Ancient Roman Senate House
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Roman Senate House

Lapis Niger
These students are standing on the old sacred places
in front of the Senate building

The Senate of the city of Rome first began meeting about 500 BC, with the beginning of the Roman Republic. The richest men in Rome were elected to serve in the Senate (These men prevented women from being in the Senate). The first Senate house was, according to Roman historians, built before there even was a senate, by one of the kings of Rome, Tullius Hostilius. It was in the Roman Forum, near some old sacred places where people felt close to powerful gods.


Front of the Curia, or Senate House

Later people tore down the first Senate building to make room for a new forum, and so Julius Caesar began to build a new senate house. After the other senators killed Julius Caesar in 44 BC, his nephew Augustus dedicated the new senate house to Julius Caesar's memory.


Inside the Curia

When Julius Caesar's Senate building was destroyed by a fire in the late 200s AD, the emperor Diocletian had a new Senate house built in the latest architectural style. This is the Senate house that is still standing today. It is still in the same place, in the Roman forum.

The Senate house Diocletian had built is all made of brick, although when it was new it would have had a coating of marble and stucco all over it. The marble floor is still there to give you an idea.

The colored marble used in this floor came from many different parts of the Roman Empire, to show that the Senate controlled so many different places and was very powerful. The reddish-purple stone is porphyry (POUR-fir-ee) from Egypt, and the yellow marble is from Nubia, south of Egypt (modern Ethiopia). The green marble (serpentine) is from Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

The Senate house also had great big bronze doors on it. (One of the Popes moved those doors to a church in Rome, but they're still the same doors).

The Senate met in this building for another 300 years after it was built, but with Roman government moved to Constantinople the Senate gradually stopped meeting (the last recorded meeting was in 580 AD). The Senate house is still in pretty good shape today, with a roof on it, because, like the Pantheon, the emperor Phocas gave it to the Popes to turn into a Christian church in the early 600s AD and the Popes took good care of it.

Learn by doing: copy this marble floor pattern on to drawing paper and color it
More about the Roman forum

Bibliography and further reading about the Roman Senate House:

The Colosseum & the Roman Forum, by Martyn Whittock (2002). Easy reading.

The Roman Forum, by Michael Grant (1970). Out of date, but Michael Grant is an entertaining writer with a simple style which teenagers may appreciate.

More about the Roman Forum
More Roman Architecture
Ancient Rome
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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Now that the weather's nice, try some of these outdoor activities! How about bicycle polo, or archery for a Medieval Islam day? Or kite flying or making a compass for a day in Medieval China? How about making a shaduf for a day in Ancient Egypt? Holding an Ancient Greek Olympic Games or a medieval European tournament? Building a Native American wickiup?