Roman Republic

Roman Pre-History

Roman Temples: Volcanal

Linked pages:  VolcanalCult of VulcanLapis NigerHoratius Cocles

In Construction

Other Statues in the Volcanal

The shrine must have had a cult statue of Vulcan, but there is only one possible reference to it in the surviving sources: Livy noted that, in 194 BC, among other prodigies:

  1. “In the Forum and the comitium and on the Capitoline, drops of blood were seen, showers of earth fell several times, and the head of Vulcan burst into flames”, (‘History of Rome’, 34: 45: 6).

Although Livy is not explicit, it seems likely that this ‘head of Vulcan’ belonged to a cult statue in the Volcanal.  There is, in addition, explicit evidence in our surviving sources for three other statues here, depicting Romulus, Horatius Cocles, and an unnamed ‘ludius’.


Marie Ver Eeck (referenced below, at pp. 375-8) suggested that Caesar drew on the precedent of Romulus’ triumphs in order to justify the extraordinary honours that he received after his definitive victory over the Pompeians at Thapsus in April 46 BC.  When the news reached Rome, the Senate decreed, inter alia, that:

  1. “... one of his chariots should be placed on the Capitol facing the statue of Jupiter; [and] that his statue in bronze should be mounted upon a representation of the inhabited world [presumably a globe], with an inscription to the effect that he was ημίθεος (a demigod) ... ”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 14: 6)).

Dio subsequently recorded that:

  1. “... on the first day of [Caesar’s subsequent quadruple triumph in August/ September 46 BC],  ... he climbed up the stairs of the Capitol on his knees, without noticing:

  2. the chariot that had been dedicated to Jupiter in his honour;

  3. the image in which the inhabited world lay beneath his feet; or

  4. the inscription upon it, [from which he later] erased ... the term ημίθεος”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 21: 1-2).

Scholars have long-debated how the word ημίθεος in Cassius Dio’s record (which would have been rendered in Latin as hemitheus).  After discussing the various possibilities, Duncan Fishwick (referenced below, at p. 628) suggested that the word that Caesar erased was in fact the name of a specific ‘demigod’ with whom he had been associated, in which case:

  1. “...the likeliest candidate would appear to be Romulus. ... An inscription ‘Caesari Romulo’ would ... tally nicely with the information Dio provides.  Furthermore, on this view, it would be easy to see why Caesar had the name removed [after his arrival in Rome, when] to be compared with Romulus could provoke hostility and play into the hands of adversaries ... It is significant ... that Dio describes the atmosphere of Caesar's entry into Rome [on this occasion] as one of sullen hostility ... Proof of the point is naturally out of the question, but the possibility seems worth stating, if only by way of rounding out a long-standing controversy.  I suggest that the epithet that Caesar removed could well have been, not a common noun, but [rather] a proper name, [that] of the demigod Romulus.”

Michael Koortbojian (referenced below, at pp. 256-7, note 23) referred to this as an ‘intriguing suggestion’.  Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, 1971, at p. 53) observed that, however the term was actually rendered on the inscription:

  1. “... the problem of Caesar’s divinity was ... raised for the first time in public; and it never disappeared again.”

Putting the inscription to one side, the chariot and the statue of Caesar might have alluded to the tradition of Romulus’ chariot and statue at the Volcanal.  Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, 1971, at p. 59)doubted this”

  1. “Caesar’s chariot ... was certainly not, like that of Romulus, a trophy.  The two [groups of objects had  ... the statue and inscription in common, but probably nothing else: there was no Victoria with Caesar and no globe with Romulus; [and the former] was in the Forum [while] the other was in the Capitol.”

Marie Ver Eeck (referenced below, at p. 377) disagreed, arguing that:

  1. “... the Romans were, without doubt, more conscious of the visual similarities between the two statues and their common triumphal symbolism than of the more  pointed questions as to their origins and their respective significance.  Furthermore, both were intended to assert the image of the charismatic leader whose triumph they commemorated ... in the politico-religious centre of the city, whether it is the Volcanal for Romulus or the Capitol for Caesar.  The group that commemorated the victory at Thapsus was therefore, in my opinion, the first example of the monumental ‘Romulism’ on which Caesarean propaganda was based”, (my translation).

It seems to me that that Marie Ver Eecke is right to stress that each statue commemorated its subject as a triumphant general, and that each had a similar location: indeed, each was located at the end point of the triumphal procession.  She might be correct in assuming that a statue of a figure identified as the triumphant Romulus stood in the Volcanal in 46 BC, that it had come to symbolise Romulus’ triumphs at Caenina, Antemna/ Cameria and Veii prior to his apotheosis, and that this in some way justified the award to Caesar of four triumphs and a quasi-regal status, since he had arguable conquered much of the ‘inhabited world’.  However, it is important to bear in mind that Dionysius and Plutarch are our only surviving sources for the tradition attached to this putative statue, of Romulus and neither of them gave any indication that he had actually seen it.  Thus, the most that we can say is that the source(s) on which Dionysius relied could have represented a tradition that was strong enough in 46 BC to serve the propaganda purpose that she envisaged (although, in that case, it is hard to understand why Livy, for example, had ignored all three of romulus’ putative triumphs).


Interestingly, Verrius Flaccus apparently referred to the Volcanal in a different context in his famous lexicon: according to Festus’ epitome of this work, a ludius (possibly an actor or a chariot driver) who had been killed by lightning in the Circus was first buried on the Janiculum, but, ex prodigiis oraculorumque responsis (in response to prodigies and oracles), the Senate decreed that his bones should be brought back to Rome and buried:

  1. “... in Volcanali quod est supra Comitium ... ”, (‘De verborum significatione, 370 L).

This entry also recorded that the Senate decreed that his effigy should be set up on a column above his new grave, which suggests that Verrius Flaccus thought that there were at least two statues in the Volcanal:

  1. the statue of Cocles that was moved here from the Comitium after it had been struck by lightening; and

  2. an effigy of the ludius who had been killed in the Circus by a lightening strike, which was on a column that was erected over his grave when it was moved here from the Janiculum ‘in response to prodigies and oracles’.

Some scholars (see, for example, Noel Robertson, referenced below, at p. 23-4) have argued that these were two aetiologies applied to the same statue (although I find it hard to imagine why the effigy of a ludius (whether an actor or a chariot driver) would have portrayed him in armour. 

Statues in the Volcanal: Conclusions

If we take all all of these records at face value, at least three statues were placed in the Volcanal at differen points in its long history, depicting:

  1. Romulus, from the time of his victory at Cameria (Dionysius and Plutarch), being crowned by Victory (Plutarch), and with an inscription in Greek characters setting out his achievements (Dionysius);

  2. Horatius Cocles, whose statue was erected in the Comitium at the start of the Republic (Livy and Dionysius): this statue, which was made of bronze (Dionysius and Plutarch) and depicted Cocles in armour (Dionysius) and possibly with a wounded leg (Plutarch), was moved to the Volcanal (Gellius/ Verrius Flaccus and Plutarch), where it was seen by Pliny the Elder and thus, presumably, by Plutarch; and

  3. a statue of a ludius on a column, which was erected above his grave when his remains were moved to the Volcanal from the Janiculum (Festus/ Verrius Flaccus).

The Volcanal also housed a bronze carving of a chariot and four horses (Dionysius) or perhaps bronze four-horse chariot  (Plutarch) that, according to tradition, Romulus had taken as spoils after his victory at Cameria and dedicated to Vulcan.

Peter Wiseman (referenced below, 2008, at pp. 316-7) observed that, by the middle Republic:

  1. “... real evidence for early Rome was rare and hard to interpret.  One potential source of information was provided by honorific statues that had been set up in the past.  ... [What these statues had] represented when they were first made is anybody’s guess. ... [For example], it seems that Horatius Cocles’ statue at the Volcanal could also be identified as:

  2. Romulus [Dionysius and Plutarch]; or

  3. a play actor struck by lightening, whose remains were buried there [Festus/ Verrius Flaccus].”

It is possible that a single statue at the Volcanal had inspired all of these accounts and it certainly seems significant that the putative statues of Horatius Cocles and the ludius were both placed in the Volcanal following portents:

  1. the statue of Horatius Cocles was moved from the Comitium after it had been struck by lightening; and

  2. the statue of the ludius, who had himself been killed by lightening, was erected to mark the location of his remains after they had been moved from the Janiculum to the Volcanal in response to prodigies and oracles. 

