Ancient Roman Art: Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus

The "lost" Temple

Today I am going to talk about the most important Ancient Roman temple: the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus

Why “lost”? Well let’s start and you will see

Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus_Ancient Roman Art Temple
ARTIST Unknown
NAME Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus
TYPE Architecture
DIMENSIONS base 60×60 m (200×200 ft)
MATERIAL Marble, wood, terracotta
Hi everyone!

We are exploring the Ancient Roman Art and in the last post we started with the foundations of Rome, literally… 😀

Today we are going to talk more about Roman architecture, but in a more “traditional” way. We are going to learn more about the most important temple in Ancient Rome: Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

The temple, also known as the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus gave the name to the hill where it has been built over: Capitoline Hill.

Capitoline Hill: Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Ancient Rome
Capitoline Hill: Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Ancient Rome

The Capitoline Hill

This hill is one of the seven on which Rome was built and one of the most important. The name’s origin is interesting and related to a legend. Ancient sources connect the name to the Latin word “caput” (“head”, “summit”) because when laying the foundations for the temple, the head of a warrior was found: “Tolus” or “Olus“. The combination of the two words made the adjective “Capitolium” with the meaning of “indestructible” (“eternal”).

The Temple

Traditionally the Temple was dedicated, according to Livy, on September 13th, 509 BC (the founding year of the Roman Republic). It was the oldest large temple in Rome, and, like many temples in central Italy, shared features with Etruscan architecture. But in 83 BC it was destroyed by a fire, and a replacement in Greek style was completed in 69 BC. After that other 2 fires happened and the Temple was rebuilt again each time. So not the luckiest temple…

Because of that, the Temple changed size and style many times and what we have today is just some ruins of the podium and foundations. But, thanks to some old sources and findings, scholars were able to build a model of the first version. It seemed to be much larger than other Roman temples for centuries after, not far short of the largest Greek temples with a plan of 60 m × 60 m (200 ft × 200 ft).

Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus_ruins
Temple's foundations
Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus floor plan

Reconstructions usually show very wide eaves, and a colonnade stretching down the sides, though not round the back wall as it would have done in a typical Greek temple.

Probably it was decorated with a lot of terracotta elements, coherently with the Etruscan style.


Can you see the most famous decoration in the interactive image? An hint: check the acroterion

Cella… or more?

Inside there were 3 separate celle. We learned from the post on the Greek temples that cella was usually containing a cult image or statue representing the particular deity venerated in the temple. So how is it possible to have 3 of them?? The reason is that even if the “main” god was Jupiter, the Temple was actually dedicated to the “Capitoline Triad“: a group of three deities who were worshipped in ancient Roman religion. So not only Jupiter, the king of the gods, but also Juno (his wife and sister…yes you heard correctly…but they are gods and they used to do weird stuff) and Jupiter’s daughter Minerva (the goddess of wisdom).

The temple was so beautiful and appreciated for the style that it established a new model for sacred architecture. In particular the terracotta decorations inspired many temples in Italy up to the 2nd century BC. Of course a lot changed after the fires and today not a lot survived, however, the temple is considered one of the most important Ancient Roman architectures in history. And we are going to discover more soon, so stay curious! Ancient Roman Art: Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Ancient Roman Art: Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus

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The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus explained with cool graphic effects

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