The Political Battle Over The Dedication Of The Temple Of Jupiter On The Capitol In Rome


The Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol (Capitoline Hill) in Rome was said to have been officially dedicated sometime around 509 BCE, give or take a few years, near the traditional founding date of the Roman Republic. The consuls or magistrates of Rome at the time were Horatius and Publicola. Both of them wanted the honor of conducting the dedication ceremony, as it would be an auspicious and historic event which would boost the fame of the person that directed the proceedings. According to the Roman historian Livy (c. 59 BCE- 17 CE), the two politicians decided to duel for the privilege in a most civilized way—they played a game of chance. Horatius and Publicola both drew lots, and it was the former of the two who had the winning hand. Publicola did not protest the loss, but sulked off to the army and reportedly devoted himself to a campaign against the city of Veii.

Horatius, despite his victory in the game of chance and the departure of his fellow consul, would soon find that there were still more obstacles blocking his path to the coveted dedication ceremony. These obstructions would come in the form of Publicola’s stubborn relatives. Although Publicola had distracted himself from his disappointment by devoting his thoughts to war, his family was stuck in Rome with the soon-to-be honored Horatius. As the story goes, Publicola’s kinsmen were not willing to admit defeat, and they launched a political campaign against Horatius in an attempt to delay the ceremony, presumably to give Publicola time to reconsider his relinquishment of the ceremony to his colleague.

Despite the petitions, complaints and motions brought forward by Publicola’s family, Horatius managed to keep the schedule of the ceremony on track. When the designated day arrived, he strode to the temple of Jupiter and commenced his long-awaited dedication ceremony. Publicola’s family, however, had one last trick—in the middle of the ceremony, a distraught messenger arrived with news that Horatius’ son had died. Publicola’s relatives were among the crowd in attendance, and they were quick to give their condolences to Horatius and hinted that, as a father in mourning, he was in no fit state to conduct a temple dedication ceremony. Horatius, however, was not fazed by the ruse. Likely tipped off by the suspicious behavior of Publicola’s dramatic kinsmen, Horatius merely made an announcement on how the funeral should be arranged; then, with that precaution complete, Horatius promptly resumed the dedication ceremony. To the annoyance of Publicola’s kinsmen, Horatius completed the ritual without any further issues.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Entrance to a theater by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).


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