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The War of 1812, America’s second revolution 

With most events in history nothing is as black and white as we think. The War of 1812 was one of those. While American history tends to focus on the American Revolution and Civil War it was the War of 1812 that would cause more changes in the Untied States. 

After President James Madison presented to Congress the grievances against Great Britain on June 1, 1812, Congress took up the debate on formally declaring war. It’s not clear if this was the intention of President Madison since his message didn’t specifically ask for a declaration of war. The House debated for four days before voting 79 to 49 for war, with the Senate agreeing with a 19 to 13 vote. This would be the first declaration of war for the new United States. On June 18, 1812 James Madison signed the declaration into law, formally starting a conflict that both the United States and Great Britain were unprepared for.

It was only twenty-nine years since the end of the American Revolution and twenty-three years since the U.S. Constitution went into effect. The United States was just beginning to learn what being a nation was about. Many of the nation’s policies before this war were based on fears it had from the Revolution and what the founders knew of Europe. One of those fears was not having a large standing army which could be used to overthrow the government. 

After the American Revolution Congress disbanded most of its standing army, depending instead on each state’s militias to handle the defenses, as had been done before the revolution. This reliance on state militias is shown in the Untied States Contitution’s Second Amendment which starts out, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,…” Congress even passed a bill limiting the size its federal forces. At the start of the War of 1812 the United States had less than 12,000 men in its regular army. The U.S. Congress turned to the state militias to take up arms in this first declared war, but what happened didn’t make them feel very secure. In some states the war was unpopular and they refused to call up their militias. At its beginnings the new United States saw each of its thirteen states as being more independent. A united federal style government was an unfamiliar concept, so some objected to fighting outside their own state. But the biggest drawback to the militia style of armed forces was that for the most part they were under trained and poorly commanded. These state militias would struggle against the well trained British soldiers causing President Madison to say,” I could never have believed so great a difference existed between regular troops and a militia force.” 

However on the Canadian front at the start of the war the United States did fairly well. This was mostly due to the fact that the greatest number of America’s regular trained army was already there from its involvement in the Indian wars. Another reason for the United States early successes was that Britain was a little busy with the French in Europe, and had little concern about their former colonies. Although the United States saw the War of 1812 as just its war it was in reality a true globe conflict. 

Through the first two years of the war most of the fighting took place along the northern border between the United States and Canada, and on the lower Great Lakes. The defense of Canada was done mostly by the Canadians because the British were heavily involved in the European War of 1812 against Napoleon Bonaparte and France. In fact many of the issues that caused the United States to declare war were based on what Great Britain had imposed on the U.S. due of their fight against France. These were trade sanctions and the U.S. merchant sailor “impressment.” It wasn’t until 1814 that things dramatically changed in the fighting in North America, and that many of the events that American’s hold dear came about during this period.  

On March 30, 1814 Napoleon surrendered to the British and their allies after his devastating defeat in Russian. On April 6 Napoleon abdicated his power in France, and although Napoleon would return to meet his Waterloo at Waterloo this short respite allowed Britain to turn their full attention to the war in America.  

On July 18, 1814, A British 74-gun ship of the line and its support ships sailed into Passamaquoddy Bay Maine. The small American detachment at Fort Sullivan, both out manned and out gunned, surrendered. This began the occupation of Maine by the British. At that time Maine was part of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and when Maine’s cry for assistance from their Massachusetts government went unheeded it would begin the movement for Maine’s eventual statehood.  1814 would also be the beginnings of the British offensive in America.

Although the British Navy had controlled the eastern seaboard of the United States since 1813 the war with France had limited a large land campaign. Britain now free from the conflict in Europe was ready to launch a major attack on the US cities of Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia. 

The first encounter was the Battle of Bladensburg, just outside of Washington DC. The majority of American troops involved where the poorly trained state militia, while the British were battle hardened and disciplined. The result of that battle was what has been termed, “the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms.” The American militia broke rank and fled, with some running through the streets of the nation’s Capital in panic. 

On August 24 the British army entered Washington as President James Madison and Congress fled. British troops burned government buildings, including the Capital and the President’s house. During the rebuilding of the President’s house it was found that white washing would hid the stains from its burning, hence the President’s house became then known as- the White House.

The taking of our capital would be the high water mark for England. The British army and navy then moved on toward Baltimore. They believed that American resistance would be equally as weak there as it had been in Washington. However on September 14 and 15, at the battles of North Point and Hampstead Hill, and the famous defense of Fort McHenry (Star Spangled Banner fame) they met a stronger and better trained American force of army regulars. The British could not break the American defenses so they withdraw back out to sea. Their new plan was to leave the U.S east coast and resume the offensive in the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans. 

From the results of the Battle of Baltimore and also their defeat in the Battle of Plattsburg New York on September 6 – 11, the British felt that there was nothing to be gained by continuing the war. The United States also saw it as a stalemate with nothing to be gained by continuing, so on December 24 1814 the US and Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent, officially ending the War of 1812. However this news of the wars end had failed to reach the British fleet and army heading for New Orleans, and the American Major General that would be there to meet them.

Major General Andrew Jackson would come out of this meeting of these two forces as a national hero that would rocket him to the Presidency. But before I discuss the Battle of New Orleans I’d like to give a brief background of this man that benefited most from that conflict.

