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The term comes from the Greek word “kingly hall” to describe the covered public hall or stoa that the Romans first built in the forum area in the second century BC for conducting legal and business activities. The Basilica Porcia was first basilica built in Rome (184 BC), overlooking the forum, but it was the Basilicas Aemilia and Sempronia. created slightly later, that gave a regularized shape to the central forum piazza.

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

On the north-west side of the area of the forum was the basilica Ulpia (probably completed in 112 A.D., CIL VI.959; FUR frgs. 25‑26; Cohen, Traj. 42‑44;  in basilica Traiani; Geog. min. ed. Riese, p120: sicut et quae dicitur forum Traianum quae habet basilicam praecipuam et nominatam), rectangular in shape with apses at each end. Its floor was one metre higher than the level of the area, and was approached by flights of steps of giallo antico.

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The main entrance was in the middle of the east side, from the area of the forum, where there was a decorative façade, represented with variations on three coins (Cohen, Traj. 42‑44). This consisted of a row of ten columns, probably of yellow marble, in the line of the wall, with six others in front on three projecting platforms. These columns supported an entablature and attics on which stood quadrigae and statues of triumphatores. The central quadriga was escorted by Victories. The great hall of the basilica was surrounded with a double row of columns, 96 in all, probably of white or yellow marble, with Corinthian capitals, which formed two aisles 5 metres wide, and supported a gallery on both sides of the nave and at the ends. The nave itself was 25 metres wide, and the total length of the rectangle, without the apses, about 130. The walls of the basilica were faced with marble, and its roof was of timber covered with bronze which is mentioned by Pausanias as one of the most notable features of the whole structure.

The central part of the basilica has been excavated, but the fragmentary granite columns now standing do not belong here, although they have been placed on the original bases. Some of the original pavement of white marble is still in situ (Lesueur, La Basilique Ulpienne, restauration executéeº en 1823, Paris 1878; cf. D’Esp. Fr. I.78). The architectural fragments now visible in the forum have not been properly assigned to its various parts (Toeb. I.62‑66). For the reliefs attributable to the frieze which were used for the decoration of the arch of Constantine, while other fragments are in the Villa Medici and the Louvre, see PBS III.225;  p242 IV.229‑258; SScR 142‑150 (and esp. 135, 151 n17, where it is suggested that the whole series may illustrate Domitian’s Dacian campaigns) 418; Mon. Piot, 1910, XVII.206‑239; Sieveking in Festschr. f. P. Arndt, 29, who attributes them to Hadrian, and in Mitt. 1925, 161‑166, where the fragment at Cannes is described.

On one of the fragments of the Marble Plan (FUR frg.25; pp28, 31; Jord. I.2.460), in the north-east apse of the basilica, is the inscription LIBERTATIS; and Sidonius Apollinaris (Carm. II.544, 545: nam modo nos iam festa vocant et ad Ulpia poscunt / Te foro donabis quos libertate Quirites) seems to refer to this shrine, and to indicate that the ceremony of manumitting slaves, previously performed in the Atrium Libertatis (q.v.) took place here. This was probably a sacellum, not merely a statue, and its presence may indicate that this goddess was recognised as the presiding divinity of this forum, a choice significant of the liberal character of the emperor.

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Cite this page as: Darius Arya, The American Institute for Roman Culture, “Basilica Ulpia” Ancient Rome Live. Last modified 04/06/2021.


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