Comitium & Lapis Niger, the area in front of the Senate House

The area in front of the Senate House (also known as Curia Julia) is called Comitium, and is located inside the archaeological area of the Roman Forum in Rome.
This was the political center of Rome. Likewise most of the buildings and palaces in the Roman Forum, there are just a few remains still standing. Already at the age of Julius Caesar and Augusts the palace started to be progressively dismantled in order to build the Curia Julia.
You have to imagine this place as an open air area within the Roman Forum, with a circular shape.

The Comitium in the Roman Forum
Credits: image by @Roma_Wonder
Location: in the Roman Forum
Tickets: Free to visit from Via Dei Fori Imperiali / Tickets needed from the Roman Forum
Accessibility: Partially Accessible
Kid-friendly Attraction

The Comitium and the Roman Republic

At the age of Ancient Rome, three main entities were all connected to the Comitium and were central to the functioning of the Republic:

  • the circular square surrounded by steps, where public assemblies were held;
  • the Senate House, mentioned above;
  • and the magistrates, who stand in the Rostra, the tribunes used by politicians, advocated and other orators to speak to the assembled people of Rome.
  • Unique Archaeological Findings

    The history of the Comitium is quite unique, since over the last 30 years archaeologists have found more than seven pavements under the present one. The third level is certainly the most interesting one, featuring the remains of an arena surrounded by steps, which was used by the people of Rome during public assemblies.

    Evidence also unveiled traces of an ancient temple, a space used by priests and oriented to the cardinal points. A man, called araldo, used to announce the hours of the day, which he knew by reading the position of the sun and the moon through the buildings. The act of announcing out loud translate with the archaic laying word “kalare”. Also, the word Kalende, used by the Romans to refer to the first day of each month, comes from this word, and so does the word “calendar”.

    Lapis Niger: The Tomb of the First King of Rome

    In the 6th century BC this area saw the construction of the altar of the Lapis Niger. This monument is one of the most important ones in Rome, yet one of the less known. Renovation works are still in process, therefore the Lapis Niger is not accessible to visitors.

    Legend holds that the Lapis Niger was the ancient tomb of Romulus, the first King of Rome. However, the truth about this mysterious place still lies underground.
    During the Republican Age the area surrounding the altar was fenced and buried under a thick blanket of black marble. Lapis Niger indeed means black stone in Latin.

    Only in 1899 the archaeologist Giacomo Boni started diggings in the area. Surprisingly, he discovered an ancient stele dating back to the 6th century and bearing an inscription with archaic words and symbols, a sort of warning against profane intentions. This place was regarded as sacred and therefore covered with marble.