Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

Tempio di Antonino e Faustina — 141 CE (founded)


According to the Historia Augusta, Annia Galeria Faustina, the wife of emperor Antoninus Pius, died in the third year of his reign (141 AD). The Senate voted her deification, construction of a temple, games, priestesses and statues of gold and silver. The temple was built at the entrance to the Roman Forum on the northern side of the Sacra Via, next to the Basilica Aemilia and opposite the Regia, facing the Temple of Vesta. There are different interpretations regarding this space and its previous use.

It is however the result of a decision that distinguishes Antoninus from his predecessors, who after Domitian chose other parts of the city for their celebrative buildings. Antoninus's return to the Forum was sustained by the Senate, towards which the new emperor showed greater respect and consideration than had Hadrian. There are also other aspects. Antoninus was designated successor by Hadrian, not on the basis of family but merit: he was adopted as Hadrian's son because of his personal virtues, private conduct and good government, as also recorded by Cassius Dio.

The Senate bestowed him the title Pius for his dedication to the deification of Hadrian, whose mausoleum Antoninus completed and where he had Hadrian's ashes deposited. His piety consisted in devotion to the gods, Rome and the ancestors. It also manifested in appreciation of traditions and rites linked to the glorious past and divine origins of the city, namely observance of the ancient religion, subsequently a political programme, which through dynastic continuity, ensured peace and the greatness and eternity of archaic Rome.

Not by chance the emperor, likened to Numa Pompilius in his love for religion, justice and peace, chose a special part of the Forum to celebrate the Divine Faustina: along the Sacra Via, next to major buildings of Roman tradition and worship, such as the Regia, the residence of the kings of Rome and the Pontifex Maximus, and the Temple of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, home and family where resident vestals tended the sacred flame and other religious symbols of the community that ensured Rome's continuing existence. The image of the emperor's wife is also linked to ancient rites and became a symbol of conjugal virtue, family unity and care of the needy, especially orphan girls, the puellae faustinae, for whom Antoninus established a special contribution in the name of the Diva Augusta.

On the death of the emperor 20 years later (161 AD), Antoninus and Faustina were worshipped together in the same temple. The two imperial gods, whose apotheosis is depicted at the base of the column of Antoninus, together represented dynastic continuity and religious piety, and watch over the safety of the imperial family and hence the empire as a whole. At the time of its construction, the Templum Divi Antonini et Divae Faustinae stood out by virtue of its elegance, precious materials and excellent craftsmanship.

The facade is probably inspired by the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, the last imperial and dynastic temple built before the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, on the opposite side of the Roman Forum. The upper podium and cella were made from blocks of peperino encased in white marble. The steps with a central altar led up to a portico with six columns of cipollino marble with white marble Corinthian capitals and Attic bases. The friezes on the long sides were decorated with gryphons, garlands and plant motifs. The pediment was decorated in relief with acroteria at the sides and centre, as shown on various coins, starting with the gold one coined in the year of Faustina's death. Today the remains of the Temple are part of the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda, reconstructed in the early 1600s. Sources indicate the presence of the 11th century church, but the temple could already have been used as a church in the 7th-8th century.

Remains and changes in the ancient building are interwoven since then with those linked to a new use and a new but changing context, both physical and symbolic. "Tertio anno imperii sui Faustinam uxorem perdidit, quae a senatu consecrata est delatis circensibus atque templo et flaminicis et statuis aureis atque argenteis, cum etiam ipse hoc concesserit, ut imago eius cunctis circensibus poneretur". Historia Augusta, Antonini Pius Iuli Capitolini, VI, 7 ("On the death of his wife Faustina, in the third year of his reign, the senate deified her and voted her games and a temple and priestesses and statues of silver and of gold"). http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Historia_Augusta/home.html http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Historia_Augusta/Antoninus_Pius*.html