Only places in Rome itself
are mentioned here. For Italy and the provinces, see the maps online.
The seven hills of Rome
Varro reports that Rome was
originally called Septimontium, -iī neut. 2.
etymologies were suggested for the name, inter alia, from
avis, avis fem. 3 “bird”, or from Aventinus, a local
So called after Caeles Vibenna, an Etruscan who came to the aid of one
of the kings of Rome.
Capitoline The smallest
of the seven hills, but the most important, for it contained the
Arx (Citadel) and the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. It was
so called because a human head, taken to prophesy Rome’s role as
caput orbis (head of the world) was discovered during the digging
of the foundations of the temple of Jupiter. Criminals were executed
by being thrown from the saxum Tarpeium on the Capitol, named
after the Vestal Virgin Tarpeia, who agreed to betray the citadel to
the Sabines in return for what they wore on their left arms: she hoped
for gold bracelets, but the Sabines killed her by dropping their shields
Esquiline The Esquiline
was supposed to be so called from the excubiae, -ārum
fem. 1 “watch-towers” set up there in the regal period, or because
it was cultivated (colō, colere, coluī, cultum
3) with oak trees (aesculus, -ī fem. 2). The true derivation
is unknown, but, since the Esquiline lay outside the original city-wall,
it has been speculated that, in contrast to inquilīnī, -ōrum
masc. 2 (“inhabitants”, from in + colō), those who
lived outside the walls might have been called exquilīnī.
So called after Pallas, the grandfather of Evander, who was living on
the site in the time of Aeneas, or from bālātus, -ūs
masc. 4 “bleating”, the Romans having originally been a pastoral
people. In commemoration of Rome’s simple beginnings, a casa Rōmulī
“hut of Romulus” was preserved there (as also on the Capitoline);
it will have contrasted sharply with the splendor of Augustus’ building
program on the hill. Our word “palace” is derived from Pālātium.
Quirinal Named either
after the Sabine town Cures, the inhabitants of which migrated there
and were afterwards incorporated in Rome, or from the god Quirinus,
who was identified with Romulus.
Viminal So called
from the osiers (vīmen, vīminis neut. 3) which originally
Two other hills, both on the
other (right) bank of the Tiber, should also to mentioned: the Janiculum,
named after the god Janus, and the Vatican: one of the suggested derivations
of the latter name, appropriate to its modern function, linked it with
vātēs, vātis common 3 “priest(ess)”.
Other landmarks in Rome:
This list is highly selective,
and focused on the Augustan period. Augustus’ building program, funded
largely by the plunder taken in the conquest of Egypt and intended to
create a city worthy of world-empire, is one of his greatest achievements:
he boasted that he had found Rome a city of brick and transformed it
into a city of marble, a transformation that involved the building or
restoration of 82 temples (to say nothing of other projects).
The splendor of the public
buildings and the palazzi of the rich will, however, have meant
little in the everyday life of the vast majority of the population,
who lived in cramped and squalid tenements (insulae, -ārum
fem. 1; literally “islands”; a post-classical visitor to Rome exclaimed
that, if all the population of the city lived in buildings of one storey,
it would stretch to the Adriatic). Excellent as was the Roman road-system
throughout Italy and through many of the provinces, Rome itself was
so chaotically congested that Julius Caesar banned almost all wheeled
traffic from the city in daylight hours (thus ensuring sleepless nights
for those living in insulae). In his third satire, Juvenal gives
a vivid and memorable, if perhaps somewhat exaggerated, portrayal of
the privations suffered by the poor in Rome.
Some of the most celebrated
ancient landmarks in Rome postdate the Augustan period: Nero’s vast
domus aurea; the Flavian Amphitheatre, named after the short-lived
imperial dynasty of Titus Flavius Vespasianus and his sons, Titus and
Domitian, and now known to have been financed largely from the spoils
taken at the sacking of Jerusalem (its popular name, the Colosseum
or Coliseum, which it owes to the colossal statue of Nero which
once stood nearby, appears first in a poem by the Venerable Bede [c.
