In Ancient Roman architecture
, a basilica is a large public building with multiple functions, typically built alongside the town's forum
. The basilica was in the Latin West
equivalent to a stoa
in the Greek East. The building gave its name to the architectural form of the basilica.
Originally, a basilica was an ancient Roman
public building, where courts were held, as well as serving other official and public functions. Basilicas are typically rectangular buildings with a central nave
flanked by two or more longitudinal aisle
s, with the roof at two levels, being higher in the centre over the nave
to admit a clerestory
and lower over the side-aisles. An apse
at one end, or less frequently at both ends or on the side, usually contained the raised tribunal
occupied by the Roman magistrate
s. The basilica was centrally located in every Roman town, usually adjacent to the forum
and often opposite a temple in imperial-era forums. Basilicas were also built in private residences and imperial palaces and were known as "palace basilicas".
In late antiquity
, church buildings
were typically constructed either as martyria
, or with a basilica's architectural plan. A number of monumental Christian basilicas were constructed during the latter reign of Constantine the Great
. In the post Nicene
period, basilicas became a standard model for Christian spaces for congregational worship
throughout the Mediterranean
. From the early 4th century, Christian basilicas, along with their associated catacombs
, were used for burial
of the dead.
By extension the name was applied to Christian churches
which adopted the same basic plan and is used as an architectural term to describe such buildings. It continues to be used in an architectural sense to describe rectangular buildings with a central nave
s, and usually a raised platform at the opposite end from the door. In Europe and the Americas the basilica remained the most common architectural style for churches of all Christian denominations, though this building plan has become less dominant in new buildings since the late 20th century.
The Latin word ''basilica'' derives from . The first known basilica—the Basilica Porcia
in the Roman Forum
—was constructed in 184 BC by Marcus Porcius Cato (the Elder)
After the construction of Cato the Elder's basilica, the term came to be applied to any large covered hall, whether it was used for domestic purposes, was a commercial space, a military structure, or religious building.
The plays of Plautus
suggest that basilica buildings may have existed prior to Cato's building. The plays were composed between 210 and 184 BC and refer to a building that might be identified with the ''Atrium Regium''.
Another early example is the basilica at Pompeii
(late 2nd century BC). Inspiration may have come from prototypes like Athens
's ''Stoa Basileios
'' or the hypostyle
hall on Delos
, but the architectural form is most derived from the audience halls in the royal palaces of the Diadochi
kingdoms of the Hellenistic period
. These rooms were typically a high nave flanked by colonnades.
These basilicas were rectangular, typically with central nave and aisles, usually with a slightly raised platform and an apse at each of the two ends, adorned with a statue perhaps of the emperor, while the entrances were from the long sides. The Roman ''basilica'' was a large public building where business or legal matters could be transacted. Although their form was variable, basilicas often contained interior colonnade
s that divided the space, giving aisles or arcaded spaces on one or both sides, with an apse at one end (or less often at each end), where the magistrates sat, often on a slightly raised dais
. The central aisle the nave tended to be wider and taller than the flanking aisles, so that light could penetrate through the clerestory
In the late Republican era, basilicas were increasingly monumental; Julius Caesar
replaced the Basilica Sempronia with his own Basilica Julia
, dedicated in 46 BC, while the Basilica Aemilia was rebuilt around 54 BC in so spectacular a fashion that Pliny the Elder
wrote that it was among the most beautiful buildings in the world (it was simultaneously renamed the ''Basilica Paulli''). Thereafter until the 4th century AD, monumental basilicas were routinely constructed at Rome by both private citizens and the emperors. These basilicas were reception halls and grand spaces in which élite persons could impress guests and visitors, and could be attached to a large country ''villa''
or an urban ''domus
''. They were simpler and smaller than were civic basilicas, and can be identified by inscriptions or their position in the archaeological context. Domitian
constructed a basilica on the Palatine Hill
for his imperial residential complex around 92 AD, and a palatine basilica was typical in imperial palaces throughout the imperial period.
Long, rectangular basilicas with internal peristyle
became a quintessential element of Roman urbanism
, often forming the architectural background to the city forum and used for diverse purposes.
Beginning with Cato in the early second century BC, politicians of the Roman Republic
competed with one another by building basilicas bearing their names in the ''Forum Romanum
'', the centre of ancient Rome
. Outside the city, basilicas symbolised the influence of Rome and became a ubiquitous fixture of Roman ''coloniae''
of the late Republic from c.100 BC. The earliest surviving basilica is the basilica of Pompeii
, built 120 BC.
Basilicas were the administrative and commercial centres of major Roman settlements: the "quintessential architectural expression of Roman administration".
Adjoining it there were normally various offices and rooms housing the ''curia'' and a shrine for the tutela
Like Roman public baths
, basilicas were commonly used as venues for the display of honorific statues and other sculptures, complementing the outdoor public spaces and thoroughfares.
Beside the Basilica Porcia on the ''Forum Romanum'', the Basilica Aemilia
was built in 179 BC, and the Basilica Sempronia
in 169 BC.
In the Republic two types of basilica were built across Italy in the mid-2nd to early 1st centuries BC: either they were nearly square as at Fanum Fortunae
, designed by Vitruvius
, and Cosa
, with a 3:4 width-length ratio; or else they were more rectangular, as Pompeii's basilica, whose ratio is 3:7.
The basilica at Ephesus
is typical of the basilicas in the Roman East, which usually have a very elongated footprint and a ratio between 1:5 and 1:9, with open porticoes facing the ''agora
'' (the Hellenic forum); this design was influenced by the existing tradition of long ''stoae'' in Hellenistic Asia
Provinces in the west lacked this tradition, and the basilicas the Romans commissioned there were more typically Italian, with the central nave divided from the side-aisles by an internal colonnade in regular proportions.
