Forum of Vespasian & Temple of Peace - 1st Century AD
... the Temple of Peace, the largest and most beautiful of all the buildings in the city "
- Herodian (170-240 AD),
History of the Roman Empire
A GARDEN, A TEMPLE, AND A MUSEUM
This beautiful forum, of which so little remains, was once a large and enclosed city square filled with
a garden, several long pools of water, flowers, and possibly trees.
Furthermore, the large temple and long porticos of this garden-like forum also housed
a sprawling museum displaying art from Nero's former palace as well as treasures from the
Roman-Jewish wars of Emperor Vespasian.
In fact, this forum was financed by the proceeds from the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD by
Emperor Vespasian and his son, Titus. Many precious items from
the Temple of Jerusalem, such as the great Menorah, were on display in this forum, which also housed
a library known as the Bibliotheca Pacis (the 'Library of Peace').
Forum of Vespasian - Temple of Peace in First Century AD
Remaster of partial image by LVIIC - Educational Use
It is estimated that the high columns on the front portico of the Temple of Peace
were 18 metres high (60 feet), the height of a five-storey building. The front portico of the temple was
large and prominent, with roofed structures that filled the entire back wall. Notice, also,
how the temple has a long columned portico on either side, and walls enclosed the whole forum. The combination of fountains,
greenery, and wonderful architecture must have been very pleasing on a sunny day.
Forum of Vespasian from high above in First Century AD
Built by Emperor Vespasian in 71 AD and dedicated in 75 AD, this forum was known simply as the Templum Pacis - "Temple of Peace"
- up until the 4th century AD. At this point in time, the Romans began to refer to it as a forum and not a temple. It was built to commemorate
Vespasian's victory over emperor Aulus Vitellius in a civil war during the
four Emperors in 69 AD. In addition, the forum also celebrated Vespasian's victory in suppressing the first Jewish Revolt culminating with the
sacking of Jerusalem (70 AD).
The 1st-century Jewish historian and General Josephus
in his written work "The Jewish War" (Section VII.5.7), sums up very nicely the esteem the Romans had for the Temple of
When the triumphal ceremonies were over, as the Roman empire was now firmly established,
Vespasian made up his mind to build a temple of Peace.
This was completed with remarkable speed and surpassed all
human imagination. Not only did he have unlimited wealth at his disposal; he also adorned it with paintings and statues
by the greatest of the old masters.
Unlike Rome's five other great forums, the Forum of Vespasian was not paved with stone. Instead,
the ground was covered with dirt, grass, trees, plants, and fountains. Also,
for the first 116 years (75-191 AD) of its existence, it did not serve any political, business, administrative or legal functions.
Basically, this forum was a garden, a shrine, an art museum, and a centre of culture.
However, after the destruction of the Temple of Peace by a great fire in 191 AD, it gained a new and
fascinating administrative function that I will discuss later.
In the whole Roman empire, the Temple of Peace in the Forum of Vespasian was the only temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Pax.
Roman veneration of Pax started during the reign of the first Roman Emperor Augustus, who used her images to promote peace and
political calm after the years of civil war and conflict preceding his coming to power.
In the drawing above, I attempted to show how the interior of the Temple of Peace looked, with floors based on the surviving tiles made
of white, pink, and purple stone. Roman goddess Pax is seated on a throne while holding an olive branch in one hand and
a staff in the other. At her feet is a cornucopia, signifying bountiful peace. Her dress is made of gilded bronze, and she is painted
in lifelike colours. The interior is lit by braziers burning incense and tall Roman lamps. Tall pilasters adorn the marble-covered
After further civil wars broke out following the suicide of Emperor Nero in June of 68 AD,
Emperor Vespasian began constructing his forum and the Temple of Peace three years later, in 71 AD, to alleviate
the anxieties and low morale of the people of Rome. Four years later, the forum and temple were officially opened in 75 AD.
Building a temple dedicated to Pax symbolized a new era of peace and stability for the empire. Nero had seized many parts of
central Rome to build his giant palace, which angered the people. By building the forum and its Temple of Peace, in addition
to the Colosseum on top of Nero's palace, Emperor Vespasian gave back the land to the people for their own use and
Roman goddess Pax shown on four different Roman coins
Pax is seen both standing and sitting and always holding a staff and extending an olive branch of peace
Most of the images we have of this goddess come from Roman coins, as shown in the image above. She is portrayed as a rather young lady dressed in a long gown and
holding a staff in one hand and an olive branch in the other. She is shown as either sitting or standing, as
seen in the four ancient coins above. She could also be shown holding a long cornucopia that represented abundant peace.