AD 672 – 735]. Bede refers to the Coliseum as a symbol of Rome
as the urbs aeterna the “eternal city”, a phrase found first
in the Augustan age; earthquakes and plundering for building-material
are chiefly responsible for the partial ruin of Italy’s most famous
monument); the arches of Titus and Septimius Severus; Trajan’s column;
the Catacombs (stretching for more than 350 miles); the baths of Caracalla
and Diocletian. Even the Pantheon, despite the famous and conspicuous
inscription on the frieze in the porch: M(ARCUS) AGRIPPA
L(ūciī) F(īlius) CO(n)S(ul)
TERTIUM FĒCIT (i.e built in 27 BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa [who
would have succeeded Augustus, had he died of an illness in 23]), is
Hadrianic, the original, quite different, temple having been destroyed
by fire in AD 80. The cūria Iūlia (Senate house) was begun
by Julius Caesar and completed by Augustus, but the present building,
the most complete in the forum, is a 1930s restoration of Diocletian’s
restoration after a fire in AD 283.
Aqueducts The Romans constructed over a dozen aqueducts to provide the city with abundant fresh water, drawn from, in one case, almost sixty miles away. The remains of many aqueducts survive, and they are one of the most obvious testimonies to the Romans’ superlative engineering skills, even though little more than ten per cent of the course of the aqueduct system was above ground (the aqua Virgō being entirely underground). Like Roman roads, the aqueducts have not entirely fallen into ruin; the Trevi fountain, designed in part by Bernini, draws its water from the aqua Virgō, and the fontana della barcaccia in the Piazza di Spagna, designed by Bernini’s father, still uses ancient pipes. The best preserved section of a Roman aqueduct is the Pont du Gard in Provence.
Note the spelling, not aquaduct. The term is derived from aquae (or aquārum) ductus, i.e. a duct for water(s). The change from -ae to -e is typical; cf. e.g. Aegyptus, -ī fem. 2 “Egypt”, aequālis, -e “equal”, aestimō 1 “estimate”, quaestiō, -ōnis fem. 3 “question”, taedium, -iī neut. 2 “tedium”. In fact, the Romans normally referred to aqueducts simply by the word aqua and an adjective denoting the person responsible for the construction (as with roads; see below); e.g. aqua Appia (constructed by the same Appius Claudius Caecus as was the via Appia), aqua Claudia, aqua Marcia, but note also that two of the most important, the Aniō vetus and the Aniō novus, were named after the tributary of the Tiber from which they were drawn.
with many other building projects, the Romans were greatly aided in
constructing aqueducts by the development of the arch and of cement.
The Latin for “arch” is arcus, -ūs masc. 4,
which primarily means “bow” and is cognate with the English word
“arrow”. An arcus is generally grander than a fornix
(-icis masc. 3), which usually refers to an archway in or between
buildings, and is the origin of “fornicate”, since prostitutes tended
to congregate in such places. The best sort of cement was made with
ash from Vesuvius, pozzolana, named after the town of Puteoli
(modern Pozzuoli), where Sulla died in 78 BC and Sophia Loren was born
Augustae (The Altar of Augustan Peace) An altar erected in thanksgiving
for the safe return of Augustus from Spain and Gaul in 13 BC, and commemorating
the peace which he claimed to have imposed on the whole empire. It stood
originally on the Campus Martius, and the tip of the Obeliscus
(Hōrologium) Augustī, now in the Piazza Montecitorio,
cast its shadow on the centre of the altar only once in the year, on
the autumnal equinox, September 23rd, Augustus’ birthday. (The altar
was dedicated on 30th January 9 BC, the 49th birthday of Augustus’
wife, Livia.) Many fragments of the altar are now dispersed in European
museums, and the remains of the enclosure were moved by Mussolini to
a site near Augustus’ Mausoleum, on the left bank of the Tiber. In
the early sixteenth century, a baker digging a latrine discovered the
fragments of Augustus’ sundial. Pope Julius II was unwilling to spend
money resurrecting it, so it was reburied, and not fully excavated for
a further four hundred and fifty years. Being a great patron of the
arts, Julius had many other plans for his money: in particular, commissioning
Michelangelo’s work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and on his
tomb. Part of the pavement of the sundial can now be visited in the
cellar of a café in the Via del Campo Marzio.
