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A word which first signified an open space (area) before any building, especially before a sepulchre ( Fest. s. v.). It is no doubt connected with foris, and so means any place “out of doors.” The characteristic features of a Roman forum were, that it was a levelled space of ground of an oblong form, and surrounded by buildings, houses, temples, basilicas or porticoes (Vitruv. v. 1, 2). The forum at Pompeii, now completely excavated and showing very handsome architectural surroundings, affords a good general notion of the usual appearance of these places and the way they were laid out. A forum was originally used as a place where justice was administered, and where goods were exhibited for sale (Varro, L. L. v. 145). One must accordingly distinguish between two kinds of fora, of which some were real marketplaces, while others were places of meeting for the popular assembly and for the courts of justice. Mercantile business, however, was not altogether excluded from the latter, and it was especially the bankers and usurers who kept their shops in the buildings and porticoes by which they were surrounded. The latter kinds of fora were sometimes called fora iudicialia, to distinguish them from the mere market-places.

Among the fora iudicialia the most important was the Forum Romānum, which was simply called Forum, as long as it was the only one of its kind which existed at Rome. At a late period of the Republic, and during the Empire when other fora iudicialia were built, the Forum Romanum was distinguished from them by the epithets vetus or magnum. It was situated between the Palatine, the Capitoline, and the Quirinal Hills, and its extent was seven iugera (Varro, R. R. i. 2). It was originally a swamp or marsh, but was said to have been filled up by Romulus and Tatius, and to have been set apart as a place for the administration of justice, for the assemblies of the people, and for other kinds of public business. It was drained by the construction of the Cloaca Maxima in the time of the last kings. (See Cloaca; Emissarium.) In the larger sense, as applied to the whole valley surrounded by the three hills just named, the Forum included the Comitium, or the open place of assembly for the curiae (Varro, L. L. v. 155) in the centre of the Forum proper. Ancient rostra were an elevated platform (suggestum), from which the orators addressed the people, and which derived their name from the circumstance that, after the subjugation of Latium, the sides of the platform were adorned with the beaks (rostra) of the ships of the Antiates (Livy, viii. 14). In subsequent times, when the curiae had lost their importance, the accurate distinction between Comitium and Forum likewise ceased, and the Comitia Tributa were sometimes held in the Circus Flaminius; but towards the end of the Republic the Forum seems to have been chiefly used for judicial proceedings, and as a sort of Exchange. The orators, when addressing the people from the rostra, and even the tribunes of the people in the early times of the Republic, used to front the Comitium and the Curia; but C. Gracchus, or perhaps C. Licinius, introduced the custom of facing the Forum, thereby acknowledging the sovereignty of the people. In B.C. 308 the Romans adorned the Forum, or rather the bankers' shops (argentariae) around, with the gilded shields which they had taken from the Samnites: and this custom of adorning the Forum with these shields and other ornaments was subsequently al

Plan of the Imperial Fora (1893).

ways observed during the time of the Ludi Romani, when the aediles rode in their chariots (tensae) in solemn procession around the Forum (Livy, ix. 40). After the victory of C. Duilius over the Carthaginians the Forum was adorned with the celebrated Columna Rostrata (q.v.). In the upper part of the Forum, or the Comitium, the laws of the Twelve Tables were exhibited for public inspection, and it was probably in the same part that in B.C. 304 Cn. Flavius exhibited the Fasti, written on white tables (in albo), that every citizen might be able to know the days on which the law allowed the administration of justice. (See Dies.) Besides the ordinary business which was carried on in the Forum, we read that gladiatorial games were held in it (Vitruv. v. 1, 2), and that prisoners of war and faithless colonists or legionaries were put to death there (Livy, vii. 19; ix. 24; xxviii. 28). Down to the latest times of the Republic, the Forum was the usual place where funeral games were given; on these occasions it was temporarily enclosed with wooden railings (Pro Sest. 58, 124). See Cancelli.

