Forum Romanum

Richardson, L. jr

Forum (Romanum or Magnum) (Figs. 40, 41): originally the marketplace of Rome, which in time evolved into the business center of the republican city, and throughout antiquity was regarded as the city's heart. Its designation is usually simply forum, a word of uncertain origin. After the construction of the Forum Iulium, it was sometimes called Forum Magnum (Cass. Dio 43.22.2), and in the Notitia Regio VIII is named Forum Romanum vel (et) Magnum. The adjective Romanum does not appear before Vergil (Vergil Aen. 8.361) and is never common.

In its earliest phase the market was probably a simple affair of barrows set up along the track that became the Vicus Iugarius, where the farmers and herdsmen of the Palatine city sold provisions to those who came down from the uplands and mountains seeking salt from the works at the mouth of the Tiber. This impromptu market, like the track that governed its existence, must have kept to the high ground along the shoulder of the Capitoline, because the basin over which it was to spread later, framed by the Capitoline, Velia, and Palatine, was threaded by watercourses and marshy during much of the year. The Cloaca brook, draining the valleys among the Quirinal, Viminal, Cispian, and Oppius, crossed the forum basin from northeast to southwest and was augmented by an important tributary from the Velia now buried under the Sacra Via and lesser tributaries from the lower Palatine (marked by the "southern branch" of the Sacra Via) and the Tullianum spring under the Carcer. Only in the driest seasons can the floor of the forum have been usable. Burials discovered in its eastern reaches, not only the Sepulcretum (q.v.) beyond the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, but under the Regia and "Equus Domitiani," show that these parts were not exploited in any other way before the seventh century. The Romans remembered the original condition of the forum (Ovid Fast. 6.401-6) and had floods to remind them should they forget. The forum was always among the first places inundated (Horace Carm. 1.2.13-16).

Human activity of some sort in the area has been found as low as 3.60 meters above sea level, and skeletons have been found at 6 and 7 meters above sea level (NSc 1906, 46-54 [A. Mosso]). Real use of the basin seems to have begun with the channeling and control of the Cloaca brook. For a long time it was believed that the Tarquins culverted the Cloaca, but it is clear from Plautus (Plautus Curc. 476) that in his day it ran in an open canal across the middle of the forum, while the existing vaulting of the lowest stretch and the mouth on the Tiber, with its familiar aperture framed in a triple arch of voussoirs of Gabine stone, are the work of Agrippa in his monumental rebuilding and modernization of the water and sewer systems beginning in 33 B.C. The work of the Tarquins (Livy 1.38.6, Livy 1.56.2) must have consisted in dredging out the bed of the stream and its tributaries and building walls to contain them, possibly combined with flagging of the floors. As a network of canals only slightly straightened from their natural courses, they were to exert influence on the growth of the forum for several centuries. Tarquinius Priscus is credited with having divided the land around the forum into building plots for individual private owners and having constructed porticoes and tabernae, covered walks with shops behind them (Livy 1.35.10; Dion. Hal. 3.67.4).

With the forum dry and safe, monumental building crept down from the Vicus Iugarius. The temples of Saturn and Castor were dedicated in the early years of the republic, and the lines of shops--the Tabernae Veteres (see Tabernae Circum Forum) stretching between the two temples and facing away from the sun, and the Tabernae Argentariae and Septem on the opposite side, the two northern lines, probably divided by the Cloaca--must have taken definite form at the same time. These, so far as we know, were without porticoes in front of them and were first occupied by provisioners, especially butchers, tabernae lanienae (Varro ap. Non. 853L), but by the end of the fourth century the provisioners had been relegated to the area north of the forum, and the shops on the forum were occupied by bankers and called argentariae (Livy 9.40.16). By then the forum was given over entirely to business, politics, and ceremony.

The Comitium (q.v.) had always bordered on the forum on the northeast without being part of it. An inaugurated templum consecrated to public assemblies, elections, and legislation, it occupied the slope up to the north from the fiorum and Cloaca, between it and the course of the Tullianum rivulet. At first it may have been without architectural form. Later it was a circular amphitheater of steps, on which the Romans stood in their assemblies, leading up to the curia of the senate on the north side. It may have taken this form about the time that the forum shops were reserved for business and banking, and we may see these as separate parts of a master plan that came into existence in consequence of the Battle of Antium and the final subjugation of the Latin League in 338 B.C. That that victory was commemorated by the raising of a suggestus ornamented with the beaks of the captured vessels in medio foro makes this more likely. And with the construction of this suggestus politics and the administration of justice spilled over from the Comitium to the forum.

