Leaving behind the Arch of Septimius Severus, the temples and the Tabularium, there’s the large Piazza of the Forum, the most crowded and certainly the most preferred spot to do business of all kinds: for example it was here that the slave merchants often set up shop.
Prisoners were given to the Legionnaires as war booty and were then sold to slave merchants. They were exhibited on a small stage in the piazza with plaques on their chests that stated any qualities or defects of the unfortunate soul. Often they were destined to do heavy work in the fields but those who had been educated ended up in the homes of rich patricians.
Slaves able to read, write or do sums could be worth a fortune: they were, in fact, used as educators for the children of Roman nobility and could command prices as high as half a million Sestertii. The owners, at some point, could give them the gift of their freedom, allowing them to become “Liberti”. This condition guaranteed their complete entrance into public Roman life and they could then choose to become government employees, merchants or even take up a military career.
Almost in the center of the piazza there are 3 plants: a fig, the tree under which Romulus and Remus were supposedly suckled, an olive tree and a grapevine that perhaps symbolized Rome’s superiority in oil and wine commerce. The plants you see here now were put there recently.
A row of large columns used to be in this spot to honor very important people. Today only one is still standing, that dedicated to the emperor Foca. He was a Bizantine emperor and probably would have remained unknown had the column not been set up in his honor because of his gift of the Pantheon to the pope. This column is truly a symbol because it was the last monument erected in the Roman Forum, in 608 AD, when the Medieval period had already begun.
Nearby, the pavement is covered with strange, square holes: these were used by the gladiators. During the entire Republican era, before the Colosseum was built, the games took place right here in the Forum, transformed into an arena for the occasion, surrounded by temporary bleachers; the gladiators made their entrance popping up directly from these holes. Here, as in the Colosseum, there was a vast network of underground tunnels that allowed the movement of elevators to lift the combatants or for mechanisms used in theatrics.