Roman Forum: Imperial Times II

Forum Romanum    Map Roman Forum

Roman Forum
photos: Marc Barrot

On the actual Forum, bordered by the basilicas Julia and Aemilia, later emperors left even more monuments as their legacy. Augustus and Tiberius, for example, commissioned the construction of triumphal arches. Only some remnants of these remain (reconstruction Arch of Augustus). The later triumphal arches by Titus and Septimius Severus can still be admired today.

Arch of Titus     Arco di Tito

Roman Forum: Arch of Titus
photo: Rabax63

The arches were a symbol of the emperor’s power. They were erected in honour of his feats. The reliefs on the arches depicted the good deeds by the emperor, and naturally he posed as a mighty general, even if he never attended the field of battle. After this kind of ‘victory’, the emperor was cheered by a crowd as he passed underneath the arch in a procession towards the Forum.

Roman Forum arch Titus Colosseum
photo: David Edkins Unsplash License

Arch of Titus and side    Wikipedia pictures

Roman Forum: Arch Titus
photos Alessio Nastro Siniscalchi and side: Egisto Sani

Arch of Titus layout:
1. Attic, dedication by the senate and Roman people to the Divine Titus
2. Frieze with a scene of the triumph of Titus and Vespasian over the Jews
3. Victories on spheres with trophies
4. Doors       Left     One of which (north) opened on the stairs that led up to the attic
5. Virtus (on the eastern face) and Honos (on the western face)
6. Coffered ceiling with, in the center, apotheosis of Titus, AD 81 (Unsplash License)
7. Southern relief of the archway with a scene of triumph
8. Entablature

Bringing the treasures from the Jewish temple and the seven-armed candlestick 
Clay model    

Arch Titus Jewish temple
photos: Slices of Light and clay model: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Procession of the Roman emperor Vespasian after the fall of the Jewish uprising
Clay model    Lacma (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Arch Titus Vespasian procession
photos: Eric M. Livak Hale and clay model: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

It was founded in 81 AD by emperor Domitian for his brother Titus and his father Vespasian after their suppression of the Jewish resistance. The passage shows reliefs on both sides about taking treasures, including the candelabra with 7 arms, from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

Titus could only conquer the city after setting it ablaze. He took tens of thousands of prisoners of war that he deployed for the construction of the Colosseum. In June of 71, Titus and Vespasian held a  triumphal march in Rome (for more info about these, click here for Wikipedia).

Not at the current arch, after all, it was only erected following the death of Titus, but at a triumphal arch near the Porta Capena, at the Circus Maximus. The Jewish historian, Joseph ben Mathityahu, who owed his life to Vespasian, was present at this Roman triumphal procession. His eyewitness report describes what this procession looked like and what took place.

“For almost all the remarkable and valuable objects which have ever been collected, piece by piece, by prosperous people, were on that day massed together, affording a clear demonstration of the might of the Roman Empire. Here was a fertile land being ravaged, here whole detachments of enemy being slaughtered, others -in flight and others being led off into captivity. […] The greatest amazement was caused by the floats. Their size gave grounds for alarm about their stability, for many were three or four stories high, and in the richness of their manufacture they provided an astonishing and pleasurable sight. The war was divided into various aspects and represented in many tableaux which gave a good indication of its character. […] Spoil in abundance was carried past. A golden table many stones in weight and a golden lamp stand, similarly made, which was quite unlike any object in daily use. A centre shaft rose from a base, and from the shaft thin branches or arms extended, in a pattern very like that of tridents, each wrought at its end into a lamp. There were seven of these lamps, thus emphasizing the honour paid by the Jews to the number seven. A tablet of the Jewish Law was carried last of all spoil. After it came a large group carrying statues of victory, all of them made of ivory and gold. The procession was completed by Vespasian, and, behind him, Titus. Domitian rode on horseback wearing a beautiful uniform and on a mount that was wonderfully well worth seeing.”

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 pp. 206-207.

At the top on the inside of the arch, Titus is depicted whilst being carried up by Jupiter as an eagle to become a divus.

