Late Republic II

ca. 100 BC


  • The Forum in ca. 100 BC. View from the south-east.
  • The Forum in ca. 100 BC. View from the east.
  • The Forum in ca. 100 BC. View from the north-east.
  • The Forum in ca. 100 BC. View from the north-west.
  • The Forum in ca. 100 BC. View from the west.
  • The Forum in ca. 100 BC. View from the south.
  • The Forum in ca. 100 BC. Topographical overview.
  • The Forum in ca. 100 BC. View from above.

If the Forum was still in its initial development phase around 200 B.C., then it is safe to say that 100 years later it achieved its initial goal. In the course of a few decades, the physiognomy of the square had been radically transformed: A once moderate square, adorned with little in the way of representative architecture, had changed into an impressive and prestigious first-class complex, which did credit to the political significance of Rome.

The diverse changes that were initiated with respect to the situation around 200 B.C. (see Late Republic I) are manifest: The canal of the Cloaca Maxima, which was open up until around 200 B.C., was covered up shortly afterwards and disappeared from the physiognomy of the square. For the first time, the Forum area was able to grow in to a cohesive space. And this new experience of a cohesive space was supplemented with a new monumental architecture surrounding it: This architecture made the visitor look at the square in a wholly different light – specifically, the open Forum area was placed at the center of the visual experience of the square, to the detriment of the Comitium.

On nearly all sides of the Forum ambitious construction projects were initiated during the course of the 2nd century B.C., and this development resulted in towering buildings. On the one hand, the already existing buildings were restored in greater splendor, while on the other hand entirely new representational buildings were erected. The people who financed these buildings were leading politicians and members of the most important families of Rome. As much as the financing of these constructions served to transform the Forum in to a political center that was appropriate to the power of Rome, it was put to use by the donors to represent themselves and their families on the Forum and to display their reputation in Rome. Behind this process lies an animated rivalry between the Roman aristocrats (Nobiles), who fought for prestige and political power: Since the middle of the 4th century B.C., this rivalry expressed itself initially through the erection of honorific monuments as well as the consecration of spoils and later through the financing of temple and cult structures (see Middle Republic I). The escalating conflict had as a result that new and more spectacular strategies were devised to elevate oneself above one’s rivals. The erection of monumental architecture on the Forum in the 2nd century B.C. was one solution, at least in the short run.

The leitmotif of these ambitious construction projects on the Forum was the basilica. After this type of building had first cropped up on the Forum in the late 3rd century B.C., it became prevalent rather quickly and lasted for a long time as the paradigmatic building type. On almost all sides of the square such halls were erected, whereby the atrium houses, which until then had been built on the Forum’s edges, were abandoned: In 184 B.C. the Basilica Porcia in the north-west corner next to the Curia, in 179 B.C. the Basilica Fulvia on the south side, in 121 B.C. the Basilica Opimia in the south-west corner. It is precisely the close chronological succession of the first three basilicas that demonstrates how the idea of financing buildings proved to be so popular that it was quickly taken up. As an impressive structure of architectural magnificence, representative potential and multifunctional usability, the basilica proved to be the most profitable type of building, which the political players could use to stage their presence on the Forum.

Naturally, the most attractive areas of the Forum were quickly occupied by basilicas. Therefore, ambitious politicians who wanted to make themselves visible in the public eye in the subsequent period with impressive buildings on the Forum had to devise different solutions. In the last third of the 2nd century B.C., attention was directed towards the temples, where they were exploited for purposes of political representation: In 121 B.C., the Consul L. Opimius commanded that the Temple of Concordia on the west side be reconstructed; in 117 B.C. the victorious general L. Caecilius Metellus followed suit and rebuilt the Temple of the Dioscuri in the south-east corner. In both cases the structure was rebuilt from the ground up and in place of the old archaic building a modern and glamorous temple was erected in the style of Hellenistic architecture, now popular and widely accepted in Rome. With their towering column fronts, both temples dominated the Forum area. They must have stood in stark contrast to the old Curia Hostilia and the Temple of Saturn with their archaic decoration, which must have appeared as remnants of a long forgotten past.

The towering architecture of the new buildings on the Forum was more and more orientated towards the central Forum space, which was aligned along an east-west-axis. This also had implications for the perception of this space as the stage for political action on the Forum. While the center of the political space had previously lain in the north-west corner by the Comitium and the Curia, the open Forum area now competed more and more with the Comitium and finally replaced it as the stage for political action on the Forum. Public assemblies increasingly pushed their way onto the open Forum area. Ever since 200 B.C. the Temple of the Dioscuri, with its’ speaker’s platform attached in front, represented a new assembly place in the eastern half of the Forum area (see Late Republic I). And starting from the middle of the 2nd century B.C., the orators on the Rostra at the Comitium turned around to face the south and address the people on the open Forum area instead of facing to the north towards the Comitium, as had been done in the previous centuries. The old Comitium, which was no longer able to accommodate the rapidly growing populus, increasingly lost its significance. This relocation of political spaces had a lasting influence on the subsequent development of the Forum in the 1st century B.C. (see Sullan, Caesarian, Augustan I & II).



Printed version

Cited as: Muth, Susanne. „Late Republic II“, digitales forum romanum, (downloaded on the day/month/year)

Selected Bibliography

F. Coarelli, Il Foro Romano II. Periodo repubblicano e augusteo II (Rom 1985).

K. S. Freyberger, Das Forum Romanum. Spiegel der Stadtgeschichte des antiken Rom (Mainz 2009) 31-50.

K.-J. Hölkeskamp, Senatus Populusque Romanus. Die politische Kultur der Republik – Dimensionen und Deutungen (Stuttgart 2004).

T. Hölscher, Die Anfänge römischer Repräsentationskunst, Römische Mitteilungen 85, 1987, 315-357.

T. Hölscher, Die Alten vor Augen. Politische Denkmäler und öffentliches Gedächtnis im republikanischen Rom, in: G. Melville (Hrsg.), Institutionalität und Symbolisierung. Verstetigungen kultureller Ordnungsmuster in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (Köln – Weimar – Wien 2001) 183-211.

T. Hölscher, Das Forum Romanum, die monumentale Geschichte Roms, in: E. Stein-Hölkeskamp – K.J. Hölkeskamp, Erinnerungsorte der Antike. Die römische Welt (München 2006) 100-122 (108-110, 112-113).

F. Kolb, Rom. Geschichte der Stadt in der Antike² (München 2002) 188-189, 204-208, 219, 245-247.

S. Muth, Historische Dimensionen des gebauten Raumes. Das Forum Romanum als Fallbeispiel, in: O. Dally – T. Hölscher – S. Muth, R. Schneider (Hrsg.), Medien der Geschichte – Antikes Griechenland und Rom (Berlin – New York 2014) 285-329 (296-315).

N. Purcell, Forum Romanum (The Republican Period), in: E.M. Steinby (Hrsg.), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae II (Rom 1995) 325-336.

K. E. Welch, Art and Architecture in the Roman Republic, in: N. Rosenstein – R. Morstein-Marx (Hrsg.), A Companion to the Roman Republic (Malden 2006) 496-542.