Temple of Portunus, Rome

Temple of Portunus, Rome

Temple of Portunus

The Temple of Portunus, dating to the first century B.C., is a rare survivor of Roman Republican architecture and a reminder of the former magnificence of the Forum Boarium, a major commercial area along the banks of the Tiber in antiquity. The temple was dedicated to Portunus, a youthful god associated with water crossings and seaports. The rectangular building rests on a high podium with a single flight of steps leading to a pronaos, or portico, and a single cella. The combination of this typical Etruscan ground plan and the temple’s Greek Ionic columns is characteristic of Roman Republican period architecture. The structure was built out of travertine and tuff, originally plastered to imitate Greek marble. The frieze is decorated with garlands, putti, candelabra, and the popular ancient bucranium or ox-skull motif. The building was converted into a Christian church in the ninth century, when the interior of the cella was decorated with a fine cycle of frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Mary. This undoubtedly saved it from being pulled apart for building materials. In the 1920s the temple was freed of additions that had been added over time, and some conservation measures were taken to protect the structure.


Portunus is Mater Matuta's son, the goddess which protects the Roman matrons and is honoured during the Matralia on june 11th, since Mater Matuta (Aurora) was assimilated to the Greek goddess Leucothea (The white goddess), former Ino, who were the mother of the marine deity Palaemon, assimilated to Portunus.

The antiquity of Portunus, his early character into the cults of the city and his originality are inferred from his name, his yearly festival and his flamen. His temple, near the Forum Boarium "Cattle market", where also were celebrated the Portunalia on August 17, and the portus Tiberinus is still standing.

You can see it near the Aemilius pons (ponte Rotto). The street to the port, called vicus Lucceius, went by the Porta Flumentana, in the Servian Wall, then passed between the Temple of Portunus and the Portus Tiberinus. This was the place of the processions and the ceremonies of the Portunalia, each August 17 (a.d. XVI Kal. Septembres).

Temple of Portunus, Rome - History

The Temple of Portunus is a small late-republican-era temple which overlooks the Tiber River in a park-like area across the street from Santa Maria in Cosmedin. You'll often see the temple misnamed as the Temple of Fortuna Virilis, but the temple was actually dedicated to the river god Portunus. It was built in about 80 or 70 BC to replace an earlier temple from the 4th or 3rd century BC, and restored under Augustus. The bases of two statues set up in 2 BC in honor of Augustus' grandsons Gaius and Lucius, who were to succeed him as emperor but died as teenagers, were dug up in the area in front of the steps in 1551, and are now in the Capitoline Museum. The temple watched over barges as they entered Rome from the port of Ostia. Although this is difficult to imagine today with the walls that have been built around the Tiber to prevent flooding, back in the day the river was less isolated from the temple. The temple was converted to the church of St. Mary in 872 AD while it was still in good condition, and used as such during the Middle Ages, therefore was saved from destruction. It is a simple rectangular temple with four Ionic columns in the front and back and seven Ionic columns on each side, raised on a high podium. The size is about 10.5 meters x 19 meters. The Ionic columns in the front are free-standing, but the rear five columns on each side and the four columns across the back are all engaged (built into the walls). The pronaos (porch) of the temple measures four columns across by two columns deep. The temple is built with blocks of tufo the columns are made of travertine, but were covered with plaster to imitate marble.

The Republican temples of the Forum Boarium, built during the second century B.C., are preserved in very good condition due to the fact that during the Medieval era they were consecrated as Christian churches for their protection.

  • Temple of Hercules: The Temple of Hercules, which has a circular appearance surrounded by columns, has a great similarity to the Temple of Vesta, located in the Forum.
  • Temple of Portunus: Dedicated to the god of rivers and ports, the Temple of Portunus is located on a podium and surrounded by columns. It has a rectangular base.
Forum Boarium, The Temple of Hercules Forum Boarium, Templo of Portunus

ANCIENTS MONTH: Rome before the Empire, the Temple of Portunus

ANCIENTS MONTH: Not much remains from when Rome was a republic. Most of what we think of preserved ancient Roman ruins, comes from the empire or imperial period with special emphasis on works created by the Julio-Claudio roman emperors. Or those from the line of Julius Caesar and ending with Claudius. Some say Nero and his short lived predecessor.

But know that there are still some treasures of the democratic republic still in existence in modern Rome and the larger scope of Italy.

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Temple of Portunus (or Fortuna Virilis), c. 75 B.C.E. (Roman Republic), tufa, travertine, concrete (Forum Boarium, Rome)

Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker


Or Portumnus, the protecting genius of harbors among the Romans. He was invoked to grant a happy return from a voyage. Hence a temple was erected to him at the port of the Tiber, from whence the road descended to the port of Ostia. At his temple an annual festival, the Portunalia, was celebrated on the 17th of August.

Portunus is occasionally identified with Tiberinus and a few authors refer to the festival on August 17 as the Tiberinalia. This may be related to the fact that the grain silos of Rome were located at the banks of the Tiber River and because the important role of the harbor and the river played in the supply of grain. A square temple which still exists at the Forum Boarium (the current Piazza Bocca della Verità) is by some regarded as the temple of Portunus while others say that the round temple at the same plaza is his.

