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Roman Forum History

Roman Forum, or Forum Romanum, operated as ancient Rome’s central hub, where various religious, political, and public events were held. 

Historians say the first public meeting at the forum occurred around 500 BC when the Roman Republic was founded. 

The rectangular area on low-lying land between Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill housed the most impressive monuments and temples. 

Today, the Roman Forum is one of the most famous tourist sites in the world, attracting more than 4.5 million visitors annually.

What is the Roman Forum?

The Roman Forum is one of the oldest man-made structures in the world. 

This ancient square houses the ruins of significant government buildings in Rome’s center.

It has been used for elections, public processions, political speeches, trading markets, and gladiator fights.

Even though the ruins have deteriorated, what is left of the Roman Forum today provides a window into ancient Rome’s architectural design.

History of the Roman Forum

As per the playwright Plautus, the Roman Forum was a settlement site for the local population during the early Iron Age.

He described the Roman Forum as a spot teeming with every sort of person—politicians, hustlers, and whatnot.

Initially, the Forum was a wetland valley between Rome’s pivotal hills.

Its low-lying geography made it a prime location for building houses.

Due to the easy accessibility of the river Tiber’s water, the inhabitants cultivated food on its banks. 

Over time, these settlements expanded, ultimately developing into an active city. 

However, the recurring river floods remained a constant challenge for the residents.

The foundation of the Roman Forum took place in the 8th century BC, in the early days of the Roman Republic. 

Historians say the first public meeting at the forum occurred around 500 BC.

Initially, the Forum was a wetland valley between the pivotal hills of Palatine and the Capitoline of Rome.

In the 7th century, significant drainage efforts were undertaken by constructing a massive sewer called Cloaca Maxima.

This marked the birth of civic structures in the Forum, including basilicas, temples, and government buildings. 

Romulus constructed a wall along Palatine Hill to protect the city from flooding.

He also initiated the city’s construction from scratch, with the Roman Forum as its center. 

Following this, Romulus founded the Roman Senate as the political hub for the kings of Rome.

Over the next few centuries, the Roman Forum became the epicenter of Rome’s public life.

It was a versatile space for shopping, religious ceremonies, and political affairs.  

Moreover, the Forum was also the site for executions, prisoners of war, and residents of house enslaved people. 

The Roman Empire peaked in the 1st century AD when the Roman Empire was in power.

Julius Caesar and Augustus carried out notable expansions and refurbishments during this era

Much later, invasions by Germanic tribes caused the empire’s collapse.

The Roman Forum suffered sackings and was reduced to a grazing ground for cattle, further harming its already damaged structures.

It was renamed Campo Vaccino and was neglected for centuries.

Soon, wild forests overtook the area. The Roman Forum remained abandoned until its rediscovery during the Renaissance era.

Due to its vast size, it took 100 years to complete the excavations and collect the artifacts from ancient Roman life. 

The excavations revealed advanced Roman structures and animal bones, potentially from sacrifices, especially inside the temples. 

What was once lost has now become a popular attraction in the capital. 

Roman Forum Architecture

Greek architecture was the primary inspiration for architects throughout the Roman Forum’s ruins. 

Most of these structures fall into the Ancient Roman and Paleochristian architecture categories. 

Many were thoughtfully designed with expansive grassy areas leading to a central road.

You’ll notice numerous buildings along Via Sacra, a road of great cultural and religious importance to ancient Romans. 

The architectural styles favored by prominent leaders such as Julius Caesar and Augustus are prevalent in the Roman Forum’s structures. 

Common architectural elements like arches, domes, and columns are consistent across these buildings. 

Additionally, using materials like tuff, limestone, bricks, and marble is a common thread in their construction.

Roman Forum Facts

The Roman Forum, also called Forum Romanum in Latin, is a rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of Rome. 

Originally a marketplace, this site is steeped in history and was the heart of the Roman Empire. 

