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Basilica of Maxentius

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Basilica of Maxentius
Basilica of Maxentius.JPG
Remains of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine. The building's northern aisle is all that remains.
LocationRegione VIII Forum Romanum
Built in312 AD
Built by/forMaxentius, Constantine I
Type of structureBasilica
RelatedList of ancient monuments
in Rome
Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine is located in Rome
Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine
Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine
Location of the basilica in the Roman Forum.
Location of the basilica in the Roman Forum.

The Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine (Italian: Basilica di Massenzio), sometimes known as the Basilica Nova—meaning "new basilica"—or Basilica of Maxentius, is an ancient building in the Roman Forum, Rome, Italy. It was the largest building in the Forum.

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(gentle piano music) Beth: We're standing in the main aisle of what's known as the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, and even what's left is just huge. Darius: Yes. Its massive scale here is to just overwhelm you with the power of the engineering and the architecture. Beth: And the power of the Emperor. Darius: That niche is where the famous head and limbs of Constantine were found. We love it in archaeology, our history, when we actually find the work of art in situ, so we actually have the original architectural location and we actually have the architecture. Beth: This was started by the Emperor Maxentius, but then completed by the Emperor Constantine. Darius: It's pretty much a Maxentian project, but Constantine does some small modifications, so then, ultimately, his gargantuan statue, about 15 meters high, was placed on one end. Beth: This is almost unprecedented in terms of scale in the history of architecture, and the Romans were able to do this because of concrete. Darius: They do have some gigantic Basilicas like the Basilica Ulpia by Trajan in this Forum, and the Basilica Julia itself down in the Roman Forum, but this one here looks different. This one here looks more massive. Why? Because it's using a different kind of technology. It didn't have a ceiling of roof beams. It didn't have the timber trusswork. Instead, it's borrowing from the frigidarium spaces, the large cold halls in the bath complexes, like the Baths of Caracalla and the Baths of Diocletian, and it just looks awesome. Beth: Over the main area, there was a massive groin vault made out of concrete, and we see that the side aisles have barrel vaults, and we can still see the impressions from the coffers that were there. Darius: Creating these coffers, you are reducing the overall weight of the vaulting, so it has a double purpose, and that's the way the Romans were. They were interested in aesthetics, and they were interested in engineering and technology, and they were building things to last. Beth: What we're seeing here is brick facing on the concrete, and then these would have been covered by [what were] slabs of marble that would have been very colorful and geometric like the interior of the Pantheon. Darius: Right. When you look at these small little holes that pepper this surface, that's for the metal clamps. The metal clamps would have helped hold in place the panels of marble that also would have been glued in with cement, and it's, of course, all been stripped away. Beth: Concrete enabled the Romans to shape space in a way that was different from post-and-lintel architecture, and to create this sense of grandeur. We're talking about a period now at the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth century, when the Empire is coming undone, and has been coming undone for a while now. Darius: Maxentius managed to pull things together for at least six years of reign, and he decided, "I'm going to make a fresh start in the city of Rome. "I'm going to build a lot of "massive structures in the Forum area." The warehouses around this part of town had burned down. It was a great opportunity to create a new large Basilica, and that's what he does. When you see a structure like this, you're very much aware that the Romans are still able to build and still able to wow the audience. Beth: But then a civil war follows, and Constantine goes to battle with Maxentius with whom he was co-ruler before that. Darius: Right. There's a major discrepancy in who is the Emperor. That Tetrarchic system, where there are two senior Emperors and two junior Emperors, really doesn't work and these guys are sons of some of those Emperors, so they're duking it out, literally, all throughout the Empire, and it's at the Milvian Bridge then that you get the total victory of Constantine and his troops and Maxentius is killed at the Milvian Bridge. Beth: It was just before this battle that Constantine had his vision that inspired him to become a supporter of Christianity and decriminalize it. Darius: Right. Then legalize it, ultimately. Beth: And so this is the end of the Empire, and, in some ways, the beginnings of the Middle Ages. Darius: Here's a point in time in which Constantine is coming in, he's celebrating his victory, but he's not making a sacrifice at the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and he will eventually move to make these big public churches for the first time, St Peter's and St John Lateran. At the same time, he's going to make sure that he takes care of the city and he wants to be associated with the Forum. He doesn't build a church here, but he does make sure that everyone knows that this Basilica is, indeed, his, and he is the ruler. Beth: The Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine was a civic space. It was a law court, like all Basilicas were, but this is a form that will be adopted by the Christians for their first churches. (gentle piano music)