However, if these three statues in reality represented a single subject, then:

  1. Dionysius had identified him:

  2. as Romulus, with an inscription in Greek characters setting out his achievements (at ‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 54: 2); but

  3. as Horatius Cocles, rendered in bronze and depicted fully armed (at ‘Roman Antiquities’, 5: 25: 2);

  4. Verrius Flaccus had identified him:

  5. as Horatius Cocles (in his ‘Rerum memoria dignarum libri’, assuming that he was Gellius’ source for this information); but

  6. as the unfortunate ludius (in his ‘De verborum significatione’); and

  7. Plutarch had identified him:

  8. as Romulus crowned by Victoria (‘Life of Romulus’, 24: 5); but

  9. as Horatius Cocles, rendered in bronze, and probably displaying a wound on his leg in order ‘to console him with honour for the lameness consequent upon his wound” (at ‘Life of Publicola’, 16: 7).

As noted above, it seems that the statue of Horatius Cocles could still be seen in the Volcanal in the 1st century AD, in which case all three of these sources would have been able to see it.  :

Location of the Volcanal

Possible Epigraphic Evidence

Red asterisks = possible location of the inscription CIL VI 0457 when it was found in 1548

Smet (1) and Smet (2) = find spots recorded by Martin Smet:

1= “ad aedem Hadriani”; and 2 = “ad aedem Saturni lacumque Curtii”

Panvinio = Onofrio Panvinio: "ad arcum Septimi"

Possible sites of Volcanal also marked in red: the hypogeum under the Lapis Niger (Coarelli) and

the excavated site near the Umbilicus Urbis (which Boni identified as the Volcanal and Coarelli as the Ara Saturni)

The only surviving evidence for a cult site of Vulcan in the Forum comes in the form of an inscription (CIL VI 0457) on a marble slab that was found in 1548 .  This inscription records that, in 9 BC, Augustus dedicated something to Vulcan:

  1. ‘.... ex stipe quam populus Romanus anno novo apsenti contulit ...’, (using money that the Roman people had collected on New Year’s day, in his absence [from Rome])”.

As we shall see below, the ‘thing’ that Augustus dedicated was a new statue of Vulcan, and the slab that was found in 1548 had been cut from the front of its base.  The ‘Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL): VI’) records that it was taken to the palace of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and is now (like much of the Farnese Collection) in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.

[See also CIL VI 1468 and 37068 for the repaving of the forum near the Lacus Curtius by L. Naevius Surdinus and CIL VI 30772 for another dedicstion by Augustus near the Arch of Septimius Severus in 8 BC


  1. “The statue of Stata Mater was venerated in the Forum; after [? Aurelius] Cotta paved it [in ca. 80 BC], a major part of the people withdrew the cult of the goddess to each of their districts, in order that fire not ruin the stones, that [often] caught fire at night”, (‘De verborum significatione, 416 L, based on the translation by Aaron Bartels, referenced below, at p. 91, note 384)]

The CIL records a number of surviving records of the find spot of the inscription, all of which came from antiquarians who were in Rome at the time of its discovery.  The most important of these seem to have been by Flemish antiquarian Martin Smet.  According to William Stenhouse (referenced below, at p. 170), he spent the years 1545-51 in the household of Cardinal Rodolfo Pio da Carpi in Rome.  He documented a large number of classical inscriptions in Rome and reproduced this original manuscript as in a presentation manuscript for his patron that is also now in Naples.  Unfortunately, the original version of this manuscript, which accompanied him back to his native land, was burned in 1558: only 51 pages survived, so  Smet had to reassemble his material with the help of his circle of antiquarian friends.  After completing this reconstructed manuscript in 1565, he gave it to his new patron, Marcus Laurinus, but further problems arose: it was stolen by English soldiers and taken to England.  Smet died in 1578, seven years before it was sold in England to the University of Leiden, where it remains.  The Latinist Justus Lipsius  supplemented it with more recent discoveries and prepared it for publication in Antwerp in 1588.  CIL gives two versions of Smet’s account of the find spot:

  1. a surviving manuscript (presumably the version of the original that Smet had given to Cardinal Pio) located it “ad aedem Hadriani” (near the church of Sant' Adriano al Foro, which had been established in the Curia Julia); while

  2. the published version of 1588 located it “ad aedem Saturni lacumque Curtii” (near the Temple of Saturn and the lacus Curtius)..

These locations are marked as ‘Smet (1)’ and  ‘Smet (2)’ respectively in the illustration above.  The other important source cited in CIL was the Italian antiquarian Onofrio Panvinio (1530-68).  According to William Stenhouse (referenced below, at p. 169) he arrived in Rome in 1549 and spent most of the rest of his life there.  His collection of classical inscriptions, which he cited in some of his published works, survives.  He moved in the same circles as Martin Smet; for example, Stenhouse referred (at p. 46) to letters that the Spanish scholar Antonio Agustín sent to Panvinio in Venice in 1558-9,  in which he enclosed details of inscriptions from the manuscript that Smet had prepared for Cardinal Pio.  Panvinio recorded the find spot of the inscription as "ad arcum Septimi" (near the Arch of Septimius Severus), which is also marked on the illustration above.  The other two sources cited in CIL, both of whom also belonged to these scholarly circles, are less important:

  1. the Flemish scholar Stephen Pigge (Stephanus Pighe), who recorded a large number of classical inscriptions during his stay in Rome in 1547-55, apparently agreed with the entry in the manuscript that Smet had given to Cardinal Pio (“ad aedem Hadriani”), but added "ad arcum Septimi”; and

  2. the Italian artist Pirro Ligorio (1513-83) gave the more general "in via sacra". 

On the basis of this collection of sources, most scholars assume that the inscription was found somewhere between the facade of the Curia Julia and the Arch of Septimius Sevurus.  However, only Stephen Pigge is known to have given both locations, and he might have simply been trying to reconcile the location recorded in Smet’s original manuscript with that recorded by Panvinio.  Furthermore, although the location recorded in Smet’s published work represents a revision to his original opinion, it is not necessarily less reliable: one of the scholars who were involved in restoring and enhancing his original work might have had more reliable information.   What this array of surviving records really tells us is that the precise location of the slab at the time of its discovery was soon forgotten, albeit that it was likely to have been somewhere within the area illustrated above. 

Augustan dedications to Vulcan (9 BC), the Lares Publici (4 BC) and Mercury (10 BC)

From M. Andrews and H. Flower (referenced below, p. 62, figure 15)

The content of the inscription allows us to recover the context in which Augustus dedicated this statue: as Margaret Andrews and Harriet Flower (referenced below, at pp. 59 and 61) pointed out, is indicates that it was one of a series of statues of deities that Augustus dedicated throughout the city, funded by the money he received from ordinary citizens on  New Year’s Day.  Suetonius provided an interesting record of this New Year custom:

  1. “Every year, all classes (of citizens) tossed an offering (stips) into the lacus Curtius (in the Roman Forum) to mark a vow for his (Augustus’) good health and safety.  In the same way, on the 1st of January (they donated) a gift (strena) on the Capitol, even [in years] when he was away.  He acquired pretiosissima (very valuable) statues of the gods (for example, [of] Apollo Sandalarius, Jupiter Tragoedus ...) from these collected funds and dedicated them vicatim (in the vici or local neighbourhoods)”, (‘Life of Augustus’, 57: 1, based on the translation by Andrews and Flower, referenced below, at p. 60).

A number of inscriptions from the bases of these (presumably expensive) ‘New Year’ statues survive, but only three (all illustrated above) still include the name of the deity in question: from left to right: Vulcan (9BC), the Lares Publici (4 BC); and Mercury (10 BC).  None of the associated statues survive, and the inscription to Mercury is the only one of the surviving inscriptions that survives in situ: it is still in the basement of a house on the Esquiline.

