Forum Romanum

Forum Romanum

Fascinating History

The Forum was the center of the ancient city, a place to see and to be seen, to catch up on the latest news and gossip, do some shopping, business and even to be entertained. Nowadays all we see are ruins, mostly due to the plundering which took place in the Middle Ages as the great monuments were ravaged and had their marble and other elements stripped off them for the building of the Vatican and other Papal palaces and churches . Despite this it is still the best example of an open-air museum, offering the visitor a chance to go back in time somewhat and walk in the footsteps of the ancient Romans.

Over the centuries the Forum has gone through many changes. After a big fire in AD 283 it was already 1,000 years old and had been remodelled several times. The Forum started life as a marshy area, a meeting place for the early inhabitants of the surrounding hills. By the 5 th century BC it had evolved into Rome's city-centre, a place for political assemblies, riots, demonstrations, trials, gladiatorial shows and various public festivities. The marshy ground had been drained, the Cloaca Maxima had been created and one could see lofty patrician houses amidst the hustle and bustle of a market filled with food stalls , various imported and local goods and even cattle in the area closer to the river (Forum Boarium ). Plautus gives us an interesting description of the kinds of people lurking around the Forum:

"For perjurers, try the Comitium . Liars and braggarts hang around the Shrine of Cloacina : rich, married ne'er do-wells by the Basilica. Packs of prostitutes there too - but rather clapped-out ones. In the Fish-Market, members of the dining clubs. In the lower Forum respectable, well-to-do citizens out for a stroll in the Middle Forum, flashier types along the canal. By the Lacus Curtius you will find bold fellows with a tongue in their head and a bad intent in their mind - great slanderers of others and very vulnerable to it themselves. By the old shops, the money-lenders - they will make or take a loan. Behind the Temple of Castor there are men to whom you wouldn't entrust yourself. In the Vicus Tuscus are men who sell themselves. In the Velabrum you will find a baker or a butcher or a fortune-teller, or men who will do a turn for you or get you to do a turn for them." [Plautus, Curculio 470-82]

As time went by the are transformed yet again into a showcase of Roman power, reminders of triumphs celebrated by victorious generals, the conquests of the empire, and elaborate temples and various public buildings built with the booty and slaves Rome had acquired.


Well, the 2 year wait was worth it. Lovely pics! Taa.

I just saw the Peter O'Toole(Old Augustus) TV and film version of "Augustus"(2003). I then wrote the following prose-poem. I'd be interested in your comment on both the film and my poem.-Ron Price, Tasmania

After watching the two part series “Augustus” on SBS TV(17 and 24 June 2008--11:40 p.m. to 1:15 a.m.) in the last two weeks as another academic year was coming to an end in school systems across the northern hemisphere after teaching Roman history at a post-secondary technical college in Western Australia in the late 1980s and early 1990s after studying Roman history in high school as part of the grade eleven curriculum in Ontario in 1960-1961 and in the first year of my liberal arts degree in university in 1963-1964 forty-five years ago after taking an interest in the field of classical studies since those 1960s, albeit a peripheral one among the many subjects that were part of the general and interdisciplinary studies I taught and the general studies in the social sciences and humanities that I read—after all this, in the early evening of my life, as the years of my late adulthood crept along incrementally more quickly, it seemed, with every passing year, I felt like writing this prose-poem. I wanted to try to fit Augustus, Octavian as he was also known, the first Roman Emperor, into a historical context relevant to today, at least relevant to how I had come to see the comparisons and contrasts between Augustus and his time as well as my time, my age and my life. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 27 June 2008.

Rome had conquered the world,
well, a big chunk of it in the middle
East, north Africa and what is now
Europe, in the quarter millennium
from 250 BC to the time of Christ.

Was it a set-up? Setting the world
up for the periodic intervention of
the divine into human affairs, giving
a stage for the spread of the message
that would and did change that mise
en scene forever. And are we being
set up again, in our age and time in
the midst, now, of this greatest of
spiritual dramas in the world’s history,
so very unbeknownst to the generality
of men, creeping, as it now is, along
the edges of society as that message
did 2000 years ago before it captured
western civilization for a 1000 years?

The most precious Being ever to appear
in the world of creation appears from time
to time and the light of the Unseen shines
above the horizon of celestial might only
to be denied, opposed and disputed with
in vain words to try to invalidate His claim.1

Roman Forum

The Forum Romanum was the commercial, religious, political and legal center of Ancient Rome, at any rate throughout the Republic, and remained a sacred and monumental area throughout antiquity.

