1902 Encyclopedia > Rome > Remains of Prehistoric Rome

(Part 22)



Remains of Prehistoric Rome

Plate VII.

Archaic Pottery.

It is evident from recent discoveries that the site of Rome was populous at a very remote period. Flint implements and remains of the early Bronze Age have been found on the Aventine and in other places ; and in 1874, near the arch of Gallienus on the Esquiline, the important discovery was made of a necropolis apparently of considerable extent, the tombs of which and their contents—fictile vases and other objects—were of Phoenician and Etruscan character, dating probably about the time of the traditional founding of Rome. In February 1883 a number of very early cist tombs, formed by two slabs of stone set on edge with a third for a lid, were found during excavations on the Esquiline between the Piazza Vitt. Emmanuele and the Via di Napoleone III. Some of the pottery found in the Esquiline necropolis was of that rare kind which is coated with white and coloured stanniferous enamels, examples of which have been found in Aegina and at Camirus in Rhodes,—a method of decoration which is not Hellenic, but was common in Assyria and Egypt. Some of the Esquiline tombs also contained terra-cotta reliefs of Oriental character, covered witli plumbo-vitreous glaze, coloured brilliant blues and greens, like the little figures so commonly found in Egypt. Some dim traditions of these earlier inhabitants certainly existed among the Romans : Dion Cassius (iii. 5), to account for the existence of a city on the Palatine earlier than the traditional Roma Quadrata, invents an earlier Romulus and Remus to be its founders.

Wall of Romulus

The most important existing relics of the time when Roman history first begins, though dimly, to take a definite shape are the so-called "wall of Romulus," forming the circuit of the famous Roma Quadrata of the Palatine. Unfortunately the accounts of the extent of the Pomcerium (Postmoerium) or sacred enclosure give but little help towards defining its circuit. Even its precise nature is a matter of doubt, in spite of the accounts of it given by Varrò (L.L., v. 143), Livy (i. 44), and Dionysius (i. 88), as is usually the case with descriptions in ancient writers of what was in their time purely an archaeological matter. It is, however, certain that the Pomcerium in some way or other followed the circuit of the primitive city, called from its shape Roma Quadrata. Its boundaries are given thus by Tacitus (Ann., xii. 24) : starting from the Forum Boarium at the west corner of the Palatine, it goes to the Ara Maxima (see Ann. Inst., 1854, p. 28) and the Ara Consi, both probably in the Vallis Murcise, afterwards occupied by the Circus Maximus; but the exact positions of these points are unknown.5 The next stages are the Curiae Veteres, the Sacelluni Larum, and la ;tly the Forum Romanum. Unfortunately the known points in this description, namely the two fora, are precisely those which mark that part of the circuit known from existing remains of the walls. It is therefore to the scanty relics of the wall which still exist on the other sides that we must turn to determine the extent of Roma Quadrata. These enable us to fix its line along the whole valley of the Velabrum, on the west of the hill, and along the valley of thè Circus Maximus as far as the so-called Donms Gelotiana, about half-way on the south side (see fig. 17). The doubtful point has been whether the line of the wall from north to south included the whole extent of the hill, or passed across it, along the line of that deep natural valley which once divided the Palatine into two parts, and was in later times filled up and built upon by Domitian in the construction of his great palace. Recent excavations have, however, disclosed at several points the existence of this ancient wall extending along the south-eastern part of the Palatine ; moreover, there is strong evidence as to Roma Quadrata being co-extensive with the whole hill from Cicero, De Rep., ii. 6, and Aul. Gell., xiii. 14. Traces of the wall have been found running east-wards from the Porta Mugonia, and that piece of wall by the Domus Gelotiana which starts to run northwards across the middle of the hill lias been found to be merely a projecting spur, which again turns eastwards, so as to include apparently the rest of the Palatine where the palace of Severus now stands.

Ancient Fortification

The most perfect remains of the Romulean wall are those near the west angle of the hill (see fig. 7). These show that the fortifications of Roma Quadrata were formed in the usual manner of Etruscan cities, in which the natural strength given by cliffs was increased by artificial means. The wall was set neither at the top nor at the foot of the hill, but more than half-way up, a level terrace or shelf all round being cut in the rock on which the base of the wall stood. Above that the hill was cut away into a cliff, not quite perpendicular but slightly "battering" inwards, to give greater stability to the wall, which was built up against it, like a retaining wall, reaching to the top of the cliff, and probably a few feet higher. The stones used in this wall are soft tufa, a warm brown in colour, and full of masses ef charred wood. The cutting to form the steep cliff probably supplied part of the material for the wall ; and ancient quarries, afterwards used as reservoirs for water, exist in the mass of rock on which the so-called temple of Jupiter Victor stands. It has been asserted that these tufa blocks are not cut but split with wedges ; this, however, is not the case. Tufa does not split into rectangular masses, but would be shattered to pieces by a wedge ; moreover, distinct tool-marks can be seen on all the blocks whose surface is well preserved and in the quarries themselves. Chisels from one-fourth to three-fourths of an inch in width were used, and also a sharp-pointed pick or hammer. The wall is about 10 feet thick at the bottom, and increases in thickness above as the scarped cliff against which it is built recedes. It is built of blocks laid in alternate courses of headers and stretchers, varying in thickness from 22 to 24 inches, in length from 3 to 5 feet, and in width from 19 to 22 inches. These blocks are carefully worked on their beds, but the face is left rough, and the vertical joints are in some cases open, spaces of nearly 2 inches being left between block and block ; in other cases the vertical joints are worked true and close like the beds. The open vertical joints are peculiar to the masonry of this early period ; in the wall ol Servius they always fit closely, at least on the visible face of the wall. No mortar was used. At two points on the side of the Velabrum (see 8 and 9 on the plan of the Palatine, fig. 17) winding passages are excavated in the tufa cliff, the entrance to which was once closed by the ancient wall. One of these (No. 8) in early times (before water in abundance was brought to the Palatine on aqueducts) was used as a reservoir to collect surface water, probably for use in case of siege; circular shafts for buckets are cut downwards' through the rock from the top of the hill; fig. 7 shows it in section. An exactly similar rock-cut cistern with vertical shafts, of very early date, exists at Alba Longa. Opposite the church of S. Teodoro a series of buttresses belonging to the wall of Romulus exists, partly concealed by a long line of buildings of the later years of the republic and the early empire, to make room for which the greater part of the then useless wall was pulled down, and only fragments left here and there, where they could be worked into the walls of the later houses.

