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The Forum of Trajan

Discover the fascinating history of Rome's Imperial Fora, a series of forums built by emperors like Julius Caesar and Trajan. Explore the grand architecture, including the Basilica Ulpia and Column of Trajan, and learn how these spaces served as civic, ceremonial, and commercial centers in ancient Rome.  A conversation with Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user Brooke
    When and how was the forum destroyed?
    (6 votes)
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    • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
      Originally from conquest and decay especially after Rome was left to the "barbarians" after Constantine moved the official Roman capital from Rome to Constantinople. Also, a series of earthquakes, even minor ones, can do a great deal of damage to classical columns of which forums are mostly comprised of.

      To make matters worse, apparently the modern streets are still doing damage to this wonderful treasure of the ancient realm...

      From wikipedia:

      "This modern street and its heavy motor vehicle traffic are quickly destroying this Forum and all other buildings and monuments over and through which it runs, with constant vibrations, smoke and acidic vapors (sulfur and carbonic). All halfhearted attempts to deconstruct and remove this Fascist era road (Via dei Fori Imperiali) have failed for the past 45 years."

      (12 votes)
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
    At , Dr. Zucker compares Roman construction to modern shopping malls.
    Given that there are many "dead malls" scattered across north America (there's even a web site about them), I wonder if any imperial fora in Rome were similarly dying and being progressively replaced by more modern ones. In other words, did the Romans maintain things, or merely build new?
    (6 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Leslie Yarmo
      In short, both. It is only with modern technology that we are able to tear down massive structures like these. Generally, they were modified and expanded upon over the centuries and were built to last. Even those that were somewhat destroyed by fires and earthquakes were built on top of using parts of the original structure. For that reason many of the buildings from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods have elements of Roman structures incorporated into them. There are numerous examples of buildings in Rome that clearly follow the seating of theatres they used as foundations. On occasion, buildings were buried (ie...Nero's Golden Palace) and built on top of. But that was a huge feat considering the dimensions of the structures.
      Given all this, many of the buildings in the Roman and Imperial Fora were still standing at the height of the Renaissance (16th c.) - over a thousand years later. So little of them remain because they were then used as a quori for materials to rebuild the Vatican and the city, particularly Renaissance Palaces and Baroque churches that are seen today filled with marble stripped from the Ancient structures.
      (5 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Gloria Blanchard
    The library had balconies so you could view the Column of Trajan. Brilliant. I wondered who would see anything of the story that is higher up. Thank you, thank you very much for that.

    The top of the Column now has St. Peter on it. Anyone know what happened to the statue of Trajan? Was that moved somewhere else in the city, I hope?
    (3 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Миленa
    - From what century or centuries exactly are these medieval structures from? The early middle ages and the late middle ages are divided by almost a thousand years, so a clarification would be helpful :)
    (2 votes)
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    • leaf blue style avatar for user Jeffrey A. Becker
      The forum of Trajan gradually is reused and recycled in the post-Roman period. During the Middle Ages various ad hoc structures are built within the forum. During the 9th and 10th centuries a large quantity of stone blocks are re-used to produce lime. The forum complex gradually was consumed by the Medieval city. The chronology is complex.
      (3 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Миленa
    -- When and how was this temple destroyed? Was it destroyed deliberately for ideological reasons, or was the destruction slow and non-deliberate (for example, the materials being "recycled" to build other buildings)?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user fernanci123
    - From what century or centuries exactly are these medieval structures from?
    -- When and how was this temple destroyed?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leaf green style avatar for user Jason Vanger
    At , the text misspells "Basilica" as "Baslica."
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