Andrew Jackson was born to an improvised family on March 15, 1767 in ether North or South Carolina. History isn’t exactly sure on which side of the state line he was born, and both states claim him for their native son. Jackson’s lifelong hatred of the British came about due his mother and two brothers dying while the British occupied the Carolinas during the American Revolution. 

Jackson studied law and was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1787. Soon after he moved to the new territory of Tennessee and became the prosecuting attorney for what would be the city of Nashville. When Tennessee began its application for Statehood Jackson helped to write its constitution. He would also be one of Tennessee’s first members to the U.S. House of Representatives. Jackson decided not to run for reelection to the house but rather for the U.S. Senate. After only a year in that seat he resigned to take a Judgeship with the Tennessee Superior Court. While a judge he was chosen to command the state’s militia, and fate stepped in when the War 1812 broke out. 

Jackson received national notice from his five month campaign against the British supported Creek Indian Nation, and his victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Although Andrew Jackson was popular from the Indian campaign it would be the battle New Orleans that would make him an American household name. 

Hearing that the British’s were sailing to attack New Orleans Andrew Jackson raced to the city’s defense. Before he left he told his wife, “I owe to the British a debt of retaliatory vengeance, and should our forces meet I trust I shall pay the debt.” 

The attack on New Orleans was part of the British’s three part invasion strategy: Plattsburg, Baltimore and New Orleans. Their success had been checked by the Americans at both Plattsburg and Baltimore; their last chance to gain anything from the war was to win at New Orleans. Having New Orleans in British control would have given them power over the Mississippi River and American’s western trade. 

The British faced a hodgepodge American force comprised of army regulars, state militiamen, free blacks, New Orleans aristocrats, Choctaw tribesmen, and Jean Lafitte’s pirates. These numbered at around 5,300 men. Jackson and the Americans faced over 6,000 well trained British red coats that had just come from the Battle of Baltimore.    

Between December 23 and the 28, 1814 there were a few minor skirmishes between the two armies. The main battle finally occurred on January 8 1815, when British commander General Pakenham ordered a two-fold attack on the American’s. The first phase was a partial success when Pakenham’s men took a small American artillery post. However when a rifle shot killed their commander, Colonial Rennie, the British soldiers panicked into a hasty retreat. That was one of the weaknesses of the British soldiers at that time; they were effective only when an officer was leading them.  

The next phase of Pakenham’s plan was to march directly against Jackson’s main line of defense with the full body of his troops. He hoped that the morning mist would hide his men’s advancement. However the sun burned off the fog leaving the British soldiers completely visible and open to American rifle and cannon fire. The British plan unraveled, and although the red coats fought bravely the American fire was too overwhelming. After 30 minutes the British soldiers retreated in droves leaving behind a field of dead and dying. Afterwards American Major Howell Tatum said of the state of the British casualties, “truly distressing…some had their heads shot off, some their legs, some their arms. Some were laughing; some crying…there was every variety of sight and sound.” In the end the British had lost over 2,000 of its best soldiers, including General Pakenham. Andrew Jackson’s losses were less than 100 men. 

Although the stunned British army languished in Louisiana for a few days after the battle, and there was an abortive navel attack of Fort St. Philip, the fighting was over. 

As the British troops were boarding their ships for England Andrew Jackson paraded into New Orleans to great celebration, rivaling any Mardi Gras, or a Caesar marching into Rome.

Battle of New Orleans and the end of the War of 1812 gave the young United States a shot in the arm of national pride and honor. Even though strategically America gained nothing, they had beaten the great British army and navy. The War of 1812 has been called our second revolution, and this one we won on our own. 

The War of 1812 had shown that the United States needed a strong national military force, the old militia system wasn’t effective. The national pride of beating the 19th century’s superpower would inspire the United States to become more globally active, it would also give drive to the nations western expansion challenging Span and Mexico. It was the war that put the United States on the road of being a major power in the world.

Of further interest: While traveling in Canada, especially near Niagara and the Great Lakes, you’ll find monuments to the War of 1812. The differences in these, as opposed to our monuments of that war, is these hail Canadian victories over the United States.

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American history, history and travel, History in Time, Lost and Found, Myths and Legends, Still Current, Texas history, The Alamo, Travel, Uncategorized

The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

By the end of 15th century Span had claimed for itself all of South and Central America and as far north in North American as California, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas. But claiming these lands and controlling them were two totally a different matters.

 

The professional Spanish Conquistadors sole mission was to look for gold and silver, not to create settlements for Spain. This was very true with their North America claims.  In fact Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Kansas went completely unsettled by the Spanish. The Spanish also had problems in populating the extreme northern parts of Florida and Mexico.

Although British colonists from Georgia and the Carolina colonies had begun settling in northern Florida and its panhandle it was losing their state of Texas that worried Spain the most.

In 1689, near Matagorda Bay in Texas, they found the remains of French explorer La Salle’s Fort Saint Louis. Fearing French encroachment Spain needed some way to secure the northern lands of Mexico, and the best way was to establish settlements of their own. They chose a method that had been successful in other regions of Mexico and California, Catholic Church Missions.