Form of the Augustan reconstruction of the original shrine of Mercury on the Esquiline

From M. Andrews and H. Flower (referenced below, p. 57, figure 11): my additions in red

The  archeological evidence from this site allowed Andrews and Flower to reconstruct the likely form of the monument to Mercury, both before and after its Augustan reconstruction (summarised in the figure above).  They observed (at pp. 54-5) that the original monument, which they dated to ca. 100 BC:

  1. “... consisted only of the travertine base with its statue of Mercury, ... .  Augustus’ New Year’s dedication and renovation in or soon after 10 BC was much more extensive than previously imagined.  ... Instead of a simple refurbishment of, or addition to, an earlier podium and altar, as has been argued until now, this renovation entailed the dedication of a new marble base for Mercury and the construction of the entire tuff podium, presumably intended for religious ritual or activity.”

They concluded that Augustus’ statue of Mercury (which was apparently never actually installed on this base) had been commissioned in 10 BC as part of the renovation of a modest, open-air shrine on the Esquiline, at a time when the Esquiline itself was the subject of extensive redevelopment.  There is no reason to doubt that it was one of the ‘New Year’ statues that, according to Suetonius, Augustus commissioned for individual Roman vici (local neighbourhoods).  Thus, it might well have been an important precedent to the ‘New Year’ statue of Vulcan that Augustus commissioned in the following year.

In the light of the evidence discussed so far, we can reasonably assume that this inscription was on the base of a statue of Vulcan that Augustus had commissioned using the New Year donations of 9 BC.  Unfortunately, the slab containing the inscription was cut off from the base of a statue and reused, perhaps as a paving slab, in the Forum, and there is no surviving evidence for its original location and architectural context.  It is possible that the statue base had been erected near the place where the slab was found in 1548,

As Andrews and Flower pointed out, pointed out (at p. 61):

  1. “The dedication to Vulcan in the Forum] is on a much larger scale [than those to Mercury and the Lares Publicus], and indicates a restoration (and enhancement?) of the famous Volcanal, one of Rome’s oldest and most central shrines.”

They observed (at p. 61, note 51) that Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2000):

  1. “... connects ... [the inscription in the Forum] with a restoration [of the Volcanale] after a ... fire in 9 BC”.

They therefore suggested (at p. 62) that this putative restoration of the Volcanal might have been the consequence of:

  1. “Recent fire damage to the Volcanal immediately before Augustus’ dedication ...” 

In fact, the evidence for this putative fire of 9 BC is somewhat complicated: our only surviving source is Cassius Dio, who recorded that, in 9 BC:

  1. “... Drusus became consul with Titus Crispinus, and omens occurred that were anything but favourable to him.  Many buildings were destroyed by storm and by thunderbolts, among them many temples; even that of Jupiter Capitolinus and the gods worshipped with him [were] injured”, (‘Roman History’, 55: 1: 1)

Margaret Desmond (referenced below, at p. 64) observed that Filippo Coarelli (in his book of 2014, at p. 73):

  1. “... refers to ‘the great fire of 9 BC’ and describes fire ravaging the area around the Basilica Julia in 9 BC, [although Cassius Dio only mentions lightening strikes on temples, and only names the Capitoline temple].  Coarelli’s description fits better with the fire of 14 BC [which she addressed at pp. 62-3].”

This fire of 14 BC was described by Cassius Dio:

  1. “The Basilica of Paulus [number 143 in this plan in Digital Augustan Rome] was burned and the flames spread from it to the temple of Vesta [number 129]  ... The basilica was afterwards rebuilt ... by Augustus and the friends of Paulus”, (‘Roman History’, 54: 24: 2).

However, there is circumstantial evidence of a fire in 9 BC: for example, Virginia Closs (referenced below, at p. 47) pointed out that that Cassius Dio (‘Roman History’, 55: 8: 5) recorded that:

  1. “... a fire [had] rendered the Forum unsuitable for games held in Agrippa’s honour in 7 BC (five years after his death) ... .”

She added (note 95) that:

  1. “Dio gives little indication of the exact date of [the fire that caused the relocation of Agrippa’s funeral games], but Nicholas Purcell suggests that a poorly attested devastation by fire in the latter part of 9 BC is ‘a strong candidate for a catalyst’ for this [relocation] and other major changes in the Forum’s function: see Purcell, LTUR ‘Forum Romanum’, (after Coarelli, ‘Foro Romano II’, 224-7, based on Dio 55: 8: 2 and 5, and CIL VI 0457).

Carlos Noreña cited this putative fire of 9 BC as the cause of the construction of the Temple of Concordia Augusta (see his commentary on this temple in Digital Augustan Rome) on the site of Opimius’ earlier  temple, for which the future Emperor Tiberius assumed responsibility in 7 BC (‘Roman History’, 55: 8: 2). 

We might therefore reasonably connect Augustus’ dedication of a new statue of Vulcan in the Forum in 9 BC to the fire or fires that caused the relocation of Agrippa’s funeral games of 7 BC.  However, there is no direct evidence that the Volcanal burned down at this time, and it is hard to believe that the irony of its destruction by fire would have escaped the notice of (for example) Cassius Dio or his sources.  Furthermore, there is no hard evidence that the new statue was destined for the Volcanal: Suetonius recorded that Augustus gave the ‘New Year’ statues to the vici (local neighbourhoods), which suggests that the statue of 9 BC was destined for a local shrine, rather than for the locus of the city-wide  Volcanalia (although it is possible that the tradition was varied in this year, and that Augustus commissioned the new statue for the Volcanal in order to propitiate Vulcan and thereby avoid further conflagrations).   In other words, the fact that this dedicatory inscription was found in the Forum does not necessarily add to our knowledge of the history of the Volcanal. 

Under the Lapis Niger ?

Filippo Coarelli (see, for example, his book of 2014, referenced below, at pp. 56-7) located the Volcanal at location 4 in the plan above, within the area of both the archaic and the Republican Comitium, in an area that was later covered by a platform known as the lapis niger.  This  is based on the excavations that followed the discovery in 1899 of the lapis niger itself and an archaic hypogeum beneath it.  Coarelli cited (inter alia) the evidence of a fragment of an attic krater (mid 6th century BC) that depicts Hephaestus (illustrated in Beard et al., referenced below, at p. 22), which was the most ancient of a number of votive objects that were found in the hypogeum. 

This hypothesis has been widely but not universally accepted: for example, as John North Hopkins (referenced below, at  p. 51) observed, this krater was:

  1. “... part of a much later (1st century BC) ceremonial deposit, and therefore cannot be conclusively connected to the [hypogeum] ... in the 6th century BC.”

It is also important to note that none of our surviving sources explicitly locates the Volcanal in the Comitium and, as we have seen, an anecdote transmitted (via M. Verrius Flaccus) by Aulus Gellius specifically indicates that the statue of Horatius Cocles was moved from the Comitium to more elevated position in area Volcani.  Furthermore, two of the other sources discussed above specifically located the shrine ‘above the Comitium’:

  1. the pre-Julian calendar fasti Antiates Maiores recorded that the festival of the Volcanalia was celebrated on 23rd August supra Comitium; and

  2. Festus/ Verrius Flacccus recorded that the grave and statue of a ludius (possibly a chariot driver) was removed from the Janiculum and relocated:

  3. “... in Volcanali quod est supra Comitium ... ”, (‘De verborum significatione, 370 L).

Near the Temple of Concordia Augusta ?

Festus/ M. Verrius Flaccus gave another indication of the location of the shrine: in his record that the the ludi Piscatorii was celebrated on 7th June on behalf of the fishermen of the Tiber:

  1. “... whose catch [on that day] is not taken to the market but in aream Volkani (to the area Volcani) because that sort of live fish is given to [Vulcan] as a substitute for human souls”, (‘De verborum significatione, 274-6 L, translated by Howard Scullard, referenced below, at p. 148).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 625) observed that:

  1. “The area Volcani is almost certainly synonymous with the Vocanal, that raised area ... next to the Forum, ... where Dionysius of Halicarnassus places several early Roman assemblies [as mentioned above].”

Livy made three references to this area that, taken together, allow us to be more specific:

  1. in 306 BC, the aedile Cn. Flavius dedicated a temple of Concordia in area Volcani”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 46: 6);

  2. in 183 BC, blood rained down for two days in area Volcani (‘History of Rome’, 39: 46: 5); and

  3. in 182 BC, blood rained down again in area Volcani et Concordiae (‘History of Rome’, 40: 19: 2).

