A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ROMAN FORUM AND PALATINE HILL

Ancient Rome

The Roman Forum was central to life in Ancient Rome, for practical, religious, political, symbolic and business reasons. 

Situated between the Palatine, Capitoline and Esquiline Hills, once the stagnant waters from floods of the Tiber had been drained by the Cloaca Maxima, the valley quickly developed into a hub of activity for the Roman people of all classes. It was at once a place of worship, a marketplace, a place of criminal trials and executions, a meeting area for conducting business, it included the Rostrum, a podium on which public speakers, including politicians, could address the Roman people. It was where state funerals for important figures, including Julius Caesar, were held, and you can still visit the spot where Caesar’s body was cremated today (on the Ives of March local Romans still venerate him with a ceremony and leave flowers by the site of his cremation). 

The Senate met in the Curia, and several triumphs made their way along the Via Sacra, up along the Forum, to the Capitoline Hill, celebrating the returns of Rome’s greatest generals after military conquests. Monumental arches were often built in commemoration of such triumphs, two of which can still be seen today in the Roman Forum – the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Septimius Severus. 

The symbolic nature of the area was very significant, laying as it did at the foot of both the Palatine Hill and the Capitoline Hill. The latter was the location of the most important of Rome’s temples, the Temple of Jupiter, and the Palatine Hill was associated with the birth of Rome – according to legend this was where Romulus and Remus founded the city after being found by a she-wolf in a basket when a flood of the Tiver river raised the abandoned twins up to the hill. This sacred association with the birth of the city and the father of the gods, combined with the practical nature of being surrounded by hills, made the Roman Forum the perfect hub for all public activities in Ancient Rome. 

The symbolic nature of the Palatine Hill was to be used by aristocrats and politicians throughout Rome’s history. During the Republican area – following the deposition of the last King of Rome around 509BCE until Caesar’s assassination in 44BCE – the elite class, the patricians, lived there as a symbol of their wealth and superiority over the lower classes (looking down over the Roman Forum). It was also a convenient area for politicians who would meet in the Senate or in the various assemblies and elections held in the Roman Forum. 

Rome’s first Emperor, Augustus, lived in a modest house on the Palatine Hill, probably for reasons of propaganda, connecting himself to Rome’s first founder as he began a new Roman era, the Imperial age. Later emperors would follow suit, but not as modestly as Augustus, building lavish villas, bath complexes, dining halls and circuses. These luxurious buildings would take their name from the Palatine Hill, and became known as Palaces.

Over the centuries, after Rome was abandoned around the middle of the first millennium, floods of the Tiber would wash silt and debris into the area, and the Roman Forum became buried. Only the buildings which were transformed by the Catholic Church from temples into churches, would remain standing – others were looted for valuable building materials or simply fell into disrepair and were washed into the marshland that would become known as the field of cows, as the Roman Forum became a grazing field for several centuries. 

With the Risorgimento in the 1860s, came the establishment of the new Kingdom of Italy, and the Roman Forum began to be excavated from the late 19th century, and new discoveries continue to be made today. There are so many historical events and intriguing facts associated with the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill’s 3000-year history, that a guided tour of this area should be high on your list of things to do in Rome!

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