BMCR 2006.04.22

The Architecture of Roman Temples: The Republic to the Middle Empire

, The architecture of Roman temples : the republic to the middle empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xv, 287 pages : illustrations ; 29 cm. ISBN 052181068X $85.00.

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Table of Contents

This book is a study in architectural history that examines the development of temple architecture in ancient Rome from the end of the sixth century B.C.E. to the middle of the second century C.E. and addresses its social and political context.

Stamper, who is an architect and architectural historian, on the one hand focuses on the forms of the Roman temples and describes aspects of their structural type, formal vocabulary and urban setting, and on the other addresses the ways in which these aspects satisfy the religious needs of Roman society and enhance the political aims of their patrons. Stamper’s book is not an all-encompassing guide to Roman temple architecture, but focuses on those temples that are fairly well documented in central Rome. For the most recent inclusive study of Roman temple architecture, see Chapter 4 of Pierre Gros’ study on the public monuments of Rome.1 What Stamper’s study adds to previous scholarship is an analysis of the Roman temples’ architectural and urban design with regard to the socio-political context of the period.

The book is organized chronologically from the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus at the beginning of the Republic to Hadrian’s Pantheon and the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina in the middle of the second century C.E.

In Chapter One, Stamper describes the site of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, discusses the historical accounts of its construction, situates it within the political and religious context of Rome in the sixth century B.C.E. and recounts its history in modern scholarship. Stamper criticizes Einar Gjerstad’s 1960s reconstruction of the late sixth century B.C.E. Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Chapter Two and proposes a new reconstruction of the temple with smaller dimensions.2 In Chapter Three, Stamper discusses the temples built after the fall of the Etruscans during the early Republican period and compares them to the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, as reconstructed in the previous chapter. Chapter Four covers temple architecture in third and second century B.C.E. Rome and the ways in which it absorbed forms from Hellenistic Athens, Priene, and Pergamon. Chapter Five addresses the gradual change in preference from the Ionic to the Corinthian order in temple architecture as another aspect of Hellenistic influence in Rome. Chapter Six focuses on Pompey’s Temple of Venus Victrix and Theatre complex in the Campus Martius and Caesar’s Temple of Venus Genetrix in his Forum Iulium in order to address the context of temple architecture and the ways in which religious rituals would be related to it. Stamper discusses Augustus’ construction and restoration of temples in the Roman Forum, on the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, in the Circus Flaminius and in the Campus Martius, and tackles the underlying political agenda of his building program in Chapter Seven. Chapter Eight continues the discussion of the political propaganda of Augustus’ building program by focusing on the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum Augustum. The temples and fora built by the Flavian Emperors are the subject of Chapter Nine, which also addresses the two rebuilding phases of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus during this period. Chapter Ten examines Trajan’s Forum and assesses its structures in an effort to address the architecture of the Temple of Divus Traianus, for which no archaeological evidence exists. Chapter Eleven focuses on Hadrian’s Pantheon, addressing the nature of the building, its architectural refinements and uniqueness, and its symbolic meaning. Chapter Twelve concludes the book by addressing the influence of the Athenian Temple of Olympian Zeus on Hadrian’s Temple of Venus and Rome, and the continuity as well as transformation of the Hadrianic style in Antoninus Pius’ Temple of Divus Hadrianus and Temple of Antoninus and Faustina.

In this study, Stamper assesses the most recent archaeological evidence but places more emphasis on architectural reconstructions and overall characters of the temples as well as their social and political contexts. In doing so, Stamper aims at providing architects, planners, historians, and students with a more comprehensive discussion of the ancient temples of Rome than exists to date by interpreting the work of archaeologists through the eyes of an architectural historian (xiv). Stamper is successful in his aim and this is the real contribution of his book. Shortcomings in his study lie elsewhere.

The main argument of the book is that the authority of the past was crucial in Roman architecture. In her seminal essay on authority, Arendt argued, “at the heart of Roman politics, from the beginning of the republic until virtually the end of the imperial era, stands the conviction of the sacredness of foundation, in the sense that once something has been founded it remains binding for all future generations.”3 Stamper extends Arendt’s argument to architecture and makes the case that Roman designers based their temples on earlier precedents, in a process of progressive emulation, by which members of the Roman ruling class established and maintained their political control (1-2). This is an interesting and promising line of reasoning, and throughout the book it proves to be creative, inasmuch as it is disassociated from what Stamper considers to be the originating source of this progressive emulation, namely the sixth-century Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus as he reconstructs it.