This seems to take us towards the site of Flavius’ shrine of Concordia.  Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 625) observed that it:

  1. “... seems not to have survived into the late Republic: perhaps it was knocked down [in ca. 121 BC] to make way for Opimus’ [construction] of the large temple of Concordia [and the associated basilica] that stood nearby.”

A passage by Varro of ca. 45 BC  located Opimius’ temple (which was still standing at this time) in relation to the Graecostasis and the Comitium:

  1. “In front of [the Curia Hostilia] is the Rostra... A little to the right of it, looking towards the Comitium, is a lower platform where the envoys of the nations who had been sent to the Senate were to wait; this ... [was known as] the Graecostasis.  Above it was the Senaculum (platform of the Senate), where the temple of Concord and the Basilica of Opimius are ...”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 155-6, based on the translation by Roland Kent, referenced below, at p. 147).

Some decades later, Festus/ M. Verrius Flaccus recorded that the Senaculum had been located:

  1. “... ubi nunc est aedes Concordiae inter Capitolium et Forum”, (‘De verborum significatione’, 470 L)

  2. “... where the aedes Concordia now is, between the Capitol and the Forum” (my translation).

There is no way of knowing whether Verrius referred to Opimius’ temple or to the temple that replaced it in the Augustan period.  However, they might well have been on the same site: for example, Arnaldo Momigliano  (referenced below, at p. 115) argued that:

  1. “It must be assumed for archaeological reasons, although it is never stated in our literary evidence, that ... Tiberius rebuilt [Opimius’ temple] as an aedes Concordiae Augustae, [which he] dedicated on 16 January 10 AD.”

The podium of Tiberius temple still survives, and its precise position can therefore be established with certainty (as outlined in red on the plan above).  

A location here would obviously correspond to the characterisation ‘supra Comitium’.  Furthermore, it would also conform with the observation of Dionysius of Halicarnassus (already discussed) that:

  1. “... the shrine of Vulcan ... stands a little above the Forum”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 50: 2).

There is a problem with both of the hypotheses considered so far: as Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2014, at pp. 56-7) pointed out, there is evidence that the Volcanal survived into the Imperial period: for example, as we have seen, Pliny the Elder (‘Natural History’, 16: 86) referred to an ancient lotus that was still in Volcanali (in the precincts of Vulcan).  This would seem to rule out both the hypogeum (which was sealed by the lapis niger in the late Republic) and the site of the successive temples of Concordia, unless, of course, the original shrine was subsequently relocated from one of these two locations. 

This plan, adapted from this website by René Seindal, follows F. Coarelli (referenced below, 1983 and 1985)

The Volcanal (4) is hypothesised at the site of the late Republican lapis niger (see below)

I have added an indication of the possible find spots of the inscription CIL VI 0457

Excavations Under the Lapis Niger

Lapis niger, in front of the Curia Julia in the Forum, before it was damaged by heavy rain in 2008

From Christopher Lyes (referenced below, at p. 47, Plate 2)

The lapis niger is the name that is given to a black stone pavement of some 14 square meters in front of the Curia Julia.  According to Christopher Lye (referenced below, at p. 49):

  1. “... the orientation of the lapis niger pavement respects the Curia Julia ... This suggests that its alignment was fixed when the Curia was rebuilt, in more or less its current form, after the fire of 52 BC ...”

According to Cassius Dio, in 44 BC, the Senate charged Julius Caesar with:

  1. “... constructing a new senate-house, since that of Hostilius, although repaired [after the fire], had been demolished ... [so] that:

  2. the name of Sulla should not be preserved on it; and

  3. ... [a] newly constructed [senate house] might be named the Julian, even as they had called the month in which he was born July ...”, (‘Roman History’, 44: 5: 1-2).

It seems that the work had not started by the time of Caesar’s murder, since, in late 43 BC, the newly-formed triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus:

  1. “... built the Curia Julia, named after [Julius Caesar], beside the place called the Comitium, as had been voted”, (‘Roman History’, 47: 19: 1). 

Finally, after Octavian’s triple triumph of 29 BC (on August 13th-15th, by which time he had gained control over the whole Roman state), he dedicated:

  1. “... the Curia Iulia, which had been built in honour of his father”, (‘Roman History’, 51: 22: 1).

Thus, it seems that the lapis niger pavement was laid at some time in or shortly after the period 43-29 BC.

The discovery of this pavement in 1899 was quickly associated with an entry in the lexicon of M. Verrius Flaccus, which survives in a later epitome by Festus:

  1. Niger lapis in Comitio locum funestum significat, ut ali, Romuli morti destinatum, sed non usu ob in...”, (‘De verborum significatione, 184 L)

Although this entry is garbled in the surviving manuscripts, Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at p. 419, note 42 translated it as follows:

  1. “[The black stone in the Comitium] indicates a deathly place, intended for the death of Romulus.”

As Jesse Benedict Carter (referenced below, at p. 19) summarised:

  1. “One of the first results of the new campaign in the Forum begun in December, 1898, under the leadership of Giacomo Boni was the discovery 1899, of that group of monuments which has been called [both] the ‘Lapis Niger’ and the ‘Grave of Romulus’, by convenience and at present by usage rather than by scientific accuracy.  In May of the same year the excavation at this spot was continued, and the so-called Sacellum and the archaic stele were discovered.”

Excavations of 1898-1900

Above: Location of the lapis niger, adapted from P. Aicher (referenced below, at p. 87, Figure 21)

Below: Schematic of the excavated remains under the lapis niger, adapted from

Einar Gjerstad (referenced below, fig. 1), as  reproduced by A. Bartles (referenced below, at p. 101, Figure 3)

Christopher Lyes (referenced below, at pp. 45-6) observed that excavations carried out in 1899-1900 under the newly-discovered lapis niger unearthed:

  1. “... substantial votive deposits (mostly from the 6th/ 5th and 3rd/ 2nd centuries BC), and a collection of worked stone objects, [including]:

  2. an inscribed cippus (CIL VI 36840), ... dated to the [early] 6th century BC;

  3. a ... [truncated] conical column, 0.48 metres high, of Monteverde tufo, [dated to the 5th century BC, following Samuel Platner, ‘Sepulcrum Romuli’, referenced below, at p. 483] ...; and

  4. a discrete structure of the 4th century BC ... consisting of a rectangular ... foundation of worked tufo on which were two bases supporting moulded pedestals ... ”

He observed (at p. 49) that:

  1. “The rearrangement of the [individual] monuments onto a single platform [took place] at some more ancient date... [Einar] Gjerstad, [referenced below],  identified [the platform itself] as being of a yellowish‐brown tufo (Tufo Lionato), consistent with early works on the Capitoline.  The careful arrangement and apparent respect for these archaic monuments suggests that their curation and commemoration had in itself significant antiquity.”

In Construction

Inscribed Cippus

According to John North Hopkins (referenced below, 2016, at p. 51):

  1. “Some time after ca. 560 BC, ... the Romans laid a new pavement in gravel at the Comitium and on it they placed [the] stone base for the new cippus.”

Christopher Lyes (referenced below, at pp. 45-6) observed that the inscription (CIL VI 36840) on the cippus under the lapis niger:

  1. “... has been described as Rome’s oldest [surviving] public document.”

John North Hopkins (referenced below, 2012) pointed out that:

  1. “With a new paving of the Comitium during the late 6th or early 5th centuries BC, the Romans constructed two stepped platforms on either side of the cippus.  One, at the southern extremity of the Comitium, may be the original ... Rostra, its position in accordance with the passage by Varro [quoted above].”

The testimony of Varro suggests that the other (essentially unexcavated) platform was probably the forerunner of the Graecostasis.  In other words, the cippus and the area around it were respected in the development of the Comitium in ca. 500 BC and again some 250 years later when the Comitium was rebuilt on a circular plan.


As noted above, conical column was erected very close to the inscribed cippus some decades after the erection of the cippus itself. There are a number of possible candidates for the statue that might have stood on this column.  As noted above, Dionysius of Halicarnassus recorded that, after Romulus suppressed a revolt at the Roman colony at Cameria:

  1. “ ... he celebrated a second triumph.  Out of the spoils, he dedicated a chariot and four [horses] in bronze to Vulcan and, near it, he set up his own statue with an inscription in Greek characters setting forth his deeds”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 54: 2).

