It is perhaps easiest to deal with the Roman Forum with a series of FAQs to supplement a more general description. See also Shops and shopping in ancient Rome.
| What went on at the Roman Forum | Where it was | What buildings there were | Origins of the forum | Development of the Forum |
What went on at the roman forum?
Public meeting, particular religious ceremonies, legal and political management of the city and shopping. The “Via Sacra” road ran through the forum and apparently the traffic was as busy as central Rome is today.
An example of the forum’s activities would be the religious processions which preceded the ancient Roman chariot races or the public sacrifices of sheep, bulls and pigs known as the “Suovetaurilia”, or a triumphal march through one of the famous triumphal arches.
An idea of the Suovetaurilia may be had from the image above (enlarge) or indeed in beautiful sculptural relief on the “Base Decennalia” – the base of a memorial column found in the Roman Forum by the arch of Septimus Severus. The column once stood behind the rostra from which Mark Anthony’s famous speech by Shakespeare was delivered: “Romans, Citizens, Countrymen…”.
So as you can see the Roman Forum was in many ways the centre of Roman culture and everyday life.
Where was the Roman Forum?
The strip of (marshy) land between the hills from the Colosseum to the Capitoline hill. The drawing to the left gives a summary idea. The area was drained by one of the earliest kings of Rome: Tarquinius Priscus, an Etruscan by birth.
It was at the centre of the city and as such constituted a natural meeting point for those living on the surrounding hills.
It should be remembered that the Roman Forum was not the only forum in Rome although it was one of the oldest. For example the Forum Boarium by the river was a meat and cattle trading market with easy access to sea commerce and trading.
What buildings were there in the Roman Forum?
There were and still are many. The major ones include…
What were the origins of the Forum?
The Roman Forum was initially a marshy valley amongst the Roman hills, it’s condition made it of little use if not for burials. It’s central position made it naturally attractive for everyday life as a meeting place, particularly once it had been drained by the first Etruscan kings of Rome (the famous Cloaca Maxima – the great drain), Tarquinius Priscus who made the area useful for building on.
How did the Forum Develop?
From this point on the area was substantially divided into two parts: the north side was used for reunions, religious feasts and meetings – the “Comitium”. During the 5th Century BC, in the first years of the Roman Republic, the Curia was added (the Senate) and the rostra. The southern part was used as a more commercial area for markets, shopping and other services.
The real Roman Forum’s real growth came about during the 2nd Century BC as a consequence of the power, opulence and riches gained following the end of the conquest of Italy, the Punic wars against Carthage and of parts of the orient including Greece.
The state archive, the “Tabularium” still visible today, was added a century later and constituted the beginning of the forum’s architectural transformation completed by Caesar and Augustus. The latter focused on the forum’s use as a centre for his own political propaganda.
The Roman Forum was largely unaltered for a few hundred years. We have the addition of a few triumphal arches and celebratory columns. The last of these additions after the fall of Rome, was the the commemorative column to Emperor Phocas as thanks for having donated the Pantheon to the Pope.
Throughout the middle ages the Forum fell into abandonment until the Renaissance when a love for all things classical generated a great deal of interest in its antiquities and architectural treasures. This also meant it was pillaged for materials to be re-employed throughout the city.