Basilica Aemilia (Rome)

Basilica Aemilia (Rome)


Basilica Aemilia (Rome)

The Basilica Emilia was built in 179 BC. Consuls Marcus Emilie Lepidus and Marcus Fulvius Nobiror. It was a long rectangular building with perimeter columns. The basilica was 100 meters (328 feet) long and about 30 meters (98 feet) wide. On the sides there were two orders of 16 arches, and it could be reached through one of three entrances.

Politicians, businessmen and other prominent figures of Rome gathered here. In a sense, this is an ancient Roman form of lobbying. In addition, published or tax often visited here. They agreed with government officials to collect a certain amount of money and preserve their shares. Not surprisingly, Bible writers hated and despised this particular group of people because their business methods were immoral. The people collecting taxes were hated by the people of ancient Rome everywhere.

A new basilica was built on the site where in the 5th century BC there were meat shops (tabernae lanienae), and in the 4th century bankers (tabernae argentariae) were located. There were two shops near the square. The first basilica was built behind the taverns between 210 BC. and 195-191 BC, the date referred to by Plaft. Archaeological research has shown that this building consisted of three naves, paved with the tuff of Monteverde. The building had a large façade with a portico, which opened onto the Forum Piskatoriy and Macellum (an area then occupied by the Nerve Forum). The basilica was preserved until 410 AD. until the Visigoths capture the city. They burned Basilica Emilia. The heat from the fire was so intense that the coins melted and remained so far in the marble floor.

Basilica Aemilia (Rome)

Before the basilica Emilia

Tabernae lanienae, argentariae and novae
On the north-eastern side of the Piazza del Foro they were attested in the 5th century BC. the tabernae lanienae, which housed the sale of meat and were replaced at the end of the 4th century BC. from the tabernae argentariae, headquarters of the bankers, preceded by the wooden maeniana or balconies; the façade was adorned in various stages with the shields stolen from the defeated enemies. Rebuilt after the destruction suffered in the fire of 210 BC. they took the name of tabernae novae (while those on the opposite side of the square, not touched by the fire, were called tabernae veteres).

Basilica cited by Plautus
A first basilica behind the tabernae argentariae was probably built between 210 BC. and 195-191 BC, the date on which Plautus seems to attest to its existence (in the Captives and in the Curculio). From the remains seen in the excavations, the basilica seems to have been divided into four naves paved with tuff from Grotta Oscura, with the rear facade preceded by a portico that overlooked the Forum Piscatorium and the Macellum (in the part later occupied by the Forum of Nerva) .

The oldest basilica would therefore not be the Catonian one testified by Livy (built by Cato the Censor in 184 BC), but the one mentioned by Plautus dating back to the end of the third century. This first basilica was none other than the Atrium regium (in Greek αὐλή βασιλική, place where the king-basileus administered justice in the Hellenistic period), a building located between the fish market and the Via Sacra, whose foundation is attributed by tradition in Numa.

This legendary attribution to the second king of Rome hides the real Hellenistic root of the Emilia basilica on the initiative of the Aemilii family, of which it was destined to represent the tangible sign of their wealth and power. In fact, Marco Emilio Lepido, censor in 179, had been appointed by the Senate to protect the king of Egypt Ptolemy V Epiphanes in 201-200 BC. On the occasion of his mission to Alexandria he had thus had the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the great hypostyle halls in which the Hellenistic monarchs gave public manifestation of their power.

Fulvia-Aemilia Basilica
The second phase with respect to the basilica cited by Plautus is represented by the new building wanted by the gens Emilia, a direct subsidiary of the Atrium Regium. The building, built by the censor of 179 Marco Fulvio Nobiliore (colleague of E. Lepido), had the name of Basilica Fulvia. Following the censor's death it was perhaps completed by the other censor Marco Emilio Lepido. Starting from him, numerous exponents of the gens Aemilia took care of the restorations (in 78 BC, 54 BC, 34 BC, 14 BC after a fire and 22), so that the building took the name of Basilica Aemilia. In this phase the central nave was enlarged at the expense of the rear portico, which was narrowed, and must have had three naves with wooden architraves, paved in travertine. The central nave had to be raised, according to custom, to allow the opening of windows in the upper part, which guaranteed the lighting to the building.

An excavation of the oldest part, on the west side, allows us to see how the plan of the building has not substantially changed during the reconstructions (apart from the increase of a nave on the north side, in order to exploit as much space as possible ). The south side was the longest side that overlooked the Piazza del Foro. Here the façade was composed of two superimposed orders of sixteen arches, supported by pillars with semi-columns, which created a front porch. Three entrances led inside, divided into four naves and about 70 x 29 meters wide.

The Aemilia Basilica was embellished by the consul of 78 BC, namesake of the censor of the previous century (Marco Emilio Lepido), who affixed "clipei" (shields). This intervention was commemorated by a coin in 61 BC, by the son, still of the same name, the future triumvir Marco Emilio Lepido, in which the exterior of the building is depicted with the clypei, probably the two-storey portico that preceded the tabernae towards the piazza del Foro (or according to some the back porch).

