BMCR 2014.01.02

The Temple of Castor and Pollux III: The Augustan Temple. Occasional papers of the Nordic Institutes in Rome, 4

, , , , The Temple of Castor and Pollux III: The Augustan Temple. Occasional papers of the Nordic Institutes in Rome, 4. Roma: "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 2009. 285. ISBN 9788882654979. €200.00 (pb).

[The Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

The temple dedicated to Castor and Pollux, vowed by A. Postumius in 499 B.C. and dedicated in 485 B.C., restored by L. Caecilius Metellus in 117 B.C. and rebuilt by the emperor Tiberius between 7 B.C. and A.D.6, is located at the southeast corner of the Forum Romanum. Its three columns and entablature have survived since antiquity as the conspicuous remnants of an octostyle peripteral temple with a 50-foot Corinthian order arranged in the pycnostyle rhythm. These remains have been variously associated with the temple of Jupiter Stator and the Graecostasis, but were conclusively identified asthe temple of Castor in the mid-nineteenth century. Pietro Rosa, Otto Richter and Giacomo Boni excavated and restored the podium in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, identifying the Metellan temple and an imperial rebuilding. In 1960, Donald Strong and John Ward Perkins conducted a detailed analysis of the architectural remains and established that the surviving columns, conventionally considered to be of late Roman date, were in fact contemporary with Tiberius’ recorded rebuilding.1 In 1982, Adriano La Regina, the then superintendent, instituted a major programme of study and conservation of all the monuments in and around the Forum and invited foreign schools in Rome to participate. Denmark, Sweden and Norway combined forces for a new survey and excavation of the temple of Castor between 1983-9, while the Finnish Institute took on a re-investigation of the adjacent Lacus Juturna. A series of preliminary reports on the survey and excavation of the temple of Castor were produced throughout the 1980s, and the first volume of reports, which was concerned only with the pre-Augustan phases, was published in 1992;2 two further volumes, on the excavations carried out in and around the podium, were delayed until 2008;3 the volume presently under review completes the series. It documents all the evidence for the Augustan phase of the temple that is still in situ, and also includes record of the other architectural and sculptural pieces that may once have belonged to it.

The first four chapters, joint-authored by Kjell Aage Nilson, Claes B. Persson and Jan Zahle, explain the materials, techniques and construction processes that were used to build the foundations, podium, and the superstructure of the temple (chapter two); the authors then reflect on some of the planning and economic considerations that are evident in the substructures (chapters three) and the measuring system and proportions of the temple (chapter four). In the latter chapter, Nilson and Persson demonstrate that the Augustan builders preserved the proportions of the Metellan temple by reapplying them in Tiberius’ building at a ratio of 6:7.

Siri Sande is responsible for the following seven chapters, the first three of which take the form of catalogues. Sande sets out the evidence for the podium and the tribunal (chapter five), the temple superstructure (chapter six), and stone fragments discovered during excavation (chapter seven). The account of the superstructure of the temple (chapter six) is the longest chapter in the book, and progresses from the column base to the sima. Each category is prefaced with a discussion of technical features, form and style. A discussion of the significance of these findings by Sande follows in chapter 8.

In the subsequent four chapters (8-11), Sande moves on to more analytical discussion and conclusions. In chapter 8, Sande examines the exterior and interior order of the temple and discusses its mature, Late Augustan style. Sande treats each architectural feature individually, considering the decorative parts in light of comparative examples in Rome and the Roman world, and in reference to relevant modern scholarship. In chapter 9, Sande considers the design processes involved in the temple’s construction, proposing that a workshop directed by a master mason, or ‘designer,’ produced the architectural decoration of the temple of Castor, with links to the temple of Apollo in Circo and the temple of Concordia. In chapter 10, Sande briefly explains the similarities and differences between the new reconstruction drawings of the temple produced by Nilson and Persson, and the earlier reconstructions offered by Otto Richter in 1898. In short, Nilson and Persson produce a more monumental entrance to the temple by adding two steps below the front columns to make the bases more visible, and they reconstruct the podium so that the lateral stairs and the tribunal are connected to it. It is unfortunate that L’Erma di Bretschneider misprinted three elevations of the reconstructed temple in plates 9, 11 and 12.1, making it difficult to discern some of the roof details, and the raking cornice in particular. In the concluding chapter, chapter 11, Sande places the Augustan phase of the temple of Castor in its wider topographical, historical and religious context. Sande proposes that the reduction of the deep Metellan tribunal by the shallower Augustan tribunal reflects the political climate of the Principate in which the need for speakers’ platforms was diminishing. Sande interprets the maintenance of the same proportions in the Tiberian as in the Metellan temple not as a practical solution to the re-use of the podium, but as a measure of the Augustan builders’ respect for religious protocols. Sande concludes with final reflections on the temple’s place in religious architecture in Rome. The decorative style of the temple of Castor echoes that of earlier temples in the capital, and counters the neat chronological progression that is so often proposed for the development of the Roman Corinthian order, in which the rich decorative style of the late Triumviral/early Augustan period developed into the Classicizing canon as exemplified by the temple of Mars Ultor. Sande cites the temple of Castor as a valuable example of the eclectic and experimental nature of Augustan architecture.