On January 3, a festival was dedicated to Pax, and
it is said that images of emperors and others were placed at her feet in the hope that peace would be promoted.
Roman goddess Pax holding two infants - 'Ara Pacis' marble relief
Credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbera - CC-BY-2.0 - 2014
Emperor Augustus' greatest tribute to Pax was the construction, in
the year 9 BC, of the
Altar of Augustan Peace, better known by the Latin name "Ara Pacis, as shown in the image above.
Eighty years later, in 79 AD, the Temple of Peace and its forum were constructed by Emperor Vespasian.
This Roman goddess was the daughter of the god Jupiter and Justitia (Justice), and she became officially recognized during the
reign of Augustus, though her image started appearing on Roman coins as early as the the Fourth Century BC. Her image
was used on coins to honour her and also promote peace throughout the Roman empire. The origin of Pax is the
Greek goddess of peace, Eirene, as shown in the image below.
Roman copy of Eirene sculpture by Cephisodotus the Elder
Image: Licensed from Dreamstime
The photo above shows the Greek equivalent of Pax holding the infant Plutus, the god of plenty. Eirene's father was
Zeus (the Roman 'Jupiter'), and her mother was Themis (the Roman 'Justitia'), the goddess of justice and good counsel. Both
Pax and the Greek Eirene were displayed far less often than other gods, such as Mars and Diana, for example.
The three most important gods for the Romans were Jupiter, Minerva, and Juno - known as the "Capitoline Triad" of gods thought to
protect Rome and its civilization. Pax was low in the hierarchy of gods, not even rating in the top twelve (Jupiter, Juno,
Minerva, Neptune, Venus, Mars, Apollo, Diana, Vulcan, Vesta, Mercury, Ceres). One could conclude that peace was not the
most important consideration of most Romans.
FORMA URBIS ROMAE
About ten years after the destructive fire of 191 AD, the temple was rebuilt by emperor Septimius Severus. This new
temple included a vast room containing many clerks and a huge
18-metre wide (60 feet) marble map of the City of Rome, known as the Forma Urbis Romae.
The job of the people in this room was to maintain and update the huge map so that every building
and street of Rome was dutifully etched onto the map.
This giant scale map of the city of Rome was engraved on 150 marble panels attached to an inside wall of the Temple of
Peace, shown in the image recreation below. The top of the map is east, not north.
Forma Urbis Romae marble map of Rome in 200 AD
The image above shows how the Forma Urbis Romae looked after its creation in the early 200s AD. I highlighted
in red the map section showing the exact location of the Forum of Vespasian. One thing missing from the
image is ladders, which they certainly would have needed to closely examine and revise the marble map.
Though all those marble panels are gone,
the wall they were attached to still exists, and it now forms the rear outside wall
of the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian, as shown in a recent image below. Obviously, over the centuries,
they added windows to the wall. On the left side of the photo, you can see a very thick wall that may have been the
back wall of the Temple of Peace - or it might be just a buttress that supports the ancient building.
Forma Urbis Romae wall in the 21st century
In the photo above, one can still see the holes where the 150 marble panels
were attached with metal pins. The lower left section of the wall clearly shows holes forming square rectangles. Only 10%
of the marble panels still exist, broken down into about 1200 fragments collected and preserved since 1562 AD and kept
in the Capitoline Museum in Rome.
Forma Urbis Romae room, looking out towards main forum courtyard - First Century AD
Remaster of image by unknown artist - possibly Altair4 or LVIIC - Educational Use
Of the remaining 10%, only half of the fragments have been
correctly positioned. The marble panels were destroyed mainly during the Middle Ages in the production of lime which involves
burning marble. However, some fragments were also used
as filler in walls which means that new fragments are sometimes discovered. In
2016 a fragment showing the Circus Flaminus was found in a building located in a distant neighbourhood of Rome. Today, we have a good
idea of what the Forum of Vespasian looked like long ago because some marble map fragments showing the forum survived, as
explained in the next section.
