Horrors of the Empire
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. Located between it and the Tabularium (record house) was a flight of stairs leading to the Arx of the Capitoline known as the Gemonian stairs.
The origin of the prison’s name are uncertain. The traditional derivation of “Tullianum” is from the name of one of the Roman kings Tullus Hostilius or Servius Tullius. There is a theory that it is named after archaic word “tullius” which means “a jet of water”, in reference to the cistern.
According to tradition, the prison was constructed around 640-616 BC, by Ancus Marcius. It was originally created as a cistern for a spring in the floor of the second lower level. Prisoners were lowered through an opening into the lower dungeon.
Incarceration (publica custodia) in facilities such as the Tullianum was intended to be a temporary measure prior to trial or execution; abuses of this principle occurred but were officially censured. Located near the law courts, the Tullianum was used as a jail or holding cell for short periods before executions and as a site for executions.