Ancient History & Civilisation


Our earliest glimpse of Rome reveals a picture similar to the sight beheld by Aeneas on his arrival at the seven hills, as portrayed in the eighth book of the Aeneid. Amid forest clearings there nestled primitive huts whose appearance is now revealed by the remains on the Palatine and by the hut-like ossuary urns, while their form is still reflected in the straw capanne of the modern peasants of the Roman Campagna. We have seen (pp. 38ff.) how these early settlements gradually coalesced into a united community. Then came a period of amazing urban growth and building under the Etruscans, and a final spurt of temple construction, under Greek influences, in the early years of the fifth century (p. 74), after which public building languished. The next stage in the city’s history is marked by the invasion of the Gauls, who sacked the town, though sparing some of the temples. The greater part had to be rebuilt and protected by a stone wall (p. 95); so pressing was the danger that the houses were rebuilt with little thought to town planning. Indeed, in the fifth and fourth centuries the Romans were too busy fighting and building roads and colonies in Italy to give much thought to decorating their own city. However, they did not entirely overlook the need for public works: in 312 Appius Claudius constructed a new aqueduct, largely underground, but it was followed in 272 by an aqueduct some forty miles long, the Anio Vetus, which brought supplies from the Sabine hills. War booty helped victorious generals to vow and build several new temples after 350, and in 338 the consul Maenius enabled the public to watch something of the life of the Forum, including public ceremonies, by building balconies on the upper floors of some of the surrounding tabernae (small shops with open fronts, which often masked the larger town houses of the nobility). Shortly afterwards the orators’ platform was adorned with the ‘beaks’ (rostra) of the ships captured from Antium; it became known as the Rostra.

The next era of building was after contact with Sicily had awakened a desire for a new type of architecture. In the second century Rome began to assume a fresh appearance. New temples were built, some in the Tuscan style, others in a new Hellenistic manner with walls of tufa covered with bright stucco, like the buildings of the ‘tufa’ period at Pompeii. Basilicas, porticoes and triumphal arches arose to adorn the capital; the drainage system was improved, roads were paved with stone, and in 144 a new high-level aqueduct, the Aqua Marcia, was erected. Private houses, which formerly had been mean, were now built by the nobles to match at any rate the smaller atrium-houses of the ‘tufa’ period of Pompeii; and tenement houses, the forerunners of the blocks of ‘sky-scrapers’ of the Empire, were erected for poorer citizens. Some of this building was haphazard, but many of the newer districts were developed on a symmetrical plan, even though this could not be applied to Rome as a whole. At the very end of our period significant innovations were made. About 146 BC two temples were built of Greek marble; a vein of limestone called travertine was discovered; and concrete was introduced or used more freely.

The appearance of the city in 146 BC may perhaps best be realized by taking an imaginary tour round it. On the Janiculum west of the river, for ever made famous by the defence of another Roman Republic, there were no serious fortifications. The Tiber was bridged by the old wooden Pons Sublicius, south of the island; between bridge and island were the stone piers of the Pons Aemilius (179), but stone arches were not constructed till 142. On the island, which was probably connected with both banks by bridges, stood the temples of Aesculapius (291) and Faunus (194). The Pons Sublicius debouched into the Cattle Market (Forum Boarium) where the ‘Servian’ wall came down to the river. It is hardly necessary to follow the course of the wall as since the Hannibalic War it had been losing importance. Through the Forum Boarium flowed an open drain, the Cloaca Maxima, running between the Capitol and Palatine from the Roman Forum where it drained the surrounding hills. In the market stood the old altar of Hercules Invictus and the round temple of Hercules Victor, decorated with frescoes by the poet Pacuvius; also two temples attributed to Servius Tullius – Fortuna and Mater Matuta, which contained a picture of Ti. Sempronius Gracchus’ Sardinian campaign and a map of the island. In front were two arches with gilded statues erected by L. Stertinius in 196.18

In the valley which ran from the market south-eastwards between the Palatine and Aventine was the Circus Maximus, the chief amusement place of the city. Founded by Tarquinius, it still remained a wooden construction; at the north end were painted carceres, the starting-point for the chariots, and down the centre ran a spina decorated with statues and equipped with ova to record the laps. Nearby was the temple of Juventas, vowed by Livius Salinator at Metaurus, and at the southern end the altar of Corisus, an old Italic agricultural deity. On the slopes of the Aventine stood the temple of Ceres, Liber and Libera (496); its terracotta decorations by Greek artists were in a lighter style than the older Etrusco-Latin type. It was the headquarters of the plebeian aediles and contained their archives as well as copies of senatus consulta. On the Aventine itself, a plebeian quarter, were two famous temples: that of Juno Regina, dedicated by Camillus, who brought the wooden cult statue of the goddess from Veii (392), and that of Diana, ascribed to King Servius, which contained a bronze copy of the compact with the Latins and the Lex Icilia of 456. Over the hill ran the Clivus Publicus from the Forum Boarium, and the end of the Appian aqueduct; on the top was an open space, Armilustrium, where lay the traditional tomb of Titius Tatius. At the foot of the western slope of the Aventine below the ‘Servian’ wall along the river ran the Porticus Aemilia (193), a large market-hall, designed to receive and distribute goods and foodstuffs brought up the Tiber. It was restored in 174 and, if the identification with the present remains is correct, it is important as providing the earliest known use of concrete, which was soon to revolutionize Roman building. At its north end rose the Column of Minucius, erected by popular subscription to thepraefectus annonae of 439. On the Caelian Hill, east of the Aventine, there were few buildings of importance.19

