On November 29, 1483, a priest and lawyer born in Strasbourg took on the role of Master of Ceremonies of the papacy in Rome, after purchasing the position for around 450 ducats. His name was Johann Burchard, and until his death in 1506, he served in that position for five popes.

A few years earlier, in 1503, Burchard had a palace built, which still stands on Via del Sudario (at number 44) with the name Palazzetto del Burcardo, along with an annexed tower.

The tower, along with Burchard’s birthplace, eventually gave the place its name: Torre Argentina. Argentina because the Latin name for Strasbourg was Argentoratum. This would roughly translate to the tower of the Strasbourg resident.

In 1927, Roman authorities decided to demolish a significant part of the constructions in Torre Argentina (including Burchard’s tower) to create a large square, the current Largo di Torre Argentina, located in the ancient Campus Martius on the path between the Pantheon and the Forum.

During the construction, the head and arms of a colossal statue were discovered, leading to archaeological excavations that, as is often the case in the Italian capital, uncovered more than expected: a whole sacred area with remains of four temples from the Roman Republican era, in addition to the Theater of Pompey.

The theater was the first permanent one built in Rome (and the first entirely marble building) in 55 B.C., thanks to a maneuver by Pompey.

As it was forbidden to build permanent theaters in the city, he had a temple dedicated to Venus Victrix erected on top of the cavea, arguing that the cavea itself was nothing more than a staircase to access the temple.

It had a diameter of 150 meters and could accommodate over 17,000 spectators. Behind the stage was a huge portico measuring 180 by 135 meters, surrounding a garden. At the end of this portico opposite the theater was the Curia of Pompey.

A curia was a meeting place for discussing public affairs, and in the republican era, it also referred to the building where the Senate met, usually the Curia Hostilia located in the Forum.

But there were others, like Pompey’s mentioned above, precisely where, in March of 44 B.C., the Senate was gathering.

Julius Caesar went there on the 15th of that month to meet his death at the hands of a group of senators, as recounted by Plutarch and Suetonius.

As Caesar entered, the Senate rose; but after he sat down, they crowded around him, sending Tulius Cimber ahead under the pretext of pleading for a banished brother. Everyone interceded with him, taking Caesar’s hands and kissing him on the chest and head. At first, he rejected their pleas, but seeing that they didn’t relent, he stood up in anger. Then Tulius pulled Caesar’s toga off his shoulders with both hands, and Casca, who was behind him, drew his dagger, giving him a shallow wound on the shoulder. Caesar grabbed the hilt and, with a cry, said in Latin, “Wicked Casca, what are you doing?” And Casca, calling to his brother, asked him in Greek to help. Already wounded by many, Caesar looked around, trying to push them away. But when he saw Brutus raising the dagger against him, he let go of Casca, covered his head with his toga, and yielded his body to the blows. They struck him mercilessly, using many daggers on his person, to the point that Brutus received a wound on his hand, attempting to join in that death, and all were stained with blood.

Plutarch, Parallel Lives: Brutus

This curia, according to Suetonius and other authors, was subsequently sealed off as an ominous place. Possibly, what they refer to is the three-meter-wide and two-meter-high concrete structure that Augustus ordered to cover the site. Over time, the surroundings would be turned into public latrines.

It was decided to seal off the curia where the assassination had taken place, designate the Ides of March with the name “Parricide” and never hold a Senate meeting on this date again.

Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars: The Divine Julius

In the current Largo di Torre Argentina square, you can see today the remains of the east side of the portico, as well as three of the four temples.

Remains of the Theater of Pompey are underground on Via di Grotta Pinta, while the original vaults of the theater form the basements of the restaurants on this street and part of the walls of the Albergo Sole al Biscione hotel.

The exact spot where Caesar fell, right in the center at the bottom of the curia, at the feet of the statue of Pompey, can be seen today in front of the temple ruins, practically embedded under the pavement of the street.

This article was first published on our Spanish Edition on December 18, 2018. Puedes leer la versión en español en Largo di Torre Argentina, el lugar donde murió Julio César


Sovrintendenza Capitolina | Filippo Coarelli, Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide | Colosseum Rome | Wikipedia

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