ROMA ARCHEOLOGICA & RESTAURO ARCHITETTURA: U. Quatember, Gebaute Macht. Rezension zu Roberto Meneghini, Die Kaiserforen Roms. Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Darmstadt 2015 (Antike Welt-Sonderheft), Forum Archaeologiae 76/IX/2015 (farch.net). s.v., Paul Zanker, “Die neuen Ausgrabungen auf den Kaiserfora in Rom” (Mai 2000).

Roberto Meneghini, Die Kaiserforen Roms, Philipp von Zabern, Darmstadt 2015. Aus dem Italienischen von Dagmar Penna Miesel. 112 S., € 29,95; 112 Seiten mit 82 farbigen und 54 s/w Abbildungen.

1). Ursula Quatember, Gebaute Macht. Rezension zu Roberto Meneghini, Die Kaiserforen Roms. Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Darmstadt 2015 (Antike Welt-Sonderheft), Forum Archaeologiae 76/IX/2015 (http://farch.net).


1.2). Wilfried Greiner, Neue Entdeckungen in Rom, in: Altmodische Archäologie. Festschrift für Friedrich Brein, Forum Archaeologiae 14/III/2000 (http://farch.net).




2). ROMA ARCHEOLOGICA & RESTAURO ARCHITETTURA: Prof. Paul Zanker [D.A.I Rome], Satisfying Ancient Rome’s Growing Need For Space, The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (www.faz.com), (27-05-2000).

Satisfying Ancient Rome’s Growing Need for Space. By Paul Zanker.

The imperial forums are among the most celebrated structures of ancient Rome. The emperors Caesar, Augustus, Vespasian, Domitian and Trajan built their respective forums to satisfy Rome’s growing need for space as the capital of a vast empire and to create emblematic stages for statuary and for state ceremonies.

Within their columned halls and basilica, these expansive constructions served many functions. Inside the forums, exedra (open, semicircular or columned recesses equipped with seats) served as lecture halls, as they had previously in Greek gymnasia.

Rome had no permanent courthouses, commercial and legal offices or university lecture halls. Instead, tables, lecterns and seats were set up as necessary in the broad halls of the forums, where curtains were used to separate the different sections from each other. Here, contracts were drawn up, and court sessions were held. Commercial agents traveled from the far corners of the empire to meet here, as did rhetors, philosophers and poets. All these activities were open to the public to an extent that would be unthinkable in a modern administrative state, although no ideological significance was attached to the fact.

The Forum Transitorium, begun by Emperor Domitian and completed by Nerva, was called by that name because it formed a splendid gateway between the densely populated Subura and the Forum Romanum. Large temples built by emperors to honor gods to whom they felt a strong connection dominated three forums –the Forum of Julius Caesar, the Forum of Augustus and the Forum Transitorium –.

These temples and their altars were used for important acts of state. The Senate met to decide questions of war and peace in the Martis Ultoris, the temple dedicated to the god of war at the Forum of Augustus. So far, archaeologists have yet to find the small Janus Temple at the Forum Transitorium across the way. Its gates were left open or closed after meetings to indicate the results.

Large parts of the Roman forum district were first revealed in the 1920s and 1930s, when the dictator Benito Mussolini built his own imperial road, the Via dell’Impero, through a densely packed area of the city from the Colosseum to the Piazza Venezia. Like Caesar and Trajan before him, Mussolini ordered the removal of a section of mountain ridge.

Until recently, however, the main area of the imperial forums remained buried beneath streets and sterile parking lots, offering desolate views amid the roar of traffic. In 1996, it became possible for archaeologists to excavate below a few of these green areas and parking spaces. In Rome, Eugenio La Rocca and his employees recently reported at length on their current findings.

The work at the Forum is one of the largest and most complicated urban excavations undertaken in recent times. In contrast to the so-called clearing-away that occurred during Mussolini’s rule, a time of ideological fervor, when anything from late antiquity or the post-Roman period was simply destroyed, there is today an attempt to rescue everything that can possibly be saved.

