The Roman Forum

The Center of Ancient Rome

After about 250 years of an aristocratic monarchy, known mostly through legends, Rome was governed for almost 500 years by an aristocratic republic. During this period, Rome first defeated local rivals, including the Etruscans, and then developed an expansive empire especially through a series of wars with Carthage. Rome’s eventual victory in these Punic Wars included her first conquests of Greek cities, which not only enlarged her empire but even changed her character, for Rome came quickly to admire the art, architecture, science, literature, and philosophy of the Greeks. To paraphrase the poet Horace, rustic and warlike Rome conquered Greece, but then was conquered and transformed by the Greeks’ high and alluring culture.

As we wander though the ruins of the Roman Forum, then, it is important to remember that its development was decisively influenced by the growth of Rome’s Empire, which brought in great wealth and the influence of the Greeks.

The Forum Romanum was the center of Ancient Rome, and we will dedicate several podcasts to it and to the Palatine Hill, which overlooks it.

In the meantime, suffice it to say that there is a lot to see in the Forum, that it is a good place to illustrate and ponder some of Ancient Rome’s chief characteristics and some her most dramatic moments. Here are several of the subjects it brings to the fore:

  • The close interpenetration between Roman politics and religion
  • The practice of having successful generals celebrate a “Triumph,” which the philosopher Montesquieu called “the main cause of the greatness the city attained.”
  • Marc Antony’s dramatic and transforming Funeral Oration over Caesar’s body
  • Rome’s attention to public works, including aqueducts, sewers, and roads
  • The question of why there is not more of Ancient Rome still standing and left to see: Where did it all go?
View of the Forum from the Capitoline Museums

View of the Forum from the Capitoline Museums (Photo Blake Buchannan)

The structures or type of structure we will visit include the following:

  • Temples
  • Triumphal Arches
  • Political Structures
  • Residences (for the Vestal Virgins in the Forum, for Emperors on the Palatine Hill)
  • A Stadium (on the Palatine)
  • Basilicas
  • A Sewer and a Road
Ruins of the Temple of Concordia and the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum

Bring your imagination: Only three columns remain of the Temple of Concordia, eight of the Temple of Saturn (My photo)

The First Emperor