Today we visited the forum! In addition to seeing most of the important monuments in the forum, we discussed the twin concepts of regularization and monumentalization, as well as memory theater and the forum’s later shift into a symbol of Rome and her history.

Overview of the forum

                       Figure 1: A view from down in the forum

Figure 1: A view from down in the forum


  • In the swampy land between three hills: Capitoline, Palatine, Esquiline.
  • Drained by Tarquinius Priscus
  • Served as a meeting place in a general sense, but had a great number of functions: political, religious, economic, social.
  • Forum was thus center of of Republican Rome. Draws all manner of people.
    • Senators, jurors, judges… the people necessary for the functioning of the state.
    • But also others. The forum was by no means a place exclusive to government officials at work.
  • Republic: until Augustus, no amphitheaters in Rome (2 theaters put tegether).
  • Caesar mad gladiatorial games, wild-beast hunts, a big deal by holding them in the forum.
  • Major deeds of the Republic, and, to a lesser extent, the Empire, take place in the forum.
  • As time progresses, actual functionality is phased out and replaced by a primary function as a memory theater (see below).

Regularization and monumentalization

  • The forum was originally irregular. This did not bother the Romans at first.
    • But then they conquered the Greeks, who had nice, square city centers.
    • Roman feelings of inferiority to the Greeks, Hellenization.
  • Center of the forum as we see it is paved.
    • Originally dirt, but then paved with stones.
    • Regularization and monumentalization
  • 4th century BC: unplanned central space, public buildings around it. But people also lived in or around the forum space.
  • As the space beccomes more important, the houses get pushed out; only public monuments remain. By the 1st century AD this was certainly the case.
  • As time goes on, more and more monuments are added.
  • Regularization: central space, boundaries by monument.
  • Monumentalization
  • Exclusion of private space in lieu of public space
  • Progression in building materials
    • Mud-brick, to tufa, terra cotta, travertine, and concrete, to marble.
  • Scale: things get bigger over time.
    • Somewhat linked to materials: you can build bigger structures with concrete and stone.
  • Many structures start out in the regal period, but floods, fires, and so forth destroy buildings over time. Many buildings were rebuild many times. What we see is the “end result” from the late empire.

Memory theater

  • Another purpose of the forum; takes on greater and greater importance over time.
  • Space loses its functionality but becomes more symbolic.
  • People go to the forum, but not to accomplish things so much as to be reminded about who they are as a people and what they stand for.
  • Post-Augustus, there was less political work to be done: things handled by an imperial bureaucracy. Therefore, less inherent political traffic to the forum.
  • Temples outside the forum, temples dedicated by emperors, took on more important roles, and religious traffic trailed off as well (although not completely).
  • Some monuments in the forum were inherently designed to remind Romans of their past and their identity.
  • Theater: still an active space, a dynamic spectacle of Romanitas, the state of being Roman.
  • Senators may not actually accomplish anything, but they still rush about importantly, making a display of themselves.
  • Seeing them doing such harkens back to the structure of the Republic and their historical importance.
  • The forum was a way for non-Romans to get exposed to what being Roman means as well as for Romans to be reminded of the same.

Specific structures

Shrine of Venus Cloacina

  • “Venus of the sewers.”
  • Foam-born, associations with water.

The curia

  • Primary meeting place of the Roman senate.
  • The current building comes to us from Diocletian: 4th century AD.
    • Previous iterations (from the regal period forward) all burned down.
  • There would have been a porch: square pegs for supports (going into the square holes on the facade), the porch would have extended outwards.
  • Brick-faced concrete as the primary construction
  • Marble below the porch.
  • Stucco facing above the porch; looks like the marble.
  • The marble below (where people have a close-up view) with stucco high up, above the portico, was an economic way to make a good-looking building.
  • Of the 4 main forum functions, this building was most closely associated with the political.

Arch of Septimius Severus

  • Also a primarily political monument.
  • Early 200s AD
  • Commemorates victory in the east against the Parthians. Thus, it is a victory arch.
  • As it is now, it is missing a group of gilded bronze statues on top
  • Inscription celebrates victory of Septimius Severus and his sons.
  • The erased line: the older son of Septimius Severus kills his younger brother, then issues a damnatio memoriae against him. C’mon Caracalla… not cool.

