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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 Circus of Roman Emperor Nero: Where St. Peter was martyred

Ron Current

Ron Current

In my post on the Colosseum of Rome I stated that it wasn’t there that St. Peter and most of the other Christians met their deaths, but rather in another location in Rome. Most, including myself, were raised believing that it was within the Colosseum that the early Christians met their deaths. Now after visiting the Colosseum I found that story to be false. In fact most of the martyring was done before the Colosseum was actually built. So how did this story get started in the first place?

 What I’ve found is that this legend of Christians being martyred in the Colosseum had begun with Pope Benedict XIV in 1749; almost seventeen hundred years after those events took place. And over the centuries this decree by Benedict became taken as fact, even though it wasn’t.  

Today historians say that most Christians were martyred, including St. Peter and St. Paul, under the reign of Emperor Nero (Emperor from 54 AD – 68 AD), who committed suicide twelve years before the Colosseum was built. So if it wasn’t the Colosseum, then where were the Saints martyred? That place, most historian agree, was in the Circus of Nero.

 

Roman Circuses where built very differently from arenas such as the Colosseum. They were oblong rectangle building with a track for racing on its floor. A long dividing wall, called a Spina, ran down the center. This Spina created two tracks running down each side. The ends of Spina were open to provide turning points at each end. The Spina was decorated with ornate statures, columns and obelisks. Seating for the audiences was along the outside length and ends of the track ascending up several rows. To visualize what a Roman Circus would have looked like think of the chariot race scene in the movies Ben Hur. Racing, both horse and chariot, was what these circuses were mostly used for. Also at times other performances and presentations would take place there.

 

These Circuses were a major staple for entertainment in the lives of Roman citizens throughout the world. Rome itself had six that we know of in the city’s history: Circus Flaminius, Circus Maxentius, Circus Maximus, Circus Varianus, Circus Agonalis, and the Circus of Nero. Because of their large size and seating the Emperors would hold public events and presentations there as well as races. And it was this use as a place for public presentations that brings us to…

The Circus of Nero

 

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The Piazza San Pietro at Vatican City as seen from the steps of the St. Peter’s Basilica. Could part of Nero’s circus have run along the left side of this photo. At the center and at the top is the Egyptian obelisk that was at the center of the circuses spina.

 

 

It is believed that the Emperor Caligula started construction of this circus in Rome at around 40AD, and then finished later by the Emperor Nero. At first this circus was used as a private race course for both Caligula and Nero, but became a public venue so that Nero could show off his racing abilities. And it was within this circus that Nero conducted the most horrific displays of murder and cruelty ever in human history. So how did these mass killings start, and what caused them?

On the evening of July 18, 64 AD, Rome experienced one of the greatest fires in history. For over six days the city burned. Beginning in the slums near the Palatine Hill the fire spread, fueled by the wooden buildings and the summer’s high winds. Three of Rome’s districts were wiped out. Hundreds of Roman citizens died and thousands found themselves homeless.  Legend has it that the fire was started by Nero himself so that he could rebuild the city; however the emperor was 35 miles away at Antium when the fire broke out.  

What it did do was give cause for Nero to suppress the growing Christian movement in the city that he felt was disrupting the Empire. Using Christians as his scapegoat for the fire he began arresting them. Nero used his Circus for the public execution of hundreds of Christians, including St. Peter. On the circuses track Christians were tortured, torn apart by wild dogs, and burned alive. Along the Spina Christians were placed up on poles and set on fire as human torches. It was also there, along the Spina, where the Crucifixions took place, including that of St. Peter.

So where was the location of the Circus of Nero? Ancient Rome records show that Caligula built the circus on the property of his mother Agrippina, and here comes the surprise, on the Ager Vaticanus (Vatican Hill). Yes, the place where the early Christians and St. Peter were martyred is the site of the center of the Catholic Church, Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Today most of the remains of Nero’s Circus are gone. Although it was moved, only the Egyptian obelisk that once stood in the center of the circus’s spina remains. It now sits in the center of Piazza San Pietro in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Looking out from the steps of St. Peter the circuses wall and track could have run along the right side of plaza and the Basilica. The drawings below give two examples of where the Circus of Nero may have sat in relationship to the Basilica and the Piazza San Pietro.

 

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One theory has Nero’s circus running through the left side of St. Peter’s Basilica and then across its Piazza. Image is listed as public domain taken from Wikipedia

 

 

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This example has the circus running along the left side and through the Basilica, and not in the piazza at all. Image is listed as public domain taken from Wikipedia.