The ancient structures in the Forum were restored by Theodoric in the sixth century A.D., and down to the eighth century the original level was unchanged; but during the Middle Ages the magnificent edifices of ancient Rome were used as a quarry from which churches and secular buildings drew their building-stones, marbles, columns, and even their lime, which was derived from burning the ancient marble in kilns. Still more eagerly were the bronzes appropriated, so that it is not surprising that so few works of art, comparatively, have survived. In the eleventh century, the Forum was covered with the towers and fortress-walls of the mediaeval nobles, and the ultimate demolition of these covered the ground with a layer of rubbish to which fresh deposits were continuously made, especially when new buildings were reared and new streets constructed. The result is that the original level is now in some places fully forty feet below the surface. From the Middle Ages down to the present century, the site of the Forum was called Campo Vaccino. Its desolate area was given up to the buffaloes and oxen of the peasantry, to the scattered workshops of the meaner artisans, and to the few ruined columns that protruded from the rubbish as a melancholy reminiscence of its former glories. Such investigations and excavations as were first made under Raphael (especially in 1546-47) were undertaken solely in the search for works of art, and the trenches were soon refilled; but in the present century, more scientific research began. In 1803 the Arch of Septimius Severus (see page 118), in 1813 the Column of Phocas, and in 1816-19 the Capitoline Hill with its temples were disinterred by Carlo Fea. Subsequently to 1835, the Basilica Iulia was in part recovered by Canina, and since 1871, when the Italian government occupied Rome as the capital of Italy, the work of excavation has been pushed with vigour. The Temples of Castor, Caesar, Faustina, Vespasian, etc., the Atrium Vestae, and the rest of the Basilica have been exhumed, besides a good part of the adjacent streets.

In the period between Iulius Caesar and Trajan the five imperial fora were erected.


The first of these, and the second forum iudiciarium, was built by the dictator Caesar out of the spoils of the Gallic War, and was called Forum Caesăris or Iulii. The site chosen was exceptionally crowded and valuable, immediately to the northeast of the Forum Romanum, and a hundred million sesterces ($4,000,000) were paid for it. The levelling of the ground cost large additional sums; in the centre stood the magnificent temple of Venus Genetrix, the tutelary goddess of Caesar's family, which he had vowed at the battle of Pharsalia (Iul. 26). Nothing now remains of this Forum but five half-buried arches.


The Forum Augusti, the next in date, stood back from the Forum Iulii in the same direction. The central area was occupied by the temple of Mars Ultor, commemorating the battle of Philippi, though it was not finished until forty years later, and dedicated in B.C. 2 (Vell. Pat. ii. 109.2). Augustus further adorned his Forum with statues of the most distinguished men of the Republic, and issued a decree that only the iudicia publica and the sortitiones iudicum should take place in it (Suet. Aug. 29 and 31). After the Forum Augusti had severely suffered by fire, it was restored by Hadrian (Spart. Hadr. 19).


The Forum Pacis was built to enclose the Temple of Peace, dedicated by Vespasian A.D. 75. It commemorated the close of the civil wars which had filled the short reigns of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, the undisputed authority of the emperor, and the taking of Jerusalem (Suet. Vesp. 9; Dio Cass. lxvi. 15). According to Pliny (Pliny H. N. xxxvi. 102) the three most magnificent buildings in Rome were the Basilica of Paullus, the Forum of Augustus, and Vespasian's Temple of Peace. The site was to the southeast of the Forum of Augustus, but did not quite join it, a wide street from the Subura to the Forum Romanum being left between. This narrow strip afterwards became the Forum Transitorium of Nerva. There are no remains of the Temple of Peace.


The situation of the Forum of Nerva has been already indicated. It was called Transitorium, on account of the highway which ran through it; or Palladium, from containing a Temple of Minerva. The two Corinthian columns, buried to about half their height, and now called Colonnacce, belonged to this temple; part of the outer wall of the Forum is also extant.


The Forum Traiāni was probably the most magnificent of all. It occupied a large space between the Capitoline and Quirinal Hills, the latter of which was cut back to a height of 100 Roman feet, as shown by the inscription on the Column of Trajan. The entrance was at the lower or southern end, where a triumphal arch, surmounted by a statue of Trajan in a six-horse chariot, divided it from the Forum of Augustus. The open space was surrounded by a double row of porticos, and enlarged by four enormous apses or semicircular extensions, one of which can still be traced in the slope of the Quirinal. In the centre stood the Basilica Ulpia, which fills the greater part of the modern Foro Traiano; beyond it was a cloistered court (atrium) surrounding the celebrated column which bears Trajan's name, and flanked by two libraries—one for Greek, the other for Latin MSS. At the upper end it was closed by the Temple of Trajan, dedicated by his successor. The splendour of the Forum Traiani greatly impressed the later Romans. Ammianus Marcellinus, in an account of a visit made to Rome by the emperor Constantius, describes a guest of that prince, a Persian, as amazed by this great work, “so exquisite,” says the historian, “that the gods themselves would find it hard to refuse their admiration” (xvi. 14).

