Looking west into the Roman Forum from beside the Temple of Castor and Pollux (left)
All Roman cities had a forum, but the greatest and oldest of them all was the Roman Forum in Rome, which
began around 500 BC.
This vast and long city square, also known as the "Forum Romanum" to the ancient Romans, was Times Square, Parliament, and St. Peter's
Square all in one spot. The Roman Forum was the physical symbol of Roman identity, culture, religion, commerce, and prestige.
In the drawing above, we are looking across at the far western side of this forum. On the left, you can see processions along the Sacra Via street that passes
in front of the Temple of Castor and Pollux (far left) and the long Basilica Julia. Across the square from us is a series of buildings -
the Temple of Concord, the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, and the huge Tabularium above them.
You can see a close-up of those same buildings in the next images below which alternate between views of them in the past
and the 21st century. On the right, is the
Arch of Septimius Severus. On the far left is the Temple of Saturn. And in between you can see
the Temple of Concord (right) and the Temple of Vespasian and Titus (left).
Roman Forum West Side in year 310 AD versus 2016 AD Temple of Saturn -- Temple of Vespasian & Titus -- Temple of Concord -- Tabularium -- Arch of Septimius Severus
Photo courtesy of Soren Hugger Moller
The images above show the collection of buildings along the western edge in much greater detail. As shown in the photo, not much is left -
just a few columns and bits of foundation here and there. Fortunately, the arch has mostly survived.
Interestingly, emperor Septimius Severus, who built this arch in 203 AD,
was the father of the bad-tempered emperor Caracalla, for whom the Baths of Caracalla were named. Septimius
built the arch to commemorate his and his son's victory over the Parthian Empire
on the eastern borders of the Roman Empire. It is amazing how so much of this triumphal arch has survived. Further down is a closeup
photo of the arch with more descriptions of its overall structure.
The Roman Forum - Looking north-east
Courtesy of Faungg - CC BY-ND 2.0
Located in a valley between two of Rome's seven hills, the Capitoline and the Palatine,
this forum was made possible in 600 BC only after the creation of the
Cloaxa Maxima - the "Great Sewer" - which
drained the water away from the marshy ground.
In 500 BC, the Roman Forum began as a
simple market and a meeting place for
the people of Rome. But, this forum grew in size and importance after a few centuries until it became the foremost space where Romans
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina in the Roman Forum
Image courtesy of Ania Mendrek - CC BY-ND-ND 2.0
In this ancient and great forum, amongst stunning monuments and buildings, Romans did commerce, conducted trials,
gazed at great architecture and art, and went to libraries. It was also where they celebrated their victories, their leaders, their gods,
Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum
Image courtesy of Brad Hostetler - CC BY-NC 2.0
In the close-up image of the large triple-arch, above, you can see many carved reliefs of the Roman war with the Parthians. There used to be
a gilded-bronze chariot and six horses on top of the arch - we know this because ancient Roman coins show details of this arch.
Gilded bronze is bronze with a surface that has been coloured to look and shine like gold, usually by using gold foil.
This arch is very high, which is typical of Roman design - they loved elevating things which is why they built their temples
on top of a high podium.
THE ROMAN FORUM MAIN FEATURES
In contrast to the images above showing the western side of the Roman Forum,
the next image shows the eastern side of this forum in the year 100 AD.
This is the central square area of the Roman Forum with a long, white marble building, the
Basilica Julia, on the right side of the square and another long building,
the Basilica Aemilia, on the left. If you hover your cursor or touch the screen, you can see labels for
Having been built in the 170s BC, both the Basilica Aemilia and the Basilica Julia were
large buildings with venues for commercial activities. However, the Basilica Julia was more geared towards
administrative and judicial proceedings (trials) held in the various halls and rooms. This building was started by Julius
Caesar in 56 BC and finished by his nephew Emperor Augustus. It had to be reconstructed several times
after fires in 9, 199, 283 and 410 AD.
The Roman Forum extends much further east beyond the square than shown in the image. It extends back
towards the Colosseum seen in the background behind the Temple of the Divine Julius.