Because this stone map was created during the reign of Septimius Severus, it is also
the Severan Marble Plan. This marble map was very detailed, using a scale of 1 to 240 approximately. Architectural
details of religious, administrative, commercial and residential structures were included, such as temples, basilicas,
amphitheatres, apartment buildings, baths, shops, warehouses, aqueducts, and private homes. The Forma Urbis
Romae fragments are an invaluable tool in helping us conceptualize the actual layout of ancient Rome.
Wall outlines, columns,
staircases and names of structures and city areas were engraved, not just drawn or painted, into the marble panels, as seen
in the drawing below of the marble fragments showing the layout of the Forum of Vespasian. The white parts of
the image with black lines are estimations by experts of how the whole forum was laid out, based on the actual fragment information.
Forma Urbis Romae fragments of Forum of Vespasian
In the image above, the three surviving fragments are beige-coloured. The rest of the map detail is an estimated drawing done by experts
who studied the ruins and historical descriptions over the years. A significant
portion of the Forum of Vespasian/Temple of Peace details has survived, and thus our reconstructed views of it are
However, the actual detailed look of the buildings themselves is a matter of conjecture. There are only a few vague descriptions and
no surviving paintings, reliefs or recognized coins
showing us what the actual structures looked like before or after the reconstruction following the great fire of 191 AD. Here is
a photo of other Forma Urbis fragments placed against a map of ancient Rome.
WHAT DO THE MAP FRAGMENTS SHOW US?
A close examination of the surviving Forma Urbis Romae fragments in the image above clearly shows us many details of the floorplan of the
Temple of Peace and the surrounding Forum of Vespasian. We can see that the temple had a wide staircase in front,
made up of several steps. At the top of
the stairs were six large columns with six more columns further behind. The main temple area contained a large entrance
room with an altar situated within a large, convex wall niche. Furthermore, there were large
rooms beside the temple which were all fronted by a colonnade of columns.
Within the garden courtyard, you can see there were three
long structures that held water on either side - either a kind of elongated fountain or flower beds (or a combination of both) - for a total of six. Each of those long fountains
was sub-divided into four sections. In front of the temple staircase there was a square structure, almost certainly an altar where
people could bring offerings and rites could be performed. And all along the edges of the courtyard are more columned porticos.
As mentioned earlier, the map fragments only show us the basic appearance and floorplan of the Forum of
Vespasian. The fragments do not show what all those forum structures actually looked like. Artists who draw the forum buildings
are making their best, informed guesses. For example, how many windows did the buildings have, and where were they? We do not know.
How many stories high were the buildings - again, we do not know for sure. What kind of detailing and statues were incorporated into the
architecture? Same answer - we do not know. There are no surving Roman paintings, stone reliefs, or coins showing what the
Forum of Vespasian looked like. Thus, a certain degree of "artistic licence" is almost always used when creating images showing
what this ancient forum looked like in the past.
DESTRUCTION OF THE FORUM OF VESPASIAN
Forum of Vespasian in the 2nd and 6th Century AD
2nd Cent. image is modified version of an LVIIC original. 6th Cent. image is my own heavily modified remaster
of the previous image
Two hundred years after the Temple of Peace and the Forum of Vespasian were rebuilt
following the fire of 191 AD, another calamity befell the area.
In 408 AD, earthquakes repeatedly struck this forum for seven days. We know
this event happened because of Roman historian Marcellinus Comes who wrote the following quote sometime in the early
530s AD in his book Annales, a chronicle covering what happened during the years 379 to 534 AD:
Romae in foro pacis per dies septem terra mugitum dedit
"In the Forum of Peace in Rome, for seven days the earth roared"
A whole week of earthquakes must have caused significant damage to the Forum of Vespasian and many other
parts of ancient Rome. When this forum was damaged, the Roman empire in the west was already in serious decline. Resources
and finances were very constrained, so the forum may not have been fully repaired.
Up until the early 500s AD, parts of the forum were still used to display art. Then, in approximately 530 AD,
the hall to the far west of the Temple of Peace was converted into the church of Saint Cosmas and Damian by
Pope Felix IV. Almost 1,500 years later, the church (now a basilica) is still there. In the image above showing the forum
in the sixth century, you can see the church on the far right side (with the crucifix on the roof).