Bibliothēcae (Libraries) Although private individuals had amassed collections of books earlier, it was Julius Caesar who planned the first public library. He was assassinated before the project was completed, and the first such library was the Bibliothēca Asiniī Polliōnis, soon followed by the Bibliothēca Apollinis Pālātīnī, the Bibliothēca Porticūs Octāviae and the Bibliothēca Templī Dīvī Augustī. Caesar envisaged that they should be modelled on the libraries in the Hellenistic Greek kingdoms, especially those at Alexandria and Pergamum. Even though most libraries in Rome were divided into two sections, one for Latin books, one for Greek, no Roman library will have come close to matching the holdings of these two libraries. Literary output in Latin was never more than a fraction of that in Greek.
destruction of the Library at Alexandria, an intellectual catastrophe
without parallel, is variously attributed to Julius Caesar (48-47
BC; the fortunes of war), Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria (AD 391;
Christian zeal) and Caliph Omar (AD 640; Islamic zeal – “the books
will either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or
they will agree with it, in which case they are superfluous”). Our
word “parchment” is derived from (carta) Pergamēna
“writing material from Pergamum”, the practice of using animal skins
for writing having become current there when papyrus (“paper”) from
Egypt came to be in short supply.
Campus Martius 600 acres
of flat open ground dedicated to Mars between the Capitoline hill and
the Tiber, so much more significant than the many other campī
in the city that it was frequently referred to simply as the campus.
carceris masc. 3, hence the English word “incarcerate”). The
state prison of Rome, situated between the temple of Concord and the
Senate House at the foot of the Capitol. Long-term imprisonment was
not normal in Rome: the carcer was used mostly as a place of
detention for criminals awaiting execution. Prominent war-captives,
most notably Jugurtha and Vercingetorix the Gaul, were taken there for
execution, after being paraded in the conqueror’s triumphal procession.
Many of the Catilinarian conspirators were also executed in the Carcer,
and St. Peter is said to have been incarcerated there before being taken
for crucifixion on the Vatican hill, where Constantine later built the
first Basilica of St. Peter in honor of his martyrdom.
Circus Maximus By far the oldest and largest of Rome’s circuses, between the Palatine and Aventine hills, where chariot-races were run for over a thousand years. The racing teams, at first just two, the Reds and the Whites, but later the Blues and the Greens also, attracted fanatic devotion of an increasingly political nature from their supporters. The site is now open ground, giving little idea of its former importance in Roman life. Other circuses of note were the Circus Flaminius (3rd cent. BC) and the Circus of Maxentius (4th cent. AD).
was predominantly in the Circus Maximus, not in the Coliseum, which
was not built till the 70s AD, that the earliest persecutions of Christians
took place. It is not known how many Christians were killed in these
persecutions. Tacitus speaks imprecisely of a multitūdō ingens
made scapegoats by Nero for the great fire. Such massacres were not
new: Sulla had held a meeting of the senate within earshot of the Circus
Flamininus while perhaps as many as 6,000 Samnites were being killed
Cloāca Maxima Just
as aqueducts provided an abundant water supply, so a certain degree
of sanitation was ensured by the system of drains, especially the Cloaca
Maxima (Main Drain), begun in the regal period, much admired in antiquity,
and still, to a very limited degree, in operation today. The mouth of
the Cloaca Maxima can still be seen on the right bank of the Tiber.