The Mission system was created by the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church to spread Christianity among the native peoples. But it also provided permeant settlements that could attract other Spanish colonist to move near these missions.

 

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The Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1786

Of all the missions constructed in east Texas during this period the largest concentration in North America were the five built along the San Antonio River. The first of these missions was San Antonio de Valero in 1718, followed by the missions San Jose, San Juan, Concepcion, and Espada. Each of these missions is roughly five miles apart, the distance a monk could walk in a day.

Today four of these five mission churches are still being used as active Catholic parishes. Only the first, San Antonio de Valero is not, but is by far the most famous.

In 1718, the San Antonio de Valero mission was founded near todays San Pedro Springs Park in San Antonio. San Pedro Springs would be only the first of three sites for this mission. In 1724 it moved to its present location on the east side of the San Antonio River at an oxbow bend in that river.

In 1727 a two story stone convento, or priest’s residence, was completed, and in 1744 construction began on the mission’s first stone church. A small temporary adobe building was used for mass during its construction. This first church, with its bell tower and sacristy, collapsed in the 1750’s due to poor workmanship.

Construction on the second, more ambitious, church began in 1758. Its limestone walls were four feet thick to support a barrel-vaulted roof, dome and choir loft. Its design included twin bell towers and an elaborate carved façade. During this construction the Indian population declined causing work to stop. This building would remain roofless and never finished, except for the carvings on the façade.

During this time the mission’s need for defense drastically changed due to a massacre of the missionaries and mission Indians at Santa Cruz de San Saba in 1758. Although Spanish soldiers had begun a defensive presidio (fort) across the river in San Antonio de Bexar it was never completed. Fearing for their safety the priests and mission Indians took it about themselves to fortify the mission by enclosing the complex with an eight foot high, two foot thick wall and a fortified gate. Added to its defenses were a small number of cannon provided by the Spanish military.

For the next four decades the mission San Antonio de Valero would house and support a small number of monks and declining Indian populations, while across the river the town of Bexar continued to grow.

By the late 1700’s the population of mission Indians had continued to decline throughout Texas, and also the hope that these missions would attract more Spanish settlers to northern Mexico hadn’t happen ether. In 1793 Spain began to secularize, close down, the missions in Texas.

After secularization the San Antonio de Valero mission’s grounds and buildings were given to the twelve remaining Indians still living within its walls, and the mission’s religious duties passed to Bexar’s San Fernando church across the river. Over the next decade those twelve Indians would also move, leaving the mission compound to crumb in disrepair.

As the 19th century dawned Mexican Texas’ borders were again challenged by France. There was a disagreement over were the border actually was. Spain claimed it to be at the Red River, while France claimed it to be the Sabine River, 45 miles further west. The threat to their northern frontier became even more of a concern for Spain when the United States’ purchased Louisiana in 1803. There were already illegal French and American immigrants in Spanish Texas, and now the always expanding United States was at their very doorstep.

To help guard against further illegals from settling in Texas Spain increased their military presence throughout the region. They reinforced the small company of soldiers at San Antonio de Bexar with a Calvary company of one hundred men. These were the Second Flying Company of San Carlos De Alamo De Parras, named after the small town of San Jose y Santiago del Alamo, near Parras in the Mexican state of Coahuila.

Since a proper presidio hadn’t been built in Bexar the soldiers took up residency in the already walled Valero mission. Over time the mission Valero began to be called for the Calvary stationed there, and by 1807 military documents simply referred to the place as, the Alamo.

 

The Alamo

The Alamo Church late 1800’s, after the “hump” and roof was added.

There is a legend that says that the mission’s name came from the rows of Cottonwood (Alamo is Spanish for Cottonwood) trees near it on the Alameda road. However these trees were planted long after the mission was called the Alamo.

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American history, Gettysburg, history and travel, Myths and Legends, Nationa Memorials, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, The American Civil War, Travel, Uncategorized, Washington DC

American Memorial Day

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

In the United States our Memorial Day Holiday marks for many the beginning of the summer season. It’s a weekend for picnics, parades and fireworks. But how did this holiday begin? And what was its original purpose? To find this out we need to go back to the years following our American Civil War.

 

 

Memorial Day began officially in 1868 as Decoration Day and was borne out of the post-Civil War to remember those who had died in that war. At that time the Civil War had affected more families in this country than any other before it, because both sides were Americans.

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The Tomb of the Unknown Union Civil War Soldiers. 1,001 bones of Union soldiers gathered from the battlefields rest in there.

 

 

Credit for the beginnings of Decoration Day falls to General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order N0. 11 which states, “The 30th of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” The date of May 30th was chosen by General Logan because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle.

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The original Memorial stage at Arlington National Cemetery from which James Garfield spoke to the 5,000 that were in attendance.

 

 

 

On the first Decoration Day over 5,000 participants heard General James Garfield, later the 20th President of the United States, speak at Arlington National Cemetery. After which they decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.   

 

Many states and cities claimed to be the birthplace of Decoration Day. But it was the State of New York who officially recognized the holiday in 1873, and perhaps because of this in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson declared the City of Waterloo New York as its official birthplace.

