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Richardson, L. jr

Comitium: the earliest place of public assembly of the Romans and throughout history the meeting place of the Comitia Curiata, an inaugurated templum in front of the Curia Hostilia, between this and the Forum Romanum. In shape it was a broad rectangle, slightly longer than wide, oriented to the cardinal points of the compass. It was essentially open, though awnings were sometimes employed to protect those assembled there from the sun (Livy 27.36.8; Pliny HN 19.23). Troops could march into it (Livy 5.55.1), and prodigies, such as a rain of blood, could be observed in it (Livy 34.45.6). It was throughout republican history closely connected with the Curia Hostilia, which stood on axis with it at the middle of its north side. Livy calls it the vestibulum curiae (Livy 45.24.12). A speakers' platform in front of the curia was the traditional location of the tribunal of the praetor urbanus (Varro Ling. 5.155; Macrobius Sat 3.16.15; cf. Livy 27.50.9), probably at one extremity of the platform, while in time the praetor in charge of the Quaestio de Repetundis came to occupy the other. This platform was later ornamented with the beaks of captured warships and called Rostra (q.v.).

The center of the Comitium became in time, certainly by the beginning of the third century B.C., a circular amphitheater of steps rising on all sides, on which the citizens stood in their assemblies, while in front of the curia these steps formed a stair of approach to the speakers' platform and senate house. This cavea must have been interrupted by throats of entry leading in from the Forum and the Clivus Argentarius, and perhaps from the Argiletum. For various monuments set up in the Comitium in early times, see Ficus Navia, Puteal in Comitio, Statua Atti Navii, Statua Hermodori, and Statua Horatii Coclitis.

Until the second century B.C., the Comitium was the place where the Romans regularly assembled by tribes to pass laws. C. Licinius Crassus, as tribunus plebis in 145 B.C., was the first to lead the people from the Comitium to the Forum for the hearing of laws (Varro Rust. 1.2.9; Cicero Amic. 25.96). Plutarch (Plutarch C. Gracch. 5) must be wrong in ascribing this change to Gaius Gracchus.

Stratigraphic excavations in the Comitium by G. Boni at the turn of the century revealed twenty-seven strata in a depth of 3.5 m, some of the strata barely 1 cm thick. In the middle of the century E. Gjerstad made a new stratigraphic exploration of the area and discovered the same twenty-seven strata. The dating and significance of these is much disputed, as is their association with various scanty remains of construction in the area of the "Rostra Vetera" southeast of the Niger Lapis (q.v.). Most of the reconstructions suggested for the successive phases of the "Rostra Vetera" are unacceptable as architecture; only the last phase at 11.80 meters above sea level, a segment of the stepped cavea of the Comitium, can be accepted as a viable building. At various points in the Comitium are twenty-one shallow pits lined with tufa slabs set vertically and covered with stone plates. Most of these seem to have been deliberately filled with debris toward the end of the republic, and their abandonment is probably to be associated with the rehandling of parts of the complex by Sulla, Faustus Sulla, Julius Caesar, and Augustus in close succession. Some of the pits were probably connected with the rigging of awnings, others with monuments set up here. The irregular shape of some of them is puzzling, but they are not likely to have had a religious function.

By the time Julius Caesar paved this area, and perhaps from the time Faustus Sulla rebuilt the Curia Hostilia (q.v.), the Comitium had lost most of its importance, and the cavea of steps was destroyed, though it had been kept in repair and rebuilt when necessary, at least in front of the Rostra, until sometime after August 59 B.C. (cf. Gradus Aurelii; Cicero Flacc. 66). Caesar's (?) clearing of the area and paving of it with flags of Luna marble at 13.50 meters above sea level marks a new departure. Numerous old monuments had been assembled under the Niger Lapis (q.v.) and floored over with special stone. The area was then fenced off to prevent the unwary from walking over it. If the Comitium now had definition, it was only by its marble pavement and perhaps a light fence that could be run up, and it seems to have been much reduced in size, because its public assemblies had now almost entirely been moved to the Saepta Iulia (q.v.). However, its existence continued to be recognized, especially in the formal phrase in curia in Comitio, at least until the time of Hadrian.

In the fourth century a new pavement of roughly laid travertine flags was installed about 20 cm above the marble pavement, the last repair of antiquity. The Comitium was now in effect a small entrance court in front of the curia. In this were erected a number of monuments, notably a very large circular fountain with an octagonal foot in front of the door of the curia of Diocletian and a square monument on a base faced with blocks of marble with a fence around it that has been taken as for a bronze quadriga, but is more likely for the Ianus Geminus (q.v.) of the late imperial period.

NSc 1900, 295-340 (G. Boni); Archaeology 10 (1957): 49-55 (L. Richardson); ActaInstSueciae 17, pt. 3 (1960): 217-59 (E. Gjerstad); Nash 1:287-89: RömMitt 80 (1973): 219-33 (L. Richardson), 85 (1978): 359-69 (L. Richardson), 83 (1976): 31-69 (C. Krause); Coarelli 1983, 119-60; Coarelli 1985, 11-123, especially 11-27.

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