THE ROMAN FORUM

Thus the Forum continued until the decay of the empire, when hordes of invaders buried its magnificence in ruins. At the beginning of the seventh century it must have been open and comparatively free fromdébris, as is proved by the fact that the column of Phocas, erected, at that time, stood on the original pavement. Virgil says, in his account of the romantic interview of Evander with Æneas on the spot which was to be afterwards Rome—then a quiet pastoral scene, green with grass, and covered with bushes—that they saw herds of cattle wandering over the Forum, and browsing on the rich pasture around the shores of its blue lake. Strange, the law of circularity, after the lapse of two thousand years, brought round the same state of things in that storied spot. During the middle ages the Roman Forum was known only as the Campo Vaccino, the field of cattle. It was a forlorn waste, with a few ruins scattered over it, and two formal rows of poplar-trees running down the middle of it, and wild-eyed buffaloes and mouse-coloured oxen from the Campagna wandering over the solitude, and cropping the grass and green weeds that grew in the very heart of old Rome. When Gibbon conceived the idea of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, listening to the vespers of the Franciscan friars in the dim church of Ara Coeli in the neighbourhood, the Forum was an unsightly piece of ground, covered with rubbish-heaps, with only a pillar or two emerging from the general filth. When Byron stood beside the "nameless column with the buried base," commemorated in Childe Harold, he little dreamt what a rich collection of the relics of imperial times lay under his feet, as completely buried by the wrecks of ages as Pompeii and Herculaneum under the ashes and lava of Vesuvius. From fifteen to twenty feet of soil had accumulated over them.

The work of excavation was begun seventy-five years ago by the Duchess of Devonshire, who spent the last years of her life in Rome, and formed the centre of its brilliant society. Napoleon III., the late Emperor of the French, carried on the task thus auspiciously commenced, for the purpose of shedding light upon the parts of Roman history connected with Julius Cæsar, the hero of his book. In spite of much opposition from the Papal Government, the work of exhumation was continued in fits and starts after the French emperor had given it up; and ever since the Italian Government have taken the matter in hand, gangs of labourers under the directorship of the accomplished Signor Rosa have been more or less continually employed, with the result that almost the whole area has been laid bare from the Capitol to the Arch of Titus. The British Archæological Society of Rome has given valuable aid according to the funds in its possession, and the contributions sent from this country for the purpose. When first commenced, the changes caused by these excavations were regarded with no favourable eye by either the artists or the people of Rome. The trees were cut down, the mantle of verdure that for centuries had covered the spot—Nature's appropriate pall for the decay of art—was ruthlessly torn up, and great unsightly holes and heaps of débris utterly destroyed the picturesque beauty of the scene. But the loss to romance was a gain to knowledge; and now that the greatest part of the Forum has been cleared down to the ancient pavement, we are able to form a much more vivid and accurate conception of what the place must have been in the days of the empire, and are in a position to identify buildings which previously had been a theme for endless and violent disputes. It is a very interesting and suggestive coincidence that the Forum of Rome should have been thus disentombed at the very time that Italy rose from its grave of ages, and under a free and enlightened government, having its centre once more in the Eternal City, proved that it had inherited no small share of the spirit of the heroic past.

Let us go over in brief detail the various objects of interest that may now be seen in the centre of Roman greatness. Numerous sources of information exist which enable us to identify these monuments, and to form some idea of what they were in their prime. Among these may be mentioned coins and medals of the emperors, with representations upon them of buildings and sculptures in the Forum; a marble stone found at Ancyra, now Angouri in Phrygia, on which is a long inscription regarding the acts and achievements of Augustus, which is of the greatest value in determining the topography of the city; the bas-reliefs on the Arch of Constantine, and on the marble screens of Trajan, recently excavated in the Forum itself, giving a view of its north-western and south-eastern ends; and the remains of the antique marble plan of Rome, now preserved in the Capitoline Museum, originally affixed to the wall of the superb Temple of Rome, and discovered in fragments in 1867 in the garden of the monastery of SS. Cosma e Damiano. We also get most valuable help in the work of identification from the Itineraries of the middle ages—especially from that of the celebrated pilgrim from Einsiedlen, Zwingli's town in Switzerland—who visited Rome in the eighth century, and left his manuscript to his own abbey, where it may still be seen. A vast apparatus of learning has been accumulated from the works of ancient classic authors by the great scholars who have written on the historical localities and buildings of the Forum, from Donati to Becker. Nibby, Canina, Ampère, Bunsen, Plattner, and Uhrlich, in their magnificent works have supplied a mine of wealth from which most subsequent writers on the Forum have enriched their descriptions.