Beginning with the Forum of Caesar
() at the end of the Roman Republic, the centre of Rome was embellished with a series of imperial fora
typified by a large open space surrounded by a peristyle, honorific statues of the imperial family (), and a basilica, often accompanied by other facilities like a temple
, market halls
and public libraries
In the imperial period, statues of the emperors with inscribed dedications were often installed near the basilicas' tribunals, as Vitruvius recommended. Examples of such dedicatory inscriptions are known from basilicas at Lucus Feroniae
in Italy and at Cuicul
in Africa Proconsolaris
, and inscriptions of all kinds were visible in and around basilicas.
At Ephesus the basilica-''stoa'' had two storeys and three aisles and extended the length of the civic ''agora''
's north side, complete with colossal statues of the emperor Augustus and his imperial family.
The remains of a large subterranean Neopythagorean
basilica dating from the 1st century AD were found near the Porta Maggiore
in Rome in 1915, and is known as the Porta Maggiore Basilica
After its destruction in 60 AD, Londinium
) was endowed with its first forum and basilica under the Flavian dynasty
The basilica delimited the northern edge of the forum with typical nave, aisles, and a tribunal, but with an atypical semi-basement at the western side.
Unlike in Gaul
, basilica-forum complexes in Roman Britain
did not usually include a temple; instead a shrine was usually inside the basilica itself.
At Londinium however, there was probably no temple at all attached to the original basilica, but instead a contemporary temple was constructed nearby.
Later, in 79 AD, an inscription commemorated the completion of the basilica at Verulamium
) under the governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola
; by contrast the first basilica at Londinium was only .
The smallest known basilica in Britain was built by the Silures
and measured .
When Londinium became a ''colonia
'', the whole city was re-planned and a new great forum-basilica complex erected, larger than any in Britain.
Londinium's basilica, more than long, was the largest north of the Alps
and a similar length to the modern St Paul's Cathedral
Only the later basilica-forum complex at Treverorum
was larger, while at Rome only the Basilica Ulpia exceeded London's in size.
It probably had arcaded, rather than trabeate
, aisles, and a double row of square offices on the northern side, serving as the administrative centre of the ''colonia'', and its size and splendour probably indicate an imperial decision to change the administrative capital of Britannia to Londinium from Camulodunum
), as all provincial capitals were designated ''coloniae''.
In 300 Londinium's basilica was destroyed as a result of the rebellion led by the ''augustus
'' of the break-away Britannic Empire
. Remains of the great basilica and its arches were discovered during the construction of Leadenhall Market
in the 1880s.
in the 1st century AD, a new basilica was constructed in on the east side of the forum.
It was possibly inside the basilica that Paul the Apostle
, according to the ''Acts of the Apostles
'' (''Acts'' 18:12–17
) was investigated and found innocent by the Suffect Consul Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus
, the brother of Seneca the Younger
, after charges were brought against him by members of the local Jewish diaspora
Modern tradition instead associates the incident with an open-air inscribed ''bema
'' in the forum itself.
The emperor Trajan
constructed his own imperial forum in Rome accompanied by his Basilica Ulpia
dedicated in 112.
() was separated from the Temple of Trajan
, the Ulpian Library
, and his famous Column
depicting the Dacian Wars
by the Basilica.
It was an especially grand example whose particular symmetrical arrangement with an apse at both ends was repeated in the provinces as a characteristic form.
To improve the quality of the Roman concrete
used in the Basilica Ulpia, volcanic scoria
from the Bay of Naples
and Mount Vesuvius
were imported which, though heavier, was stronger than the pumice
available closer to Rome.
The Bailica Ulpia is probably an early example of tie bars
to restrain the lateral thrust of the barrel vault
resting on a colonnade; both tie-bars and scoria were used in contemporary work at the Baths of Trajan
and later the Hadrianic domed vault of the Pantheon
In early 123, the ''augusta''
and widow of the emperor Trajan, Pompeia Plotina
, successor to Trajan, deified
her and had a basilica constructed in her honour in southern Gaul
The Basilica Hilariana
(built c.145–155) was designed for the use of the cult of Cybele
The largest basilica built outside Rome was that built under the Antonine dynasty
on the Byrsa
hill in Carthage
The basilica was built together with a forum of enormous size and was contemporary with a great complex of public baths and a new aqueduct system running for , then the longest in the Roman Empire.
The basilica at Leptis Magna
, built by the Septimius Severus
a century later in about 216 is a notable 3rd century AD example of the traditional type, most notable among the works influenced by the Basilica Ulpia.
The basilica at Leptis was built mainly of limestone ashlar
, but the apses at either end were only limestone in the outer sections and built largely of rubble masonry
faced with brick, with a number of decorative panels in ''opus reticulatum
''. The basilica stood in a new forum and was accompanied by a programme of Severan works at Leptis including ''thermae'', a new harbour, and a public fountain.
, principal city of Mauretania Tingitana
, a basilica modelled on Leptis Magna's was completed during the short reign of Macrinus
Basilicas in the Roman Forum
* Basilica Porcia: first basilica built in Rome (184 BC), erected on the personal initiative and financing of the censor Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder) as an official building for the tribunes of the plebs
* Basilica Aemilia
, built by the censor Aemilius Lepidus
in 179 BC
* Basilica Sempronia
, built by the censor Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus
in 169 BC
* Basilica Opimia
, erected probably by the consul Lucius Opimius
in 121 BC, at the same time that he restored the temple of Concord
(Platner, Ashby 1929)
* Basilica Julia
, initially dedicated in 46 BC by Julius Caesar
and completed by Augustus 27 BC to AD 14
* Basilica Argentaria
, erected under Trajan
, emperor from AD 98 to 117
* Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine
(built between AD 308 and 312)
The aisled-hall plan of the basilica was adopted by a number of religious cults in late antiquity
, a monumental basilica
housed the city's synagogue
, serving the local Jewish diaspora
. New religions like Christianity required space for congregational worship, and the basilica was adapted by the early Church for worship.
Because they were able to hold large number of people, basilicas were adopted for Christian liturgical use after Constantine the Great
. The early churches of Rome were basilicas with an apisidal tribunal and used the same construction techniques of columns and timber roofing.
