Compass points of reference I will use in the Forum: The sidewalk we are on now [on Via dei Fori Imperiali] is North (N) so the opposite side is South (S), the Capitoline Hill is West (W) and the other end by the Colosseum is East (E). And of course (NE) will be Northeast, (SW) Southwest, etc.
Ok, now leave the Via dei Fori Imperiali sidewalk and walk through the Roman Forum entrance gate and down the ramp. You are leaving the ground level of modern Rome and walking down into history which was buried for many centuries. Halfway down the ramp stop and look (W) at wings.buffalo.edu/AandL/Maecenas/rome/bas_aemilia/ac822606.html or this photo. That is the Basilica Aemila, it's the only basilica from the Republican Period in the Forum to have survived. Basilica Paulli was it's common name after 54 BC. Others were obliterated by later constructions. Basilicas were public buildings used for conducting business (like merchants meeting businessmen) and law courts.
At the far (W) end beneath the protective metal roof are the remains of the original 179 BC Basilica ( photo here ). Built in 179 BC as the Basilica Fulvia-Aemilia by the Censors "Marcus *Fulvius* Nobilior" and Marcus *Aemilius* Lepidus. Later restored several times by the Aemilia family, it took on their family name in their honor. A famous restoration was in 78 BC by another Marcus Aemilius Lepidus who was Consul that year. He built the facade facing the Forum and the interior colonnade. The column stumps in the above photo are the remains of these beautiful imported columns from Asia Minor (Turkey). The facade facing the Forum was adorned with shields with portraits of his ancestors on them (imagines clipeatae). Another major restoration financed by Julius Caesar was begun and finished by Augustus in 54 BC-34 BC and the "Tabernae Novae" (commercial shops, along the S side's facade) was added.
In about 14 BC the Basilica and the Tabernae Novae were destroyed by fire (the beautiful domestic and imported marble floor is from this rebuilding). Both were rebuilt by Augustus and the 'Portico of Gaius and Lucius Caesar' was added, it was dedicated 2 BC. In 22 AD it is again restored (fire?) under Tiberius. It was then one of the most beautiful buildings in the Roman World according to Pliny and the only basilica (although rebuilt several times) of its type to survive from the Republican Period in the Forum. More fires lay in its future both accidental and deliberate by invading armies. Then a major earthquake in 847 AD. This earthquake finally ended any use of the Medieval rebuilt sections of this building and the Tabernae's back brick wall finally collapsed.
It was abandoned and lay in ruin until the Renaissance when it was stripped for building materials.
For timekeeping the Romans used sundials, which aren't much good when it's cloudy. So in 159 BC the Censor P. Scipio Nasica installed a public Clepsydra or water clock in the Basilica. This clock kept track of the hours both during the day and at night. It doesn't sound like a big deal to us, but they now have an official time 24/7 year-round.
To me what is most interesting about this site is that history has left a visible timestamp regarding the Fall of the Roman Empire. Fused coins on the floor of the Basilica. Numerous intact coins from that era (pre-410 AD) were found when this eastern end was excavated (this section was never rebuilt after it was torched in the 410 AD sacking of Rome and lay buried until 100+ years ago).
Ok here's what happened the day the coins were fused into the pavement. The Empire was already in it's decline but on August 24, 410 AD, it was given a shove.
"The city which had taken the whole World was itself taken." -- St. Jerome 412 AD.
Alaric and his Visigoth Army have laid siege on Rome for 18 months, the city is staving and there are rumors of cannibalism. Alaric's army is camped in the present day Villa Borghese Park when someone opened the Salaria Gate (now called the Porta Pinciana at the end of the Via Veneto). The gate was possibly opened by slaves who were spies for Alaric or by servants of a noblewoman (to perhaps end the siege?/reward?/spy?). The three-day sacking of Rome has begun. The Visigoths are also Christians like the Romans so as far as sackings go, there have been a lot worse in history :-) . Loot is what they are most interested rather than murder and rape.
I assume the common foot soldier was only interested in gold and silver coins and jewelry as loot, easy to carry during a sacking and perhaps keep on his person afterwards as his share? In the alleged words of the American bank robber Willie Horton when asked why he robbed banks said "Because that's where the money is." If I was a Visigoth I'd be heading straight to the Forum "because that's where the money is" :-) [he never said this, a reporter made it up].
How about a guess regarding the fused coins :-) . The rich bankers/moneychangers and shopkeepers from the connecting Tabernae Novae ran into the Basilica with their money dropping some coins in their haste while seeking shelter or escape when the Visigoths stormed into the Forum without warning. Then perhaps then they were robbed at swordpoint by the Visigoths and in the chaos some coins were dropped. The Basilica like many other buildings was then put to the torch, the blazing wooden roof collapsed and fused *some* coins into the marble floor. *Some* because not all coins would fuse/melt being different metals but mainly how the blazing wooden roof landed on the floor. If say a blazing large beam landed flat on the floor with coins beneath it, it wouldn't burn underneath. But if it fell and remained a few inches above the floor, it would still burn and create a furnace-like temperature in that small section.
To see these fused coin impressions go down the ramp and over by that first column stump in the photo and follow these directions.
But before you go and leave this ramp look to the *far right*. On top of that wall in that NE corner of the Basilica are two plaster casts which was once part of a 185 m frieze that adorned the central aisle's architrave this building in Sulla's time (original in the Roman Forum Museum / Antiquarium but inacessible to public). The one on the left depicts part of a complex scene that showed the "Rape of the Sabine Women". And the one on the right shows the murder of Tarpea. Remember the young woman who promised to open the city gate for the enemy Sabines in exchange for the ornaments they wore on their left arms. They kept their promise and piled their shields that they carried on their left arm on top of her until she was crushed.
For more information and photos, please see Basilica Aemilia in A Tourist in Rome.Next: #3: Portico of Gaius and Lucius Caesar