Roman Republic

Rome in the Early Republic (509 - 241 BC)

Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus

In Construction

Regal Period

According to Varro (ca. 45 BC): 

  1. “... the Capitol is so named because here, when the foundations were being dug for the temple of Jupiter [Optimus Maximus], it is said that a human head (caput) was found.  [Before that], this hill used to be called the Tarpeian Hill from the Vestal virgin Tarpeia, ... ”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 41, translated by Roland Kent, referenced below, at p. 39).

According to Dionysius, Tarquinius Priscus:

  1. “... undertook to construct the temple to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, in fulfilment of the vow he had made to these gods in his last battle  against the Sabines.  Having, therefore, surrounded the hill on which he proposed to build the temple with high retaining walls in many places ... he filled in the space between the retaining walls and the summit with great quantities of earth and, by levelling it, made the place most suitable for receiving temples.  But he was prevented by death from laying the foundations of the temple; for he lived but four years after the end of the war.   Many years later, however, Tarquinius [Superbus], the one who was driven from the throne, laid the foundations of this structure and built the greater part of it.  Yet even he did not complete the work, but it was finished under the ... consuls of the third year after his expulsion”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 3: 69: 1-2). 

Dionysius gave a much fuller account of the temple in his account of the reign of Tarquinius Superbus:

  1. “... Tarquinius [Superbus] gave the people a respite from military expeditions and wars, and being desirous of performing the vows made by his grandfather, devoted himself to the building of the sanctuaries. For the elder Tarquinius, while he was engaged in an action during his last war with the Sabines, had made a vow to build temples to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva if he should gain the victory; and he had finished off the peak on which he proposed to erect the temples to these gods by means of retaining walls and high banks of earth, as I mentioned in the preceding Book; but he did not live long enough to complete the building of the temples.  Tarquinius, therefore, proposing to erect this structure with the tenth part of the spoils taken at Suessa, set all the artisans at the work.  It was at this time, they say, that a wonderful prodigy appeared under ground; for when they were digging the foundations and the excavation had been carried down to a great depth, there was found the head of a man newly slain with the face like that of a living man and the blood which flowed from the severed head warm and fresh.  Tarquinius, seeing this prodigy, ordered the workmen to leave off digging, and assembling the native soothsayers, inquired of them what the prodigy meant.  And when they could give no explanation, ... [Tarquinius] sent the most distinguished of the citizens to him as ambassadors”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 4: 59: 1-3).

After tortuous negotiations, the chosen Etruscan soothsayer pronounced that it was:

  1. “... ordained by fate that the place in which [they had]  found the head [would] be the head of all Italy. Since that time the place has called the Capitoline Hill from the head that was found there; for the Romans call heads capita”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 4: 61: 2). 

Tarquinius then made great progress with the construction, but:

  1. “... he was not able to complete the whole work, being driven from power too soon; but the Roman people brought it to completion in the third consulship”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 4: 61: 3).  

Dionysius then gave a detailed description of the ancient temple:

  1. “It stood upon a high base and was 800 feet in circuit, each side measuring close to 200 feet; indeed, one would find the excess of the length over the width to be but slight, in fact not a full 15 feet.  For, the temple that was built in the time of our fathers after the burning of this one [in 83 BC] was erected upon the same foundations, and differed from the ancient structure in nothing but the costliness of the materials, having three rows of columns on the front, facing the south, and a single row on each side.  The temple consists of three parallel shrines, separated by party walls; the middle shrine is dedicated to Zeus (Jupiter), while on one side stands that of Hera (Juno) and on the other that of Athena (Minerva), all three being under one pediment and one roof”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 4: 61: 3-4).


  1. “The temple of Jupiter Capitolinus had been vowed by Tarquin, the son of Demaratus, when he was at war with the Sabines, but it was actually built by Tarquinius Superbus, his son, or grandson.  He ... was deposed before it was quite complete”, (‘Life of Publicola ’, 14: 1).


  1. “King Tarquinius Priscus had vowed [the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus] in the war with the Sabines, and had laid its foundations ... The building was begun by Servius Tullius ... [and] continued by Tarquinius Superbus ... But the glory of completing the work was reserved for liberty”, (‘Histories’, 3: 72).

Dedication of the Ancient Temple

Date of the Dedication

According to Polybius (ca. 150 BC):

  1. “The first treaty between Rome and Carthage dates from the consulship of L. Junius Brutus and M. Horatius [Pulvillus], the first consuls after the expulsion of the kings and the founders of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.  This is 28 years before the crossing of Xerxes to Greece [in 480/79 BC]”, (‘Histories’, 3: 22: 1).

As Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at p. 440, note 13) observed, this would date the first year of the Republic (and the date of the dedication of the temple) t0 508/7 BC.

Pliny the Elder (77 AD) recorded that Cn. Flavius vowed a temple to Concordia as curule aedile in 304 BC, and that:

  1. “He recorded in an inscription engraved on a bronze tablet that the shrine had been constructed 204 years post Capitolinam dedicatam (after the dedication of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus).  Such were the events that happened 449 years after the foundation of the City ...”, (‘Natural History’, 33: 20-1).

This implied that the Capitoline temple had been dedicated in 509/8 BC.  Nicholas Purcell (referenced below, at p. 28) observed that the dating system evidenced in this inscription:

  1. “... shows that the concept of the ‘era’ was known [in the Rome of 304 BC and that it was used as the basis of a system for the] calibration of time that went back more than two centuries.  [Most importantly, the choice of dedication of the Capitoline temple as the start of the era celebrated] ... its great synchronism of with  ... :

  2. the expulsion of [Tarquinus Superbus, which marked the end of the Regal period]; and

  3. the foundation of the Republic.

  4. ... [Furthermore], it seems hardly likely that [this] calibration system had been fraudulently devised in living memory.”

This dating system had been superceded long before by Pliny’s time, and he had to explain to his readers that ‘204 years post Capitolinam dedicatam’ indicated the 449th year a condita urbe (from the foundation of Rome in 753 BC). 

As we shall see, almost all of our surviving narrative sources record that the was dedicated in the first year of the Republic, when Horatius was consul for the first time (although Dionysius and Tacitus place it during Horatius’ second consulship, three years later). The pre-Julian fasti Antiates Maiores recorded its dies natalis as the Ides (13th) September, and this date was also recorded by Plutarch (see below). 

Role of the Collegium Pontificalis

In 57 BC, Cicero successfully argued before the Collegium Pontificalis (College of Pontiffs) that the consecration of the shrine of Libertas that his enemy P. Clodius had built on his property during his exile had been invalid, and that he was therefore entitled to demolish it.  In the course of this speech, he asserted that:

  1. “Even if the famous M. Horatius Pulvillus (who, though many men were moved by jealousy to interfere with his actions on false pleas of religious hindrances, still stood his ground and with unfaltering resolution dedicated the Capitoline temple) had presided over a dedication like that of  Clodius,  there could still be no valid sanctity conferred where the circumstances were criminal; do not, therefore allow validity to the alleged proceedings of an ignorant youth, a novice in the priesthood [see below] ...”, (‘De Domo Sua’, 139, translated by Nevile Watts, referenced below, at pp. 299-301).

Jack Lennon (referenced below, at p. 429) pointed out that, in making his case, Cicero relied on:

  1. “... a legal technicality requiring anyone performing a public consecration to have been authorised to do so by a plebiscite.  ... Also, members of the [pontifical] college were typically expected to be present.   For this ritual, Clodius had [met this second requirement by enlisting] his brother-in-law, L. Pinarius Natta, whom Cicero described as the youngest and least experienced of the pontiffs.  [He was the ‘ignorant youth, a novice in the priesthood’ of the passage above].  Though [Cicero] does not argue that the young man proceeded incorrectly, he suggests that someone with so little experience might potentially have made mistakes.”

In an earlier passage, Cicero had sarcastically asked Clodius whether he have had the temerity to inquire of the senior pontifices P. Servilius Vatia Isauricus (cos 79 BC) or M. Terentius Varro Lucullus (cos 73 BC), both of whom who were present:

  1. “... by what form of words or ceremony ... you could consecrate the house of a citizen ... ?  Would you have said:

  2. ‘You are here, Lucullus, and you, Servilius, are here, to dictate the responses to me, and to lay your hands upon the doorpost while I dedicate the house of Cicero?’”, (‘De Domo Sua’, 133, translated by Nevile Watts, referenced below, at pp. 291-3).

From this, it seems that a senior priest usually presided at the dedication of a temple, and that he held its doorpost while dictating the words of the appropriate prayer to the dedicator, but that Clodius had relied on the guidance of his young brother-in-law for this ‘prompting’.  The implication is therefore that, at line 139, Cicero imagined that Horatius had presided over the dedication of the Capitoline temple as a pontifex, an assertion that was made explicitly by two later authors:

  1. Valerius Maximus recorded that:

  2. “When Horatius Pulvillus, as pontifex, was dedicating the temple on the Capitol to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, holding the doorpost as he pronounced the customary words, he heard that his son was dead.  He neither took his hand from the post, lest he interrupt the dedication of so great a temple, nor changed his countenance from public solemnity to private distress, lest he seem to have played the role of father rather than that of pontifex”, (‘Memorable Words and Sayings’, 5: 10: 1, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, at pp. 541-3).