North-east of the Circus Maximus rose the Palatine with its fortifications and many early buildings and sanctuaries, though few of them are known. Apart from archaic burials and cisterns, there were the greatly venerated Hut of Romulus and the Lupercal, a cave at the south-west corner of the hill near the site of the fig tree where Romulus and Remus had been washed ashore; a monument representing the wolf and twins was erected here by the Ogulnii in 296. From here an ancient stairway, Scalae Caci, led down to the Circus Maximus, perhaps serving as a short cut to the Clivus Victoriae, the ascent to the Palatine from the Velabrum on which stood the Temple of Victory (244) and a shrine of Victoria Virgo built by Cato (193). The picturesque ilex-covered ruins of the temple of Magna Mater (191), which contained the black stone from Pessinus, are the only remains of the early Palatine temples. Of the private houses on the Palatine reference is made to that of Cn. Octavius, consul of 165.20

North-east of the Palatine, on the Velia, the Sacred Way started on its track down through the Forum. Near where the arch of Titus now stands were the Temples of Jupiter Stator (294) (Flavian remains), of Penates Dei (Augustan remains), and of Lares, indicating the approach to the heart of the Roman state. If in imagination we descend the Via Sacra we can see the monuments in the southern and northern halves of the Forum. On the south were the precincts of Vesta in whose round temple the sacred fire of the state was kept perpetually burning by the Vestal Virgins whose house (Atrium Vestae) lay just to the south. Within the precinct were the Domus Publica, where the Pontifex Maximus lived; opposite lay the Regia, his headquarters, and its shrine of Mars.21Nearby is the Spring of Juturna where Castor and Pollux watered their horses after the battle of Lake Regillus and where they appeared also after Pydna. Their temple, dedicated in 484 and rebuilt in 117 in a hellenized style, was often used as a meeting place for the Senate; its remains, of the Augustan Age, form a landmark in the Forum. In front stood an equestrian statue of Tremulus, consul in 306, commemorating his victory over the Hernici. Here the main road to the Forum Boarium along the west of the Palatine started; it was called the Vicus Tuscus, perhaps after a settlement of Etruscan workmen, and contained a statue of the Etruscan god Vortumnus. It was a busy quarter with an unsavoury reputation. To the west were the Old Shops, the centre of the bankers and moneylenders; behind them, on the site of the house of the elder Scipio Africanus the Basilica Sempronia was built in answer to the needs of a new age (170): a roofed hall with colonnades, in which much public business was transacted. Then, beyond the Vicus Jugarius, which also led to the Forum Boarium, stood the Temple of Saturn at the foot of the Capitol. Coeval with the Republic, it contained the state treasury; the treasury offices were in the Area Saturni nearby, until the Tabularium was built in 78. From the temple a portico ran up along the Clivus Capitolinus, the main paved approach to the Capitol (part of the paving of 174 BC survives).

Before climbing the Capitol, we must return to the Velia and the northern half of the Forum. Here were the New Shops, a business centre which had originally been let by the state to tenants, especially provision merchants and butchers; but these had been moved north to the Macellum before 310. Next were the Basilica Aemilia (179), where a water-clock was installed in 159 (some remains of the earliest period survive); a shrine of Cloacina, coeval with the Cloaca Maxima; and the Temple of Janus, the gates of which were only closed in peacetime. Here the Argiletum led northwards to the Macellum, a central building surrounded by shops, which in 179 had absorbed the local fish and other markets, and to the slums of Subura. Nearby were a statue of Marsyas, perhaps brought from Apamea by Vulso in 188 because of the legendary connection of the town with the tomb of Aeneas; the praetor’s judgment-seat (tribunal), transferred from the Comitium about 150; and the Lacus Curtius. Next was the Comitium, the open assembly place of the Roman people, bounded on the north by the Curia, on the west by the carcer and Basilica Porcia, and on the south by the Rostra; it was consecrated ground and the political centre of Rome till the second century. In front of it stood the Rostra, adorned with the beaks of the ships captured from Antium in 338, from which orators addressed the people, and the Graecostasis, an open platform used as a tribunal for foreign ambassadors, especially Greeks; on it was a small bronze shrine to Concordia, erected by Cn. Flavius (304). Here were the Tomb of Romulus and the column of Duilius with an archaic inscription celebrating his naval victory of 260. Other old monuments were the Fig Tree and statue of Navius, a puteal, a statue of Horatius and the Volcanal, from which kings and magistrates addressed the people before the Rostra was built. At the back of the Comitium stood the Curia Hostilia, the original Senate-house (on the side wall was a painting of Messala’s victory of 263), and nearby was the censors’ office (Atrium Libertatis). Westwards lay the Basilica Porcia, erected by Cato in 184, in which the tribunes held court. The column of Maenis recalled the victor of Antium. At the foot of the Capitol were the subterranean prison (carcer or Tullianum) which could only be entered by a hole in the roof and which probably dates back to regal times; the Temple of Concord, vowed by Camillus in 367; and the Porticus Deorum Consentium (the existing remains are Flavian). Hence the Clivus Capitolinus leads up to the Capitol; at its summit stood an arch erected by Scipio Africanus together with seven statues and two marble basins.

