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p546 Forum

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp546‑547 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

FORUM. As the plan of the present work does not include a topographical description of the various fora at Rome, the following article only contains a brief statement of the purposes which they served.

Forum, originally, signifies an open place (area) before any building, especially before a sepulcrum (Festus, s.v.; Cic. De Leg. II.24), and seems, therefore, etymologically to be connected with the adverb foras. The characteristic features of a Roman forum were, that it was a levelled space of p547ground of an oblong form, and surrounded by buildings, houses, temples, basilicae or porticoes (Vitruv. V.1, 2). It was originally used as a place where justice was administered, and where goods were exhibited for sale (Varro, De Ling. Lat. V.145, ed. Müller). We have accordingly to distinguish between two kinds of fora; of which some were exclusively devoted to commercial purposes, and were real market-places, while others were places of meeting for the popular assembly, and for the courts of justice. Mercantile business, however, was not altogether excluded from the latter, and it was especially the bankers and usurers who kept their shops in the buildings and porticoes by which they were surrounded. The latter kinds of fora were sometimes called fora judicialia, to distinguish them from the mere market-places.

Among the fora judicialia the most important was the Forum Romanum, which was simply called forum, as long as it was the only one of its kind which existed at Rome. At a late period of the republic, and during the empire, when other fora judicialia were built, the Forum Romanum was distinguished from them by the epithets vetus or magnum. It was situated between the Palatine and the Capitoline hills, and its extent was seven jugera, whence Varro (De Re Rust. I.2) calls it the "Septem jugera forensia." It was originally a swamp or marsh, but was said to have been filled up by Romulus and Tatius, and to have been set apart as a place for the administration of justice, for holding the assemblies of the people, and for the transaction of other kinds of public business (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. III. p200, compare II. p113, Sylburg). In this widest sense the forum included the comitium, or the place of assembly for the curiae (Varro, De Ling Lat. V.155, Müller), which was separated from the forum in its narrower sense, or the place of assembly for the curiae, by the Rostra (Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, I. p291 note 746, and p426, note 990; Walter, Gesch. des Röm. Rechts, p83; Göttling, Gesch. der Röm. Staatsverf. p155). These ancient rostra were an elevated space of ground or a stage (suggestum), from which the orators addressed the people, and which derived their name from the circumstance that, after the subjugation of Latium, its sides were adorned with the beaks (rostra) of the ships of the Antiates (Liv. VIII.14). In subsequent times, when the curiae had lost their importance, the accurate distinction between comitium and forum likewise ceased, and the comitia tributa were sometimes held in the Circus Flaminius; but towards the end of the republic the forum seems to have been chiefly used for judicial proceedings, and as a money market; hence Cicero (De Orat. I.36) distinguishes between a speaker in the popular assembly (orator) and the mere pleader: "Ego istos non modo oratoris nomine, sed ne foro quidem dignos putârim." The orators when addressing the people from the rostra, and even the tribunes of the people in the early times of the republic, used to front the comitium and the curia; but C. Gracchus (Plut. C. Gracch. 5), or, according to Varro (De Re Rust. I.2) and Cicero (De Amicit. 25), C. Licinius, introduced the custom of facing the forum, thereby acknowledging the sovereignty of the people. In 308 B.C. the Romans adorned the forum, or rather the bankers' shops (argentarias) around, with gilt shields which they had taken from the Samnites; and this custom of adorning the forum with these shields and other ornaments was subsequently always observed during the time of the Ludi Romani, when the Aediles rode in their chariots (tensae) in solemn procession around the forum (Liv. IX.40; Cic. in Verr. I.54, and III.4). After the victory of C. Duilius over the Carthaginians the forum was adorned with the celebrated columna rostrata [Columna]. In the upper part of the forum, or the comitium, the laws of the Twelve Tables were exhibited for public inspection, and it was probably in the same part that, in 304 B.C., Cn. Flavius exhibited the Fasti, written on white tables (in albo), that every citizen might be able to know the days on which the law allowed the administration of justice (Liv. IX.46). Besides the ordinary business which was carried on in the forum, we read that gladiatorial games were held in it (Vitruv. V.1, 2), and that prisoners of war and faithless colonists or legionaries were put to death there (Liv. VII.19, IX.24, XXVIII.28).

A second forum judiciarium was built by J. Caesar, and was called Forum Caesaris or Julii. The levelling of the ground alone cost him above a million of sesterces, and he adorned it besides with a magnificent temple of Venus Genitrix (Suet. J. Caes. 26; Plin. H. N. XXXVI.103;º Dion Cass. XLIII.22).

A third forum was built by Augustus and called Forum Augusti, because the two existing ones were not found sufficient for the great increase of business which had taken place. Augustus adorned his forum with a temple of Mars and the statues of the most distinguished men of the republic, and issued a decree that only the judicia publica and the sortitiones judicum should take place in it (Suet. Octav. 29 and 31; compare Dion Cass. LVI.27; Plin. H. N. l.c.; Vell. Pat. II.39; Ovid, Ex Pont. IV.15, 16; Martial. III.38.3; Seneca, De Ira, II.9; Stat. Silv. IV.9.15). After the Forum Augusti had severely suffered by fire, it was restored by Hadrianus (Ael. Spart. Hadr. c19).

The three fora which have been mentioned seem to have been the only ones that were destined for the transaction of public business. All the others, which were subsequently built by the emperors, such as the Forum Trajani or Ulpium, the Forum Sallustii, Forum Diocletiani, Forum Aureliani, &c., were probably more intended as embellishments of the city than to supply any actual want.

Different from these fora were the numerous markets at Rome, which were neither as large nor as beautiful as the former. They are always distinguished from one another by epithets expressing the particular kinds of things which were sold in them, e.g. forum boarium, according to Festus, the cattle-market; according to others, it derived the name boarium from the statue of an ox which stood there (Plin. H. N. XXXIV.2; Ovid, Fast. VI.477); forum olitorium, the vegetable market (Varro, De Ling. Lat. V.146); forum piscarium, fish-market; forum cupedinis, market for dainties; forum coquinum, a market in which cooked and prepared dishes were to be had, &c.

(Respecting the fora in the provinces, see the articles Colonia and Conventus; compare Sigonius, De Antiq. Jur. Ital. II.15, and Walter, Gesch. des Röm. Rechts, p206).


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