Plautus (ca. 250-184 BC., for more information about this Roman playwright click here for Wikipedia) described in one of his comedies the people and the buildings on the Roman Forum:
“Before he comes out,
I will direct you all classes of women and men.
You would find it easy to find a willing mouth.
Decent or vile, esteemed or without worth.
For perjurers, try the Comitium.
Liars and braggarts hang around the Shrine of Cloacina.
Rich, married ne’er do-wells by the Basilica.
Packs of prostitutes there too- but rather clapped-out ones.
In the Fish-Market, members of the dining clubs.
In the lower Forum respectable, well-to-do-citizens out for a stroll.
In the Middle Forum, flashier types along the canal.
By the Lacus Curtius you will find bold fellows with a tongue in their head
and a bad intent in their mind.
great slanderers of others and very vulnerable to it themselves.
By the old shops, the money-lenders- they will make or take a loan.
Behind the Temple of Castor there are men to whom you wouldn’t entrust yourself.
In the Vicus Tuscus are men
who sell themselves.”
Cited and translated from Jona Lendering, ‘Stad in marmer Gids voor het antieke Rome aan de hand van tijdgenoten’, Athenaeum- Polak&Van Gennep, Amsterdam 2002 p. 141
As mentioned, the Forum was very important for religion, as the vulcanal reveals. This altar offered gifts for the god of fire, Vulcanus. When constructing the Cloaca Maxima, a sanctuary in honour of the water goddess Cloacina was constructed as well. This is all that remains of this little temple.
The home was reconstructed around the 2nd century AD (reconstruction drawing). Ever since the Forum’s inception, a similar building has existed. Around the courtyard – an atrium with three ponds – were the rooms of the six Vestal virgins. The building had its own bakery on the ground floor, a mill, kitchen and rooms to store supplies. The first floor was home to the six priestesses. Two of them were between six and ten years of age, they were still in training. The virgins were tasked with keeping the fire burning in the adjacent round temple of Vesta.
This custom likely dates back to times where the girls had to keep the fire, a precious commodity, going. The temple was also important because of the palladium it stored. The palladium is a sculpture of Pallas Athena, that Aeneas took from the distant Troy.
In addition, they had to store the testaments of important persons and perform all kinds of rituals. One of the rituals was the purification of water, drawn from the remote source of Egeria. The purification process involved salt, which had to be purified itself by baking it in a pot.
Upon joining, the priestesses took a vow to stay a virgin for thirty years. If they did not comply or if the sacred fire died out, they would be buried alive with bread and a light in an underground space on the Quirinal. The virgins enjoyed a high status in Rome, they were drawn from the rich families of Rome. If a priestess met someone sentenced to death, they could grant that person a pardon. They were also allowed to ride through Rome by carriage, a privilege usually reserved for the emperor’s wife.
The regia can be found close to the Vestal temple and the home of the Vestal priestesses. This building was the official residence of the head priest, the Pontifex Maximus. According to legend, Numa Pompilius, the second king, commissioned both the regia and the Vestal temple. Numa accordingly lived here. The regia holds the shield of Mars, the father of Romulus. The regia is also devoted to Ops Consiva, the goddess of harvest. The building was rebuilt in 64 by emperor Nero following a large fire. Currently, only a small part of the wall remains.
The temple of Saturn, at the foot of the Capitoline, was constructed c. 510 B C.
According to legend, the god Saturn was welcomed by Janus when arriving at the Forum, after which he resided in the building at the foot of the Capitoline. Saturn (the word is derived from sowing) allegedly introduced the Romans to agriculture. The statue of Saturn was located in the cella, filled with olive oil and he held pruning shears in his hand. In the podium to the left was a small space in which the Romans kept their treasury. For six days in December, every year, a heathen feast was held around the temple; the so-called saturnalia. There were no class differences during this feast, sometimes the masters would even serve their slaves. Everyone handed out gifts, with plenty of dining and drinking (Click here for Wikipedia if you want to learn more about the saturnalia)
The temple of Castor and Pollux and the pit of Iuturna
This temple, also called the Dioscuri temple, was built a bit later than the temple of Saturn, in 484 BC.
Juturna Roman Forum
According to legend, following the victory of the Romans over the Latins and the Volsci at the lake of Regillus, the gods Pollux and Castor immediately conveyed the victory message to Rome. This victory made the Romans the overlords of Middle-Italy.
At the pit of Juturna, these gods gave water to their horses and in order to satisfy the vow of the Romans the temple was founded next to the pit. The source is likely very old and a meeting place used to be here for the shepherd tribes, who lived on the hills surrounding the Forum.
The Roman Forum as a trade centre
The word forum, which means market, emphasises that trade was important at the Roman Forum. There were all kinds of shops, tabernae, around the square. At the spot where the first butcher shops once stood, the four-aisled basilica Aemilia was built later in 179 BC.
After the butchers were driven out, the tabernae were included in the porticus of the Aemilia and the money traders took over. The money traders later moved to an exterior wall of the basilica where they were kept out of view by a colonnade. When the Goths looted Rome under the command of Alarik in 410 AD, the building was set ablaze. This can be seen today by the molten coins of the money exchangers on the remnants of the marble floor of the Aemilia. The basilica had a porticus on the side of the forum and on the west side, with the Argiletum (an important street) it had an open column hall. The Argiletum was the area of book traders, copyists, but also pickpockets.
Across the Aemilia, the basilica of Julius was erected, started under Julius Caesar and completed under emperor Augustus. This basilica replaced the old basilica Sempronia. The remnants of the columns and foundations show the remarkable size it once had.
A third basilica, the largest of the three, is the basilica of Maxentius
The construction started under emperor Maxentius in c. 300 AD. The building was completed in 324 by emperor Constantine. This explains the other name it tends to have, the basilica of Constantine. The western apse was home to a colossal statue of the ruling Constantine, of which the head alone was two metres in length. The remnants of this statue can now be seen at the Capitoline museum. The Maxentius was built on an artificial terrace, which first held the porticus of the Domus Aurea of Nero, which was later used as a storage space for Eastern spices.
The three-aisled basilica had a surface area of 100 x 65 metres and 35 metres in height (floor plan). The ceiling was not a timber roof truss as per usual, but consisted of barrel vaults with cassettes in the side naves, and crossed vaults in the central nave.
What was also unusual was the use of pillars instead of columns. This was a type of construction normally only applied in bathhouses. An earthquake in 1349 collapsed a large part of the Maxentius. In 1614, one of the eight twenty metre high columns; located against the pillar, was taken to the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore. It took sixty horses to carry the column. Needless to say, a statue of Maria was placed on top. Another column ended up in St. Petersburg.
Basilica were not only used for trade, but for justice. The judge would then sit in the apse. During the imperial days, the Forum Romanum changed.