#1: The Roman Forum Beginnings

Start at the 'Via dei Fori Imperiali' entrance (this is at the end of Via Cavour) to the Roman Forum standing on the sidewalk out front. Directly in front of you is the Roman Forum entrance and a small building with guidebooks, gifts, water and a w.c. Sold there is 'The Roman Forum' by the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma (overall an excellent guidebook) as well as their other site and museum guides. Over your left shoulder 45° and across the street are the Fori Imperiali (Imperial Forums) Visitor Center (the building behind the Info booth) with info, guidebooks, gifts, *tours*, audio guides, cafe (good for a quick cheap bite, if open) and a w.c. To your left-front at 45° is the church 'St. Cosmas and Damian' (Santi Cosma E Damiano). To the left of the entrance is the building's brick wall full of clamp holes, this was where the 'Marble Plan' was attached in ancient times (about 203-211 AD: 'Forma Urbis Romae' aka 'Severan Marble Plan' A large very detailed map of Rome 18 m / 60 feet wide by 13 m / 45 feet high, scaled at 1 to 240 on 151 marble slabs. Made under Emperor Septimius Severus and mounted on a wall of the Temple of Peace.)

This 527 AD church was built using the large audience hall or library of the 'Temple of Peace' (Emperor Vespasian 75 AD). If you visit this church you can see the interior of the 'Temple of Romulus' which was used as the church's vestibule (you will see the exterior of this intact Temple in the Roman Forum).

Now look to the right, far down and across the street and find the 'Column of Trajan' (you will probably have to step into the street to see it). There was a ridge that connected the Capitoline Hill with the Quirinal Hill. Trajan's Column marks the highest height of this ridge although that point was probably North of the column in the hillside. He removed the ridge to build his Forum, Basilica, and Market. Also the 'Wedding Cake/Typewriter' (Vittorio Emmanuele II Monument 1885-1911) cut a big chunk out of the Capitoline Hill, thus destroying the ruins in that section. Now look to your left way down the street towards the Colosseum. Mussolini removed part of a ridge called the Velia between the Palatine Hill and the Esquiline Hill to build the road and sidewalk you're now standing on. Now turn right and walk down the sidewalk along the main street over to between the second and third lamppost. And look into the Forum, use your guidebook map of the Forum and your imagination :-) . The Palatine Hill is 45° to your left and the Capitoline Hill is 45° to your right. Between these two hills is a valley which is the Roman Forum. When Rome was founded in 753 BC this valley was a marshy swamp with a stream running through it. The stream came down from the hill behind you, passed beneath you, through the Forum and out to the Tiber River. This swampy area was unsuitable for human habitation due to diseases like Malaria.

This is approximately the view you will be seeing. In the foreground is the 'Forum of Nerva' aka 'Forum Transitorium', behind that (grassy area and ruins) is the Basilica Aemilia aka Fulvia-Aemilia, Emilia, Paulli. And behind that is the 'Roman Forum Square'. The large square brick building in the right third of the photo is the Curia Julia (Senate Building). Behind it is the Capitoline Hill. Gazing to the left reveals the sights in this photo, consisting of the three tall columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux with the massive Palace extensions from the Palatine Hill in the background.

A narrow road passes through an arch at your lower-right and over to the left side of the Curia Julia and into the Forum. It's called the Argiletum, it's an ancient Roman road but that section has been paved over in Medieval times. You can see an ancient section behind you and across the street (with wheel ruts in the pavement for the animal carts that used to travel along it, those ruts were designed in the pavement to keep the carts on track, even though many tour guides falsely claim that they were made by chariots), that section is the 'Forum of Nerva' also. You can also see an ancient section when you visit the Curia Julia.

Now walk over to the [Via dei Fori Imperiali] sidewalk railing, there is a Forum of Nerva map/diagram there listing the sites before you. For info on this Forum, see here.