In ancient Rome a basilica was a rectangular building with a large central open space, and often a raised apse at the far end from the entrance. Basilicas served a variety of functions, including a combination of a court-house, council chamber and meeting hall. There might be, however, numerous statues of the gods displayed in niches set into the walls. Under Constantine and his successors this type of building was chosen as the basis for the design of the larger places of Christian worship, presumably as the basilica form had fewer pagan associations than those of the designs of traditional Greco-Roman temples,[1] and allowed large congregations. As a result of the building programmes of the Christian Roman emperors the term basilica later became largely synonymous with a large church or cathedral.

Construction began on the northern side of the forum under the emperor Maxentius in 308 AD, and was completed in 312 by Constantine I after his defeat of Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.[2] The building rose close to the Temple of Peace, at that time probably neglected, and the Temple of Venus and Rome, whose reconstruction was part of Maxentius' interventions.

Reconstruction of the plan.
Reconstruction of the plan.

The colour of the building before it was destroyed was white. The building consisted of a central nave covered by three groin vaults suspended 39 meters above the floor on four large piers, ending in an apse at the western end containing a colossal statue of Constantine (remnants of which are now in a courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Musei Capitolini). The lateral forces of the groin vaults were held by flanking aisles measuring 23 by 17 metres (75 x 56 feet). The aisles were spanned by three semi-circular barrel vaults perpendicular to the nave, and narrow arcades ran parallel to the nave beneath the barrel vaults. The nave itself measured 25 metres by 80 metres (83 x 265 feet) creating a 2000 square meter floor. Like the great imperial baths, the basilica made use of vast interior space with its emotional effect. Running the length of the eastern face of the building was a projecting arcade. On the south face was a projecting (prostyle) porch with four columns (tetrastyle).

John Goldicutt, View in Rome, 1820. Watercolor over pencil. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Gilbert Davis Collection.[3]
John Goldicutt, View in Rome, 1820. Watercolor over pencil. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Gilbert Davis Collection.[3]

The south and central sections were probably destroyed by the earthquake of 847.[4] In 1349 the vault of the nave collapsed in another earthquake. The only one of the eight 20-meter-high columns that survived the earthquake was brought by Pope Paul V to Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore in 1614. All that remains of the basilica today is the north aisle with its three concrete barrel vaults.[2] The ceilings of the barrel vaults show advanced weight-saving structural skill with octagonal ceiling coffers.

Detail of the coffered vaults of concrete
Detail of the coffered vaults of concrete

On the outside wall of the basilica, facing onto the via dei Fori Imperiali, are contemporary maps showing the various stages of the rise of the Roman Empire which were added during the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. A map depicting Mussolini's "New Roman Empire" was removed from the wall after the war. The wrestling events were held here during the 1960 Summer Olympic Games.


The basilica Maxentius took aspects from Roman baths as well as typical Roman basilicas. At that time, it used the most advanced engineering techniques known including innovations taken from the Markets of Trajan and the Baths of Diocletian.

Similar to many basilicas at the time such as the Basilica Ulpia, the Basilica of Maxentius featured a huge open space in the central nave. However, instead of having columns support the ceiling like other basilicas, it was built using arches, a much more common appearance in Roman baths than basilicas. Another difference from traditional basilicas is the roof of the structure. While the former were built with a flat roof, the Basilica of Maxentius featured a folded roof, decreasing the overall weight of the structure and decreasing the horizontal forces exerted on the outer arches.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Fazio, Michael; et al. (2009). Buildings across time : an introduction to world architecture (3rd ed.). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. p. 134. ISBN 007305304X.
  2. ^ a b Roth, Leland M. (1993). Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning (First ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. pp. 30, 222. ISBN 0-06-430158-3.
  3. ^ Glory After the Fall: Images of Ruins in 18th- and 19th-Century British Art. The Huntington. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  4. ^ René Seindal "Basilica of Maxentius - the last and largest basilica in the Roman Forum", Photo Archive, 2003-08-06, accessed November 7, 2010.
  5. ^ Giavarini, Carlo, The Basilica of Maxentius: the Monument, its Materials , Construction, and Stability, Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider, 2005.


Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 5 November 2018, at 02:43
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