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The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, also known as the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus was the most important temple in Ancient Rome, located on the Capitoline Hill. It was surrounded by the Area Capitolina, a precinct where certain assemblies met, and numerous shrines, altars, statues, and victory trophies were displayed.
19th century illustration depicting the temple above the Tiber River during the Roman Republic.
Much of what is known of the first Temple of Jupiter is from later Roman tradition. Lucius Tarquinius Priscus vowed this temple while battling with the Sabines and, according to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, began the terracing necessary to support the foundations of the temple.Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 3.69 Modern coring on the Capitoline has confirmed the extensive work needed just to create a level building site. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Livy, the foundations and most of the superstructure of the temple were completed by Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the last King of Rome.Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 4.61; Livy History 1.55-56.1
Livy also records that before the temple's construction shrines to other gods occupied the site. When the augurs carried out the rites seeking permission to remove them, only Terminus and Juventas were believed to have refused. Their shrines were therefore incorporated into the new structure. Because he was the god of boundaries, Terminus's refusal to be moved was interpreted as a favorable omen for the future of the Roman state. A second portent was the appearance of the head of a man to workmen digging the foundations of the temple. This was said by the augurs (including augurs brought especially from Etruria) to mean that Rome was to be the head of a great empire.Livy Ab urbe condita 1.55
Traditionally the Temple was dedicated on September 13, the founding year of the Roman Republic, 509 BCE.Ab urbe condita, 2.8 It was sacred to the Capitoline Triad consisting of Jupiter and his companion deities, Juno and Minerva.
The man to perform the dedication of the temple was chosen by lot. The duty fell to Marcus Horatius Pulvillus, one of the consuls in that year.Tacitus, quoted in Aicher 2004, p. 51
Livy records that in 495 BCE the Latins, as a mark of gratitude to the Romans for the release of 6,000 Latin prisoners, delivered a crown of gold to the temple.Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2.22
The original temple measured almost 60× and was considered the most important religious temple of the whole state of Rome. Each deity of the Triad had a separate cella, with Juno Regina on the left, Minerva on the right, and Jupiter Optimus Maximus in the middle. The first temple was decorated with many terra cotta sculptures. The most famous of these was of Jupiter driving a quadriga, a chariot drawn by four horses, which was on top of the roof as an acroterion. This sculpture, as well as the cult statue of Jupiter in the main cella, was said to have been the work of Etruscan artisan Vulca of Veii.Pliny the Elder, Encyclopedia 35.157 An image of Summanus, a thunder god, was among the pedimental statues.Cicero, On Divination 1.16
The plan and exact dimensions of the temple have been heavily debated. Five different plans of the temple have been published following recent excavations on the Capitoline Hill that revealed portions of the archaic foundations.;;;;. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the same plan and foundations were used for later rebuildings of the temple.Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 4.61.4
The first temple burned in 83 BCE, during the civil wars under the dictatorship of Sulla. Also lost in this fire were the Sibylline Books, which were said to have been written by classical sibyls, and stored in the temple (to be guarded and consulted by the quindecimviri (council of fifteen) on matters of state only on emergencies).
Sulla hoped to live until the temple was rebuilt, but Quintus Lutatius Catulus had the honor of dedicating the new structure in 69 BCE. The new temple was built to the same plan on the same foundations, but with more expensive materials for the superstructure. Literary sources indicate that the temple was not entirely completed until the late 60s BCE.
Brutus and the other assassins locked themselves inside it after murdering Caesar. The new temple of Quintus Lutatius Catulus was renovated and repaired by Augustus.
The second building burnt down during the course of fighting on the hill on December 19, 69 CE, when an army loyal to Vespasian battled to enter the city in the Year of the Four Emperors. Domitian narrowly escaped with his life.
The new emperor, Vespasian, rapidly rebuilt the temple on the same foundations but with a lavish superstructure. The third temple of Jupiter was dedicated in 75CE. The third temple burned during the reign of Titus in the great fire of 80CE.
Relief sculpture of Marcus Aurelius sacrificing at the fourth temple.
Domitian immediately began rebuilding the temple, again on the same foundations, but with the most lavish superstructure yet. According to ancient sources, Domitian used at least twelve thousands talents of gold for the gilding of the bronze roof tiles alone. Elaborate sculpture adorned the pediment. A Renaissance drawing of a damaged relief in the Louvre Museum shows a four-horse chariot (quadriga) beside a two-horse chariot (biga) to the right of the latter at the highest point of the pediment, the two statues serving as the central acroterion, and statues of the god Mars and goddess Venus surmounting the corners of the cornice, serving as acroteria.
In the centre of the pediment the god Jupiter was flanked by Juno and Minerva, seated on thrones. Below was an eagle with wings spread out. A biga driven by the sun god and a biga driven by the moon were depicted either side of the three gods.
Decline and abandonment
The temple completed by Domitian is thought to have lasted more or less intact for over three hundred years, until all pagan temples were closed by emperor Theodosius I in 392. During the fifth century the temple was damaged by Stilicho and Gaiseric (Procopius states that the Vandals plundered the temple during the sack of Rome in 455, stripping away the roof shingles made of gold and bronze). In 571, Narses removed many of the statues and ornaments. The ruins were still well preserved in 1447 when the 15th-century humanist Poggio Bracciolini visited Rome. The remaining ruins were destroyed in the 16th century, when Giovanni Pietro Caffarelli built a palace (Palazzo Caffarelli) on the site reusing material from the temple.
Temple's front corner foundations in via del Tempio di Giove
Today, portions of the temple foundations can be seen behind the Palazzo dei Conservatori, in an exhibition area built in the Caffarelli Garden, and within the Musei Capitolini. A part of front corner is also visible in via del Tempio di Giove.
The second Medici lion was sculpted in the late 16th century by Flaminio Vacca from a capital from the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.
The Area Capitolina was the precinct on the southern part of the Capitoline that surrounded the Temple of Jupiter, enclosing it with irregular retaining walls following the hillside contours. The precinct was enlarged in 388 BCE, to about 3,000m2. The Clivus Capitolinus ended at the main entrance in the center of the southeast side, and the Porta Pandana seems to have been a secondary entrance; these gates were closed at night. The sacred geese of Juno, said to have sounded the alarm during the Gallic siege of Rome, were kept in the Area, which was guarded during the Imperial period by dogs kept by a temple attendant. Domitian hid in the dog handler's living quarters when the forces of Vitellius overtook the Capitoline.
Underground chambers called favissae held damaged building materials, old votive offerings, and dedicated objects that were not suitable for display. It was religiously prohibited to disturb these. The precinct held numerous shrines, altars, statues, and victory trophies. Some plebeian and tribal assemblies met there. In late antiquity, it was a market for luxury goods, and continued as such into the medieval period: in a letter from 468, Sidonius describes a shopper negotiating over the price of gems, silk, and fine fabrics.