At the start of the 4th century at Rome there was a change in burial and funerary
practice, moving away from earlier preferences for inhumation in cemeteries popular from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD to the newer practice of burial in catacombs
and inhumation inside Christian basilicas themselves. Conversely, new basilicas often were erected on the site of existing early Christian cemeteries and ''martyria'', related to the belief in Bodily Resurrection
, and the cult of the sacred dead became monumentalised in basilica form.
Traditional civic basilicas and ''bouleuteria
'' declined in use with the weakening of the curial class
() in the 4th and 5th centuries, while their structures were well suited to the requirements of congregational liturgies.
The conversion of these types of buildings into Christian basilicas was also of symbolic significance, asserting the dominance of Christianity and supplanting the old political function of public space and the city-centre with an emphatic Christian social statement.
Traditional monumental civic amenities like ''gymnasia''
, and ''thermae'' were also falling into disuse, and became favoured sites for the construction of new churches, including basilicas.
Under Constantine, the basilica became the most prestigious style of church building, was "normative" for church buildings by the end of the 4th century, and were ubiquitous in western Asia, North Africa, and most of Europe by the close of the 7th century.
Christians also continued to hold services in synagogues, houses, and gardens, and continued practising baptism
in rivers, ponds, and Roman bathhouses.
The development of Christian basilicas began even before Constantine's reign: a 3rd-century mud-brick
house at Aqaba
had become a Christian church and was rebuilt as a basilica.
Within was a rectangular assembly hall with fresco
es and at the east end an ambo
, a cathedra
, and an altar.
Also within the church were a catecumenon (for catechumens
), a baptistery, a diaconicon
, and a prothesis
: all features typical of later 4th century basilica churches.
A Christian structure which included the prototype of the triumphal arch at the east end of later Constantinian basilicas.
Known as the Megiddo church
, it was built at Kefar 'Othnay in Palestine
, possibly c. 230, for or by the Roman army
stationed at Legio
Its dedicatory inscriptions include the names of women who contributed to the building and were its major patrons, as well as men's names.
A number of buildings previously believed to have been Constantinian or 4th century have been reassessed as dating to later periods, and certain examples of 4th century basilicas are not distributed throughout the Mediterranean world at all evenly.
Christian basilicas and ''martyria'' attributable to the 4th century are rare on the Greek mainland and on the Cyclades
, while the Christian basilicas of Egypt, Cyprus
, and Gaul
are nearly all of later date.
The basilica at Ephesus's ''Magnesian Gate'', the episcopal church at Laodicea on the Lycus
, and two extramural churches at Sardis
have all been considered 4th century constructions, but on weak evidence.
Development of pottery chronologies
for Late Antiquity had helped resolve questions of dating basilicas of the period.
Three examples of a ''basilica discoperta'' or "hypaethral
basilica" with no roof above the nave are inferred to have existed.
The 6th century Anonymous pilgrim of Piacenza
described a "a basilica built with a ''quadriporticus
'', with the middle atrium uncovered" at Hebron
, while at Pécs
and near Salona
two ruined 5th buildings of debated interpretation might have been either roofless basilica churches or simply courtyards with an exedra
at the end.
An old theory by Ejnar Dyggve
that these were the architectural intermediary between the Christian ''martyrium''
and the classical ''heröon''
is no longer credited.
The magnificence of early Christian basilicas reflected the patronage of the emperor and recalled his imperial palaces and reflected the royal associations of the basilica with the Hellenistic Kingdoms
and even earlier monarchies like that of Pharaonic Egypt
Similarly, the name and association resounded with the Christian claims of the royalty of Christ
– according to the ''Acts of the Apostles
'' the earliest Christians had gathered at the royal ''Stoa'' of Solomon in Jerusalem
to assert Jesus's royal heritage.
For early Christians, the Bible
supplied evidence that the First Temple
and Solomon's palace
were both hypostyle
halls and somewhat resembled basilicas.
Hypostyle synagogues, often built with apses in Palestine by the 6th century, share a common origin with the Christian basilicas in the civic basilicas and in the pre-Roman style of hypostyle halls in the Mediterranean Basin, particularly in Egypt, where pre-classical hypostyles continued to be built in the imperial period and were themselves converted into churches in the 6th century.
Other influences on the evolution of Christian basilicas may have come from elements of domestic and palatial architecture during the pre-Constantinian period of Christianity, including the reception hall or () and the ''atria''
of élite Roman dwellings.
The versatility of the basilica form and its variability in size and ornament recommended itself to the early Christian Church
: basilicas could be grandiose as the Basilica of Maxentius in the ''Forum Romanum'' or more practical like the so-called Basilica of Bahira
, while the ''Basilica Constantiniana'' on the Lateran Hill
was of intermediate scale.
This basilica, begun in 313, was the first imperial Christian basilica.
Imperial basilicas were first constructed for the Christian Eucharist liturgy
in the reign of Constantine.
Basilica churches were not economically inactive. Like non-Christian or civic basilicas, basilica churches had a commercial function integral to their local trade routes and economies. Amphorae
discovered at basilicas attest their economic uses and can reveal their position in wider networks of exchange.
near Mount Olympus
, now an Archaeological Park
, the latter 5th century ''Cemetery Basilica'', a small church, was replete with potsherd
s from all over the Mediterranean
, evidencing extensive economic activity took place there.
Likewise at Maroni Petrera
on Cyprus, the amphorae unearthed by archaeologists in the 5th century basilica church had been imported from North Africa, Egypt, Palestine
, and the Aegean basin
, as well as from neighbouring Asia Minor
According to Vegetius
, writing c. 390, basilicas were convenient for drilling
soldiers of the Late Roman army
during inclement weather.
Basilica of Maxentius
The 4th century Basilica of Maxentius
, begun by Maxentius
between 306 and 312 and according to Aurelius Victor
's ''De Caesaribus'' completed by Constantine I, was an innovation.
