Black Stone, Rostra and Phocas

Episode 19,  Sep 20, 2020, 04:09 PM

You’re listening to an Audio Guide to Ancient Rome.  This episode is one in a series of short descriptions of monuments in the Roman Forum.  In this episode I’m describing the Black Stone, Rostra and the Column of Phocas.

The Roman Forum sits in a saddle between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills.  Originally a marshy area, successive improvements to the land’s drainage allowed this to eventually become the center of power for the city.  

As its armies conquered new territories and money flowed into Rome, the Forum’s original meat and produce sellers were pushed out, to be replaced by majestic temples and monumental structures that accommodated the key societal, political and judicial systems needed for the empire to function.  This area served as a central market and meeting place over many centuries although the nature of the proprietors and clientele changed significantly over time.

The Forum and its surrounding buildings grew to be the focal point for nearly everything associated with the lives of the people of Rome including political discussions, legislative processes, civic entertainment, as well as a logical place to hold a riot or even a cremation.

The area was first surfaced with gravel in 7th Century BCE around the time of the establishment of the Comitium and Senate House (or Curia). Although lost for many centuries and no longer recognizable other than through its archaeological footprint, the Comitium was sited in front of where you now see the meeting house of the Roman Senate (which is often called the Curia Julia). If you’re having trouble locating this, it is to the south east of the Arch of Septimius Severus and hidden underneath a low sloping temporary roof that covers ongoing excavation work.

Also the location of the sanctuary for the fire god Vulcan, this was an important cult center from the very beginning of Rome’s development. The sanctuary consisted of an open-air U-shaped altar, a column which was probably for a cult statue, and an inscribed stela, known as the Lapis Niger (or Black Stone).