For this reason, the ground has been cleared to the original level of the imperial forums in a number of separate areas. The excavations have revealed that the central areas of the forums were subjected to systematic plundering as early as the 6th century A.D. Very little remains of the stone covering the open-air plaza of the Forum of Trajan or of the base of a colossal equestrian statue of the Emperor Trajan, the Equus Trajani, which was nearly twice as large as the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius at the Capitol. Even the massive surrounding walls at the southwest end of the Trajan forum can be seen only partly, by the empty trenches where the foundations once stood.

The Romans were exceedingly thorough about recycling construction materials. Despite all this, the new excavations have contributed a great deal of detail to our knowledge of the imperial forums. The generally accepted plan of the forum district, as drawn up by architect Italo Gismondi in the 1930s, now requires a number of revisions.

The most dramatic findings relate to the ground plan of the Trajan forum. It has been established that the long-sought Temple of Trajan did not, as was once believed, stand to the north of Trajan’s Column and the Basilica Ulpia. Archaeologists had hoped to find the temple on the opposite, narrow side of the Trajan forum, where an entrance in the shape of a triumphal arch was presumed. That hope has also gone unfulfilled.

On the contrary, the square was actually completed by a high marble wall with protruding columns. Because the equestrian statue of Trajan faced this side of the Trajan forum, the archaeologists remain convinced that there must have been a holy site beyond that. However, behind the wall they discovered a 10-meter (33 feet) wide corridor, apparently designed to connect the two great porticoes on either side of the Trajan forum.

This ambulatory may have once led toward the residential areas of the Subura, and to the Forum of Julius Caesar. Starting from the newly discovered corridor, two pathways extend toward the Forum of Augustus. Between these, on a lower level, the excavation has uncovered a space, defined by two rows of columns that may or may not have been covered by a roof. An inscription there leads us to believe it must have been built during Trajan’s life.

Despite various speculations, this find remains a puzzle. It is difficult to imagine that this space was the shrine of the emperor whose ashes were interred in the base of Trajan’s Column. Archaeologists, therefore, increasingly believe that the Temple of Trajan was not part of his forum at all, but located elsewhere in the city; perhaps on the Campus Martius, in the area of the Hadrianeum.

Unlike the old Forum Romanum, the imperial forums, with the exception of the Forum Transitorium, were self-contained spatial complexes with pedestrian zones. Given the function of the halls, it is easy to understand why they were designed with the character of interior space. Ambulatories and open columned halls formed the connections between forums.

But what formed the northern end of the Trajan forum? Based on the massive fragments of supports found to the north of Trajan’s Column, the excavators are assuming that this was not the location of the sought-for temple, but of a representative propylon — a space about as large as the foyer of the Pantheon with a front facing toward the Campus Martius.

According to the latest findings, those passing through this splendid gate did not enter, as one might expect, into a similarly huge hall or any kind of expansive space, but instead into a narrow courtyard surrounding the base of Trajan’s Column. If these findings are confirmed, then the design demonstrates a sense of space completely foreign to our own.

Perhaps the architect, Apollodorus, who served Trajan and later Hadrian, was more skilled at devising technical solutions than at spatial planning, as seen in his great bridge over the Danube River, built during the Dacian Wars.

The reconstructions of the forum buildings in computer simulations are very impressive and convey an extraordinarily vivid feel of the space, height and interior within each construction. One must be careful not to be seduced by the power of suggestion of these images. They are useful, however, in demonstrating the practical improbability of many a conceivable plan.

For example, previously the idea was accepted that the Forum of Augustus included an oblong basilica just opposite the Temple of Martis Ultoris. Excavations showed that the Augustus forum did incorporate two exedras at its western end, albeit small ones on which other structures were later built. It is known that in his design for the Forum of Trajan, Apollodorus copied the four exedras of the Augustus Forum.

It, therefore, seems natural to also assume, given the exedras in the basilica built into the Forum of Trajan, that there was such a basilica with exedras at the Forum of Augustus. But computer images demonstrate that this is extremely unlikely as the remaining space would simply be too narrow. More likely instead is an especially deep porticus leading into the halls of the Forum of Julius Caesar.

