The Roman town
In 273 BC, Paestum became a Roman colony. New colonists moved in and soon began to reorganise the town they had taken over. The major change was to abandon the old meeting place, the agora, and establish a new forum a short distance to the south, and this new forum is the major feature of the Roman town.
It is very large, but nevertheless very simple, for it was surrounded on all sides by small shops, two roomed affairs with a shop at the front and the living quarters behind. Later the forum was smartened up by the addition of a colonnade running all round, which made it look like a proper forum.
(The forum at Pompeii which we tend to think of as being the classic Roman forum is in fact highly unusual, for one of the long sides was occupied by the venerable temple to Venus, while by the time of the eruption of Vesuvius, the other long side was occupied almost entirely by enclosed market halls. The forum at Paestum is much closer to what should be the normal type of a forum)
The main features lay in the middle of each of the two long sides. To the North there was a temple. This was very much a Roman temple, often called the temple of Peace, but very different to the Greek temples, being much smaller, but set on a high podium that made it the most prominent feature in the forum, with four columns at the front and an altar in front of it. It is tempting to identify it as being the Capitolium, the chief ritual centre of a Roman town dedicated to the three gods of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, but this temple only has a single shrine – no room for three gods. In any case the Capitolium normally lies at the end of the forum, dominating the short end, so it probably lies under the modern road was constructed by Mussolini right across the site, which cuts off the eastern end of the forum.
It is thought that this temple may be dedicated to Mens Bona, or the Good Mind, an abstract noun personification of the type that was fashionable in the closing centuries BC when the Temple was first built: it embodied the debt of gratitude on the part of former slaves to their masters, and consequently of Paestum to Rome.
Adjacent to it was the comitium, the replacement for the earlier Greek Council chamber but rather more irregular in shape as one wall was cut off when the Temple was enlarged, while the building of a set of offices cut off one of the other sides.
On the other side of the forum, facing it, two larger buildings were erected probably in the first or second century A.D. One of them are probably an enclose market or macellum,– they are often thought to be meat markets. Next door to it is a building often interpreted as being the Basilica or town hall
The other major feature of the Roman town was the amphitheatre. This was unusual in two respects. Firstly it was rather small: today its size is unfortunately truncated by the road cut through by the Bourbons in 1829, – but all the same it was rather small, and nowhere near as large as the huge amphitheatre at Pompeii.
And secondly its position is unusual, being so close to the centre of the town. Amphitheatres were normally placed towards the outskirts of the town as at Pompeii, as they tended to be the centre for rowdiness when the spectators rioted, as happened at Pompeii when in A.D. 63 the supporters of the home team came to blows with the visiting team, the inhabitants of Nocera, and the Emperor had to intervene.
But the Paestum amphitheatre is small and central – perhaps the inhabitants of Paestum were better behaved than those at Pompeii.
A main road runs through the town linking the two groups of temples, and the residential quarters lay on the other side of the road where a number of wealthy Roman town houses have been excavated and are laid out.
14th November 2015