Rome – Forum and Capitol from near the Basilica of Constantine

There in the distance to the left, surmounted by a square tower, is the Capitol, from which we have been looking. Down in front of it are the columns of the Temples of Saturn and of Vespasian, and the Arch of Septimius Severus, all of which were just at our feet when we were looking in this direction. In fact, we were looking from one of those windows, seen over the column of the Saturn Temple, in the second row from the roof. Only the three upper stories belong to the later portion of the building; all we see below are the remains of the ancient Tabularium, dating from the times of the Republic.

As we shall explain more fully later, there were in olden times three structures built practically against the Tabularium. The center structure was the Temple of Vespasian, three of whose columns are still standing. To the right or north was the Temple of Con-cord, and to the left or south was the Portico of the Twelve Gods. The row of low columns belonging to this latter structure is seen in the shadow beneath the left or southern end of the Capitol. The outlines of those three buildings are clearly given on the map, the last one being called the Porticus Deorum Consentium.

Now we will return to our first position in the Capitol window, and, after stopping for a while to call up the past in outline, we will consider the ruins more fully.

Return to Position 26. Temple of Vespasian and Arch of Septimius Severus-east from the Capitol

Men have met down in this small space for so many centuries, and so many groups of buildings have been erected here in succession, that it is wise for us to take this opportunity, first of all, to glance over the past briefly but completely, from the earliest times to the present day. We shall be able to get the history of the Forum in mind more clearly if we divide it ac-cording to the five great periods of which we have often spoken : the period of the Kings, the Republic,

the Empire and the later periods of the Papacy and United Italy.

In the very beginning of Rome the various tribes that settled on the different hills this side of the Tiber came to this low piece of ground below us for the purpose of trade. A little beyond that pillared front of the church of S. Lorenzo, the temple of Antoninus and Faustina (at the right, straight ahead) they had a cemetery. Remains of the seventh or eighth century B. C. were recently found there. Only a few small huts, built similar to Indian wigwams, were ranged around the early market-place. The legend has it that Romulus, after fighting with the Sabines, because of his successful attempt to kidnap their women, came here to make peace and an alliance with the Sabine King Tatius. Though it was only a low grassy spot subject to overflow, it received the name of Comitium from the verb coire, to assemble. The first Senate House was a hut with a thatched roof, standing out there beyond the Arch of Severus. Tullus Homtilius, the third king, built the first stone inclosure for the meeting of the Senators. This was the Curia Hostilia, named after its builder. Ancus Martius founded the first state prison, the famous Tullianium of later times, in some quarries to the left of the Arch of Severus. The succeeding kings, the Tarquins, began the great Cloaca Maxima to drain the land, and gave more or less regular limits to the Forum, and sold the land around it for building lots. The shops and stores built thereon were intended to be lined with porticoes in front. No stately temples stood here in those days. The shops were of the most ordinary kind, butcher stalls, fish markets and the like. It was in one of the butcher shops, you will remember, that Virginius seized the knife to kill his daughter. Schools of the most primitive kinds were also located in these buildings.

But as the importance of the place increased, the rude pioneer tradesmen were supplanted by those of a higher order, goldsmiths, silversmiths and money changers. It was because of this class that the name of “tabernae argentariae ” came to be applied in a general way to all the shops, but .particularly to those standing on the north side facing toward us. There were special names applied to the rows of shops on both of the long sides of the Forum. Those on the south, or shady side, were called ” tabernae veteres” or ” septem tabernae,” and those on the north, or sunny side, were called ” tabernae novae” or “argentariae.” In a general way this was the aspect here in the time of the Kings.

During the period of the Republic (509–31 B. C., 478 years) great changes took place. We shall be able to speak of only a few of the remarkable building operations by which this place was transformed into a place of great architectural beauty as in the days of Augustus. Some of the earliest structures erected here during that period were the Temple of Saturn (in 497 B. C.), the Temple of Concord (in 367 B. C.), and the Rostra (between 449 and 438 B. C.). We can easily understand how a Forum that was adequate in the time of the Kings would become, in the great extension of the Re-public, entirely too small. What space there was, moreover, had been obstructed by a great many statues, tribunes and altars. This led Scipio and M. Popilius, censors, to give an order in 159 B. C., for the removal of all statues of magimtrates, unless the senate had decreed their erection. After this order was carried into effect, we are told there were still scores of statues left. Other hindrances to business were the crowds of unemployed, such as the cheap lawyers watching for victims.

