Roman Republic

Rome in the Early Republic (509 - 241 BC)

Temple of Bellona

Adapted from Emilia Salerno (referenced below, at p. 151, fig. 1)

Dies Natalis and Location of the Temple

The dies natalis of the temple of Bellona, the goddess of war, was recorded as 3rd June by:

  1. the fasti Venusini, which described it as:

  2. Bellon(ae) in cir(co) Flam(inio)”; and

  3. Ovid, who (as we shall see) recorded in his ‘Fasti’ that it had been founded by Appius Claudius Caecus in the early 3rd century BC, and that:

  4. “A small open space commands from the temple a view of the top of the Circus ...”

In what follows, I refer to this Appius Claudius as ‘Caecus’: this is anachronistic, since he became blind only in old age, but it conveniently distinguishes him from later A. Claudii.

A passage in Plutarch’s ‘Life of Cicero’ has proved to be the key to locating the temple more precisely:

  1. Marcus [Roscius] Otho was the first to separate ... the equites from the rest of the citizens: when he ... was praetor [in 63 BC], he gave them a particular place of their own at the ludi scaenici, which they still retain.  The people took this as a mark of dishonour to themselves, and, when Otho appeared in the theatre, they hissed him insultingly, while the knights received him with loud applause ... [Things escalated, and] disorder reigned in the theatre.  When [the consul] Cicero heard of this, he came and summoned the people to the temple of Bellona ...”, (‘Life of Cicero’, 13: 2-4).

Peter Wiseman(referenced below, at p. 15, citing Filippo Coarelli, referenced below, whose work I have been unable to consult directly) argued that:

  1. “Only the ludi Apollinares were given by a praetor, the others all being the responsibility of the aediles”

He also pointed out (citing John Hanson, referenced below, at pp. 9-25) that:

  1. “... each temporary theatre erected for ludi scaenici under the Republic was placed in as close a topographical connection as possible with the temple of the deity in whose honour the festival was given”

Thus, the temple of Bellona must have been very close to the temple of Apollo (link needed) at which the ludi Apollinares were held. 

The originally Greek cult of Apollo had been introduced to Rome before 449 BC, when Livy recorded a meeting of the Senate:

  1. “... in prata Flaminia, where the temple of Apollo, which was then called the Apollinare, now stands (‘History of Rome, 4: 25: 3)

Livy recorded that the temple that was subsequently built on the site of the shrine known as the Apollinare, had been:

  1. vowed during an epidemic in 433 BC (‘History of Rome’, 4: 25: 3); and

  2. dedicated by Cnaeus Julius Caesar in 431 BC (‘History of Rome, 4: 29: 7). 

Cicero referred to a temple of Apollo in a speech in which he had attacked his opponents for the consulship of 63 BC.  The speech is now lost but, in his commentary on this passage, Q. Asconius Pedianus (search on ‘Apollo’) noted that the temple to which Cicero referred:

  1. “... was not the temple of Apollo on the Palatine Hill, for that was erected by [Octavian], after his victory at Actium [and dedicated in 28 BC.  The] temple [to which Cicero referred] was the one outside the Porta Carmentalis, between the forum Holitorium and the circus Flaminius.  That was the only temple of Apollo at Rome at this time.”

This location is confirmed by the testimony of the Emperor Augustus, who recorded that:

  1. “I built the theatre near the temple of Apollo which was to bear the name of my son-in‑law Marcus Marcellus”, (‘Res Gestae’, 21).

Thus the temple of Bellona must have been built in close proximity to this ancient temple of Apollo, near the much later Theatre of Marcellus.  Marilda De Nuccio (referenced below, at p. 191) observed that:

  1. “The excavations carried out [near the Theatre of Marcellus] in 1932-33 and 1937-8 ...  unearthed  the remains of a then unidentified temple to the east of the more famous temple of Apollo ...”

It was only following the insight of Filippo Coarelli that this temple was securely identified as the temple of Bellona.

Vowing of the Temple of Bellona (296 BC)

According to Livy, two years after the Romans declared war on the Samnites for the third time in 298 BC, the Samnites’ overtures to the Etruscans led to the threat of:

  1. “... a very serious war against Rome ... in Etruria, in which many nations were to take part.  The chief organiser was [a Samnite general] called Gellius Egnatius.  [Following his initiative], almost all the Etruscan cities had decided on war, the contagion had infected the nearest Umbrian peoples, and the Gauls were invited to take part as mercenaries.  All these [forces] were concentrating at the Samnite camp [at an unknown location in Etruria]”, (History of Rome’, 10: 18: 1-3).

By this time, Lucius Volumnius Flamma Violens, one of the newly-elected consuls, had already left Rome for Samnium, so his colleague, Appius Claudius Caecus led an army against the enemy armies that were assembling in Etruria.  According to Livy, he was initially unsuccessful, and Volumnius left Samnium in order to come to his aid.  Although Caecus apparently resented Volomnius’ uninvited presence, he eventually yielded and battle commenced:    

  1. “Volumnius engaged with [the enemy] before Caecus ... and, by some accidental interchange of their usual opponents, the Etruscans fought against Volumnius and the Samnites ... against Caecus.  We are told that, during the heat of the fight, Caecus raised his hands toward Heaven ... and prayed thus:

  2. ‘Bellona, if you grant us the victory this day, I vow to you a temple.’ 

