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Roman Forum

Грачева А.Д.

The Roman Forum (Lat. Forum Romanum) is the central square in Ancient Rome, inclusive of the adjoining buildings. Initially, it hosted a market, but over time began to include comitia, curia, and acquired political functions.

All public life of any Roman city was concentrated on the forum. It was there that the most majestic monuments of architecture were created, and it was there that the main cultic and administrative buildings of the city were erected. The word forum translated from Latin means "central square". This square was an architecturally decorated space, which should be adapted to the most diverse requirements of urban cohabitation. It needs to be arranged in such a way that the whole city is delighted and admires it, and that everyone feels at home here and comes here, like home. The forum should be made majestic, beautiful, and cozy. The novelties of decor and the main tendencies of the development of Roman art can be seen right there. There was a forum in almost every Roman city, in small, provincial cities, a small central square was enough.

In Rome, the capital of the state, the square of the Roman forum was also small in size, its length was 160 m., and the width at different times varied from 50 to 80 m., although it should be noted that in the times of the Republican Rome this was the largest forum in size. Perhaps such a choice of square sizes was connected with the desire to preserve some coziness in the city and not to turn the central square into just a large market, teeming with people of various estates. The examination of such a type of architectural monument as a forum will be conducted by us using the example of Rome, as the main city of the state. The oldest forum was the forum in Rome (Forum Romanum), the beginning of its construction dates back to the royal period. Here's what the ancient author Vitruvius writes about the arrangement of such types of buildings: the dimensions of the forum should be coordinated with the number of inhabitants so that it is not too cramped or does not seem empty due to a lack of people. Its width is determined as follows: its length should be divided into three parts and two of these parts should be taken as the width. Thus it becomes elongated and conveniently located for spectacles. (Vitruv., V.1). Such an arrangement applies to many Roman forums, but the Roman Forum, which appeared first, is an exception.

It's important to note that such urban cultural centers as Rome and Athens were built without having a pre-made plan. The ancient city of Rome remained forever without rational, clear planning. The Roman Forum (Forum Romanum) was no exception, it was the oldest square of the city, until the imperial period it was the center of public life in Rome, but the Forum, like the city itself, had no proper planning. The first forum did not look like the main square of the city in our understanding, this was connected with the fact that throughout all its history it was often rebuilt, each new epoch of Roman history left its mark on the architectural appearance of the main urban center of the state. At the Forum of the era of the Roman Republic, all kinds of goods were sold. The streets adjoining it were bustling. It was surrounded by rows of shops and stalls. In the early centuries, the republican forum also served as a place where public performances were held, and sometimes gladiatorial battles. During holidays, treats for Romans were displayed in stalls right on the square. As mentioned above, before the construction of the Colosseum, gladiatorial fights were held at the Forum, one of the most famous gladiatorial battles held here are considered to be the battles arranged by Caesar in 65 BC, in which 320 pairs of gladiators took part. Religious processions and funeral processions also took place on the Sacred Road, which ran almost through the entire Forum.

Roman Forum (Forum Romanum). Rome
Roman Forum. Reconstruction
Plan of the Roman Forum. Current status

In the republican period, many new buildings appeared on the Forum: a new type of architectural structure for Rome - basilicas, aristocrats' houses, statues, the Curia of Julius, an honorary column and an altar dedicated to Caesar, as well as the archive building – Tabularium. Now it will be appropriate to refer to some of these monuments. The first type of structure to focus on is basilicas, the construction of which began in the II century BC, which emphasized the role of the Forum as the center of political and administrative life. This type of building was known in Greece, where basilicas housed government and judicial institutions. In Rome, the functions of the basilicas changed, and the building began to be used mainly for commercial purposes, business and political meetings. Vitruvius describes the architecture of this type of building in his book: Basilicas should be erected in places - the author writes - adjoining the forum in its warmest parts, so that in winter merchants can gather there without suffering from bad weather; basilicas should be at least a third and no more than half of their length in width, unless local conditions prevent this. (Vitruv., V.5.).