By the year 540 AD, we know for sure that the forum was abandoned and severely damaged. A man from the Eastern Roman Empire,
by the name of Procopius, was in Rome in the 500s during the destructive Gothic Wars fought over nineteen
years (from 535 to 554 AD). He visited the forums
of Rome and reported that the Forum of Vespasian had been destroyed by lightning many years earlier. He also wrote that
some of the works of art that were formerly housed in the Temple of Peace had been relocated to other nearby parts of the city.
Very likely, the forum had also been seriously damaged during the sacking of Rome in 410 AD.
Was the Temple of Peace closed along with the other Roman pagan temples in the late 300s? In my opinion,
it was not closed, though the large statue of the Roman goddess Pax was certainly removed.
However, because the temple and adjoining rooms were used to house the Forma Urbis Romae
and to display art and treasures from the war in Judea in the 70s AD, I believe the temple was still being used throughout
the Fourth Century AD.
In addition, the Temple of Peace had a long history and was of great importance to the Roman people. After the statue of the goddess
Pax was removed, I do not see why there was any other reason to close the temple and all the adjoining facilities.
What ultimately sent the Forum of Vespasian and its temple into severe decline was
the sacking of Rome in 410 AD that caused significant damage.
So many forums were reduced to shattered ruins, like the Forum of Caesar above
Licensed from Dreamstime
According to scholars, after the sacking of 410 AD, the forum was not restored. However,
even after the sacking, some areas of the
forum may still have been in use. The Western Roman Empire continued until 476 AD, after which life still continued
in Rome until the devastating Gothic Wars in the 1530s. For almost sixty years after 476 AD, the
Roman Senate still met, and the Colosseum and Roman baths still operated. Thus, I wonder if the forum lay abandoned entirely
for over 120 years after the sacking of 410 AD, or were the surviving structures still used for administrative and other purposes.
Even if the Forum of Vespasian and its beautiful temple were no longer used after 410 AD,
nevertheless these beautiful structures had been enjoyed by the Romans for 340 years - that is a long time. For example, the Parliament buildings in London,
completed in 1876, are not even 150 years old, but it seems like they have been around a long time, going back
many generations. It will take almost 200 more years before the Parliament buildings have existed as long as the Forum of Vespasian.
I have read that, during the Middle Ages, the area of the forum was used as a burial ground for many centuries. During that
period, the pillaging of marble and other resources steadily removed almost all traces of the temple and the long colonnades on either side of it,
which is described in greater detail in the next section.
WHAT REMAINS OF THE FORUM OF VESPASIAN
Just like all the other ancient forums of Rome, not much remains of the Forum of Vespasian.
In fact, very little of the large and beautiful Temple of Peace and its long columned porticos can still be seen. Even the walls and
long fountains are mostly all gone - but not quite.
A portico foundation can be seen, in addition to some walls, floors tiles, broken columns, reassembled columns,
and a hall that was converted into a church. Even one of the original four square exedras along the forum's surrounding walls
still exists - very modified - but its base foundation supports a tall tower.
Below is a list of six parts of the Forum of Vespasian that still exist in the 21st century, though they may be altered:
The wall that supported the Forma Urbis Romae. Notice, in the photo, how this wall is
now part of the Basilica of Cosmas and Damian;
The next photo shows the interior of the Basilica of Cosmas and Damian. Though it is not 100% certain, it is thought the
interior of the church used to be a hall - probably a library - that was located next to the Temple of Peace
in the Forum of Vespasian. The
front entrance part of this church, located in the Forum Romanum, was the Temple of Romulus. In fact, the ancient
bronze doors to the church are original, and the key still works. The wall shown above
that supported the Forma Urbis Romae is definitely part of this church.
Former library hall of the Forum of Vespasian
Licensed from Dreamstime
A portion of the west portico's stairs and seven columns that were raised through the process of anastylosis. In the foreground,
you can see remnants of the long and rectangular fountains that once filled the forum's courtyard. The columns are
discussed in great detail further down the page;
Stairs and columns of the west portico. Also showing remnants of the long, rectangular fountains
Photo by AncientDigital Maps - CC BY-NC-2.0
The northeast exedra located along the wall that surrounded the ancient forum. Today, the exedra foundation is used to
support the Torre dei Conti, shown in the photo below.