The Curia Julia Roman Senate
building is seen at the far left. And the
Temple of the Divine Julius, where Julius Caesar was cremated, is located in the
centre of the image. On the right side of this temple is the white Arch of Augustus which is also shown
after the next photo.
At the very bottom of the image is the Rostra Augusti speakers platform where Roman leaders stood to address the crowds. The word
"rostrum" come from this structure.
If you look closely at the front of the Basilica Julia on the right, you can see stairs leading up into the basilica. These
stairs have survived, and the photo below shows how they look in the 21st century.
Basilica Julia in the year 2004 AD - the stairs survived
Image courtesy of Penn State Univ Library Architecutre
Below is the Arch of Augustus, which is shown how it looked in the past and then in the 21st century.
This triple-arched gateway was the first of
its kind and it was located between the
Temple of the Divine Julius and the Temple of Castor and Pollux. Other Roman arches, such as the
the Arch of Septimius Severus, were all based on this structure made of three arches. The great street of ancient Rome, the
Via Sacra, passed through the large, middle arch. Unfortunately, except for the foundation, nothing remains of the
Arch of Augustus.
Arch of Augustus today and in the past.
Reconstruction drawing by Gilbert Gorski
On the right upper side of each image above, you can see a high palace called the House of Tiberius & Caligula, the ruins of which
still exist and are quite prominent. Today, you can stand on top of this ancient palace and look down at the Roman Forum.
This palace was built by
Emperor Augustus' stepson and heir, Tiberius, but he died before
it was built. However, the infamous Emperor Caligula lived there, as did Emperor Nero - for a while until his
Golden Palace was completed. Through the middle arch, you can see a rounded temple with columns - this is the Temple of
Vesta, where the Vestal Virgins and Vesta's Sacred Fire
Temple of Castor and Pollux in the year 100 AD verus today
Drawing by Gilbert Gorski - Photo by Richard Mortel CC BY 2.0
The Temple of Castor and Pollux is shown in the images above. This temple was named for mythological twin half-brothers who had the same mother, but different fathers (one human,
the other the god Zeus). The image of the temple in Roman times shows gilded bronze
statues of Castor and his brother with their horses on either side of the stairs. Those statues have vanished, but two other sets of the same
statues have been found in Rome. One set is part of a fountain, and the other (shown below), stands on the Capitoline Hill.
Castor and Pollux, known also as the "Dioscuri",
were excellent horsemen and brothers to Helen of Troy. They are also the twins in the constellation
Gemini. This temple and what it represents was important to the people of Rome because of
an event that happened in 500 BC. At that time, the early Roman Republic was threatened
by its former King and his allies, who they had to fight in a terrible battle at Lake Regillus.
Legend says that, after Castor and Pollux appeared on the
battlefield on horseback, the forces of the Republic won the battle. Afterwards, the twin brothers
reappeared in Rome where they were seen watering their horses. In gratitude, the Romans built a temple dedicated to them because
the twin deities now had a reputation for helping in a war crisis. Unfortunately, this temple was destroyed
by fire in 14 BC, but it was rebuilt by Emperor Tiberius in 6 AD, which forms the ruins we see today.
Statues of Castor & Pollux in Piazza Campidoglio
Image courtesy of Jeff Bernhard - CC BY 2.0
The photo above shows the magnificent statues of the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux standing on either side of the entrance to the
beautiful Piazza Compidoglio on top of the Palantine Hill. I always assumed these statues were the original ones from the
Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum. However, thanks to
Jeff Bondono, I now realize that these statues, though likely very
similar, are from another temple to Castor and Pollux near the Circus Flaminus, southeast of the Roman Forum.
These statues are huge, and the ones from the important and ancient Roman Forum temple must have been as large or even larger. This
gives you an idea of the scale of the temple. Just imagine statues like those on either side of the wide temple staircase. Perhaps these statues
were made of gilded bronze, which would explain why they vanished - they were melted down.
