Rome – Temple of Vespasian, Arch of Septimius Severus

Here, at our feet, is the Forum, one of the most illustrious spots on the whole earth. Contemplating this scene our mind is taken out of the twentieth century with its ceaseless roar and mighty energy, and is carried back to the remote period when there were but few industries and no recorded time.

Among the experiences of my life to which I look back with peculiar pleasure, as having been characterized by more than ordinary fullness of satisfaction and emotion, are those associated with my first view of this Roman Forum. I understood that one’s first visit to this memorable place was apt to be disappointing, since, as we are aware, there could be nothing seen here but fragments and rubbish. But all naturalists declare that we can obtain a pretty good idea of many an animal merely from its skeleton, and viewed in the light of this principle, these fragments may become more beautiful than rubies and more precious than the gold of Ophir. In fact, everything that one encounters in the long line of the Forum is, when rightly understood, either interesting or beautiful. For centuries these arches and columns lay buried under vines, weeds and vegetable gardens. These ruins, however, have been disinterred and restored, as much as possible, to their original position.

Any person at all acquainted with the world’s history must look with peculiar interest at the Forum, even though he does not know one group of ruins from another. But if we are to know anything of its full power to attract us, we must become familiar with the significance of the various broken walls and columns remaining, which served the purposes of the men who lived here so long ago; for as these take their proper architectural and historical setting, the fascination of the place will be increased for us many times over, in all the years to come.

Let us begin now by trying to get a definite conception of our present location, and a general idea of what is directly before us. Then we shall pass on to take two other positions, temporarily, for the purpose of gaining a more comprehensive knowledge of the whole Forum and its surroundings ; afterward we can return and study each section in particular and with greater satisfaction. We are looking through a window, we should remember, in the southern part of the Capitol, and are facing about east. Down below us is the very center of the Forum. The three columns nearest to us on the left belong to the Temple of Vespasian; the noble arch seen back of them is that of Septimius Severus, while close to us, on the right, we see a fragment of the Temple of Saturn. Beyond these ruins stretches the territory covered by the old Forum or marketplace, the Comitium, which was the earliest meeting place, and the Curia or Senate House, the most important political building in Rome. Bear in mind that the Forum lies nearest us. In a general way it began on this western end at the Arch of Severus and extended toward the right or east about three hundred and twenty-five feet, that is, to the point seen over the fragment of the Temple of Saturn. Before the death of Cæsar and the erection of his temple, the Forum extended over one hundred feet farther to the right. The southern Forum limit was nearly in line with the front of this Temple of Saturn, while the northern limit was practically on a line with the nearer or southern side of the Arch of Severus, and the street running through the Arch, which was built in the beginning of the third century after Christ, skirted this northern boundary. The Forum’s width thus varied from about one hundred and fifty feet at this end to one hundred and twenty-five feet at the other. Its original pavement lay several feet below that which we now see, and which dates probably from the Imperial period. Later on we shall see the ancient pavement. The church seen over the Arch of Severus, the Church of S. Adriano, occupies the site, as our map shows, of the ancient Curia or Senate House. The Comitium was an open space between the north-ern boundary of the Forum and the Curia.

In the distance we are looking, as the general map of Rome shows, over the Esquiline Hill. Off to the right, above a nearer church, we see the arches of the Basilica of Constantine, and to the extreme right, beyond, the northern side of the Colosseum.

Now retaining our position in this window, we shall turn around toward the right, and look over the whole area between us and the Colosseum. The fragment of the Temple of Saturn, now down on our extreme right, will be then somewhat to our left.

This new field of vision is shown exactly on the Forum map. Find the two lines which start from the Capitol and extend, one to the right-hand map margin and one to the lower map margin, each with the number 27 at its end. The space included by them, and which we are to see, as you will notice, is by far the largest part of the ruin-covered area.