History for the Rest of Us

The Forum of Augustus

The Forum of Augustus

Oct 27, 2012

The Forum Augustum or Augusti was the second of the imperial fora, adjoining the Forum Iulium, built by Augustus to provide additional room for the courts, and for other needs of the increasing population. The site was purchased by Augustus from its owners with the proceeds of the spoils of war, but he did not succeed in acquiring enough land to carry out his original plan. Within the forum was the temple of Mars Ultor which formed the essential element of the forum as the temple of Venus Genetrix did that of the forum Iulium. The work was greatly delayed, but that on the forum was hurried at last and this was opened before the temple was finished, although its actual dedication is said to have taken place on 1st August, 2 B.C., at the same time as that of the temple. Because of the temple of Mars, this forum was sometimes called forum Martis. In 19 A.D. Tiberius erected two arches, one on each side of the temple, in honour of the victories of Drusus and Germanicus in Germany. Pliny regarded this forum with the temple of Peace and the basilica Aemilia, as the three most beautiful buildings in the world, and says that the timber used in its construction was cut in the Raetian Alps in the dog days, considered to be the best time. In fact, wooden dowels were found in the sixteenth century so well preserved that they could be used again. As might be expected, many works of art were collected in the forum, including a quadriga dedicated by the senate to Augustus; and in the temple, which was as magnificent as the rest of the structure. The forum was restored by Hadrian, and is mentioned in the Notitia. How long the forum was used for the courts is not known. Claudius and Trajan sat in judgment here, but the building of Trajan’s forum probably diminished the importance of all the others. Once at least Augustus celebrated the festival of Mars in his forum on account of an inundation of the Tiber, and the Arval Brethren sacrificed here to Mars Ultor, Salus and the genius of the princeps. Augustus...

The Temple of Peace

The Temple of Peace

Oct 27, 2012

The temple of Peace was begun by Vespasian after the capture of Jerusalem in 71 A.D., and dedicated in 75. It stood in the middle of the forum Pacis, north of the basilica Aemilia, probably at the junction of the modern Vie Alessandrina and dei Pozzi. Statius seems to ascribe the completion of this temple to Domitian, but this emperor’s claim may have had little foundation. Within the temple, or attached closely to it, was a library, bibliotheca Pacis. In it were placed many of the treasures brought by Vespasian from Jerusalem, as well as famous works of Greek artists, and Pliny speaks of it, the basilica Aemilia and the forum of Augustus, as the three most beautiful monuments in Rome. Just before the death of Commodus, probably in 191, the temple was destroyed by fire, but it must have been restored, probably by Severus, for it is mentioned in the succeeding centuries as one of the most magnificent buildings in the city. It gave its name to the fourth region of the city. In 408 there were seismic disturbances for seven successive days in the forum Pacis, and the temple may have been injured then. At any rate Procopius, writing in the sixth century, says that it had long since been destroyed by lightning, although there were still many works of art set up in the immediate vicinity. The enclosure within which the temple stood is not called forum in literature until after the time of Constantine. Enclosure and temple together appear in Pliny as Pacis opera. On the north-west it adjoined the (later) forum Transitorium, and on the south-east the basilica of Constantine, being rectangular in shape with the same orientation as the other imperial fora. Its length was 145 metres, and its width about two-thirds as much, although its north-east boundary is uncertain. It had an enclosing wall of peperino lined with marble and pierced with several gates. The peperino blocks have left impressions on the concrete of the basilica of Constantine, the north-west side of which was set against it. At the south-east corner there was an entrance from the Sacra via through a monumental passage which, after several changes,...

Trajan’s Forum

Trajan’s Forum

Sep 27, 2012

The last, largest and most magnificent of the imperial fora, built by Trajan with the assistance of the Greek architect Apollodorus, and dedicated, at least in part, about 113 A.D. When completed by Trajan it consisted of the forum proper, the basilica Ulpia, the column of Trajan, and the bibliotheca, and extended from the forum Augustum north-west between the Capitoline and Quirinal hills, with the same orientation as the other imperial fora. Unlike these it did not contain a central temple of which it formed a virtual porticus. After Trajan’s death, however, Hadrian erected the great temple of Trajan on the north-west side of the bibliotheca, which thenceforth formed an integral part of the forum whole, and made it conform somewhat to the imperial type. Although the walls of the forum of Trajan and the forum of Augustus seem to have been separated by a short distance, they must have been connected by a wide avenue at least, and thus Caesar’s plan of connecting the forum Romanum and the campus Martius was finally carried out. The construction of Trajan’s forum necessitated much excavation and levelling. The space thus prepared was 185 metres in width, and the extreme length of forum and temple precinct was about 310 metres. The inscription on the pedestal of the column in connection with a passage in Cassius Dio was formerly taken to mean that the height of the column (100 Roman feet) was that of a ridge between the Capitoline and Quirinal hills which had to be cut away, but geological evidence showed that it never existed. This was confirmed by the discovery of an ancient street and houses of the early empire beneath the foundation of the column. In view of this fact various attempts have been made to explain the inscription, and especially mons, in some other way. The least unsatisfactory explanation as yet suggested is that mons refers to the extreme eastern shoulder of the Quirinal, the collis Latiaris, that was cut back so far that the height of the excavation was approximately 100 feet. Groh accepts this view, explaining that the mons was probably situated to the north-west of the forum of Augustus; and suggests...

