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The Basilica Aemilia- Paulli is a law court in the Roman Forum with a rich history. The first basilica built on this site was the second century BC. The definitive structure on site was built by Augustus (though in Paullus’ name) with a massive solid marble portico facing the forum. The structure was constructed after the fire in 14 BC. This structure was considered by Pliny the Elder to be one of the most beautiful structures in Rome. It was decorated with many colored marbles, and colored marble barbarian statues, as well as a narrative frieze with unique scenes from at least the period of Romulus, with many legendary battles and events. The basilica remains, excavated by Giacomo Boni in the late 19C, are located between the Curia and the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina.

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From Platner & Ashby’s (1929) Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome:

On the north side of the forum, between the curia and the temple of Faustina. In 179 B.C. the censor M. Fulvius Nobilior contracted for the building of a basilica ‘post argentarias novas’ (Liv. xl. 51).

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 In 159 P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica, when censor, installed a water clock in basilica Aemilia et Fulvia (Varro, LL vi. 4; cf. Censorin. de die nat. 23. 7; Plin. NH vii. 215: idque horologium sub tecto dicavit a.u. DXCV). This use of the double name, Aemilia et Fulvia, would seem to indicate that it was thus given in Varro’s source, and was a usual, perhaps the official, designation of the building in the middle of the second century B.C., and that it had not wholly dropped out of use in Varro’s own time. If so, Fulvius’ colleague in the censorship of 179, M. Aemilius Lepidus, must have had at least equal responsibility in its construction, notwithstanding Livy’s statement, a hypothesis that is supported by references to the later history of the basilica. In 78 B.C., the consul M. Aemilius Lepidus decorated the building (here called basilica Aemilia) with engraved shields or portraits of his ancestors (Plin. NHxxxv. 13), and probably restored it somewhat; for a coin of his son Lepidus, triumvir monetalis about 65 (Babelon i. p. 129, No. 25; BM Rep. i. 450. 3650-3) 1 represents it as a two-storied porticus on which shields are hung with the legend M. Lepidus ref(ecta) s(enatus) c(onsulto). In 55 B.C., the aedile L. Aemilius Paullus, brother of the triumvir (RE i. 564), undertook to restore the basilica with money furnished by Caesar from Gaul (Plut. Caes. 29 [where the earlier building is called Fulvia only]; App. BC ii. 26; Cic. ad Att. iv. 16. 14). The theory that Paullus had almost finished the building, when he decided to rebuild entirely and gave out a new contract, does not seem correct (TF 67). The beauty of this restored building is emphasised by Plutarch and Appian. Cicero says that Paullus used the ancient columns of the earlier structure. Nevertheless, he does not seem to have completed the work, for in 34 B.C. his son L. Aemilius Lepidus Paullus, when consul, finished and dedicated the building (Cass. Dio xlix. 42).

In all references to the basilica after 54 B.C., except those cited above from Varro, Pliny and Plutarch, it appears as basilica Paulli (Stat. Silv. i. 1. 30: regia Pauli), so that this, rather than basilica Aemilia, was probably its ordinary name.

In 14 B.C. it was burned, and rebuilt in the name of the Aemilius who then represented the family (probably the same man who carried out the restoration of 22 A.D.), but really by Augustus and the friends of Paullus (Cass. Dio liv. 24). Still later, in 22 A.D., M. Aemilius Lepidus, son of the restorer of 34 B.C., asked the senate for permission to carry out another restoration at his own expense, according to Tacitus (Ann. iii. 72), who calls the building basilica Pauli Aemilia monumenta. Pliny (NH xxxvi. 102), reckons it, the forum of Augustus and the temple of Peace, as the three most beautiful buildings in the world, and mentions its columns of Phrygian marble as very wonderful. These must have stood in the interior of the basilica, but we do not know to which restoration they belong, and no traces whatever of them have been found in the ruins; while those of the basilica of S. Paolo fuori le Mura are 1.19 metres in diameter, and therefore too large. After the first century the basilica is mentioned only on one inscription on a slave’s collar (CIL xv. 7189: in basilica Paulli), in the Regionary Catalogue (Reg. IV), and in Polemius Silvius (p. 545). It is represented in a fragment of the Marble Plan (Mitt. 1905, 53, fig. 13; cf. AJA 1913, 15, n. i).