Its origins are related the coalescing into a city of the primitive villages which had grown up on the higher parts of the surrounding hills.

The valley of the Forum, lying between the Palatine, the Capitol and the first slopes of the Viminal and the Quirinal, must itself have been affected, albeit marginally, by the presence of some modest nuclei of huts and by an extensive burial ground, dating back to the late bronze age and the early iron age.

Around about the end of the 7 th Century BC, the Cloaca Maxima drained away its stagnant waters and it could thus be formally laid out and receive its first ‘paving’.

Photo credits: Francisco Anzola

From that time onwards, the part of the valley lying at the foot of the Capitol was set aside for political functions (with the construction of the Curia, for the meetings of the Senate, and the Comitium, for the assemblies of the people), while the remainder, much larger, came to play the part of the ‘square’ (the Forum in the proper sense of the term), where shops and market stalls intermingled with the city’s oldest sanctuaries, of Vesta, Saturn, Janus and Castor and Pollux.

A small sanctuary consisting of an altar, an honorary column and a tufa block with an inscription dating back to the 6 th Century BC was interpreted as being the grave of the legendary founder, Romulus, and protected with big slabs of black stone (lapis niger).

The Via Sacra crossed the whole length of the square, whence it ascended to the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitol.

The construction of the first basilicas during the 2 nd Century BC (the Porcia, the oldest, the Opimia, the Sempronia, and most importantly the Basilica Aemilia) further emphasized the Forum’s character as a political and administrative center, and it gradually assumed its definitive appearance.

The stages in this process were:

  • the building of the Tabularium, seat of the state archives on the slopes of the Capitol (80 BC), providing the square with a monumental backdrop
  • the moving of the Curia and the Rostra (the platform from which the magistrates addressed the people) and the erection of the Basilica Julia in front of the Basilica Aemilia by Caesar, marking off the long sides of the square
  • and finally, the positioning of the Temple of Divine Caesar, ordained by Augustus, in order to close off the fourth side of the square.

The structure of the square remained unchanged for a long time. The construction of new buildings, such as the Temple of Vespasian and Titus and that of Antoninus and Faustina, built by Antoninus Pius in memory of his wife Faustina, who died in 141 BC, and subsequently dedicated by the Senate to the emperor himself, respected the Augustan layout.

The only breach in this convention was the erection of a gigantic equestrian statue of Domitian in the center of the square.

Only from the 3 rd Century AD onwards was the Forum area once again invaded by commemorative and honorary monuments: the Arch of Septimius Severus, squeezed in between the Rostra and the Curia, the seven honorary columns lined up along the south side of the square, in front of the Basilica Julia, and the monuments commemorating the Tenth Anniversary (decennalia) of the Tetrarchy.

Indeed, it fell to one of these columns, the one raised in 608 AD in honour of the Byzantine Emperor Phocas, to become the last monument to be added to the Forum. But by that time the millenary glory of what had once been the most important place in Rome had long since faded away.

Do you want to know more about the history of the Roman Forum and see how it was originally during the roman empire?

Check out our guidebook to Rome, with detailed history and Past & Present images of the Pantheon, the Colosseum, Trajan’s Market and all the greatest historical and archaeological sites of the eternal city.

Forum of Caesar

The Forum of Caesar (Foro di Cesare) was built by Julius Caesar near the Forum Romanum in Rome in 46 BC. Caesar decided to construct a forum bearing his name in the northeast section of the Forum Romanum, of which he purchased a very expensive, select amount of parcels of land in that area. The Forum spanned from the Argiletum on the southeast side of the Forum Romanum to the Atrium Libertatis and spanned 160 meters by 75 meters. As part of the dedication, lavish games were offered and funded by Caesar, indicating the staggering cost and thus the personal interest that Caesar had invested in the project.

The Forum of Caesar originally meant an expansion of the Forum Romanum. The Forum, however, evolved so that it served two additional purposes. As Caesar became more and more involved in this project, the Forum became a place for public business that was related to the Senate in addition to a shrine for Caesar himself as well as Venus Genetrix.

Before his assassination, Caesar would have the Senate meet him before his temple, an act deemed very unpopular by the Senate. The Forum of Caesar also had an effect on the Curia, which Caesar began to reconstruct in 44 BC. This reconstruction moved the Forum of Caesar much closer to the Curia. The ten tabernae located on the western side of the Forum and its now close approximation to the Senate house symbolized the unity that Caesar felt between himself and the Senate.

