Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Roman Forum

The Forum was the centre of political, commercial and judicial life in ancient Rome. The largest buildings were the basilicas, where legal cases were heard. According to the playwright Plautus, the area teemed with “lawyers and litigants, bankers and brokers, shopkeepers and strumpets, good for nothings waiting for a tip from the rich”.

The Roman Forum was not simply the core of an ancient city; for many it was the centre of the universe. From the birth of the empire under Augustus in 31 BC, and for nearly 500 years thereafter, Rome ruled most of what we call the civilised world. Moreover, Rome was the handmaiden of the alphabet in the Western world, a basis for urban organisation and its legal institutions, whilst also creating startling new horizons in architecture. From the Forum it ruled over its empire, setting in place legal and military systems. It gave the word ‘forum’ to the English language as a place of debate, discussion and decision.

As Rome’s population boomed, the Forum became too small. In 46 BC Julius Caesar built a new one, setting a precedent that was followed by emperors from Augustus to Trajan. As well as the Imperial Fora, emperors also erected triumphal arches to themselves. Just to the east Vespasian built the Colosseum, centre of entertainment after the business of the day.

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