Basilica Aemilia

  • Law court, political assembly, economic functions
    • Multi-function structure
  • Considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Rome in the 1st century AD.
    • Marble columns around the nave, opus sectile floor.
  • Augustan period: frieze added.
    • Scenes of Roman mytho-history.
    • See beauty/wealth of Rome under Augustus, but also reminded of the humble beginnings of the Romans.
  • Has clerestory lighting: higher nave roof, lower side aisle roofs = light comes in between the two.
  • Lofty, large, quite impressive
  • Wall: brick-faced concrete
    • Center part of wall: chunks of stone
  • Recall, pyramidal tufa from before. Brick facing replaces this: cheaper, easier to mass produce.

Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

  • Prostyle
  • Holes in the sides: medieval people recycle metal clamps that were initially used to clamp blocks together.
  • Altar could not be put straight out in front of the temple, so it was built into the steps.
  • 1600s: church built. Large door installed.
  • Ground level at the time was in-line with the door.
  • Much of what we see today in the forum would have been invisible: underground.
  • From about the 9th century until excavations in 1800s, area called “campo vaccino” = “the cow field”
    • A big meadow between the three hills
    • City in phase of disabitato.

Games on the steps

  • Divots carved in marble steps: Romans played games when waiting!
  • Dice, marbles. Waiting for something, or just using the forum as a social gathering-place for chatting and suchlike.

Lacus Curtius

  • Lacus Curtius: “The lake of Curtius.”
  • But no water here… this confused even the ancient Romans!
  • Multiple stories to explain, but one wins out:
    • Chasm opens up in forum, gets bigger and bigger every day.
    • The consuls consult the Syballine books as to what they should do, and they are told that the Romans will have to sacrifice that which they value the most.
    • The consuls have the people cast in jewelry… but the chasm continues to grow.
    • Curtius, an aristocratic Roman (since he owned a horse and was part of the cavalry) understands the real meaning. He armors up, mounts his horse, and rides into the chasm, which then seals behind him.
    • Lesson: the most valuable thing is sacrifice for the greater good (family, community, state). Courage in standing against an undefeatable enemy.
    • A story to remind the Romans of who they are, called to mind every time they pass the monument.
    • Memory theater.

The Column of Phocas

  • 6th century AD
  • Phocas set up lone column with statue on top to communicate his position as emperor of all the Romans.
  • Capital has been in Constantinople for some time by this point, and Rome had been politically insignificant for even longer.
  • Shows the importance of Rome, and the particular significance of the forum.
    • Memory theater again.

Temple to Saturn

  • Built initially by Numa
  • Huge podium, but hollow. Rooms in the podium (barrel vaults).
  • Treasury during the Republic and part of the Empire. Gold and silver reserves.
    • Famously robbed by Julius Caesar after he crossed the Rubicon and the Senate fled.

Basilica Julia

  • Started by Julius Caesar, but he died before its completion.
  • Finished by Augustus.
  • Much larger than the Basilica Aemilia.
  • Basilica Julia and Basilica Aemilia: same basic function. Multi-purpose.
  • Had concrete piers that supported vaulting and arches rather than columns.
  • Helps regularize and monumentalize the forum.


  • Archive building for the Senate.
  • Decisions recorded in Tabularium.
  • Very functional: bureaucracy, politics.
  • Tabularium gives a flat, defined end to the forum space.
  • With the Basilica Julia and the Basilica Aemilia, you can begin to see how the forum become rectangular and regularized.

Via Sacra

  • Via Sacra: “The Sacred Way”
  • Triumphs: after the palatine: Coliseum, then the procession turned to come into the forum.
  • Triumphal route follows the Via Sacra.
  • Arch of Titus, the temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the Basilica Aemilia, the Curia.
  • The steps to all these buildings would fit people observing the triumph. Lots of viewing space.
  • Triumphs: social, political, religious (Roman gods carried in triumphs).