Caesar also placed a statue of his favourite horse in front of the temple. Following his assassination, a statue of Caesar riding this horse was added. The Temple of Venus Genetrix was completed after Caesar's assassination by Roman senators, which included lavish games in reference to Caesar's original dedication to the Forum. Caesar had plans for this temple well in advance, having dedicated the construction of a temple to Venus Victrix at the climactic Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, though never being able to see its completion. This original dedication was done because it was Pompey's favourite goddess, and Caesar hoped to gain the goddess's favour before the battle against Pompey.

The temple was re-built after the removal of the gap between the Capitoline Hill and the Quirinal Hill, under the reigns of Domitian and Trajan during the adaptation of the gap, a second floor of tabernae was created behind the west portico of the square and a building with pillars made of tuff blocks, named Basilica Argentaria, was erected. The new temple was inaugurated in the same day as the Trajan's Column, on May 12, 113.

Following the reigns of Caesar and Augustus, a total reconstruction of the Forum took place, headed by the Roman Emperor Domitian. Why this reconstruction occurred is not exactly known. Under the reign of Titus, a massive fire ravaged the city in AD 80, including the Forum Romanum. The Forum of Caesar was not rebuilt until AD 95, however, indicating that perhaps Domitian had a personal interest in the reconstruction. This could be seen in the separation of the Curia from the Forum, symbolizing a reversal of Caesar's wish to have the Senate closely connected with him. Not much senatorial business took place in the Forum afterwards, except for the secretarium senatus in the 4th century.

Forum Romanum - History

Reference Maps on Gaius Julius Caesar, who lived 100-44 BC

Map Description
Historical Plan of the Roman Forum and its Vicinity at the Time of the Republic (A) and
Plan of the Imperial Forums and their Vicinity (B).

Republican Forum
Plan of the Roman Forum and its vicinity at the time of the Republic
1 Temple of Concord
2 Scalae Gemoniae
3 Prison (Tullianum)
4 Senaculum
5 Graecostasis
6 Rostra
7 Temple of Janus
8 Lapis Niger (Grave of Romulus?)
9 Temple of Venus Cloacina
10 Temple of Saturn, Aerarium (State Treasury)

Imperial Forums
Plan of the Imperial Forums and their vicinity.
1 Temple of Concord
2 Scalae Gemoniae
3 Prison
4 Temple of Vespasian
5 Portico of the Dei Consentes
6 Golden Milestone
7 Umbilicus
8 Rostra
9 Arch of Tiberius
10 Arch of Sept. Severus
11 Temple of Venus Genetrix
12 Equestrian Statue of Caesar
13 Equestrian Statue of Constantine
14 Temple of Castor and Pollux
15 Temple of Divus Julius, Rostra Julia
16 Arch of Augustus
17 Temple of Vesta
18 Regia
19 Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
20 Temple of Divus Romulus

University of Texas at Austin. Historical Atlas by William Shepherd (1923-26).

Interesting facts about the Roman Forum

The Roman Forum is a rectangular forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome.

It is located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills.

Its size was 250 by 170 meters (820 by 560 feet).

Under the empire, when it primarily became a center for religious and secular spectacles and ceremonies, it was the site of many of the city’s most imposing temples and monuments.

The Roman Senate was also housed in a building in the Roman Forum.

It was for centuries the center of Roman public life: the site of triumphal processions and elections the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches and the nucleus of commercial affairs.

The teeming heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history.

The original, low-lying, grassy wetland of the Forum was drained in the 7th century BC with the building of the Cloaca Maxima, a large covered sewer system that emptied into the Tiber, as more people began to settle between the two hills.

The Roman kingdom’s earliest shrines and temples were located on the southeastern edge. These included the ancient former royal residence, the Regia (8th century BC), and the Temple of Vesta (7th century BC), as well as the surrounding complex of the Vestal Virgins, all of which were rebuilt after the rise of imperial Rome.

Forum developed gradually, organically, and piecemeal over many centuries. This is the case despite attempts, with some success, to impose some order there, by Sulla, Julius Caesar, Augustus and others.

By the Imperial period, the large public buildings that crowded around the central square had reduced the open area to a rectangle of about 130 by 50 metres (426 by 164 feet).

Eventually much economic and judicial business would transfer away from the Roman Forum to the larger and more extravagant structures (Trajan’s Forum and the Basilica Ulpia) to the north. The reign of Constantine the Great saw the construction of the last major expansion of the Forum complex—the Basilica of Maxentius (312 AD). This returned the political center to the Forum until the fall of the Western Roman Empire almost two centuries later.