Beginning with 184 B. C. the old shops began to give way to the more pretentious buildings, basilicas or courthouses.

The first was built in this year by M. Porcius Cato, the elder, down there on the north side of the Forum and to the left of the Curia, beyond the range of our vision. It was called the Basilica Porcia. Then came the Basilica Fulvia or Fulvia Aemilia, built by M. Fulvius Nobilior, on the north side of the Forum, east of the Curia, i. e. in the space which we see excavated straight ahead, at the foot of those modern houses. The Basilica Sempronia was erected in 169 B. C. on the site of some of the shops standing on the south side of the Forum. All the buildings had spacious porticoes, which were always open. But even after these finer structures were put up, the dealers continued to sell fish and meat within the porticoes. A reform was begun in the second century by the construction of fish markets north of the Curia, where this business was henceforth carried on by itself. In 54 B. C. the greatest era of transformation began. L. Aemilius Paullus bought up land on that north side of the Forum and built, on this new property and on the site of the old Basilica Fulvia Aemilia, his magnificent Basilica Aemilia Paulli, at a cost of over $2,000,000. This was done, Cicero says, to enlarge the Forum. The work of enlargement was continued by Julius Caesar in 54–46 B. C. He bought more private property lying beyond the Curia, mostly beyond the limit of our vision on the left, and built his Forum Julium at a cost of $4,000,000.

But while the Basilica Aemilia Paulli and the Forum Julium were being built on the north of the old Forum, important changes had taken place on the other side of this area. In 52 B. C. the Curia Hostilia and the Basilica Porcia to the left of it and several houses were burned by the Clodians. The Temple of Felicitas was started on the site of the old Curia in 44 B. C., and then Julius Cæsar secured the privilege of constructing another Senate House on the same site. This was called the Curia Julia. It was not dedicated until after the beginning of the Empire in 29 B. C. by Augustus. In 46 B. C., Julius Cæsar dedicated the first Basilica Julia on the southern side of the Forum, the site of which we have already seen. This brings us to the end of the Re-public.

Now we will consider in a general way the great changes that took place here during the empire 31 B. C. to 476 A. D.

Under Augustus, the first Emperor, the work of enlarging the Forum was continued. Augustus bought more private land to the north of the Curia, just to the left of our vision limit, adjoining the Forum Julium on the northeast, and built the third Forum, Forum Augustum, or Forum Martis, from the Temple of Mars which it contained. In 29 B. C. Augustus dedicated the Temple of Julius Cæsar in the east end of the Forum (Templum Divi Julii, on the map), and in the same year a triumphal arch was erected to Augustus just south of the temple (Arcus Augusti, on the map).

In the first three centuries of the Imperial period four great fires devastated nearly the whole region from the Capitol to the Colosseum, and these four fires were followed by three great restorations. The first fire, under Nero, in 65 A. D., burned much of the territory from the Forum to the place where the Colosseum now stands. Then came the second fire under Titus in 80 A. D.

Vespasian, Titus and Domitian took up the work of repair. They constructed two new Forums, the Forum Transitorium and the Forum of Peace, which extended from the Forum of Julius Csar and Augustus, over the territory in front of us beyond the site of the Curia, nearly to the place where we now see the ruins of Constantine’s Basilica. Vespasian began the construction of the Colosseum, and his son, Titus, finished it in 8o A. D. While Titus was carrying on the work of his father, the second fire, already spoken of, stopped the work. His successor, Domitian, repaired most of the area swept by both fires. In 191 A. D., near the end of the reign of Commodus, the third fire burned over most of the ground between the Forum and the Colosseum. Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla repaired the damages of this fire. The Arch down to our left was raised in their honor in 203 A. D. The fourth fire, in 283 A. D., under Carinus, devastated again most of the ground from the east end of the Forum to the Colosseum. Diocletian, Constantine and Maxentius repaired nearly all the buildings destroyed at that time.