Stamper agrees with Giuliani, Mambella, and Castagnoli that the dimensions of the temple provided by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (800 feet in circuit, each side measuring close to 200 feet [Roman foot: 0.296m; 236.8 meters in circuit, each side circa 59.2 meters]) refer not to the temple’s podium but to a platform on which a temple of smaller dimensions would have been built.4 The arguments for this case are that there is neither parallel nor antecedent for the temple’s dimensions and that wooden posts and lintels could not have supported a structure of this size.5 Stamper follows this line of reasoning, criticizing Gjerstad’s 1960s reconstruction of the temple and proposing a new one with smaller dimensions, on top of a series of terraced platforms.6 Although Sommella’s recent excavations and study actually show that the foundation substructures correspond to a grid based on Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ original dimensions,7 Stamper rejects her conclusions based on his personal observation of the site in 1999.8 The present reviewer, based on personal observation of the site in 2005 and on study of Sommella’s publications, does not agree with Stamper’s conclusions. This however, is just one, and arguably a less important, side of the problem.

In his hypothetical reconstruction Stamper aligns the foundation wall near the site’s southeast corner (visible in the Palazzo dei Conservatori) not with the second row of the temple’s columns from the east, as reconstructed by Gjerstad and Sommella, but rather with the first row, and proposes a similar recess of the temple from the west side to give an overall dimension for the temple’s podium of about 34 meters wide by 38.30 meters long (27). Stamper then proposes a terraced platform for the sixth-century Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, based on “many known examples from the Republic and Empire” (29), that is, of later periods. This hypothetical reconstruction is subsequently established as the precedent for the Temple of Venus Genetrix in Caesar’s Forum (95), Agrippa’s Pantheon (128), the Temple of Mars Ultor in Augustus’ Forum (132), the temple in the Templum Pacis (157), the Temple of Divus Traianus in Trajan’s Forum (173), and Agrippa’s Pantheon (184, 186, 188, esp. 205).

Even though one might agree with Stamper’s criticism of Sommella’s conclusions, his proposed reconstruction of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus as a temple on terraced platform is based solely on later examples of temple architecture (for example, the first-century B.C.E. Temple of Jupiter Anxur at Terracina) and is therefore purely hypothetical. None of the known contemporary Italic temples has such a substructure. By making this hypothetical reconstruction the precedent for the subsequent generations of Roman architects, Stamper formulates a circular and problematic argument that weakens his otherwise interesting and useful study.

A number of typographical mistakes and omissions may be noted: indications of scale and/or north arrows are missing in a number of figures; the alternative form Mithridates is used for Mithradates in p. 84, whereas in pp. 68, 235 and index (284) Mithradates is used; on p. 157, southeast should read northwest; on p. 277, Tagliamonte’s entry in the LTUR vol. 3 is at pp. 144-48, not 148-53.

[For a response to this review by François Hinard, please see BMCR 2008.07.26.]


1. Gros, P. (1996). L’Architecture romaine du début du IIIe siècle av. J.-C. à la fin du Haut-Empire. Volume 1. Les monuments publics. Picard, Paris.

2. Gjerstad, Einar (1960). Early Rome III. Fortifications, Domestic Architecture, Sanctuaries, Stratigraphic Excavations. C. W. K. Gleerup, Lund.

3. Arendt, H. (1958). What was authority? In Authority, (Ed, Friedrich C. J.) Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp. 81-112; quoted by Stamper, pp. 1-2.

4. Dion. Hal. Rom. Ant. 4.61.3. Giuliani, C. F. (1982) Architettura e tecnica edilizia. In Roma repubblicana fra il 509 e il 270 A.C., (Ed, Dondero I. and P. Pensabene) Quasar, Roma, pp. 29-31; Mambella, R. (1982) Contributi alla problematica sul tempio etrusco-italico. Rendiconti della Pontificia Accademia romana di archeologia 6, 35-42; Castagnoli, F. (1984) Il tempio romano: questioni di terminologia e di tipologia. Papers of the British School at Rome 52, 7-9; (1986) Testudo, tegula deliciaris e il tempio di Giove Capitolino. Mélanges de l’École française de Rome: antiquité 98.1, 37-45.

5. For a summary of the discussion: Tagliamonte, G. (1996) Iuppiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus, Aedes, Templum (fino all’a 83 A.C.). In Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae, vol. 3, 144-148.

6. Chapter 2, 25-32. Stamper bases this chapter on his 1998 article: Stamper, J. (1998-99). The Temple of Capitoline Jupiter in Rome: a new reconstruction. Hephaistos 16/17, 107-138.

7. Sommella, A.M. (1997-98) Le recente scoperte sul Campidoglio e la fondazione del Tempio di Giove Capitolino. Rendiconti della Pontificia Accademia romana di archeologia 70, 57-79, pp. 60-67; (2000) “La grande Roma dei tarquini”: alterne vicende di una felice intuizione. Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica comunale di Roma 101, 7-26.

8. “My observation in 1999 of the newly exposed foundation blocks in the basement of the southwest wing of the Capitoline Museum gave a different impression, one of a more or less contiguous surface of the cappellaccio blocks extending through several of the palace’s rooms. It was not broken up in the way these drawings suggest, nor were there higher foundation walls projecting vertically as suggested in the plan reconstructions of these articles” (227, n. 32).