Roman Ship's Rostrum

A rostrum from a Roman ship

This is a picture of a rostrum from the front of Ancient Roman ships. The rostrum was rather like a beak on the front of the ship, usually lined and armed with bronze spikes made to punch holes into the sides of enemy ships. In fact, the word "rostrum" originally meant "spike". You could stand on it as a look-out.

The war trophy from a naval battle would often be the enemy ship's rostrum (rostra). Rome was so proud of its naval victory at Actium in 338BC (revolt of the Latin League) that it decorated the Orator's stand at the Forum  with the enemy's ship prows. For those who know Hyde Park in London, we're talking about "speaker's corner".

The Forum's "Rostrum" which can still be seen (in ruins) was fixed up by Caesar around 44BC. The ships' prows which decorated it's perimeter were ancient even by his terms and very much symbolised Rome's military and mercantile domination of the seas.

Mark-Anthony's speech made famous by Shakespeare was delivered from the Forum's rostrum.

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