As the plan of the present work does not include a
topographical description of the various fora at Rome, the following article
only contains a brief statement of the purposes which they served.
Forum originally signifies an open space (area
before any building, especially before a sepulcrum (Festus, s.v. Cic. de Legg. 2.2. 4
§ 61); the word 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 (Vitr. 5.1
). The forum at Pompeii, now completely excavated
and showing very handsome architectural surroundings, will afford 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 (Varr. L.
5.145, M.). We have accordingly to distinguish between two kinds
of fora; of which some were exclusively devoted to commercial purposes and
were real market-places, 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 judicialia,
to distinguish them from the mere
Among the fora judicialia the most important was the Forum
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 judicialia were built, the Forum Romanum was distinguished from them by
the epithets vetus
It was situated between the Palatine, the Capitoline,
and the Quirinal hills, and its extent was seven jugera, whence Varro
(de R. R.
1.2) calls it the “Septem jugera
forensia.” 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 holding the assemblies of the
people, and for the transaction of other kinds of public business. The
memory of its original state was preserved to the latest times by the legend
of the Lacus Curtius (Liv. 1.12
; Varr. L.
5.148; Dion. Hal, 2.42; Plut. Rom.
); but in reality it was drained by the construction of the Cloaca
Maxima in the time of the last kings [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 place of assembly for the curiae (Varr. L. L.
M.), which was separated from the forum in its narrower sense, or the place
of assembly for the comitia tributa, by the Rostra. (Niebuhr, Hist.
i. p. 291, note 746, and p. 426, note 990; Walter,
Gesch. des röm. Rechts,
Göttling, Röm. Staatsverf.
p. 155.) These
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, its sides were adorned with the beaks (rostra
) of the ships of the Antiates (Liv.
). In subsequent times, when the curiae had lost their
importance, the accurate distinction between comitium and forum likewise
ceased, and the comitia tribute 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 money market; hence Cicero (Cic. de Orat. 1.36.167
between a speaker in the popular assembly (orator
) and the [p. 1.875]
“Ego istos non modo oratoris nomine, sed ne foro quidem dignos
putarim.” 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 (Plut. C.
5), or, according to Varro (de R. R.
and Cicero (de Am.
25.96), C. Licinius, introduced the custom
of facing the forum, thereby acknowledging the sovereignty of the people. In
308 B.C. the Romans adorned the forum, or rather the bankers' shops
) around, with gilt shields
which they had taken from the Samnites: and this custom of adorning the
forum with these shields and other ornaments was subsequently always
observed during the time of the Ludi Romani, when the Aediles rode in their
) in solemn procession around
the forum. (Liv. 9.40
; Cic. in Verr. 1.54
, § 141, and 3.4.9.)
After the victory of C. Duilius over the Carthaginians the forum was adorned
with the celebrated columna rostrata [COLUMNA
p. 495 a
]. 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 304 B.C.
On. 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. (Liv. 9.46
.) Besides the ordinary business which was carried on
in the forum, we read that gladiatorial games were held in it (Vitr. 5.1
), and that
prisoners of war and faithless colonists or legionaries were put to death
there. (Liv. 7.19
.) 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
(Cic. pro Sest.
Before the end of the Second Punic War a small portion only of the space
between the Palatine, the north-eastern end of the Capitoline, and the
Quirinal was occupied as a Forum or public place of meeting. It does not
appear that even in the populous times of the later republic the open space
of the Forum was ever enlarged; but overcrowding was in some measure
prevented by the building of open basilicas, beginning with the Basilica
Porcia in the censorship of Cato, B.C. 184. With the growth of provincial
business the courts of law and public buildings must have become more and
more inadequate (Burn, p. 75). Out of this state of things arose, in the
period between Julius Caesar and Trajan, the Five Imperial Fora.
- 1. The first of these, and the second forum judiciarium, was built
by the dictator Caesar out of the spoils of the Gallic war, and was
called Forum Caesaris or Julii. The site chosen was exceptionally
crowded and valuable, immediately to the north-east of the Forum
Romanum, and a hundred million sesterces 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 his family, which he had vowed at the battle of Pharsalia (Suet. Jul. 26; Plin. Nat. 35.156, 36.103; D. C. 43.22). For plans of this and the
other imperial fora, see Burn, p. 126; Middleton, p. 253. Nothing
now remains of this forum but five half-buried arches, figured by
Middleton, p. 255.
- 2. The Forum Augusti, the next in
date, stood back from the Forum Julii in the same N.E. 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. 2.100.2.) Augustus further
adorned his forum with statues of the most distinguished men of the
republic, and issued a decree that only the judicia publica and the sortitiones judicum should take place in it. (Suet. Aug. 29 and 31; compare D. C. 56.27 ; Plin. Nat. 36.102; Veli. Pat.
2.39; Ovid, ex Pont. 4.15, 16 Martial, 3.38, 3;
Seneca, de Ira, 2.9; Stat. Silv. 4.9, 15.) After the Forum Augusti had
severely suffered by fire, it was restored by Hadrian. (Spart.
- 3. 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; D. C. 66.15). According to Pliny
(H. N 36.102) 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
south-east 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, and the slight existing
remains of the forum are referred by Middleton, on account of their
construction, to a. restoration by Sept. Severus after a fire in the
reign of Commodus.
- 4. 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, built to correspond with
the forum of Augustus both in construction and height (about 100
- 5. The Forum Trajani 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
(for the true explanation of this inscription, see Middleton, p.
270). 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 (area fori,
Gel. 13.25.2) was surrounded by a
double row of porticoes, 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
Trajano; 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 [p. 1.876]MSS.; at the
upper end it was closed by the temple of Trajan, dedicated by his
successor. For full topographical details, see Burn, pp. 141-153;
Middleton, pp. 268-281.
Fora of Sallust, of Aurelian, and of Diocletian are mentioned in the
regionary catalogues, but are mere names to us.
Different from these fora were the numerous markets at Rome, more useful than
ornamental, and some of them reaching back to a very high antiquity. The
most important was the Forum Boarium,
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 (Ov. Fast. 6.477
; Plin. Nat. 34.10
), can hardly be right, as
it was almost certainly so named long before statues were introduced at
Rome. Another legend connected the name with the oxen of Hercules, stolen by
Cacus (Propert. 5.9, 19-20). Others which took their names from the goods
sold in them were the forum olitorium
for vegetables and fish (Varr.
5.146; Col. 8.19), suarium
for pigs (Dig. 1
5.41) or cupedinarium
8.19) for dainties. On the
whole subject see Burn, Rome and the Campagna,
chaps. v. vi.
vii. xii.; Middleton, Ancient Rome in
1885, chaps. v. vi.