The Basilica at Ruscino

The basilica at Ruscino, the actual Château-Roussillon near Perpignan in France, is an interesting example in many aspects. It has probably been built in the late 1st century B.C. or the early 1st century A.D. Through its Augustan date it stands very close to the layout of the early 'Italian' basilica's. But, where, until now, we saw the basilica as a construction that was built on the edge of an already existing forum, at Ruscino the basilica is part of a planned forum. It lies on the west side of an open space surrounded on all four sides by a portico with on the east side a row of shops against the outer wall of the forum.

The basilica is conceived as an open colonnaded hall: towards the forum there is no wall, but only a portico that is part of the layout of the forum. The interior of the basilica has the usual 4 x 8 columns, but the central nave is rather narrow, due to the position of the columns in the short sides, where we see a smaller intercolumniation than on the long sides. The axis of the basilica has shifted from a transverse axis (from the entrance in the long side to the aedes Augusti opposite the entrance) to a longitudinal axis. At the north end there is first a tribunal and behind the tribunal; on a higher level, the aedes Augusti was added as a separate construction.

The external north - south length of the basilica was 166 1/2 feet. The axial length of the nave was 115 1/2 feet or 7 axial intercolumniations of 16 1/2 feet. This intercolumniation equals nearly 1/10 of the total length of the building. As a result of these calculations we can accept that the length of the nave was 7/10 of the length of the basilica leaving 3/10 for the north and south aisles or 1 1/2 intercolumniation respectively. The nave is rather narrow due to the placing of the columns on the short sides where we find an axial intercolumniation of 10 3/4 feet or an overall axial width of 32 1/4 which is half the total axial width of the building.

At the north end a vestibule or tribunal and a curia or Aedes Augusti were added. The length of these two elements is 55 feet or 1/3 of the length of the basilica. It is interesting to see how the tribunal has 11 feet, leaving 44 feet for the aedes Augusti. This reveals a proportional system based on the number 11. Indeed the axial intercolumniation (16 1/2 feet) equals 1 1/2 times 11 and the combined width of the north and south aisles equals 4 1/2 times 11.


J.M.David, Le tribunal dans la basilique: évolution fonctionelle et symbolique de la république à l'empire, in Collection de l'école française de Rome 66, Paris-Rome, 1983, pp. 219-241
C.V.Walthew, A Metrological Study of the Early Roman Basilicas, Lewiston-Queenston-Lampeter, 2002

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