FIG. 7 - —Section of primitive wall of Roma Quadrata. A. Original height of wall. B. Upper part of cliff, now crumbled away. C. Cistern cut in the tufa rock. D. Levelled platform to receive was once closed by the base of wall. E, E. Cliff made steeper by cutting,

Gates of Roma Quadrata

Three accesses only to the ancient city can now be traced. One of is the so-called Scalae Caci, a long sloping ascent cut through the rock (see fig. 17) from the side of the Circus Maximus ; some remains of the earliest wall still exist along the sides of this steep ascent or staircase. The upper part of this has remains of a basalt pavement, added in later times, probably covering the more ancient rock-cut steps. The name of the gate which led at this point into Roma Quadrata is unknown. The only two gates whose name and position can be (with any degree of probability) identified are the Porta Romanula and the Porta Mugionis (Plin., II. N., iii. 5, 9). The former of these, called Porta Romana by Festus (ed. Miiller, p. 262), was at the foot of the Clivus Victoria (see fig. 17), at the angle next the Forum Romanum. According to F'estus it was so called by the Sabines of the Capitol because it was their natural entrance to Roma Quadrata (see also Varro, L.L., v. 164, vi. 24). The original approach to it was by a road running up the lower extra-mural part of the hill from the direction of the Velabrum. In later times a more direct ascent to it was made from the Forum by a flight of steps, probably the Scalae Anulariae of Suetonius (Aug., 72 ; see figs. 16 and 17 and plan of the Forum, Plate VIII.). The lower part of these stairs, now buried under S. Maria Liberatrice, is shown in the marble plan of Rome; the upper part, that from the Nova Via to the Clivus Victoriae, still exists, and has recently been exposed. Traces of the Porta Mugionis or Mugonia (see Sol., i. 24) have been discovered near the temple of Jupiter Stator, where a basalt paved road leads up into the Palatine from the Summa Sacra Via and the Summa Nova Via, which join near the arch of Titus ; exposure to weather has now destroyed the soft tufa blocks of which this gate was built. This is probably the "veterem portam Palatii" of Livy (i. 12) through which the Romans fled when defeated by the Sabines. A third entrance, according to the ancient Etruscan rule (see Servius, Ad Aen., i. 422), probably existed on the east side of the hill, but its site is uncertain. Judging from the shape of the hill, it may very possibly have been under the existing palace of Severus, where a road leads from the stadium down to the valley of the Coelian; at other places the east side is precipitous. The buildings of the emperors have, however, made such radical changes in the form of the ground that any degree of certainty on this point is impossible. This third gate, according to Varro, who mentions (L.L., v. 164-5) all three, was called Janualis. With regard to the last gate there is some doubt whether he is right in its position; Macrobius (Satur., i. 9) places it on the slopes of the Viminal.


5 Under the Servian wall on the Esquiline has been found pottery of that y primitive sort which is ornamented only with rudely incised lines, zigs. hatchings, and dots, similar to that found under a stratum of peperino k at Alba Longa.
6 See "Necrop. dell. Esquilino," in Ann. Inst, 1882, p. 5 sq., and Mon. Inst, pi. xxxvii. ; also Bull. Comm. Arch., iii.

1 Not. degli Scavi, February 1883. An account of pottery found in Rome with archaic incised inscriptions is given in Ann. Inst., 1880.
2 See also Brizio, Pitture e Sepolcri sulV Esquiliiw, 1876, and De Rossi, Ogetti arcaici rinvenuti nel Viminale, 187S.
3 See Becker, Handb. der rom. Altera., Leipsic, 1S4S, i. pp. 105-6.
4 See Dionys., ii. 65 ; Solinus, i. 17 ; Pint., Rom., 9.
5 The Ara Maxima of Hercules was probably near thè carceres or starting end of the circus (Dionys., i. 40). The Ara Consi (Equestrian Neptune) gave iU name to the Consualia, games ir. honour of ttiis deity held by Romulus, at which the celebrated capture of the Sabine women took place. In later times this altar existed on or below the spina of the circus, apparently near the meta nt the opposite end to the carceres : it was usually hidden from sight, but during the Ludi Circenses was uncovered anil exposed to view (see Plut., Rom.,
14 ; Varrò, L. L., vi. 20 ; Tertull., De Spec, v. 8).
6 The present entrance to Caligula's palace is probably exactly on the site of the ancient Porta Romana.
7 The stairs of Cacus, being only an access for men on foot, would not be counted as one of the three necessary gates which existed in every Etruscan city, and were dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.

1 See Dionys., ii. 65 ; Pint., Rom., ix. ; Dion Cass., various fragments; Liv., i. 7, 9; Sol., i. 17: Festus (od. Miiller), pp. 25S, 262.
2 See Becker, Be Muris et Portis Romee; I.eipsic, 1842 ; also "La fondazione di Roma," in Bull. Comm. Arch., ix., 1881.

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