  3. ... after this vow, as if inspired by the goddess, Caecus displayed a degree of courage equal to that of his colleague and of the troops.  ... [Caecus and Volumnius] therefore routed and put to flight the enemy ... [and] drove them into their camp.  There, on the intervention of Gellius and his Sabellian cohorts (cohortiumque Sabellarum), the fight was renewed for a short time.  But ... the camp was then stormed by the conquerors; and whilst Volumnius ... led his troops against one of the gates, Caecus, frequently invoking Bellona Victrix, inflamed the courage of his men, who broke in through the rampart and trenches.  The [Samnite] camp was taken and plundered, and an abundance of spoil was ... given up to the soldiers”, (‘History of Rome’, 10: 19: 16-22).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2007, at p. 2o1) observed that Caecus’:

  1. “... vow to Bellona guarantees the report in our sources that he fought a major engagement against the Etruscans, Samnites and Sabines [who are referred to in his ‘Elogium’, see below]; and the need to make the vow suggests that this battle was hard-fought and desperately close.”

This engagement was no more than a holding operation: the Roman victory against the Samnites and their allies came at the famous battle at Sentinum in the following year, when:

  1. the fasti Triumphales record that the consul Q. Fabius Maximus Rullianus triumphed over the Samnites, Etruscans and Gauls; and

  2. the fasti Capitolini record that his heroic colleague, P. Decius Mus, “devoted himself to death” in order to secure victory.

While Fabius’ vow as triumphator of a temple to Jupiter Victor in 295 BC is unsurprising, Caecus’ vow of the temple of Bellona is more unusual.  Amy Russell (referenced below, at p. 118) suggested that it:

  1. “... should be understood in the context of the competition between [Caecus] and Volumnius.”

This suggestion is supported by the intrusion of personalities into Livy’s account of the election of the consuls of 295 BC:

  1. “Volumnius confirmed what Fabius had [about the merits of his prospective colleague]: he bestowed a well-deserved encomium on Decius, and pointed out the benefit of harmony between the consuls in military operations and the mischief that arises when they are at variance.  He mentioned as an instance the recent misunderstanding between himself and his colleague, which almost led to a national disaster, and he solemnly admonished Decius and Fabius that they should live together with one mind and one heart.  They were, he continued, born commanders, great in action, [albeit] unskilled in wordy debate, possessing, in fact, all the qualifications of a consul.  On the other hand, those like [Caecus] who were practised in law ... ought to be employed in the City and in the courts; [in other words], they should be elected praetors to administer justice.  The discussion in the Assembly lasted the whole day, and the elections were held for both consuls and praetors on the following morning.  [Volumnius’] recommendation was acted upon; Q. Fabius and P. Decius were elected consuls and [Caecus] was returned as praetor; they were all elected in their absence. The Senate passed a resolution, which the Assembly confirmed by a plebiscite, that Volumnius' command [in Samnium] should be extended for a year”, (‘History of Rome’, 10: 22: 4-9).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2007, at p.235) observed that:

  1. “... Livy’s account of the elections for 295 BC is one the longest reports of elections in books 2-10.  ... it may very well rest on no good evidential basis.”

Nevertheless, if Livy’s account of Volumnius’ view on Caecus’ lack of aptitude for military command represented a wider body of opinion at the time of their consulship, then that might have prompted Caecus to vow a temple to Bellona in order to draw attention to his part in the successful holding operation in Etruria.  Another possibility is that Caecus had hoped that, by claiming the support of Bellona, he would strengthen his case for the award of a triumph. 

Whatever the reasons for Caecus’ vow, it certainly rebounded to his ultimate advantage: as Amy Russell (referenced below, at p. 118) pointed out, it was Caecus rather than Volumnius who:

  1. “... managed to claim the individual protection of [Bellona], and it was that claim rather than Volumnius’ personal valour that was memorialised in a permanent addition to Rome’s cityscape.”

Thus, some 300 years later, Caecus’ statue was erected in one of the niches dedicated to illustrious men in the Forum of Augustus (dedicated in 2 BC): only fragments of the accompanying ‘Elogium’ (CIL VI 40943) survive, but it can be completed from a copy of it (CIL XI 1827) that was erected at Arretium. The titulus on the base of the statue recorded his name and public offices:

  1. “Appius Claudius Caecus, son of C., censor, consul twice, dictator, interrex three times, praetor twice, curule aedile twice, quaestor, military tribune three times

The elogium itself, which was on a plaque below the niche, recorded that he had:

  1. taken many Samnite fortresses [probably as consul for the first time in 307 BC, as suggested by Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 550)];

  2. defeated the army of the Sabines and Etruscans [in 296 BC];

  3. prevented the concluding of peace with king Pyrrhus [in 279 BC - see below];

  4. paved the Appian way and conducted water to the city during his censorship [in 312 BC]; and

  5. built the temple of Bellona.