Arch of Titus inscription in situ

Arch Titus: inscription Senatus
photo: in situ Georg Rex

A large engraving ornaments the eastern door head. The inscription originally had bronze letters, but these have disappeared.The holes into which the letters were mounted can still be seen. The Latin text (included in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum under no. VI 945) says:
The translation is: “The Roman Senate and People (dedicate this) to the divine Titus Vespasianus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian.”
The western side has another inscription. This is no longer the original Roman one, as it has perished. This inscription mentions that Pope Pius VII had the arch restored in the early 19th century. This inscription says the following:
Detail of the arch of Titus that shows the looting of Jerusalem.
(This) monument, remarkable in terms of both religion and art, had weakened from age: Pius the Seventh, Supreme Pontiff, by new works on the model of the ancient exemplar ordered it reinforced and preserved. In the 24th year of his sacred rulership.
Cited from Wikipedia

Around 1995, archaeologists discovered that the Jewish treasures from the temple of Jerusalem largely financed the Colosseum. The evidence was a stone of one of the amphitheatre’s entrances. The text on this stone could be reconstructed using the small holes left behind by the nails of the copper letters. “Imp. T. Caes. Vespasianus Aug. Amphitheatrum Novum Ex Manubis Fieri Iussit.”The translation is: “The Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus had this new amphitheatre erected with the spoils of war. There is no doubt what war this was, the sack of Jerusalem,” said Cinzia Conti, the director of surface restoration at the Colosseum.

Charles-Louis Clérisseau ‘Arch of Titus in Rome’ c. 1721-1820 Hermitage
Caspar Adriaans van Wittel ‘Arch of Titus’ early 17th century

Charles-Louis Clérisseau 'Arch of Titus in Rome' c. 1721-1820

The Arch of Titus is situated at the summit of the Velia, a continuation of the Palatine and the highest point of the Via Sacra. It was a popular spot for many artists, including the Dutch Maarten van Heemskerck from the 16th century, where they painted their vedutisti, the ‘faces of Rome.’  In the Middle Ages, the arch was part of a castle (Piranesi, Rijksmuseum), which has likely contributed to it still being so well-preserved. The arch of Septimius Severus from 203 AD, is the last triumphal arch that was built on the Forum Romanum.

Roman Forum
photo: Ania Mendrek

Contrary to the arch of Titus, this arch has three passage ways. The reliefs on the arch have mostly vanished, they contained the tales of Septimius’ victories in Parthia (Iraq and Iran) and Arabia. The inscription at the top of the arch was first devoted to Septimius and his sons Caracalla and Geta, but after Caracalla murdered Geta following his father’s death, Geta’s name was removed. This can still be seen today by the pin holes of the copper letters that hint towards the name Getanog.

The Arch of Septimius Severus    Wikipedia pictures

Arch Septimius Severus
photo in situ: Jebulon

The inscription  arch of Septimius Severus

Arch Septimius Severus: inscription

To the Emperor Septimius Severus, Son of Marcus, Pius, Pertinax, Pater Patriae, Parthicus Arabicus, Parthicus Adiabenicus, Pontifex Maximus, having held the tribunician power 11 times ;acclaimed emperor 11 times, Consul 3 times, Proconsul, and Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Caracalla), Son of Lucius, Antoninus, Augustus Pius, Felix;having held the auspicious tribunician power 6 times, Consul, Proconsul, and to the most noble son of Lucius Septimius, Publius Septimius Geta, for having restored the State and enlarged the Empire of the Roman people, by their visible strengths at home and abroad, the Senate and People of Rome. The name Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus Pius Felix is Carcalla and the official name of Geta is Caesar Publius Septimius Geta. The words ‘and to the most noble son of Lucius Septimius, Publius Septimius Geta’ were changed to ‘Pater Patriae, Highest and Strongest Princes’.  (Jona Lendering)

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 pp. 148-149

The arch was not built specifically for a procession, as becomes evident from the steps that would make a passage more difficult. In the Middle Ages, this arch, covered mostly in earth and debris, was mostly the location of a barber shop. The influence of the Severus arch in the history of art has been remarkable. The figures in the points (victory) on the Capitol-side can be found in many places elsewhere, including on doors and ceilings throughout the whole of Europe.