 

By the late eighteen hundreds all of the northern states had adopted the celebration; however the southern states refused to acknowledge the day because the felt it was honoring the Union dead. They chose other days to honor their fallen Confederate soldiers. That was until after World War I when the holiday was changed from just honoring those of the Civil War to all Americans who died fighting in any war.  However, still today some southern states continue to have separate dates to honor those who fought for Confederacy.

 

In 1915, Moina Michael was inspired by the World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields” and wrote her own poem to honor the war dead:

 

“We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.”

Poppies at the Tower of London

The sea of ceramic poppies fill the moat of the Tower of London in 2014. One for each of the fallen soldiers from Great Britain in Word War I.

 

 

She also developed the idea to wear a red poppy on Decoration Day to further honor those who died while serving in war. She and her friends sold poppies to raise money to help servicemen in need. When a Madam Guerin was visiting our country from France she saw what Moina Michael had started and took the idea back to France. There she began creating artificial red poppies to be sold to raise funds for the war orphaned children and widows.

 

In 1921 the Franco-American Children’s League began selling the poppies until it disbanded a year later. Needing help Madam Guerin turned to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VFW became the first organization to sell poppies on Memorial Day in 1922. Beginning in 1924 disabled veterans began making the “Buddy” Poppies that are now sold. The United States Post Office honored Moina Michael for her work by putting her likeness on a stamp in 1948.

 

The original date for Memorial Day as May 30th was changed with the passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971. Now Memorial Day is observed as the last Monday in May. This conforms to the other Federal holidays in providing a three day weekend. 

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington

 

 

In 2000 the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed by Congress which asks all Americans at 3pm on Memorial Day, “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to taps.

 

Today Memorial Day for many has expanded to not just honoring those who fought and died in war, but also to those who had served and are now gone.  

 

 

 

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The Roman Forum, Part II – A walking exploration

 

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The Forum Romanum looking north from the Arch of Titus

 

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

I really had no idea how much there was to see at the Roman Forum. And how much of our western traditions and government had begun in that valley. I was really unprepared for what was laid out before me as I walked its ancient streets. Luckily I had taken a lot of photos so that when I got home I was able to read up on the history of what I had seen so that I can now share that with you. However in a few cases I didn’t have a good photo of what I considered an important building or temple, in those cases I’ll identify where the photo I posted came from.So walk with me now as we explore the Forum Romanum.

 

The Temple of Venus and Rome

 

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The remaining columns of the Temple of Venus and Rome. The largest temple in Rome in its time.

 

At the southern end of the Forum you’ll see a set of columns sitting above street level across from the Colosseum. These are what remain of the Temple of Venus and Rome.

The Temple of Venus and Rome is believed to have been the largest temple in ancient Rome. It was dedicated to the divine Julian family (which traced its legendary beginnings to the goddess Venus) and to the Imperial City of Rome. Construction begun in 135 AD by the emperor Hadrian and completed by his successor, Emperor Antonius Pius in 141 AD.

This temple was constructed on top of the largest man-made podium of its time. On the temple’s two longer sides were two columned porticos running along it. Its southern end faced the Colosseum and the northern the Forum. Both the north and the south ends featured long stairways going down to the streets across from the Colosseum and to the Forum. Inside the temple were a statue of Venus, which faced out toward the Colosseum, and a statue representing Rome facing the Forum.

To build this temple Hadrian had to remove what remained of the vestibule of Nero’s Golden House. Even the gigantic statue “The Colossus of Nero” had to be relocated to make room for it. It was written that it took twenty-four elephants to move the Colossus. Coupled with the impressive Colosseum, the Colossus of Nero, and the Temple of Venus and Rome the Colossus Square must have been spectacular to see.

As with many of the building in the Forum the Temple of Venus and Rome suffered by being stripped of its marble and stone for use in other buildings. Earthquakes and fire also helped with its destruction. It was an earthquake in the ninth century that finally destroyed what was left of the temple. The first Christian church to be built on the temple’s ruins was in 850 AD, it was then rebuilt in 1612 as the Church Santa Francesca Romana.

Today the terrace of the temple has been restored, and is open to the public.

To get into the Roman Forum proper from the south you enter off the Great Square of the Colosseum and walk up the Via Sacra. The Via Sacra was the main road through the ancient Forum. In the distance as you walk you’ll see our first stop, the Arch of Titus.

The Arch of Titus

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The Arch of Titus 

The Arch of Titus is the oldest of the tree surviving triumphal arches in Rome. It stands on the highest spot of the Via Sacra, and being over 50 feet in height it gives a commanding presence to the Roman Forum below. Dedicated in 85 AD by Emperor Domitian, in honor to his brother Emperor Titus who died in 81 AD. The arch commemorates Titus’ victory in the Jewish Revolt. In that war the city of Jerusalem was captured and the revolt finally crushed with the fall of the Masada fortress in 72 AD.

The reliefs on the arch depict the emperor’s triumphal procession into Rome with the spoils taken in that war. These reliefs were originally in color and the arch was topped with a bronze quadriga when it was first dedicated.

What helped preserve the Arch of Titus is that it was made part of the fortress of the Frangipani family in the eleventh century. You’ll notice that some of stone of the arch has different shades to it. This is because when Giuseppe Valadier worked on restoring this arch, between 1821 and 1823, he used travertine to replace the missing sections instead of marble to distinguish what was replaced from that of the original marble.