An anonymous 8th-century traveller from Einsiedeln (now in Switzerland) reported that the Forum was already falling apart in his time.

After the 8th century the structures of the Forum were dismantled, re-arranged and used to build feudal towers and castles within the local area. In the 13th century these rearranged structures were torn down and the site became a dumping ground.

During the Middle Ages, though the memory of the Forum Romanum persisted, its monuments were for the most part buried under debris, and its location was designated the “Campo Vaccino” or “cattle field.”

The excavation by Carlo Fea, who began clearing the debris from the Arch of Septimius Severus in 1803, and archaeologists under the Napoleonic regime marked the beginning of clearing the Forum, which was only fully excavated in the early 20th century.

Remains from several centuries are shown together, due to the Roman practice of building over earlier ruins.

Among the structures surviving in whole or in part are the Temple of Castor and Pollux (484 BC), the Temple of the Deified Caesar (29 BC), the Mamertine Prison, the Curia (senate house) (44 BC), the Temple of Saturn (497 BC), the Temple of Vesta (3rd century BC), the Temple of Romulus (307 AD), the Arch of Titus (82 AD), the Arch of Septimius Severus (203 AD), and the Cloaca Maxima (600 BC).

The Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaeological excavations attracting 4.5 million sightseers yearly.

Today, archeological excavations continue along with constant restoration and preservation.

While the Roman Forum was the main forum of Rome, there were several other forums located throughout the city.

It is likely that there was some Greek influence on the concept of a public gathering place for the Romans. In fact, a Roman forum often included certain physical aspects of a Greek agora, such as the use of porticoes.

The Latin name for the Roman Forum is Forum Romanum.

The Roman Forum has been a source of inspiration for visual artists for centuries.

Views of past and present: the Forum Romanum and archaeological context

Views of Rome have long fired human imagination, eliciting reactions that lead to contemplation and argue for conservation.

Apollodorus of Damascus, Basilica Ulpia, dedicated 112 C.E., Rome

Views of Rome

The Roman emperor Constantius II (the second son of Constantine the Great) visited Rome for the only time in his life in the year 357 C.E. His visit to the city included a tour of the usual monuments and sites, but the majesty of the Basilica Ulpia still standing in the forum built by the emperor Trajan arrested his attention, causing him to declare that the monument was so grand that it would be impossible to imitate it (Ammianus Marcellinus Rerum Gestarum 16.15). From a certain point of view, any visitor to Rome can share the experience and reaction of Constantius II.

Reconstruction of the Basilica Ulpia, Julien Guadet, “Memoire de la restauration du Forum de. Trajan,” manuscript No. 207 dated 1867, Ecole des Beaux-Arts,. Paris 21-23

The city’s monuments (and their ruins) are cues for memory, discourse, and discovery. Their rediscovery and subsequent interpretation in modern times play a key role in our understanding of the past and influence the role that the past plays in the present. For these reasons, among others, it is crucial that we think critically about fragmented past landscapes and that any reading of fragments is contextualized, nuanced, and transparent in its motives. The physical presence of fragments raises the question of whether or not the past is knowable. Tangible ruins and artifacts suggest that it is, but whose story are we telling when we analyze and interpret these remains? If we consider a quintessentially famous and evocative archaeological landscape like the Forum Romanum (Roman Forum) in Rome we have an opportunity to examine a fragmented past landscape and also to explore the question of what role archaeology plays in understanding and interpreting the past.

Detail, Giovanni Paolo Panini, The Archaeologist, 1749, oil on canvas, 123 x 91 cm (National Academy of San Luca, Rome)

From heart of empire to pasturage for cows

The story of the Forum as an important node of cultural significance was central to ancient Roman ideation about their city and even themselves. Romans could define themselves in relation to the places where they believed key past events had occurred. The fact that this tradition provided the backdrop for the Forum’s activities works to heighten the efficacy and the value of constructing collective identity and memory. In ways both practical and symbolic the cramped space sandwiched between the Capitoline and Palatine hills was the heart of the Roman populace.

View of the Roman Forum, with the Arch of Septimius Severus, left, and the Column of Phocas at center (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The Forum witnessed many of the city’s key events. It began as a central point of convergence in the landscape for sacred and civic business and, over time, became a sort of monumentalized and petrified museum of the offices of state and the promotion of state ideology. With the decline of the western Roman empire in the 3rd and 4th centuries C.E., the relevance and importance of the forum square receded. Its structures fell into disuse, were stripped of usable building materials, and repurposed for other uses.

