(Roman roots and modern roots) Basic Rome City Topography Traditionally Rome is said to be founded on seven hills, but the history and
the topography of Rome is a bit more complicated than that.
Seven Hills of Rome: The hills are not all separated, muddling the definitions somewhat. Most of the hills are high ridges, cut by natural streams flowing from the higher ground in to the Tiber River flood plain. The Forum is in the low land between the Capitoline and Esquiline Hills. The Colosseum is in the lowland bulge between the Esquiline and Caelian Hills. The Circus Maximus is betweeen the Palatine and Aventine Hills.
Palatine Hill (Palatium) The central hill and where the city of Rome was founded by Romulus according to legend. The myth is corroborated by archaeological finds from the iron age (10th century BCE) of huts and primitive defensive walls around the hill. The Palatine remained the center of power throughout the history of Rome, first as the residential area of choice of the most wealthy patricians, later as the residence of the emperors. The word palace stems from the name palatinus. (The word “palatinus” is thought to refer to the stakes [pali] driven into the ground to form the defensive wall. Roman foot-soldiers each carried two stakes to form the defensive walls of their overnight encampments. An english cognate is “palisade”.) Capitoline Hill (Capitolium) This hill is very steep and soon became the fortified stronghold of Rome. When the Gauls sacked Rome in 390 BCE, only the Capitol held out. Later it became the religious centre, due to the presence of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus Optimus Maximus (Best and Greatest). The Capitoline Hill has two summits, the Capitoline proper to the south and the Arx to the north, with the Asylum on the lower ridge between them. The church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli and the modern Vittoriano (Victor Emanuel Monument) now occupy the Arx. The Asylum is now the Piazza di Campidoglio. Quirinal Hill (Quirinalis) The Quirinal is the northernmost of four spurs of the high ground east of the Tiber that lay within the limits of Republican Rome. It rose above the Campus Martius and was attached to the Capitoline Hill by a low ridge. The hill is named after the ancient god Quirinus, a member of the earliest Capitoline Triad. (Quirinus is probably an adjective meaning "wielder of the spear" (Quiris). Other suggested etymologies are: (i) from the Sabine town Cures; (2) from curia, i.e. he was the god of the Roman state as represented by the thirty curies. Some sources explain Quirinus as the oak-god (quercus), and Quirites as the men of the oaken spear – accprding to Roman myth, an oak grove stood on the Quirinal Hill.) Viminal Hill (Viminalis) The Viminal is a smaller ridge between the Quirinal Hill and the Esquiline Hill. According to Livy, the hill first became part of the city of Rome, along with the Quirinal Hill, during the reign of Servius Tullius, Rome' sixth king, in the 6th century BC. Esquiline Hill (Esquiliae) The Esquiline is one of the largest hills, between the Viminal Hill and the Caelian Hill. Various parts of the Esquiline Hill have separate names. The Cispian Hill (Cispius) is a small ridge just north of the Esquiline and the western side is called Fagutal (Fagutalis) and the southern side Oppian (Oppius). The Esquiline Hill was connected to the Palatine Hill via a ridge called the Velia, which was all but leveled in late antiquity. Caelian Hill (Caelius) The Caelian Hill is the southernmost of the four large spurs. It stretches from the area of San Giovanni in Laterano to the Colosseum. It had two high points, referred to as the Larger Caelian (Caelius maior), to the west, and the Smaller Caelian (Caelius minor), to the north. Aventine Hill (Aventinus) The Aventine Hill is to the south and the last of the seven hills. It is detached from the other hills, and separated from the Palatine Hill by the valley of the Circus Maximus. The Aventine was traditionally the territory of the plebeians, who had their main temples and sanctuaries there. It is also where Remus, the twin brother of Romulus, is said to have set up his rival emcampment. Outside the ancient city limits were other hills, that would later be incorporated into the city as it grew.
Pincian Hill (Pincius) The Pincian Hill is to the north of the Quirinal Hill, overlooking the Campus Martius. The Pincian was the location mostly of gardens, and was referred to as the Collis Hortolorum, the hill of gardens. There is still a park today with a beautiful view over the Piazza del Popolo.
Across the Tiber were other hills:
Janiculum (Janiculum) The Janiculum is a tall, elongated ridge, oriented mostly north-south. In the earliest time the Janiculum was the northern border of Rome, with Etruscan territory on the other side. In times of war a flag would be planted on the hill to signal to the enemy that Rome was ready. The name is after Janus, the two-faced god, who in this aspect, faced inward and outward. Vatican Hill (Vaticanus) The Vatican Hill is a parallel to the Janiculum, further north. It overlooked a flat area to the north, the Vatican Fields, where the Basilica of Saint Peter, the Vatican State and the Castel Sant'Angelo now stand Where there are hills, there are valleys: The Velabrum is the area between the Palatine and the Capitoline hills. Between the Aventine and the Palatine is a depression, where the Circus Maximus was later built. Where the Velabrum and the Circus Maximus meets, between the Capitoline, Palatine and Aventine hills was the first harbour and marketplace of Rome, the Forum Boarium. The Forum Romanum is in the valley between the Palatine, the Capitoline and the Esquiline hills. On the other side of the Velia is the area of the Colosseum, where there was a small lake before the construction of the Colosseum. This area is between the Esquiline, Palatine and Caelian hills. The Field of Mars (Campus Martius) was a large plain just north of the archaic city, surrounded by the Capitoline, Esquiline and Pincian hills to the east and by the Tiber on the other sides. The army would convene in the Campus Martius before war and military commanders were elected there, as no military activities were allowed with the sacred city limit, the pomerium.