Palatine Hill

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The ruins on Palatine Hill as  seen from the Forum

As you pass by the Arch you’ll see ruins on the left going up the side of a hill, and what looks like restored building on its top. This is the Palatine Hill, the legendary birthplace of Rome. Remains of bronze-age huts have been found on the hill, which gives proof that the hill had been inhabited from a very early time. But what’s really historical about these ruins you see are that they are what remain of the palaces of the first Roman emperors.

The first emperor to have his residence on Palatine Hill was Augustus Caesar in 44 AD. But it was his successor, the Emperor Tiberius, who would build a true imperial palace. The following emperors, Caligula, Claudius and Nero would continue to expand the complex.

Palatine Hills was another area that if I had done a little more researching for our visit I would have made time to explore it. As it was there was a lot more in the Forum itself to see.

The Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina 

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The columns from the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

After you have walked down the dirt incline to the excavated Imperial level of Forum the first impressive structure you see on your right is the remains of the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina. What grabs your attention is that it seems to be two building in one, and you would be a correct in that assumption. This is another example of the medieval usage of a foundation from a ruined Roman temple for a Christian Church.

 

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Notice how high the bottom of the church’s green door is, that was ground level before being excavated.

 

The church building behind the columns is the twelfth century church of San Lorenzo in Miranda. The building you see today is from when the church was rebuilt in 1601. If you look closely at the temple’s remaining columns you can see grooves where they tried and tear them down to build the church.

In the close-up photo notice how high the church’s door is from the temple’s base. That was the level of the ground before the Forum was excavated.

The Temple of Caster and Pollux

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“The Three Sisters”

Not too far from the Temple of Antonius and Faustina, on the opposite side of the Forum, are the three remaining columns of the Temple of Caster and Pollux. This temple was one of the first to be built in the Forum. The first temple is believed to have been constructed in 484 BC by the pre-republic dictator Postumius, to honor the mythological twin brothers that legend says helped Roman to defect the Tarquin Kings. The ruins seen today are of the temple rebuilt by Emperor Tiberius in the first century AD. These three columns are popularly known as “The Three Sisters.”

The Basilica Julia basilica-julie

If you turn around and face north from the Temple of Caster and Pollux you’ll see a large open area with the stumps of column bases in rows, and ruined brick walls at its north end. This is what remains of the large Basilica Julia. Constructed by Julius Caesar in 54 AD, it was the main government building that housed the seat of the Centumviri. This was the people’s court in the time of Imperial Roman. The original building was destroyed by fire in 9 BC, and then rebuilt in 2 AD. In its day it measured over 331 feet long and almost 161 feet wide. Today it is but a field of rubble.

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The Temple of Saturn the-temple-of-saturn

When you see travel brochures and photos of the Roman Forum they most likely will feature the columns of the Temple of Saturn. The Temple of Saturn was the first temple built on the Forum. Although there is some question as to the exact date that it was constructed it is thought to be at around 497 BC. This temple was also used as the treasury for the Roman Republic, and where the standards of its legions were kept.

As with most of the temples and building of the Forum this one was also rebuilt. The ruins today are those of the temple of 42 BC. It was in front of this temple that you’ll find the base of Augustus’ column Miliarium Aureum or Golden Milestone, which marked the center of Rome, and from were all roads lead from.   

The Arch of Septimius Severus the-arch-of-septimius-severus-built-in-203-adIn front of the Temple of Saturn stands the magnificent Arch of Septimius Severus. This triumphal arch is the best preserved of the three arches in the Forum. Constructed by the Roman Senate in 203 AD to honor the Emperor Septimius Severus,and his sons Caracalla and Geta, on their victories over the Parthians, what is now Romania.

This arch stands 75 feet high and 82 feet wide, and is unique in that it has three arched passages. The larger center passage is a little over 39 feet in height, with the two side passages at around 23 feet high. When it was first constructed there was a flight of stairs going through the central passage. Made of marble it features four deep reliefs representing scenes of the Parthian war. At the top in the center of the arch is a large relief of Mars, the god of war. There were two statues of winged Victory on each side that are now lost to history. You can still read the inscription on the arch that says, “Dedicated to Septimius Severus and his sons.” As with the Arch of Titus this was also topped with a bronze quadriga, this one with statues of the Septimius and his two sons. However after Emperor Severus death Caracalla, who didn’t want to share the power with his brother, had Geta killed and removed his name and image from the arch.

The arch is in very good condition because it was incorporated into a Christian Church in the middle ages. Even after the church moved it continued to protect the arch from being stripped of its stone and marble.

The Via Sacra was the main route of the triumphant parades of the victorious generals and emperors. They would start at the southern end of the Forum with the procession ending at the foot of Capitoline Hill, near where the Arch of Septimius Severus stands.

The Rostra

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The Rostra as seen from the side

It’s not hard to miss what remains of one of the most important structures for Roman citizens. This was the one place where they could stand and speak their mind, the Rostra.