  3. Seneca the Younger, in a moral essay of consolation, Seneca wrote that:

  4. “Greece had a famous father who, having received news of the death of his son while he was in the very act of offering sacrifice, merely bade the flutist be silent, withdrew the chaplet from his head, and finished duly the rest of the ceremony; but, thanks to Pulvillus, a Roman pontifex, Greece cannot give him too much glory: [for Horatius] was dedicating the Capitoline temple and was still grasping the doorpost when he received news of the death of his son.  But he pretended not to hear it, and repeated the words of the pontifical ritual in the appointed manner; not a single moan interrupted the course of his prayer, and he entreated the favour of Jove with the name of his son ringing in his ears”, (‘De Consolatione ad Marciam’, 13: 1-2, translated by John Basore, referenced below, at pp. 41-3).

The Romans of the late Republic probably assumed that the Collegium Pontificalis dated back into the Regal period, in which case Horatius could have been remembered as both a pontifex and a consul of 509 and 507 BC: see, for example, for example, Robert Broughton (referenced below, at p. 3 and p. 4, note 3).

Interruption to the Dedicatory Rites

As we have seen:

  1. Cicero referred to the fact that Horatius’ enemies had sought to prevent him from dedicating the temple by identifying religious hindrances, but that he had stood his ground; and

  2. both Valerius Maximus and Seneca recorded that the hindrance arose because of the arrival of news that his son had just died and was still unburied.

  3. Senaca referred to a Greek example of this behaviour and he probably had in mind a story that Valerius Maximus had recorded:

  4. “Xenophon, who for abundant and happy eloquence is the next step to Plato so far as the Socratic school is concerned, was conducting a regular sacrifice when he learned that the elder of his two sons, Gryllus by name, had fallen in battle at Mantinea [in 362 BC.  He did not think that the worship of the gods, already begun, should be left off on that account, but was content merely to remove his garland.  [Furthermore],  he replaced [it] ... when he heard ... [that Gryllus] had been killed while fighting most gallantly, and he called the gods to whom he was sacrificing to witness that he felt more pleasure from his son’s valour than bitterness from his death”, (‘Memorable Words and Sayings’, 5: 10: ext. 2, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, at pp. 545-7).

Diogenes Laërtius (3rd century AD)noted that:

  1. “Xenophon is said to have been sacrificing, with a chaplet on his head, which he removed when his son's death was announced.  But, afterwards, upon learning that he had fallen gloriously, he replaced the chaplet on his head. ... Aristotle mentions that there were innumerable authors of epitaphs and eulogies upon Gryllus, who wrote (in part at least) to gratify his father”, (‘Lives of the Eminent Philosophers’, 2: 54).

It is generally accepted that Diogenes referred here to a now-lost work by Aristotle entitled ‘Gryllus’, in which he attacked the authors of obsequious epitaphs of Gryllus in order to flatter Xenophom: see, for example, Anton-Hermann Chroust (referenced below, at  pp. 1-3, who offered an ‘educated guess’ that this work was written in or shortly after 360 BC.  We might therefore reasonably assume that Aristotle was the source of the motif that was embellished and incorporated into the Roman historiography of Horatius’ fortitude during his dedication of the temple. 

M. Horatius Pulvillus

As we have seen, Polybius named Horatius and L. Junius Brutus as the first consuls after the expulsion of the kings and the founders of the temple.  There was naturally great uncertainty surrounding the early Republican magistracies, to the extent that Robert Broughton (referenced below, at pp. 1-3) recorded the names of five men who appear in our surviving sources as consuls or suffect consuls in 509 BC: as we shall see, our surviving narrative sources other than Polybius (discussed below) all record that Horatius dedicated the temple in the absence of his consular colleague, P. Valerius Publicola, either

  1. in the first year of the Republic (traditionally 509 BC), when each was consul for the first time; or

  2. two years later, when Horatius was consul for the the second time and Publicola for the third.

Equally surprisingly, none of them seems to have known anything else about him.  itis therefore possible that his name appeared in the early consular fasti because of his association with the temple, as evidenced by an inscription to which Dionysius (see below) referred.

