In this lesson, you will explore the design and function of one of the most important areas of Rome, the Forum. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.
The Heart of Rome
Every major city has that one central area that is the center of urban life. Even if you don't personally go there often, you know where it is and why it matters to your city. In Mexico City, it's the Zócalo. In New York City, Times Square. In ancient Rome, the center of the daily life, city government, and the empire itself was the Forum. In this central plaza, emperors and peasants alike gathered to worship, shop, gossip, and mingle. To be Roman was to be in the Forum.
Layout of the Forum
Map of the Roman Forum
At first glance, the Forum of Rome is somewhat…disorganized. This area is as old as the city itself, and rather than developing on a central plan, it sort of grew as the city grew, with new buildings being added here and there. In Rome itself, the Forum is located between the Capitoline Hill and Velian Hill, both of which held important government and religious buildings that open into the Forum. Each end of the Forum has a large basilica, or public building. There were several basilicas in the Forum, the oldest being built in 184 BCE, which indicates what an important meeting place this was for Roman citizens.
Besides the large basilicas and other public meeting areas like plazas and courtyards, the Forum is notable for its temples to the Roman gods. There were numerous temples that once stood in the Forum. At these locations, priests, peasants, and politicians could be found praying or making offerings.
Function of the Forum
The Forum is as old as Rome itself, and its purpose dates back to the founding of the city. According to legend, the founder of Rome, Romulus, controlled one of the city's hills, but a rival controlled the other. The Forum was created to symbolize an alliance between the two rivals as a place for citizens to mingle together as one people.
Throughout the Roman Kingdom, shrines and temples were built in the Forum. As people became dissatisfied with the king, the Forum is where the Senate first met and in fact this is where the Republic system of government was created. The Senate building, government offices, and courts were soon added to the Forum, symbolizing the importance of the people in this style of government. Throughout the Roman Republic and Empire, the Forum was a place of meeting, business, worship, politics, and social interaction.
The Roman Forum did have a special meaning for Roman generals and, after the rise of Julius Caesar, the emperors. If you've ever heard the phrase 'all roads lead to Rome,' well, technically all roads lead to the Roman Forum. The most important roads of Rome lead into the Forum; these are the roads that the emperor and army would use to leave and return into the city. This made the Forum very important, and an imperial campaign wasn't considered complete until the emperor has marched back down those streets.
See all those large arches in the Forum? Those are triumphal arches. When the emperor marched his army underneath the arch, it signified his official return to Rome as a conqueror. So, if the Forum wasn't full of religious processions to a temple, or parades hosted by the Senate, then it could be occupied by one of these massive spectacles as the emperor marched his victorious army through the streets. There was always something happening at the Forum.
The Roman Forum was a large public meeting space in Rome. From the foundation of Rome all the way through the Imperial era, the Forum was the center of daily life, a place for business, meetings, politics, religious worship, and social interaction. It is not well-organized, being developed a piece at a time over hundreds of years, but contains several notable features, including public buildings called basilicas, temples to the gods, and government buildings.
The roads leading into the Forum were also the most important roads in Rome, and a victorious army was not recognized as having won their war until marching into the forum under a triumphal arch. It would not be an overstatement to say that the Forum was Rome, everything the city represented. Just think Times Square, but with less neon lights and more togas. That was the Forum.
Once you are finished, you should be able to:
- Recall the importance of the Forum for Romans
- Describe the layout and location of the Forum
- Explain the significance of the Forum for Roman leaders and politics