From the time of Maxentius the history of the destruction of the Forum begins. The first incident in this history was the abolition of pagan worship by Gratianus in 383 A. D. All the privileges of priests and temples were done away with and their revenues were confiscated. There was rebellion for a time, but in 394 A. D. the temples were closed for ever. For a time the appearance of things remained about the same. The statues of the gods and the temples were preserved as works of art. At the beginning of the sixth century everything was well preserved. King Theodoric came here to ad-dress the people from the Rostra in 5oo A. D.

The transformation of the old buildings in this vicinity into Christian places of worship began in 526, when the Temple of the Sacred City or Record Office was dedicated as S. S. Commas and Damianus, the church we still see just this side of the Constantine Basilica. Many other historic structures were utilized in the same way during the next few centuries.

What changes took place here from the ninth to the fourteenth century nobody really knows. The early excavators, in seeking for the more ancient remains, paid little attention to the remains of these later times.

Soil began to accumulate in the Forum, it is supposed, soon after the visit of Charlemagne in 800 A. D. After the fire and destruction by Robert Guiscard in 1084 A. D., the Forum disappeared from sight and almost from memory. It seems as though “this place was used as a dumping ground for rubbish of all kinds, and, later gardening was carried on all about here.

From the fourteenth century on, builders came here to get materials for new structures. This work began on a large scale when Paul III decreed that free use should be made of whatever could be found for the building of St. Peter’s. This despoiling of the Forum was prosecuted vigorously during the sixteenth century. There was little change then until the end of the eighteenth, when devastation was stopped. Pius VII determined that all historical remains from the Capitol to the Colosseum should be unearthed and preserved. The Italian government took charge after coming into power in 187o, and a large part of the uncovering of the old areas has been done since that time.

We are now to examine in detail the principal ruins in the Forum and its vicinity. We shall begin with those on the different sides of the Forum, and then take up those lying between the Forum and the Colosseum, on either side of the Sacra Via.

First, we are to think of the Tabularium beneath us, built upon the Capitoline slope. This immense building, used for the safe keeping of public records from the earliest times, was probably erected by Q. Lutatius Catulus in 78 B. C. We can give it more attention when we see it from another position later.

Now notice again, and look closely this time, at those three fluted Corinthian columns of the Temple of Vespasian with a fragment of entablature resting upon them. Each marble shaft is so graceful that we do not wonder the beauty of the ruin has excited universal admiration. The original temple, of which these columns formed a part, was a magnificent structure, adorned with Greek paintings and sculpture, taken mostly from Nero’s palace. It was built by Domitian about 94 A. D. in honor of his deified father. It stood upon a platform and the pillars rose in the air forty-nine feet, being also four and a half feet in diameter at the base.

The story is told of the Emperor Gaius that one day he found a certain road near the Forum muddy. He at once removed his royal mantle and commanded that it be filled with road scrapings. Then he ordered the officer in charge of the road to be brought before him. The officer’s name was Vespasian, and when years after he became the Emperor of the Roman Empire, this incident was recalled, and it was interpreted as a prophecy of his future greatness.

This temple structure joined the wall of the Tabularium under us. And as we have pointed out before, two other structures were built close against the Tabularium, one on either side of this Temple of Vespasian. On the north, beyond the limit of our vision down to the left, was the Temple of Concord (Ternplum Concordiae, on the map). All that remains of that temple is a massive substructure upon which a rich pavement of colored marble was found. The first temple on that spot was erected in B. C. 367 by M. Furius Camillus, the dictator, to commemorate the termination of the long struggle between the patricians and the plebeians as to the election of consuls. While the fight between the two factions was especially violent in the Forum, Camillus promised to erect a temple to Concord if peace should be restored. When the alliance was agreed upon he fulfilled his promise. The Senate commissioned L. Opimius to reconstruct the temple in B. C. 121, after Gaius Gracchus had been killed. The people were greatly disturbed that the temple which had originally been reared to commemorate a popular victory should now be made use of to do honor to the triumph of the aristocracy, and so they changed the old inscription one night making it read, “Discord raises this temple to Concord.” Tiberius rebuilt the temple on a more magnificent scale in A. D. Io. Beside the pavement already alluded to, the fragments of cornices and capitals belonging to the structure and now preserved in the corridor of the Tabularium prove that the building was splendidly adorned. It was evidently used as a place of assembly for public bodies, and the Senate often held its meetings there. It was in this Temple of Concord that Cicero delivered his fourth oration against Catiline before the Roman Senate.