The forum had also long been the scene of ceremonies and games. Romulus's dedication of the spolia opima in the Temple of Iuppiter Feretrius suggests that a form of the triumphal procession had been imagined to exist even at that early date, and, with the construction of the Temple of Iuppiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline, the ceremonial parade of spoils and captives along the Sacra Via, through the forum, and up the Clivus Capitolinus became one of the greatest of all Roman celebrations. Similarly, funerals, especially those of prominent citizens, probably had been held there from a very early period, in part because the open square provided space for the funeral games that were traditionally part of the obsequies. Funerals at other locations are certainly known, and the first gladiatorial games were for a funeral held in the Forum Boarium (Val. Max. 2.4.7; cf. Livy Epit. 16), but the forum proper was always the preferred location, and the Rostra the place for displaying the corpse and delivering the eulogy.

As the forum was remarkable for the convergence of watecourses there, so it was remarkable for the convergence of streets, roads that had originally followed the watercourses and others that had branched from these. Coming in from the northeast was the road later called the Clivus Argentarius that connected Alta Semita and Vicus Iugarius and that probably also took traffic to and from the forum and the eastern Campus Martius. Below this along the Cloaca ran the Argiletum, which linked up with the Clivus Suburanus and Vicus Longus. Beyond the Basilica Paulli (Aemilia) was a throat leading back to the Macellum, the Corneta or an extension of this. From the east the Sacra Via brought the traffic from the Velia and Palatine to the forum; this forked at the Regia and then ran along both sides of the forum to frame it. Into the "southern branch" descends an important stair beside the Temple of Vesta, which leads up to the Nova Via and Clivus Victoriae, and further along its course are the two important connections with the Tiber bank, the Vicus Tuscus and Vicus Iugarius. Almost the only roads entering the forum that did not originally follow a watercourse of some sort seem to have been the Vicus Iugarius and the Clivus Capitolinus itself.

The orientation of buildings on the forum varied. As long as the Cloaca divided the forum there was little connection between the two halves. The Comitium and its dependencies seem to have been oriented to the cardinal points of the compass. So in general are the remains of early buildings under the Atrium Vestae and in its neighborhood. These are all technically outside the forum area and clearly do not influence planning within it. Planning within it seems to have been governed principally by the streets through it and entering around it. The forum square seems always to have been decidedly trapezoidal, and the buildings fronting on it conformed to this or to the available plot.

According to PA, the first indication of development of the forum as a public square is a few remains of paving in cappellaccio: a patch in front of the Basilica Paulli (Aemilia), one in front of the Temple of Divus Iulius, one under the Lacus Iuturnae, and one behind the republican Atrium Vestae, all at 10.60-10.90 meters above sea level. But one of the four scarps identified might be the floor of a basin of the Lacus Iuturnae, and the east side of the Cloaca is hardly likely to have been paved at a level uniform with the west before the burying of the Cloaca in a culvert and the unification of the area. In 210 B.C. the northwest side of the forum burned in a conflagration that destroyed everything from the Atrium Regium (Regia) by the Temple of Vesta to the Lautumiae; the Septem Tabernae and the Tabernae Argentariae were lost (Livy 26.27.1-4). In the following year most of the buildings destroyed were rebuilt, including the Septem Tabernae (Livy 27.11.16), but not the Tabernae Argentariae. However, the plebian aediles M. Iunius Brutus and L. Oppius Salinator rebuilt these as the Tabernae Argentariae Novae in 193 B.C., and because when the Basilica Fulvia et Aemilia was built in 179 (Livy 40.51.5) it was located post Argentarias Novas, the forum stretch of the Cloaca had probably been housed in a culvert by 193, certainly by 179 at the latest. Probably the culverting of the Cloaca was undertaken in conjunction with a general repavement of the forum.

This pavement at about 11.80-11.90 meters above sea level was of Monteverde tufa in the parts that were not subject to heavy traffic, in selce for the roads framing the forum and leading into it, and possibly with some additional parts in brick. Extensive remains in distinctive Monteverde tufa around the shrine of Cloacina (see Cloacina, Sacrum) and Lacus Iutunae (q.v.) indicate that the whole forum was refloored at this time, and monuments that lay so low that they might be obliterated had to be raised or remodeled, notably the Lacus Curtius and the Rostra of the forum. Probably to this period also belongs the series of low vaults that Boni called "Rostra Vetera" but that are in reality in a little viaduct carrying the margin of the Vicus Iugarius up the foot of the Capitoline to meet the Clivus Capitolinus.