The story of the statues in the photo is very interesting. While constructing a Ghetto for Jewish people in Rome
in the 1560s, large pieces of the statues were found that matched with other pieces found years before. In 1582,
artists pieced the parts together, replaced parts that were missing, and now these huge statues stand at the entrance to the Piazza Compidoglio on
top of the Capitoline Hill. This piazza and its beautiful geometric square were designed by
Michelangelo in the 1500s. Incredibly, there is another ancient set of these statues that are part of a fountain in front
of the Quirinal Palace (Palazzo del Quirinale) in Rome, where the Italian President resides.
THE ROMAN FORUM AFTER THE FIRE OF 283 AD
In 283 AD, a catastrophic fire raged through this forum. It caused serious damage to many of the buildings
and monuments, such as the Basilica Julia, Temple of Saturn and the Curia Julia.
Intense fire can make certain types of stone - such as marble - crack and splinter apart. Also, Roman
buildings were not 100% made of stone - their roofs and interiors contained much wood.
After the fire, co-Emperors Maximian and Diocletian made many repairs and additions
to the Roman Forum
over a period of twenty years, ending in 303 AD.
The image below shows the same eastern side of the Roman Forum in 310 AD, almost 30
years after the
terrible fire of 283 AD and seven years after the repaired forum was officially opened by Emperor
Diocletian when he visited Rome in 303 AD.
Besides repairing and replacing buildings, an additional "rostra" was added to the square's east side.
Also, many tall columns of pinkish-red stone, probably Aswan Pink Granite, topped with purple statues
and resting upon white pedestals, were constructed.
These are known as "Honorary Columns or "Honorary Monuments." The
columns were 11 metres (36 feet) tall, and the statues above the columns were life-size. The purpose of these columns was to honour
both Roman Emperors and gods.
Looking east at the Roman Forum in 310 AD
Touch or hover cursor to show identifying labels
Original image credit Gilbert Gorksi - modified by myself.
Once again, you can see the Basilica Julia on the right with the Basilica Aemilia facing
it. These two buildings were adorned with many statues and were considered amongst the city's most beautiful
In the foreground, the Rostra Augusti, has changed - the platform now
supports five columns with statues on top which can be seen in
this ancient stone relief dating from the early 4th century (you can see the top of the columns behind the people).
The "Augusti" refers to Emperor Augustus, who made
changes to this speakers platform in 44 BC. This is also where Marc Antony stood to
give his famous speech
after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Part of the Rostra Augustihas survived (click to view).
On the opposite side of the square, you can see the newly added
rostra. It was called the Rostra Diocletiani, honouring Emperor Diocletian,
and it was built in the early 300s AD.
In front of the Basilica Julia, a major street, called the Via Sacra, led straight up
to the Colosseum; it was used for parades and ceremonies. Another street, Via Argiletum can be seen on the left
side, between the
Curia Julia and the Basilica Aemilia. This is where cobblers and booksellers were established before the
Forum of Nerva absorbed most of the street.
In the distance, you can see the huge Colosseum; and, standing just before it is the
Temple of Venus and Roma, the largest temple in Rome built by Emperor Hadrian. In front and just left of this large
temple is the Basilica of
Maxentius, the largest building (basilica) in the forum, which I explore further down.
On the far right, bottom, is part of the
Temple of Saturn, with the
Temple of Castor and Pollux (upper right) at the other end of the Basilica Julia.
Basilica Julia with Temple of Saturn on the right after 310 AD
Original image credit Gilbert Gorksi - modified by myself.
The image above shows the Basilica Julia in 310 AD which, by this point,
had been rebuilt for the third time by
Emperor Diocletian in 303 AD. There is a really good view of the seven Honorific Columns in
front of the Basilica Julia and the statues located under each arch.
On the far left, you can see another five Honorific Columns standing on a newly built rostra called
the Rostra Diocletiani - it was a copy of
the ancient Rostra Augusti on the far right, which also had 5 columns with statues on top. They obviously
added another rostra for reasons of archaeological symmetry at the price of making the whole public square smaller.
