The Forum was the ” place out of doors ” (and that is what the word forum means) of which the Romans were most proud. It was an open, oblong space through which passed several narrow streets, and round which were many of the principal buildings of the city. It was used for many purposes: as a marketplace, where all kinds of things were bought and sold, from a sack of meal to a necklace of finest gold ; as a court of law, where men were tried and judged, from the pickpocket to the traitor of his country; as a meeting place, where friends came together, both the common citizens and the men of high degree ; and as a place of entertainment, where the people amused themselves with games and where feasts were given in honor of great events, such as the birthday of an emperor or the triumph of a victorious general.
The Forum contained a greater number of beautiful buildings and monuments than any other place of its size and kind in all the world, for although it was not much wider or longer than one of our city blocks, there were on the Forum the senate house, the prison, the tabularium, or record building, and the rostra, or platform from which orators spoke ; also several temples and basilicas, or law courts, and statues and triumphal arches and columns raised in honor of famous men or of great national events. The Forum was the center of the city of Rome, as the city was the center of the nation.
In the days of Augustus Caesar a magnificent monument was placed in the center of the Forum ; it was a column of bronze covered with gold, set on a base of beautifully carved marble, and it was called the Golden Milestone. On it, by order of Augustus, were marked the names and the distances of the chief towns on all the highways that led from the thirty-seven gates of Rome. So the Golden Milestone told of the greatness of the Romans, the most famous of all the road builders of the world, who by these wonderful highways bound each town to Rome itself and made the center of the nation mighty.
Abridged from ” Stories in Stone from the Roman Forum ”
tabularium (tab u la’ri urn). rostra (ros’tra) : Latin for ” the beaks,” so called from the beaks of captured war vessels with which the platform was adorned. basilicas (ba sil’i kaz) : oblong buildings having a broad main portion flanked with colonnaded aisles, or porticoes, used for the sittings of tribunals, or courts.