Dedication of the Temple

There is no reason to doubt that, as recorded in Caecus’ elogium, he commissioned the building of the temple that he had vowed in 296 BC.  As noted above, Ovid recorded its dies natalis: Ovid:

  1. “On [3rd June, the temple of] Bellona is said to have been consecrated in the Etruscan war [sic], and she always behaves graciously towards Latium.  Her founder was Appius, who, when peace was refused to Pyrrhus, saw clearly in his mind, although he was blind [see below].  From the temple, a small open space commands a view of the top of the Circus [Flaminius].  There stands a little pillar of no little importance [see below]: from here, it is the custom to hurl a spear, war’s harbinger, when it has been resolved to take arms against a king and peoples”, (‘Fasti,’ 6: 199).

It is likely that Ovid was in error in having the temple dedicated during the Etruscan war, which was effectively over by 294 BC: as Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2007, at p. 211) pointed out;

  1. “Since Livy does not mention [its] dedication ... , it may well have occurred after 293 BC, [in which case, it would presumably have been included in Livy’s now-lost Book 11].”

Since Caecus lived on until at least 279 BC, it is likely that he dedicated the temple himself: according to the data complied by Eric Orlin (referenced below, Appendix 1, pp. 199-202), the surviving evidence indicates that most of the Republican temples that had been vowed by an individual were dedicated by the same individual or his son.  All of the dedicators identified in Orlin’s appendix held public office at the time that they made the dedication, and the most likely scenario is that Caecus dedicated his temple as dictator: the date of this dictatorship is unknown, but Robert Broughton (referenced below, at p. 187 and note 2) pointed out that it must have been after 293 BC (when Livy’s narrative ended) and before 284 BC (when information in the fasti Capitolini resumes after a lacuna).

Temple of Bellona and the Gens Claudia

It is possible that Caecus intended his temple to commemorate his illustrious family, and that this led to his choice of location: as Roland Mayer (referenced below, at p. 214) pointed  out, it was just below the probable site of the ancestral burial ground of the gens Claudia on the slopes of the Capitol.  More compelling evidence for the link between the temple and the gens Claudia is found in this passage by Pliny the Elder:

  1. “... I find that Appius Claudius, the consul with Publius Servilius in the 259th year of the city [i.e., 495 BC], was the first person to institute the custom of privately dedicating the shields in honour of his own family in a temple or public place.  He set up representations of his ancestors in the temple of Bellona and desired them to be erected on an elevated spot so that [the images of the illustrious Claudians on the shields] could be seen and the inscriptions stating the honours [of these men] could be read”, (‘Natural History’, 35:3). 

Pliny’s dating here is in error: the consulship of P. Servilius  and Ap. Claudius Sabinus Regillensis pre-dated the dedication of the temple of Bellona by some 200 years.  (It seems to me that Pliny might have made this mistake because the commemoration of this first Appius Claudius would presumably have taken pride of place in this collection ancestral images.)  We therefore need to consider which Appius Claudius actually did initiate the practice of placing such images in the temple:

  1. It is possible that it dated back to the time of Caecus’ dedication of the temple.

  2. However, it is more likely that the started only with Appius Claudius Pulcher, who served as consul in 79 BC with Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus, particularly since, in the next paragraph, Pliny recorded that:

  3. “More recently, M. Aemilius [Lepidus], who was consul with Quintus Lutatius [in 78 BC], not only erected such shields in the Basilica Aemilia but also in his own house”, (‘Natural History’, 35: 4). 

Appius Claudius Pulcher (cos 79 BC)

Ronald Syme (referenced below, 1939, at p. 20) observed that, after Sulla’s retirement, the consuls of 79 BC:

  1. “... furnished a suitable and visible inauguration of the restored aristocracy ...”

In other words, they both represented the Optimates, whose power Sulla had restored.  So too did the consuls of 78 BC, albeit that there was extremely bad blood between them and that Lepidus soon deserted the Optimates and died in exile in the following year.  Penelope Davies (referenced below, at p. 209) observed that, in keeping with the political situation at this time, the public display of ancestral shields by  Appius and Lepidus:

  1. “... made an appeal to the prestige of patrician lineage.”

She also observed that Lepidus’ homonymous son issued a denarius (RRC 419 a and b) in 61 BC that represented his ancestral shields in or on the basilica, and that:

  1. “... the portraits on [these shields] probably represented a long chain of family members, and thus staked a gentilician claim on a building first contracted by Fulvius Nobilior, co-censor with Aemilius Lepidus’ homonymous ancestor by adoption [in 179 BC].

In a similar way, Appius’ ancestral  shields in the temple of Bellona would have staked a claim on the temple of Bellona on behalf of the gens Claudia: certainly, the inscription that recorded the honours of Caecus would have included the fact that he had vowed, commissioned and dedicated the temple.

Interestingly, it seems that the family was suffering financially at this time: Varro recalled a conversation in which Appius’ homonymous son, the consul of 54 BC, complained (perhaps, but not necessarily, in jest) that he:

  1. “... was left in straitened circumstances, together with two [younger] brothers and two sisters, and gave one of them to [L. Licinius Lucullus, cos 74 BC] without a dowry; it was only after he relinquished a legacy in my favour that I, for the very first time, began to drink honey-wine at home myself, though meantime mead was none the less commonly served at banquets almost daily to all guests”, (‘On Agriculture’, 3: 16: 2-3).