Also added by 310 AD are seven very prominent Honorific Columns which are all
standing in front of the Basilica Julia.
Initially, the image above by talented artist Gilbert Gorski showed a massive column atop a step pyramid on the
far right side of the square - but I had to remove it because that column was not built until the year
608 AD, which was 132 years after the Western Roman Empire ended.
That famous column still exists today and is
called the Column of Phocas. If you would still like to see it,
touch the image or move your cursor over it and that column will pop in. He may have included the column because there
are suggestions that perhaps, in the very same spot (which happens to align with Via Argiletum street),
there was an older column topped by a statue of Diocletian with no step-pyramid below.
THE ROMAN FORUM'S PORPHYRY STATUES
Basilica Julia again with Temple of Castor & Pollux on the left
Original image credit Gilbert Gorksi - modified by myself.
Most images of the Basilica Julia in this section show purple-coloured statues on top of the columns.
These particular statues are purple because they are made of a costly and very hard stone called
Imperial Porphyry, a reddish-purple stone much prized by the Romans.
The word "porphyry" comes from "porphyra," the Greek word for purple. In Roman times, this rare and prized stone was
found in only one quarry deep in the eastern desert of Egypt.
None of the Roman Forum's porphyry statues have survived, but other Roman porphyry statues still exist. Below is an image of two Roman porphyry statues
that were once part of the Forum of Trajan.
Notice how the head and hands are made of white marble - this was done because it was
easier to create fine detail for the face and
hands by using a softer stone. Carving fine detail in porphry is very difficult and time-consuming, especially for the Romans
who did not have the kinds of tools we have today.
Also, a dark, purple porphry statue with lighter-coloured face and hands formed a pleasing contrast that made the statue
more natural-looking. Another surviving example is the
of Emperor Trajan that
can still be seen inside the
Unfortunately, the marble head and limbs of that statue did not survive - most probably because they were made of
soft marble that was burned in the Middle Ages to make lime for mortar.
Another link will take you to a photo of a famous 100% porphyry statue of the Four Tetrarchs who
governed the Roman empire together in the early fourth century AD. The most famous of them was the emperor Diocletian.
Roman Porphyry Statues originally from Forum of Trajan now in the Boboli Gardens, Florence.
Image courtesy of Dimitris Kamaras
THE BASILICA AEMILIA
In the image below, we see the Basilica Aemilia again, and it has an impressive white marble exterior and many
sculptures courtesy of Emperor Augustus, who restored
the temple after a fire in 17 BC. Whenever a major building in ancient Rome was damaged
by fire or earthquake, the emperor or another rich sponsor would pay for the repairs or rebuilding.
Basilica Aemilia restored and superimposed over a current photo of the Roman Forum
This is what happened to the Basilica Aemilia when it was converted from a
large rectangular hall to a building with three long halls (naves) over 100 metres (300 feet) each with stores (tabernae) and meeting rooms. Much
commerce and the exchange of money happened in the Basilica Aemelia. In fact, even today, you can see
bronze coins that have rusted into the marble floors.
This basilica and the one across the square from it, the Basilica Julia, both suffered terrible damage after they were set on fire in the 410 BC sacking of Rome by the
Visigoth Barbarians and their leader, Alaric.
The Basilica Aemilia today in 2018 AD - not much remains
BASILICA OF MAXENTIUS
This Basilica, also known as the Basilica Nova, was the last major structure added to the Roman Forum
in the early 4th Century AD.
This building was begun by Emperor
Maxentius and completed by Emperor Constantine. It opened in 312 AD. The next two images
show this building as it appeared when new and then how it looks today.
THEN. The Basilica of Maxentius was one of the most impressive and largest concrete buildings built by the Romans.
This structure housed a huge, sitting statue
Emperor Constantine and parts of it have survived.
TODAY. The Basilica of Maxentius in 2019. All that remains of this building are the huge, concrete arches. Earthquakes in
the 9th and 14th centuries did severe damage to the structure and much of the roof collapsed.