An anecdote belonging to the period of the founding of the temple, gives an insight into the character of those far distant times. Three hundred and more years before Christ it was the custom here in Rome to have pipers to pipe at the offering of the sacrifices. Generally these pipers were a jolly lot, who enjoyed eating and drinking far more than they did their functions at a religious ceremony. Being deprived by the censors of their customary feast in the Temple of Jupiter, they all went on a strike and departed in a body to Tibur. The next day, to the astonishment of the priests and people, there was nobody to pipe at the sacrifices. The Senate was deeply agitated. The pipers understood the situation exactly, and had taken the bull by the horns. Their duty was a religious one, and in Rome religion was the indispensable factor in all the State’s functions. The matter being of the gravest importance, ambassadors, as in august affairs of state, were sent to Tibur to demand of the inhabitants the return of the pipers. The people of Tibur could not induce the pipers to go back, and finally devised a piece of strategy that proved successful. Since the lack of something to eat and drink caused all the trouble, the right application of an abundance of it might mend the matter; and so they invited the pipers to a grand dinner on the pretense of needing their music to enliven the banquet. Once there they were feasted on rich viands, which they washed down with copious draughts of wine until all of them were drunk. After this they fell into a deep sleep, and in this state of drunken stupor they were all tumbled into carts and carried to Rome. Great was their astonishment and indignation when, upon awakening the next morning, they found themselves in the Eternal City; but they refused to pipe, sacrifice or no sacrifice, unless, in addition to their accustomed feast, they should be fantastically dressed at the expense of the State, and for three days each year be allowed to wander about the streets of the city playing their weird and doleful music and receiving the gifts of the people, a custom that prevailed until the days of the Empire, and even has its counterpart in modern Rome.

The third building that stood close to the Tabularium was the Portico of the Twelve Gods, situated to our right and beneath us. On the map the outline of the structure is called the Porticus Deorum Consentium. We saw the portico of low Corinthian columns belonging to this structure from our position near the Arch of Titus (Position 29). An early shrine was built on this spot to twelve deities whose images, on the authority of Varro, stood in the Forum at a very remote age. The shrines were rebuilt in A. D. 367 by Vettius Agorius Praetexatus, one of the principal champions of the paganism then dying out. Seven rooms under the platform supporting these shrines and nearest these columns of Vespasian’s Temple, have been thought by some to be the Schola Xanthi, a meeting place of scribes and notaries.

Just in front of the three buildings which stood close to the Tabularium there was a road, in ancient times, the Clivus Capitolinus. It was a name given to that part of the famous Sacra Via which ran in a zigzag course from the base to the summit of the Capitoline Hill. There is a difference of opinion as to its exact course. Some think that the Clivus Capitolinus started from the Arch of Severus, turned this way in front of these columns of Vespasian’s temple, passed around the Portico of the Twelve Gods, and, after skirting the south side of the Tabularium, ascended in another curve to the Temple of Jupiter. This course is traced out on our maps. Others believe that it began at the southwest corner of the Forum, the other side of the Saturn columns down on our right, and then curved around in front of these columns, toward the Arch of Severus, and then followed the course as out-lined about the Portico of the Twelve Gods and beyond.

All Roman conquerors climbed this road on their way to Jupiter’s temple. Innumerable processions have moved majestically over it.

Now we come to the structures that stood between this road and the Forum, the structures that bordered immediately on this west end of the Forum. Those of most importance are the Arch of Severus, the Rostra and the Temple of Saturn.

The Arch of Severus, which stands beyond the columns of the Temple of Vespasian, was erected by the Roman Senate in honor of the emperor, Septimius Severus, and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta. It was built upon a platform known as the Volkanal, or Area Concordiae, an open space in front of the Temple of Concord, raised six or seven feet above the level of the Forum and approached by means cf steps. The Arch is adorned with bas-reliefs, illustrative of Severus’ victories in the East. On the now unadorned summit there was formerly a chariot of victory, containing statues of Severus and his sons, drawn by six horses abreast, four of which are said to have been the famous steeds now in front of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. It is the smallest of the three triumphal arches remaining in Rome. Its marble is broken and hollowed, but as we look upon it, the events it commemorates seem of yesterday. Summoned from here to crush the insurrection in the north, Severus was destined never to pass beneath his superb arch, for he died on English soil, near where the York cathedral rears its graceful spire. After Caracalla had put his brother Geta to death in A. D. 212, he erased his name from the inscription on the arch. In one of the piers is a staircase leading to the summit.

