The Rome Forums area was in the centre of town, running from the river and along the valleys between the hills. At first the forum was no more than a market and meeting place in the valley between the inhabited hills. The first of these were the Roman Forum and the Forum Boarium. The Forum Boarium has already been mentioned as a cattle trading market. It later also became a centre for money changers and lenders.
The Roman Forum was possibly the most ancient and highly regarded. With time it became a sort of ‘City of London’ where all the big deals were done, high politics, the major temples and so on: a sort of institutional centre.
The forum was the playground for many types of ancient Roman jobs – full of many of the lawyers, businessmen, bankers and intermediaries, shopkeepers and prostitutes not to mention bureaucrats of course (Rome has never ever been short of bureaucrats).
The city’s expansion, particularly from the times of Julius Caesar and throughout the Empire required more forums to be constructed, rather like shopping malls. The purpose of these new forums was a mixture of public necessity and political propaganda – which often equated to religious temples and functions. Offices and other institutional work would be undertaken in large multi-storey buildings called “Basilicas“, which later lent themselves well to the needs of large Christian congregations.
The major forums were that of Caesar, Augustus, and Trajan although there were others (eg the forum of Nerva aka the Foro Transitorio). Trajan’s forum, obvious because of Trajan’s column standing there, has generally been regarded as shops, shops and more shops. The suggestion that these were actually office blocks full of civil servants is becoming increasingly likely as there is little sign of useful access for large volumes of merchandise. The end of Trajan’s forum was marked by the amazing column which in itself is a feat of engineering and art + a public library either side of the column. One side held books in Greek and the other for books in Latin.
The forum area was traversed by a street called the Via Sacra which ancient writers tell us was as traffic-packed and impossible as modern Rome. Being a centre of public meeting numerous commemorative columns and triumphal arches were erected in this area. The Rostra was here to be used by the likes of Mark Anthony to deliver his famous Shakespearean speech after Julius Caesar’s murder “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…”.
At the extreme end of the valley we have the Colosseum. A single building to which volumes and volumes of literature have been dedicated. One theory would have it that the Colosseum was in a effect a proxy for the outside world. A theatre role-play where the Roman people contained and controlled the brutality of the outside world. All dressed up and sitting according to their social rank, jeering and cheering at the often (but not always) bloody spectacle which unfolded at their feet.