According to some scholars, however, at this time the Basilica Aemilia was a separate building from the Fulvia basilica, possibly built in 164 BC. by the censor Lucio Emilio Paolo and located on the short south-eastern side of the square, where the temple of Divo Giulio was later built. In this case, the ornamentation with the clypei and the representation of the coin should refer to this building.


The Basilica Emilia

Paulli Basilica
A new basilica to replace the Fulvia Basilica was under construction in 55 BC. by Lucio Emilio Lepido Paolo (another son of the consul of 78 BC Marco Emilio Lepido and brother of the triumvir), but financed by Caesar. It was inaugurated by the homonymous son of Lepidus in 34 BC. with the name of Basilica Paulli.

The basilica resumed the previous Basilica Fulvia, however shortened at both ends, and with a second nave open on the back side, in place of the rear portico. Equally open with columns were the terminations on the short sides, while the wall that closed the side towards the forum, preceded on the outside by the ancient tabernae, had to be decorated with semi-columns.

The columns of the central nave had Corinthian capitals and African marble shafts and bore a frieze with scenes from the mythical history of Rome, those of the second row at the bottom had instead cipollino marble shafts and finally the external columns had Ionic capitals. The side aisles were covered with concrete vaults. Nothing is known of the elevated above the first order at this stage.

Augustan phase
The new building, burned in a fire in 14 BC, was rebuilt at the behest of Augustus in the name of another descendant of the same gens Aemilia, re-using many of the architectural elements of the Paulli Basilica and with the same plant. The columns of the four naves were rebuilt in African marble (which actually came from Asia Minor) and the marble floor currently visible also dates back to this phase. The reconstruction was finished in 22 AD. and since then the size of the Piazza del Foro was definitively fixed.

On this occasion the tabernas (the ancient tabernae novae argentariae) that preceded the basilica towards the piazza del Foro and the front porch were completely rebuilt, structurally separated from the actual basilica. In the row of tabernas, wider than the previous ones, the passageways towards the interior of the basilica and the stairwells for access to the upper floors were integrated. The portico was enlarged towards the square and was dedicated to the emperor's two nephews, Caio and Lucio Cesari (porticus Gai et Luci). The façade had two orders of arches framed by pillars with Doric half-columns. Due to its considerable size it was necessary to strengthen its structure with transversal metal "chains" that contrasted the lateral thrusts of the roof vaults.

The upper floors of the basilica, never completed or destroyed in the fire, were completely rebuilt. Above the colonnade of the first order there was an attic with pillars decorated with plant elements, wider at the columns, joined by barriers, and thinner above the intercolumns. According to one of the reconstructive hypotheses, the widest pillars were preceded by statues of barbarians in ancient yellow marble and pavonazzetto above the projections formed by the entablature of the first order in correspondence with the columns of the long sides. Above the pillars ran an entablature with travertine platbands covered with marble. This intermediate floor above the aisles of the long sides seems to be perhaps formed by separate chambers, each corresponding to an intercolumniation.

Above this attic a second order of columns rose on the long sides, again with African, cipollino and pavonazzetto marble shafts, while on the short sides this floor had to be closed by a wall towards the central nave.


Subsequent restorations and destruction

Under Tiberius the building was restored in 22, again by a Marco Emilio Lepido. In this restoration some of the intercolumniations of the rear side were closed by walls and the colonnade of the second order was similarly reinforced.

With the construction of the Temple of Peace (75) and the Forum of Nerva (98), immediately behind the basilica, the open colonnade of the rear facade was replaced by a continuous wall, reinforced by buttresses.

The basilica suffered serious damage in the fire under the emperor Carino in 283 and the wall towards the tabernae was restored, on which the original marble elements were relocated. After the portico a series of shops (tabernae) were rebuilt in square tuff. It was also necessary to redo some blocks of the trabeations of the second order and of the portico, which must have been damaged in the fire.

Probably during the sack of Alaric in 410, the basilica was completely destroyed by a fire, in which the coins of the banks of the money changers that must have been located in the building were melted on the marble floor and are still visible today (the coins date back to the beginning of the 5th century).

The central part of the south portico in front of it also burned in the fire. Later a new floor was placed on the old slabs and the portico sector was replaced by a portico with pink granite columns on bases, much denser than the pillars of the previous portico. Three of these columns were raised after the excavations and are still today on the east side towards the temple of Antoninus and Faustina.

The end of the Augustan portico towards the Curia was still standing in the sixteenth century and its Doric order was imitated in the church of San Biagio in Montepulciano by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder.

The last remains were dismantled at the beginning of the 16th century, to be reused in the construction of the Castellesi-Giraud-Torlonia palace in the Borgo district.

Excavated in the 1930s, it was partially reassembled using the remains of the late imperial columns found.