The Walls of Rome
Jim Tice and Allan Ceen Department of Architecture, Pennsylvania State University Department of Architecture, University of Oregon
Posted: April 15, 2005
The wall circuits of Rome provide a frame of reference for the city both as a measure of its growth and prosperity and also as a testament to the vicissitudes of a great city, its image of itself and the practical needs for security during times of travail and even during times of peace.
Earliest Walls The wall circuits of Rome (recinto) can be thought of as roughly concentric in nature, emanating out from the city’s pre-historic core at, or near, the ancient Roman Forum. The encircling hills and enfolding valleys helped to define these human lines of demarcation whereby natural rifts in the landscape were exploited to establish lines of defense.
The Republican Wall Circuit The oldest wall circuit is a matter of conjecture but certainly would have encircled the city’s earliest settlements which would include the Capitoline and Palatine hills.
The Servian walls were erected by Servius Tullius, a 6th century B.C. king, who ruled Rome well before the Republic. In his time some defense work was built, probably a ditch and stockade or wall, known as the Agger in the modern train station area to the northeast where there was no natural barrier. Using some of Servius' circuit, the Republican walls were built after the Gallic invasion of 390 B.C.. This wall circuit stretches across the Tiber and encompasses the city’s famous seven hills: Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Celian, Aventine and Palatine. It grew in response to political, religious and residential centers but was tempered by topography which again was exploited to provide for natural lines of defense. Three of the original seven hills of Rome were free standing (Palatine, Aventine, Capitoline) while the remaining four are spurs of a plateau, which is why the Agger noted above continued to serve as a defensive trench, to separate them from the rest of the level countryside east of the city.
The city’s public and religious institutions locate within this circuit and were served by a sophisticated infrastructure of aqueducts and consular roads. These regional arteries pierced the walls at strategic locations that provided check points, customs houses and related practical and honorific functions.
Aurelian Wall Circuit: Rome soon outgrew the Republican walls and became so powerful a force in Italy and the Mediterranean that it felt no need for city walls until the late 4th century A.D. when the Barbarian pressure from the east began to threaten the empire. By the time of the late Empire the city had grown to the enormous size of over one million inhabitants. The city had spilled over into the Campus Martius within the fold of the Tiber and generally moved outward from the epicenter of the forum. The area of the city tripled in the process.
Boundaries for the wall were established as before by taking the natural topography into account. Whenever possible earlier built features were incorporated into the circuit such as the Acqua Marcia and Acqua Claudia aqueducts. Even the famous pyramid tomb of Caius Cestius which as a place of burial, as we know, would originally have been outside the Republican walls, became an ersatz feature in the new defensive circuit.
Later Wall Circuits With the splitting of the Empire by Constantine into an Eastern and Western half in the 4th century A.D., coupled with the ravages of Barbarian attacks from the 5th century on, the city shrank to an area well within the Aurelian walls, largely abandoning the seven hills with the populace shifting to the low lying areas near the Tiber because the cutting of the aqueducts deprived them of the only other source of water.
Consequently the city center relocated in the Campus Martius where river and well water were available. While the medieval city shrank to a population of little over 10,000, an expansion of the walls by Leo IV (847-855) to include St Peter's resulted in the creation of the only really defensible part of Rome called Borgo or the Leonine City, anchored by Castel S.Angelo (a fortified transformation of the 2nd century Tomb of Hadrian) on the east and St. Peter’s basilica on the west. At the beginning of the 15th century the city's population was a mere 20,000. Compared to other urban centers such as Florence, Milan or Naples, Rome was a sleepy backwater whose pretensions of being "caput mundi" had faded ignominiously into moldering ruins, broken infrastructure and uninhabited fields.
Vasi's Porta San Paolo
In the Renaissance the Popes moved their residence to Borgo from the indefensible Lateran area. Nicolas V (1447-1455) expanded the Borgo walls to include the Vatican hill; Paul III (1534-1549) converted them into bastioned walls capable of resisting cannon fire; Pius IV (1559-1565) doubled the urban area of Borgo and enclosed this area with a wall anchored on the newly bastioned Castel S. Angelo. Urban VIII (1623-1644) linked the Borgo with Trastevere by building a bastioned wall along the ridge of the Gianiculum hill. Paul III's ambitious project to shorten the Aurelian wall and to convert it into a bastioned circuit was short-lived: only two short sections of this were built, one between Porta Appia and Porta Ostiense, and one on the Aventine hill.
For much more on the walls of Rome, see: http://roma.andreapollett.com/S4/walls.htm. This page on the walls is part of a much larger Internet site that deals with aspects of Rome. See: http://roma.andreapollett.com/roma.htm#inx. For a map of Rome with dots on which you can click to see images from the 18th century until now of Rome’s gates, walls, bridges, and hills, see:
http://www.romeartlover.it/Vasi20a.htm. See links on that same web page for many more images of Rome past and present. Sources for Early Roman History
Bibliography Annalistic tradition: E. Badian, "The Early Historians," in T.A. Dorey (ed.), Latin Historians (1966) Interpretations of the fasti: R.T. Ridley, "Fastenkritik, a Stocktaking," Athenaeum 58 (1980) 264- 98.