Roman Forum: Facts & History

The Roman Forum has been for centuries the political and social heart of Ancient Rome.
When we talk about the Roman Forum we are actually talking about a series of spaces and not about a single monument. The forum also represents the most ancient public area in Rome, a large plain made up by several buildings. The ruins that can be seen today in the archaeological area tells us the political, religious and economic events of Rome’s history between the 7th century B.C and the 5th century A.D.
Before visiting the Roman Forum we recommend you to gather all the information about tickets and opening hours in our related post “Roman Forum Info, Tickets and Opening Hours“.

The Roman Forum in Rome
Credits: image by @kirkandmimi

Is there a difference between the Roman Forum and Imperial Fora?

The answer to this question is “yes”. Thus, before starting discovering this incredible site, it’s also important to point out that there’s actually a difference between the Roman Forum and the Imperial Fora.

The Roman Forum is the area located between the Palatine and the Capitoline hills, and was the religious, economic and political center of Ancient Rome during the Republican age. Instead, the Imperial Forum, which sometimes are referred to as Imperial Fora (fora is the plural of forum) were built only later throughout a century and a half by the Roman Emperors. The area comprised a series of monumental squares, that today shows the ruins of the Forum of Caesar, the Forum of Augustus, the Forum of Vespasian, the Forum of Nerva and the Trajan’s Markets.

Origins of the Roman Forum

The vast natural valley that hosts the Roman Forum is protected by the canonical seven hills of Rome and was used since the 13th century B.C – well before Rome’s ruling on the mediterranean – by local tribes as burial place. These tribes lived in villages perched on the hills and chose this are for their trades, since it was regarded as a sort of free trade area. Indeed the word “forum”originally means “outside” and only later in time it started indicating a meeting place.

However, the valley was actually a marshy area, not the best place to live in! Since it had already become one of the main center of Rome’s life, the area needed to be reclaimed. Therefore, the Romans dried the valley and in 7th century B.C. they built an underground waterway to serve as sewer. This great drain was called Cloaca Maxima and it is still in use today!

View of the Roman Forum from Capitoline Hill in Rome
Credits: image by @kirkandmimi

Life in the Roman Forum

The area of the forum was used for assemblies, for commercial and religious functions and as a trading point. The square became the center for community life and a very crowded place, where people of all origins, nations and social status gathered.

Special events such as political speeches, triumphal ceremonies and even macabre displays often took place, attracting more and more people. Just think about the famous speech Marc Antony gave for Caesar or Silla’s creepy ritual, who used to impale the heads of his enemies in the forum for everyone to see.

Every day farmers came to the Roman Forum from the countryside and set up stalls to sell their products: olive oil, wine, pots of honey and fresh fish and fruit. Even slaves were sold in this huge market, and signs were displayed advertising their price and their skills. Like in every overcrowded place there were also pickpockets and thieves lurking around.

A 3D Model of Ancient Rome

When visiting the Roman Forum and the Imperial Fora one of the most difficult things is to visualize how the area might actually looked in its heyday, since the ruins that we see today were actually huge buildings connected to each other in a complex urban landscape. This is because we just have random ruins of the monuments that once occupied this space and intermittent archaeological excavations. Nowadays, it seems like the area was hit by bombs, due to devastation occurred during the 15th and 16th century when the ruins were plundered for materials.

One way to overcome this limit and get a better understanding of what was going on in the Roman Forum, it’s looking at modern reconstructions, which can be very helpful and a great boost to our imagination!

Professor Bernard Frischer, leading virtual archaeologist and project director of Rome Reborn created in collaboration with Khan Academy a great 3D digital model of Ancient Rome . The model is extremely helpful, especially if you are planning to visit the archaeological area.

Roman Forum Highlights

Today, the archaeological site of the Roman Forum shows incredible ruins and evidence of Rome’s life. The area comprises many temples, triumphal arches, buildings and memorial columns. Most of them are displayed along the main street, which is called Via Sacra, the ancient triumphal sacred road that crosses the entire forum. During your visit we recommend you to take time to stop and see the following highlights in the Roman Forum:

Temple of Venus and Rome
Arch of Titus
Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine
Temple of Romulus
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
Temple of Vesta
Temple of Castor and Pollux
Temple of Caesar
Basilica Julia
Basilica Aemilia
Curia Julia
Arch of Septimius Severus
Column of Phocas