Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Rome

Unfortunately there is very little left of it, but the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (Latin: Aedes Iovis Optimi Maximi Capitolina), the “best and biggest Jupiter”, was the most important and one of the largest temples in ancient Rome.

Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Rome

Useful information

Address: Via del Tempio di Giove – Rome. The area where the temple used to be is protected by a gate. You can see very little from the outside.

History and description

foundation of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in Rome
Foundation of the temple in the Capitoline Museums.

The first temple

The temple was built on the Capitoline Hill and was therefore also called Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. The temple contained three separate cellae. In the central cella Jupiter was worshiped. The smaller cells on either side were dedicated to his wife Juno and his daughter Minerva. These three sanctuaries thus formed the Capitoline trinity.

In front of the steps leading up to the temple was the great Altar of Jupiter (Ara Iovis), where sacrifices were made.

The, mostly wooden, temple measured about 53 by 62 meters. It was surrounded on three sides with 21 meter tall, richly painted, Tuscan columns. The hexastyle portico was three rows of columns deep.

Etruscan artists were brought in to do the decorations, which included statues of ceramics and terracotta.

The pediment contained a large sculpture of Jupiter made by Vulca of Veii. There was another large statue, of Jupiter carrying a lightning bolt, in the central cella.

The Temple of Jupiter was the terminus for victorious generals who were allowed a triumphal march. It was also the place where the prophetic Sibylline books were preserved.

Tarquinius Priscus, the first Etruscan king of Rome, had started construction of the temple. It was to be a monument to his own reign, so he hired Etruscan artists to decorate the building.

Tarquinius’ son and successor Tarquinius Superbus continued the work.

The temple was finally consecrated by consul Marcus Horatius Pluvillus (509 BC). The consul had drawn lots with his colleague Publius Valerius Publicola for this honor.

In 296 BC the terracotta quadriga was replaced by a bronze one.

In the early 2nd century BC, the facade and ceiling were gilded and the floor was embellished with a mosaic.

The second temple

During the first Roman civil war (83 BC), the temple burned down. The statue of Jupiter and the Sybilline Books were lost.

When the dictator Sulla ordered its reconstruction, he had the columns of the Tempel of Zeus in Athens brought to Rome.

The inauguration of the new temple took place in 69 BC, under Quintus Lutatius Catulus the Younger. This was testified by an inscription on the facade.

It was built in the same spot as the first version, but taller and more lavishly decorated. The new statue of Jupiter was modeled on the one of Zeus at Olympis.

A restoration was necessary in 26 BC, after lightning had struck the temple.

The third temple

In AD 69, the Temple was set on fire by supporters of Vitellius. Vespasian had it reconstructed, again in the same spot, and again taller than the previous version. There were statues of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The columns were Corinthian. In the famous fire of the year 80, this temple was also destroyed.

The fourth temple

Domitian had an even grander, even more lavishly decorated temple built, with gilded doors and a gilded bronze roof. The pediment contained a relief depicting Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. There were statues of Mars and Venus on the cornice.

Abandonment and decay

In 392, worship of the ancient pagan gods was prohibited. The temple was abandoned and parts of it were used to build churches and palaces. The gold was removed from the doors, and in 455 the Vandals took the golden roof tiles away. In the 6th century, the Byzantine leader Narses removed many statues.

It is known that large parts of the temple were still standing in the year 1447.

Now, only part of the foundations remains and can be seen in the Capirtoline Museums.

Curiosities

According to the historian Livy, a human head with an intact face was found during construction of the first temple. This was believed to mean that the temple would be the center of the capital of the world.

Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Rome


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