IENT ROME, 750 BC - AD 500
ITY OF ROME: ANC
GEOGRAPHY BECOMES IDENTITY
THE ORIGINS OF ROME'S SEVEN HILLS
At least fifty cities in Europe and the Middle East were, or claim to have been, built on seven hills, but none so famously as Rome. While hardly recognizable as proper hills today, the seven elevations still constitute the core of Rome’s ancient city.
IBy Sidney E. Dean n alphabetical order, the seven hills are the Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, and Viminal. All are located east of the Tiber River, forming an oval ring with the Palatine roughly in the centre. Technically, Rome was founded by Romulus on only one hill, the Palatine, presumably during the mid-eighth century BC – or so Roman tradition states, as preserved in the writings of such chroniclers as Cato the Elder and Dionysus of Halicarnassus, as well as by the official fasti capitolini records. Other hills were settled by different tribes including the Sabines, while Romulus’ brother and great rival Remus founded his own settlement on the Aventine. Archaeological evidence supports the basic timeline of the Roman foundation myth. While human presence is documented on the hills beginning with the early Mesolithic period, permanent walled villages can be traced back to the eighth or ninth century BC, with the Latin settlements on the Palatine thought to be the oldest. Rome’s location was well chosen. The hills dominated a ford in the Tiber that constituted a natural transit hub for regional commerce. From the safety of their walled hillside villages, the early Romans could exact tolls and eventually establish a commercial centre of their own. One by one, Rome incorporated the neighbouring hilltop settlements to form the nucleus of the future metropolis. While the blending was not always strictly voluntary, over time the inhabitants of the seven hills developed a united sense of identity. The equation of Rome with seven hills was physically cemented in the early fourth century BC with the construction of the so-called Servian Wall, encompassing only the seven hills and the valleys directly between them. This wall had two effects: it protected the core city – with its governmental, cultural, and commercial centres and the elite populace – from attack; it also formed a demarcation between the core populace and the many surrounding tribes that had come under Rome’s domain. In time, the seven hills developed their own identities within the city. The Palatine was the favoured residence of emperors and elites seeking to position themselves as the heirs of Romulus. The Aventine was also favoured by elites, not least because it was particularly defensible. The Capitoline hosted the city’s most important shrine, the massive Temple of Jupiter, while the Caelian was dotted with wealthy families' estates during the Republic. Even as the city and the empire expanded, the number seven never lost its fundamental significance for Rome’s selfidentity. The best evidence: when Emperor Constantine established his new Rome in 330 AD he made sure to erect it on seven hills overlooking the Bosporus. ATH
Sidney E. Dean is a regular contributor to Ancient Warfare and Ancient History magazines.
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