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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: March 2015

18 - The Temple of Castor and Pollux

from Part II. - The Monuments


The Early Republic

Located close to the Shrine of Vesta (Figs. 0.1, 18.2, 20.1), the Temple of Castor and Pollux (famous and important deities throughout Roman history) was the largest sacred structure in the Forum and, in all periods, one of its most important centers. It dated from the early fifth century BCE, and tradition connected it with a famous Roman victory over Rome’s neighbors, the Latins, near Lake Regillus, fourteen miles from Rome, just north of Frascati. In this crucial battle for Rome’s safety, the Latins had sided with the ousted king of Rome, who had been expelled some years earlier. In the prosaic account by the Roman historian Livy, the battle was long and hard. Finally, hoping for divine help, the Roman commander, Aulus Postumius, vowed a temple to Castor and Pollux and promised rewards to the first and second soldiers to enter the Latin camp. Thus encouraged, his forces bested the Latins. But, for the more credulous, there was a famous legend about the battle and its aftermath.

As the Roman cavalry (the equites) charged the Latins, two extraordinarily handsome young men on horses appeared. Leading the charge, they drove the helpless Latins before them. When the Romans had captured the Latin camp, the two appeared again at the Spring of Juturna near the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. By the disorder of their clothes and the sweat on their steeds, they appeared to have been fighting, and, after they had watered their steeds, the Romans gathered around to ask news of the battle with the Latins. The youths described the fight and reported the Roman victory. Then, vanishing from the Forum, they were never seen again. The next day, when a letter from Postumius arrived with news of the Roman victory, the Romans realized the two handsome strangers were the gods Castor and Pollux, the children of Zeus and Leda, and accepted Postumius’ vow for a temple in their honor. Postumius died before completing the temple, but, some years later, his son dedicated it on July 15, 484/483, the anniversary of the famous battle.