Roman Republic

Rome in the Early Republic (509 - 241 BC)

Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus

Silver denarius issued by M. Volteius: 78 BC (RRC 385/1)

Obverse: Head of Jupiter

Reverse: Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus; M·VOLTEI·M·F

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 [was] 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 of Halicarnassus (ca. 7 BC), L. Tarquinius Priscus (traditionally the 5th king of Rome, who reigned in 616 - 578 BC):

  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 death prevented him from laying the foundations of the temple; for he only lived for four more years after the end of the war.   Many years later,  [L. Tarquinius Superbus (traditionally the 7th  king of Rome, who reigned in 534 - 509 BC)], 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 foundation of this temple in his account of the reign of Tarquinius Superbus, who:

  1. “... wishing to fulfil the vows made by his grandfather, devoted himself to the building of ... the temples to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva  ...  [When his workmen] were digging the foundations and the excavation had been carried down to a great depth, they found the head of a newly slain man:his face was like that of a living man, and the blood that flowed from the severed head was warm and fresh.  On seeing this prodigy, [Superbus] ordered the workmen stop digging and, assembling the native soothsayers, inquired of them what the prodigy meant.  When they could give no explanation, ... [Superbus] sent the most distinguished of the citizens  as ambassadors to  [the foremost Etruscan soothsayer]”, (‘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 been called the Capitoline Hill, from the head that was found there; for the Romans call heads capita”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 4: 61: 2). 

Superbus then made great progress with the construction, but:

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



Area of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus


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 Xerxes crossed into Greece”, (‘Histories’, 3: 22: 1).

Frank Walbank (referenced below, at p. 340) pointed out that Greek synchronisations usually date  Xerxes’ crossing  into Greece to the first year of the 68th Olympiad (= 508/7 BC), while the so-called Varronian system dated it to 510/9 BC. 

For our purposes, the key information contained in this passage is that, according to Polybius:

  1. L. Junius Brutus and M. Horatius Pulvillus were the first consuls after the expulsion of the kings; and

  2. in this year, they ‘founded’ (by which, he presumably meant dedicated) the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

As Gary Forsythe (referenced below, at p. 153) pointed out, the later annalistic tradition (represented by Livy and Dionysius) assigned five consuls to the first consular year:

  1. L. Junius Brutus;

  2. replaced by M. Horatius Pulvillus; and

  3. L. Tarquinius Collatinus;

  4. replaced by Sp. Lucretius Tricipitinus;

  5. -replaced by P. Valerius Publcola.

None of our surviving sources other than Polybius records a tradition in which Junius and Horatius were consular colleagues and (as we shall see) all of them except Polybius have the temple dedicated by Horatius alone.  There is more variation in relation to the year in which the temple  was dedicated: for example:

  1. Livy (‘History of Rome’, 2: 8: 5-6) and Plutarch (‘Life of Publicola ’, 14: 2) had Horatius dedicate the temple as consul in the first year of the Republic (while his colleague Valerius was away from Rome); but

  2. Dionysius  (‘Roman Antiquities’, 5: 35: 3-4) and Tacitus  (‘Histories’, 3: 72) had Horatius dedicate it in the third year of the Republic, when he was consul for the second time (and, according to Dionysius, while his colleague Valerius, consul for the third time, was away from Rome).

Pliny the Elder (77 AD) recorded that Cn. Flavius vowed a temple to Concordia as curule aedile (in the year that we call 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).

Since, as Frank Walbank (referenced below, at p. 340)  observed that the conventional date for Flavius’ aedileship needs to be amended to 303 BC (to take out the fictitious dictator year of 301 BC), so that, by Flavius’ reckoning, the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus had been dedicated in the year that we call 507 BC.  The pre-Julian fasti Antiates Maiores recorded its dies natalis as the Ides (13th) September, and this date was also recorded by Plutarch (at (‘Life of Publicola ’, 14: 3). 

M. Horatius Pulvillus

As we have seen, Polybius named Horatius and Brutus as the first consuls after the expulsion of the kings and the founders of the temple while all of our other surviving sources attributed the dedication of the temple to Horatius alone.  Dionysius of Halicarnassus indicated that this unanimous attribution was supported by epigraphic evidence:

  1. “In [the third year of the Republic], ... the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus ... was  completed ... [It was] dedicated by one of the consuls, M. Horatius, and inscribed with his name ...”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 5: 35: 3).

It is possible that two related passages by Livy relate to this inscription:

  1. “... an ancient law, written in archaic words and letters, [which stipulated] that:

  2. ‘He who is praetor maximus on the Ides of September shall hammer in a nail’.

