Project Description

The Forum Boarium: A Glimpse into Ancient Rome

Buckle your seat-belts, we’re going back to the Forum Boarium (the Cattle Market), which predates ancient Rome in a certain sense. Just downstream from Tiber Island and in the shadow of the Palatine Hill, there was a natural inlet. And by circa 800 B.C. it served as a harbor. So, it teemed with Greek and Phoenician traders who had dominated the Mediterranean and its commercial routes. Next to the harbor was a market. Guess what it was called… Yup, the Forum Boarium!

Teatro Marcello

So, there’s already lots to talk about. For example, the foreign influences that shaped the Forum Boarium and Rome. We may even mull over a passage or two of ancient literature. First, there’s Greek Hercules’s arrival on the banks of the Tiber, as described by Virgil. Second, there’s Virgil’s narration of how psychic Carmenta and her whiny Greek son Evander settled here. And what about the arrival of Bacchus’s mother, who was fleeing the torments of the jealous goddess Hera? With all these foreign protagonists, one realizes that Rome is not as Roman as most people think!

The Modest Ancient Harbor and the Forum Boarium Evolve

Then the natural harbor and the Forum Boarium underwent a series of changes. From the sixth century B.C. on, the area’s use as a commercial district intensified. Next to the Cattle Market, the Forum Holitorium (the Vegetable Market) appeared. And beside them, multiple temples sprouted. When intact and side by side, they created a magnificent temple boardwalk. And two of them still stand intact! The older of the two is the rectangular Temple of Portunus. (It is shown in the photo above.) The second is a round temple that a wealthy merchant sponsored in Hercules’s honor. As ancient writers state, its claim to fame was that of being the second marble temple in Rome. From the moment the first one has not survived, the Temple of Hercules can brag about being the oldest marble temple still standing in Rome!

The Forum Boarium Undergoes More Town Planning Changes

The growing metropolis’s metabolism quickly outstripped the market’s ability to provide for it. By the mid-republic, local administrators were forced to come up with a solution to avoid famine, corruption, and riots. They decided to build a new import center to the south of town. It was where the neighborhood Testaccio is now. Its cutting edge construction materials (i.e. concrete) and its sophisticated system of docks, ship sheds, warehouses, silos, emporium, and waste disposal techniques attracted big businesses. (Take a look at Monte Testaccio–Pot Shard Hill–to better understand how maniacal ancient Romans could be when it can to trash!)

Teatro Marcello
Teatro Marcello

The old Forum Boarium and the Holitorium next-door downsized. Aunt Julia could still buy a bundle of chicory and a dozen eggs when the need arose… but the old harbor district slowly became more and more residential. Toward the end of the Republic, Julius Caesar found it a suitable location for his theater, now known as the Theater of Marcellus (seen in the color photo). Nearby is another archeological gem, a portico, reconstructed by Julius Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian or his sister, Octavia.  Standing next to the theater, the portico once surrounded two republican temples. Although the temples and most of the portico have disappeared. the portico’s magnificent central entrance remains and waits to be admired. (It is seen in the photo.)

Get in touch with Daniella

Contact Us
Do you agree with my privacy policy? *
When you send me your personal data (i.e. name, email address and/or phone number), I use it to reply to your requests more efficiently. I will not use it to send you advertising or promotional material in the future. Thanks!