in every part of the city where people gathered or court was held was very great, and we hear of them in the Area Capitolina (the Tribunal Vespasiani, Titi, Domitiani) and Porticus Minucia (Cicero Phil. 2.63 and Cicero Phil. 2.84). Temple platforms must always have provided the readiest opportunity, for they were elevated, already inaugurated, so suitable for holding court, and usually came with ample open space in front of them. This will also explain why there were few tribunalia in Rome, despite the ever increasing multiplication and demand for space for courts; a praetor needed only to mark out a place on a temple platform and install a small wooden dais ticketed with his name and office and sufficiently large to hold his curule chair to establish his court. And the simpler it was, the better.

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