In the Curculio (Plautus Curc. 470-81), Plautus gives us a good picture of what the forum was like in the early years of the second century, a very open but populous place. The law courts were clustered in the Comitium, investors interested in speculation and entrepreneurs before the tabernae in the vicinity of the shrine of Cloacina. A nameless basilica of modest scale stood on the eastern side of the Cloaca, in front of which was a busy market in feminine adornments. At the eastern end of the forum was a cluster of venerable shrines which Plautus does not mention, the Regia, the temples of Vesta and Castor, the spring of Iuturna, and against this backdrop boni homines atque dites ambulant, presumably intent on serious business. The banks of the Cloaca and Lacus Curtius were the haunts of loiterers and gossips, and the Tabernae Veteres was the gathering place of hardheaded businessmen, while behind the Temple of Castor one would find those one would do well not to trust too quickly. The impression of confusion and little in the way of monumental architecture is probably correct.

This picture was to change in the next quarter century. The building in quick succession of three basilicas, the Basilica Porcia in 184, the Basilica Fulvia et Aemilia in 179, and the Basilica Sempronia in 170, effectively surrounded the forum with their masses, and much of the business that earlier had been transacted in the open now moved indoors. The Basilica Porcia was not immdiately on the forum, but the other two, built behind the Tabernae Argentariae and Veteres, respectively, flanked the long sides of the square and, in conjunction with the Comitium and existing temples, almost completely enclosed it. Before the construction of the Basilica Fulvia et Aemilia it was necessary that a section of the Cloaca (the Baccio Morto) be buried, and we find a new course for it dug along the Argiletum and around the northwest end of the basilica. Exploration in the interior of the later Basilica Paulli has brought to light tufa foundations and column footings of two earlier basilicas, the older presumably of the Basilica Fulvia (NSc 1948, 111-112 [G. Caretioni]). It had the same orientation as its Augustan successor but lay farther to the northeast. The columns were 1.10 m in diameter and 4.93-4.95 m apart.

Another epoch in the history of the forum opened in 145 B.C., when the tribunus plebis C. Licinius Crassus took the people from the Comitium into the forum for legislation in the Comitia Tributa (Cicero Amic. 96; Varro Rust. 1.2.9). Thereafter, the forum became the main theater of Roman politics until the end of the republic.

In the time of Sulla, probably shortly after his death, the forum seems to have undergone a general repaving (ascribed to an Aurelius Cotta) at about 12.60 meters above sea level, though the only great building added in this period seems to have been the Tabularium (q.v.) on the Capitoline, a splendid series of arcades, probably in two storeys, atop a massive rusticated base, all in Gabine stone with accents of travertine. This acted as a backdrop at the northwest end of the forum, pulling together the various constructions covering the lower slopes of the hill. In preparation for Cotta's repavement, the elaborate system of subterranean passages usually called cuniculi seems to have been constructed. The main artery of these runs from the southeast end of the forum in front of the Temple of Divus Iulius to the Rostra Augusti, while branch passages at right angles to this run to either side at regular intervals. These are accessible by manholes framed with travertine, which must once have held travertine covers. The general pavement at this time lay at 12.60 meters above sea level and is of travertine flags with travertine insets to mark special features, such as the Lacus Curtius. The Niger Lapis (q.v.), a pavement of Taenarian black marble measuring about 4 m x 3 m covering a group of very ancient monuments between the Comitium and the forum, also belongs to this time (GV 60-61).

The next major work on the forum was that of Julius Caesar in connection with an elaborate scheme for rebuilding the whole of the Comitium/Curia complex and both the great basilicas on the long sides. And Caesar was the first to cover the forum with awnings to protect spectators from the sun during a gladiatorial show (Pliny HN 19.23). Although Caesar was unable to do more than make a good start on his scheme for the renovation of the forum before his assassination, Augustus took up his work and carried it to a successful conclusion. The forum we see today is essentially the Agustan forum, preserved and rebuilt throughout antiquity with only a few additions. The temples of Divus Iulius, Castor, Saturn, and Concordia, the basilicas Iulia and Paulli, the Curia Iulia, and the Rostra Iulia and the Rostra Iulia and Augusti all took their final form during the triumvirate and principate of Augustus. The only significant additions to the forum thereafter until the time of Diocletian were the temples of Divus Vespasianus and Antoninus et Faustina, the Arch of Septimius Severus, and the portico of the Dei Consentes. The pavement of flags of white marble is dated by the inscription of the praetor peregrinus L. Naevius Surdinus (CIL 6.1468, 31662; Nash 1.397 fig. 485) and stands from 12.60 meters above sea level in front of the Temple of Divus Iulius to 14 meters above sea level in front of the Rostra Augusti. The most significant change in this period in the use of the forum was that it ceased to be the political heart of Rome, that honor passing in part to the Saepta Iulia in the Campus Martius, whereas the rostra of the forum served more often for ceremonial purposes.

