Before the Basilica Paulli was built, this location had already served as the site of a basilica commissioned in 179 BCE by consul Marcus Fulvius Nobilior. That building replaced a series of butchers shops that previously occupied the site. Fulvius didn’t see the project through to completion so, after his death, his colleague and contemporary Marcus Aemilius Lepidus ensured the work was finished. For the next 125 years the building sited here was known as the Basilica Fulvia after its original sponsor. This first version had a large and roughly rectangular main hall with 34 internal columns defining the inner apse – these were arranged in 4 columns at each end and an additional 13 on each side. Coins from the period show that it was two stories high with columns on the upper floor on the outside. The side of the Basilica that faced the Forum had a portico running along its length also supported by a set of columns. Under the portico were a set of alcoves that housed a row of new shops – these were referred to as the Tabernae Argentariae Novae which indicates that the shops were actually silversmiths, money changers and bankers.
A substantial refinement and upgrade of the Basilica was made by the Consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus in 55BCE using money he’d received as a bribe from Julius Caesar – the money had been given in return for political support while Caesar was vying for power with Pompey.