Appius Claudius Pulcher (cos 38 BC)

The family tree presented by Ronald Syme (referenced below, 1989, Table VII) indicates that this Appius Claudius Pulcher was the nephew and adopted son of the homonymous consul of 54 BC.  A letter of Cicero’s of 43 BC (Letters to Friends, 11: 22) reveals that this Appius (whom Cicero called Appius Claudius, son of C., his natural father) had been a follower of Mark Antony, but was seeking at that time a recommendation to Decimus Junius Brutus, one of Caesar’s assassins.  It was during his consulship that Octavian married Livia, who was a Claudian: her father had been called Appius Claudius Pulcher before his adoption by Marcus Livius Drusus.  Ronald Syme (referenced below, 1939, at p. 229) observed that Octavian:

  1. “... the grandson of a small-town banker, had [already] joined the Julii by adoption and [now] insinuated himself into the clan of the Claudii by [this] marriage.  His party now began to attract ambitious aristocrats, among the earliest of whom  ... [was] Appius Claudius Pulcher, one of the consuls of the year.”

From this point, Appius remained attached to Octavian.  He fought in Octavian’s war in Sicily with Sextus Pompeius in 38-6 BC and then served as proconsul in Spain in 34-2 BC, where he secured a triumph (as recorded in the fasti triumphales Barberini).  This was his last-known military post, and he disappears from the surviving sources in 31 BC.  

This Appius Claudius Pulcher was the last notable member of the main branch of the gens Claudia, and it is likely that the family’s particular association with the temple ended with his death in ca. 30 BC: Ronald Syme, (referenced below, 1989, at p. 55 and p. 352) pointed out that Tiberius Claudius Nero, Augustus’ stepson and the future Emperor Tiberius, became the head of the gens Claudia at this point, and nothing in the surviving sources indicates that he took any particular interest in this temple. 

Restoration of the Temple of Bellona (ca. 32 BC ?)


                    Remains of the temple of Bellona, adapted.                         Probable appearance of the site in ca. 17 BC

           from an image published on-line  by Mark Cartwright                   Published by Larry Koester on Flickr

According to Ömür Harmansah (in Lothar Haselberger et al., referenced below, at p. 67), archeological evidence reveals that the temple that was later identified as that of Bellona was a:

  1. “... peripteral, hexastyle temple [that] had a deep pronaos and was raised on a high platform.  The podium had a concrete core with a mixed aggregate of tufa that dates to the Augustan period; its encasing opus quadratum masonry has been completely robbed, and very little survives of the marble architectural decoration of the superstructure.”

This project was linked to the restoration of the temple of Bellona: Ömür Harmansah (as above) recorded that”

  1. “An L-shaped peperino portico enveloped the NW edge of the precinct, both defining the compound of the temples of Apollo [Sosianus] and Bellona and screening the rising slopes of the Capitoline hill.  Based on the dating of the sporadic pieces of architectural decoration, it is suggested that the [temple of Bellona] was reconstructed in roughly the same years with the renovations of the [temple of Apollo Sosianus], and was probably [re-dedicated] by Appius Claudius Pulcher, consul of 38 BC, in the year 33 or 32 BC, after his triumph over Spain.”

Theatre ‘ad Apollinis’

According to Livy, in 179 BC, the censor M. Aemilius Lepidus:

  1. “... contracted for the building of theatrum et proscaenium ad Apollinis (a theatre seating area and stage at the temple of Apollo)”, (‘History of Rome, 40: 51: 3);

and his colleague, M. Fulvius Nobilior:

  1. “... put out for contract a larger number of works, ...[including] a basilica to the rear of the new banking houses, ... [a] colonnade ... at the temple of Apollo Medicus”, (‘History of Rome, 40: 51: 3-5);

Constance Campbell (referenced below) pointed out that this was one of three possibly-permanent theatres that, according to our surviving sources,were commissioned in the 2nd century BC.  She concluded (at pp. 77-8) that:

  1. “The earliest of the three theatres, the one at the Temple of Apollo, is the most problematic of the three.  It was almost definitely [intended] to be built on completely level ground, either at the site of the later Theatre of Marcellus or further out in the Campus Martius.  There is no trace of this theatre, either in literary references or in physical remains, other than the passage from Livy [above] ... If, as is likely, it was to be built at or near the site of the later Theatre of Marcellus, then it was certainly not in existence in the middle of the 1st century BC, when Julius Caesar determined to build a theatre at this site [see below]: we know from Cassius Dio that Caesar had to buy up a certain amount of private property and demolish the houses and temples standing on [the site] in order to have space for his theatre.  Therefore, a theatre had not stood on this site for some appreciable time (long enough for houses and temples to be built) before Caesar decided to build one there.  Thus, [there are three possibilities]: the theatre was:

  2. never completed;

  3. torn down within about two decades of its construction; or

  4. was not [meant to be] permanent.