Earlier basilicas had mostly had wooden roofs, but this basilica dispensed with timber trusses and used instead cross-vault
s made from Roman brick
s and concrete
to create one of the ancient world's largest covered spaces: 80 m long, 25 m wide, and 35 m high.
of the cross-vaults, the largest Roman examples, were 35 m.
The vault was supported on marble
monolithic columns 14.5 m tall.
The foundations are as much as 8 m deep.
The vault was supported by brick latticework ribs () forming lattice ribbing, an early form of rib vault
, and distributing the load evenly across the vault's span.
Similar brick ribs were employed at the Baths of Maxentius
on the Palatine Hill
, where they supported walls on top of the vault.
Also known as the or , it chanced to be the last civic basilica built in Rome.
Inside the basilica the central nave was accessed by five doors opening from an entrance hall on the eastern side and terminated in an apse at the western end.
Another, shallower apse with niches for statues was added to the centre of the north wall in a second campaign of building, while the western apse housed a colossal acrolith
ic statue of the emperor Constantine enthroned.
Fragments of this statue are now in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitoline Hill
, part of the Capitoline Museums
. Opposite the northern apse on the southern wall, another monumental entrance was added and elaborated with a portico
One of the remaining marble interior columns was removed in 1613 by Pope Paul V
and set up as an honorific column outside Santa Maria Maggiore
In the early 4th century Eusebius
used the word basilica () to refer to Christian churches; in subsequent centuries as before, the word basilica referred in Greek to the civic, non-ecclesiastical buildings, and only in rare exceptions to churches.
Churches were nonetheless basilican in form, with an apse or tribunal at the end of a nave with two or more aisles typical.
(sometimes with an exonarthex) or vestibule
could be added to the entrance, together with an atrium
, and the interior might have transept
s, a pastophorion
, and galleries
, but the basic scheme with clerestory windows and a wooden truss roof
remained the most typical church type until the 6th century.
The nave would be kept clear for liturgical processions by the clergy, with the laity
in the galleries and aisles to either side.
The function of Christian churches was similar to that of the civic basilicas but very different from temples in contemporary Graeco-Roman polytheism
: while pagan temples were entered mainly by priests and thus had their splendour visible from without, within Christian basilicas the main ornamentation was visible to the congregants admitted inside.
Christian priests did not interact with attendees during the rituals which took place at determined intervals, whereas pagan priests were required to perform individuals' sacrifices in the more chaotic environment of the temple precinct, with the temple's facade as backdrop.
In basilicas constructed for Christian uses, the interior was often decorated with fresco
es, but these buildings' wooden-roof often decayed and failed to preserve the fragile frescoes within.
Thus was lost an important part of the early history of Christian art
, which would have sought to communicate early Christian ideas to the mainly illiterate Late Antique society.
On the exterior, basilica church complexes included cemeteries, baptisteries, and fonts
which "defined ritual and liturgical access to the sacred", elevated the social status of the Church hierarchy, and which complemented the development of a Christian historical landscape; Constantine and his mother Helena
were patrons of basilicas in important Christian sites in the Holy Land
and Rome, and at Milan and Constantinople.
Around 310, while still a self-proclaimed ''augustus'' unrecognised at Rome, Constantine began the construction of the ''Basilica Constantiniana'' or , as a reception hall for his imperial seat at Trier
(), capital of Belgica Prima
On the exterior, Constantine's palatine basilica was plain and utilitarian, but inside was very grandly decorated.
In the reign of Constantine I, a basilica was constructed for the Pope
in the former barracks
of the ''Equites singulares Augusti
'', the cavalry
arm of the Praetorian Guard
(Constantine had disbanded the Praetorian guard after his defeat of their emperor Maxentius and replaced them with another bodyguard, the ''Scholae Palatinae
In 313 Constantine began construction of the ''Basilica Constantiniana'' on the Lateran Hill.
This basilica became Rome's cathedral
church, known as St John Lateran
, and was more richly decorated and larger than any previous Christian structure.
However, because of its remote position from the ''Forum Romanum'' on the city's edge, it did not connect with the older imperial basilicas in the fora of Rome.
Outside the basilica was the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
, a rare example of an Antique statue that has never been underground.
According to the ''Liber Pontificalis
'', Constantine was also responsible for the rich interior decoration of the Lateran Baptistery
constructed under Pope Sylvester I
(r. 314–335), sited about .
The Lateran Baptistery was the first monumental free-standing baptistery, and in subsequent centuries Christian basilica churches were often endowed with such baptisteries.
, a Christian basilica erected by Constantine was taken over by his opponents, the Donatists
After Constantine's failure to resolve the Donatist controversy by coercion between 317 and 321, he allowed the Donatists, who dominated Africa
, to retain the basilica and constructed a new one for the Catholic Church
The original titular church
es of Rome were those which had been private residences and which were donated to be converted to places of Christian worship.
Above an originally 1st century AD villa and its later adjoining warehouse
, a large basilica church had been erected by 350, subsuming the earlier structures beneath it as a crypt.
The basilica was the first church of San Clemente al Laterano
Similarly, at Santi Giovanni e Paolo al Celio
, an entire ancient city block
– a 2nd-century ''insula''
on the Caelian Hill
– was buried beneath a 4th-century basilica.
The site was already venerated as the ''martyrium'' of three early Christian burials beforehand, and part of the ''insula'' had been decorated in the style favoured by Christian communities frequenting the early Catacombs of Rome
By 350 in Serdica
), a monumental basilica – the Church of Saint Sophia
– was erected, covering earlier structures including a Christian chapel, an oratory, and a cemetery dated to c. 310.
Other major basilica from this period, in this part of Europe, is the Great Basilica
(4th century AD).
In the late 4th century the dispute between Nicene
and Arian Christianity
came to head at ''Mediolanum
), where Ambrose
in 386 the Arian
party, preferred by the Theodosian dynasty
, sought to wrest the use of the basilica from the Nicene partisan Ambrose.