Now look below you at a large area of *large* marble pavement slabs. The distant two have ancient board games etched into them (see the circles cut up like a pizza, in eighths, at the upper-left corner of this photo and the center of this photo) and just to the right of them you'll notice a curved underground structure (with a couple of stone blocks missing) which passes beneath the marble floor, that is the 'Cloaca Maxima' (a great drain or sewer, it's also shown on the diagram). The marsh and stream was first professionally canalled (a stone lined trench bridged, covered and open) sometime after 616 BC by King Tarquinius Priscus and the Roman Forum was born of this reclaimed land. With its first pavement just that of beaten earth. But it is very possible that a half-hearted attempt (a deeper ditch to allow the water to flow out easier and back-filling the marsh with dirt) was done earlier. But flooding and erosion would always be attacking this earthen ditch and carrying away their dirt backfill. A stone canal would cure that problem though. The actual Cloaca Maxima (a stone vaulted underground sewer) that we think of today was built shortly after 300 BC (the section you're looking at is from Emperor Diocletian rebuild, about 284+ AD). This sent that stream underground vs. an open canalled ditch that was bridged and covered-over in certain areas.

Let's imagine we can go back in time to about 770's BC, using that decade for the birth of Romulus and Remus would put them between 17 and 27 years old at the founding of Rome in 753 BC. We sink through the sidewalk and below the ruins to the level of this ancient stream. There are no buildings or dwellings, just nature as it has been for thousands of years. We walk along the left side of the stream into the marsh that is now the Roman Forum. There are Iron Age communities (tribes) living on the Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill which are natural fortresses and very easy to defend. There are also other community/tribes in Rome on the other hills and in other surrounding locations. And north of the Tiber River are the more advanced Etruscans.

This is an excellent location except for the surrounding diseased marshes. Far from the sea so you don't have to worry about pirate raids and along a major waterway (Tiber River) which makes transportation and trading easier. And nearby is a shallow and narrow section of the Tiber allowing land trade to cross (the first bridge will be built there in about 642-617 BC of wood, roughly where the modern Ponte Palatino bridge stands today). Basically we're at a trade route crossroad with a couple of natural fortresses (the Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill) where the inhabitants can easily defend their turf. The banks of this Forum marsh was used as a burial ground for these hilltop communities in the tenth - ninth Century BC. And later only for children in the eighth - seventh Century BC. [It seems that around the founding of Rome mid-eighth Century (753 BC) adults were no longer buried here, just children.]

But this watery marsh was also used for a few human sacrifices! Or was this just their form of capital punishment? The sacrificed bodies of a man and woman (seventh Century BC) thrown into this marsh were found beneath the Forum Square and are now in the Roman Forum Museum (Antiquarium Forense, in the last room with a large lead container in the center). Also in the Forum Square a radar sounding was done. And 6 m below ground level are the bodies of a man, woman and child bound together who were thrown into this marsh. Criminals?, traitors?, heretics?, sacrifices?, POWs? We now leave this ancient marsh and walk along the left bank of the stream towards the Tiber River and out of the Forum. This stream follows what is today labeled (in guidebooks) the 'Vicus Tucus' (Street of the Etruscans) which passes between the Basilica Julia and the Temple of Castor and Pollux.

After we pass by the Palatine Hill (on our left) we turn around and look up the slope of the Palatine Hill's SW corner which is facing a valley (one day this valley will become the Circus Maximus) and the Aventine Hill.

[OK there are many versions of Romulus' mythological life from birth to death, I mention some and omit others. In my opinion he probably existed. Why not?, after all somebody had to be the first King of Rome, so why not someone named Romulus :-) . And we know the names of the other kings that directly followed him! So a real life famous/hero/founder human made mythological over the years isn't a far stretch.] On this Palatine slope there is a cave (later named the Lupercal and highly revered by the Romans) inhabited by a female wolf (she-wolf). But today she is out hunting along the nearby flooded banks of the Tiber. She cautiously approaches a basket that has washed up on the bank. There are cries and movement within the basket along with the scent of humans. The she-wolf looks inside and sees two infant twin boys. Ok, quickly how they got there :-) . There is a city called Alba Longa, founded by the descendants of the Battle of Troy. The King's brother pulls a coup and takes over.

The king's daughter (his niece) is forced to become a Vestal Virgin so that no future heirs to the rightful throne will show up one day, her name is Rhea Silva.

