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Rostra with the temple of Saturn and Tabularium (State Archives) visible in the background | Photo: Anthony M. from Rome, Italy | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Rostra was the rostrum at the Forum Romanum that existed during the times of the Republic and Empire. It was erected on a base 5 meters high, on a rectangular plan measuring 29 by 30 meters. The speaker was addressing people in the north-west part of the Forum (the so-called comitium) and was facing the building Senate.

The rostrum was originally decorated with the bows of ships captured by the Romans in the battle with the Latins at Antium in 338 BCE; hence the name of the rostrum (rostra is the plural of rostrum, “the ship’s ram”). After Octavian over Mark Antony under Actium, added new gilded bows gained during battle.

Reconstruction of the rostra by Einar Gjerstad.
Fair use under the Copyright law of the United States

Julius Caesar after beating rivals in the Civil War (49-45 BCE) commissioned a re-arrangement of the Forum Romanum. The rostrum has been moved from the comitium area to where it is now, or at least its remaining fragments. Caesar continued his efforts to reconstruct the Forum.

Rostra was the site of numerous public appearances. It was from this podium that Cicero protested against the rising power of Julius Caesar. Then, hated by Caesar’s successors, Cicero was killed in 43 BCE, and his head was set on the Rostra as a warning. Marcus Antony’s wife pierced his tongue with her hairpin.

  • Rodolfo Lanciani, The Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome, 1979

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