Visitors to Rome often have the idea that all the “ancient” things existed during the same period, after which they fell into ruins for some reason and stayed the way we see them today. But if you think about that for more than a nano-second, you’ll realize that history doesn’t work that way.
The fact is, the historical period that we now know as “Ancient Rome” lasted for at least 1000 years! And at any given point during that time, some ancient buildings were already quite old, others had just been built, and still others hadn’t even been conceived of yet. This is why the ages of the structures in what’s left of the Roman Forum are many centuries apart.
One of the oldest buildings that is still partially standing is the Temple of Saturn. It is generally accepted that this temple was first erected around 500 B.C., but the archaeological evidence is a bit complicated: we know that the Temple of Saturn was repaired and rebuilt numerous times over the years, including a major reconstruction in 42 B.C. After that, it required some degree of repair/rebuilding in 283 A.D. and again about 400 A.D., each time due to damage caused by a serious fire.
(Why would the Romans have wanted to repair a pagan temple in 400 A.D.? Tour the Forum with us, and we can explain…)
Farther along the Via Sacra, you run into a huge structure that today is in a precarious state, propped up by lots of rods and steel cables. But the Basilica of Constantine–also known as the Basilica of Maxentius–is actually one of the newest buildings in the entire Forum. The short-lived Emperor Maxentius began construction in 306 A.D., which means it is more than 800 years “younger” than the Temple of Saturn we just saw. When Constantine defeated Maxentius and effectively took control of the entire Roman Empire in the year 312, he completed the building. Its precise use is unknown, although it’s safe to say that it was used by government bureaucrats.
And chronologically, there were plenty of buildings, monuments and other structures in and around the Roman Forum that were built in between these two extremes. The Colosseum, for example, didn’t exist until the 70’s A.D., which means that the Temple of Saturn had already been repaired multiple times before construction of the Colosseum even began.
“I never thought of that, but it makes sense!” many of our clients say, when they hear one of our guides give an overview of the construction of the Forum. You could wander helplessly around the Roman Forum on your own … or you could tour it with us, and get a much clearer picture of the history behind these amazing ruins.