The Capitoline hill consisted of two peaks, the Area Capitolina and the Arx. The former was an open space around the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus; it was surrounded by a wall and portico (159). Within the area was Rome’s most famous temple (pp. 52f.); gilt shields adorned the pediment (193), its walls and columns were covered with stucco (179) and later it received a mosaic floor and gilded ceiling (142). In front of the temple steps was an altar on which sacrifices were offered at the beginning of the year and at triumphs. A colossal statue of Jupiter, erected by Sp. Carvilius in 293, could be seen from the Alban Mount. There were statues of Hercules, Mars, and the kings and heroes of the Republic, and so numerous were the trophies of victory that they were removed in 179. There were other temples, including that of Fides, built c. 250, which was often used by the Senate; on its walls were international agreements. Other state archives were kept in the Atrium Publicum, and the Curia Calabra afforded another assembly hall. On the Arx was the temple of Juno Moneta, which occupied the site of the house of Manlius Capitolinus (344). It contained the libri lintei and the mint which was perhaps established in 269. The sacred geese were kept nearby. At the northeast corner was an open grassy space with a thatched hut, the Auguraculum, where the public auspices were taken.22

Below the Capitol outside the city wall and pomerium the Campus Martius stretched to the Tiber. It was used for pasturage and military exercises, but had been encroached on by a few individuals; the elder Scipio had a villa and garden there. The west side was marshy and contained an oak grove, Aesculetum, where the Assembly had met to pass the Hortensian laws, and a district called Tarentum where there were hot springs and an altar of Dis Pater and Proserpine. The south-eastern portion was named Prata Flaminia. Here was situated the Circus Flaminius, built in 221 for the plebeian games; it was probably a circular area rather than a stadium and it also served as a market place. There was an altar of Mars which dated to the regal period; a portico led from it to the nearest city gate (193). The Ovile was a large enclosed area divided into aisles in which the Comitia Centuriata met to vote. The Villa Publica (built in 435 and enlarged in 194) was used as the headquarters for state officers engaged in taking the census or levying troops, for generals desiring a triumph, and for lodging foreign ambassadors. Near the Circus Flaminius was the Temple of Bellona, vowed by Appius Claudius Caecus in 296, where the Senate often met to receive victorious generals; nearby was an assembly place for senators (Senaculum) and the Columna Bellica, a boundary stone over which the fetial priest formally hurled a spear on declaration of war. There were many temples, including that of Apollo (431), from which a portico later ran to the river (179). Between the Campus and the Forum Boarium was the vegetable market (Forum Holitorium) with temples to Spes, Juno Sospita and Janus; the remains of these have recently been exposed from the surrounding church of S. Nicola in Carcere.23

Finally, reference may be made to some outlying monuments. On the Quirinal was the Temple of Semo Sancus (466) containing the shield bearing the treaty with Gabii, and bronze wheels from the destruction of Privernum in 329. Outside the Colline Gate were temples to Honos, Virtus (third century) and Venus Erucina (181). Within a grove on the Cispius stood the Temple of Juno Lucina (375) where gifts were offered for new-born children. On the Esquiline was a Temple of Tellus (268) which was sometimes used by the Senate, and here came the aqueduct bringing water from the Anio. On the Appian Way outside the Porta Capena were temples of Tempestates (259) and Mars (388) where troops assembled on setting out for war. In 189 the Appian Way was paved to this point. Beyond the Servian wall was the family tomb of the Scipios, who preferred inhumation to cremation. It was hewn out of the rock and its passages have been cleared. Many famous members of the family were buried here, and it contained a statue of Ennius.

The crowds that thronged the buildings are of more interest than the city itself, but of these we catch only a few glimpses. Plautus in the Curculio gives a vivid description of the Forum: ‘If you wish to meet a perjurer, go to the Comitium; for a liar and braggart, near the Temple of Venus Cloacina; for rich married wasters, the Basilica. There too will be harlots and men ready to haggle. Members of dining-clubs, you’ll find in the fish market. In the lower Forum reputable and wealthy citizens walk about; in the middle, near the canal, the merely showy set. Above the Lacus Curtius are those impudent, talkative, spiteful fellows who boldly decry other people without reason and are themselves open to plenty of truthful criticism. Below the Old Shops those who lend and borrow at interest. Behind the Temple of Castor are those whom you would do ill to trust too readily. In the Tuscan street are men who sell their services; in the Velabrum bakers, butchers, soothsayers.’

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