Forum, the market place or public meeting place of ancient Roman cities. A forum was usually square or rectangular, with an open area in the center. Around the sides were public buildings. These usually included the treasury, the prison, the senate house (called a curia), and a basilica containing shops. Sometimes the forum was surrounded by colonnades, with memorial arches at the entrances. The forum was the commercial, religious, and political center of the city.
In modern usage the word has come to mean a public meeting with open discussion, such as a town meeting; an organization that holds such meetings; or the place where they are held.
The most famous ancient forum was the one in Rome. Its site was originally a marshy swamp that was leveled off and drained, eventually by an arched sewer known as the Cloaca Maxima. The earliest buildings were constructed about 500 B.C. At the time of Julius Caesar (102? B.C.-44 B.C.) the Forum contained five major temples and two basilicas in addition to many other buildings and monuments. There was a group of rostrums (platforms) at one end from which officials and orators made speeches. It was in the Forum that Mark Antony delivered his oration over the body of Caesar. During the imperial period following Caesar, additional forums were built adjoining the old one.
The Forum gradually fell into decay. Earthquakes and barbarian invasions damaged it. By the Middle Ages, the Forum had become a cow pasture. In the 18th century archeologists began to excavate the Forum. Among the recognizable ruins are the Curia, the Arch of Septimius Severus, and the Temple of Vesta.