It is possible that Dionysius or his source(s) imagined that this statue of Romulus stood on this column and that the nearby inscription in ‘Greek’ letters recorded his deeds: as Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2014, at p. 57) pointed out:

  1. “Certainly, the letters of the cippus might ... easily have been construed [as ‘Greek’ in the light of] ... the script derived from the archaic Chalcidian alphabet brought to Italy by the Greek colonists”, my translation).

Excavations of 2019-20

Sarcophagus and putative altar excavated under the steps of the Curia Julia

Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images, from the website of ‘Vintage News

Very recently, Alfonsina Russo (referenced below) reported the discovery of:

  1. “... a hypogeum or underground temple and tomb structure with a tufa sarcophagus linked with what looks like an altar ...  in the Roman Forum ... “

She observed that the excavated space:

  1. “... is believed to be part of a votive area called a heroon [that was] devoted to ... Romulus.  The sarcophagus, [which is] made out of the same tufa rock [used for the construction of the first buildings on the Capitol], is around 1.40 metres long and is believed to date back to the 6th century BC.  The find was made next to the Curia-Comitium complex, a few metres away from the famed lapis niger, which Romans thought had brought bad luck because it was linked to the death of Romulus.  The hypogeum is located below the entrance stairway to the Curia [Julia] ...”

As fas as I am aware, the details of these new excavations and their consequences for the interpretation of the site have yet to be published.  It seems to me that the sarcophagus and altar might well have been moved here shortly before the dedication of the Curia Julia in 29 BC.  They might well have belonged originally to the complex excavated in 1899-1900, where they would have added weight to the tradition that the cult site under the lapis niger had been a place of death.

Death and Putative Apotheosis of Romulus


The earliest surviving evidence for the tradition of Romulus’ apotheosis is from Ennius’ ‘Annals’, an epic poem that was written in the early 2nd century BC.  This work no longer survives, although there are many references to it in other sources that do.  Three of these surviving fragments are relevant here (from the Warmington translation in the Attalus webpage ‘Ennius: Annales (fragments): Books 1-6’):

  1. Servius, in his commentary on Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’, referenced two passages on the deified Romulus from Ennius’ ‘Annals’:

  2. referetur [Romulus] inter deos cum Aenea (Romulus will be counted with Aeneas among the gods)”, (fragment 113, in a commentary on ‘Aeneid’, 6: 777); and 

  3. Romulus in caelo cum dis genitalibus aevum digit (Romulus lives from age to age in Heaven with the gods that gave him birth)”, (fragment 114, in a commentary on ‘Aeneid’, 6: 763).

  4. In the 4th century AD, the grammarian Nonius Marcellus attributed the following line to Book I of the ‘Annals’:

  5. Teque quirine pater veneror Horamque quirini (Thee I worship, father Quirinus, and thee, Hora, consort of Quirinus)”, (fragment 116).

These fragments indicate that Ennius recorded a tradition that had Romulus deified as Quirinus and his consort Hersilia deified as Hora Quirini. 

It is possible that another fragment from Varro should be added to this list:

  1. “... I shall [now] speak of the words which have been put down by the poets, first those about places,  ... I shall begin with this:

  2. Unus erit quem tu tolles in caerula caeli templa’ (there will be one whom you will raise up to the sky’s blue templa)’

  3. [The word] templum is used in three ways ... ”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 7: 5-6, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 271-3).

Sander Goldberg (referenced below, at p. 145), like most other authorities, considered that the words:

  1. Unus erit quem tu tolles in caerula caeli templa

came from Ennius’ ‘Annals’, and Ovid reproduced them in both his ‘Metamorphoses’ and his ‘Fasti’ (see below) as the words that Jupiter had used when he promised Mars that one of his two sons (i.e. Romulus) would be deified.

John Newman (referenced below, at p. 45) characterised Ennius as:

  1. “...  the pioneer at Rome of Hellenistic ideas ...  In conscious imitation of Greek legend about Heracles  ..., he invented (or at least gave classic formulation to) the story of Romulus' apotheosis and and thus foisted upon Roman belief a notion [that had previously been] utterly alien to it.” 

However, Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, 1960, at p. 118) argued, on the basis of a set of inscriptions from Latium that probably date to the 4th century BC, that:

  1. “... the apotheosis of Romulus and his identification with Quirinus were not the outcome of poetical fancy, and the cult was not established ... [before] the time of Ennius, who is the first authority ... ”

In short, all we can say for sure is that Ennius either invented this tradition in the early 2nd century BC or drew on an earlier tradition at that time.


Timothy Cornell (referenced below, 1986, at p. 244) observed that:

  1. “...  those Romans of Cicero's day  ... who had any sort of education probably obtained their first and most lasting impressions [of their own history] from Ennius' ‘Annals.”

This was certainly true of Cicero himself, who observed that:

  1. “... our own Ennius  ...  wrote that, in about the 350th year after Rome was founded [i.e. in ca. 400 BC] , in the month of June (the day was then the 5th),  the moon and night obscured the shining sun.   Based on this date, which was recorded by [both] Ennius and in the ‘Annales Maximi’, the dates of previous eclipses of the sun have been reckoned, all the way back to that which occurred on Nones of Quinctilis [7th July] in the reign of Romulus.  For, even though, during the darkness of that eclipse, Nature carried Romulus away to man's inevitable end, yet the story is that his his merit led to his translation to Heaven”, (‘On the Republic’, 1: 16).  

Two surviving passages by Cicero constitute our earliest surviving evidence for the tradition that a man called Proculus Julius brought the news of Romulus’ apotheosis to Rome:

  1. In an imagined debate with Atticus, Cicero asked his friend whether he accepted:

  2. “... the ‘fact’ that Romulus, after his death, while wandering about near the place where your house now stands [i.e., on the Quirinal]:

  3. met Proculus Julius;

  4. told him that he [Romulus] was [now] a god and was called Quirinus; and

  5. ordered that a temple be dedicated to him on that spot”, (‘On the Laws’, 1: 3, translate by Clinton Keyes, at p. 299).

  6. He provided more detail in another passage:

  7. “... such was Romulus’ conspicuous ability that men believed, on the authority of that homini agresti (farmer), Proculus Julius, something that they had not believed about any other mortal for many generations: we are told that this Proculus, at the instigation of the senators (who wanted to free themselves from all suspicion in regard to Romulus' death) stated before a public assembly that he had seen Romulus on the hill now called the Quirinal; and that Romulus had ordered him to ask the people to build him a shrine on that hill, as he was now a god and was called Quirinus”, (‘On the Republic’, 2: 20).

The second of the passages above is the earliest surviving evidence of the tradition that, before Proculus Julius reached Rome, many people suspected that the senators had murdered Romulus: Cicero seems here to characterise Proculus’ testimony as a fable invented at their behest in order to allay suspicion.  Two other surviving passages suggest that Cicero was generally sceptical about the deification of mortals: 

  1. “Human experience and general custom have allowed men to deify distinguished benefactors ... This is the origin of Hercules, of Castor and Pollux, of Aesculapius ... This is also the origin of Romulus, who is believed by some to be the same as Quirinus.  Since their souls survived and enjoyed eternal life, these benefactors were deemed to be gods, who are both supremely good and immortal”, (‘On the Gods’, 2: 62).

  2. “...  even in Greece they worship a number of deified mortals ... ; and with our own people, Romulus and many others, who are believed to have been admitted to celestial citizenship in recent times, by a sort of extension of the franchise!  Well, those are the superstitions of the unlearned ...”, (‘On the Gods’, 3: 39).


As we have seen, Porphyry, in his commentary on the ‘Epodes’ of Horace, recorded that:

  1. “...Varro states that Romulus had been buried behind the Rostra”, (translated by  Diana Guarisco, referenced below, at p. 14).

As Jesse Carter (referenced below, at p. 27) observed, Varro is the only one of the surviving sources who might have seen the monuments under the lapis niger [pavement].  However, as he observed, his brief record:

  1. “... may be simply the reflection of an aetiological legend that accounted for the custom of holding funeral orations at the Rostra [on the basis of a tradition] that Romulus was buried there.”

In other words, this passage certainly suggests that Varro was aware of a tradition in which Romulus was killed by his enemies and buried near the Rostra, but it does not necessarily mean that he rejected Ennius’ alternative account of Romulus’ deification.

