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The Ancient Roman Forum

Rome, Italy

The birthplace of Roman greatness was in the original Roman market or Forum. Local guide, Francesca Caruso, brings this common ground between the iconic “seven hills of ancient Rome” to life with her vivid description.

Complete Video Script

It was here that the first Romans gathered to trade in what became their Forum, or market. Shoppers strolled the main street, or via Sacra. They worshipped at the temples. Politicians gave speeches, businessmen did business, and there was a wide-open piazza where they hung out much as Italians still do to this day.

[13, Francesca Caruso, Rome guide,] Art permeated ancient Rome. To better appreciate how and why, I've invited my favorite Roman tour guide Francesca Caruso to take us back.

[14] Rick: This is a city of builders.
Francesca: Yes, the Romans were really practical people and great builders. And one thing that's interesting is that the Romans built a lot for people…not just for the gods…not just temples, but roads, sewers, bridges, and all of their buildings have to have three qualities: all their buildings have to be solid, useful, and beautiful.

[15] Rick: So, I know this was the political and commercial center, but I can't imagine what it must have looked like in the day.
Francesca: Imagine standing here at the peak of the empire. We would have been surrounded by these immense buildings covered in marble, gleaming in the sun. All of the bricks here must be imagined with the veneer of marble. White, certainly, but also an element of color.
Rick: I imagine the city as gleaming white marble.
Francesca: No, the classical white never existed in classical times. We have to get rid of this idea that Rome was a forest of white marble only. It's not true. There was color everywhere. And then we have to imagine this city and this place completely filled with statues…thousands of statues, maybe in Rome as many as one for every two people. We imagine them as those empty-eyed white ghosts staring into nothing in museums. But those statues were painted and they looked impressively realistic: painted eyes, painted hair, maybe a skin tone, maybe part of their clothing painted.
[16] Rick: So you could say Rome really was a city of art.
Francesca: It was. The Romans would never understand how we would have to pay a ticket to go see art in a museum behind a rope or behind glass. The art that we see in museums today lived with them, around them, wherever they went.
[17] Rick: And then, on a celebration day, when they had a big procession coming down the main street…
Francesca: Oh, it would have been right here. So, imagine a procession with the prisoners in chains, wagons full of spoils, imagine the trumpets, the flower petals thrown in the emperor's path, the cheering as they passed. They also had these wagons full of art that they brought back from foreign lands as spoils. So, imagine wagons full of statues, and paintings, and objects that people here had never seen. So even the art was shown on these parades.
[18] Rick: And the art and the festival and the pageantry was a kind of propaganda.
Francesca: Yes. It's making everything visual. You're showing that you conquered, you use art and architecture to say that you're in power and that it's better to obey. Yes, it's all propaganda.

[19] Rick: So just how big was Rome at its peak?
Francesca: At its peak the Roman Empire went from Britain all the way to the Middle East. And every inch of land overlooking the Mediterranean Sea was Roman. And they called the Mediterranean, "Mare Nostrum"…our sea. Eventually Rome did not refer just to the city but to the entire Roman world.

[20] Rick: If you had to sum up the key to success for the Roman Empire — they're so successful.
Francesca: The Roman Empire was successful because of brutal military force, without a doubt. But also an incredible talent for assimilation. They assimilated other cultures, they admired them; think of reverence of Greece for example.
Rick: And Egypt.
Francesca: They were fascinated by Egypt and its antiquities and they used Egyptian art both as propaganda and as inspiration. Think of the obelisk. There are more obelisks in Rome than there are in any place, even in Egypt. And they're everywhere today and they were everywhere in antiquity and they stood for the fact that Rome had taken over Egypt. But there was even an ancient Roman who had a tomb made in the shape of a pyramid, so we even have an Egyptian pyramid in Rome.
[21] Rick: And when you think of assimilation, they really included other people's religions.
Francesca: The Romans assimilated the gods of the people they came into contact with and conquered. They actually invited them to come to Rome and protect them, too. So, in the Roman Empire you could worship your own gods and keep your own customs as long as you obeyed…and you paid your taxes.