  5. The last is quite likely: 179 BC is very early for an attempt at a free standing permanent theatre.  ... [In any case], it is at least possible that ... the Romans did not have good enough concrete to build a free-standing theatre at this time, and [that, even if it was meant to be permanent] it was either abandoned [during construction] or destroyed [within a short space of time]. “

The important point for our purposes is that, as John Hanson (referenced below, at p. 18) pointed out, the duration of this theatre:

  1. “... is of no immediate concern to the problem here treated.  The value of the passage is rather that it provides absolute assurance of the construction, or at least a plan for the construction, of a stage and an auditorium ‘near the temple of Apollo’."

Temple of Apollo Sosianus 

At the time of this restoration, the construction of the Theatre of Marcellus had probably not begun, although either Julius Caesar or Octavian had cleared the site, which had involved the demolition of an ancient temple of Apollo.  As we shall see below, C. Sosius built a new temple of Apollo that was named for him on a new site adjacent to the temple of Bellona.

In the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder referred to a statue:

  1. “... [of] the Dying Children of Niobe in templo Apollinis Sosiani, [although it is uncertain] whether it is the work Scopas or of Praxiteles”, (‘Natural History’, 36: 4 [28]). 

This statue would have been the temple that C. Sosius  built on a new site adjacent to the temple of Bellona as a replacement the demolished temple of Apollo. 

Sosius had fought against Octavian at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, but had subsequently earned his forgiveness: Tonio Hölscher (referenced below, at p. 319) argued that his temple must have been built after Actium, and that its frieze (fragments of which are in the Museo Centrale Montemartini) depicted the triumphal procession from Octavian’s triple triumph of 29 BC (for his victories: in Illyricum, at Actium, and over Cleopatra in Egypt).  In other words, this temple was probably built in ca. 30 - 28 BC, shortly after the restoration of the temple of Bellona.

Columna Bellica

As we have seen, Ovid recorded that, in front of the Temple of Bellona:

  1. “... stands a little pillar [that is] of no little importance: from here, it is the custom to hurl a spear, war’s harbinger, when it has been resolved to take arms against a king and peoples”, (‘Fasti,’ 6: 199).

According to Festus (in his epitome of the lexicon of the Augustan grammarian M. Verrius Flaccus):

  1. “A short column called the columna bellica stands in front of [the temple of Bellona, the goddess of battle], and it is customary to throw a spear over this column whenever the Romans declare war”, (‘De verborum significatu’, p. 30 L, translated by Peter Aicher, referenced below, at p. 206).

In fact, according to tradition, the ancient Roman ritual for declaring war had originally involved a fetial priest hurling a spear into enemy territory.  In an allusion to this tradition, Virgil referred in the ‘Aeneid’ to an incident in which Turnus, the King of the Rutuli and enemy of the Trojans, approached their camp in Aeneas’ absence and encouraged his men to attack it:

  1. “... crying:

  2. ‘Men, is there anyone among you who, with me, will be first against the foe? ‘

  3. Then, whirling a javelin, [he] sends it skyward to start the battle ... ”, (‘Aeneid’, 9: 52).

Virgil would have envisaged Turnus’ hurling of the javelin as a ‘Latin’ precursor of this apparently ancient Roman ritual for declaring war.  Servius/ Servius Danielis, in their much later commentaries on this passage, described this Roman ritual in two parts:

  1. Initially:

  2. “When [the Romans] wanted to declare war, [a fetial designated as] the pater patratus … would set out for the enemy’s borders and [seek redress. ... If this failed],  a spear thrown across these borders would indicate the beginning of battle.  However, the fetial would [only] throw the spear on the 33rd day after restitution had been sought from the enemy”, (‘ad Aen’, 9: 52, translated by John Rich, referenced below, 2011, p. 202, note 69).

  3. However:

  4. “... in the time of Pyrrhus, when the Romans intended to wage war against an overseas enemy ... , they devised a scheme whereby one of Pyrrhus' soldiers was captured and made to buy a plot of land in the Circus Flaminius, so that they could declare war legitimately, as though in a place belonging to the enemy.  Later, a column was dedicated in that place, in front of the Temple of Bellona”, (‘ad Aen’, 9: 52, Thomas Wiedemann, referenced below, at p. 480).

In other words, at least according to Servius in the 4th century AD, the ritual for declaring war  in front of the temple of Bellona had originated within little more than a decade of the dedication of the temple itself, and the columna bellica had subsequently been dedicated on this ‘enemy’ territory.

There is archeological evidence from the site that might relate to the columna bellica:

  1. According to Ömür Harmansah (in Lothar Haselberger et al., referenced below, at p. 67): 

  2. “On the Augustan travertine pavement directly in front of the platform of the Temple of Bellona, and adjacent to the porticoes of the [Theatre of Marcellus], the footprint of a ‘roughly circular’ monument was traced by [Eugenio La Rocca (referenced below, a source that I have not been able to consult directly)], who identifies this spot with the columna bellica.”

