One of the world’s oldest and most terrifying prisons, reserved for ancient Rome’s fiercest enemies, has reopened to the public after years of excavation that have revealed new clues about the very birth of the Eternal City itself.Much of the article is about the earlier phase of the structure when it was a "cultic center." But the latter part comes back to its use as a prison. It doesn't sound very nice.
The Carcer Tullianum (Tullianum Prison in Latin) is notoriously known as the squalid underground dungeon where the Romans would lock up enemy leaders, including Simon Bar Giora, one of the architects of the Great Revolt of 66-70 C.E. Other honored inhabitants, according to medieval Christian tradition, were the apostles Peter and Paul.
But the three-year excavation has shown that the structure, located between the bottom of the Capitoline hill and the entrance of the Forum, was much more than just a prison, and may in fact predate the founding of Rome itself.
“The prisoners held here were all leaders of enemy populations or traitors, all people who were believed to have endangered the survival of Rome,” Fortini said. “The idea was that they had to disappear, they had no right to be a part of human society, so they were symbolically removed from the world and confined to the underworld.”Finally, one more famous Jewish prisoner:
The use of the Tullianum as a prison became common sometime during the Roman Republic, around the fourth century B.C.E. The once large, airy sanctuary was divided into two vaulted, claustrophobic levels, the lowest of which encased the spring and was accessible only through a tight opening, still visible today, used to lower prisoners into what must have seemed like a dark and foul-smelling antechamber to Hell.
“It was not a prison in the way we think of it today,” Fortini said, noting that long-term incarceration was rare in the Roman world. Monetary fines, enslavement, and various cruel and inventive forms of execution were a more common fate for criminals or captured enemies.
The Tullianum usually served as a holding cell for high-value captives waiting to be paraded in the triumphal procession led by the general who had vanquished them. They would then be returned to jail, to be starved to death or quietly executed, usually by strangulation, Fortini said.
One of the few who made it out alive was Aristobulus II, the Hasmonean king of Judea who had been imprisoned there by Pompey.
The Jewish historian Josephus relates that when Caesar took control of Rome he freed Aristobulus, hoping to use him to foment rebellion in the Levant against his rival, but the Judean king was soon poisoned by Pompey’s followers.