1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Forum
FORUM (Lat. from foris, “out of doors”), in Roman antiquity, any open place used, like the Greek ἀγορά, for the transaction of mercantile, judicial or political business, sometimes merely as a promenade. It was level, rectangular in form, surrounded by porticoes, basilicas, courts of law and other public buildings. In the laws of the Twelve Tables the word is used of the vestibule of a tomb (Cicero, De legibus, ii. 24); in a Roman camp the forum was an open place immediately beside the praetorium; and the term was no doubt originally applied generally to the space in front of any public building or gateway. In Rome (q.v.) itself, however, during the period of the early history, forum was almost a proper name, denoting the flat and formerly marshy space between the Palatine and Capitoline hills (also called Forum Romanum), which probably even during the regal period afforded the accommodation necessary for such public meetings as could not be held within the area Capitolina. In early times the Forum Romanum was used for athletic games, and over the porticoes were galleries for spectators; there were also shops of various kinds. But with the growth of the city and the increase of provincial business, more than one forum became necessary, and under the empire a considerable number of civilia (judicial) and venalia (mercantile) fora came into existence. In addition to the Forum Romanum, the Fora of Caesar and Augustus belonged to the former class; the Forum boarium (cattle), holitorium (vegetable), piscarium (fish), pistorium (bread), vinarium (wine), to the latter. The Fora of Nerva (also called transitorium or pervium, because a main road led through it to the Forum Romanum), Trajan, and Vespasian, although partly intended to facilitate the course of public business, were chiefly erected to embellish the city. The construction of separate markets was not, however, necessarily the rule in the provincial fora; thus, in Pompeii, at the north-east end of the forum, there was a macellum (market), and shops for provisions and possibly money changers, and on the east side a building supposed to have been the clothworkers’ exchange, and at Timgad in North Africa (a military colony founded under Trajan) the whole of the south side of the forum was occupied by shops. The forum was usually paved, and although on festal occasions chariots were probably driven through, it was not a thoroughfare and was enclosed by gates at the entrances, of which traces have been found at Pompeii. When the sites for new towns were being selected, that for the forum was in the centre, and the two main streets crossed one another close to but not through it. At Timgad the main streets are some 5 or 6 ft. lower than the forum. The word forum frequently appears in the names of Roman market towns; as, for example, in Forum Appii, Forum Julii (Fréjus), Forum Livii (Forli), Forum Sempronii (Fossombrone). These fora were distinguished from mere vici by the possession of a municipal organization, which, however, was less complete than that of a prefecture. In legal phraseology, which distinguishes the forum commune from the forum privilegiatum, and the forum generale from the forum speciale, the word is practically equivalent to “court” or “jurisdiction.”
For the fora at Rome, see Rome: Archaeology, and works quoted.