The last purposefully erected monument of the forum is the so-called Column of Phocas, a cannibalized column (it was originally made for another monument). It was erected on August 1st of 608 C.E. in honor of the Eastern Roman Emperor Phocas. Its inscription (CIL VI, 01200) speaks of eternal glory and lasting recognition for the emperor (a statement on monumentality that had long echoed in Latin literature, for instance, Horace Odes 3.30). It is not insignificant that in a much diminished city of Rome it was nonetheless worthwhile to create a new monument (even if using repurposed materials) in the once thriving sacred and civic center of the city.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Modern Rome—Campo Vaccino, 1839, oil on canvas, 91.8 x 122.6 cm (The J. Paul Getty Museum)

A ninth century guide for Christian pilgrims in Rome (known as the Einsiedeln Itinerary) notes that the forum had decayed from its former glory. It is likely that, as a landscape of disuse and re-use, the forum had by that time morphed into a form that perhaps would be scarcely recognizable today. The central square came to be used as grazing land, earning it the nickname “Campo Vaccino” or “cow field” by the Middle Ages.

This broken landscape of abandoned and discarded structures and monuments evoked the past and provoked the fancy and imaginations of viewers. It appealed particularly to artists who were keen to craft a romantic vision of the broken pieces of the past set amid the contemporary world. This romantic movement produced a genre of art in various media in the eighteenth century that is often referred to as vedute or “views”.

Giovanni Paolo Panini, Modern Rome, 1757, oil on canvas, 172.1 x 233 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Painters the likes of Giovanni Paolo Panini produced vedute of ancient and contemporary Rome alike, often enlivening his canvases with contemporary human figures and their activities. In these “views” one can appreciate the creation of an assemblage, one that juxtaposes ancient elements with contemporary elements and human figures. The work of Panini and his contemporaries creates a romantic view of the past without being concerned overly with objectivity.

In the same century the artist and engraver Giovanni Battista Piranesi was also active. Piranesi’s approach to the ruins of Rome alters the course of the field, not only in terms of artistic representation but also in terms of how we approach the ruins of past civilizations. One part of his oeuvre focuses on renderings of the ruins of Rome set amidst contemporary activity. The fragments of the past are very much the focus—their massive and monumental scale cannot help but capture the viewer’s attention. Despite the expert draughting of Piranesi, the ruins—being incomplete—remain a topic worthy of inquiry, as something of them is unknown.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Vaccino, from the capitol, with the Arch of Septimus Severus in the foreground left, Temple of Vespasian right, and the Colosseum in the distance (Veduta di Campo Vaccino), c. 1775, etching (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The work of Panini, Piranesi, and others in the eighteenth century shows us that views of Rome are not just flights of fancy or imagination, but rather they are connected to memory. Piranesi was influenced in his early years by mentors interested in the revival of the ancient city as well as by others (namely Giambattista Nolli), who aimed to record the ancient remains in fine-grained detail. Piranesi, then, brings an expertise born from the school of the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio that is combined with an enthusiasm for Rome as the locus classicus of “old meets new.” The curation of views of the ancient remains not only reinforced shared memories of a past time but, also reinforced memory in contemporary terms.

Depicting ruins as fragile yet once powerful monuments might suggest that lessons derived from the past might help one to avoid the collapse and decay that is of course inevitable. These depictions of Rome’s past, encoded with memory, are important to the artistic culture of the eighteenth century and foreshadow what the nineteenth century will bring.

A disciplinary revolution

The nineteenth century witnesses a number of changes that in some cases move the conversation away from subjective romanticism and toward a more methodological approach to science and natural science. The discipline of archaeology emerges from this movement and, as with any new undertaking, the discipline needed to sort itself out in order to embrace a set of practices and norms. Antiquarians abounded but archaeologists were relatively new, even though early pioneers like Flavio Biondo (15th century) likely numbers among the first archaeologists.

The nineteenth century was a momentous time for archaeology at Rome. The archaeologist Carlo Fea began an excavation in the Roman Forum to clear the area around the third century C.E. triumphal arch of the emperor Septimius Severus. Fea’s work ushers in a new era of what would become archaeological practice in the valley of the forum, as well as at other sites of the ancient city. Interest grew in decluttering or isolating the ancient moments. As the methods of archaeology developed, more scientific rigor could be observed.

