The Gemonian Stairs were a flight of steps located in the ancient city of Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...
. Nicknamed the Stairs of Mourning, the stairs are infamous in Roman history as a place of execution.
LocationThe steps were situated in the central part of Rome, leading from the Arx of the Capitoline Hill
The Capitoline Hill , between the Forum and the Campus Martius, is one of the seven hills of Rome. It was the citadel of the earliest Romans. By the 16th century, Capitolinus had become Capitolino in Italian, with the alternative Campidoglio stemming from Capitolium. The English word capitol...
down to the Roman Forum
The Roman Forum is a rectangular forum surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum...
. As viewed from the Forum, they passed down the Tabularium
The Tabularium was the official records office of ancient Rome, and also housed the offices of many city officials. Situated within the Roman Forum, it was on the front slope of the Capitoline Hill, below the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, to the southeast of the Arx and Tarpeian Rock.Within...
and the Temple of Concord
Temple of Concord
The Temple of Concord in the ancient city of Rome was a temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Concordia at the western end of the Roman Forum. The temple was built in the 4th century BC as a promise towards peace after a long period of civil strife within the city...
on the left side, and past the Mamertine Prison
The Mamertine Prison — or Tullianum — was a prison located in the Forum Romanum in Ancient Rome. It was located on the northeastern slope of the Capitoline Hill, facing the Curia and the imperial fora of Nerva, Vespasian, and Augustus...
on the right side. It is believed that the location of the steps roughly coincides with the current Via di San Pietro in Carcere, past the ruins of the Mamertine prison.
It is believed the stairs were built some time before the rule of Tiberius
Tiberius , was Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced Nero and married Augustus in 39 BC, making him a step-son of Octavian...
(14–37), as they were not mentioned by name in any ancient texts that predate this period. Their first use as a place of execution is primarily associated with the paranoid excesses of Tiberius' later reign.
ExecutionsThe condemned were usually strangled before their bodies were bound and thrown down the stairs. Occasionally the corpses of the executed were transferred here for display from other places of execution in Rome. Corpses were usually left to rot on the staircase for extended periods of time in full view of the Forum, scavenged by dogs or other carrion animals, until eventually being thrown into the Tiber
The Tiber is the third-longest river in Italy, rising in the Apennine Mountains in Emilia-Romagna and flowing through Umbria and Lazio to the Tyrrhenian Sea. It drains a basin estimated at...
Death on the stairs was considered extremely dishonourable and dreadful, yet several senators
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...
and even an emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...
met their demise here. Among the most famous who were executed on this spot were the prefect
Praetorian prefect was the title of a high office in the Roman Empire. Originating as the commander of the Praetorian Guard, the office gradually acquired extensive legal and administrative functions, with its holders becoming the Emperor's chief aides...
of the Praetorian Guard
The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. The title was already used during the Roman Republic for the guards of Roman generals, at least since the rise to prominence of the Scipio family around 275 BC...
Lucius Aelius Sejanus
Lucius Aelius Seianus , commonly known as Sejanus, was an ambitious soldier, friend and confidant of the Roman Emperor Tiberius...
and the emperor Vitellius
Vitellius , was Roman Emperor for eight months, from 16 April to 22 December 69. Vitellius was acclaimed Emperor following the quick succession of the previous emperors Galba and Otho, in a year of civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors...
. Sejanus was a former confidant of emperor Tiberius who was implicated in a conspiracy in 31AD. According to Cassius Dio, Sejanus was strangled and cast down the Gemonian stairs, where the mob abused his corpse for three days. Soon after, his three children were similarly executed in this place.
Vitellius was a Roman general who became the third emperor in the so called Year of the Four Emperors
Year of the Four Emperors
The Year of the Four Emperors was a year in the history of the Roman Empire, AD 69, in which four emperors ruled in a remarkable succession. These four emperors were Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian....
in 69AD. He succeeded Otho
Otho , was Roman Emperor for three months, from 15 January to 16 April 69. He was the second emperor of the Year of the four emperors.- Birth and lineage :...
upon his suicide on April 16, but lived to be emperor for only eight months. When his armies were defeated by those of Vespasian
Vespasian , was Roman Emperor from 69 AD to 79 AD. Vespasian was the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Empire for a quarter century. Vespasian was descended from a family of equestrians, who rose into the senatorial rank under the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty...
, he agreed to surrender but the Praetorian Guard refused to let him leave the city. On the entrance of Vespasian's troops into Rome he was dragged out of his hiding-place, driven to the Gemonian stairs and struck down.
Similar placesDuring republican times
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...
, the Tarpeian Rock
The Tarpeian Rock was a steep cliff of the southern summit of the Capitoline Hill, overlooking the Roman Forum in Ancient Rome. It was used during the Roman Republic as an execution site. Murderers, traitors, perjurors, and larcenous slaves, if convicted by the quaestores parricidii, were flung...
, a steep cliff at the southern summit of the Capitoline Hill, was used for similar purposes. Murderers and traitors, if convicted by the quaestores parricidii, were flung from the cliff to their deaths. Those who had a mental or significant physical disability also suffered the same fate as they were thought to have been cursed by the gods.