Later she has a fling with the God Mars and becomes pregnant (well that's her story and she's sticking with it :-) . She gives birth to twin boys and then is burned alive for breaking the Vestal's vow of chastity (later Vestals will be buried alive instead) OR she is allowed to live but again as a Vestal.

The King orders the twins to be drowned in the Tiber River. The man on this mission casts them adrift in a basket instead and heads back home, mission accomplished or so he thinks! Far downstream the basket becomes entangled on the riverbank. Our she-wolf finds it and takes the basket back to her cave and suckles the infant twins with her milk. But wait it gets better :-) . A Woodpecker named Picus feeds them like birds feed their young, solid food turned into baby food by the mother's regurgitation.

One day a shepherd named Faustulus finds the twins and brings them home (atop the Palatine Hill). Where he and his wife (Acca Larenzia) raise them as their own and call them Romulus and Remus. The twins later as young men find out who they really are and head back to Alba Longa to set things right OR Remus is captured by his Great-Uncle King and Romulus invades and wins. Either way they dethrone and kill their great-uncle and put the rightful king (their grandfather) back in charge. And everyone lives happily ever after and the brothers ride off into the sunset :-) .

They get home decide to build a new city. Romulus wants the city founded on the Palatine Hill but Remus prefers the Aventine Hill. They decide the only way to settle on the location is to do an Augury (a Heavenly/Godly sign in the form of a flight of birds). At dawn Remus is atop the Aventine and Romulus is on the Palatine searching the heavens. Remus sees six vultures and goes running over to the Palatine to tell his brother that "I won". But before he gets there Romulus sees twelve vultures. And a typical brotherly argument ensues, "I saw mine first" ... "Yea, but I saw more than you" ...FIRST...MORE...FIRST...MORE!!! Romulus decides to settle it the way power struggles are usually settled...by killing the opposition! *OR* later while Romulus is building a wall around the Palatine Hill for his new city. His brother laughs at how low the walls are and that they wouldn't stop anyone. He then leaps over the wall and Romulus kills him in a fit of rage. Now Romulus is 'King of the Hill' and his newly formed city called Rome is founded on April 21, 753 BC.

Great story! But this is probably closer to the truth :-) . Romulus and Remus were possibly Etruscans possibly born of outcast parents/grandparents who were either exiled or left on their own. Or perhaps they themselves were exiled either by force or choice, with the Tiber River as a boundary separating them from the Etruscans. Very unlikely that they were brothers, more likely that they were equals, each having his own band of lowlife outlaws. With Remus' gang on the Aventine Hill and Romulus' gang on the Palatine Hill. Maybe they were once united (like brothers?) and had a falling-out or were always at odds with one another. Either way Romulus won with Remus' murder and was now the sole outlaw leader. Raised by a she-wolf? Sure why not? It's very possible! A she-wolf is slang for prostitute :-) . Romulus (and possibly Remus if they were really brothers) could have been born of Faustulus' wife who was a prostitute. Remember this is a fringe society. So years down the road how would the Romans want their Founding and their first King's history to read? Born of Etruscan outcasts whose mother was a prostitute and whose father was??? But let's say the shepherd Faustulus was Romulus' father, then his Dad was his Mom's pimp! Hardly a blue-blood lineage :-) . And to top it off he grows up to be the leader of a bunch low-life social outcasts!!!

So they bring in a public relations firm and they come up with this story. Honorable ancestors from ancient Troy, Grandpa's a King, Mom's a Princess and Dad...why he's the God Mars of course :-) . Romulus opens his city to everyone and anyone in order to populate it (strength and safety in numbers). But what he gets are criminals, murderers, outcasts, runaway slaves, etc, not exactly the "cream of the crop" :-) . Romulus' newly founded city is made up almost entirely of men! I'm sure they're having a ball, raising hell, gettin' drunk, fightin', livin' like pigs and peeing everywhere and on everything :-) . You know, just basic male behavior that we suppress :-) . Rome's just a like an American wild-west cowboy frontier town. But ask any US historian "Who really tamed the Wild West". And Romulus' Rome severely lacks them...Women!

