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Classical Rome


Fori imperiali

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Towards the end of the 6th century BC, Rome took a momentous step and abolished her regal system, instituting a new political order, the Republic, wherein the kings were replaced by a range of lesser magistrates, elected annually by the whole male citizen body.
The consuls chose an advisory council, the Senate, at first ad hoc, later according to well-defined qualifications (of landed wealth, military and political service). During this period Rome began to expand its dominion over her nearby lands, progressively becoming, first, capital of Italy and, ultimately, of the Mediterranean.
Archeologically, the only visible feature of the Rome of the 5th- 4th centuries BC are various parts of its city walls, rebuilt in massive fashion around 378-350 probably on the line of the earlier 6th-century circuit. Only few relics of this once 11 kilometres long work of fortification survive, spread on the seven hills, and are still visible in the nearby of the Termini Station.
The rest is still currently a blank except for the first phase of the twin temples at S. Omobono and the knowledge that the great house of the 6th century on the north side of the Palatine remained in occupation. From written sources we know that at least ten important temples were built, including the two on the Forum (Saturn and Castor), the first of the major aqueducts were laid into the city, and the first of Rome's famous roads, the Via Appia, was put in hand.
The main route south to the new territories, metalled as far as Capua around 312 BC, was extended till Venosa in 291 and all the way down to Tarrant in 272. Both the first aqueduct and the Via Appia were constructed by the censor Appius Claudius.
The construction of roads and aqueducts continued all throughout the Republican, and Imperial, Age in concomitance with the enlargement and development of the city.
Till its origins, the art produced in the city and exported to the colonies had a more practical then esthetical scope. Mostly in the architectural field, Romans have since the beginning displayed a military and functional trend.
The typical Roman citizen is a military and his interest is mainly devoted to the utility of the works, rather then their beauty. It was thanks to the broad conquest of the Mediterranean world, including Greece, the Balkans, Asia Minor, North Africa, and most of the Aegean, that culture and beautiful artistic products began to spread in the city.
Especially Greece and Asia brought the best of contemporary Hellenistic Greek culture and its practised exponents (philosophers, poets, playwrights, doctors, teachers, mathematicians, astrologers, every kind of specialist craftsmen) together with innumerable works of art: paintings, tapestries, furniture and table ware, and statues in stone, bronze, fine woods, ivory, and precious metals.
Public building in Rome down to the end of the 3rd century BC, when not concerned with redoing the city walls, consisted mainly of temples, erected in honour of the gods who were in charge to defend and protect Romans in time of war or other trials. Almost all the Roman generals began to exercise the right to erect a temple to honour their victories.
They could easily afford to pay the erection themselves, thus gaining additional prestige for themselves and future generations of their family. Some forty such as victory-temples are listed in the written sources. Fragments of the Temple of Victory on the Palatine and the four Temples in the Largo Argentina are still visible.
But things began to really move in the 2nd century BC, when alongside the typical erection of temples, two new forms of monumental public building made their appearance in the city, the porticus and its close relative the basilica. New Tiber docks and port facilities were constructed, including the Porticus Aemilia (174 BC), the main drainage systems and were restored, and street paving was introduced on a wide scale.
To facilitate the crossing of the river, Romans applied their architectural ability to the construction of many new bridges, such as the Ponte Emilio (142 BC), by the Tiberine isle, and the Ponte Milvio (109 BC), in the north of the city. Other bridges erected to link the city with the isle are the Ponte Cestius and Fabricius that date back to the 1st century BC.
Most of the buildings were erected in honour of their patrons, such as the Pyramid Caestius, built in 330 days as tomb of the praetor Caius Caestius Epulone. For the amusement of the people was erected between the Aventine and the Palatine, during the 2nd century BC, the Circus Flaminius. The 600 metres large area housed different athletic performances that could me admired by the public sitting in the stairs around the circus. Another beautiful monument erected during the Republican Age was the Theatre of Pompeus (55 BC), the first permanent theatre in Rome. Architects and engineers sought out better quality building stone –compact tufas from the Anio and Monteverde, the hard peperino of the Alban hills and Gabii, the white travertine lime-stone from the plain below Tivoli. They also began to explore the possibilities of concrete. By the end of the 140s BC the first temple was being built completely of white marble, imported all the way from Greece. But the greatest realisation of the Republican period is the Roman Forum, a vast area at the foot of the Palatine that between the IV and I century BC became the focus of the Roman public life. The forum was enriched by the erection of temples, tabernae, and basilicas especially under the leadership of Julius Caesar. During his brief ascendancy to total power in 48-44 BC, Caesar had great ambitions for himself sand the city, including diverting the course of the Tiber so that the flood plain to the north of the city (the Field of Mars) could be developed as housing. He set about major replanning and reconstruction in the Forum, building a new basilica (the Julia), moving the Senate house and the speakers' platform, and opening up a whole new Forum square to the north. Though Romans liked to play up their self-image of simple farmer-soldiers to whom art and fine architecture in any other context except the worship of the gods was a luxury, the wealth brought about by the new conquests strongly influenced the habits of this simple people. Wealthy Romans endowed their own homes with new luxuries, such as monolithic columns and veneer in brightly coloured imported stones. An extraordinary form of illusionist wall painting (the so-called Second Style) came into vogue, decorating the main halls, dining rooms, and bedrooms of aristocratic houses in a variety of architectural schemes.

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