Before the time of Diocletian changes in the central area of the forum were few. We can point only to the Equus Domitiani (q.v.), which briefly dominated everything else there, some scant traces of ephemeral installations of relatively small size and doubful character, and a general repavement and the erection of the Equus and Arch of Septimius Severus in the time of Septimius Severus, ca. A.D. 203. But the fire of Carinus in A.D. 283 wrought widespread destruction in the forum, and Diocletian took the opportunity to alter it to conform with the new aesthetic of his time (Fig. 41). A line of five columns carrying honorary statues had probably adorned the Rostra Augusti at least since the time of Domitian. A new rostra with a corresponding line of columns seems now to have been built to balance this at the opposite end of the forum in front of the Temple of Divus Iulius, and a line of seven larger columns along the south side of the forum square in front of the Basilica Iulia joined the two. Nor was this all. To the airy frame of columns and statues one larger and higher than the rest was added, which was eventually reworked to become the Columna Phocae (q.v.); this we may presume must have honored Diocletian himself. The forum now became a ring of columns within a ring of buildings and remained such to the end of antiquity, the statues being changed and their bases reworked, possibly repeatedly, additions of various sorts being introduced from time to time that increased the clutter, but the overall aesthetic remaining the same. This is shown by a relief on the north side of the Arch of Constantine, where a rostra with a row of five columns surmounted by statues appears (Nash 1.198 fig. 223). And part of the sculptured base of a column celebrating the Decennalia of the Caesars (CIL 6.1203, 31261) found in 1547 at the northeast end of the Rostra Augusti, together with others, now lost, celebrating the Vicennalia (CIL 6.1204, 1205, 32162), give some notion of the sort of program such columns might follow. The facts that the seven columns of the south row all have bases with cores of opus quadratum encased in brick-faced concrete that includes stamps of the time of Constantine (CIL 15.1569, 1643) and that the steps surrounding the Columna Phocae are built of tufa blocks taken from other buildings show how extensive such revision of the program might be and at what close intervals it may have occurred (cf. Nash 1.198-201, 280-81; GV 184-87 and passim).

After the time of Diocletian additions to the forum were numerous, but usually ephemeral and inconsequential. The Basilica Paulli is believed to have been destroyed in the fires accompanying the sack of Alaric in A.D. 410. There was a violent earthquake in 442 (Paulus Diaconus Hist. Rom. 13.16). Numerous brick-stamps of Theodoric (483-526) attest to repairs in his time (CIL 15.1665a, 1669). The first church recorded in the forum is that of SS. Cosma e Damiano (A.D. 526-530), whereas S. Maria Antiqua is probably older. The greatest destruction in the area was probably that caused by the earthquake of Pope Leo IV ca. 847 (LPD 2.108) and the fire of Robert Guiscard in 1084.

Interest in antiquity and the treasures of the forum was reawakened in the Renaissance, especially the sixteenth century, and much of the area was ransacked, but scientific excavation came only in the nineteenth century. In 1803 Fea began clearing the Arch of Septimius Severus, and his work was continued by the French, who isolated the temples of Saturn, Vespasian, Castor, and Concordia before 1836. Then in 1870 systematic work began with the object of clearing the whole forum, but only to the level of late antiquity (the fourth to fifth century). This was continued by G. Boni beginning in 1898, who also aimed at uncovering the deeper strata and the whole history of the forum. In this he was conspicuously successful, and many of the most important discoveries were his, notably the deep stratification in the Comitium, the archaic cemetery of the Sepulcretum (q.v.), and the complicated history of the Temple of Vesta and Lacus Iuturnae (Atti del Congresso di Scienze Storiche 5 [1904]: 493-584 [G. Boni]; BullCom 31 [1903]: 3-239 [D. Vaglieri]). More recently, deep stratigraphic excavations have been undertaken by G. Carettoni in the Basilica Paulli, E. Gjerstad in the Comitium, R. Gamberini-Mongenet in the area between the Temple of Divus Iulius and the Temple of Vesta, F. E. Brown and R. T. Scott in the Regia and Atrium Vestae, and E. M. Steinby at the Lacus Iuturnae.

For a general history of the forum and a study of all the problems involved, see F. Coarelli, Il foro romano, 1 (Rome 1983) and 2 (Rome 1985), though many of his theories cannot be accepted. A more conservative and rational approach is offered by Lugli 1946, 55-242, Lugli 1947, and Lugli 1975, 210-82. Also useful is P. Zanker, Forum Romanum, die Neugestaltung durch Augustus (Tübingen 1972).

Nash 1.446-49; C. F. Giuliani and P. Verduchi, L' area centrale del foro romano (Florence 1987); AJA 94 (1990): 627-45 (A. J. Ammerman).

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