The Rostra was the name given to the platform from which orators would stand when addressing the crowds in the public assembly area, the Comitium. This platform was originally called the tribunal until after Roman’s first major sea victory at Antium in 338 BC. Some of the spoils taken from that battle were six bronze ramming prows from the enemy’s ships. These prows were attached to the front of the tribunal as trophies. The Latin word for prow is rostra; from then on the platform became known as the Rostra.

 

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The front of the Rostra

 

In 52 BC Julies Caesar rebuilt the government area after it was destroyed by fire. He detached the Rostra from the Comitium and moved it to its present location on the west side of the Via Sacra. The project wasn’t completed by the time of Caesar assassination so it was completed by his successor Emperor Augustus in 42 AD. The back of the Rostra had curved steps for the speakers to walk up. Besides the ships rostra’s the Rostra was also covered with reliefs and topped with a marble railing.

Many of the famous speeches from Roman history were made from this Rostra. In 44 AD Marc Antony made his famous speech to the Roman Citizens at Julius Caesar’s funeral.

Today we call a speaker’s podium a “Rostrum” which comes directly from the Roman Rostra.

You can see the ruins of the Rostra near the Arch of Septimius Severus and across the Via Sacra from the Curia Julia. Since I missed knowing about the Rostra when we were there I needed to go through in my photos and find an image I could use. The photo of the side of the Rostra is mine that is blown up from the photo of the arch and temple of Saturn. The front view photo comes from penelope.uchicgo.edu/grout/emclopaedia_romana/romanforum.

The Curia Julia

 

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The Curia Julia as seen today. Photo from Wikipedia

 

The Curia was where the Roman Senate met during the Republic and Imperial ages. It was the third important piece of Roman government, along with the Comitium and Rostra. The Comitium, with its Rostra, was originally located in front of the Curia. Before and during the time of Julius Caesar this senate meeting place was called the Curia Cornelia.

In 44 BC Julius Caesar began redesigning, relocating and rebuilding the Forum’s governmental area. He replaced the Curia Cornelia with his, the third Curia, Curia Julia. However, like the Rostra, work had not been completed when Caesar was assassinated. As he had done with the Rostra Augustus completed the Curia Julia’s construction. During the Imperial period the Curia Julia had a raised colonnaded porch across its front.

Emperor Domitian made restorations to the building between 81 AD and 96 AD. After fire heavily damaged it in 283 AD it was rebuilt by Emperor Diocletian between 284 and 305 AD; it’s this building that you see today. The building was saved from being destroyed when it to was converted to a Church in 630 AD, and because of this it’s one of the best preserved buildings of the Forum.

During my visit to the Forum I didn’t take any photos of the Curia Julia because I thought it was a contemporary building, because it looked so good. I didn’t find out its significance until I was doing research for this post. The photo posted here is from Wikipedia.

 The Mamertine Prison

 

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The Mamertine Prison lies below the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (the orange building in the background) as seen from the Roman Forum

Our pastor knew that we had been to Roman, so after the service where his sermon was on Saint Paul’s imprisonment he asked if we had been to the Mamrtine Prison. My wife and I looked at each other having never heard about this place while in Rome.

It was in this ancient Roman prison were tradition has that both Saint Paul and Saint Peter were kept before being martyred by Emperor Nero. The history of Christianity is also an interest to me and I felt bad that I had missed an opportunity to visit this site.

So I wondered: where was the Mamertine prison, had we walked past it without knowing? So the search was on. My finding told told me that it was at the foot of Capitoline Hill, which we had walked around many time during our visit. I checked all the maps and brochures we had brought back and found nothing of its location. Finally in working on this post I found a map that showed its where it was.

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The front of the Church of San Giuseppe, and the site of the Mamertine prison. Photo from Wikipedia

Mamertine prison is at the north end of the Forum; just a few yards pass the Arch of Septimius on the Via del Tullinano. Today the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami sits over its ruins. I understand that you can reach the cells where the Saints were supposed to have been imprisoned by going through the church.

There’s a funny part to this story; when I was on the Via dei Fori Imperiali taking photos of the Forum of Caesar I was standing only twenty yard from it. This is another reason to make sure to do your research before going on a trip. The photos posted here is a blowup of the one I took of the Arch of Septimius, the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami is in the background, and the one showing the front is from Wikipedia.

The Temple of Vesta the-temple-of-vesta-cropped

 

As we left the northern end of the Forum walking along the Via Sacra back toward the Arch of Titus, we stopped to view a temple ruin that was a semicircle with a wall behind its columns. In its time this was the most sacred of all the temples in the Rome Forum, it was the Temple of Vesta. It housed the eternal Sacred Fire of Rome. This fire was kept lit by the six Vestals, who were selected as children from the most prominent of the Roman families.

On the first day of the New Year all Romans would extinguish the fires in their homes and come to this temple to relight them from its sacred flame. There was a hole in the center of the temple’s roof, as with the Pantheon, to allow the smoke to escape.

The remains that you see today date from the time of Emperor Septimius Severus, between 193 and 211 AD. It is thought that this temple served well into the 13th century before also succumbing to the fate of having its marble and stone quarried. This reconstructed portion of the temple is from the 1930’s.

 The House of the Vestal Virgins

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Next to the Temple of Vesta, toward the foot of Palatine Hill, we can walk around a well maintained garden surrounded by ruins and statues. This is what remains of where the Vestal Virgins lived.

