The Forum

Day 33, October 18, 2007

Forum of Julius Caesar by Angela Monafo  

This was an especially exciting day because the group had Professor Ulrich visiting as a guest lecturer. Since he wrote an entire book on the Forum of Julius Caesar, we were able to get special permission to actually go down into the forum and interact with the impressive remains, something which is not permitted to the public. Sitting in front of the Temple to Venus Genetrix, we had the opportunity to listen to Professor Ulrich tell us about Caesar and his adopted son Octavian (Augustus), their contribution to the state of Rome, and the archaeology of the forum, while Briar and Lily Dahn played hide-and-seek among the ruins.

Archaeologically speaking, the Forum of Julius Caesar was uncovered and excavated in 1932 when Mussolini decided to construct a parade route through Rome. The Forum, which was dedicated in 46 BCE although unfinished, was built on grounds which had previously belonged to private individuals and were then bought by Julius Caesar with booty from the Gallic Wars. Since he was campaigning in 54 BCE, he had Cicero act as his agent to complete the purchases and begin construction. Julius Caesar was assassinated before the Forum was completed and it was left to Octavian to complete.

The temple to Venus Genetrix is the primary focus of the forum area and sits on a raised platform, or podium, at the far end. According to myth, Venus was one of the two divine ancestors of Romulus, the founder of Rome, and the Julio-Claudian clan since she was believed to have mothered the famous Prince Aeneas of Troy who brought the Trojans to Italy after their city was sacked by the Greeks. Romulus, whose father was the god Mars, was a direct descendant of Aeneas and believed to be an ancestor of Julius Caesar. The temple was octastyle, with eight columns across the façade, and was the first of its kind in Rome. Another interesting detail of the temple plan was the apse at the back of the temple cella (the name for the walled sanctuary on top of the podium) which held the cult status of Venus; this design was also the first of its kind in Rome. A final important aspect of the temple was the speaker’s platform, or Rostra, which abutted the façade of the temple on a slightly lower level and allowed crowds below to listen to speeches given by Caesar. The Rostra and Temple were only accessible by staircases hidden at the sides of the podium to increase security for the complex. We were able to inspect cuttings in the pavement in front of the Rostra which were used to construct temporary wooden barricades to provide security and control rowdy crowds. Even though it would be almost impossible for an angry crowd to actually breach the Rostra and attack whoever was speaking, Professor Stewart observed that “they could still throw rocks. That’s what they did; they would throw rocks at you.”
When we had finished at the Forum, we all enjoyed a long lunch break. We went our separate ways for a few hours and a lucky few (Chelsea, Emily, Michael, and Angela) found a small Japanese restaurant and had Sushi and Miso soup for lunch. Afterwards we met at the Musei Capitolini Centrale Montemartini to look at part of the sculpture collection from the Capitoline Museum, housed in a former power plant. Everyone was intrigued by the interesting dynamic of ancient sculpture and the immense industrial machines. The collection at the museum was small, but we saw the beautiful decorations of the temple to Apollo Sosianus, the huge acrolith cult statue of Fortuna, a massive floor mosaic depicting a hunting scene, a reconstruction of a Roman liter (including a presentation by Lily Dahn), and three alters used by freed slaved working for Caesar Augustus.

Overall, we had an exciting day exploring the amazing ruins of the first imperial forum and the beautiful sculptures and artifacts in the museum. We all appreciate Professor Ulrich coming out with us again. We could have listened to him all day!

Professor Ulrich points to a piece of the architrave of the Temple of Venus Genetrix.
There were ‘tourists’ watching us from outside the forum… yeah, they were jealous.
This is a sculpture of a pensive muse in the Montemartini museum. You can see the industrial equipment in the background.