Here are some lesser-known ancient Roman facts about this historic place:

Oldest Sewage Systems 

The Roman Forum was originally a marshy valley between the Palatine and Capitoline hills. 

It was only after the construction of the Cloaca Maxima, one of the world’s earliest sewage systems, that real development occurred. 

This extensive sewage system drained waste into the Tiber River, allowing public spaces and government buildings to be constructed.

Home to the tomb of Romulus: According to the ancient Romans, Romulus, who founded Rome after killing his twin brother Remus, is buried in the Forum. 

The Lapis Niger, a large piece of black marble, marks his grave. This sacred area was discovered during excavations in 1899 and is one of the oldest Latin inscriptions ever found.

Residence of the Vestal Virgins

The House of Vestal Virgins was a residence for six priestesses known as Vestals.

They were chosen between the ages of six and ten and sworn to virginity for 30 years. 

They kept the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta burning. 

These women were highly respected in Roman society and enjoyed privileges not usually afforded women in ancient Rome.

 Julius Caesar’s cremated site

The Temple of Caesar or the Temple of Divus Iulius, is sometimes referred to as the site of Caesar’s grave, but it is where he was cremated in 44 BC. 

After his assassination, Caesar’s body was brought to the Forum, where it was cremated. A temple was later built on this site by Augustus.

Roman Forum Hosts World’s Oldest Shopping Mall 

Emperor Trajan’s Market, constructed around 115 AD in the Roman Forum, is considered the world’s oldest shopping mall. 

However, it was more than a shopping center, with over six floors and 150 rooms. 

While the ground floor housed shops, the upper levels had bureaucratic offices. 

The building featured a grand central hall and is remarkably well-preserved, offering a glimpse into ancient Rome’s grandeur.

The Senate met at the Curia Julia

The Curia Julia served as the meeting house for the Roman Senate. 

It was from this building that consuls, tribunes, and praetors made administrative decisions about running the Republic and, later, the Empire. 

The building you’ll see today dates back to 283 AD and is one of the best-preserved buildings in the Forum. 

Excavations took over 100 years

The excavations of the Roman Forum took over 100 years, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that it was fully excavated. 

Today, these ruins offer a window into ancient Rome’s majesty and architectural prowess.

Not all temples were dedicated to gods

Some temples in the Roman Forum were dedicated to people. 

For instance, besides gods like Saturn and Castor & Pollux, temples were dedicated to deified Emperors like Caesar and Vespasian.

Roman Forum Reconstruction

The Roman Forum underwent a significant reconstruction following its rediscovery in the 19th century. 

Led by archaeologist Carla Fea in 1803, the excavation and restoration process spanned a century due to the immense size of the historic site. 

This effort unearthed well-preserved structures, providing valuable insights into ancient Roman life and architectural advancements. 

Today, the Roman Forum is a popular and meticulously reconstructed attraction, offering a window into Rome’s rich history and cultural heritage.

FAQs

When was the Roman Forum built?

The Roman Forum’s construction began in the 7th century BC when Rome was still a tiny village. 

It evolved and expanded over the centuries, with various emperors adding structures and making modifications.

What was the Roman Forum used for?

The Roman Forum had multifaceted functions. It was a center for political activities, where elections were held and politicians delivered speeches. 

It also hosted celebrations, military triumphs, criminal trials, and gladiatorial contests.

Additionally, it was a commercial and religious center, with temples dedicated to gods and spaces for social interactions.

Who built the Roman Forum?

Various rulers and emperors constructed and expanded the Roman Forum over the centuries. 

It was not the work of a single builder but the result of continuous development and construction by different Roman leaders.

Augustus later gave the Roman Forum its final form, adding the Temple of Divus Iulius and the Arch of Augustus in 29 BC.

How old is the Roman Forum?

The Roman Forum’s history spans 2,700 years, dating back to the 7th century BC. 

It continued to be a central part of Roman life until it fell into disuse and decay following the decline of the Roman Empire.

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