Imperial Forum – Italy

The Imperial Forums were a series of public squares constructed by various Roman rulers between 46 BC and 113 AD.  Often motivated by a desire to please the populace, these civic areas were designed to improve everyday life and beautify the city.  As city centers where public gatherings took place, all sorts of religious, commercial, political, and governmental activities occurred here.  Since the forums share some common features, they are regarded architecturally as a single unit: 

“All have a temple (some more dominant than others), are enclosed by walls, and have axial symmetry that runs either parallel or perpendicular to each another. The axis of the Forum of Augustus, for example, is at right angles to that of Caesar. The Forum of Vespasian is parallel. Between the two, Domitian transformed an ancient thoroughfare into the Forum Transitorium, a project completed by Nerva (Domitian’s successor). Finally, Trajan completed the sequence of forums with a complex almost as large as the rest put together. It extended the axis of the Forum of Vespasian and reinforced the unity of the forums by duplicating the exedra (semi-circle recess) of Augustus and the gardens of the Temple of Peace. The front row of the columns of (the Temple of) Venus are in line with the ends of the porticoes in the Forum of Trajan, and the colonnades of the both forums have the same width.”

Forum of Caesar

The initial Imperial Forum constructed was done so under Julius Caesar between 54 and 46 BC.  It was meant to be an extension to the Roman Forum so as alleviate some of the crowding.  The main feature was a Temple to the goddess Venus from whom Caesar believed he was descended.  There was also a prominent statue of Caesar riding a horse that was placed in front of the Temple.

Forum of Augustus

Octavian was the adopted son of Caesar.  After his benefactor was slain, Octavian along with Mark Antony and Lepidus pursued the assassins.  This led to the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, where the triumvirate avenged Caesar’s death.  After the victory, Octavian vowed to build a Temple to Mars (the god of War and Vengeance in Roman mythology) in honor of Julius Caesar.  In 27 BC, Octavian (a.k.a. Augustus Caesar) was named Emperor.  Construction began in 20 BC on the Temple to Mars and the next Imperial Forum – the one that would bear Augustus’ name.  A court of law was also found here.

Because Mars was the god of War, Roman soldiers would often gather here before going off to battle.  Fittingly, there were many bronze and marble statues or warriors and other such Roman heroes.

Forum of Vespasian (the Temple of Peace)

Vespasian committed to a third Imperial Forum in 71 AD as a response to the capture of Jerusalem near the end of the Judean War.  It was dedicated four short years later. It also probably commemorated the end of strife that was in and around the reign of Nero, who had died in 68 AD.  For these reasons, the Forum is referred to as the Temple of Peace.  It was really more a Temple than anything else, as it never really served a civil purpose.

History does suggest that the Great Menorah taken from Herod’s Temple was housed here for a time.

Forum of Nerva (The Transitional Forum)

In an effort to connect the Forum of Caesar, the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Peace, Domitian planned to build an access way.  Domitian, who incidentally was the brother of Titus, intended the project to be a celebration of Rome’s conquest of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Titus had commanded the Roman armies against the Jews.  Yet, he unexpectedly died in 81 AD.  In an effort to quell suspicion that he had anything to do with his brother’s death, Domitian began a number of building projects celebrating Titus’s accomplishments (including the Arch of Titus).  

Domitian’s intent was to dedicate the Forum to the Roman goddess Minerva (similar to the Greek Athena).  She was considered the protector of the Emperor’s life. Ironically, Domitian was assassinated.  His successor, named Nerva, simply chose to rename the Forum for himself. Since the Forum was really an access way, it was also called the “Transitional Forum”.  Apart from the access ways it afforded, its key feature was the Temple of Minerva.  Construction began in 97 AD.

Forum of Trajan

The largest and final Forum was built under Trajan.  Designed by Apollodorus of Damascus, Trajan ordered this to be built in 112 AD as a celebration of Rome’s victory over Dacia (modern day Romania).  Extensive excavations have revealed important elements to the Forum: a public square, a Temple dedicated to the now deified Trajan (called the “Temple of Divius Traianus”), two libraries, an enormous basilica (called “Basilica Ulpia”), and numerous large marble columns.  One of these, called Trajan’s Column, reached 138 feet in height.

Apollodorus also placed Trajan’s Market adjacent to the Forum.  This was a large semi-circular complex of annex stores.