But the Sabines who live on the Quirinal Hill and beyond have unmarried virgin daughters! Romulus sends out emissaries to the Sabines and to the other local tribes, asking if they can marry their daughters. But they don't even want to hear about it from these misfits and social outcasts, their answer is "NO WAY". Romulus' newly founded city is doomed to die without children to repopulate it and their beds are very lonely and cold every night. So he and the other *young* men decide they want women and they want women NOW! And "NO", just isn't an option. Romulus gets a public relations firm and starts promoting the upcoming "Festival of Consualia" that he and the boys will be throwing. He tells the Sabines to "come on over and bring the wife and kids". There will be a big feast, plenty of wine and games, fun for the entire family. He opens the gates of the Palatine to his new friends and feasting begins. The Sabine men are a little leery at first but later start having a good time when the wine starts flowing. Later they all go down to the valley (Circus Maximus) to watch the games (horse races)...and drink some more wine! Romulus waits for the opportune time and gives a signal, suddenly his (sober) men grab up all the virgins and some of the wives and start running back to the Palatine. A rear guard holds off the drunken Sabines and once they are through the gate the Sabines are locked out. The Sabines are 'fit to be tied' and they want their women back and vengeance. They stagger home (probably gettin' an ear full from the remaining wives all the way back :-) to sober up and prepare for war. The abducted maidens are carried kicking and screaming to their future husband's huts. [It's the custom to this very day for the bride, not of herself to pass her husband's threshold, but to be lifted over, in memory of the Sabine Virgins who were carried in by violence, and did not go in of their own will].

Now they've lost their virginity and many will become pregnant and this puts these women in an awkward position. Would their tribe and future husbands accept these events if rescued? Would they and their half-Roman children become social outcasts? Would their children be killed? Romulus goes around to each one and sweet talks them. "Sorry, what could we do? Your parents wouldn't allow us to marry you, we will have weddings for you and you will share your husband's property and have civil rights and your children will be born Freemen". Then the 'big line', "When your husband (abductor) first saw you, he was just so overcome with your beauty and his passion for you he just couldn't help himself".

Well either the women buy it or just finally resign themselves to the fact that they are now the wives of these men. Remember their life probably wouldn't be any better even if they were still with their own tribe (arraigned marriages, third class citizens, husbands, fathers, brothers with absolute rule over them, etc). But the new in-laws are still pretty %#&!^@-off and war is on their agenda, they battle back and forth over *quite* some time. But the Sabines are in a bad military position to attack. The Palatine Hill is fortified with walls and gates which is hard enough to try and storm. Add to that the Romans also have a fortress/citadel on the Capitoline Hill. Attack either one and the Romans can send reinforcements to attack their rear or flank. The Sabines must take out the Capitoline Citadel to even hope for a victory!

The Commander of the Citadel is Spurius Tarpeius and he has a daughter named Tarpea. One day she leaves the Citadel to fetch water for a religious ceremony. The Sabine King named Tatius approaches her and offers her any reward if she will just open the Citadel's Gate. She says to Tatius "Give to me what your warriors wear on their left arms and I will open the gate". [Sabine warriors wear gold armlets and jeweled rings on their left shield arm.] Later she opens the gate and the Sabines storm and capture the Citadel. The Sabines true to their word give her what they wear on their left arms, their shields! Which they pile on top of her until she is crushed to death. [She was buried on the southern part of the Capitoline but her body was moved years later when the Temple of Jupiter was built there. The Tarpeian Rock on the Capitoline Hill (SE corner) was named after her, it's where traitors were thrown off to their deaths.]

