Basilica Julia - History and Facts | History Hit

Basilica Julia

Rome, Lazio, Italy

Basilica Julia was an Ancient Roman courthouse in Rome’s Forum.

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About Basilica Julia

Basilica Julia, also known as Basilica Iulia, was a civil courthouse in the Roman Forum which would also have housed a series of shops.

Initially founded by Julius Caesar in 54 BC, it soon burnt to the ground and was rebuilt and completed under Augustus in 12 BC. The Basilica Julia was subsequently rebuilt several times.

Basilica Julia history

Construction of the Basilica Julia was started by Julius Caesar and left to his heir Augustus to complete. The basilica was built on the site of the remains of two important Republican structures, the Basilica Sempronia and before that the house of Scipio Africanus, Romen’s legendary general. The first Basilica Julia burned down in 9AD shortly after its completion. It was reconstructed and enlarged in 12AD. The Basilica was restored after another fire in 199 AD by Septimius Severus, and later reconstructed by the Emperor Diocletian after another fire in 283 AD.

The Basilica housed the civil law courts and tabernae (shops), and provided space for government offices and banking. In the 1st century, it also was used for sessions of the Centumviri, who presided over matters of inheritance.

The Basilica Julia was partially destroyed in 410 AD when the Visigoths sacked Rome and the site slowly fell into ruin over the centuries. The marble was especially valuable in the medieval and early modern eras for burning into lime, a material used to make mortar.

A section of the remains of the basilica was converted into a church, generally identified as that of Santa Maria de Cannapara which is mentioned in catalogues from the 12th through the 15th centuries. Other parts of the basilica were sectioned off in the medieval period for the use of different trades.

In the 16th century, the long-buried site of the Basilica was used as a burial ground for patients of the adjacent Ospedale della Consolazione.

This church was destroyed by the 19th-century excavations. Later excavations in the 20th century, coupled with the surviving historical records, have provided the information used by scholars to recreate the basilica.

Basilica Julia today

All that remains of the building now is a rectangular area, levelled off and raised about one metre above ground level, with jumbled blocks of stone lying within its area.

A row of marble steps runs full length along the side of the basilica facing the Via Sacra, and there is also access from a taller flight of steps at the end of the basilica facing the Temple of Castor and Pollux. Today’s visitors will need to use imagination to picture the former glory of the basilica.

Getting to the Basilica Julia

The site is easily accessible by public transport. Fori Imperiali-Colosseo Rome and Colosseo Rome Metro stations are both close by.