(That it should have emptied directly into the Tiber, from which a large
proportion of the population drew its water, reduced considerably its
effectiveness in ensuring sanitary conditions.)
Fora were originally
places for markets and public assembly. forum, -ī neut.
2 was thought to be derived either from ferre (i.e. to bring
market produce, law-suits etc.) or from for, fārī,
fātus sum 1 “speak”. As Rome expanded, market-trading was concentrated
in separate and specific locations (the forum Boārium, the
forum Holitōrium, the forum Piscārium and the Macellum;
the names of these fora are derived respectively from bōs,
bovis common “ox”, holus, holeris neut. 3 “vegetable”,
piscis, -is masc. 3 “fish”, but the origin of macellum,
-i neut. 2 is unknown.), and the religious, political and judicial
functions of the forum Rōmānum, always the chief public square
in the city, came to be shared with the imperial fora (inter
alia, the forum Iūlium, the forum Augustum, the
forum Nervae, the forum Traiānī).
Hortī With increasing frequency in and after the first century BC, very many hortī (Gardens) were laid out by private individuals, covering often extremely large tracts of land. Along with the numerous campī, the ever-increasing splendors of the public monuments and the ostentatiously huge homes of the rich, they will have accentuated and exacerbated the cramped living conditions of the majority of the population.
the most notable for their size and magnificence were the Hortī
Luculliānī, the Hortī Sallustiānī and the Hortī
Maecēnātis. Lucullus (Lucius Licinius Lucullus; c. BC 117 –
c. 57) is remembered nowadays predominantly for the magnificence of
his banquets, but he was no mere antecedent to the wonderfully vulgar
Trimalchio, whose banquet is recounted in remorseless detail in Petronius’
Satyricōn. He was a discriminating Hellenophile, accumulating an
extensive philosophical library, consul in 74, a successful general,
especially against Mithridates of Pontus and Tigranes of Armenia, being
awarded a triumph in 63. His interest in gardens will have been fostered
by his years in the East: “paradise” is an Old Persian word meaning
“garden”. The Sallust who laid out the gardens named after him may
not be the historian. Gaius Maecenas was Augustus’ closest advisor
in the earlier part of his career and the most important literary patron
of the period.
Lapis Niger (The Black
Stone) Discovered close to the Senate House in the forum Rōmānum
in 1899, a five-sided stele
records the duties of the king, inscribed in a very uncertain boustrophedon
fashion (a Greek term meaning literally “turning like an ox”, i.e.
written right to left, then left to right, as an ox plows a field).
It was set up c. 510 BC, and is one of the extremely few Latin inscriptions
to predate the third century. The spot was venerated in antiquity as
a shrine in honor of Romulus. The stele itself is underground; the location
derives its name from the black marble slabs which cover it.
Mausōlēum Augustī The massive edifice built by Augustus in the 20s BC as a tomb for himself and his family. Not only he, but also many other members of his family, including his wife, Livia, his sister, Octavia, his nephew, Marcellus, the emperors Tiberius, Gaius and Claudius, as well as the later, unrelated, emperor Nerva and Julia Domna, the wife of Septimius Severus, were buried there. Conspicuously, however, Augustus forbade burial there for his daughter and his granddaughter, who both flaunted his laws against adultery. (He was himself notorious for his affairs with married women.) Several emperors of the second and third centuries were buried in the Mausōlēum Hadriānī (Antōnīnōrum Sepulchrum; now the Castel Sant’Angelo).
original Mausōlēum was the tomb built at Halicarnassus (SW
Turkey) in the 4th century BC for Mausolus, the Persian satrap of Caria,
by his widow/sister, Artemisia. Mausolus’ tomb was one of the the
seven wonders of the world (the others being the Great Pyramid of Giza,
the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the
Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse at
Alexandria; the idea of compiling such wonders goes back at least to
the 3rd century BC, to the scholar-poet Callimachus of Cyrene, who worked
in the Library at Alexandria, but this definitive list of seven appears
first in the engravings of Maerten van Heemskerck [1498-1574]). The
name Mausōlēum Augustī may not have been current in
Augustus’ time, since he would perhaps not have wished to invite comparison
with such a minor figure as Mausolus. The tomb’s original designation
may have been Tumulus Augustī Caesarum.