Peter Wiseman (referenced below, 2015, at pp. 127-8) argued that Varro would not have endorsed Horace’ identification of the dead Romulus as Quirinus: for Varro:

  1. “... , Quirinus was not the deified founder [of Rome] but [rather] one of the Sabine deities introduced to Rome by Titus Tatius.”

In this context, he cited the following passage by Varro:

  1. “... the Annals record that [the Sabine king Titus Tatius] vowed arae (altars) to ... [a number of deities, including] Quirinus ...”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 74, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 71).

Varro almost certainly associated the Temple of Quirinus on the Quirinal, not with the deified Romulus, but  with this Sabine deity: 

  1. “The Quirinal Hill was so named because the fanum (shrine) of Quirinus was there; others say that it is derived from the Quirites, who came with Tatius from Cures to the vicinity of Rome, because they established their camp [on this hill].  This name has caused the names of the adjacent localities to be forgotten.  For, there were other hills with their own names: this is clear from the [archaic sacred itinerary known as the] sacra Argeorum, in which it is written: ‘Quirinal Hill: third shrine, this side of the temple of Quirinus; ...’”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 51-2, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 49).

Wiseman cited (at note 16) fragments of lost works by Varro that suggest that he had recorded the deification of Romulus.  However,  he argued that, if so:

  1. “... it was evidently under his own name ...”

As he pointed out, Varro recorded a temple of Romulus near the Palatine: 

  1. “The Palatine ... is so-called because the Pallantes came there with Evander ... The Cermalus must have been  joined to it, ... because, it is written [in the sacra Argeorum]: ‘Germalian: fifth shrine, at the aedes Romuli, ... .’”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 53-4, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 51).

Wiseman suggested (at note 17) that this might be at the site otherwise known as the hut of Romulus on the slopes of the Palatine.

Peter Wiseman (referenced below, 2015, at pp. 127-8) suggested that Varro’s version of many aspects of the legend of the foundation of Rome, including those relating to the cult of Quirinus and thus the death of Romulus, was coloured by the fact of his own Sabine origins.


Livy is the earliest surviving source for the traditions surrounding the manner of Romulus’ death:

  1. “Romulus held a review of his army at the ‘Caprae Palus’ in the Campus Martius.  A violent thunder storm suddenly arose and enveloped  [him] in so dense a cloud that he was quite invisible to the [assembled men].  From that moment, Romulus was no longer seen on earth.  ... [When] bright, calm sunshine [returned] after such fearful weather, .. the royal seat was vacant.  ... The senators who had been standing close to him [asserted] that he had been snatched away to Heaven by a whirlwind ...  At length, ...[all] those present hailed Romulus as a god, the son of a god, and regem parentemque urbis Romana (the king and father of the city of Rome).  They made supplications for his grace and favour, and prayed that he would be propitious to his children [i.e., the Romans] and save and protect them”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 16: 1-3).

This fleshes out the scant information that can be gleaned from Cicero (above), who had Romulus die during an eclipse.  However, Livy was extremely sceptical about this putative apotheosis:

  1. “I believe ... that, even at that time, there were some who secretly hinted that [Romulus had actually been torn limb from limb by the senators, presumably under the cover of the violent storm]; a tradition to this effect, although certainly a very dim one, has filtered down to us”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 16: 4).

Livy then recorded that:

  1. “... the generally-accepted belief [in the apotheosis of Romulus] was strengthened by one man's clever device: the tradition runs that a man called Proculus Julius, whose authority had weight in matters of even the gravest importance, saw how deeply the community felt the loss of the king, and how incensed they were against the senators [suspected of having killed him]”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 16: 5). 

He therefore appeared before the assembly and reported that, at dawn on that very day:

  1. “... the father of this city [i.e., Romulus] suddenly descended from Heaven and appeared to me.  While ... I stood transfixed before him in deepest reverence, praying that I might be pardoned for gazing upon him, he addressed me as follows:

  2. ‘Go, tell the Romans that it is the will of Heaven that my city of Rome should be the head of all the world.  Let them henceforth cultivate the arts of war: let them know for certain that no human might can withstand the arms of Rome, and let them  hand down this  knowledge to posterity’”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 16: 7). 

Livy dismissed this tale by observing that:

  1. “It is marvellous what credit was given to this man's story, and how the grief of the people and the army was soothed by the belief that it created in the immortality of Romulus”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 16: 8).

Dionysius of Halicarnassus 

Dionysius of Halicarnassus made no mention of Proculus Julius in his initial account of the death and apotheosis of Romulus.  In this account, Romulus celebrated three triumphs during his reign, the last of which was over the Etruscan city state of Veii:

  1. “His failure to subdue any more of the neighbouring nations seems to have been due to his sudden death, which happened while he was still in the vigour of his age for warlike achievements.  There are many different stories concerning it.

  2. Those who give a rather fabulous account of his life say that, while he was haranguing his men in the camp, sudden darkness rushed down out of a clear sky and a violent storm burst, after which he was nowhere to be seen; and these writers believe that he was caught up into Heaven by his father, Mars.

  3. But those who write the more plausible accounts say that he was killed by his own people; and the [main] reason they allege for his murder is that  ... he now seemed to be harsh and arbitrary and to be exercising his power more like a tyrant than a king.  For these reasons, they say, the patricians formed a conspiracy against him and resolved to kill him; and, having carried out the deed in the senate-house [presumably the shrine of Vulcan], they divided his body into several pieces ... and then emerged, each one hiding his part of the body under his robes and afterwards burying it in secret.

  4. Others say that while haranguing the people [presumably in the Forum], he was slain by the new citizens of Rome, and that they undertook the murder at the time when the rain and the darkness occurred, the assembly of the people being then dispersed and their chief left without his guard.  And for this reason, they say, the day on which this event happened got its name from the flight of the people, and is called Populifugia [a festival celebrated on 5th July], down to our times.

  5. Be that as it may, the incidents that occurred by the direction of Heaven in connexion with this man's birth and death would seem to give considerable authority to the view of those who make gods of mortal men and place the souls of illustrious persons in Heaven.  For, they say that, at the time when his mother was violated, whether by some man or by a god [i.e., Mars], there was a total eclipse of the sun and a general darkness ... covered the earth, and that at his death the same thing happened.  Such, then, is reported to have been the death of Romulus, who built Rome and was chosen by her citizens as their first king.  He left no issue, and after reigning 37 years, died in the 55th year of his age; for he was very young when he obtained the rule, being no more than 18 years old, as is agreed by all who have written his history”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 56: 1-7).

Dionysius returned to the apotheosis of Romulus in a passage in which he recorded that Numa, the second King of Rome (traditionally 715-672 BC):

  1. “... ordered that Romulus himself, as someone who had shown a greatness beyond mortal nature, should be honoured under the name of Quirinus by the erection of a temple and by sacrifices throughout the year.  For, while the Romans had been still in doubt whether divine providence or human treachery had been the cause of his disappearance, a certain farmer named Julius, a descendant of Ascanius, who was of such a blameless life that he would never have told an untruth for his private advantage, arrived in the Forum and said that, as he was coming in from the country, he saw Romulus departing from the city fully armed and that, as he drew near to him, he heard him say these words:

  2. ‘Julius, announce to the Romans, from me, that the genius to whom I was allotted at my birth is conducting me to the gods, now that I have finished my mortal life, and that I am Quirinus’”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 56: 1-7).

Interestingly, Dionysius identified the ‘Proculus Julius’ of Cicero and Livy as ‘Julius’ tout court, but explicitly recorded his descent from Ascanius, the son of Aeneas and the first king of Alba.  A passage in the ‘Origo Gentis Romanae’ of ca. 400 AD records that:

  1. “... the Latins ... believed that, because of his outstanding courage, Ascanius [must have been] descended from Jupiter ... [Therefore], by slightly changing his name to form a diminutive [of Jove, they], first called him Iolus and afterward Iulus.  From him, the Julian family originated, as Caesar writes in Book II and Cato writes in the ‘Origines’”, (‘OGR, 15: 5).

‘Caesar’ here would have been Lucius Julius Caesar, the consul of 64 BC and author of a work known as the ‘Libri Pontificales’ (who was still alive in 44 BC, when his more famous relative was murdered).  This work is lost, and our knowledge of it derives almost exclusively from fragments of it cited in the ‘OGR’:

  1. The last-known of these fragments (‘OGR, 22: 2) related to the early part of the history of Romulus and Remus; and

  2. the ‘OGR’ itself (as it survives) ended with the death of Remus.

