Rome day 3

The Roman Forum 1/3

The origin of Rome, the old Roman Forum and the Forum as a political centre

The origin of Rome large size       Current situation aerial
archaic Rome model


Archaic Rome large size       Youtube current situation Tiber island in ancient time
Tiber island in antiquity reconstruction Rome

photo: Nike is now

Tiber island reconstruction
Tiber island in antiquity reconstruction Rome

photo’s: Nike is now

The first inhabitants of Rome, the Latin people, lived on the Palatine Hill. They were a people of shepherds. Archaeological research uncovered several post holes, enabling the huts they lived in to be reconstructed.

1. Youtube  Remus and Romulus and the foundation of  Rome (2.49 minutes)
2. Youtube lecture about the hut of and the architecture by  professor Kleiner Yale University (starts 3.25)

Nowadays, the post holes can still be seen underneath a little corrugated roof. This is called the hut of ‘Romulus’.

The Sabine shepherds lived on two neighbouring hills, the Capitoline and the Esquiline. The terrain, a valley between these hills, is the  Roman Forum. The Roman and Sabine villages on the three hills grew so rapidly that they had to expand their territory towards the slopes of the hills near the valley.

The myth and inception of Rome

The founder of Rome allegedly descended from Aeneas. Aeneas fled from Troye and after a lot of wandering found himself in Italy. One later family member of Aeneas was Rhea Silvia. She bore a twin by the god Mars: Romulus and Remus. These twins were thrown into the Tiber by their uncle Amulius, the brother of Rhea Silvia’s father, and their mother Rhea was flogged and then killed. The basket with the tin babies ended up at a bank of the Tiber. The children were fed by a female wolf.

At reaching adulthood, they returned to the place where the basket reached land near a sacred fig tree. Out of the two of them, who was to become king of this region, devoting his name to the city? They consulted the Gods. Remu went to the Aventine and Romulus went to the Palatine. There, where they stood, they drew a circle in the sand around them. Both glanced up to the sky, awaiting a divine sign. Remus saw six vultures that penetrated the circle around the Palatine. He speeds down the hill to share this wondrous news with Romulus, but then he sees that twelve vultures fly into the circle of Romulus. Great confusion ensued. What did the Gods mean? Who was king? A heated discussion between the twins ended in blood. Remus was killed.

According to some authors, Romulus Remus killed Remus in his army camp. That is how Romulus became the first king and the city was awarded the name of this king. The population of the new city barely increased. The Romans were lacking in women. So Romulus came up with an idea. A large feast was to be held, with invitations extended to the neighbouring people, the Sabines on the Capitoline and the Esquiline. With a pre-determined signal, and unexpectedly, the Romans grabbed the young Sabine women. They were dragged past the city gate and forced into marriage. War was almost inevitable. The young, newly-wed women solved the conflict by standing in between both parties: ‘stop this war, no matter the end, we will always lose. When the Romans win, we lose our fathers and brothers, but if the Sabines win, we lose our husbands.’

According to this legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC. This date seems to be right. Etruria, north of Rome, begins to develop rapidly and Cumae, south of Rome, is founded by the Greek. These two areas prospered in mutual trade. The Etruscans mostly traded bronze (Etruria mined for copper and tin), traded for such items including Greek pottery. The Palatine and Capitoline were situated on an important crossroads of trade routes going north to south. The Tiber allowed you reach the island in the Tiber by boat, close to the Palatine and Capitoline. What is more, two roads from Etruria to Campania crossed the Tiber, exactly at an island in this river. Trade carts could easily wade through this place.

Etruscan kings ruling Rome c. 617-50

The first Etruscan king, Tarquinius Priscus, who annexed Rome, constructed the Cloaca Maxima (large sewer). For more information about this sewer, click here at Wikipedia or, for the path of the Cloaco Maxima, see the map.


Cloaca Maxima large size
Cloaca Maxima Rome
Cloaca Maxima exit in the Tiber
Cloaca Maxima exit in the Tiber Rome

At around 575 BC., wooden temples are constructed at the old forum, later replaced by stone versions and even later, under the rule of emperor Augustus, by marble buildings. The Roman Forum will expand into an important centre for politics, religion, trade and justice, but after 27 BC. also becomes the seat of imperial power. Later, the emperors will also construct the imperial forums.

The old Roman Forum

According to the myth, the Forum arose in 753  BC. After the taking of the Sabine women, Romulus and the leader of the Sabines, Titus Tatius, settle for peace at the place of the Vulcanal or Volconal (see map: Shrine of Vulcan) This was the sacred place with an altar, devoted to the God of the fire Vulcan. Only a few tuff fragments remain of this old sanctuary. The Roman Forum itself is pretty small. The map of the old Roman Forum during the Roman Republic.

Next to the altar of Vulcanal, there were other important things at this location including an open space in the pavement. Things including a fig tree, an olive tree and vines – the traditional Italian crops – with in their midst a statue of Marsyas. This depiction of the satyr Marsyas, who believed himself to play the flute better than the god Apollo, was a warning against pride and also stood as a symbol for civil liberty.

