By Jean Marie Carey

The Temple of Venus Eryx was dedicated on 23 April 215 BCE. In 217 BCE, in the early stages of the Second Punic War with Carthage, Rome suffered a disastrous defeat at the battle of Lake Trasimene. The Sibylline Oracle foretold that if the aspect of Venus known as the Venus Eryx, the patron deity of Carthage, could be persuaded to change her allegiance, Carthage might be defeated. Rome offered the goddess a magnificent temple as reward for her defection, installed on the Capitoline Hill, as one of Rome’s Dii consentes. Later, assimilated as a fully Roman deity, Venus Eryx become Venus Genetrix, the ancestral mother goddess to the Romans.

The temple itself was built by the dictator Quintus Fabius Maximus. The original building was part of the Capitoline Hill network of temples and other important civic structures, next to the great Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Like many imperial projects the temple made use of the footprint of much earlier builidings.

The two most important markers of the city’s development were the Forum and the Capitoline Hill. Both sites go back to the time of the seven kings of Rome. According to Roman literary tradition, the regal period began in 753 with the foundation of the city by Romulus and it lasted until the fall of the monarchy in 509. One of the important aspects of the urban fabric of ancient Rome is the antiquity of several of its key nodes. For instance, many of the important buildings in and around the Forum were already in place by the third decade of the Republic (that is, by 480): the Regia, the Temple of Vesta and the Temple of Castor and Pollux on the east side and the original Senate House (the Curia Hostilia), the Comitium and the Temple of Saturn on the west side.

Reference: Albert J. Ammerman. “Looking at Early Rome With Fresh Eyes”in A Companion to the archaeology of the Roman Republic. Hoboken: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2013.

Statuette of an Enthroned Figure from the Temple of Concordia. 1st Century. Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago.

In 15, the second Roman emperor, Tiberius (reigned 14-37), dedicated a large temple to Concordia just below the Capitoline Hill and overlooking the Roman Forum. This bronze is a version in miniature of the colossal gold and ivory cult-image of Concordia placed in that temple and now know chiefly from Roman coins. Seated on her elaborate, high-backed throne, this goddess or personified virtue wears a long chiton tied above her waist and an ample himation, which is draped over her left shoulder, falls down her back, around her lap, and ends in folds across either side of her legs. Her right hand is extended, palm upwards. Her missing left arm was raised. A cap culminating in a large diadem is set above her hair, the latter tied in a long braid behind her shoulders. Because this impressive figure probably held a patera (libation dish) on her right hand and a large cornucopia (horn of plenty) in her left arm, she is probably Concordia, symbol of family harmony and one of the four cardinal virtues of the Roman Empire.

Roman Forum; view from Capitoline Hill with the Temple of Vespasian on the left and Temple of Saturn on the right. 8th Century BCE. Photo: Art on File. Began during alliance of Romulus and rival Titus. For centuries the Roman Forum was the center of Roman public life where processions, elections, public speeches, criminal trials and gladiatorial matches were common. It is the most celebrated meeting place in the world. Today it is a sprawling ruin of fragments from the past with archeological excavations underway continuously to understand more about this site. The area was originally a low-lying grassy wetland drained in the 7th century BCE by a covered sewer system that emptied in the Tiber River. It wasn’t until the 5th century BC that the temples with known dates were constructed. However, the earliest shrines and temples date from the 8th century BCE.

Giovanni Antonio da Brescia. C. 1500. Details, cornice and trophy. The Illustrated Bartsch. Vol. 25, commentary, Early Italian Masters. Retrospective conversion of The Illustrated Bartsch (Abaris Books), ArtStor Nr. 2511.059

Tabularium, Palazzo Senatorio, view of the Tabularium from the Portico of the Dei Consentes, c. 82-78 BCE. Photo: Scala Archives, Florence. Following a fire on the Capitoline Hill in 83 BCE, Cornelius Sulla (dictator 82-80 BCE) began the planning of the Tabularium, built to house the state archives, and the restoration of the Capitoline Temple of Jupiter. The Tabularium was completed by Quintus Lutatius Catulus, who was consul in 78 BCE. Built on the side of the Capitoline Hill, the Tabularium is at the western extreme of the forum, behind the Temple of Concord, the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, and the Portico of the Dei Consentes. In the Middle Ages, a fortress was built over the remains of the tabularium; the fortress was later transformed into the Palazzo Senatorio.

Denarius with image of Venus Eryx and Temple, 59-60 BCE. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Further Reading: John W. Stamper. The Architecture of Roman Temples: The Republic to the Middle Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 

Eric M. Moormann. Divine Interiors: Mural Paintings in Greek and Roman Sanctuaries. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011. 

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