As one studies the Roman temples, of which the Pantheon is the only worthy representative remaining, he is sadly disappointed in finding how little absolutely satisfactory knowledge of them can be gained. For example, in the case of the Temple of the Capitoline Jupiter, we find that no connected and intelligible account of this great national temple exists; and no fragment of it remains, to our absolute certainty. From many writers we gather interesting references to the temple and its possessions, but these writers disagree. Not in the main fact that here was a most important, magnificent, and enormously wealthy shrine, dedicated to the great Jove, but in their accounts of its details; as when Livy says that the statue of Jupiter was the work of Turianus, an Etruscan sculptor, and Pliny records that it was made by Volca of Veii. These disagreements are not of vital importance; but one has a sensation of being cheated when he spends his time to read one authority only to be contradicted by another. As this temple was more than once destroyed and rebuilt, both sculptors may have made statues of its deity; but there is so much of legend about it that no clear-cut idea of it can be formed.
This temple, having been built on the Etruscan model, was doubtless small, its greatest magnificence being in its substructure and its enclosure, where, as already explained, the important rites of worship took place.
Not only have the most ancient temples disappeared, but little remains of those of the Augustan Age,--a few columns, the substructures in some cases, and scanty portions, known to have been built into other edifices. Of the Temple of Minerva, parts were used in S. Peter's, where a portion of its architrave was converted into the high altar by Paul V. in 1606. The same Pope cut its columns to adorn his fountain on the Janiculum. Other portions are in the Borghese chapel in S. Maria Maggiore; but even the scanty remnants which have been permitted to remain--the columns, a section of the entablature with sculptured cornice and frieze--serve to indicate the original beauty of this temple.
The small Temple of Jupiter Tonans, built by Augustus, is interesting from the traditions connected with it, one of which relates that it was built by the great Emperor in gratitude for his escape from death when a servant who was carrying a torch before his litter was killed by lightning.
Suetonius relates that Jupiter Capitolinus appeared to Augustus in a dream and expressed jealousy of Jupiter Tonans on account of the erection of a temple in his honor. Augustus then affixed bells to the shrine of the new temple, and pacified the complaining Jove by assuring him that the god of the small temple was simply his doorkeeper.
Pliny mentions that the Temple of Jupiter Tonans was constructed of solid marble blocks, such buildings being rare in Rome. A portion of the wall of the Regia, rebuilt in 36 B. C., and the circular temple in the Forum Boarium, probably erected during the reign of Augustus, are among the few examples of this kind of structure remaining.
This beautiful circular temple was once erroneously called the Temple of Vesta. The present edifice, dating from its rebuilding by Augustus, was known in the Middle Ages as the church of S. Stefano delle Carozze. It is now known as S. Maria del Sole, so named from a miraculous, shining picture of the Madonna found floating on the river near by. The remaining nineteen columns are graceful; and when the eight marble steps which surrounded the entire edifice were perfect, the whole effect of this circular peristyle must have been extremely fine. In design it closely resembles the actual Temple of Vesta, and is the finest example of this kind of structure remaining in Rome.
The Temple of Mars Ultor affords an example of a kind of construction which combines the use of solid marble blocks and of walls faced with thin marble linings. Spaces are left between the courses of solid blocks, which are built up in peperino and lined with Greek marble. Like the three remaining columns, the entire fragments of this structure are of the finest material and workmanship.
This temple was erected by Augustus in fulfillment of his vow to the god who, at Philippi, avenged the death of Julius Caesar, when Brutus and Cassius, seeing that their cause was lost, deserted it and their soldiers by committing suicide. In any case, it seems most fitting that this battle should have been signally commemorated by the Empire, since it may be said that the Republic perished at Philippi. The two great Republican leaders, flushed by their successes in Macedonia and Syria, assumed that they should be triumphant here. Brutus had been hailed as Imperator, and had even coined money stamped with his own effigy, and, according to Dion, bearing an inscription which declared that, together with Cassius, he had restored liberty to Rome.
By the union of their forces they led nineteen legions against Octavius, who, weak from illness, was borne to the field in a litter. The legend that the ghost of Caesar had summoned Brutus to meet him at Philippi was taken by the ancients as the cause of his final weakness. They believed that it was remorse alone that led him to commit the same act for which he had so blamed Cato. His body, wrapped in purple, was sent to his mother, Servilia, for burial; and his wife, Porcia, being determined upon self-destruction, and all weapons having been taken from her, the historian Appian relates that she filled her mouth with coals from a burning brazier, firmly closed her lips, and died from suffocation. Plutarch, however, doubts if Porcia died because Brutus was dead, and other writers suggest that she inhaled the fumes of the burning coal.
Facing the present Sacra Via, at the east end of the Forum, is the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina. The Emperor erected it to the memory of Faustina in 141 A. D. After his death, by a decree of the Senate, an upper line was added to the inscription, including him in the dedication of the temple. The largest portion of the interior has been converted into the church of S. Lorenzo in Miranda.
The front has been excavated to its original level, and is well preserved. Noble monolithic columns of cipollino still remain; also a frieze of white Athenian marble, sculptured with reliefs of candelabra and griffins, it being an almost exact reproduction of a frieze found at Delos.
The masonry in the lower portions, recently uncovered, is of excellent workmanship. This temple is represented on coins struck in honor of Faustina; and two seated statues are seen, as if through the open door of the cella--probably intended for Antoninus and Faustina.