Golden Gate Bridge – 75

Golden Gate Bridge – 75

May 28, 2012

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the modern Wonders of the World. At a cost of over $35 million, its construction took slightly over 4 years. Construction began on January 5, 1933, and was completed in April 1937. Halfway to Hell Club Eleven men were killed from falls during construction. Nineteen others fell but were saved by a movable safety net. Those who survived formed the ‘Half Way to Hell Club’. The last surviving member, Al Zampa, indicated that when a man fell to his death from a bridge it was said “he’s gone to hell”. So those who were saved by the nets were said to have only fallen “half way to hell”. Bridge Design The city engineer estimated that a bridge would cost $100 million and opened the question to bridge engineers of whether or not it could be build for less. Joseph Stauss, submitted a design that he promised could be build for $17 million. While his original design wasn’t accepted, authorities agreed to proceed as long as he would alter his design and get input from consulting project experts. The design that would eventually be accepted for the bridge was the work of Leon Moisseiff who had designed the Manhattan Bridge in New York. Bridge Color Locals persuaded Irving Morrow, the designer of the overall shape of the bridge towers, to paint the bridge International Orange – a color used in the aerospace industry because it allows objects to be more easily distinguished from their surroundings. The US Navy had proposed black with yellow stripes to ensure visibility for passing ships. Official Opening On May 28, 1937 President Roosevelt officially signaled the start of vehicle traffic across the bridge. 200,000 people had crossed by foot and roller skate the previous day, the first day of a week long...

Brooklyn Bridge Opens

Brooklyn Bridge Opens

May 24, 2012

Bridge Opens The Brooklyn Bridge first opened for traffic on May 24, 1883 after 14 years of construction. Hailed ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world for twenty years. The Bridge was designed by John Augustus Roebling, a German immigrant. Construction Challenges While surveying the project, Roebling had his foot crushed when the ferry his bridge would replace collided with the dock where he was taking measurements. The accident resulted in the need to have his crushed toes amputated. He developed a tetanus infection. Realizing the severity of his condition, he put his 32-year-old son in charge of the project. John would die three weeks later. His son’s luck wouldn’t be much better. While working with the men digging the foundation under the East River, he developed caisson disease or decompression sickness, an illness that affects underwater workers when they resurface too quickly. The disease left him partially paralyzed. Unable to directly supervise the project, he monitored the project through binoculars from a nearby balcony and directed his wife Emily who relayed instructions and managed the workforce. In 1882, the Mayor of Brooklyn wanted to replace Washington. Emily addressed the American Society of Civil Engineers and, because of her appeal, Washington was allowed to remain in his position as Chief Engineer and see the project through to...

Belly Button of Ancient Rome

Belly Button of Ancient Rome

May 2, 2012

The Umbilicus Urbis Romae Adjacent to the Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum, lie the remains of the Umbilicus Urbis Romae, or “Navel of the City of Rome”. It is from this monument that all distances in Ancient Rome were measured (all roads lead to Rome). The Umbilicus was originally covered in marble. There is some debate as to whether or not three monuments discussed in Roman writings, the Milliarium Aureum (Golden Milestone), the Umbilicus Urbis, and the Mundus (Underground Gate to the Underworld), refer to the same monument, but regardless, this area near the Rostra was the center of the empire. It’s possible that the Umbilicus was the external part of the subterranean Mundus. The Mundus Legend indicates that Romulus had a circular pit dug in the area of the Forum when he founded the city, where the first fruit of the year was cast as a sacrifice to underworld deities, particularly Ceres, goddess of the fruitful earth. All new citizens were required to throw a handful of dirt coming from their place of origin into the Mundus as well. This pit was sealed with a stone covering with the exception of August 24, October 5, and November 8 when it was ceremonially opened. These days were considered dies nefasti, or days on which official transactions were forbidden on religious grounds. They were considered such because evil spirits of the underworld were thought to escape when the doors were open and could negatively impact such transactions. Varro is quoted as saying ‘Mundus cum patet, deorum tristium atque inferum quasi ianua patet.’ translated to mean ‘When the mundus is open, it is as if a door stands open for the sorrowful gods of the underworld.’ The Milliarium Aureum Build by Augustus in 20 BC the Milliarium Aureum was said to serve the same purpose as the Umbilicus, that is, measuring distances to and from the...