  3. According to Emilia Salerno (referenced below, at p. 151):

  4. “Augustus financed the construction of the [nearby] Theatre of Marcellus, which was opened in 13 BC.  In the outer limit of the theatre, excavations have [unearthed] a ring-shaped mark on the former pavement, roughly in line with the temple of Bellona.  This mark has been indicated as a possible trace of the wooden column known as columna bellica.  In the light of this, it is plausible that a column was erected in the area of the Temple of Bellona at a certain moment in Roman history, most likely before the Augustan era.”

In other words, even if this ‘footprint’ was indeed that of the columna bellica, it is arguable whether the pavement that contained it belonged to or pre-dated the restoration of the temple in ca. 32 BC. 

Servius and the Ritual Declaration of War on King Pyrrhus

André Heller (referenced below, at pp. 361-2) pointed out:

  1. “... there is not a single testimony for the [actual] performance of this [ritual declaration of war] in Republican times [either in ‘real’ enemy territory or at the columna bellica. ... Indeed], there are only two [later] examples for this ritual, both from Cassius Dio [in ca. 200 AD].” 

These testimonies related to events  that were separated by some 200 years, both of which took place at the columna bellica:

  1. in 31 BC, Octavian used the ritual to declare war on Cleopatra (discussed below); and

  2. in 178 AD, Marcus Aurelius used it to declare war on the Iazyges (‘Roman History’, 72; 33: 3).

It was in this context that John Rich (referenced below, 2011, at p. 206) argued that Servius’ testimony for the relocation to Rome of the fetial ritual for declaring war in 279 BC:

  1. “... is best regarded as merely an antiquarian’s conjectural explanation. Pyrrhus joined Rome’s already ongoing war with Tarentum [in southern Italy], so no separate war declaration would have been needed against him, and the alleged legal fiction lacks logic: the Romans could not legitimately acquire a prisoner from Pyrrhus’ force unless they were already at war; non-citizens could not acquire ownership of Roman land with full title; and, even if the land were deemed to belong to an Epirot, it would not pass to subsequent enemies of Rome.”

It is certainly true that the claim that an Epirot prisoner of war was forced to buy a prime piece of Roman real estate, for whatever reason, does not ring true.  However, according to Plutarch, the debate in which Appius Claudius Caecus had intervened in 279 BC (see above) had taken place after Pyrrhus had:

  1. “... sent Cineas to negotiate a peace for him.  However, the Romans would not consent to receive the [Roman prisoners that he sent back to them without avoiding an obligation to him by releasing] ...  an equal number of Tarentines and Samnites whom they had taken.  On the subject of friendship and peace, however, they declared they would not negotiate until Pyrrhus had taken his arms and his army out of Italy and sailed back to Epirus on the ships that brought him”, (‘Life of Pyrrhus’, 21: 4).

It is thus at least possible that the Romans did then declare war on the Epirots.  If so, then this would have been the first such declaration made in respect of an enemy from oversees.  There would have been no point id sending fetials to Epirus s ince Pyrrhus and his army were already in Italy.  It is therefore possible that the Romans adapted the ancient ritual so that the spear was hurled into the space in front of the newly-dedicated Temple of Bellona, perhaps with Cineas as witness.

The problem with this hypothesis is, of course, that there is no surviving evidence apart from that of Servius that the Romans ever formally declared war on Pyrrhus.  Furthermore, neither Plutarch nor Cassius Dio (both of whom recorded Caecus’ intervention) recorded any fetial involvement, either in the negotiations that preceded the putative declaration of war of Pyrrhus or in the putative declaration itself.  Having said that, we can trace the tradition of Caecus’ speech back to at least 45 BC, when Cicero wrote that:

  1. “In old age, Appius Claudius [Caecus] had the additional disadvantage of being blind; yet it was he who, when the Senate was inclining towards a peace with Pyrrhus and was for making a treaty with him, did not hesitate to say what Ennius has preserved in the following verses:

  2. ‘Whither have swerved the souls, so firm of yore? 

  3. Is sense grown senseless?

  4. Can feet stand no more?’

  5. ... You know the poem, and the speech of Appius himself is extant.  He delivered it 17 years after his second consulship, there having been an interval of ten years between the two consulships, and he having been censor before his previous consulship.  This [shows] that, at the time of the war with Pyrrhus, he was a very old man.  Yet, this is the story handed down to us”, (‘On Old Age’, 6: 16).

Thus, even if the ‘extant speech’ was a later antiquarian fabrication, the tradition of its content went back to Ennius, who was writing in the 2nd century BC.  Furthermore, if the Romans had been on the point of concluding a treaty with Pyrrhus in 279 BC, then they might well have formally declared war on him instead, following Caecus’ intervention.  Indeed, they may have honoured the aged Caecus by performing the fetial ritual outside ‘his’ temple.  If so, then it is at least possible that Servius based his testimony on an authentic tradition.

Temple of Bellona and Octavian Politics (34-27 BC)

Octavian and the Restoration of the Temple of Bellona 

The restoration of the temple of Bellona took place in what was probably the most critical period of Octavian’s career:

  1. his relations with Mark Antony in the east had been ruptured beyond repair by 34 BC, and a resumption of civil war was therefore inevitable; but

  2. his control over Rome itself and the western part of the Roman state was still precarious.