According to Augustine of Hippo
, the dispute resulted in Ambrose organising an 'orthodox' sit-in
at the basilica and arranged the miraculous invention and translation of martyr
s, whose hidden remains had been revealed in a vision
During the sit-in, Augustine credits Ambrose with the introduction from the "eastern regions" of antiphon
al chanting, to give heart to the orthodox congregation, though in fact music was likely part of Christian ritual since the time of the Pauline epistles
The arrival and reburial of the martyrs' uncorrupted remains in the basilica in time for the Easter celebrations was seen as powerful step towards divine approval.
, the market adjoining the 1st-century forum was demolished and replaced with a Christian basilica.
Civic basilicas throughout Asia Minor became Christian places of worship; examples are known at Ephesus, Aspendos
, and at Magnesia on the Maeander
The ''Great Basilica'' in Antioch of Pisidia
is a rare securely dated 4th century Christian basilica and was the city's cathedral church.
The mosaics of the floor credit Optimus, the bishop, with its dedication.
Optimus was a contemporary of Basil of Caesarea
and corresponded with him c. 377.
Optimus was the city's delegate at the First Council of Constantinople
in 381, so the 70 m-long single-apsed basilica near the city walls must have been constructed around that time.
had a number of Christian basilicas constructed in Late Antiquity, particularly in former ''bouleuteria'', as at Sagalassos
, while a civic basilica was converted for Christians' use in Cremna
, opposite Constantinople on the Bosporus, the relics of Euphemia
– a supposed Christian martyr of the Diocletianic Persecution – were housed in a ''martyrium'' accompanied by a basilica.
The basilica already existed when Egeria
passed through Chalcedon in 384, and in 436 Melania the Younger
visited the church on her own journey to the Holy Land.
From the description of Evagrius Scholasticus
the church is identifiable as an aisled basilica attached to the ''martyrium'' and preceded by an ''atrium''. The Council of Chalcedon
(8–31 October 451) was held in the basilica, which must have been large enough to accommodate the more than two hundred bishops that attneded its third session, together with their translators and servants; around 350 bishops attended the Council in all. In an ekphrasis
in his eleventh sermon
, Asterius of Amasea
described an icon in the church depicting Euphemia's martyrdom.
The church was restored under the patronage of the ''patricia'' and daughter of Olybrius
'','' Anicia Juliana
. Pope Vigilius
fled there from Constantinople during the Three-Chapter Controversy
. The basilica, which lay outside the walls of Chalcedon, was destroyed by the Persians in the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628
during one of the Sasanian occupations of the city in 615 and 626. The relics of Euphemia were reportedly translated
to a new Church of St Euphemia
in Constantinople in 680, though Cyril Mango
argued the translation never took place. Subsequently, Asterius's sermon ''On the Martyrdom of St Euphemia'' was advanced as an argument for iconodulism
at the Second Council of Nicaea
In the late 4th century, a large basilica church dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus
was constructed in Ephesus
in the former south ''stoa'' (a commercial basilica) of the Temple of Hadrian ''Olympios''.
Ephesus was the centre of the Roman province of Asia
, and was the site of the city's famed Temple of Artemis
, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
It had also been a centre of the Imperial cult of ancient Rome
in Asia; Ephesus was three times declared Neocorate
() and had constructed a Temple of the Sebastoi
to the Flavian dynasty
The Basilica of the Virgin Mary was probably the venue for the 431 Council of Ephesus
and the 449 Second Council of Ephesus
, both convened by Theodosius II
At some point during the Christianisation of the Roman world, Christian crosses were cut into the faces of the colossal statues of Augustus
that stood in the basilica-''stoa'' of Ephesus; the crosses were perhaps intended to exorcise demons
in a process akin to baptism.
In the eastern cemetery of Hierapolis
the 5th century domed octagonal ''martyrium'' of Philip the Apostle
was built alongside a basilica church, while at Myra
the Basilica of St Nicholas
was constructed at the tomb of Saint Nicholas
the earliest basilica churches, like the 5th century basilica at the Monastery of Stoudios
, were mostly equipped with a small cruciform crypt (), a space under the church floor beneath the altar.
Typically, these crypts were accessed from the apse's interior, though not always, as at the 6th century Church of St John at the Hebdomon
, where access was from outside the apse.
At Thessaloniki, the Roman bath
where tradition held Demetrius of Thessaloniki
had been martyred was subsumed beneath the 5th century basilica of Hagios Demetrios
, forming a crypt.
The largest and oldest basilica churches in Egypt were at Pbow
, a coenobitic
monastery established by Pachomius the Great
The 4th century basilica was replaced by a large 5th century building (36 × 72 m) with five aisles and internal colonnades of pink granite columns and paved with limestone.
This monastery was the administrative centre of the Pachomian order where the monks would gather twice annually and whose library may have produced many surviving manuscript
s of biblical, Gnostic, and other texts in Greek and Coptic
In North Africa
, late antique basilicas were often built on a doubled plan.
In the 5th century, basilicas with two apses, multiple aisles, and doubled churches were common, including examples respectively at Sufetula
, and Djémila
Generally, North African basilica churches' altar
s were in the nave and the main building medium was ''opus africanum
'' of local stone, and ''spolia
'' was infrequently used.
The Church of the East's Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon
was convened by the Sasanian Emperor Yazdegerd I
at his capital at Ctesiphon
; according to ''Synodicon Orientale
'', the emperor ordered that the former churches in the Sasanian Empire
to be restored and rebuilt, that such clerics and ascetics
as had been imprisoned were to be released, and their Nestorian Christian
communities allowed to circulate freely and practice openly.
In eastern Syria
, the Church of the East
developed at typical pattern of basilica churches.
Separate entrances for men and women were installed in the southern or northern wall; within, the east end of the nave was reserved for men, while women and children were stood behind. In the nave was a ''bema'', from which Scripture
could be read, and which were inspired by the equivalent in synagogues and regularised by the Church of Antioch
The Council of 410 stipulated that on Sunday
would read the Gospel
s from the ''bema''.
