A Short Biography of the Roman Forum from Tarquin to Tourists

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The Forum Romanum, the Roman name for what we usually call the Roman Forum, was the center of the Roman Empire’s power. The Forum came into existence at a crossing of two important roads. One ran parallel to the Tiber River, the other perpendicular. From the beginning, the Forum was required to satisfy two fundamental needs: the need for people to meet, and the need of them to exchange goods. The many separate communities of the Italian peninsula where first united by the Etruscans in the seventh century B.C. Traditionally, these Etruscans always used a central square for business matters. Tarquinius Priscus, the first Etruscan king, reclaimed the swampy valleys in the area that were being used as cemeteries, and started to pave them. They would later grow into a center for social life.

In the early stages of its life, the Forum was mainly for business. Multitudinous shops called tabernae could be found there. The Forum also had religious and political functions. Already at an early stage the Comitium (paved area in front of the senate building) and the temple of Vesta arose. New temples were built by the Roman Republic, like the temple of Saturn and the temple of Castor and Pollux. In the third century B.C., the time of the Punic wars, Roman power in the Mediterranean increased. This striving for power led to new building projects and styles at the Forum in which Rome tried to display its power. In this time Rome started to turn the Forum into a monument.

During the period of 100 B.C. to 100 A.D., the Forum underwent some sweeping transformations, primarily caused by the downfall of the republic. Its importance as a commercial center declined, and it was used more as political and administrative hub. However, government issues were no longer public affairs, but rather controlled solely by the emperor. The Senate lost most of the power it used to possess, and The Comitium became unnecessary. Furthermore, the Forum was not a meeting place for commoners anymore. It was seen as an area reserved for the inner circle, and was controlled by the upper elite. This was largely started by the belief that the emperor possessed some sort of divine status.

In the two following centuries the Forum was still enriched with the temple of Antoninus and Faustina and the temple of Romulus, the arch of Septimius Severus and the basilica of Maxentius. With the splitting up of the Roman Empire into an eastern- and a western part in 395 A.D., the power of Rome declined considerably and with it the significance of the Roman Forum. Constantinople become the new ‘center of the world.’ The Forum started to disintegrate because of its lower status.

The Forum was turned into a quarry to supply marble to support the new building projects. Criminals stole many of the bronze statues. Some buildings were given an overhaul and converted into Christian churches. The stealing of statues and exploitation of marble went on in the Renaissance. Officially, the Vatican supervised the ruins of the Roman Forum, but permission for occasional demolitions was easy to get. Gradually, the neglect and disrespect allowed the Forum to be covered by a field of grass. In the Middle Ages it was called ‘il Campo Vaccino’, which is Italian for ‘cow field’.

Even though it is now merely a tourist attraction, the Roman Forum used to be the center of the world, where great senators, merchants, and peasants all met in one area.

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A Short Biography of the Roman Forum from Tarquin to Tourists. (2023, May 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/a-short-biography-of-the-roman-forum-from-tarquin-to-tourists/

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