Friday, October 27, 2017

Let me take you on a tour of the Roman Forum

I have just completed an  Audio Tour of the Roman Forum in conjunction with Voicemap, a company that offers audio tours of cities and famous places. The concept is interesting. You play the tour on your phone and the app uses GPS to know when to start and stop the narrative based on your location. Each stop has a story to tell and you start to hear that story as you approach.

You can have the phone in your pocket and listen to the tour with earbuds. As you move about, there is a map on your phone screen which can serve as an aid in case you lose your way.

This tour includes 32 different locations and you learn the history of the structures you see at each stop. We've made sure to cover all the most interesting structures: the Senate House, Temple of Castor and Pollux, House of the Vestal Virgins, and the Arch of Septimius Severus, to name a few.

The Forum was originally laid out in 625 BC, when the swamp that occupied the space between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills, was drained. The sewer built to drain it, called the Cochlea Maxima is still in operation today. Later, the Capitoline Hill became the site of Rome's sacred temples and the Palatine became the home of the Caesars.

Golden Age
The Forum most likely reached its Zenith during the second century AD, sometimes called the Golden Age. There were four emperors during this period; Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. Although the personalities of these men were very different, together they succeeded in keeping the Empire stable. The Sacra Via (central roadway in the Forum) would have seen the triumphs of these men and the speeches they gave at the rostra. By that time, the Senate House had lost its standing because political power had been removed from the Senate. Still, it remained standing (as it does today), symbolizing the accomplishments of the Republic.

Fall of the Empire
The Forum met an inglorious end when the Western Empire fell. Its monuments were neglected and the marble and bronze hauled off to be used in the construction of Christian monuments. The church retained no respect for structures erected by a pagan empire, so fourteen centuries saw the Forum waste away as a Campo Vaccino (cow pasture). It wasn’t until 1898 that excavations of the Forum began in earnest. By then, a united Italy was an independent nation looking to its own history and accomplishments with pride and wanted to share them with the world. I’ve been to the Forum twice (twenty-five years apart) and the excavations that took place between those trips brought to light many new structures.

Here are the instructions for downloading the app.

1) Install VoiceMap from the iTunes App Store or Google Play, 
or by going to  
2) Sign up with Facebook or email
3) Select Rome from the list of cities and regions
4) Select “Rome The-roman-forum”
5) Buy the tour (The Forum tour is free right now). The download will start immediately.

VoiceMap works offline and uses GPS to play audio automatically

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Melodramatic Funeral of Julius Caesar

Almost everyone knows the story of the death of Julius Caesar, as Shakespeare has reminded us. He was assassinated on the Ides of March 44 BC by a group of disgruntled Senators who believed him to be on a path to become dictator and destroy the Republic.

The truth is Caesar was merely one of many who pushed the Republic to extinction. The collapse began in 133 BC with the murder of Tiberius Gracchus, continued through the dictatorships of Marius and Sulla, and ended with the formation of the Principate under Augustus in 30 BC. That didn’t matter to the Senate of 44 BC that was struggling to hold on to power.

Caesar’s image had been carefully cultivated by his followers prior to and after his ascension to power. His military accomplishments were advertised and his efforts on behalf of the people were socialized. Caesar was a patrician, latest member of the ancient family of the Julii, which dated to the founding of Rome. That historical link helped lend a sense of honor and stability to the name Caesar.

Caesar’s greatest offence was to put his image on Roman coins, a place previously reserved for the gods. This was calculated symbolism designed to reinforce the notion that Caesar himself was a god, and this was proven by his image on the coins.

But this was a marketing campaign aimed directly at the people and never bought into by the Senate, so they assassinated him as a threat to their power.

Appian describes Caesar’s funeral and its melodrama.

Caesar’s father-in-law, Piso brought his body to the forum and it was placed on the rostra surrounded by an armed guard. The large crowd was of one emotion and Antony saw it as his role to whip them into a fever pitch.

It is not right, my fellow-citizens, for the funeral oration in praise of so great a man to be delivered by me, a single individual, instead of by his whole country.

Antony went on to read out all the honors bestowed on Caesar, one at a time, using words like "sacrosanct", "inviolate", "father of his country", "benefactor", or "leader", a combination never used to describe another Roman.

And he read out the oaths, by which they all undertook to protect Caesar and Caesar's person with all their might… those who failed to defend him were to be accursed.

Antony turned to the body and chanted heavenly praise for the dead man,

And you", he said, "were also the only man to avenge the violence offered to your country 300 years ago, by bringing to their knees the savage peoples who were the only ones ever to break in to Rome and set fire to it." This is a reference to Caesar’s victory over the Gauls who had attacked Rome in 390 BC.

Antony took the cape that covered Caesar’s body, stuck it on a spear, and waved it about so the crowd could observe the blood stains on it. By now the crowd had worked itself into a frenzy and was demanding the death of the assassins who had struck down their leader. Suddenly a wax body of Caesar rose above the rostra for all to see. It was sitting on a platform and attached to a mechanical device which utilized a crank to make the body rotate. On it were painted 23 marks of blood showing the locations of the stab wounds on Caesar’s body. Round and round it went for all to see.

When Antony was finished, people rushed to the rostra with the intent to take Caesar’s body up Capitoline Hill and burn it at the most sacred site in the city. But the priests intervened saying that the risk of an uncontrolled fire was too great and they would not allow the body to be burned there. So the people carried Caesar’s body to the east end of Forum square intending to create a funeral pyre there. They grabbed wooden benches and broke them up to provide fuel for the fire.

After the fire was lit, it burned for twenty-four hours in the midst of a crowd of thousands. Years later, the Temple of the Divine Caesar was constructed on that site. Today, the temple is gone, and only a part of the altar remains. Still, there are Romans who place flowers there every day in honor of the great man.