Ficus, olea, vitis
 Roman Forum Ficus, olea, vitis Rome

There was also the pit of Lacus Curtius (see map: curtian pond). This sacred place, according to legend, was a deep gap in the ground. The horseman Marcus Curtius, with full gear, jumped into the gap with his horse, after which it closed permanently.

Finally there is the Lapis Niger, but in order to view this famous rock, one must descend down quite a few steps.

This was home to a grave, according to some even, it was the grave of Romulus. The stone has an inscription in the most ancient of Latin. You can read more about the Lapis Niger and the grave at Wikipedia.

The political centre is North-West of the Roman  Forum


Roman Forum view from the Palatine and an aerial view with the Roman Forum remnants
Roman Forum view from the Palatine and an aerial view Rome

Close to the Vulcanal was the oldest place where the chieftains of the Sabines and the Romans gathered: the comitium. Later on the Curia was constructed. The Curia bordered the comitium and was probably commissioned by the third Etruscan king, Tullus Hostilius. The building was the meeting hall for the Senate, where all the major decisions during the Roman Republic were made. The Curia of Hostilius, the first and oldest burned down in 54 BC., under Julius Caesar’s reign a new one was built, aptly named the Curia Julius. The Curia that still stands there today, hails from the era of emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD.), the original doors now ornament the main entrance of the San Giovanni in Laterano. Wonderful reconstructions and a video of the Curia during Caesar’s reign can be seen here at Le Plan de Rome.

Curia Roman Forum Senate
Curia Roman Forum

pictures: Bart Mertens, Dodge and the reconstruction of the interior




Interior current Curia Diocletian
Interior current Curia Diocletian Roman Forum Rome

The rostra was originally above the comitium. The rostra was a platform on which orators addressed the mass, especially during the senate elections. From 338 BC., the rostra was decorated with the naval rams (rostra) of the ships conquered by the Romans during the Antium battle. The Greek historian Plutarchus described how the orators addressed the mass from the comitium along with the macabre tradition to put heads on display. (Click here to read more about Plutarchus at Wikipedia)

‘When they addressed the people, Tiberius Gracchus stood firmly at one spot, but Gaius was the first Roman to walk back and forth on the orator’s stage and discard the toga from his shoulder whilst speaking […]. What is more, Gaius intimidated his audience with a style of speech that was passionate to the extent of being pathetic, but Tiberius used a style that was mild, aimed at arousing compassion. Tiberius’ choice of words was correct and carefully selected, the words of Gaius were brilliant and enthralling.’ (Plutarchus) For more information about these two brothers: Wikipedia.


Apart from the Gracchus brothers, hundreds of others delivered their speeches here; emissaries were received; heads of the victims of Marcus Antonius, Lepidus and Octavianus were displayed here during the winter of 43-42. The head and the hand of Cicero were placed at the Forum near the orator’s stage for quite some time, the same place where he used to address the people. More people were drawn to this than when he actually spoke. (Plutarchus Jona Lendering) Cicero’s last words are said to have been, “There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.” He bowed to his captors, leaning his head out of the litter in a gladiatorial gesture to ease the task. By baring his neck and throat to the soldiers, he was indicating that he wouldn’t resist. According to Plutarch, Herennius first slew him, then cut off his head. On Antony’s instructions his hands, which had penned the Philippics against Antony, were cut off as well; these were nailed along with his head on the Rostra [naval ram] in the Forum Romanum according to the tradition of Marius and Sulla, both of whom had displayed the heads of their enemies in the Forum. Cicero was the only victim of the proscriptions who was displayed in that manner.

Svedomsky ‘Fulvia With the Head of Cicero’ detail and in its entirety large size
Svedomsky 'Fulvia With the Head of Cicero' detail

According to Cassius Dio (in a story often mistakenly attributed to Plutarch), Antony’s wife Fulvia took Cicero’s head, pulled out his tongue, and jabbed it repeatedly with her hairpin in final revenge against Cicero’s power of speech. Wikipedia

Cited from Jona Lendering, ‘Stad in marmer Gids voor het antieke Rome aan de hand van tijdgenoten’, Athenaeum- Polak&Van Gennep, Amsterdam 2002 p. 155-156 and Wikipedia

At the time of Julius Caesar, the old rostra at the foot of the Capitoline was moved to the real ancient square, the Roman Forum, placing the rostra directly on the axis across the divine temple of Caesar. For a proper map with the history of the comitium and the senate, click here (source: Wikipedia).

In 367 BC., the temple of Concordia was inaugurated. Originally, only the patricians (rich folk) were eligible for selection into the senate. After a hefty battle spanning some two hundred years, the people had the right to elect the people’s tribunes into the senate. These tribunes had a veto right, allowing them to block votes. For five years, the people’s tribunes Licinius and Sextius made it impossible to govern Rome by invoking their veto rights. They aimed to accomplish that the people’s tribunes, too, could be elected as consuls. There were two consuls, one governed the land and the other headed the Roman army. After five years, the senate yielded and the tribunes received what they wished for, the Lex Licinia Sextia were adopted. To commemorate this happy ending, the Concordia was founded.

Remnants of the Concordia temple and a  reconstruction
Remnants of the Concordia temple Roman Forum Rome


To the continuation of  day 3 (1)