The ruins you see are from the complex built by Emperor Septimius Severus. It featured a two floor columned portico which completely surrounded the courtyard garden, that is still well maintained today. The second floor contained the private rooms of the Vestals while the lower rooms held the kitchen, flour mill, ovens and the servant’s quarters. It is believed that this building became the proto-type for our modern convents.

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The statues of the head vestals in the courtyard of the House of Vestal Virgins. The Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina in the background

 

Today only the foundations remain and the courtyard garden. Along each side of the courtyard stand the statures of what were the head vestals.  You can still read the inscriptions of what each’s virtues were.

This post only features a fraction of the many temples and buildings in the main Forum Romanum. Starting with Julius Caesar, and then with some of the emperors that followed, the Forum was expanded to other Imperial Forums.

 

Next posting- Beyond the Roman Forum: The Imperial Fora

 

 

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The Roman Forum, Part I- The center of an empire

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

Ancient history is my passion and the Roman Empire period for me is right up there with that of the ancient Greeks. So when my wife and I were planning our trip to Rome and Italy a visit to the Roman Forum was a must. Our hotel, the Grand Hotel Palatino was a perfect location for our stay, it being only a short four block walk down the Via Cavour to the Forum and the Colosseum.

As we walked along Rome’s Via Dei Fori Imperiali, which borders the Forum, and gazed down at the ruins of what was once the magnificent center of the mighty Roman Empire it was hard to visualize what it must have looked like in its glory days, because of its condition today. But it was at this place that the Roman Republic was born, where the Caesars walked and their legions marched. The Roman Forum was the unquestionable center of the Rome and the world.

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The Forum Romanum at the Imperial Age level along it original street, The Via Sacra. This is looking north toward Capitoline Hill.

What I didn’t know was the fascinating history about the site where the Forum is located long before it became Rome. What I found was that the area is a low-lying valley between the Palatine, Capitoline and Esquiline hills. In prehistoric times this valley was a marshy wetland due to the runoff from its surrounding hills. For those living on those hills it was a place to bury their dead and graze their animals. That changed in the 7th century BC when the last two Etruscan Kings built a drainage canal from the valley to the Tiber River. This canal was named the “Cloaca Maxima.” At first it was an open air canal but the Romans later covered it. This great engineering feat is still in use today.

After the valley was drained it became the central gathering place for the people on the hills. Legend has it that Rome’s first King Romulus, Rome’s legendary namesake, had his fortress city on the Palatine Hill and his rival, King Tatius, had his city on the Capitoline Hill. Legend goes on to tell that the two sides were in constant war with each other. That was until the Sabine women prayed for the fighting to stop. Romulus and Tatius did stopped their fighting and formed an alliance. Whether or not the legend has some truth or not an alliance was indeed formed between the two peoples and that was the start of what would become Rome.

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The marble Arch of Septimius Severus built in 203 AD to commemorate the Emperor’s victory over the Partians. It stands at the northern end of the Forum. In the background is the church Santi Luca e Martina.

Throughout the time of the Roman Republic the Forum continued to be expanded with government buildings and temples added around the Foro, or public square. One of the earliest temples was the Temple of Saturn in 497 BC.

The foot of Capitoline Hill was set aside for the government of Rome. It was there that the Curia (the meeting place for the Roman Senate) and the Comitium (the place of the people) were located. This was the governmental center of the Roman Republic. We get the name Capital for the center of our governments from Capitoline Hill.

Starting with Julius Caesar, and with the Emperors that followed, the Forum was expanded even more and rebuilt to fit the ego of the Caesar that was in power. For centuries the Forum Romanum was the undisputed the center of the Roman Empire. This is most evident when Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, placed a large column in the Forum that he named Miliarium Aureum, or the Golden Milestone. This was to mark the center of Rome, and then also the center of the Roman Empire. Augustus decreed that that was starting point for all roads leading out of the city out into its empire. It is also where the saying, “All roads lead to Rome,” came from.

 

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Visitors stroll along the Forum’s Via Sacra, where the citizens of ancient Rome walked. In the background on the right are the three columns of what remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. On the left side of the Via  Sacra the row of columns is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. The large column on the right in the foreground is the Column of Phocas. Off in the distance you can see the Arch of Titus, which stands at the south end to the Forum.

The Forum was the scene of political upheavals, funerals, triumphant parades, and before the Colosseum was built, gladiatorial battles. As the Roman Empire split and declined so did the importance of Rome the city and the Forum Romanum. At around the 8th century BC the marble from its buildings and temples started to be  taken for other building projects. Some of the buildings of the Forum were partly saved when they were converted into Christian churches. As the site further deterated it became a dumping ground and slit from the hills once again covered what was left. The valley took on a new name, Campo Vaccino or cattle field. The once magnificent Roman Forum had gone back to its original use.

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The remains of the north walls of the Basilica Julia at the foot of Capitoline Hil

In the early 1800’s, during the Napoleonic regime, some efforts were undertaken to unearth portions of the Forum. But even into the 20th century the Roman Forum was neglected. Part of the ancient Forum was destroyed by Benito Mussolini when he paved over a large section by Capitoline Hills for the Via Dei Fori Imperiali.

