5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Roman Forum

The Roman Forum is among Rome’s oldest and most interesting sites, and among the top attractions when visiting the city. Built on a piece of low-lying wetland in what was to become the center of the Roman capital, the Forum was actually developed over many centuries, and it was only made possible by that most uniquely Roman of technologies—an almost 3000-year old sewer.

It features additions from numerous kings and emperors; including Caesar, Augustus, and Marc Antony, and it was also the site of many important temples and governmental buildings. Today, much of the Forum lies in ruins, although the work to preserve this ancient site is ongoing. Unsurprisingly then, the Forum retains an arcane character and there are many mysteries that have yet to be uncovered. The best way to discover them for yourself is to take a guided tour of the site, however, here’s a few of the most intriguing secrets to get you started.

The mythical founder of Rome has his tomb there

Everyone knows the story of Romulus and Remus—the brothers raised by a she-wolf. The brothers who would eventually go to war over the ideal location to found a city. That city was Rome after Romulus of course, the brother who killed Remus to settle the argument. Rome’s foundation myth is pretty violent stuff, and while many academics now believe the story developed long after the first stones of the Roman Forum were laid, the Romans actively sought to make it their own. According to historical texts, the Lapis Niger shrine was either the grave of Romulus or the site where he was murdered by the senate.

It was the Roman Republic’s gold reserve

The iconic Ionic columns of the Temple of Saturn belonged to one of the most significant buildings in the forum more than 2500 years ago. Originally built to honor Jupiter, but then changed to Saturn at some point in history, the function of the building was somewhat surprising. Basically, it was the very first Roman bank, and huge quantities of gold, silver and other precious materials were stored there.

It could be a pretty gory place

Despite its marble facades and palatial grandeur, the Roman Forum could be a pretty gory place. Sacrifices were often made to honor the many Roman gods, but perhaps most disturbingly, the central Rostra was used to publicly display the severed head and hands of Cicero. After Caesar’s death, a power struggle ensued between Marc Anthony and Cicero, with the latter being captured while attempting to flee the Italian peninsula, only to meet a particularly bloody end.

It was nothing more than a cow field for around 1000 years

After the Roman Empire collapsed, the temples of the Forum were used as Christian churches, however, over time, new churches were built around the site which would eventually take the place of the crumbling temples. Around the 8th-century, the Roman Forum was pretty much abandoned, with much of the marble being removed and used in other structures. It quickly became a dumping ground and this once sacred piece of land became known as the Campo Vaccino (cattle field). It stayed this way for almost 1000 years until excavations began in the 18th and 19th century.

Recent excavations have dated the Forum at more than a century older than first thought

Excavations at the site continue today, and relatively recently, archeologists made a rather startling discovery. Close to the Lapis Niger, a wall that was part of a channel used to bring water from local aquifers was uncovered. Surrounding the wall were pottery remains and food scraps that dated the construction back a full century earlier than previously thought.

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