Standing near the ''bema'', the lay folk
could chant responses to the reading and if positioned near the ''šqāqonā'' ("a walled floor-level pathway connecting the ''bema'' to the altar area") could try to kiss or touch the Gospel Book
as it was processed from the deacons
' room to the ''bema'' and thence to the altar
Some ten Eastern churches in eastern Syria have been investigated by thorough archaeology
A Christian basilica was constructed in the first half of the 5th century at Olympia
, where the statue of Zeus
had been noted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
ever since the 2nd century BC list compiled by Antipater of Sidon
Cultural tourism thrived at Olympia and Ancient Greek religion
continued to be practised there well into the 4th century.
, founded by Augustus
to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Actium
at the end of the Last war of the Roman Republic
, four early Christian basilicas were built during Late Antiquity whose remains survive to the present.
In the 4th or 5th century, Nicopolis was surrounded by a new city wall.
there are major basilicas from that time like Elenska Basilica
and the Red Church
File:Rom, Basilika Santa Sabina, Außenansicht.jpg|Santa Sabina, Rome, 422–432
File:Rom, Basilika Santa Sabina, Innenansicht.jpg|Interior of Santa Sabina, with ''spolia'' Corinthian columns from the Temple of Juno ''Regina''
File:Theodore Studite (Menologion of Basil II).jpg|Basilica church of the Monastery of Stoudios, Constantinple, 5th century, as depicted in the Menologion of Basil II, c. 1000
File:Antioch of Pisidia 2870.jpg|Apse of the ruined ''Great Basilica'', Antioch in Pisidia. The floor dates to late 4th century, and the walls to the 5th or 6th century. The building has a semi-circular interior and a polygonal exterior.
, the Roman cities suffered from repeated earthquakes in the 4th century, but between c. 450 and c. 550, a large number of Christian basilicas were constructed.
Crete was throughout Late Antiquity a province
of the Diocese of Macedonia
, governed from Thessaloniki.
Nine basilica churches were built at Nea Anchialos
, ancient Phthiotic Thebes
(), which was in its heyday the primary port of Thessaly
. The episcopal see
was the three-aisled ''Basilica A'', the Church
of St Demetrius of Thessaloniki
, and similar to the Church of the Acheiropoietos
Its atrium perhaps had a pair of towers to either side and its construction dates to the late 5th/early 6th century.
The Elpidios Basilica ''Basilica B'' was of similar age, and the city was home to a large complex of ecclesiastical buildings including ''Basilica G'', with its luxurious mosaic floors and a mid-6th century inscription proclaiming the patronage of the bishop Peter. Outside the defensive wall
was ''Basilica D'', a 7th-century cemetery church.
, () the capital from the late 4th century of the province of Macedonia II Salutaris
, had numerous basilicas and six palaces in late antiquity.
The ''Old Basilica'' had two phases of geometric pavements, the second phase of which credited the bishop Eustathios as patron of the renovations. A newer episcopal basilica was built by the bishop Philip atop the remains of the earlier structure, and two further basilicas were within the walls.
The ''Central Basilica'' replaced a synagogue
on a site razed in the late 5th century, and there was also a ''North Basilica'' and further basilicas without the walls.
Various mosaics and sculptural decorations have been found there, and while the city suffered from the Ostrogoths
in 479 and an earthquake in 518, ceasing to be a major city thereafter, it remained a bishopric until the end of the 7th century and the ''Basilica of Philip'' had its ''templon
'' restored in the 8th century.
The Small Basilica
(Plovdiv, Bulgaria) in Thrace
was built in the second half of the 5th century AD.
File:Mosque of Eski Djouma Thessalonica Transversal section Longitudinal section - Texier Charles - 1864.jpg|Drawing of the 5th century Church of the Acheiropoietos by Charles Texier, 1864
File:Church of the Acheiropoietos (Thessaloniki) by Joy of Museums.jpg|Leonid basilica Church of the Acheiropoietos, Thessaloniki, 450–60
File:Basilique à tours - mosaïque Louvre.jpg|5th-century mosaic of a basilica (Louvre)
constructed at Ephesus a large basilica church, the Basilica of St John
, above the supposed tomb of John the Apostle
The church was a domed cruciform basilica begun in 535/6; enormous and lavishly decorated, it was built in the same style as Justinian's Church of the Holy Apostles
The Justinianic basilica replaced an earlier, smaller structure which Egeria
had planned to visit in the 4th century, and remains of a aqueduct branch built to supply the complex with water probably dates from Justinian's reign.
The Ephesians' basilicas to St Mary and St John were both equipped with baptisteries
with filling and draining pipes: both fonts
were flush with the floor and unsuitable for infant baptism
As with most Justinianic baptisteries in the Balkans
and Asia Minor
, the baptistery at the Basilica of St John was on the northern side of the basilica's nave; the 734 m2
baptistery was separated from the basilica by a 3 m-wide corridor.
According to the 6th century Syriac
writer John of Ephesus
, a Syriac Orthodox
Christian, the heterodox Miaphysites
services in the courtyard of the Basilica of St John under cover of night.
Somewhat outside the ancient city on the hill of Selçuk
, the Justinianic basilica became the centre of the city after the 7th century Arab–Byzantine wars
At Constantinople, Justinian constructed the largest domed basilica: on the site of the 4th century basilica Church of Holy Wisdom
, the emperor ordered construction of the huge domed basilica that survives to the present: the Hagia Sophia
This basilica, which "continues to stand as one of the most visually imposing and architecturally daring churches in the Mediterranean", was the cathedral of Constantinople and the patriarchal church of the Patriarch of Constantinople
Hagia Sophia, originally founded by Constantine, was at the social and political heart of Constantinople, near to the Great Palace
, the Baths of Zeuxippus
, and the Hippodrome of Constantinople
, while the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
was within the basilica's immediate vicinity.