Dedication by Horatius as Consul for the First Time

According to Livy, in the first year after the expulsion of the kings:

  1. The temple of Jupiter on the Capitol had not yet been dedicated.  The consuls, Valerius and Horatius, drew lots to determine which of them should do it.  Horatius received the lot, and Publicola set out to conduct the war against the Veientines.  ... [The] friends of Publicola resented the fact that Horatius had been tasked with the dedication of so famous a temple, and tried unsuccessfully to hinder it.  Finally, when Horatius’ hand was on the doorpost and he was in the middle of his prayers, they broke in on the ceremony with the news that his son was dead, claiming that he could not dedicate a temple while the shadow of death was over his house. ... Without allowing himself to be diverted from his purpose except to order that the body should be buried, he kept his hand upon the doorpost, finished his prayer, and dedicated the temple”, (‘History of Rome’, 2: 8: 5-8).

Plutarch gave essentially the same account, albeit that he added the date of the dedication:

  1. “The temple of Jupiter Capitolinus had been vowed by Tarquin, the son of Demaratus, when he was at war with the Sabines, but it was actually built by Tarquinius Superbus, his son, or grandson.  He ... was deposed before it was quite completed.  Accordingly, when it was finished ... , Publicola was ambitious to consecrate it.  Some say [that his enemies arranged for Horatius to consecrate it in his absence, while others say that Horatius was chosen by lot] for the consecration.  It is possible to infer how the matter stood between them from what happened at the consecration .... [on] the Ides [13th] of September. ... Horatius, after performing the other ceremonies and laying hold upon the door of the temple, as the custom is, was pronouncing the usual words of consecration.   At this moment, Marcus, the brother of Publicola, said:

  2. ‘O Consul, your son lies dead of sickness in the camp.’

  3. ... Horatius, not at all disturbed, merely said:

  4. ‘Do what you please with the body, for I take no mourning upon me.’

  5. and finished his consecration.  Now the announcement was not true, but Marcus had hoped to deter Horatius from his duty by his falsehood.   Horatius’ reaction was wonderful,  whether he immediately saw through the deceit, or believed the story without letting it overcome him”, (‘Life of Publicola ’, 14: 1-5).

Both Livy and Plutarch have Horatius apparently presiding over the dedication as both pontifex (with his hand on the doorpost) and consul.

Dedication by Horatius as Consul for the Second Time

According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, in the 3rd year of the Republic, when Publicola and Horatius were both consuls for the second time, the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus:

  1. “... was dedicated by ... Horatius ... and inscribed with his name before the arrival of his colleague; for at that time it chanced that [Publicola] had set out with an army to the aid of the country districts”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 5: 35: 3).

Tacitus recorded that, although the temple had been almost finished in the Regal period:

  1. “... the glory of completing the work was reserved for liberty: after the expulsion of the kings, Horatius Pulvillus dedicated it in his second consulship ... The temple was built again on the same spot 415 [sic] years later, after it had been burned down in the consulship of L. Scipio and C. Norbanus [83 BC]”, (‘Histories’, 3: 72).

Tacitus’ figure of 415 years before 83 BC for the dedication of the temple seems to have resulted from a mathematical error.  It seems likely that Dionysius and Tacitus had a common source that:

  1. had Horatius dedicate the temple as consul for the second time;  and

  2. did not record either the part played by the pontifex who had his hand on the doorpost or the failed attempt by Horatius’ enemies to halt the dedication.

  1. Read more:

    Shackleton Bailey D. R. (translator), “Valerius Maximus: ‘Memorable Doings and Sayings’, Volume I: Books 1-5”, (2000) Cambridge MA

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

    Chroust A.-H., “Aristotle: New Light on His Life and On Some of His Lost Works, Volume 2: Observations on Some of Aristotle's Lost Works” (1973) London and New York (2nd edition: 2019. Abingdon)

    Broughton T. R. S., “Magistrates of the Roman Republic: Volume 1:  509 BC - 100 BC”, (1951) New York

    Kent R. (translator), “Varro: On the Latin Language, Volume I (Books 1-7) and Volume II (Books 8-10 and  Fragments”, (1938) Cambridge, MA

    J. W. (translator), “Seneca, Moral Essays, Volume II: De Consolatione ad Marciam; De Vita Beata; De Otio; De Tranquillitate Animi; De Brevitate Vitae; De Consolatione ad Polybium; De Consolatione ad Helviam”, (1932) Cambridge MA

    Watts N. H. (translator), “Cicero:Pro Archia;Post Reditum in Senatu; Post Reditum ad Quirites; De Domo Sua; De Haruspicum Responsis; Pro Plancio”, (1923) Cambridge MA

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