Dr. E. Van Deman has propounded (AJA 1913, 26-28) a theory (I) that the porticus Gai et Luci is to be identified with the front arcades of the basilica Aemilia; and (2) that the name porticus Iulia (Cass. Dio lvi. 27. 5 -though the MSS. have Livia, HJ 315-Schol. Pers. sat. iv. 49: foeneratores ad puteal Scribonis Licini 2quod est in porticu Iulia ad Fabianum arcum) was applied to it at a later date. If she is right in identifying the remains of the arch with some blocks of tufa on the north side of the temple of Caesar (JRS 1922, 26-28), the latter postulate is perhaps to be conceded; for the fornix Fabianus cannot have stood anywhere near the basilica Iulia (Jord. i. 2.210). In that case Suet. Aug. 29 porticum basilicamque Gai et Luci must then refer to two separate monuments: for whatever the porticus may be, the basilica Gai et Luci must be the basilica Iulia (Mon. Anc. iv. 13-16: basilicam quae fuit inter aedem Castoris et aedem Saturni … nominis filiorum meum incohavi). But the passage of Dio refers to a dedication in 12 A.D., which will not fit the date of the inscription of Lucius Caesar (2 B.C., see p. 74) any more than it agrees with the date of the dedication of the porticus Liviae.

The remains of the basilica Aemilia, of which nothing was previously visible, have been for the most part laid bare by the recent excavations. It occupied the whole space between the temple of Faustina (from which it was separated by a narrow passage) and the Argiletum.

There are some remains, including a column base which probably belongs to the earliest period of the basilica, of the structures of 179, 78, and 34 B.C. (TF 66-75), or of 78 and 54 B.C. (JRS 1922, 29-31), but it is clear that little change was made in the extent and plan of the basilica in the rebuildings of 14 B.C. and 22 A.D.

It consisted of a main hall, divided into a nave and two aisles by two orders of columns of africano marble, respectively 0.85 metre and 0.55 metre in diameter, with bases and capitals 3 of white marble, and finely carved entablatures of the same material: two fragments of the main entablature, which show traces of later injury by fire, bear the remains of an inscription … PAVL … RESTI… On the north-east side of the nave there was a second line of columns, but as it lies only about 4 feet from the outer wall, the intervening space cannot be treated as a second aisle. The object of this inequality may have been to give extra support, as there were probably no tabernae here. The pavement is of slabs of fine coloured marbles (giallo, cipollino, porta santa).

The main hall was about 90 metres long and 27 wide; it is most probable, though not certain, that it had no apsidal termination at either end. It was lighted by a clerestory, to which belong some pilasters of white marble, with beautiful acanthus decoration, which stood between the double windows.

