Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Pieces of Roman Puzzle Wait to be Found

Rome has been in the process of expanding its subway system for years now. The process is painfully slow (from the perspective of engineers) since every time a shovel is stuck in the ground, ancient artifacts are found and archaeologists must be called in. The subway tunnels themselves are far below the oldest strata of the city, but the locations of stations require digging from the top down. One such site may yield some exciting new discoveries in the near future. Work is slated to begin on the former site of the Forum of Peace. This Imperial forum and corresponding temple was once home to the giant marble map of the ancient city known as the Forma Urbis Romae. About 10% of the map exists today, but archaeologists are hoping to find more once excavations begin. They also hope to learn more about the forum and temple which housed the map.

Though we know much about the layout of ancient Rome, there are many questions that remain unanswered. You can stroll through Rome today and see many ancient sites, but one must always remember that most of the ancient city is below one's feet. Centuries of sediment buildup mean that the terra firma that Romans walked on is sometimes meters below the current ground level. The existing fragments of the Forma Urbis Romae give us a clear picture of how the ancient city was laid out, and any new fragments would add greatly to our knowledge.
The Forum of Peace was finished in 75 CE by the emperor Vespasian to commemorate his victories in Judea. The forum/temple complex was built adjacent to the Republican Forum, Forum of Julius Caesar and Forum of Augustus. In later years this area was see even larger and more splendid forums built by succeeding emperors. The Forma Urbis Romae was installed much later, finished in 211 CE by the emperor Septimius Severus. The map measured 60x45 feet and comprised of 150 carved marble slabs. The city was depicted in its contemporary layout, circa early 3rd century CE. Like many ancient artifacts and buildings made or marble, the map fell victim to Medieval plundering and destruction. Fragments began to be excavated during the Renaissance and today we have an assortment of 1,186 fragments.


Mike Anderson said...


Great post. Having just returned from Rome, I felt more in touch with all the digging going on there. I was surprised how much work had been done in the forum since I was last there twenty five years ago. I had forgotten how large the grade change is from the Arch of Titus to the assembly area in front of the rostra.