 

 

 

When you go to Rome and visit the Vatican, and as you walk through St. Peter’s and the Piazza San Petro remember that you are walking were early Christians and St. Peter died to spread the faith of church you are standing in front of.

 

 

 

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The magnificent Colosseum of Rome

Ron Current

Ron Current

As you walk toward the Colosseum along the Via del Colosseo, with the crowds of sightseers and street vendors surrounding her, you can’t help but marvel at this ruined giant from a time long lost in history. Few ancient structures can identify a city and its founding people. However when you see these structures you immediately know where you are and who built them. The Parthenon identifies Athens and the ancient Greeks and the Colosseum with Rome and the ancient Romans. But very few of these sites have the same mystique of historically correct or incorrect facts as does the Colosseum of Rome. Even its modern name, the Colosseum is incorrect to what the Romans during its heyday knew it as.

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The Colosseum from the side across from the Roman Forum.

To know what is correct, and what’s conjecture about this famous and inspiring amphitheater we must look back before it was built.  We start during the time of one of ancient Rome’s most decadent emperors, Nero. His reign was nothing but misrulings, murder and the building of lavish palaces. Even after the great fire of 64 AD, where much of the city was destroyed, he built on the ashes of his people. In the valley next to Nero’s large “deomus aurea” (garden house) which was located on the Esquiline Hill, the largest of Rome’s seven famous hills, he extended his gardens and constructed a large lake in the middle. On this lake he orchestrated sea battles with full size ships for his entertainment, and that of his privileged guests. It was on this site that the Colosseum would be build.  At the entrance to these gardens, across from the Roman Forum, Nero erected a 100 foot tall bronze statue of himself as the Roman sun god.  This statue was called the Colossus of Nero.

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The outer corridor that the ancient Romans walked to get to their sections.

After Nero committed suicide in 68 AD there began a series of civil wars within the empire. During this time there were many would be emperors trying to take his place. It wasn’t until the Roman General Vespasian seized the throne in 69 AD that the empire became stable. Vespasian is best known for his military feats, mostly for putting down the Jewish rebellion and the siege of Jerusalem in 66 AD. Vespasian was the first of the Flavian emperors.  Vespasian toned down the excesses of the former emperors and restored power to the Roman courts and Senate. The Emperor also promised that he would build the greatest public amphitheater in the world for the people. Selecting the site of Nero’s gardens and lake he began construction at around 70 AD.  Work was finally completed by Vespasian’s son Titus in 80 AD. It was opened with the emperors family name, the Flavian Amphitheater.

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A cross was erected at the location of the Emperor’s box. This was placed to honor the Christian martyrs that were believed to have been killed there. Finding now show that this didn’t happen in the Colosseum.

Although it took ten years to complete construction went quiet fast for such a massive undertaking.  The Flavian Amphitheater was constructed with stone, marble, and concrete. When it was finished its elliptical measurements were 620 feet long by 513 feet wide, with its outer walls measuring over 164 feet high. Over 3,531,466 cubic feet of travertine was used in its building, and the metal pins used to hold the blocks together weighted more than 300 tons. The floor of the arena measured 287 feet by 180 feet, and had a 15 foot high wall separating spectators from the action on the floor. Below the floor were two levels: one for the animals, and one for the gladiators. Tunnels, trap doors, and elevators allowed the combatants and wild animals to enter the arena from below.

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The interior of the Flavian Amphitheater. The rooms below the arena floor can be seen.  

Seating was by ancient Roman social order, the upper classes nearer the amphitheater’s arena floor and the lesser classes going up higher. However there was little worry about not getting a seat, because the amphitheater could hold 70,000 spectators.The amphitheater also had many visionary features ahead of its time for the comfort of its audiences and performers. To protect people from the sun there were enormous awnings that were rolled out around its top. Also to protect the audience from one of the wild animals from getting out the arena it was surrounded with a metal mesh screen. The 2000 movie “Gladiator” gave a fairly good idea as to what the Flavian Amphitheater may have looked like, but in reality it was much more spectacular.

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Part of the reconstruction was building a section to show how the floor of the arena would have looked.

For many of the hunting presentations hills, forests and small lakes were constructed on the arena floor. It was written that at one hunting performance over a hundred lions were released through the trap doors into the arena, and so loud were their roars that the crowd was frightened into instant silence. There is also an account that stated that over 9,000 animals were killed during the amphitheater’s inaugural games.

