forum Romanum

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The chief public square of Rome, surrounded by monumental buildings, occupied a swampy trough between the Palatine, Velia, Quirinal, and Capitol. The area was made suitable for building in the late 7th cent. bc by the canalizing of the Cloaca Maxima, and the deposition of considerable quantities of fill. The Regia and temple of Vesta were traditionally associated with this period, while the earliest dated monuments are the temples of Saturnus (497) and Castor (484). The Forum became the centre of Roman religious, ceremonial, and commercial life, as well as the political activities which took place in the adjacent Comitium; balconies were built (338) above the shops surrounding the forum, to allow for the viewing of the gladiatorial shows which took place there. Butchers and fishmongers were, however, soon relegated to the macellum (see markets) and forum piscārium, as more monumental buildings were constructed around the Forum. Basilicas were introduced in 184 by Porcius Cato 1; his work was soon imitated by the basilica Aemilia (179) on the north side of the square, and basilica Sempronia (170) on the south.

The growing population of Rome and the increasing importance of popular politics were reflected by the transfer from the Comitium to the Forum of the comitia tributa in 145; in 121 Opimius restored the temple of Concordia, following the death of Gaius Sempronius Gracchus and his supporters, and built a new adjacent basilica. In the same year the first triumphal arch was set up over the via Sacra beside the Regia.

Much of the present setting is due to Sulla, Caesar, and Augustus. Sulla rebuilt the Curia 2 on a larger scale to accommodate the senate of 600 members, obliterating much of the Comitium in the process; Caesar planned a new basilica Iulia, to replace the old basilica Sempronia, which, like his Curia Iulia, was finished by Augustus. After Caesar's assassination a column was erected to mark the site of his pyre and later (29) replaced by the temple of Divus Iulius; this, and the adjacent Parthian arch of Augustus (19), had the effect of monumentalizing the eastern end of the Forum. New Rostra in front of the temple of Divus Iulius faced the ‘old’ Rostra, rebuilt by Caesar and then Augustus. Many ancient monuments were restored.

Fewer changes were made to the topography of the Forum under the empire; the imperial fora, the Campus Martius, and the Palatine provided more scope for emperors keen to make their mark on the city. New temples were, however, dedicated to deified emperors and empresses, while Domitian set up an equestrian statue of himself in 91; and the arch of Septimius Severus was built in 203. A fire in 283, however, provided an opportunity for a major reconstruction under Diocletian.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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