Notice the coffered ceilings of the arches which resembled those in the Pantheon dome. This image of the Washington DC
Union train station interior shows an uncanny resemblance to the Basilica of Maxentius.
TEMPLE OF SATURN
This temple was located on the western side of the Basilica Julia. It was perhaps the oldest temple in Rome having been
built around 500 BC. Around 40 BC, the temple had
to be rebuilt again. The ruins of the Temple of Saturn that we see in Rome today are from the third rebuilding of this temple in the
The usual reason why temples had to be rebuilt was fire.
The Temple of Saturn in the year 360 AD
The image above shows a reconstructed Temple of Saturn that is probably accurate in how it shows a temple that is painted.
Roman temples that had columns with painted lower sections and painted areas above the columns were likely the rule rather than the exception. Also,
the Romans would often decorate their temples with garlands, hanging textiles, and flowers, especially during festivals honouring
The image, however, is not entirely accurate because there were eleven columns along the side, and not eight. An accurate model
of ancient Rome, called the
Plastico di Roma Imperiale clearly shows a Temple of Saturn that is six columns wide and eleven columns long. I have produced a
diagram showing the Temple of Saturn's structure.
The Temple of Saturn today with staircase missing
As shown in the photo above, all that remains of the Temple of Saturn today are eight granite columns from Egypt, a section of entablature above those columns,
and the podium foundation - the high staircase is gone. Except for the Ionic capitals, nearly all the other components of
this temple were made from recycled parts (such as the columns) from other temples that were used during its last reconstruction.
An inscription in the entablature states the current temple we see was constructed by "SPQR" - "The People and Senate of Rome"
(Senatus Populusque Romanus).
This temple was dedicated to the Roman god Saturn, a god of wealth, agriculture, and plenty, which is why the original temple was
used as Rome's "Fort Knox," known as the "Aerarium."
A large statue of Saturn, possibly made of Ivory, would have stood in the
inner temple chamber called the Cella . On December 17th, the merry festival of
Saturnalia would occur, and it is from
this festival that some aspects of Christmas have been derived, such as gift-giving, singing songs, decorating with greenery,
and lights. This festival was considered the merriest of the Roman festivals and even the enslaved people did not have to work. In fact,
slave-owners would reverse roles and serve the slaves.
My last look at the Temple of Saturn is from the year 1774. It is an engraving by the Italian artist and architect
Giovanni Battista Piranesi. In the image, the artist was standing next to the Arch of Septimius Severus
(on the far right) and he was looking straight at the front of the temple. The staircase is completely covered and various newer
structures were built in close proximity to the ancient temple.
Temple of Saturn in 1774
Etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi
CAESAR AND THE TEMPLE OF SATURN
There is a very interesting story about Julius Caesar and the Temple of Saturn.
In 49 BC, Caesar was at war with Pompey, and he urgently needed money for his armies. So he headed to the
Aeraium treasury located below the Temple of Saturn.
Tribunes, called the "Tribuni aerarii" (treasury officials), told Caesar that the keys to the treasury doors could not be found.
A very frustrated and angry Caesar ordered the doors
pried open, which caused the Tribunes to make a big fuss. Well, in response, Caesar simply threatened to kill
them all, also saying he really didn't enjoy having to say that. Anyhow, he got his money - a lot of money -
thirty thousand bars of silver, fifteen thousand bars of gold, and millions of coins.
Caesar then marched off with his armies and achieved victory after victory, bringing great wealth to Rome. It sure seems like
letting him take all that money was a good thing. He repaid the "investment" many times over during the next
five years of his life before he was assassinated in 44 BC. This story certainly shows how Caesar was a very
determined person who would not let a small thing like a door stand in the way to victory.
This concludes my look at the Roman Forum. I hope you enjoyed your experience and learned many interesting things
about this grandest of all the Roman forums. Please click the forum guide below if you would like to look
at another forum.
The links below offer additonal information about the ROMAN FORUM, including entrance fees, hours, how to get there, etc.