If he was to take the war to Mark Antony in the east, he would need to make rapid strides in order to bolster his position at home.  Tonio Hölscher (referenced below, at pp. 317-8) observed that, after his victory at Actium in 31 BC, Octavian:

  1. “... tried to persuade individual members of the Roman élite to contribute to the architectural renewal of the city of Rome.  In particular, for such undertakings, he targeted former supporters of [Mark Antony] who, after Actium, had switched to [his side] ... .”

It seems to me that Appius Claudius Pulcher’s restoration of the temple of Bellona in ca. 32 BC represents an earlier phase of Octavian’s project, in which he relied (as a matter of necessity) on his long-standing supporters.   The restoration and rededication of the temple of Bellona, the goddess of war, by one of Octavian’s most prominent supporters would have had particular resonance in the context of:

  1. his defeat of Sextius Pompeius in 36 BC;

  2. his successful campaigns in Illyricum in 35-3 BC;

  3. his imminent departure for the east, where he would stake everything on a war with Mark Antony.

Octavian’s Restoration of the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius

It is interesting to note that, at this time, Octavian himself undertook what was probably his first temple restoration, which involved the much older temple of Jupiter Feretrius.  This restoration is recorded in a surviving fragment of Cornelius Nepos’ biography of the antiquarian Titus Pomponius Atticus, which Nepos wrote shortly after Atticus’ death in 32 BC.  In it, Nepos recorded that Octavian had been on excellent terms with Atticus, to the extent that, when Octavian was in Rome:

  1. “... scarcely a  day passed in which he did not write to Atticus, sometimes asking him something relating to antiquity ... Thus it was that, when the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, which Romulus had built on the Capitol, was unroofed and falling down through age and neglect, Octavian, on the suggestion of Atticus, took care that it should be repaired”, (‘Lives of Eminent Commanders: Titus Pomponius Atticus’, 20).

This restoration of Romulus’ temple would have had great propaganda value as : as Alison Cooley (referenced below, 2009, at p. 188) observed, it would have:

  1. “... assimilated [Octavian’s] role [in the Roman state] to that of ... [its original founder], Romulus.”

Octavian’s Declaration of War on Cleopatra

According to Cassius Dio, after the assembled senators had decided on (or were bullied into) war with Cleopatra, they:

  1. “... put on their military cloaks ...  and went to the temple of Bellona, where they performed all the rites preliminary to war in the customary fashion, through [Octavian] as [a member of the Collegium Fetialium].  These proceedings, which were nominally directed against Cleopatra, were really directed against Mark Antony”, (‘Roman History’, 50; 4: 4).

If we combine this with the testimonies of Verrius Flaccus and Ovid (above), it is clear that a fetial, perhaps Octavian himself, ritually declared war by hurling  a red-stained spear over the columna bellica into a patch of ground in front of the temple that was designated for this purpose as enemy territory. 

Cassius Dio was surely correct in his view that Octavian used this rite as part of a campaign to avoid the charge of having reignited civil war.  In view of the lack of surviving evidence for the earlier use of this ritual (discussed above), many modern scholars go further: for example:

  1. Thomas Wiedemann (referenced below, at pp. 484) argued this ritual might well have been:

  2. “... largely, if not entirely, an invention of [31 BC]”; and

  3. Harriet Flower (referenced below, at p. 49, citing Wiedemann) suggested that Octavian:

  4. “... was instrumental in some kind of ‘revival’ of [moribund and long-forgotten] rites in his declaration of war on Cleopatra.”

However, Emilia Salerno (referenced below, at p. 151) reasonably argued that:

  1. “When Octavian performed the ritual and hurled the spear [over the columna bellica], presumably wearing the fetials’ paraphernalia and reciting the right formulae, the audience must have been aware of what that gesture meant.  If this had not been the case, then the ritual and its records ... would have been utterly useless.  This type of shared experience needs to be felt and understood by a community in order to be effective.  In other words, for the spear-rite to be meaningful and useful to Octavian’s legitimisation of the civil war, it had to be recognised as a familiar, traditional gesture.”

Thus, despite the lack of surviving evidence for the prior use of this ritual at the columna bellica, it must have been recognised as ‘customary practice’ at that time. 

It is hard to identify precisely how the ritual was perceived at this time.  Octavian’s use of it might well have been witnessed by:

  1. the two contemporary Romans  sources:

  2. Verrius Flaccus (who would have been about 25); and

  3. Ovid (who would have been about 25); and

  4. by Virgil (who was living at Rome by this time, as a client of Octavian’s colleague, Maecenas). 

If any of them doubted the authenticity of the allegedly ‘customary’ ritual, he chose not to express it.  As we have seen, Servius later recorded that it had first been used at the columna bellica in 279 BC.  I argued above that:

  1. it is at least possible that this was based on an authentic record of the events of 279 BC; and

  2. in any case, the ritual in front of the temple of Bellona must have been part of accepted tradition before Octavian used it in 31 BC, as argued by (for example) Emilia Salerno.