Romulus has no choice now and challenges the Sabines to battle in the Forum valley which had flooded a few days before and is now dangerously muddy. With each side on either side of the marsh the attack begins. A Sabine Knight named Curtius leads the charge but his horse gets stuck in the muddy marsh. It's a becomes a very famous and important site in the Forum from that time to the present day, the 'Lacus Curtius' (Lake of Curtius)...where some guy got stuck!...in the mud!...with his horse!...go figure! :-) . They clash back and forth in little skirmishes across the marsh. Romulus gets hit in the head with a stone and is briefly knocked out. His men panic upon seeing their leader down (dead?) and retreat back towards the safety of the Palatine. Romulus quickly recovers and runs to his men. He implores them to return to the battle but to no avail. He cannot stop their panic-driven retreat. Romulus raises his hands to heaven and begs the God Jupiter for help. Suddenly his men stop as if their limbs were bound and they feel the shame of running from the battle before their King. [Romulus will later mark this site with the 'Altar of Jupiter Stator' (Stayer)]. Romulus then shouts "Back Romans! Jupiter bids you to stand and renew the battle". His men turn and bravely charge back into the valley. The battle is now ready to go major and only one side will be victorious.

But for one group it's a no-win situation, the Roman-Sabine wives. They'll probably lose at least one person in their lives if not more...either a husband, father, brother, relative or friend in the battle. The women march down from the Palatine dressed as brides and mothers (it's been a while, about two years, many have children) and run between the two sides in the midst of their battle [in the area of the Regia / Temple of Julius Caesar]. They plead with their fathers on one side and their husbands on the other. "Better for us to perish than live without one or the other of you, as widows or as orphans". The battle ceases and then there is silence as the men are moved by their pleas. The Generals on both sides meet and make peace, the Romans and the Sabines merge together as one people with the power shared between two Kings.

Rome just took its first baby step in expanding it's Empire. The Roman Forum now has its first site, the Comitius (from the verb comire, in Latin it means 'meet' and it's where the warring Generals make their peace). It becomes known as the Comitium and it will be where the people and later the Senators will hold outdoor public meetings. [It's the area directly in front of and beneath the Curia Julia (Senate building), 45° to your right, the tall intact brick building.] So Romulus and the Sabine Tatius become co-ruling Kings and get along very well for about five years until some Sabines attempt to rob Ambassadors that they just were supposed to meet and escort on the road. The robbery goes badly and they kill the ambassadors...oops. Romulus wants them brought to justice but Tatius does nothing for they are his friends and relatives. Romulus and Tatius quarrel about it but it's not enough to fight over and end the peace and unification.

One day they are both out doing a political ribbon-cutting, actually a sacrifice :-) , when relatives of the slain ambassadors attack and kill Tatius. Romulus is left alone because he had sought justice. Romulus seeks no revenge on them (it does after all put him in the #1 spot :-) and has Tatius buried on the Aventine Hill. Romulus rules on for another 33 years until one day a great thunder and wind storm came down from heaven, enveloped him and carried him off to heaven to be with his father Mars. He is now a God himself, never to be seen again. Well that's the miracle the Senators are trying to sell to the people but they aren't buying it and they love Romulus. It's starting to look grim for the Senators' long term health until a man deeply trusted by the people named Proculus Julius comes forward and says. Why just this morning Romulus descended from heaven and appeared before me and said: "Go and tell the Romans that it is the will of heaven that my Rome should be the head of the World". The people buy it, don't they always :-) .

The Senators know the truth, a couple of days earlier Romulus was with them by the Volcanal (an outdoor shrine/altar dedicated to Vulcan, which now lies beneath the Niger Lapis in front of the Curia) when they killed him! Possibly he was then dismembered and the pieces hidden beneath the senator's clothing so they could dispose of his body elsewhere without detection, it's never found. Romulus was killed because of his despotic exploitation of power. So the first ruler (king) of Rome is murdered so another ruler can take his place...I see a trend starting here :-) .

Rome will have more Kings until the last is overthrown which ends the Regal Period.

The Republic is founded in 509 BC and lasts until 27 BC. With Julius Caesar's death in 44 BC and then years of Civil War this helped usher in the Imperial Age of the Emperors beginning with Augustus. Constantine will become Emperor in 312 AD and the first semi-Christian ruler of Rome. The Empire has been declining for years but gets a real shove on August 24, 410 AD when the Visigoths sack Rome. Many historians (not all) believe that this date was the beginning of the 'Fall of the Roman Empire'. Seeing that Rome hadn't been sacked in 800 years in seems a good call to me :-) .

Next: #2: Basilica Aemilia (aka Emilia, Fulvia-Aemilia, Paulli)
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