Roman basilicas in their plan have the shape of a rectangle with three naves: one central, and two side ones. The side naves were two-storied, surrounded by a double or simple colonnade of galleries. Vitruvius writes that the columns should be the same height as the width of the porticoes; the portico should be a third of the width of the inner space of the basilica. The upper columns are made smaller than the lower ones. The gallery railing between the upper and lower columns should be a quarter lower than the upper columns, so that the merchants cannot see those walking on the upper tier. Architraves, friezes, and cornices should be made proportionate to their columns. (Vitruv., V.6). Ancient Roman basilicas were built according to a similar plan, later such a building plan was adopted by architects for the construction of Christian churches. Several basilicas were built in the Roman Forum during the Republican era: Sempronia, Portia, Opimia, Emilia, and Julia Basilica. It would be appropriate here to give a brief description of one of these basilicas, for example, the Basilica of Emilia, built in 179 BC by censors Marcus Emilius Lepidus and Marcus Fulvius Nobilior. This basilica served as a place for conducting business transactions that could not be conducted in the square. This basilica, like many others, was probably originally built according to the plan mentioned above, only after several reconstructions, in the era of Augustus, and then Tiberius, the building was divided into four naves of columns. Despite such transformations, the fate of this building was sad, today almost nothing remains of it, because already in ancient times, or rather in 410 AD, the basilica was burned by Alaric's Visigoths and was not restored.

One of the most original constructions of the Roman Republic can be considered the state archive - the Tabularium. The building, which closed off the Roman Forum from the West, was located at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, its dating goes back to 78 BC. The Tabularium is a two-story archive building, the front part of which is of special value, as it combines arches on pillars with semi-columns attached to these pillars, supporting an entablature attached to the wall above the arches. In this construction, the main emphasis is shifted to the mass of arches and columns, separated from the arches by a cornice made of several simple pieces. An order is attached to this mass to divide it. In the Tabularium, for the first time in a very significant Roman monumental building, we have a typical cell, consisting of two pillars with an arch thrown between them and semi-columns attached to the pillars, which bear a straight entablature above the arch. Speaking about the lower part of the building, it did not have such a decor as the upper one, and it was a wall, laid out of tuff masonry in 25 rows. On this wall there were windows and a door that led to the stairs leading further to the Capitoline Hill. As for the material used in this construction, it was concrete, but this material was used for the inner part of the wall, and the exterior walls of the archive were made of travertine and tuff, for the smoothness of the wall surface it was covered with a thin layer of tuff. The Tabularium was rebuilt in subsequent epochs, and from ancient times only the wall of the first floor and several cells decorating the second have survived.

Tabulary. Rome, I century . BCE

Many transformations in the Roman Forum took place in the times of Julius Caesar and Octavian Augustus, that is, at the turn of the millennia. Under Julius Caesar, the Basilica Julia was built, the construction of a new Curia, the so-called Curia Julia, was started, the Temple of Felicitas was erected, which later burned down under Emperor Claudius, and the Rostra (the speaker's platform on the forum, decorated with the beaks of trophy ships) was moved from one part of the Forum to another. Octavian Augustus, in turn, erected a temple in honor of his predecessor, which was called the Temple of the Divine Julius. According to Staccioli. R. A. in his book "Ancient Rome", he writes that these transformations coincided with the beginning of a period of a strong, sometimes stormy, and dramatic role of the beating heart of the city. Indeed, with the formation of the empire, the center of public life gradually began to shift to the complex of nearby imperial forums, larger and more practical. But this is not the only opinion about the duration of the functionality of the Roman Forum. Historian V. I. Pilyavsky in his work "Rome" asserts that the Forum Romanum maintained its traditionally important role as a public and political center in the life of the city and the entire Empire. We tend to agree more with the second opinion, because Rome at the end of the Republic era and the beginning of the Empire represented a metropolis of an ancient scale, and therefore, its trade and political life was rich, and we tend to believe that over time the size of the Roman forum became insufficient for the constantly growing state, which led to the construction of new forums to relieve and facilitate life on the old one. It is interesting to note that despite the large number of newly emerging imperial forums, many rulers: Titus, Vespasian, Domitian, Constantine and others continued to erect here honorary monuments and temples, in honor of their homeland, their victories, and their loved ones. And no less interesting is the fact that even after the fall of Rome in the 5th century AD, monuments continued to be built here, on the Roman Forum, and it was the honorary Column to the Byzantine Emperor Phocas in 608 AD that was the last building on this ancient square.

Curia Julia. Rome, first century BC

Related topics

Architecture in Ancient Rome, Theatre


1. Vitruvius. Ten books about architecture / translated from Latin by F. A. Petrovsky, Moscow: Librocom, 2012

2. Pilyavsky V. I. Rome: Stroyizdat Publ., 1972

3. Stacciolli.R. A. Drevnyj Rim [Ancient Rome], Rome, 1998