However, the surviving evidence does not allow us to rule out the possibilities that Octavian either:

  1. revived a ritual that had rarely or never been used since 279 BC; or

  2. made use of a ‘tradition’ that had been ‘discovered’ in the relatively recent past.

If this was indeed an invented tradition, then the invention might have only slightly pre-dated the restoration of the temple of Bellona, in the intellectual climate that had also prompted Octavian to restore the ‘Romulean’ temple of Jupiter Feretrius.

Emilia Salerno (referenced below, at p. 151) noted that:

  1. “In 1968, [Filippo Coarelli, referenced below] identified [its remains as those] in the area of the Circus Flaminius, next to the [temple of Apollo Sosianus] and very close to the temple of Janus [see her figure 1, illustrated above].  This area lies outside the pomerium, the sacred border of Rome that, according to Roman religious law, also represented the limit between war and peace.  Indeed, no armies or (official) weapons were allowed within the pomerium, and all warlike actions ([including the] declaration and closing of hostilities ...) had to take place outside its limits.”

Meghan Poplacean (referenced below, at p. 5) observed that:

  1. “Bellona’s temple became the primary location for state conduct concerning warfare.  Within view of the temple, fetial priests would perform the rite at the columna bellica [see below] that declared the official beginning of war.  Returning generals would formally seek triumph within her walls, and visiting emissaries would treat with the Senate under her auspices.”

He also recorded that, in 353 BC:

  1. “After the return of the legions [to Rome from Faliscan territory], the rest of the year was spent in repairing the walls and towers [of the city].  The temple of Apollo was also dedicated”, (‘History of Rome, 7: 20: 39).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 1998, at p. 209) observed that:

  1. “... unless Asconius [quoted above] was gravely mistaken, Livy ought to have referred here to [the] rebuilding and subsequent rededication [of the templ.”

As we shall see,, Livy referred to this temple as that of Apollo Medicus in relation to the events of 179 BC.  It survived into the late 1st century BC, when it was replaced by a new temple that was known as the temple of Apollo Sosianus (see below), and both phases of its existence were revealed during the excavations.

Read more:

E. Salerno, “Rituals of War. The Fetiales and Augustus’ Legitimisation of the Civil Conflict’, in

  1. D. van Diemen el. al. (Eds.), “Conflicts in Antiquity: Textual and Material Perspectives”, (2018) Amsterdam , at 143-60

T. Watkins, “L. Munatius Plancus: Serving and Surviving in the Roman Revolution”, (2018) London

P. Davies, “Architecture Politics in Republican Rome”, (2017) Cambridge

D. M. Poplacean, “The Business of ButcheryBellona and War, Society and Religion from Republic to Empire”, (2017) thesis of McGill University, Montréal

A. Russell, “The Politics of Public Space in Republican Rome”, (2016) Cambridge

M. De Nuccio, “La Decorazione Architettonica del Tempio di Bellona”, Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma, 112 (2011), 191-26

R. Mayer, “Building Gloria”, in:

  1. P. Millett et al. (Eds), “Ratio et Res Ipsa: Classical Essays Presented by Former Pupils to James Diggle on his Retirementat’, (2011) Cambridge,  pp. 207-18

J. Rich, “The Fetiales and Roman International Relations”, in:

  1. J. H. Richardson, and F. Santangelo (Eds), “Priests and State in the Roman World”, (2011 ) Stuttgart, at pp. 187-242

T. Hölscher, “Monuments of the Battle of Actium: Propaganda and Response, in:

  1. J. Edmondson (ed.), “Augustus”, (2009) Edinburgh, at pp. 311-33

S. Oakley, “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume IV: Book X”, (2007) Oxford

S. Oakley, “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume IV: Book IX”, (2005) Oxford

P. Aicher, “Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, Vol. 1”, (2004) Mundelein ILL

C. Campbell, “Uncompleted Theatres of Rome”, Theatre Journal, 55:1 (2003) 67-79

L. Haselberger et al. (Eds), “Mapping Augustan Rome”, (2002) Portsmouth, RI

H. Flower, “The Tradition of the Spolia Opima: M. Claudius Marcellus and Augustus”, Classical Antiquity, 19:1 (2000) 34-64

S. Oakley, “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume II: Books VII and VIII”, (1998) Oxford

E. Orlin, “Temples, Religion and Politics in the Roman Republic”, (1997) Leiden, New York, Cologne

E. La Rocca, “Columna Bellica”, in:

  1. E. M. Steinby (ed), ‘Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, Volume I’, (1993) Rome, at pp. 300-1

R. Syme, “Augustan Aristocracy”, (1989) Oxford

T. Wiedemann, “The Fetiales: A Reconsideration”, Classical Quarterly, 36: 2 (1986) 478-90

T. P. Wiseman, “Circus Flaminius”, Papers of the British School at Rome, 42 (1974) 3-26

F. Coarelli, “Il Tempio di Bellona”, Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma, 80 (1965-7) 37-72

J. Hanson, “Roman Theater-Temples”, (1959) Princeton

T. R. Broughton, “Magistrates of the Roman Republic: Volume I (509 - 100 BC)”, (1951) New York

R. Syme, “The Roman Revolution”, (1939) Oxford

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