Detail, Rudolfo Lanciani, Sheet 29: Forma Urbis Romae, 1901 (1990 reprint)

The Roman topographer Rodolfo Lanciani was a disciplined and active excavator at Rome. His magnum opus was the Forma Urbis Romae (1893–1901), a map at a scale of 1:1000 of the city of Rome, noting both ancient and modern features. It evoked earlier maps of Rome (for example the 1748 map produced by G. Nolli), but also reached back to the Severan marble plan of the third century C.E. in representing in detail the city and its monuments. One might see Lanciani’s Forma Urbis as a development that grew from the same tradition in which artists like Panini and Piranesi had worked—one could appreciate views of Rome, and, in so doing, gain a command of the sites and the memories linked to them.

Giacomo Boni in the Roman Forum in front of the Arch of Titus, Rome, Italy, from L’Illustrazione Italiana, Year XXXIV, No 7, February 17, 1907

At the turn of the twentieth century the excavations of Giacomo Boni in the Roman Forum were transformational, not only because they represented an enormous methodological advance for the time but also because they set the tone for archaeology in the forum thereafter. Boni’s stratigraphic excavations sampled previously unexplored layers of the city’s past and exposed the Roman Forum not just as a cow pasture with a few random columns protruding from the ground but as a complex cultural and chronological laboratory.

Some of the trends established in Boni’s time continued in the period of Italian Fascism (1922–1943) when archaeology showed a clear bias for the late Roman republican period and the principate of the emperor Augustus (31 B.C.E–14 C.E.). It was hoped that these earlier periods of perceived cultural, legal, and moral greatness would be examples that a modern Italian state could emulate. For this reason those archaeological strata were privileged, while others that were deemed unworthy were haphazardly destroyed in order to reach the preferred time period. In many ways these disciplinary choices were unfortunate and they do not find a place in twenty-first century archaeological practice. Nonetheless they shaped the landscape of the Forum valley that confronts us still day—one that is incomplete, at times chronologically incongruous, and evocative of an obviously complex past.

Contextual landscapes and fragments

Today the Roman Forum is part of a protected archaeological park that includes the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum. It is a site of significant popular interest and is visited by millions of tourists annually (7.6 million in 2018). It is also the site of ongoing archaeological research and conservation. The Forum is a challenging site to understand, both in terms of its chronological breadth and in terms of the processes of its formation (including archaeological excavation) that have shaped it.

The Forum should make us think about the goals of archaeology and the importance of archaeological context. One of the alluring things about the Forum is that it is fragmentary and incomplete. Latin authors were wont to mock the futile vanity of the potentates who sought to achieve immortality through the construction of monuments since those same monuments would inevitably decay. Their critique touches on a point that is central to a consideration of a fragmentary landscape like the Roman Forum, namely that the development of the space over time represents not just multiple time periods and historical actors but also multiple conversations between the space and the viewer.

Model of ancient Rome in 1:250 by Italo Gismondi

The discipline of archaeology, in some respects, seeks to reassemble the past and it can only do this via contextual information. This means that the archaeological record needs to be preserved to the extent possible and then be interpreted in a rigorous and objective fashion. The impetus to reassemble what is broken informs our practice in many ways. It certainly influenced Lanciani’s plan of the city of Rome and Italo Gismondi’s model of the same. Scholars in the later twentieth and twenty-first centuries have similar motives, whether architect’s reconstruction drawings (see Gorski and Packer 2015), or a new archaeological atlas of the city inspired by Lanciani (see Carandini et al. 2012) or even 3D virtual renderings as in the case of the “Rome Reborn” project.

Our conversation with the Forum Romanum continues. In early 2020 there was a great deal of excitement about a re-discovery in the area of Giacomo Boni’s early twentieth century excavations. The site, perhaps connected with the cult of Rome’s traditional founder Romulus, provided an opportunity for a conversation that was both new and old at the same time.

Our views of the fragmented landscapes of the past are vital to our understanding not only of the humans who went before us but also, importantly, ourselves.

Additional Resources

ANSA news agency. “Hypogeum with sarcophagus found in Forum. Near Curia, dates back to sixth century BC.” February 19, 2020.

Ferdinando Arisi, Gian Paolo Panini e i fasti della Roma del ’700 (Rome, 1986).

J. A. Becker, “Giacomo Boni,” in Springer Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, edited by Claire Smith (Berlin, Springer, 2014). DOI:

Mario Bevilacqua, Heather Hyde Minor, and Fabio Barry (eds.), The serpent and the stylus: essays on G.B. Piranesi, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome,
Supplementary volume 4, (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Published for the American Academy in Rome by the University of Michigan Press, 2007).