Temple to Castor

  • Castor: one of the Dioscuri (the other being Pollux)
  • Dedicated to one of them, but for both
  • Massive podium
  • Rebuilt/repaired a number of time.
  • 5th century BC
  • Memory theater
    • War with the Latins: Roman armies sent out to fight. Everyone worried that the army will get wiped off the face of the earth.
    • Assemble in the forum, wait anxiously for news.
    • Castor and Pollux appear and announce victory. The Romans do not initially know it is them.
    • Then messenger comes and announces victory. Says two beautiful men on gleaming white horses led the decisive charge.
  • Multi-funtionality
    • The idea that a building serves only one purpose is a very modern (and foolish!) idea.
    • Commercial function: shops were around the temple.

Temple of Vesta

  • Founded by Numa.
  • Tended by Vestal Virgins.
    • Chosen from prominent families when they were around 6 or 7.
    • Term of service: 30 years. They had to remain virgins until after their term of service.
    • Kept flame burning: hearth-flame of the city of Rome.
    • “As long as fire burns in the house of Vesta, Rome will not fall.”
  • Benefits after they retire, certain benefits that other women did not always have.
    • The ability to make business contracts, to buy property, to make their own will.
    • By the time of the Empire: most women come to have these rights.
  • Two things we primarily hear about Vestal Virgins from sources:
    • Seating privileges and things of this sort.
    • One of them accused of violating her oath of chastity to Vesta.
    • Penalty: death by being buried alive.
  • Only male who could go into the Temple of Vesta was the Pontifex Maximus.
  • Vestal Virgins: keepers of wills.
    • Important with respect to the will of Julius Caesar.

Arch of Titus

  • 81 BC. Set up by Domitian in honor of his brother Titus.
  • Like the arch of Septimius Severus, the arch is missing a gilded bronze statue on top of the arch.
  • Essentially, it becomes a “gateway” to the forum at that end.
  • No physical gate, but a boundary/entry point.
  • Menora, artifacts from the triumph after the sack of Jerusalem on one interior side of the arch.
  • Titus triumphing in a chariot is on the other interior side.

The Palatine hill

                       Figure 2: A view of the forum from the Palatine

Figure 2: A view of the forum from the Palatine

                       Figure 3: Another view of the forum from the Palatine

Figure 3: Another view of the forum from the Palatine

Historical significance

  • Thorough/repetitive connection to Rome’s mytho-historical past.
  • A tradition from the propaganda of Augustus: Evander, Greeks on the Palatine.
  • Lupercal cave set in face of Palatine, although we do not know exactly where (we have not found it).
  • Romulus lived on the Palatine.
  • Romulus conducted his augury on the hill
  • Romulus’ initial city was on the Palatine

The Beverly Hills of ancient Rome

  • Republic: most desirable place to live. All important people had a house on the Palatine. Caesar, Pompey, Antony, etc.

Augustus and the Palatine

  • After Actium, Octavian decides to live on the Palatine.
  • Temple of Apollo Palatinus.
    • Spot struck by lightning, interpreted as a good sign by the Romans. Augustus decides to give the spot to a temple rather than his house.
    • Scientific analysis: column capitals were gilded, and the temple had yellow, orange, and gold pigments.
    • Sun associations
    • Authors of the Augustus era: Aurea Templa, “the golden temple.”
  • Doesn’t phase Augustus. He buys up much property on the Palatine.
  • He himself lives in a rather modest dwelling.
  • Other buildings for his relatives, the imperial bureaucracy.

Domitian and the Palatine: the Flavian Palace

  • Much changes between Augustus’ death in 14 AD and Domitian’s ascension in 81 AD: massive change in perception of the princeps. By Domitian’s time, the princeps-as-full-blown-emperor was in full swing, and he was the most rich and powerful individual in the city.
  • By the time of Domitian the entire Palatine hill is imperial property.
  • Domitian builds a massive palace complex on the Palatine: the Flavian Palace.
  • Concrete-vaulted architecture, but slathered in marble.
  • Tremendous awount of marble, even given the present spoliated state.
  • Obscenely expensive for marble blocks of such magnitude.