The mid-6th century Bishop of Poreč
( la|Parens or ; grc|Πάρενθος|Párenthos|links=no) replaced an earlier 4th century basilica with the magnificent Euphrasian Basilica in the style of contemporary basilicas at Ravenna
Some column capitals
were of marble from Greece identical to those in Basilica of San Vitale
and must have been imported from the Byzantine centre along with the columns and some of the ''opus sectile
There are conch
mosaics in the basilica's three apses and the fine ''opus sectile'' on the central apse wall is "exceptionally well preserved".
The 4th century basilica of Saint Sophia Church
at Serdica (Sofia, Bulgaria) was rebuilt in the 5th century and ultimately replaced by a new monumental basilica in the late 6th century, and some construction phases continued into the 8th century.
This basilica was the cathedral of Serdica and was one of three basilicas known to lie outside the walls; three more churches were within the walled city, of which the Church of Saint George
was a former Roman bath built in the 4th century, and another was a former Mithraeum.
The basilicas were associated with cemeteries with Christian inscriptions and burials.
Another basilica from this period in Bulgaria
was the Belovo Basilica
(6th century AD).
convert from the Church of the East
constructed a new basilica c.565 dedicated to Saint Sergius
at ''ʿ''Ain Qenoye (or ''ʿ''Ain Qena according to Bar Hebraeus
) after being ordained bishop of Beth Arbaye
by Jacob Baradaeus
and while proselytizing among the Bedouin
in the Sasanian Empire.
According to Ahudemmeh's biographer this basilica and its ''martyrium'', in the upper Tigris
valley, was supposed to be a copy of the Basilica of St Sergius at Sergiopolis (Resafa
), in the middle Euphrates
, so that the Arabs would not have to travel so far on pilgrimage.
More likely, with the support of Khosrow I
for its construction and defence against the Nestorians
who were Miaphysites
' rivals, the basilica was part of an attempt to control the frontier tribes and limit their contact with the Roman territory of Justinian, who had agreed in the 562 Fifty-Year Peace Treaty
to pay 30,000 ''nomismata''
annually to Khosrow in return for a demilitarization of the frontier after the latest phase of the Roman–Persian Wars
After being mentioned in 828 and 936, the basilica at ''ʿ''Ain Qenoye disappeared from recorded history, though it may have remained occupied for centuries, and was rediscovered as a ruin by Carsten Niebuhr
in 1766. The name of the modern site Qasr Serīj is derived from the basilica's dedication to St Sergius.
Qasr Serīj's construction may have been part of the policy of toleration that Khosrow and his successors had for Miaphysitism a contrast with Justinian's persecution of heterodoxy within the Roman empire.
This policy itself encouraged many tribes to favour the Persian cause, especially after the death in 569 of the Ghassanid Kingdom
's Miaphysite king al-Harith ibn Jabalah
(, ) and the 584 suppression by the Romans of his successors' dynasty.
File:StSophiaChurch-Sofia-10.jpg|Hagia Sophia, Serdica (Sofia), built 4th–8th centuries
File:Nave looking towards the entrance - Sant'Apollinare Nuovo - Ravenna 2016.jpg|Ostrogothic ''Basilica of Christ the Redeemer'', Ravenna, 504. Rededicated 561 to St Apollinaris.
File:Basilica di Sant'Apollinare in Classe (interno).JPG|Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe near Ravenna in Italy
File:Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine 04155u original.jpg|Justinianic Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, after 529
File:Ephesos Saint John the Theologian plan rotated.png|Floor plan of the Justinianic Basilica of St John, Ephesus, after 535/6
File:Bosra basilica di BahiraHPIM3296.JPG|Interior of the ruined Basilica of Bahira, Bosra
File:Βασιλική Αγίου Αχιλλείου.jpg|Ruins of the 10th century Church of Achillius of Larissa, on the eponymous island of Agios Achilleios, Mikra Prespa, a typical basilica church.
In the Roman Imperial period
(after about 27 BC), a basilica for large audiences also became a feature in palaces. In the 3rd century of the Christian era, the governing elite appeared less frequently in the forums.
They now tended to dominate their cities from opulent palaces and country villas, set a little apart from traditional centers of public life. Rather than retreats from public life, however, these residences were the forum made private.
:— Peter Brown, in Paul Veyne, 1987
Seated in the tribune
of his basilica, the great man would meet his dependent ''clientes
'' early every morning.
's basilica at Trier
, the Aula Palatina
(AD 306), is still standing. A private basilica excavated at Bulla Regia
(Tunisia), in the "House of the Hunt", dates from the first half of the 5th century. Its reception or audience hall is a long rectangular nave-like space, flanked by dependent rooms that mostly also open into one another, ending in a semi-circular apse, with matching transept
spaces. Clustered columns emphasised the "crossing" of the two axes.
Christian adoption of the basilica form
In the 4th century, once the Imperial authorities had decriminalised Christianity with the 313 Edict of Milan
, and with the activities of Constantine the Great
and his mother Helena
, Christians were prepared to build larger and more handsome edifices for worship than the furtive meeting-places (such as the Cenacle
es, house church
es such as that of the martyrs John and Paul
) they had been using. Architectural formulas for temples were unsuitable due to their pagan associations, and because pagan cult ceremonies and sacrifices occurred outdoors under the open sky in the sight of the gods, with the temple, housing the cult figures and the treasury, as a backdrop. The usable model at hand, when Constantine wanted to memorialise his imperial piety, was the familiar conventional architecture of the basilicas.
There were several variations of the basic plan of the secular basilica, always some kind of rectangular hall, but the one usually followed for churches had a central nave with one aisle at each side and an apse at one end opposite to the main door at the other end. In (and often also in front of) the apse was a raised platform, where the altar was placed, and from where the clergy officiated. In secular building this plan was more typically used for the smaller audience halls of the emperors, governors, and the very rich than for the great public basilicas functioning as law courts and other public purposes. Constantine built a basilica of this type in his palace complex at Trier, later very easily adopted for use as a church. It is a long rectangle two storeys high, with ranks of arch-headed windows one above the other, without aisles (there was no mercantile exchange in this imperial basilica) and, at the far end beyond a huge arch, the apse in which Constantine held state.