(music) - [Steven] We're standing at a terrace looking out over Rome and more specifically, over the Imperial Fora. - [Beth] A forum is something that you could find in any Roman city. It's a civic space. - [Steven] It was an administrative center, it was a commercial center, and it was a political and social center. - [Beth] So there was a long tradition of forums going back to the period of Ancient Rome and Republic and that's what we see in this space called the Roman Forum today. - [Steven] And then Julius Caesar starts a new tradition. He builds his own forum. - [Beth] The main area of the forum got too busy and Caesar wanted to showcase his own political power and so beginning with Caesar, we get a series of forums built by various emperors. - [Steven] There were quite a number. There was the Forum of Augustus. There was the Forum of Domitian, which became the Forum of Nerva. - [Beth] Including the one we're looking over now which is the Forum of Trajan. - [Steven] But Trajan had a problem. The real estate was already filled with the fora of the previous emperors. And so he turned to his architect, his engineer, Apollodorus of Damascus. And Apollodorus was tasked with removing the hill that was in the way or at least a good portion of it in order to build the forum. Unfortunately, what we see now are the foundations and the ruins and the walls of medieval houses that were built on that earlier classical structure. - [Beth] Perhaps archaeologists in the future will one day decide to dig deeper and to discover what remains of the Forum of Trajan. But we can see an area that was excavated that was Trajan's and that's the area of the Basilica Ulpia. - [Steven] Trajan's Forum is almost the size of all of the Imperial Fora put together. - [Beth] It was incredibly extravagant. There was an enormous ceremonial entrance way that led into the space of the forum. - [Steven] We think that at the top was a sculpture of a chariot pulled by six horses with the Emperor Trajan followed by the Goddess of Victory. - [Beth] Then once you enter the space of the forum, within the center was an equestrian sculpture, a sculpture showing Trajan on a horse. To get an idea of what that looked like, we can think of the equestrian sculpture of Marcus Aurelius that survived. - [Steven] This enormous space would be flanked by huge sloped areas which are called exedrae. But as we look forward, we would look at one flank of the largest basilica in Rome, the Basilica Ulpia. - [Beth] Imagine a public space filled with niches with sculpture in them, relief carvings, free standing sculpture commemorating the great emperors and politicians, and military leaders of ancient Rome. - [Steven] There were beautiful colored marbles in the paving stones as well as in the structures themselves. And that's beautifully exemplified by the Basilica Ulpia. Now, it's called the Basilica Ulpia because that's Trajan's family name. - [Beth] When we look out, we can at least see part of the enormous basilica. There would have been columns on all sides. - [Steven] And they would have extended beyond the area that has been excavated. - [Beth] And then beyond that, you went through yet another entrance way. There were two libraries on either side; one for Greek literature and one for Roman literature. And in the middle was the Column of Trajan. The Column of Trajan looks really lonely today, but there were buildings surrounding it. - [Steven] In fact, the Greek and Latin library were designed with porches, so that you can get a great view of the relief carving on the Column of Trajan. The Column of Trajan is in extraordinarily good condition considering that the rest of this area has been destroyed. - [Beth] Trajan expanded the Roman empire to it's largest boarders. He was a great military general. When you look at the Column of Trajan, the point was to see the story of Trajan's great military exploits, specifically the two campaigns which lasted over several years where he defeated the Dacians. Trajan was obviously proud of his military endeavors and his expansion of the empire. - [Steven] Throughout his Imperial Forum, Trajan had sculptures of captured Dacians, showing the Dacians as quite noble as formidable adversaries. - [Beth] But it was easy to recognize the Dacians because they looked very different from the Romans. They wore fringed shawls, they have beard and long hair. And so anyone looking at the sculptures could easily tell these were the defeated foes and there was a sense of the correctness of what the Romans had done. Everywhere one looked, you saw sculptures of the Romans conquering their enemies. - [Steven] And his success over the Dacians funded this monumental building campaign. - [Beth] So when you approach the forum, you would see the equestrian sculpture and then the Column of Trajan. And on top of the Column of Trajan, now, we see a sculpture of St. Peter, but originally, there's a sculpture of Trajan. - [Steven] The pillar is 125 feet tall and it marks the height of the hill that was removed by Apollodorus of Damascus in order to build the forum here. So it speaks to the Roman's interest in making nature subservient to man's will. - [Beth] So, we have the forum, beyond that, the Basilica Ulpia, beyond that, the libraries with the column in the center, and beyond that, Trajan had planned a temple. Temples were always part of forum complexes, but Trajan died before he could build it, but it was built by the succeeding Emperor Hadrian who built it in honor of the deified Trajan. - [Steven] This Imperial Forum with it's large open courtyard, with its basilica, with its libraries, with its column with its temple, would have been a civic space. It would have been a ceremonial space, but just adjacent to it, built into the hill, and in part, helping to hold the hill up, is the Markets of Trajan and most of this area survives intact. - [Beth] And it's a museum today. - [Steven] So often, when we think of Ancient Rome and architecture, we think of forums, we think of temples, but in fact, the Romans were extremely adept at building dense, multi-storey buildings very much like our modern shopping malls or apartment buildings. - [Beth] And this is because the Romans perfected the use of concrete. So let's go inside and look at some of the spaces in the Markets of Trajan. (music)