Today, things are looking better for the Forum Romanum. There is now ongoing excavations and preservation work being done. The area between the Arch of Tito, on the south end by the Colosseum, to the Arch of Septimius Severus, on the north end at the foot of Capitoline Hill, is now open to foot traffic.

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My wife standing on the original paving stones of the Forum Street.

On our visit to the archaeological site my wife and I entered at the south end. We walked down through the centuries of dirt and debris to what was the street level during the Imperial age, the time of the Caesars. We now stood on the very stones that the citizens of ancient Rome had walked on.  You can’t but be in awe at what history took place around these stones over two millennia ago. For these ruins, even in their broken and fallen condition, were part of the very foundation of the western world that we now live in.

 

  

My next posting I will highlight some of the temples and building in the Forum Romanum that you must see when you visit there.

 

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The Church of St. Peter in Chains, Rome Italy

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

 

In an ancient and historic city like Rome there is always something right under your nose that you could miss if you don’t keep eyes open and listen to other. As tourists we sometimes only focus on the main sites and literally walk past others of equal or greater historical value.

As I had mentioned in an earlier post our hotel in Rome was the Grand Hotel Palatino on the Via Cavour. The Palatino is just a few blocks from the Roman Forum and Colosseum. Many times my wife and I would leave the hotel and walk down to those famous ancient sites, ignorant of what we were passing. At breakfast one morning another guest at our table asked, “Have you been to the St. Peter in Chains Church?” “The what,” I asked. She explained that it had Michelangelo’s the famous statue of Moses. We told her we had not and asked where it was located. Her answer makes my point, “Across the street from the hotel and up a few steps.”

 

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San Pietro in Vicoli, Saint Peter in Chains Basilica

And she was absolutely correct in her directions. Across the Via Cavour was the narrow Via di San Francesco di Paola, which was more of a walkway in that location than a street. And she was also correct about the short set of steps up. At the top steps the walkway expanded into a street that vehicles could drive on. And there, as our tablemate had said, was San Pietro in Vicoli, Saint Peter in Chains.

 

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The main alter with is its frescos

 

Built in the fifth century this minor basilica is rather unassuming on the outside when compared to Saint Peters, Sant’Agnese in Agone, or the other majestic churches of Rome. But once you enter you’ll be surrounded by the colorful beauty of its many frescos. But it’s not the frescos, or even the holy relic that this basilica is named for that brings the tourists here, it’s the statue of Moses.

 

 

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This fresco was on the ceiling of the main aisle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelangelo’s statue of Moses

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There is a wonderful history behind this work of art, but first of all it wasn’t sculpted as a standalone. Michelangelo was first commissioned by Pope Julius II to create a funeral monument and tomb for him. The original design was to be massive, with 40 statues. However Pope Julius II had a big ego, and in his drive to immortalize himself with giant projects he kept pulling Michelangelo off working on the tomb to do other projects, like painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo did not consider himself a painter, but rather a sculpture, causing a deep friction between them. Because Julius kept veering off to other projects his tomb and monument was not finished at the time of his death in 1513, and so the complete monument was never finished. Julius’ well to do family had the finished portion of the monument, with the statue of Moses, moved to Saint Peter in Chains because of the Pope’s love for this small basilica.

 

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The entire portion of the funeral monument with the statue of Moses. This is just one part, imagine what the entire tomb would have looked like if finished

 

Michelangelo considered his statue of Moses to be his best work. The statues surface looks more like it was brushed on rather than chiseled. It was said that Michelangelo saw this statue to be so lifelike that he asked for it to talk when he had finished it. There is also a controversy about the statue’s horns. Moses seems to have two horns coming out of his forehead. Some scholars believe that the reason for these horns could be due to a miss translation in the book of Exodus. In the most common translation of Exodus it says that Moses came down from Sinai with two rays on his forehead. This is the translation of the Hebrew word “Karan” or “Karnaim” meaning “rays.” However the confusions by Michelangelo could have because he thought the Hebrew word was “keren” which means “horns.” No one really knows what Michelangelo’s intentions were. It is also said that Michelangelo hid his profile, and those of his patrons in Moses’ beard as a joke.

The Chains of St. Peter

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The Reliquary holding the chains that bond St. Peter

 

The statue of Moses overshadows what I think is an equally interesting and historical artifact housed in this church, and what this basilica is named and constructed to house. That would be the relic of the chains that supposedly bound St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem and Rome. 

The story is that Empress Eudoxia, wife of Roman Emperor Valentinian II, had gotten the chains that held St. Peter while imprisoned in Jerusalem from her mother, who had gotten them from the Bishop of Jerusalem. Eudoxia then gave those chains to Pope Leo I, who already had the chains that bound Peter while he was imprisoned in the Mamertine Prison in Rome before he was martyred. Legend says that as Pope Leo was comparing the two chains they miraculously fused together.

This relic is kept in a reliquary under the main alter. You can go down a few steps at the front of the alter for a closer look. And at peek tourist time it may be easier to view those that the statue of Moses.

So as you travel to historic cities and countries don’t forget to look across the street and up a few steps, you may be surprised what you’ll find there.

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