Mario Bevilacqua, “The Young Piranesi: the Itineraries of his Formation,” in Mario Bevilacqua, Heather Hyde Minor, and Fabio Barry (eds.), The serpent and the stylus: essays on G.B. Piranesi, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, Supplementary volume 4, (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Published for the American Academy in Rome by the University of Michigan Press, 2007) pp. 13-53.

R. J. B. Bosworth, Whispering City: Rome and Its Histories (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011).

Alessandra Capodiferro and Patrizia Fortini (eds.), Gli scavi di Giacomo Boni al foro Romano, Documenti dall’Archivio Disegni della Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma I.1 (Planimetrie del Foro Romano, Gallerie Cesaree, Comizio, Niger Lapis, Pozzi repubblicani e medievali). (Documenti dall’archivio disegni della Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma 1). (Rome: Fondazione G. Boni-Flora Palatina, 2003).

Andrea Carandini et al. Atlante di Roma Antica 2 v. (Milan: Electa, 2012).

Filippo Coarelli, Il foro romano 3 v. (Rome: Edizioni Quasar, 1983-2020).

Catherine Edwards and Greg Woolf (eds.) Rome the Cosmopolis (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Don Fowler, “The ruin of time: monuments and survival at Rome,” in Roman constructions: readings in postmodern Latin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) pp. 193-217.

Gilbert J. Gorski and James Packer, The Roman Forum: a Reconstruction and Architectural Guide (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Rodolfo Lanciani, Forma Urbis Rome reprint ed. (Rome: Edizioni Quasar, 1990).

Samuel Ball Platner and Thomas Ashby, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929). Preface

Ronald T. Ridley, The Pope’s Archaeologist: the Life and Times of Carlo Fea (Rome: Quasar, 2000).

Luke Roman, “Martial and the City of Rome,” Journal of Roman Studies 100 (2010), pp. 88-117.

The guide for Forum Romanum uses a GPS powered map, that will give you an overview of the site. Also if you allow GPS tracking, then the guide will show your position in the Forum.

32 of the excavated buildings at Forum Romanum are described in detail in the guide. The descriptions of the buildings are given in text, pictures from present day, 3D models of the buildings as they used to look, and markings of the specific building on a map. The map also shows your position in the building.

The Forum: Excavation history & open questions

The first systematic excavations in Ostia took place under the aegis of Pius VII in 1802 (Marini 2000, 61-109).

The first excavations were located around the Capitolium, as the uppermost part of its walls “had for centuries been the grave markers of a buried society, propped up above the silt and soil that had accumulated over the remains of the Roman town.” (Boin 2009, 30). Under the direction of Giuseppe Petrini, the Capitolium appeared from the accumulated earth (Fea 1802, 6.).

During the period from 1824 to 1834 a number of unsystematic excavations occurred. The excavators focused solely on areas most likely to bring out inscriptions and sculptures thus paying no attention to architecture (Meiggs 1973, 106). Following these phases of excavations, completed areas were backfilled after the items were removed. This can be seen from excavations in 1922, where Raffaele Finelli recognised an area north of the Roma and Augustus temple as being backfill (Giornale degli Scavi 18, 1922, 117).

In the second half of the 19th century, Rodolfo Lanciani organised campaigns east of the Capitolium, thus excavated the area between the Capitolium and the theatre, and stitched together the first urban image of Ostia (Lanciani 1888).

Early 20th century research and excavation: Ostia’s first director Dante Vaglieri

The most significant change within Ostian research occurred in the first half of the 20th century. The excavations conducted in the 19th century searching for precious items preserved the still in situ pavement. When Dante Vaglieri, Ostias first official excavation director from 1907-13, conducted excavations in the northern part of the Forum, it provided Ostian research with a more systematic approach.

Deep trenches in 1912 and from 1921-4 conducted in the search of the Republican Ostia caused the removal of a big part of the late antique pavement (see picture to the right Vaglieri 1912, 273-276 1913, 299 Calza et al. 1953, pl. 2 Gering 2011, 458).

Changes in excavation policy during the fascist regime

Notwithstanding new advances in Ostian archaeology, such as stratigraphic excavations, photography, and field recording, no comprehensive publication occurred concerning the Roma and Augustus temple. A brief identification followed by epigraphic and sculptural remains, its phases, and a drawn plan by Italo Gismondi appeared in the Scavi di Ostia (Calza et al. 1953, 115-122). With Guido Calzas discovery of the Roma and Augustus temple, the southern part of the Forum was almost completely excavated (Calza et al. 1953, 34-38). The discovery of “aedes Romae et Augusti” ensued the rise of fascism in 1921. The context of the newly excavated Roma and Augustus temple ensured a perfect symbol of Rome’s glorious past. Two decades earlier the inauguration of a railway between Rome and its ancient harbour city made the connection between the two cities easier. This made the restoration and presentation of Ostia to an eager public a first priority (Calandra 2000, 439-440).

