Paving the past: Late Republican recollections in the Forum Romanum
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The Forum was the center of Roman life. It witnessed a barrage of building, destruction and reuse from the seventh century BCE onwards. By around 80 BCE, patrons chose to renovate the Senate House and Comitium with a fresh paving of tufa blocks. Masons leveled many ruined altars and memorials beneath the flooring. Yet paving also provided a means of saving some of Rome’s past. They isolated the Lapis Niger with black blocks, to keep the city’s sinking history in their present. Paving therefore became a technology of memory for recording past events and people. Yet how effective was the Lapis Niger as a memorial? Many modern scholars have romanced the site’s cultural continuity. However, in fifty years and after two Lapis Nigers, the Comitium had borne a disparity of monuments and functions. Rome’s historians could not agree on what lay beneath. Verrius Flaccus reports that the Lapis Niger ‘according to others’ might mark the site of Romulus’s apotheosis, his burial, the burial of his foster father Faustulus, or even his soldier, Hostius Hostilius (50.177). Nevertheless, modern archaeologists have found no tombs. Instead of trying to comprehend these legends, most scholars use them selectively to isolate a dictator, deity or date. We must instead understand why so many views of the Lapis Niger emerged in antiquity. Otherwise, like ancient antiquarians, we will re- identify sites without end. Recreating how these material and mental landscapes interacted and spawned new pasts tells us more about the Lapis Niger than any new attribution.