  3. This notice was fixed on the right side of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, in the part where the chapel of Minerva is”, (‘History of Rome’, 7: 3: 5).

  4. “The consul M. Horatius [Pulvillus] †established the law and dedicated the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus† in the year following the expulsion of the kings”, (‘History of Rome’, 7: 3: 8: see Stephen Oakley, referenced below, at p. 82 for the translation of the obelised passage).

As we shall see, it is likely that both Livy and Dionysius had seen a description of this archaic inscription from a relatively recent guide to the temples of Rome, the ‘Mystagogicon’, by the antiquarian L. Cincius.  As Stephen Oakley, referenced below, at p. 81) observed:

  1. “The dedication of the Capitoline temple ... is the only exploit for which [Horatius] was remembered.”

It is therefore possible that his name found its way into the fasti solely on the basis of this inscription.

Horatius’ Dedication of the Temple

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 referred to:

  1. “...the famous Horatius Pulvillus who, though many men were moved by jealousy to interfere with his actions [by making] false claims of religious hindrances, still stood his ground and resolutely dedicated the [Capitoline temple]”, (‘De Domo Sua’, 139, translated by Nevile Watts, referenced below, at pp. 299-301).

Livy also knew of this story: before the dedication of the temple:

  1. 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). 

Although almost all of this famous episode is probably invented, it seems that there was a basis in pontifical law for Livy’s claim that, as Horatius dedicated the temple, his

  1. ‘... hand was on the doorpost ... [when] he was in the middle of his prayers ...’:

a motif that was repeated by Plutarch in his parallel account of:

  1. “... what happened at the consecration.  It was the Ides of September; the people were all assembled on the Capitol, silence had been proclaimed, and 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 (‘Life of Publicola ’, 14: 3-4).

Cicero, in his speech of 57 BC, had made three direct references to a ritual of this kind during  the dedication of Clodius’ shrine of Libertas:

  1. “I think I have heard it said that, [in the pontifical law as it applies to] the dedication of a temple, the hand [of the dedicator] should be laid upon the door-post ... [You, Clodius], have told us that a pontiff did lay his hand upon the door-post”, (‘De Domo Sua’, 121, translated by Nevile Watts, referenced below, at p. 277). 

  2. “Will you, [gentlemen], conclude that the mere word of a pontiff, who has [done no more than lay] his hand upon the door-post and [pronounce] a formula, avails to consecrate the house of any individual ...”, (‘De Domo Sua’, 119, translated by Nevile Watts, referenced below, at p. 275).

  3. “Shall the sacred name of religion lend authority to an outrage if a pontiff has laid his hand upon a door-post and misapplied to the undoing of citizens a form of words designed for the worship of the immortal gods”, (‘De Domo Sua’, 123, translated by Nevile Watts, referenced below, at p. 279).

Cicero stressed that, in this case, the pontiff in question had been Clodius’ brother-in-law, L. Pinarius Natta:

  1. “... who had only entered the College during the few previous days?, (‘De Domo Sua’, 118, translated by Nevile Watts, referenced below, at p. 273;

and he sarcastically asked Clodius whether he would 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 in court:

  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 door-post while I dedicate the house of Cicero?’”, (‘De Domo Sua’, 133, translated by Nevile Watts, referenced below, at pp. 291-3).

It was in this context that Cicero asserted that:

  1. “[Even] if ... the famous Horatius Pulvillus  ... had presided over a dedication like that of [Clodius’ shrine], there could still be no valid sanctity conferred where the circumstances were criminal.  Therefore, do not give any validity to the alleged proceedings of an ignorant youth, a novice in the priesthood, who ... acted without knowledge, without consent, without colleagues, without books,  ... but surreptitiously, and with mind and tongue that wavered ...”, (‘De Domo Sua’, 139, translated by Nevile Watts, referenced below, at pp. 299-301).

Neither Cicero nor Livy actually stated that Horatius dedicated the temple of Jupiter OptimusMaximus as consul and pontiff, but that seems to be inferred in their respective accounts.  At least two sources from the 1st century AD stated explicitly that Horatius had dedicated the temple as a pontiff (see, for example, for example, Robert Broughton (referenced below, at p. 3 and p. 4, note 3):

  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, 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 duly finished 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).

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. Read more:

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

    Walbank F. W., “A Historical Commentary on Polybius, Vol. I: Commentary on Books 1-4”, (1957) Oxford

    Broughton T. R., “Magistrates of the Roman Republic: Volume I (509 - 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

    Basore 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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