Forum of Vespasian exedra transformed into Torre dei Conti tower
Licensed from Dreamstime
This tower, built in 1238 AD and heavily damaged in 1348, is located at the corner of Via dei Fori Imperiali
and Via Cavour streets in Rome. I have produced an image below that shows the exedra location in present-day Rome,
with the outline of the ancient Forum superimposed above.
Forum of Vespasian outline over image of present-day Rome
I used Google Earth to create this image
As you can see in the image above, roads now cover much of what was the Forum of Vespasian. When you visit the forum today,
you will need a lot of imagination and background information to visualize the ancient forum's appearance around you.
Possibly a Temple of Peace firewall made of volcanic tuff & travertine (see photo below).
Possible Temple of Peace firewall (left) that has survived
Image courtesy of BSR - Fair Use - Educational
In the image above, is the wall on the left truly a part of the Temple of Peace Firewall as claimed by the
British School at Rome, which they describe as being the
"rusticated tuff and travertine firewall of the Temple of Peace".
I am assuming the BSR is describing the wall on the
left because it is the only wall showing two kinds of stone, as stated in the BSR description. Tuff
(a volcanic stone) and Travertine (a form of limestone) were commonly used by the ancient
Romans and can be found in the Colosseum, for example.
That photo of what may be an actual surviving wall of the Temple of Peace is truly fascinating. Thank you to the
British School at Rome (BSR) -
this link shows the actual article, in which BSR states:
... it is fantastic to be able to walk through the Severan substructures of the southeast corner of the Palatine to the
sunken 'stadium' Domitian, as well as down the ancient road that ran between the Temple of Peace and the
Basilica of Maxentius. This means the visitor can now see a well-preserved section of the firewall of
the Temple of Peace as well as gain a good view of the stunning marble floor of the interior ...
How interesting that this wall also includes
an entrance with a metal gate. The main problem with this image is this: I can't find any other online references
to this surviving firewall section that would validate the above statement. To be frank,
I am not entirely convinced the British School at Rome claim is correct, though I really hope it is.
It would be great to know that another significant part of the Temple of Peace still exists.
A few floor sections of the Temple of Peace,
In another image below, from the same website,
the BSR shows us an image of a floor section from the Temple of Peace.
This photo matches closely with the surviving and very damaged floor sections we already know,
which I have superimposed in the top right corner so you can compare the two photos.
The new image of the Temple of Peace floor shows us a more vivid and well-preserved section
with rich colour and sheen, looking like it did long ago - very elegant. I see three kinds of stone - white marble, red marble,
and a circular border of rare purple Porphyry
stone that is very hard and came from Egypt. In the top corner photo, you can see how the circle of precious porphyry was pillaged.
Surviving marble floor sections of the Temple of Peace
Ancient Roman writers stated that the Temple of Peace was one of the most beautiful buildings in Rome.
The photo above gives us a good idea of how splendid the
temple must have been. The Romans really knew how to create stunning and colourful floors made from inlaid marble and granite.
Other examples of fine Roman floors can be found in the Pantheon, the Forum of Augustus' porticos,
the Basilica Ulpia in the Forum of Trajan's, and the Curia Julia in the Forum Romanum. Except for
the Pantheon floor that is still complete and restored, the other structures mentioned have only a few surviving floor sections that
nevertheless still show their former glory and colours.
FORUM OF VESPASIAN - WEST PORTICO
In this section, I explore the western portico of the Forum of Vespasian more closely, including how it looked 1,800 years ago.
This is the only part of the forum's porticos that has survived to some degree. In Roman times, this portico was very long, and it ran
almost the entire length of the forum. All of the portico's columns were made from reddish granite from Egypt.
Over the centuries, all the columns
were knocked down, smashed, or removed from the
forum. All that remained of those columns were various chunks lying in the ground under several metres (yards) of dirt. For well
over a thousand years, people walking through this forum saw only a field covered with grass and some trees.
Consequently, there were no standing columns for many centuries until 2015, when some of them were "raised from the dead" through a
special process that I explain further on.