The Templum Pacis, built by Vespasian after the end of the civil wars in 69 A.D. and decorated with plundered works from the temple in Jerusalem and from the Golden House of Nero, was designed as a park-like district. Later sources actually call it the Forum Pacis or the Forum Vespasiani.

Scholars examining the fragments of the Forma Urbis imagined the Templum Pacis to be an open-air space with flowerbeds, built in the manner of a modern city garden. Instead, excavations found that the assumed flower beds were actually six broad water courses, which cooled the air in the summer and surely offered a splendid view as they were set up on one meter high bases, in between which were plants and flowers in large pots and beneath these pink rosebushes.

The porticoes surrounding the area on three sides were raised, allowing a good view of the fountain park. Vespasian, known as a stingy emperor, apparently did not shy away from costs here, as with his other favorite project, the Colosseum.

The expense for colored marble and granite would have been enormous, as the remnants discovered so far demonstrate Once again, excavations revealed fragments of statue bases with the names of famed Greek sculptors, such as Cephisodotus and Praxiteles. These statues probably stood in the porticoes; they may have also been set up along the watercourses under the open sky.

Historians will most likely be interested in the discoveries dating to the late Roman and post-Roman periods. The meticulous records of the excavators show the decay and restructuring of this part of the city in greater detail than anything available from written sources. During these dark centuries, the forums met with a variety of fates.

As early as the first half of the 6th century and after the Gothic Wars, one part of the Forum Pacis was already being used as a burial ground for the poor. Perhaps there is a connection with the church known as SS. Cosma e Damiano, which took up a space in the southwestern hall of the Templum Pacis around the year 530. Remnants from the 7th and 8th centuries are sparse. With a dramatic decline in population and the new city center concentrated around the Campus Martius and in the Borgo, between St. Peter’s and the Mount of Angels, life in the area of the former imperial forums came to a standstill.

That first changed in the Carolingian period, thanks to the general recovery of Rome. At that time, the forums of Trajan and Julius Caesar were systematically dismantled and plundered. The extent and consistency of the destruction suggest an organized effort, probably related directly to the many construction activities of the Popes Leo III and Leo IV.

On the adjacent Forum Transitorium, which apparently never entirely lost its function as a road, two-story constructions without cellars were erected along the street, directly on the pavement of the former forum and in symbiosis with the still-standing antique structures. A new, rudimentary network of streets arose to snake through the hills of ruins, in patterns that remained unchanged until the radical interventions of the 1930s.

The ruined areas outside the early medieval city now assumed the rural character they retained until the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 9th century, wine, fruits and vegetables were cultivated on the plundered open spaces of the Caesar forum. Archaeobotanists have found evidence of fig, cherry, plum and nut trees growing between grape vines and vegetable plots. The owners of these gardens were probably wealthy families that had residences in the city.

Findings have confirmed that starting in the 10th century; the former Caesar forum was crossed by roads lined by primitive, one-story houses measuring about five meters by five meters. Since this terrain quickly turned muddy because of the lack of a sewage system, the houses were rebuilt fairly often at short intervals.

Beginning in the 11th century, the former imperial forums seem to have been given up as residential areas for the next four centuries. In computer simulations of various urban landscapes, the sequence of pictures becomes a fascinating, film-like experience, in which time takes on a palpable form.

But what is the best way, after the excavations are done, to convey that feeling to future visitors? The archaeologists and city planners creating the promised archaeological park now face serious questions. How many of all the findings can they actually preserve? What must be kept? Certainly, some of these areas will be covered over again with earth, but everything that offers a window into history must be preserved.


Paul Zanker is the First Director of the German Archeological Institute in Rome. (May 27, 2000).

— Prof. Paul Zanker, “Die Seele des Imperiums. Die neuen Ausgrabungen auf den Kaiserfora in Rom,” (www.faz.com), (20 Mai 2000).