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Templum vs. Aedes, Roman Religion and Mythology (Photo Archive)

Templum vs. Aedes

Differences in ancient and modern use of the word 'temple' Roman Religion and Mythology / Lexicon

In the modern sense a 'temple' normally means a consecrated building, but this was not the meaning of the Latin word templum.

To the Romans a templum meant a consecrated area rather than an edifice. It was defined by the augurs as a suitable spot for taking the auguries, i.e., divination based on the observation of the flight of birds. Such an area was normally rectangular in shape and aligned with the four cardinal points. A templum could be a physical space, in which case it would be marked or enclosed, but it could also be an area of the sky, in which the birds would be observed. In the ancient sense of the word, a templum was a space where humans, represented by the augurs, can interact with the gods.

The Latin word aedes meant a building, but it was also used for a temple or sanctuary, so it corresponds much more closely to the modern sense of the word 'temple'.

The concepts of templum and aedes are distinct, but they are also related. There need not be a temple in the modern sense within a templum, but it was very common for an aedes to be located in a templum, though it was not a requirement. Hence templum and aedes are not the same, but they often coincide.

Important political decisions could only be taken with the consent of the gods, so they would have to be taken in a templum where the gods were present. The Comitium in the Roman Forum was such a templum, and it is also an example of a templum that did not contain an aedes. The senate could only meet in a templum, so if the Curia was not available for some reason, the senate would often meet in a temple, aedes, that was also a templum. Such meetings were held in the Aedes Castoris, in the Aedes Iuppiter Stator and in the Templum Concordiae, all temples in the Roman Forum.

The terminology changed towards the later centuries of antiquity, and it became more common to refer to an aedes as a templum, thus adding to the confusion.

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This page is linked under the names "Templum vs. Aedes", "Templum" and "Aedes".

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