Mūrī (Walls) The
Mūrus Serviī Tulliī, the first to enclose all seven hills, though
attributed in antiquity to the sixth king, was actually built in the
4th century, after the invasion by the Gauls. The Mūrī
Aurēliānī, begun by Aurelian in the 3rd century AD, were more
extensive and are much better preserved.
Pōmērium The pōmērium
was the line demarcating the city. It was extended several times, and
did not necessarily correspond to the circuit of the city walls or the
limit of habitation. (The ancient etymology, post mūrōs “after
the walls”, is attractive but probably wrong.) It was normally forbidden
to bear arms inside the pōmērium: most notably, triumphing
generals had to wait outside for permission to enter the city with their
-ūs fem. 4.) Porticos, covered colonnades, the Roman equivalent
to the Greek stoa, became fashionable under Greek influence in
the early 2nd century BC, and many of the most magnificent date from
the second half of the 1st century BC. Particularly notable are the
Porticus Pompeiī and (all from the time of Augustus) the Porticus
Vipsāniae, the Porticus Octāviae, the Porticus Argōnautarum,
the Porticus Līviae.
Roads By the end of
the 2nd century BC, the Romans had built a system of roads which was
intended to connect Rome quickly and safely with the various parts of
the empire, and which was a crucial factor in extending civilisation
in the west. They are usually named after the official responsible for
their construction. For example, the via Appia was built by Appius Claudius
Caecus. Among the most important were:
via Appia: Rome south-east
to Tarentum and Brindisium
via Aurēlia: Rome north
via Cassia: Rome north to Arretium
via Egnātia: a continuation
of the via Appia on the other side of the Adriatic, through Greece and
eventually to Byzantium/Constantinople
via Flāminia: Rome north-east
to Ariminum (Rimini)
via Valēria: Rome east to
The Via Salāria, however, the “Salt Road”, which runs east for 150 miles to the Adriatic coast, is particularly ancient, and its name refers to the time when salt was transported inland from the Tiber-estuary, suggesting that Rome may have owed its foundation to its location on a prehistoric salt-route.
roads were extremely well made, and sections of many of them are still
in use today. By contrast, much of Rome itself was a chaotic labyrinth
of narrow and winding streets, a consequence, it was supposed, of rapid
reconstruction after the sack of the city by the Gauls in the 4th century.
This chaos made fire a constant hazard, and contributed greatly to the
devastation of the Great Fire of AD 64. Rome had no public fire-service
till AD 6: the triumvir Crassus had made a fortune by bringing his private
fire fighters to conflagrations, but not setting them to work till the
owner of the property had agreed to sell it to him for an extremely
low price. (Poor urban planning also made Rome very vulnerable to floods:
there were at least five major inundations of the Tiber in Augustus’
The road-system ultimately extended for over 50,000 miles, its primary purpose being to ensure safe and speedy troop-movement. At the end of the first century AD, Statius labelled the Via Appia, the great artery to the south from Rome, as the regina viarum “The Queen of Roads” (Silvae 2.2.12) and the Byzantine historian Procopius, writing in the sixth century AD, praised the same road as one of the most marvelous sights in the world, being so broad that two carts traveling in opposite directions could pass one another (History of the Wars 5.14). Roman roads were not, however, impressively wide by modern standards: even the Via Appia is, in fact, just 13 feet wide. Nor, as is often assumed, are Roman roads always and inexorably straight; rather they are as direct as natural barriers will permit. For example, Lincoln (Lindum) is 55 miles from York (Eboracum) as the crow flies, but the Roman road deviated inland to avoid swampy terrain, and was 72 miles long.