The excavation of the Tempio Rotondo area during the late 1920’s was only photographically documented. The only publication so far comes from an english archaeologist visiting the site (Briggs 1930).

In 1938, Italy’s fascist regime decided that the ancient city was to be completely excavated and prepared for display during the World Exhibition 1942 in Rome (Meiggs 1973, 109-110). In continuation to Calza’s former excavation works, the detailed documentation of finds and stratigraphy played only a minor role. A good example of how finds were manipulated is the completely modern statuebase built in the centre of the Forum apse (see picture to the right): neither the statue was found here, nor its base constructed with ancient bricks is in situ.

An ongoing discussion: Ostia’s role and meaning in Late Antiquity

Until recently, Late Antiquity was a small part of Ostian archaeology. The excavators in the period after World War I presented a decadent picture of late antique Ostia (Gering 2011, 409). Firstly, this statement was derived from their ideals and own set of assumptions about Roman history, namely the glorified period of the republican and imperial Rome (Boin 2009, 5 Meiggs 1973, 110). Secondly, their comprehension of an economic and cultural downfall in Late Antiquity. These set of assumptions led to few late antique attestations in the archaeology and to the idea of an entirely simple and shallow late antique renovation of the city. These conclusions are far from impartial. They were controlled by a vigorous practise of excavation, which led to a negligence of the late antique layers. Further, this led to an absence of stratigraphic observations and descriptions. The stratigraphy of recycling-processes in the early middle ages was often misunderstood by the excavators as indications of a final collapse already in the third and fourth centuries (Gering 2011, 409). The historiographical record has since obscured a clearer picture of Ostia in Late Antiquity (Boin 2009, 2).

Notwithstanding the most recent research, which has multiplied the archaeological attestations from the fourth and fifth centuries, the perception that Ostia had lost its significance during the third century remains constant. The late antique prosperity of Ostian culture is seen as a short phenomenon of renaissance, or is used as a phenomenon concerning the elites retreat to the town houses.

‘The lost evidence’

An assortment of public buildings situated in the centre of Ostia originates from the imperial “boom” in the first two centuries. However, the diary of Finelli provides us with evidence of the late antique stratigraphy. His observations during the excavations in the 1920’s are vital for the understanding of the layout of the late antique pavement around the Forum. According to his journals, the late antique pavement lay 50-75 cm above present level (Gering 2011, 458), but in the published documentations Calza refused the existence of a late antique pavement, or any pavement at all with following words: “della pavimentazione del Foro non esiste traccia” (Calza 1928, 160) even though photographs proved the opposite (Calza 1928, fig. 55). Recent excavations showed that a big part of the marble pavements and facades as well as representative buildings and monumental plazas originated from the late antique period.

In spite of the problematic history of excavations a whole period of late antique architecture and urbanization emerges which is not comparable in other cities (Gering 2011, 411).

Restoration as a problem for modern archaeology

Another problem encountered by archaeologists today is the circumstances that the old excavators restored a relative great quantity of pavement and architecture. At Foro della Statua Eroica (FSE), the Kent Berlin Ostia excavations (KBO/BKO) encountered some problems regarding the differentiation of ancient pavement and modern repairs, due to the use of ancient material in the modern conservation efforts. Archaeologists had to analyse context and building circumstances of the slabs individually (Gering 2011, 431-435). During the old excavations, modern reconstruction work was done throughout the Forum and its surroundings, thus devising a presentable pavement and architecture. A good example of this reconstruction practice is seen at the Decumanus in front of FSE. In 1912-1913 under the direction of Vaglieri different architectural fragments appeared in the bedding of the Decumanus (Vaglieri 1913, 299-303). The largest of these fragments were placed on top of modern brick piers in order to provide an image of imperial Ostia. The smaller fragments were stored (Gering 2011, 419-420). Vaglieri also conducted the excavation of the north-eastern portico Main Forum East (MFE) in front of Main Forum Rooms (MFR) and parts of MFR itself with an agenda to uncover the republican phase. This caused the removal of late antique pavements, which Vaglieri characterized as being of a short transition (Vaglieri 1914, 93).

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