Forum of Augustus

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The Forum of Augustus (Foro di Augusto) was a public square in ancient Rome, located in the north-western part of the city between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills. It was built by the Roman Emperor Augustus in the first century BCE as part of his program of urban renewal and served as a central meeting place for the Roman people.

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The forum included several important buildings such as the Temple of Mars the Avenger (Tempio di Marte Ultore) and the Temple of Jupiter Tonans (Tempio di Giove Tonante). It also served as a location for important political and religious events and was decorated with statues and other works of art. The forum was a major center of Roman life for several centuries, but fell into disuse and ruin after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century CE.

Architecture and Notable Structures

circa 2 BCE

Temple of Mars Ultor
The Temple of Mars Ultor (literally meaning the Mars the Avenger) occupied the centre of the eastern side of the Forum of Augustus. It was dedicated by Octavian Augustus in 42 BCE on the eve of the battle of Phillippi fought together with Mark Antony against Brutus and Cassius to avenge the assissination of Julius Caesar, his uncle and adopting father. The temple (illustration) was inaugurated in the year 2 BCE. Ancient reliefs display the fronton which bore in the center the statues of Mars and Venus as the ancestors of the Romans and the Julia family, to which both Julius Caesar and Octavian belonged. To the sides of the divine couple there were personifications of Fortune, Rome Palatine, the Tiber and the image of Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome in 753 BCE and its first king. The significance of this group lies in the legitimization of power of the Julia family who, according to the legend, descended from Julus Ascanius, son of Aeneas, son of Venus. From Julus Ascanius descended also Reha Silvia, who had conceived Romulus with Mars. The temple was completely destroyed around the times of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric (circa 493-526 CE) in order to reuse the marble and other construction materials. They were spared only the three columns still standing and the podium. In the ninth or tenth century CE, the very first nucleus of the monastery of Saint Basil was settled. Between the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century CE, the monastery became the property of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem (later called the Knights of Rhodes, today known as the Knights of Malta). In 1566 CE the complex was donated by Pope Pius V (1566-1572 CE) to a group of Dominican nuns, who built a new monastery and a new church, which occupied the area of the Temple of Mars and was dedicated to the Virgin of the Annunciation. Most of these structures has been demolished in1924-1932 CE to recover the Roman ruins. Many fragments of sulptures found at the time are on display at the Museum of the Imperial Fora.

circa 2 BCE

The Square of the Augustan Forum
The excavations carried out between 2004 and 2006 CE by the Superintendency of Cultural Heritage for the City of Rome brought to light the part of the central area of the Forum of Augustus, stretching for approximately five hundred square meters. The square was originally paved with Carrara marble (from Tuscany) and was likely decorated with severalstatues. The analysis of the rich archaeological data showedthat the marble paving of the Forum had long been removed and the area had been abandoned, with subsequent natural soil accumulation, between the ninth and tenth centuries CE. The construction of the nearby monastery Saint Basil, built at the time on the podium of the Temple of Mars Ultor, could explain the removal of marble and other materials from the square of the FOrum, in order to obtain building materials. For many centuries the area was unkempt and marshy, until it was drained in the second half of the sixteenth century CE. Finally, starting from the year 1584 CE, the first buildings of the Quartiere Alessandrine were built in the area. The structures were built right on top of the Forum of Augustus, unfortunately causing the complete removal of what remained of the decorative elements dating back to the Roman period.

circa 2 BCE

The Side Porticos and Hemicycles
On the two long sides the square of the Forum of Augustus was flanked by porticoes. The facade was decorated with fluted Corinthian columns made of Giallo Antico marble (coming from the modern day Tunisia). The columns supported an attic decorated with Caryatids modeled on those from the Erechtheum in Athens and alternating with large marble shields bearing heads of deities in the center. The porticoes floors displayed rich coloured marble patterns and each of them opened up to a pair of hemicycles with a diameter of fourty meter. The western pair of the hemicycles were demolished during the construction of the Forum of Nerve circa 97 CE and the Forum of Trajan circa 112-113 CE so that the porticoes in the Forum of Augustus were left with only one hemicycle each.

These spaces were furnished with a gallery of statues portraying famous men of Rome (Summi Viri) as well as members of the Julia dynasty to which Augustus himself belonged. Trials would be held inside the hemicycles by the ancient Roman judges (praetores). In the northern hemicycle the praetor urbanus would preside over law-suits involving Roman citizens while in the opposite hemicycle (south) the praetor peregrinus would attent to the legal matters involving foreigners (peregrini) who did not have the Roman citizenship. The northern portico endedin a lavishly decorated room, the so-called "Hall of the Colossus" (in front of you). A colossal statue of Augustus (approximately eleven or twelve meters tall) was placed on a base in this hall as a symbol of the equality of justice administered by the judges in the nearby tribunals. Several marble fragments coming from this section of the Forum of Augustus are on display in the Museum of the Imperial Fora.

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