File:Basilica, cross-section scheme.png|''Basilica'': The central nave extends to one or two storeys more than the lateral aisles, and it has upper windows.
File:Pseudobasilica.png|Pseudo-basilica (i. e. ''false basilica''): The central nave extends to an additional storey, but it has no upper windows.
File:Stepped hall church.png|Stepped hall: The vaults of the central nave begin a bit higher than those of the lateral aisles, but there is no additional storey.
File:Hall church central nave wider.png|Hall church: All vaults are almost on the same level.
File:Aisleless church, lateral chapels.png|Aisleless church with wallside pilasters, a barrel-vault and upper windows above lateral chapels
Putting an altar
instead of the throne, as was done at Trier, made a church. Basilicas of this type were built in western Europe, Greece, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, that is, at any early centre of Christianity
. Good early examples of the architectural basilica include the Church of the Nativity
(6th century), the church of St Elias at Thessalonica
(5th century), and the two great basilicas at Ravenna
The first basilicas with transepts were built under the orders of Emperor Constantine
, both in Rome and in his "New Rome", Constantinople
Around 380, Gregory Nazianzen, describing the Constantinian Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople, was the first to point out its resemblance to a cross. Because the cult of the cross was spreading at about the same time, this comparison met with stunning success.
:— Yvon Thébert, in Veyne, 1987
Thus, a Christian symbolic theme was applied quite naturally to a form borrowed from civil semi-public precedents. The first great Imperially sponsored Christian basilica is that of St John Lateran
, which was given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine right before or around the Edict of Milan in 313 and was consecrated in the year 324. In the later 4th century, other Christian basilicas were built in Rome: Santa Sabina
, and St Paul's Outside the Walls
(4th century), and later St Clement
A Christian basilica of the 4th or 5th century stood behind its entirely enclosed forecourt
ringed with a colonnade or arcade, like the stoa or peristyle
that was its ancestor or like the cloister
that was its descendant. This forecourt was entered from outside through a range of buildings along the public street. This was the architectural ground-plan of St. Peter's Basilica
in Rome, until in the 15th century it was demolished to make way for a modern church built to a new plan.
In most basilicas, the central nave is taller than the aisles, forming a row of windows called a clerestory. Some basilicas in the Caucasus
, particularly those of Armenia
, have a central nave only slightly higher than the two aisles and a single pitched roof covering all three. The result is a much darker interior. This plan is known as the "oriental basilica", or "pseudobasilica" in central Europe. A peculiar type of basilica, known as three-church basilica
, was developed in early medieval Georgia, characterised by the central nave which is completely separated from the aisles with solid walls.
Gradually, in the Early Middle Ages
there emerged the massive Romanesque
churches, which still kept the fundamental plan of the basilica.
In Medieval Bulgaria
the Great Basilica
was finished around 875. The architectural complex in Pliska
, the first capital of the First Bulgarian Empire
, included a cathedral
, an archbishop
's palace and a monastery. The basilica was one of the greatest Christian cathedral
s in Europe of the time, with an area of . The still in use Church of Saint Sophia
is another example from Medieval Bulgaria.
, the word for church both as a building and as an institution is ''biserică
'', derived from the term basilica.
In the United States
the style was copied with variances. An American church built imitating the architecture of an Early Christian basilica, St. Mary's (German) Church
, was demolished in 1997.
Old St Peter's, Rome, as the 4th-century basilica had developed by the mid-15th century, in a 19th-century reconstruction
File:Basilica of St. John Lateran (5790154828).jpg|St John in the Lateran is both an architectural and an ecclesiastical basilica.
File:Kloster Bursfelde Westkirche.jpg|Romanesque basilica of nowadays Lutheran Bursfelde Abbey in Germany
File:Chester Cathedral (7251396712).jpg|Chester Cathedral in England, a Gothic style basilica
File:Nuremberg - St. Sebald church.JPG|St. Sebald's in Nuremberg has a basilical nave and a hall choir.
File:14-01-22-palma-de-mallorca-018.jpg|Palma Cathedral on Mallorca in Spain has windows on three levels, one above the aisles, one above the file of chapels and one in the chapels.
File:St Mary's German Church interior December 1987.jpg|A rare American church built imitating the architecture of an Early Christian basilica, St. Mary's (German) Church in Pennsylvania, now demolished
File:Aleksandar-nevski15.jpg|Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia
In the Catholic Church
, a basilica is a large and important church building
. This designation may be made by the Pope
or may date from time immemorial.
[1 CIC 1917, can. 1180 as quoted in ''Basilicas Historical and Canonical Development'', GABRIEL CHOW HOI-YAN, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 13 May 2003 (revised 24 June 2003). "It was not until 1917 that the Code of Canon Law officially recognized de jure churches that had the immemorial custom of using the title of basilica as having such a right to the title.81 We refer to such churches as immemorial."] [The title of minor basilicas was first attributed to the church of San Nicola di Tolentino in 1783. An older minor basilica is referred to as an "immemorial basilica".]
Basilica churches are distinguished for ceremonial purposes from other churches. The building does not need to be a basilica in the architectural sense. Basilicas are either major basilicas – of which there are four, all in the diocese of Rome
—or minor basilicas, of which there were 1,810 worldwide .
– Roman covered market
* Market hall
– modern covered market
*Architecture of cathedrals and great churches
Architecture of the basilica
* Syndicus, Eduard, ''Early Christian Art'', Burns & Oates, London, 1962
from Samuel Ball Platner (as completed and revised by Thomas Ashby), 1929. ''A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome'' (London: Oxford University Press
* Paul Veyne, ed. ''A History of Private Life I: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium,'' 1987
Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador
, a 1st-century B.C. Roman architect, on how to design a basilica
Category:1st-millennium BC introductions
Category:Ancient Roman architecture
Category:Types of church buildings