Around the central market forum area, every Roman town with pride and pretensions to importance developed a number of public buildings that made up a standard set, the components of which we can glean not only from the remains themselves but also from Vitruvius’ architectural treatise. In Book 5 he sets out “the arrangement of public places” (publicorum locorum dispositiones), listing almost exactly the buildings to be found in any Greek and Roman city: forum, basilica, treasury, prison and councilhouse, theater with adjoining porticoes, baths, palaestra, and harbor and shipyards. We have already discussed the prominent nature of the bathhouse, the palaestra is specifically admitted by Vitruvius not to be a usual thing in Italy, and harbors and shipyards are obviously dependent on specific geographic location. Of the other buildings, the treasury and prison, although necessary, were probably of minor importance and therefore do not merit much attention in the sources, while the council and senate-houses are expected features in a society in which a self administering community was the standard form of political life. The one building that stands out as peculiarly Roman is the basilica, a large covered hall that performed the functions of the ubiquitous stoas of Hellenistic architecture, and is obviously loosely related to them, but had a form that appears to lack any clear parallel in the Greek world. We shall discuss and describe some of these focal points of the urban center, beginning with the most prominent, the basilica. The basilica is often identified with the courts of justice. However, this identification is by no means clear. Indeed, it served either as a court of law and seat of the magistracy or as a place of meeting for merchants and men of business. These two uses were so mixed that it is not always easy to state which was the principal. The basilica at Fanum, of which Vitruvius was the architect (5.1.6-10), was entirely devoted to business, and the courts were held in a small building attached to it—the temple of Augustus. In Pompeii the basilica was situated next to the public granaries (horrea), indicating its commercial functions.
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