Piranesi ‘Arch of  Septimius Severus’ detail 1749-1750 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Matthijs Bril ‘Arch of Septimius Severus’ 1601 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Maarten van Heemskerck ‘Forum Romanum’

Piranesi ‘Arch of  Septimius Severus’

In 91 AD, emperor Domitianus founded a cavalry statue of himself on the old Forum (before Caesar’s temple). Domitianus was depicted as a cavalryman to commemorate the victory he achieved over the Germanic tribes. The statue was so large that they reinforced the square pedestal with a heavy iron core to make the entire construction sturdy enough. The senate, which still existed at the time, was furious about this and condemned this emperor to a damnatio memoriae. The cavalry statue was smashed by angry mobs after Domitianus’ murder in 99. It took another two centuries for another cavalry statue to appear on near enough the same spot in front of the temple of Julius Divus, a statue of emperor Constantine this time.

Under Domitianus’ reign, seven victory columns were also erected on the side of the Via Sacra across the basilica. These columns celebrated the regular joe. Atop the columns were statues of citizens, which were of tremendous importance to the Roman Epire under Diocletianus. Two of them, albeit partially, still remain.

Milliarium Aureum

“A monumental milestone was erected by Augustus in the Roman Forum in 20 B.C., on the occasion of his appointment to the “Curator viarum’ office. As reported by Cassius Dio (Historia Romana, 54.8,4), this milestone had to be called the ‘Milliarium Urbis’ even though it received the name of ‘Milliarium Aureum’ (Golden Milestone). According to Plutarch (Galba, 24.4), all roads intersecting Italy were considered to finally lead to this monument, conceived as the ideal landmark linked to the whole system of Roman roads.”

Source: Milestone Rome (The milestone project)

Remnants of the Milliarium Aureum and in situ

Remnants Milliarium Aureum
photo in situ: Sebastià Giralt

The Milliarium Aureum was founded in 20 BC. under emperor Augustus. This was a column that displayed in gold letters the distances from Rome to the most important provinces. The distance of every country road was measured from this column. Not far from the temple of Saturn, the original place, remnants of the Milliarium Aureum can still be seen. Pliny the Elder writes this about the Golden Milestone:

“Measured from the Mile-Stone on an elevated position of the Roman Forum to each gate – these currently are thirty-seven in total, whilst keeping into account that the twelve double gates should be counted as one and seven of the old gates that no longer exist are not included – the combined length of the (main) roads within that same city wall measures to 31200 meters in a straight line.”

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. 167

The umbilicus urbis

Close to the rostra and the milliarium aureum, emperor Septimius Severus commissioned the umbilicus urbis, or, the navel of Rome. The cylinder-shaped brick building was the centre of the city.

The remnants of the umbilicus urbis

remnants umbilicus urbis
photo: Sebastià Giralt

The Porticus deorum consentium

The porticus deorum consentium and top view

Porticus deorum consentium
photos: Sebastià Giralt and top view: daleeast

The porticus deorum consentium, or the porticus of the twelve gods, was constructed under the imperial reign of Diocletianus and was mostly reconstructed following the 1858 excavations. The colonnade is situated at the Clivus Capitolinus, the only road for carriages and horses at the Forum Romanum (for more info about the Clivus Capitolinus, click here for Wikipedia). The bent colonnade had the statues of the twelve supreme gods. The original porticus, somewhere near the Forum, dates back to the Republic and was built after the Romans suffered defeat at the hands of the Punics. Benches were set up and the twelve statues of the gods were placed on them: one female and male god at each table. They partook in an extensive ceremonial meal. In doing so, the Romans hoped to gain favour with the gods and it indeed bore fruit, as the third and final war against the Punics was eventually won (for more info, click here for Wikipedia).

Continuation Rome day 3 Roman Forum: 500 AD.