View from inside the West Portico in the 2nd Century AD
Modified image based on original by LVIIC
The drawing above shows the Forum of Vespasian's west portico from the inside. The viewer is looking northwest through the length
of the portico with the Temple of Peace at the top left. Notice how all the colums are made of a red granite. The columns
are topped with Corinthian capitals, and they are supported by a short plinth and torus below, all made of white marble. Like the
porticos of many Roman forums, this one probably had a curved ceiling that was decorated, as imagined by the artist.
It is also very likely that the portico contained statues and other works of art.
7 columns of the West Portico. The two wide steps in the middle foreground mark the forum entrance. Above the entrance, you
can see a rectangular fountain base
Photo by Jordiferrer - Wikimedia Commons
The photo above shows what remains of the southern part of the Forum of Vespasian in our century.
We see a portion of the west Portico with seven columns raised in 2015 through a process called
Many tourists think these seven columns are part of the Temple of Peace - but that is incorrect.
These seven columns, only recently restored and raised, are just a few of the many columns (30 approximately) that formed the long
West Portico colonnade
of the Forum of Vespasian. This structure led towards the Temple of Peace, which would be located far to the left of the
white buildings (top centre), behind the tall tree on the left.
FORUM OF VESPASIAN COLUMN CONTROVERSY
This process of raising the columns caused
much controversy because these newly raised columns were formed by mixing some of the original surviving column pieces
with cement and reinforced concrete.
So the debate is:  "How authentic are these columns - How much of them
are made from the original ancient parts - 50%, 70%, 10%?"
I can understand a concern that the public's perception of the authenticity and purity
of the Roman Forum ruins can be affected by the degree of anastylosis, described in greater detail in the section below.
WHAT IS ANASTYLOSIS?
The image below of the western portico of the Temple of Peace is composed of a "before"
and an "after" picture. In the first image, we see pieces of columns
lying on the ground. In the following image, we see full columns standing, made up of those same column pieces with cement
added (probably in some mould). This is the process of anastylosis which usually
strives to rebuild and restore ruins by using as much of the original material as possible and does not always use cement, resins,
or similar fillers/binders.
Dark column sections are original. Lighter parts and bases are new
Nevertheless, the deed is done, and the columns have been raised. And these columns do indeed contain real sections of
the original Egyptian red granite. Nevertheless, some columns are mostly just cement, as can be seen in the
image above. Many thanks to friendly and helpful Deb Nystrom for the bottom part of
Personally, I have no problem with the concept of anastylosis so long as it is not extreme. Standing columns are markers that proclaim:
"An ancient building was here and a small part is standing again."
Raised columns are more pleasing and understandable to the
average person than column chunks lying flat on the ground. In my opinion, when most people visit ancient ruins, they want to
see something coherent, something they can relate to that helps them visualize what the structure looked like in the ancient past.
That is probably why the seven columns shown above were raised in the first place. Before those columns were raised, there really was not
much to see.
However, the raising of those columns through anastylosis does beg the question ...
"Just how much more of the forum will be 'raised'? Why not just rebuild the whole thing? What is an acceptable limit?"
I suppose that time will tell if anastylosis is a good or bad thing. What do you think?
FORUM OF VESPASIAN AND TEMPLE OF PEACE FROM ABOVE TODAY
Forum of Vespasian and Temple of Peace from above in the year 2020
Image made using Google Earth
The image above places those seven raised columns (location indicated in red/yellow) in context. I have recreated lines of missing columns (in white)
on either side of those seven columns to recreate
the East Portico and part of the main Temple of Peace central structure. To the far lower right is the Forum of Nerva.
To the far upper left is the Basilica of Maxentius, and just to the right of that is the wall that supported the
Forma Urbis Romae. To the far-middle left is the area where original
floor sections of the Temple of Peace can be seen, as shown in
this image of the Temple of Peace floors in poor condition.
The newer and more robust floor sections that have survived are located elsewhere.
This concludes my discussion of the Forum of Vespasian. Hopefully, more areas of this forum will be
discovered so that we can glimpse even more of its former beauty and magnificence. If you would like to explore another of ancient
Rome's great forums, you can use the Forum Guide I have placed below for your convenience.
The links below offer additonal information about the FORUM OF VESPASIAN, including entrance fees, hours, how to get there, etc.