Outside the south-west wall of the nave was a row of small chambers (tabernae), which, like it, were built of opus quadratum of tufa even in the reconstruction of 14 B.C. (or 22 A.D.). In three of them (one in the centre and one near each end) were doors into the nave: the entire difference in plan from the basilica Iulia may be due to the desire to keep the heat out of the nave in summer. These chambers were vaulted in concrete, the vault springing from a slight projection in the stone block at the top of the side wall-an Augustan characteristic, noticeable also in the basilica Iulia, the horrea Agrippiana, the temple of Castor and Pollux, etc. A flight of stairs in the smaller chamber at each end led to the space above them which opened on to the upper arcade of the facade; and at the end of each of their side walls was a marble pilaster, corresponding to the pillars which supported the main arcade, which had fifteen arches. Most of the travertine foundation blocks of these pillars are preserved, though some have been extracted by mediaeval and Renaissance quarrying; but the white marble blocks of which they were composed have been removed-with a single exception, which is of special interest, inasmuch as it comes at the south angle of the building, and shows clearly that here there was a projecting porch of one intercolumniation. This porch bore three inscriptions, set up in 2 B.C. in honour of Augustus and his two grandsons by the plebs, the senate, and the equites: half of the first inscription is preserved (CIL vi. 3747=31291)4 but not in situ, while the second lies as it fell when the building was destroyed by earthquake. These inscriptions, with which have been connected two bases also dedicated to Gaius and Lucius Caesar a year earlier (DR 476-9 is not correct as to the circumstances of their discovery; see Mitt. 1899, 260), have been used as the basis of the identification of the front arcades of the basilica with the porticus Gai et Luci. Here lie other fragments, including some of the entablature of the upper order of the facade, with a cornice resembling that of the temple of Divus Iulius, but smaller. The massive main order was Doric, with bucrania and paterae alternating in the metopes, and fragments of it are preserved, though up to 1500 a portion of the north-west side facade (which faced originally on to the Argiletum, and owing to the direction of the latter, was not at right angles to the front) was standing, as various Renaissance drawings show (notably Sangallo, Barb. 26), and the so-called Coner, PBS ii. pl. 77).

From the facade three narrow steps descended to a broad landing, from which four more steps led to the forum level. The shrine of VENUS CLOACINA (q.v.) was built at the foot of the steps, not far from the north-west end. The steps on the south-east side have recently been exposed at one point, which has rendered it possible to determine the length of the building.

At the beginning of the fifth century A.D. the wooden roofs of the nave and aisles were set on fire (perhaps in 410, when Alaric captured Rome) and numerous coins, from the time of Constantine to the end of the fourth century, were found on the marble pavement. Above the stratum of ashes is a layer, about 1 metre thick, of earth mixed with fragments of architecture, statues, bricks, pottery, etc.; and upon this stratum has fallen the brick wall which replaced the back wall of the tabernae after its destruction by fire. From this it is clear that the nave of the basilica was abandoned after the fire (from which, as the fragments show, the africano columns suffered especially) and was to a certain extent used as a quarry even in ancient times. Nor were the tabernae nor the facade rebuilt, though a large private building was established in the south-east portion; in some of the tabernae are marble pavements of the seventh-ninth century, and on the back wall of the last taberna but one, a fragment of an inscription, with the name of a saint, was found. The sixteen columns of red granite (Ill. 11) which stood on high ‘white marble pedestals (none of which were found in situ) may have belonged to its portico. Certainly, the attribution of them to a restoration of the facade of the basilica in the fifth century must be given up. Nor, on the other hand, can they belong to the mediaeval church of S. Iohannes in Campo (HCh 270), which must have lain at a much higher level.

The final ruin of the whole, which caused the collapse of the brick wall at the back of the tabernae, may best be attributed to the earthquake of Leo IV in 847 A.D. (LPD ii. 108; see VENUS ET ROMA, TEMPLUM).


See REi. 540; Suppl. i, 16; BC 1899, 169-204; 1900,3-8; 1901,20-30; CR 1899, 465; 1901, 136; 1902, 95; DR 396-408; Mitt. 1902, 41-57; 1905, 53-62; Atti 566-570; HC 123-132; Pl. 194-198; RL 1912, 758-766; LS ii. 191-193; AJA 1913, 14-28; BA 1914, Cr. 73; JRS 1919, 176-177; 1922, 29-30; DuP 99-100; D’Esp. Fr. ii. 59-61; Toeb. i. 27-34; ASA 83, 84; HFP 34). See also PILA HORATIA.

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Cite this page as: Darius Arya, The American Institute for Roman Culture, “Basilica Aemilia-Paulli” Ancient Rome Live. Last modified 01/17/2021.


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