The small size of the Roman temples is surprising to one who regards them from the modern view of the uses of religious edifices; but if the ancient view is taken into account, the size becomes unimportant. The splendor and richness of the structure and its decorations are significant of the honors paid the god, whom the ancients preferred to worship without the temple. It appears, indeed, that they had no conception of an all-pervading spirit, or omnipresence, and temple walls seemed to obscure their ideas of deity. Therefore the templum, or the entire sacred precinct of the temple enclosures, as before mentioned, was essentially the place for worship, these enclosures being far larger than the temple itself.
The ancient Latin religion was not inventive, its one peculiar deity being the double-headed Janus, or Janus bifrons, the "beginner," or "opener," whom they invoked at the beginning of every undertaking. Gates, doors, and the morning were sacred to Janus from the earliest period of his worship; and gradually almost numberless matters were confided to his care. The opening of the year, in the name of the first month, still commemorates this pagan deity in many countries.
Later, this god was represented with four faces, on account of his presiding over the four seasons, and was then called Janus quadrifrons. The enclosure dedicated to Janus was called a temple, but the word "passage" would describe it more accurately. The custom of leaving it open during a war suggested that Janus had gone to aid the Roman army, and closing it in times of peace was intended to prevent his escape. New Year's Day was the festival day of Janus, and the custom of making gifts on that day originated in prehistoric Rome.
There is a legend that the first Temple of Janus was erected by King Numa; at all events, it was one of the very earliest erected in Rome.
Pliny speaks of two statues of this god, the first being in bronze and the work of a very ancient Etruscan sculptor; he says that this figure indicated with its fingers the number of days in the Roman year, which was three hundred and fifty-five. Augustus brought from Egypt a statue of Janus by Scopas or Praxiteles. Pliny explains the uncertainty regarding the sculptor by saying that the statue was very thickly gilded; and the number of foreign statues brought to Rome was so large that the people, more interested in other matters than in art, failed to keep a record of the authors of these works.
There were many statues of Janus, as well as arches dedicated to him. Domitian seems to have especially devoted himself to honoring this deity, and set up so many Jani with chariots and other triumphal insignia that at length some wag inscribed one of them with the word apkel--that's enough--in the spirit of the modern slang, "give us a rest."
From the present point of view the Roman temples were very defective in want of height. If we imagine ourselves on some elevation looking down upon ancient Rome, we shall see an extent of almost level roofs. The lines of the temple roofs were, indeed, somewhat broken by the statues placed on them; but even when of colossal size these did not give an adequate impression of height, certainly not of the soaring aspiration which church towers symbolize. Nothing more clearly illustrates the absolute absence of spiritual desire from the pagan religion than does its utter content with the protection afforded by the powers of Nature if they were but suitably propitiated.
In very early days a few watch towers arose from fortresses and palaces, but their very purpose, the discovery of advancing enemies, fixed the thoughts of the watchers earthward; and not until bells were introduced was there a reason for attaching towers to sacred edifices, or erecting them near churches as belonging to them.
But even when the roofs of Rome were nearly on a level, the hills which surrounded the Forum were crowned by many pillared temples, and looking up from the city these must have produced a fine effect, and the dwellings of the gods appeared to be the guardians of their worshippers.
Under the Empire the columns of Trajan and Antonine served a good purpose in breaking the sky-line of Rome, while some of the grand tombs were more lofty than the temples, and the towers on the Wall of Aurelian added a picturesque and artistic element to the general view.
Not until the time of Pope Adrian I.--772 A. D.--were church bells used, and the erection of church spires or belfries generally adopted, and these belonged to the Gothic rather than to any earlier order of architecture.
The Romans cared more for the courts of justice and for civil government than for the courts of the temples and religious affairs. Consequently, while their temples were small, some of their basilicas were grand in size and proportion. The ruins of the Ulpian Basilica, and those of the Basilica of Maxentius,--more frequently called the Temple of Peace,--are sufficient to enable archaeologists to restore their plans with reasonable confidence. These were the two most splendid basilicas in Rome, and that begun by Maxentius was finished by Constantine.
The origin of the basilica is unknown; but as the name is Greek, and so many other architectural plans were copied from the Greeks by the Romans, it is not unreasonable to suppose that these were either copied from Greek edifices, or were suggested by the celloe of the temples, and were enlarged and adapted to secular rather than religious purposes.
There was every reason why the Christians should adopt the basilican form of edifice, since pillars suited to this use were to be found all over Rome, while wooden roofs were inexpensive, and the whole effect of the structures was dignified and impressive.
The earliest Roman basilicas corresponded essentially to bazaars. Cato, in 184 B.C., built the Porcian Basilica, or Silversmiths' Hall, beside the Senate-house, and gradually numbers of basilicas surrounded the Forum, and small private shops disappeared before the advance of fine columnar halls, in the more dignified of which the courts were held.
The Romans were slow to consider public wants and conveniences; and not until Cato's time were the basins into which the aqueduct water flowed properly lined with stone, and other improvements made which looked to the comfort of the people, whose bare necessities had hitherto been the only consideration. A certain incipient luxury had been introduced in private dwellings, and the same spirit which had prompted this now extended to public edifices; colonnades were built, and the basilicas or Attic courts erected.