History’s Greatest Meeting Place
By MELISSA T. CASTRO
Saint Aurelius Ambrose is credited with giving us the age-old proverb “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
That is to say, as they did in the 4th century A.D. Today, that translates to wearing your gladiator mask as you brave the crowds at the Colosseum, making a pilgrimage to the Sistine Chapel, and, of course, visiting the markets.
In the 4th century you would have been able to do one-stop shopping by visiting the Forum Romanum, or Roman Forum.
Built as a market place, the Roman Forum quickly became the economic, political and religious hub of the Roman Empire.
Originally a low-lying, grassy wetland, the valley that was to one day be home to the forum was drained in the 7th century B.C., thanks to the development of a sewage system known as Cloaca Maxima, the remnants of which can still be seen today.
Once dry (and after polluting the Tiber River), the valley’s slightly sunken and expansive location made it an ideal crossroads for people coming from various locations.
Over the next couple of centuries, buildings sprouted here and there, maximizing the merchant advantage. According to some sources, there were at times more than 5,000 stands and tents sprawled across the valley.
Eventually, the governing bodies got involved and saw an opportunity to proselytize political and religious doctrine. The Senate began to purchase private land around the marketplace in order to expand the public grounds and thus allow the continued growth of the forum.
It was not until 500 B.C., however, that the first of many temples came to be constructed. They were the temples of Saturn, Concord, Castor and Pollux. With the temples came more crowds, and with crowds came conversations.
The forum became a political stage. It was the place to be seen and heard, the apex of political maneuvering.
The Forum Romanum had established itself over the centuries and could now be heard across the entire Roman Empire. It was here that Marc Anthony gave his famed speech after the assassination of Julius Caesar; it was here that Emperor Galba was assassinated; and it was here that Cicero gave his famed speech to the Senate on the values of democracy and justice.
The forum has witnessed much in it’s 2500-plus years of existence, and because of its tumultuous history, no trip to Rome is ever complete without a visit to the Roman Forum.