At the time when the Romans became familiar with Greek mythology, Portunus was identified with the Greek Palaemon. 1


The god is depicted with a key in his hand, portus as well as porta, which signifies a place that can be opened and closed.




  • Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  • Arnobius, iii, 23.
  • Cicero. On the Nature of the Gods ii, 26.
  • Seyffert, Oskar. (1894). Dictionary of Classical Antiquities.
  • Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
  • Varro. On the Latin Language vi, 19.
  • Virgil. Aeneid v, 241.

This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.

Portunus, Templum (Temple of Portunus)

The temple was dedicated to Portunus, god of Rome’s Tiber River harbor, on this location as early as the 4/3C BC, eventually related to nearby Pons Aemilus (2C BC). What is standing today, of tuff and travertine construction, is a 1C BC construction, but the stucco decoration on the frieze level is imperial (1C AD). The structure survives because it was converted into a church in 872. The Fascist- era construction of the modern road destroyed the medieval neighborhood that had developed and removed the church accouterments of the temple as church. What remains from the church phase of the structure are a few 9C frescoes preserved inside.

It was recently restored by World Monuments Fund the roof is new, the stone has been cleaned, and the remains of stucco plaster are cleaned and legible on the south side.

The most certain occurrence of this word is in Fronto (Ep. i. 7 (Naber): idem evenit floribus et coronis alia dignitate sunt (in Portunio) (from marg.) quom a coronariis veneunt, alia quom a sacerdotibus (in templo) (from marg.) porriguntur cf. Jord. ii. 199), where, if the marginal readings be correct, Portunium must mean the immediate vicinity of the temple of Portunus, a place frequented by flower-sellers, rather than the temple itself, as in the case of Dianium, Minervium.

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It is probable that Portunium may also be the correct reading in Varro v. 146:secundum Tiberim ad Portunium (MSS. ad iunium) forum piscarium vocant (Jord. ii. 257) and that the Fortunium of Cur. (Reg. XI) should be changed into Portunium.

The temple of Portunus is mentioned in Varro (LL 22 vi. 19: Portunalia dicta a Portuno, cui eo die aedes in portu Tiberino facta et feriae institutae), and in the calendar, under date of August 17th, the Portunalia, its day of dedication (Fast. Allif. Veil. Amit. ad xvi Kal. Sept., CIL i². p. 217, 240, 244, 325: Portuno ad pontem Aemilium). Portus Tiberinus must mean here a quay along the river, not a warehouse (cf. PORTUS LICINI, etc.), near the pons Aemilius, and the temple was close by. (For the discussion of this question, see Mommsen, CIL is. p. 325 Fowler, Roman Festivals 202-203 Besnier 307-312: Jord. i. I. 432 Rosch. iii. 2786-2787.) A relief on the arch of Trajan at Beneventum seems to represent Portunus and other gods at the portus Tiberinus (OJ 1899, 182-183 S. Sculp. 217 SScR 194).

This temple, among others, has been identified with the ancient circular temple (III. 43), which was occupied by the church of S. Stephanus Rotundus (1140), S. Stefano delle Carrozze (sixteenth century), and was later called S. Maria del Sole, in the Piazza Bocca della Verita (DAP 2. vi. 263 HJ 143 Mitt. 1925, 321-350). It is built of white marble, the blocks of the cella being solid, with a peristyle of twenty Corinthian columns. The cella is 10 metres in diameter and stands on a podium of tufa, 2 metres high, in the centre of which is a favissa (LR 518-520) which belongs to the period of the republic, although the marble covering and the whole superstructure date from the early empire. The entablature is missing, and the roof is modern. On the whole this identification is more probable than any other that has been suggested, but far from certain (Jord. i. 2. 485 Altm. 22-30, 33-36 ZA 248-251 (whose attribution to the period of Severus is doubtful). See D’Esp. Fr. i. 40-43 DuP 72 TF 136).


Baalbek has the ruins of the magnificent structures of the temple of Jupiter and the temple of Bacchus. The structures from the temple of Jupiter include the original 54 columns. Stairs of the temple of Mercury and ruins of propylaea, a formal entryway, can also be seen in Baalbek. Aimed to protect the culture, the structures are well-preserved and still stand intact.

Temple of Portunus, Rome - History

Title: Temple of Portunus ( Temple of Fortuna Virilis)

Medium: travertine and tufa covered in stucco.

Dimensions: approximately 70x 40x 40 feet

This temple used to face incoming ships in the Port Tiberinus, but the flood of 1870 caused the city to regulate the river watershed. Dikes were built to contain the Tevere and the purpose of the temple was forgotten. It was not until the ancient port was rediscovered very close to the site that the misappropriated name, Temple of Fortuna Virilis, was changed to the Temple of Portunus. It is so well preserved because it was converted into a Christian church in the 9 th century AD. Its architecture is influenced by both the Greeks and Etruscans. The porch and freestanding ionic columns point towards the Greek influence while the single front entrance, engaged columns in the back, and high podium (now partly buried) point to the Etruscans.

Portunus is a local Roman god known as the protector of seafarers and harbors, although originally god of doors and keys. His role got stretched through oral tradition and time so he is now known to oversee the comings and goings of travelers particularly on the sea.

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