Notice now that irregular row of stone blocks extending from near the Arch toward the Temple of Saturn. At first they seem to be on a line with the Forum side of the Arch, but more careful observation shows that they stand some distance beyond it. Those broken stones mark the front of what is said to have been the platform of the Rostra Vetera. On the map its position is given more definitely. We know within a few years when this platform was erected. There is a record showing that the Volkanal, the elevated space upon which the Arch of Severus was built, was used as a speaking platform in B. C. 449, the time of Appius Claudius, but eleven years later, B. C. 438, Livy speaks of this new tribune. Nearly twenty-four centuries ago the first orators in their long flowing togas were standing there haranguing eager listeners. It was in B. C. 338, you remember, that C. Maenius brought the beaks of war vessels captured at Antium to decorate the platform, from which decoration it took the name Rostra.

We may see from these ruins and the map that the Rostra stood near the border line between the Forum and the Comitium. This enabled the orators to be heard both by the patricians who met in the Comitium, and the plebeians who could assemble only in the Forum. For centuries the speakers faced the patricians, but Gaius Gracchus or Livinius Crassus started the custom of facing the plebeians in the Forum.

The more we look at that mass of crumbling marble, thinking of what has taken place upon it, the more it enthralls us. There is the foundation of that platform from which flashed and thundered that masterful Roman eloquence which, even now, delights the cultured world. What struggles went on there for centuries during the Republic between the aristocracy and the democracy ! There later Cicero delivered his third oration against Catiline, and his speech against Antony, which cost him his life. There Marius and Sulla exhibited the heads of their victims, and from this platform were displayed the head and hands of Cicero. It was there that Fulvia, the widow of Clodius, came and spat in the dead orator’s face and brutally thrust her bodkin through his speechless tongue.

There were two structures in close connection with the Rostra, which we ought to consider – the Milliarium and the Umbilicus Romae. Look down at our right near the Temple of Saturn, and a few feet this way from the right end of the Rostra. The stones there marked the site of the Milliarium Aureum, or Golden Milestone, a gilt bronze column, on which were given the distance from the city gates to all the principal towns on the main roads which radiated from Rome. Augustus and Agrippa were engaged for years in measuring distances throughout the Empire, (mensuratio totius orbis they called it), and that mile-stone was erected by Augustus in 29 B. C. as a record of the work. It was beside that stone that Galba was murdered in A. D. 68 by his soldiers, who raised Otho to the throne in his stead. At the southern end of the Arch of Severus, just to the right of the right-hand column of the Temple of Vespasian we may see the base of the Umbilicus Romae, the ideal center of the city. All distances within the walls were measured from this and marked upon it.

The third structure of importance in addition to the Arch of Severus and the Rostra on the west side of the Forum, is the Temple of Saturn, which we will speak of at our next position (Position 27) when all of its remaining eight columns may be seen.

On the north side of the Forum was the open space of the Comitium, with the Curia or Senate House back of it, and the Temple of Janus and the Basilica Aemilia to the east. The Comitium lay down there behind the Arch of Severus, just north of the Rostra, and extended for about one-third of the length of the Forum from west to east. The Comitium was (we are always to remember) in the time of the Kings and the early Republic, the center of the civil and political business, while the Forum was then merely a marketplace ; but as the population increased and the plebians secured more privileges, the center of political life was changed to the Forum. As we have pointed out before, the Senate House stood on the site of the Church of S. Adriano, which we see over the Arch. The Temple of Janus stood just east of the Senate House, while the Basilica Aemilia covered territory still farther east-ward as far as the building with a colonnade front, on the right,- the church of S. Lorenzo in Miranda built in the old temple of Antoninus and Faustina. In 1900 an embankment bordering the Forum in front and to the east of the church of S. Adriano was carried back several feet and a considerable part of the Comitium and the site of the Basilica Aemilia were uncovered. In the Comitium an important discovery was made. It is an ancient belief that Romulus was carried to heaven from the Comitium and that his empty tomb was marked by a black stone. Archaeologists had long sought for this famous “niger lapis,” and in 1899, just in front of the Arch of Severus there was discovered a black pavement about twelve feet square which some claim to be the ” black stone.” These stones of black marble streaked with white are not the original pavement, but are part of a monument erected by Maxentius in honor of his son Romulus. They serve an important purpose in confirming the fact that the Romans did believe that the tomb of Romulus was located there. Old descriptions mentioned two lions as standing in the same place and the bases on which they stood have actually been found.

