Basilica


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Basilica - This word, which properly signifies a Royal House, designated at Rome a sumptuous edifice, under the roof of which the magistrates administered justice; and so far it was distinguished from the Forvm, where the sessions were held in open air. The form of these basilicae was that of a long square, with a portico at each extremity. They had a lofty nave, with two side aisles, separated by rows of pillars, and each formed a structure, which, adorned with columns, military ensigns, and trophies, administered to a taste for regal majesty and magnificence; and therefore might well be classed amongst the aedes regiae of the state. The walls of the side aisles were furnished with shops, in which goods of all kinds were displayed for sale, and the centre hall served as a resort where merchants and other men of business were wont to congregate. Thus were these buildings dedicated at once to the purposes of commerce and judicature.

The simplicity of the early republic seems not to have indulged in the luxury of building. According to Livy (|lxxvii| c 27), there were no basilacae in Rome until 210 BC. Subsequently to that period, the wealth of the city having greatly increased, Cato built the Basilica to which he himself gave the name Porcia; others followed, amongst the most superb of which was called by the name Aemilia, or of Paulus, of which a representation is preserved on a denarius of the Aemilia gens (see Aemilia Refecta). Plutarch states that the tribunes of the plebs were accustomed to convoke public assemblies in the Basilica Porcia; and Seneca speaks of these basilicae resonding with the roar of law verdicts and judgments (fremitu judiciorum). For architectural details see Dr. Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, p 150.

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