Different from these fora were the numerous markets at Rome, some of them reaching back to a very high antiquity. The most important was the Forum Boarium, or cattle market, occupying a large space between the Velabrum and the Tiber; the notion that it derived its name from the statue of an ox, whencesoever imported (Ovid, Fast. vi. 477), can hardly be right, as it was almost certainly so named long before statues were introduced at Rome. Others which took their names from the goods sold in them were the Forum Olitorium and Piscatorium, for vegetables and fish, Suarium for pigs, Cupedĭnis or Cupedinarium for dainties.

Of the Forum Romanum the bearings and dimensions form one of the most disputed points of Roman topography. The excavations at Pompeii, however, have opened the Forum of that city, the remains of which are sufficiently preserved to enable us to trace the ground-plans of the various edifices surrounding it, and to assign some probable use to each of them; and will thus

Roman Forum Restored.

afford a general notion of the usual appearance of these places, and of the manner in which they were laid out. The central area is paved with large square flags, on which the bases for many statues still remain, and surrounded by a Doric colonnade of two stories, backed by a range of spacious and lofty buildings all round. The principal entrance is through an archway (fornix) (a), on the lower end of the annexed plan, and by the side of a temple of the Corinthian order (b), supposed to have been dedicated to Iupiter. On the opposite flank of this temple is another entrance into the Forum, and by its side the public prison (carcer) (c), in which the bones of two men with fetters on their legs were found. Adjacent to this is a long shallow building (d), with several entrances from the colonnade, surmised by the Italian archaeologists to have been apublic granary (horreum). The next building is another temple of the Corinthian order (e), dedicated to Apollo, as is learned from an inscription found on the spot. It stands in an area enclosed by a blank wall and peristyle, to which the principal entrance is in a side street, abutting on the Forum, and flanking the basilica (f), beyond which there are three private houses out of the precincts of the Forum. The farther or southern side of the square is occupied by three public edifices (g, h, i), nearly similar to one another in their plans and dimensions. All these were decorated with columns and statues, fragments of which were found upon the floor; but

Restoration of the North Side of the Forum at Pompeii. (Overbeck.)

Plan of the Forum at Pompeii. (Rich.)

there are no sufficient grounds for deciding the uses for which they were destined. The first is merely conjectured to have been a council chamber (curia); the second, the treasury (aerarium); and the last, another curia. Beyond these is another street, opening on the Forum; and, turning the angle, are the remains of a square building (k), for which no satisfactory use can be suggested. The space behind is occupied by the sites of three private houses. The next object is a large plot of ground (l), surrounded by a colonnade (porticus) and a cloister (crypta), and decorated in front, where it faces the Forum, by a spacious entrance porch or vestibule (chalcidicum), all of which were constructed at the expense of a woman named Eumachia. Beyond this is a small temple (m) upon a raised basement, attributed by some to Mercury, by others to Quirinus; and adjoining it, an edifice (n), with a large semicircular tribune or absis at its farther extremity, supposed to have been a meeting-hall for the Augustales, or a town-hall (senaculum) for the Pompeian Senate. The rear of both these structures is covered by the premises belonging to a fuller's establishment (fullonica). The last structure (o) is a magnificent building, with various appurtenances behind it, commonly called the Pantheon, from twelve pedestals placed in a circle round an altar in their centre, supposed to have supported the statues of the Dii Magni, or twelve principal divinities.

On the whole subject see Marucchi, Descrizione del Foro Romano (Rome, 1883); Lanciani, Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries (Boston, 1888); Nichols, The Roman Forum (London, 1877); Jordan, Capitol, Forum, und Via Sacra (Rome, 1884); Ziegler, Das Alte Rom (Stuttgart, 1882); Middleton, Ancient Rome in 1885, chaps. v. vi. viii.; id. Remains of Ancient Rome, vol. i. chaps. vi. vii. and vol. ii. chap. i. (London, 1892); and the article Roma.

hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 29
    • Suetonius, Divus Vespasianus, 9
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 28, 28
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 24
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 40
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 19
    • Ovid, Fasti, 6
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