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What Was the Roman Forum?

Updated: Sep 7

For the ancients, the Forum represented the centre of public life, used simultaneously as a market, tribunal, meeting area, and location for religious dedications and sacrifices. Triumphal processions, the privilege of victorious emperors following military campaigns, were also conducted through its passage ways, ending up at the Capitoline Hill. Although we now associate the Forum with the grander activities that took place here, it’s also worth remembering that the town centre was home to a range of more common professions, including flower sellers, butchers and prostitutes.

Though many of the ancient buildings scattered amongst the city were built for religious purposes, the Forum, with its historic temples, was perhaps the main focus of Roman religious life and activity. As was the tradition in the ancient Greek world, Roman temples housed a vast image of the deity to whom they were dedicated, with sacrifices taking place in front of the temple’s exterior. The innards of the sacrificial animal were removed and closely inspected by religious officials who supposedly deduced the will of the gods from their condition. The animal was then divided up, with some parts, often the less edible ones, burnt as offerings to the gods, and the remaining meat eaten in a hall or tent near the temple.

In the Roman world, religion was inextricably linked to politics, which meant that temples played a wide variety of roles in civic life. They served variously as treasuries and museums, sites for political address, and as a space for the senate, the main Roman council, to gather and debate.

Over time economic and judicial business would transfer away from the Forum in order to meet the needs of an expanding population, and most of its buildings were destroyed in AD 410 when the city was ransacked by invaders from northern Europe.

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