It is therefore entirely possible that Dionysius derived his information about ‘Julius‘ from a later and now-lost passage in the ‘Libri Pontificales‘ of Lucius Julius Caesar. 



Ovid described the apotheosis of Romulus in his ‘Metamorphoses’, which he finished in 7 AD:

  1. “After Tatius had fallen and you, Romulus, were devising equal laws for both the tribes, Mars put off his gleaming helmet and thus addressed the father of gods and men [i.e. Jupiter] as follows:

  2. ‘Since the Roman state now stands firm on strong foundations and no longer hangs on the strength of one man alone, the time is come, O Father, to grant the reward that you promised to me and to your worthy grandson [Romulus]: that you would take him from earth and set him in the Heavens.  Once, in full council of the gods, ... you declared that:

  3. Unus erit quem tu tolles in caerula caeli (there will be one that you will exalt to the blue Heavens, an almost exact rendition of the words of the poets, probably Ennius, given by Varro, above).’

  4. Now, let the full meaning of your words be ratified. The omnipotent Father nodded his assent; then, hiding all the sky with his dark clouds, he filled the earth with thunder and lightning.  Gradivus [i.e. Mars] knew this for the assured sign of the translation that had been promised him; and, leaning on his spear, dauntless he mounted his chariot drawn by steeds straining beneath the bloody yoke, and swung the loud-resounding lash. Gliding downward through the air, he halted on the summit of the wooded Palatine. There, as Ilia’s son [Romulus] was giving kingly judgment to the Quirites, he caught him up from earth.  His mortal part dissolved into thin air...  And now a fair form clothes him, worthier of the high couches of the gods, a form like that of Quirinus in his trabea (ceremonial toga)”, (‘Metamorphoses’, 14: 806-828, translated by Frank Justus Miller, referenced below, at pp. 357-9). 


Ovid returned to this apotheosis in his entry for 17th February, which was the day of the Quirinalia, which:

  1. “... is dedicated to Quirinus, who is so-called (he was Romulus before), perhaps:

  2. because the ancient Sabines called a spear curis and, by his weapon the warlike god [Romulus] won his place among the stars; or

  3. because the Quirites, [both latin and Sabine], gave their own name to their king [Romulus]; or

  4. because he united [the Sabines of] Cures to Rome.

Although Ovid maintained Varro’s Sabine etymologies, Quirinus himself is no longer a Sabine deity: he is now the deified form of the Latin/ Roman Romulus”, (‘Fasti’, 2: 475-80, translated by James Frazer, referenced below, at p. 91). 

The rest of this passage was devoted, not to the Quirinalia, but to the apotheosis of Romulus as Quirinus (which occurred in early July, on 5th according to Dionysius or the 7th according to Cicero):

  1. “For when the father [Mars], lord of arms, saw the new walls [that Romulus had built on the Palatine] and the many wars that Romulus waged, he cried:

  2. ‘O Jupiter, the Roman power is strong: it no longer needs the services of my son: give him back to his father.  Though one of my two sons, [Remus], has perished, the one who is left to me will suffice for both.  You, yourself, have promised that: Unus erit quem tu tolles in caerula caeli (there will be one that you will exalt to the blue Heavens).  Let the word of Jupiter be kept.’

  3. Jupiter nodded assent.  At his nod, both poles [of the earth] shook, and Atlas shifted the burden of the sky.  There is a place which the ancients call the Caprae Palus  (Marsh of the Goat).  It chanced, Romulus, that you were judging your people there.  The sun vanished and rising clouds obscured the Heaven, and there fell a heavy shower of rain in torrents.  Then it thundered, then the sky was riven by shooting flames.  The people fled and [Romulus] soared to the stars on his father’s horse”, (‘Fasti’, 2: 480-96, translated by James Frazer, referenced below, at pp. 91-3). 

This section overlaps that account above from the ‘Metamorphoses’, albeit that it concentrated on the events on the ground during the apotheosis while the ‘Metamorphoses’  concentrated on Romuls’ ascent to Heaven.

Ovid then moved to the intervention of Proculus Julius: after Romulus’ disappearance during this dreadful storm:

  1. “There was mourning [among the people who had fled from the Caprae Palus ], and the senators were falsely charged with murder ... But, as Proculus Julius was coming [to Rome] from Alba Longa, ... the hedges on his left suddenly shook and trembled. ... It seemed to him that Romulus ...  [appeared to him] and said:

  2. ‘Forbid the Quirites to mourn, let them not profane my divinity by their tears.  Bid the pious throng to bring incense and propitiate the new Quirinus, and bid them cultivate the arts of their fathers, the arts of war.’

  3. Having so ordered, Romulus/Quirinus vanished into thin air.  Proculus called the people together and reported the words as he had been bid.  Temples were built to the god, and the hill also was named after him, and the rites observed by our fathers come round on a fixed days”, (‘Fasti’, 2: 496-511, translated by James Frazer, referenced below, at pp. 93-5). 


According to Plutarch, when Romulus:

  1. “... divided the territory acquired in war [with Veii] among his soldiers and released the Veientine hostages without consulting the patricians, he was thought to be insulting their Senate outright.  Therefore, when Romulus disappeared unaccountably a short time, suspicion and calumny descended upon the Senate.  He disappeared on the Nones [7th] of July, as they now call the month, then Quintilis, leaving no certain account nor even any generally accepted tradition of his death, aside from its date ... For, on that day, many ceremonies are still performed that seem to commemorate  what then came to pass”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 27: 2-3).

A later passage makes clear how Plutarch arrived at the putative date of Romulus’ death:

  1. “... the day on which [Romulus] vanished is called the Poplifugia [People's Flight] and the Nonae Caprotinae, because the people leave the city and sacrifice at the Caprae Palus [Gooat’s Marsh, in the lowest part of the Campus Martius] ... , shouting out many local names, like Marcus, Lucius, and Caius, in imitation of the way in which, on the day when Romulus disappeared [here], they called upon one another in fear and confusion”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 29: 2).

Plutarch’s following remarks make it clear that there were other explanations for these two apparently archaic festivals.  Howard Scullard (referenced below, at p. 162) explained that:

  1. “Plutarch confuses the issue by saying that ... the Poplifugia and Nonae Caprotinae [took place on the same day]: ... the calendars show that these [were separate] festivals [that] fell on different days, the 5th and 7th [of July respectively].”

In fact, it is unlikely that either of these festivals had anything to do with Romulus.

Having alluded to the mystery surrounding the death of Romulus, Plutarch then set out the main traditions that grew up to explain it:

  1. “Romulus disappeared suddenly, and no portion of his body or fragment of his clothing remained to be seen:

  2. Some conjectured that the senators, convened in the shrineof Vulcan), fell upon and killed him and cut his body in pieces, after which each hid a portion [of the body] in the folds of his robe and so carried it away.

  3. Others think that he disappeared ... when he was holding an assembly of the people outside the city near the so‑called Goat's Marsh [see above], when ... the light of the sun suddenly failed and night descended upon them ... with awful peals of thunder and furious blasts driving rain ... [At this], the multitude dispersed ...  but the nobles gathered together .  When the storm had ceased and the sun appeared once more, the multitude returned and anxiously searched for their king.  However, the nobles would not allow them to inquire into his disappearance ... but instead exhorted them all to honour and revere Romulus, since he had been caught up into Heaven and was to be a benevolent god for them instead of a good king”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 27: 5-7). 

Plutarch then moved to the intervention of Proculus Julius.  Whatever the precise circumstances in which Romulus disappeared, most people apparently believed that he had ascended to Heaven as a god.  However, some were unconvinced and accused the Senate of having murdered him:

  1. “At this point, it is said that one of the patricians, a man of noblest birth and of the most reputable character, a trusted and intimate friend of Romulus himself and one of the colonists from Alba, Julius Proculus by name, went into the Forum and solemnly swore by the most sacred emblems before all the people that, as he was travelling on the road[from Alba], he had seen Romulus coming to meet him, fair and stately to the eye as never before, and arrayed in bright and shining armour.  terrified by this apparition, had said:

  2. ‘O King, ... [why] have have you left us patricians a prey to unjust and wicked accusations, and the whole city eternally grieving the loss of its father?