The volume certainly fulfils its stated aim of providing a full presentation of the evidence for the temple and a careful record of its architectural and sculptural pieces. Pia Guldager Bilde even records the early modern graffiti on the columns (Appendix 2); while Helen Dorey from Sir John Soane’s Museum in London provides a catalogue raisonné of Soane’s collection of plaster casts, models and sketches relating to the temple (Appendix 3). It is therefore a truly comprehensive collection of all the evidence. Over and above the value of the volume as a documentary resource, however, Sande’s contributions provide valuable overviews of Augustan religious architecture and significant discussions of the processes involved in the design and construction of a major public temple in Rome. Sande deftly contextualizes the archaeological evidence in relation to the economics of construction, ideologies of building and rebuilding in Rome, the dissemination of architectural style, and the socio-political context of Augustan and early Imperial Rome, and judiciously evaluates modern scholarship on these topics in the process.

Throughout the volume its authors state their hope that it will inspire future discussion, and my following comments are offered in the spirit of this.

Although Sande considers the two-part Corinthian capital to be an outmoded carving practice (chapter 6, p. 147), and a ‘retrospective’ element of the temple (chapter 11, p. 256), the capitals from the Augustan temples of Apollo in Circo, Apollo Palatinus and Mars Ultor were also constructed with this technique, and other examples of the two-piece capital dating to the Julio-Claudian and Flavian periods can be found in Rome. The two-piece capitals from the exterior order of the temple of Castor were therefore neither out-dated nor retrospective, and their presence simply reflects the selection of a technique that was best suited to contemporary lifting technology.

Some of Sande’s proposals regarding the temple’s cella are unpersuasive (chapter 6, pp. 204-8). To Sande, the absence of secure evidence for the temple’s cella suggests that it was spoliated in a single operation and by public decree; any attempt to reconstruct it must remain hypothetical (p. 208). However, she makes a case for identifying some fragmentary evidence for the cella. Firstly, Sande examines twenty-five fragments of fluted giallo antico columns that were discovered on the site of the cella during the Scandinavian excavations (p. 206). The majority of these fragments include fillets with dimensions that are approximately half the width of the fillets on the shafts of the 50-foot exterior order. On the basis of the find spots, material and dimensions of these fragments, Sande reasonably estimates that they derived from an interior order in the cella of c. 25 Roman feet.

Sande’s following identifications of other architectural sculpture fragments with the temple of Castor’s cella are less convincing. Sande tentatively proposes that a base fragment with a lower torus and plinth found during the Finnish excavations of the Lacus Juturna, and a nearly complete base reportedly discovered in the Basilica Iulia in 1853, both with oak-decorated lower toruses, derived from the temple of Castor’s cella. The first base fragment was discovered re-used in a late Antique wall near a modillion fragment which Sande confidently attributes to the temple of Castor because it features the garlic motif, an Augustan and Julio-Claudian architectural decoration on the ends of the temple of Castor’s modillions. However, the same argument could assign these base fragments with the adjacent temple of Divus Julius, although the uncertain find spots of both mean that any identification is difficult to support.

Sande also proposes that some figural capitals, allegedly discovered near the temple of Castor during Rosa’s excavations of the site in 1870, derive from the temple’s cella (pp. 206-7). Sande observes that the acanthus foliage on the figural capitals replicates the decoration of the exterior capitals in miniature. Sande’s observations certainly support an argument in favour of the capitals having been carved in the same workshop as that which produced the architectural decoration for the temple of Castor, but, again, there is too much uncertainty regarding their find spot to confirm a provenance.

Sande’s hypotheses are tentatively and carefully offered, and to pursue these lines of thought more fully probably lies beyond the scope of the volume. However, anyone who wishes to consider the reconstruction of the interior of the temple of Castor will have to take her arguments into account.

The Temple of Castor and Pollux III is a beautifully presented publication, and is now the major reference for specialists who are investigating this important temple. The volume will also be of great value to scholars interested in the religious architecture and architectural decoration of the Augustan and early Imperial periods.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Materials, technique and building devices
3. The foundation and the core of the podium and of the tribunal
4. The measuring system and proportions of the temple
5. The facing of the podium and the tribunal
6. The superstructure of the temple
7. Catalogue of fragments found during the excavation
8. The style
9. Workshop and tradition
10. The reconstruction drawings of the Augustan temple
11. Conclusion
Appendix 1 A rebuilding of the Metellan temple?
Appendix 2 Early modern graffiti on the superstructure of the Temple of Castor and Pollux.
Appendix 3 Catalogue of drawings, models and plaster casts from the Temple of Castor and Pollux, Forum Romanum, in Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.
Sections, plans and elevations of the remains and reconstructions of the temple


1. D.E. Strong and J.B. Ward-Perkins. 1962. ‘The Temple of Castor in the Forum Romanum’ in PBSR 30: 1-30.

2. Nielsen, I. and B. Poulsen ed. 1992. The Temple of Castor and Pollux. The pre-Augustan temple phases with related decorative elements. Lavori e studi di archeologia 17 Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma, Edizioni de Luca.

3. Bilde, P. G. and B. Poulsen. 2008. The Temple of Castor and Pollux II.1. The Finds and Slej, K and M. Cullhed. 2008. The Temple of Castor and Pollux II.2. The Finds and Trenches.