Temple of Saturn, Rome, Italy

David Carton

Blackwater, Ireland

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The surviving columns of the Temple of Saturn, Rome, Italy

The agricultural god Saturn was associated with sowing and equated with the Greek god Cronos. According to classical mythology, he was expelled from Olympus by Zeus and ruled Latium in an age of peace and happiness, during which he taught people agriculture and other peaceful skills. He gave his name to Saturday and was honored with the Roman festival of Saturnalia, celebrated originally on December 17.

Saturnalia was the most popular of all Roman festivals, thanks to its emphasis on merrymaking and freedom. Traditions included suspension of work, temporary freeing of slaves, role reversals and gift-giving. The feet of Saturn’s cult statue in the temple were unbound from their usual wool wrap for the occasion. Saturnalia was later extended to seven full days, and its traditions live on today in western celebrations of Christmas and New Year.

The original Temple of Saturn was built in the Forum around 497 BC. From the beginning, it served as the treasury of the Roman state as well as a temple. The treasure may have been housed in the substructure beneath the temple steps, which can be seen today.

The temple was restored by Lucius Munatius Plancus in 42 BC, using funds from his recent victory in the Alps. It was one of the last great donations of a private individual before the empire took over such matters. Four centuries later, the Temple of Saturn was rebuilt again after a fire (as recorded in the inscription on the facade). The rebuilding has been dated to between 360 and 380 AD, demonstrating the Senate’s continued resistance to the influx of Christianity in the Eternal City.

Source Sacred Destinations

Featured March 2010 in Ruins, Ancient and Derelict Buildings

Top 10 challenge finalist in Black and White Challenge

Artwork Comments

  • Brittany Schneider
  • David Carton
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