The content of this article provides interesting history, facts and information about life in Ancient Rome including the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forums and the Imperial Fora
The Roman Forum is so famous that many are surprised to learn that their was more than one forum in Rome. The Imperial Fora ( Fora meaning public squares) were a group of Forums built by the Roman emperors around the Roman Forum beginning with the Julian Forum and ending with the Forum of Trajan. There were two kinds of forums, the fora civilia and fora venalia. The first was designed for the ornaments of the city such as Triumphal archesand for the use of public courts of justice. The other was erected for the necessities and conveniences of the inhabitants and were equivalent to our markets. The Roman Senate was housed in a building in the Roman Forum.
Location of the Roman Forum
The Roman Forum was crossed by the Via Sacra, the Sacred Way, which led to Capitol Hill and the Temple of Jupiter. The Via Sacra was the route taken for the magnificent Roman Triumph in which a victorious general entered the city of Rome in a spectacular chariot drawn by four horses. He was preceded by the senate, trumpeters, the defeated and humiliated enemy captives who were often in chains, the spoils and treasures taken in war, white bulls for sacrifice and his personal bodyguards (the lictors) and followed by his close male relatives and soldiers. The other streets which radiated from the centre of the Roman Forum were the Argiletum and another street which led to the Subura. The Subura was described as dirty and wet, a resort of harlots, of dealers in provisions, delicacies and finery with of tradesmen of various sorts. There were also dwellings of more distinguished persons (Julius Caesar once lived there). Rome was a small city inhabited by about 2 million people. The mode of travel was on foot so all important buildings and places were in close proximity to each other. The Roman Colosseum was therefore built in easy walking distance of the Roman Forum and the other forums and market places.
Purpose of the Roman Forum
The forum was initially a market-place in Rome and the site was also used for festivals and funerals. Justice was also administered here and it naturally became a place business, then for politics and popular assemblies, and later on for amusement. The Roman forum consisted of public buildings that were three times as long as they were broad. The Roman Forum was built by Romulus, and adorned with porticos on all sides, by Tarquinius Priscus. All the compass of the Roman forum was surrounded by arched porticos with some passages being left as places of entrance. (A portico is a porch that leads to the entrance of a building with a roof structure supported by columns or enclosed by walls, such as the portico of the Pantheon). The Comitium (the place of assembly of ancient Rome) and the Curia, the Senate house was also located in the Roman Forum which became the stronghold of aristocratic government and tradition. The inclusion of the Senate House made the Roman Forum the most important of all the Forums. The buildings of the Roman forum included the temple of Vesta and the temples of Saturn and of Castor and Pollux.
Roman Forum - the Curia, Senate House
The original curia (senate house) consisted of a hall 25.20 metres by 17.61 metres, of brick-faced concrete, with a huge buttress at each angle; the lower part of the front wall was decorated with slabs of marble, while the upper part was covered with stucco in imitation of white marble blocks. A flight of steps led up to the entrance door. Over the door were three large windows. The brick facing of the exterior and cornice were also coated with stucco to represent marble. The Curia burnt down four times, the first time in 80 BC, but the senate house was always rebuilt. After a fire in 53 BC Caesar moved the Curia to the Forum Romanum. The current building in Rome was constructed in AD 283 by the Emperor Diocletius. Following the conversion to Christianity the Curia was turned into a church in the 7th century.
Roman Forum - The Temple of Saturn
The Roman Forum housed a number of temples the most notable being the the temple of Vesta and the temples of Saturn and of Castor and Pollux. The first Temple of Saturn was built during the last years of the kings, before the Roman Republic. The current ruins date from 42 BC. The temple of Saturn was used as the state treasury (Aerarium). The state treasury contained the monies and accounts of the state finances. It also held the standards of the legions; the public laws engraved on brass, the decrees of the Senate and other papers and registers of importance. In 20 BC the Emperor Augustus ordered the erection of a tall column, the Miliarum Aureum, which was placed in front of the temple of Saturn. Due to gradual collapse only the remains of the front portico is left standing with its eight surviving columns.
Roman Forum - The Temple of Vesta & the House of the Vestal Virgins
All temples to Vesta were round, and had entrances facing east to symbolise connection between Vesta’s fire and the sun as sources of life. The Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum was built of marble in the 3rd century B.C. and held the sacred flame of Vesta. It was the duty of the Vestal Virgins to ensure that the flame never went out. The holy virgins lived in the house of the Vestal Virgins.
Roman Forum - The Temple of Castor and Pollux
The original Temple of Castor and Pollux was built in 484 BC by the roman dictator Postumius who vowed to build the temple if obtained a victory over the Tarquin Kings who had previously ruled Rome. According to the legend, Castor and Pollux, mythological twin brothers, helped the Roman army to victory. In republican times the temple served as a meeting place for the Roman Senate, and from the middle of the 2nd century BC the front of the podium served as a speaker's platform. and announced the victory at the forum. Only three pillars remain of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the current ruins dating from its last reconstruction in 6 A.D.
Roman Forum - the Rostra
Another important aspect of the Roman Forum was the Rostra. The rostra was the platform beside the Curia from which orators spoke to the assembled people. The speaking platform was so important that Julius Caesar had the rostra re-built in magnificent marble. It was from the new marble Rostra that Marc Antony delivered his funeral speech to Julius Caesar. This event was immortalised by William Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar when he wrote his version of the speech beginning with "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears..."