  3. Whereupon Romulus replied:

  4. ‘It was the will of the gods, O Proculus, from whom I came, that I should be with mankind only a short time and that, after founding a city destined to be the greatest on earth for empire and glory, I should dwell again in Heaven.  So farewell, and tell the Romans that, if they practise self-restraint and valour, they will reach the utmost heights of human power.  And I will be your propitious deity, Quirinus.’

  5. The Romans believed this testimony because of [Proculus’] reputation and the oath that he had taken.  Furthermore, divine inspiration shaped their emotions, so that no-one contradicted Proculus: instead, they all put aside suspicion and calumny, prayed to Quirinus, and honoured him as a god”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 28: 1-3).

According to Suetonius, after Augustus’ death in 14 AD:

  1. “... his eulogy was twice delivered:

  2. by Tiberius, in front to the temple of divus Julius; and

  3. by Drusus, Tiberius’s son, from the old Rostra.

  4. [His remains were] carried on the shoulders of senators to the Campus Martius and there cremated. There was even an ex-praetor who took oath that he had seen the form of the Emperor, after he had been reduced to ashes, on its way to Heaven”, (‘Life of Augustus’, 100: 3-4). 

Cassius Dio named this witness of Augustus putative apotheosis: Augustus’ widow, Livia:

  1. ... bestowed 1,000,000 sesterces upon a certain Numerius Atticus, a senator and ex-praetor, because he swore that he had seen Augustus ascending to Heaven, in the manner that tradition tells concerning Proculus and Romulus”, (‘Roman History’, 56: 46: 1-2).

The reconstructions above, which are based on literary sources discussed below, show:

  1. on the left: two hypothetical lions on the excavated moulded pedestals and an aedicule hypothesised for the excavated platform behind them; and

  2. on the right: a tall column and a figure of an armed man hypothesised for the excavated truncated column.

In a recent edition of his work on this subject that has been published in English, Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2014, at p. 56) asserted that this group of monuments:

  1. “... constituted the [original] Volcanal, the very ancient sanctuary of Vulcan, which various witnesses situate in the Comitium, near the Graecostasis and the Rostra. ... As Festus [quoted above], the only [surviving source for the] term lapis niger confirms, [this] was not the site of the tomb of Romulus, ... but the [traditional] site of his death ...”

He noted that Plutarch recorded that some sources that doubted the Romulus had been taken up into Heaven:

  1. “... conjectured that the senators, convened in the temple of φαίστου (Hephaestus, Roman Vulcan), fell upon and killed him and cut his body in pieces, after which each hid a portion [of the body] in the folds of his robe and so carried it away”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 27: 5).

Finally, he suggested that the cult site survived the partial destruction of these monuments after 44 BC, and that it might well have been moved to the nearby site between  the Curia Julia and the arch of Septimius Severus: a slab that was found here in 1548 bore an inscribed dedication (CIL VI 0457) by Augustus to Vulcan, dated to 9 BC.

Read more:

A. Russo, “Hypogeum with Sarcophagus Found in Forum”, (17th February 2020) Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata

M. Desmond, “Fires in Rome: the Ancient City as a Fire Régime”, (2019) thesis of Trinity College, University of Dublin

S. M. Goldberg (translator), “Ennius: Fragmentary Republican Latin, Volume I: Ennius, Testimonia. Epic Fragments”, (2018) Cambridge MA

C. Lyes, “Rethinking the Lapis Niger”, Classics Students' Journal, 1 (2017) 45-63

D. Guarisco, “Ossa Quirini: Romulus' Mortality and Apotheosis between Caesar and Augustus”’ Gremium, 10 (2016) 7-16

J. N. Hopkins, “Genesis of Roman Architecture”, (2016) New Haven and London

M. Andrews and H. Flower, “Mercury on the Esquiline: A Reconsideration of a Local Shrine Restored by Augustus, American Journal of Archaeology, 119:1 (2015) 47-67

T. P. Wiseman, "Rome on the Balance: Varro and the Foundation Legend”, in:

  1. D. J. Butterfield (editor), “Varro Varius: The Polymath of the Roman World”, (2015) Cambridge, at pp. 93-122

F. Coarelli (translated into English by J. Clauss and D. Harman), Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide”, (2014) Oakland, California

J. Fisher, “The ‘Annals ‘of Quintus Ennius and the Italic Tradition”, (2014) Baltimore

V. Closs, "While Rome Burned: Fire, Leadership, and Urban Disaster in the Roman Cultural Imagination", (2013) thesis from University of Pennsylvania

M. Koortbojian, “The Divinisation of Caesar and Augustus: Precedents, Consequences, Implications”, (2013) New York

J. N. Hopkins, “Comitium”, (2012) Wiley On-line Library

R. Kaster (translator), “Saturnalia, Volume I: Books 1-2”, (2011) Cambridge MA

A. D. Bartles, “Paving the Past: Late Republican Recollections in the Forum Romanum”, (2009) thesis of the University of Texas at Austin

D. Wardle, “Caesar and Religion”, in:

  1. M. Griffin (Ed.), “Companion to Julius Caesar’ (2009) Chichester, at pp. 100-11

M. Ver Eecke, “La République et le Roi - le Mythe de Romulus à la Fin de la République Romaine”, (2008) Paris

T. P. Wiseman, “Unwritten Rome”, (2008) Exeter

G. Forsythe, “A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War”, (2005)  Berkeley Los Angeles and London

P. Holliday , “The Rhetoric of "Romanitas: The ‘Tomb of the Statilii’ Frescoes Reconsidered”, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 50 (2005) 89-129

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

W. Stenhouse, “Reading Inscriptions and Writing Ancient History.: Historical Scholarship in the Late Renaissance”, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies Supplement 86 (2005) London

N. Rudd (translator), “Horace: Odes and Epodes”, (2004) Cambridge MA

F. Coarelli, “Volcanal”, in:

  1. E. M. Steinby (editor), “Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae (Volume 5)”, (2000) Rome, at pp. 209-11

F. Coarelli, “Sepulcrum Romuli”, in:

  1. E. M. Steinby (Ed.), “Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae (Volume 4)”, (1999) Rome, at pp. 295-6

M. Beard, J. North and S. Price, “Religions of Rome: Volume II: Sourcebook”, (1998) Cambridge

T. Cornell, “The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (ca. 1000-264 BC)”, (1995) London and New York

A. Ziolkowski, “The Temples of Mid-Republican Rome and their Historical and Topographical Context”, (1992) Rome

T. J. Cornell, “Review of ‘The Annals of Q. Ennius by O. Skutsch [1985, Oxford]’, Journal of Roman Studies, 76 (1986) 244-250

F. Coarelli, “Il Foro Romano II: Periodo Repubblicano e Augusteo”, (1985) Rome

F. Coarelli, “Il Foro Romano I: Il Foro Romano I: Periodo Arcaico”, (1983) Rome

R. Bloch, “Recherches Sur les Religions de l'Antiquite Classique”, (1980) Geneva and Paris

H. H. Scullard, “Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic”, (1981) London

D. Fishwick, ‘‘The Name of the Demigod,’’ Historia, 24 (1975) 624–8

J. K. Newman, “Ennius the Mystic (III)”, Greece & Rome, 14:1 (1967) 44-51

S. Weinstock, “Two Archaic Inscriptions from Latium”, Journal of Roman Studies, 50 (1960) 112-8

A. Degrassi “Fasti Capitolini”, (1954) Turin

E. Gjerstad,Il Comizio Romano dell' Età Repubblicana”, Opuscula Archaeologica, 2 (1941) 97-158.

R. Kent (translator), “Varro: On the Latin Language, Volume I: Books 5-7”, (1938) Cambridge MA

H. J. Rose, “The Cult of Volkanus at Rome”, Journal of Roman Studies , 23 (1933,) 46-63 

S. B. Platner, “A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome”, (1929) Cambridge

J. B. Carter, “The Death of Romulus”, American Journal of Archaeology , 13:1 (1909) 19-29

F. J. Miller (translator), “Ovid: Metamorphoses, Volume II: Books 9-15”, (1916) Cambridge MA

W. Miller (translator), “Cicero. On Duties”, (1913) Cambridge MA

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