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BASILICA

Chester (?) and Lincoln, while three others are mentioned in inscriptions (C.I.L. vii. 287, 445, 965).

A comparison of the plans of existing basilicas shows considerable variety in form. Some basilicas (Julia, Ulpia, Pompeii) have the central space surrounded by galleries supported on columns or piers, according to the normal scheme, and the newly excavated Basilica Aemilia, north of the Roman forum, agrees with these. In some North African examples, in the palace basilica of Domitian, and at Silchester, there are colonnades down the long sides but not across the ends. Others (Trier [?], Timgad) have no interior divisions. One (Maxentius) is entirely a vaulted structure and in form resembles the great halls of the Roman Thermae. At Pompeii, Timgad and Silchester, there are fixed tribunals, while vaulted apses that may have contained tribunals occur in the basilica of Maxentius. In the Basilica Julia there was no tribunal at all, though we know that the building was regularly used for the centumviral court (Quint. xii. 5. 6), and the same was the case in the Ulpia, for the semicircular projection at the end shown on the Capitoline-plan, was not a vaulted apse and was evidently distinct from the basilica.

Basilica 5.png
Fig. 5.—Section of the Basilica of Maxentius or Constantine
(Temple of Peace).

In view of the above it might be questioned whether it is safe to speak of a normal form of the basilica, but when we consider the vast number of basilicas that have perished compared to the few that have survived, and the fact that the origins and traditions of the building show it to have been, as Vitruvius describes it, essentially a columned structure, there is ample justification for the view expressed earlier in this article. There can be little doubt that the earlier basilicas, and the majority of basilicas taken as a whole, had a central space with galleries, generally in two stories, round it, and some arrangement for clerestory lighting. Later basilicas might vary in architectural scheme, while affording the same sort of accommodation as the older ones.

The relation of the civil basilica of the Romans to the Christian church has been extensively discussed, and the reader will find the controversy ably summarized in Kraus's Geschichte der christlichen Kunst, bk. 5. There is nothing remarkable in the fact that a large church was called a basilica, for the term was applied, as we have seen, to structures of many kinds, and we even find "basilica" used for the meeting-place of a pagan religious association (Röm. Mitt. 1891, p. 109). The similarity in some respects of the early Christian churches to the normal form of the columned basilica is so striking, that we can understand how the theory was once held that Christian churches were the actual civil basilicas turned over from secular to religious uses. There is no evidence for this in the case of public basilicas, and it stands to reason that the demands on these for secular purposes would remain the same whether Christianity were the religion of the empire or not. Moreover, though there are one or two civil basilicas that resemble churches, the latter differ in some most important respects from the form of the basilica that we have recognized as normal. The early Christian basilicas, at any rate in the west, had very seldom, if ever, galleries over the side aisles, and their interior is always dominated by the semi-dome of an apse that terminates the central nave, whereas, with the doubtful exception of Silchester (Archaeologia, liii. 549), there is no instance known of a vaulted apse in a columned civil basilica of the normal kind.

Basilica 6.png
Fig. 6.—Plan of Basilica adjoining the
Forum of the Roman city of Timgad,
in North Africa.
(From Gsell's Monuments antiques de
l'Algerie
, by permission of A. Fontemoing.)

When buildings were first expressly erected for Christian worship, in the 3rd or perhaps already in the 2nd century A.D. (Leclercq, Manuel, ch. iii. "Les édifices chrétiens avant la paix de l'église"), they probably took the form of an oblong interior