Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Firstly, an apology there was no blog over December; not only was it the chaotic joy that Christmas time always brings, I was also busy putting in a PHD application – it was amazing how much preparation was needed just for an application!
Anyway, in the spirit of the ‘new year, new you’ phrase that is often thrown about more than a retiarius’ net, I thought it could be applied with a Roman twist – new year, new Rome (I know – it’s terrible). Either way, for this month I want to briefly look at how Rome aesthetically changed when her ruling foundations changed with the emerging Principate, namely Augustus.
Augustus was revolutionary in an amount equal to a series of books; to fully analyse what new Rome was born by him from the flames of civil-war would possibly use up the memory this website allows
us, so I’m not going to – but what I am going to do is introduce you to one of his most outstanding and iconic monumental structures that still exists today. One that highlights all of what Augustus
based his propaganda around; a place that stood for justice (literally), history, power, and prosperity. The Forum of Augustus.
The forum was (and still is) a marble marvel of Rome and indicative of Suetonius’ most popular phrase in his life of Augustus – Augustus found Rome a city of bricks, and left it a city of marble. Pre-Augustan Rome was not the city of splendour we normally imagine the eternal city to be. Indeed, the common fictional views of Rome that modern-day media like to share are often of a Rome more often far more grand and ostentatious than (depending on the representation) the city either ever was, or that that period of her chronology was. My favourite is in the film Gladiator, in which Commodus rides into a vast and expansive forum, and walks up a mountain of steps to where the
senate are waiting. Before Augustus, Rome was far from the idealised city we romanticise her to be, with the Forum of Caesar arguably being the first open space structure whose layout had been pre-determined.
The date of the opening of the Augustan forum is unknown. The temple of Mars Ultor (The Avenger) was dedicated in 2BC, but the concept was possibly conceived in the aftermath of the battle of
Philippi; after the defeat of Cassius, and Brutus, August (actually Octavian at the time) supposedly proclaimed he would dedicate this battle to Mars Ultor – Augustus had finally avenged the death of
his legal father, Julius Caesar. However, while the temple may have been dedicated in 2BC, according to Suetonius, the forum itself was opened early due to pressing legal matters.
The forum was outstanding. It was designed to reflect Rome’s greatest historical figures, Augustus’ divine ancestry, and the golden Age that Augustus had brought the world into. At the same time, it
was also a monument to power, conquest, and to put Augustus on a stage far grander than any who came before. Its location today is between the Forum of Caesar, and the Forum of Trajan, looking
towards the Forum Romanum. In Suetonius' view, the Augustan forum complimented, but also outshone the Roman forum – being a place of order and design, compared with the ad hoc layout and constructions that were present in its predecessor. The Roman forum was still considered the centre of Rome, but its importance was certainly diminished; there is reference and visual evidence of
Claudius residing over law suits in the Augustan forum – possibly a new favourite for the first emperor’s successors.
If you walked in through the entrance you would immediately see, in the centre of the forum, a grand golden statue of Augustus in a quadringa (a four horse chariot), with the grand temple of Mars
Ultor as a backdrop. Behind the temple was a vast wall for sealed the forum off from anything behind it. There are different interpretations of what this wall represented or functioned as. Some view the wall as a potential firebreak, and, indeed, the wall may have been a key part in protecting the forum from the great fire of Rome in AD64. Behind the wall was the Suburra: cramped streets full of insula housing and considered the pits of the city. The wall may have been an attempt at
hiding this blemish on what would have been an immaculate face of Rome, or it may simple have been a way to control traffic of people – ensuring all who visited witnessed the grandeur as it was
meant to be shown. A personal view of the wall is it contributes to the statement Augustus was shouting: the wall was made of Italian marble, like the rest of the forum, and offered a feeling of
security, but also obscuring the reality of Rome (cramped overpopulation) in favour of a global paradise; visitors (including diplomats, client-kings, etc) who entered Rome were now beginning to be greeted with architecture inspired from all over the Roman world – testaments to the power and geographical reach of Rome; in a similar way to how London is often portrayed, Augustus wanted to
prove Rome was the global centre in both power and wealth.
The forum was funded through Augustus’ own wealth, and he claims he bought the land fairly from those that owned it. One interesting (and possibly comical) feature of the forum is the rear right side