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 placed in the forum bronze statues of all the Roman triumphatores from Aeneas down with the name and cursus honorum of each general engraved on the plinth and his res gestae on a marble slab fixed to the wall below. Of these inscriptions a considerable number have been recovered. Later, statues of other persons, of varying degrees of distinction, were set up, and honorary inscriptions.
In the temple certain formalities were regularly observed, i.e. the assumption of the toga virilis by young men, the formal leave-taking of provincial governors when setting out for their posts, and their reception when returning with signs of victory which were deposited here, together with other less important functions. It served as a place of safe deposit until some thief stole the helmet of Mars, and was the scene of the famous banquets of the Salii. It is usually supposed that the standards recovered from the Parthians were kept in this temple after its completion, being removed thither from the temple of Mars Ultor on the Capitol.
The forum was rectangular in shape, about 125 metres long and 90 wide, and joined the forum Iulium on the north-east, its longest axis being perpendicular to that of the latter. The regularity of this rectangle was broken by two large semi-circular apses or exedrae on the south-east and north-west sides, and also at the north-east end, where Augustus had evidently not been able to get all the land he desired. Exactly in the middle of the north-east half of the forum stood the temple, with its end abutting against the enclosure wall. The forum was surrounded by an enormous wall; which served the double purpose of protecting it against fire and shutting off the view of the squalid quarters of the city in the immediate neighbourhood. A considerable part of this wall at the north-east end, and of both exedrae, has been preserved. It was originally nearly 36 metres high, and was built of large blocks of peperino in alternate courses of headers and stretchers, with wooden dowels, but no mortar. On the outside two courses of travertine divided it into three sections. Travertine is also used at other points of stress. In the part of the wall now standing is one of the original arched gateways, Arco dei Pantani, through which the modern Via Bonella passes, 6 metres above the ancient level. The inner surface of the wall was covered with marble and stucco. Whether a colonnade and porticus surrounded the south part of the forum within the wall is uncertain.
Each apse was separated from the forum area by a line of four pilasters and six fluted columns of cipollino, 9.50 metres high, which supported an entablature of white marble. In the curved wall of the apse were two rows of rectangular niches, the lower about 2.50 metres and the upper about 15, from the pavement. The wide wall-space (about 8.50 metres) between these two rows of niches, which appears to have been bare of ornament other than the lining, was probably masked by the entablature. About 5 metres above the upper row of niches ran a cornice, and above this the wall rose again for a considerable height. In each apse in the lower row were fourteen niches, not counting the large one in the middle, and four between each apse and the temple, making thirty-six in all. Whether there were more in the other portion of the wall is not known. In the lower niches were the statues of the triumphatores, and in the upper probably trophies. Between the niches were marble pilasters.
The temple was octostyle, and peripteral except at the north-east end, where it joined the forum wall. Three of the columns with the architrave are still standing. They are of white marble, fluted, 15.30 metres high and 1.76 in diameter, with Corinthian capitals. It was thought that they belonged to the restoration by Hadrian, and not to the structure of Augustus. This theory has, however, now been abandoned by Hülsen and Fiechter, for we have neither record nor traces of any restoration. The cella wall is of peperino, lined with Greek marble. Owing to the width of the cella it was divided into a nave and two aisles by internal columns. The ceiling of the peristyle, between the cella wall and the columns, is coffered, with rosettes in the centre of each coffer. The concrete base of the steps is well preserved (though the steps are thought to have been relaid at a later date), and so is a portion of the podium, with its facing of marble slabs which shows signs of decoration with bronze reliefs.
In the podium was a chamber which was cut in the Middle Ages to serve as a burial vault. A courtyard behind the north-west exedra, surrounded by an arcade, is interesting; and the north-west exedra itself has been entirely cleared.
SOURCE:A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome by Samuel Ball Platner
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