The Curia or Senate House stood on the far side of the Comitium, perhaps one hundred and fifty feet from the Rostra. That site of the Senate House, we are told, was covered in the earliest times by a small wood in which was a cave and a spring at which Tarpeia first caught sight of the Sabines. There it was that the first senators, dressed in sheepskins, met in a small hut covered by a thatched roof. Even this hut was consecrated, .because one of the earliest laws was that the Senate could not pass a measure unless assembled in a temple. Then came the Curia Hostilia, built by Tullus Hostilius, an oblong stone structure raised on a platform out of the reach of floods. Toward the end of the Republic, the senators were so frugal and stoical that no means had yet been taken to warm the hall in winter. Cicero wrote from here on January 6, 62 B. C. that the speaker Appius had summoned the senators to consider an important matter, but the cold was so intense that he had to dismiss them while the populace stood around and jeered.

The Curia Hostilia was probably repaired and enlarged by Sulla. It was burned down at the funeral of Clodius, we re-member, and a temple to Felicitas was contemplated. Then Julius Cæsar secured permission to build his Curia Julia in 44 .13. C., though this was not dedicated until 29 B. C. under Augustus, who added to it a court surrounded by a colonnade. The fire under Nero did much damage to the building, which was thereafter repaired by Domitian. It was burned again under Carinus and was again rebuilt by Diocletian. About 630 A. D. Pope Honorius I appropriated the assembly hall of the Senate House for the Church of S. Adriano. The classic form and adornments remained until the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the Via Bonella was cut through the old building. From a political standpoint the Curia was the most important building in the Roman world. It was the “hall of the assembly in which the fate of the world was decided.” While the finely trained Roman senators were framing their laws on that spot for the government of a world-wide empire, while they were laying out the ground-work of law upon which much of modern civilization is founded, savages were roaming over the site of Paris, and half-clad barbarians occupied the British Isles, which then lay almost beyond the confines of the known world.

The ruins of the structures at the east end of the Forum would be more naturally considered in our next position along with the structures bordering the Forum on the south ; so there is nothing left for us here excepting the few remains of interest we can see within the Forum area itself.

The most conspicuous object on this pavement before us, which, as we have said, dates from the time of Diocletian, is that Corinthian column, seen down on our right. That is the Column of Phocas, erected in 6o8 A. D. to commemorate the achievements of that tyrant of the Eastern Empire. It was the last monument erected about the Forum before the time of final ruin set in. It practically marks the close of the ancient period and the beginning of the Middle Ages. Art having degenerated at this time and it being impossible to produce a splendid column like that of Trajan, one was probably taken from some ancient building. It is fifty-four feet high and was originally crowned with a gilded statue of Phocas. Byron called this ” the nameless column with a buried base.” Its origin was discovered in 1813 when this site was being excavated at the expense of the Duchess of Devonshire. If examined carefully, it is found to lean toward the southeast.

To the left of the Column of Phocas we see what look like two great slabs of sculptured marble, standing on edge, one behind the other. There has been much speculation about the purpose of those two pieces of marble. They are often referred to as the Sculptured Plutei ; some have said they were balustrades to the Rostra ; on the map they are designated as Anaglypha Trajani. We are to go very near to them later on, and will then examine them more closely.

Before we turn to our next position there is one building in the mass of structures beyond the Forum which we should notice. Cast your eyes over the en-tablature of the Temple of Vespasian and the Arch of Severus, and slightly to the right of the peak of the roof of S. Adriano church, and you will see a distant building with three columns and an open porch with three windows above the porch and a low campanile to the left. That is the Church of St. Peter in Chains (S. Pietro in Vincoli), and contains Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses, which we shall have the privilege of seeing later.

Without moving from this window in the Capitol building in which we have been standing, we will now turn and look more to the right.