Today when we think of the Colosseum we think mostly of the gladiator battles. However unlike what’s been popularized in movies these fighters were mostly freemen who were looking for fame and fortune, much like today’s pro-athletes. However some were criminals that fought to earn their freedom. Another miss conception about the Colosseum is that Christians were martyred there. This story was started by Pope Benedict XIV in 1749, and there is no historical evidence of that ever happening in the Colosseum. Christians were martyred in Rome but at an earlier time, before the Colosseum. You’ll be very surprised at what place that was, I’ll reveal that location in another post.

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Looking up at the top walls inside the arena

So when did the Flavian amphitheater start being called the Colosseum, and how? There are two theories of how this name change came about. One is because of the structures size, being so colossal. Another, and one that I think is more accurate, is due to the bronze statue, “The Colossus of Nero.” Vespasian added sun rays to the crown of the statue’s head and renamed it “the Colossus of Solis.” Later in 128 AD Emperor Hadrian moved the statue closer to the amphitheater when he began building the Temple of Venus and Roma. Because the statue and the amphitheater were so close to each other people would refer to it as the Colosseum. No one is sure when the statue vanished into history, but the Colosseum still stood for them to see, keeping the name Colosseum.

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The remains of one of the decorative statues that once adorned the interior of the Colosseum.

As the western Roman Empire declined and the public’s tastes changed the Colosseum began being less and less used until all performances ended in around the 6th century. By then the arena had suffered much damage from earthquakes, fires, and other natural disasters. When it became completely abandoned it was vandalized and it’s marble and stone used as a quarry for other building projects in the city, these included St. Peter and St. John Lateran. By the beginning of the 20th century more than two-thirds of the original structure was gone. The Colosseum’s marble seats and most of its decorative trimmings are lost. In 1990 restoration began in earnest to save Rome  most popular tourist attraction.

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Here is an example of how the builders use a brick shell filled with concrete

Today as you walk inside this great example the glorious architecture of the last imperial period of ancient Roman you can envision the masses walking along its corridors and up the stairs to their seats. And as you go out and see the remains of the arena floor and the cubicles below, you can almost hear the tens of thousands of Roman citizens cheering for their champions.

 

 

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The Colosseum from further back. It was near the grassy area in the lower left side of the photo that Emperor Hadrian moved the Colossus of Solis

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Britain history, Greece, Greek history, history and travel, History in Time, Italy, Still Current, Stonehenge, The Colosseum, The Parthenon, Uncategorized, World history

Somewhere in Time!

Ron Current

Ron Current

When we visit historical and archaeological sites around the world we often see them for what they are when we are looking at them. We learn of their age, who built them and for what purpose. But what we don’t often realize of how each of these ancient monuments fit into the human journey through time. We think of them in our time, not in their time.
My “Ah- Ha” moment came when I visited the Acropolis in Athens. When moving to get a better photo of the Parthenon I slipped. Looking down I saw the shiny and polished stone of the hill top. At that instant it occurred to me just how many other feet had walked on that very spot over the millennia. It kind of humbles you, don’t you think.
That got me to thinking how other ancient monuments fit into the human journey through time. I stopped looking at them in my time, but rather in the time of each in relationship to each other. When one was built compared to when the others were. The sites that I chose are: Stonehenge in England, the Parthenon in Greece and the Colosseum in Rome.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is believed by archaeologists to have been constructed by prehistoric tribes somewhere between 3000 and 2000 BC, with the first bluestones being raised at around 3000 BC. The Parthenon was built by Pericles beginning in 449 BC, with its construction completed in 438 BC. The final sculptures were completed in 432 BC. Looking at these two sites in time Stonehenge was already one thousand five hundred and eighty six year old when Pericles completed the Parthenon. That makes the Parthenon a relatively new construction.

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

The Colosseum in Rome was known in its day as the Flavian Amphitheater. Its construction was started in 70 AD, by the Emperor Vespasian on the site where Nero had a lake in his gardens of Domus Aurea. Construction of the amphitheater was completed by Emperor Titus in 80 AD. The Parthenon is five hundred and twelve years older than the colosseum, and Stonehenge at two thousand and eighty years older was likely a deserted site.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

Think of it this way, when the Romans were conquering Britain in 43 BC, and they came upon the ruins of Stonehenge its history of who built it and what it was used for was already lost to time. Oh, and those same Romans had no idea that a huge amphitheater would be built in their capital city thirty years later.
So, if you want history to be really exciting don’t just look at it from one perspective, look at it with the wider scope of time.

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