Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide

Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide

by Filippo Coarelli

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ISBN-13: 9780520957800
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 05/10/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 600
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About the Author

Filippo Coarelli, Professor of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the University of Perugia, is editor of Pompeii (2002) and coauthor of The Colosseum (2001), among numerous other books on Roman art and archeology.

James J. Clauss, Professor of Classics at the University of Washington, is author of Best of the Argonauts: The Redefinition of the Epic Hero in Book 1 of Apollonius's Argonautica (UC Press) and editor, with Sarah Iles Johnston, of Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art.

Daniel P. Harmon, Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Washington, has published on Latin poetry and ancient Roman religion. He was for eight years co-director of the University of Washington Rome Center.

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Rome and Environs

An Archaeological Guide

By Filippo Coarelli, James J. Clauss, Daniel P. Harmon, J Anthony Clauss, Pierre A. Mackay


Copyright © 2014 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95780-0




Literary sources attribute the construction of Rome's earliest walls to the city's penultimate king, Servius Tullius, although, according to some authors, work on this project may well have begun under his predecessor, Tarquinius Priscus. In either instance, the structure can be dated to the first half of the sixth century BC. Records suggest, however, that an earlier defensive system enclosed a narrower area than the Servian city.

With some exceptions, scholars have tended to reject the idea that Rome had a complete defensive system in the sixth century BC. Recent discoveries, however, such as those at Lavinium, have shown that fortification walls in opus quadratum were constructed at this time in several cities of Latium. It would be strange indeed if the most important settlement in the region did not have walls, particularly since it possessed no natural defenses toward the east. But the strongest argument in favor of the traditional date comes from portions of the wall that survive and the final disposition of the wall as a whole.

Following the occupation of the city by the Gauls in 390 BC, which exposed the weakness of the older defenses, a wall of Grotta Oscura tufa was erected. Livy (6.32.1) provides the exact date—378 BC—and informs us that the censors contracted to have the new wall constructed "of squared stones" (i.e., in opus quadratum). The tufa used was from thequarry at Grotta Oscura, which became accessible after the conquest of Veii in 396 BC. Restorations were carried out in 353, 217, 212 (during the Second Punic War), and 87 BC (during the civil war between Marius and Sulla).

The construction technique of the fourth-century wall was uniform throughout: rows of blocks, roughly 59 centimeters, or two Roman feet, high, were laid out alternately by headers and stretchers. The structure was approximately 10 meters high and occasionally more than 4 meters thick. Numerous crews worked on the walls simultaneously, as is evident from the points where their sections joined, sometimes imperfectly. The stretch of wall near the train station suggests that an individual segment extended for a length of approximately 36 meters. Even the quarry's excavation was meticulously conducted, as is evident from the many engravings visible on the blocks; these may be inspection marks identifying the work of the individual stone-yards. The wall was about 11 kilometers long, enclosing an area of around 426 hectares. The territory within the walls was not completely occupied, since strategic needs determined the course of the walls.

Between the end of the Republic and the third century AD, Rome essentially had no defensive walls. Nonetheless, various recognized boundaries defined the area of the city, from the ancient pomerium, which was enlarged several times by Sulla, Claudius, and Vespasian, to the edges of the Augustan regions and to the customs border established under the Flavian emperors. The possibility that barbarians might actually reach the capital became more imminent in the third century and prompted Aurelian (AD 270–75), fighting wars increasingly distant from the city (in particular against Palmyra), to equip Rome with new walls. The work began in 271 and proceeded quite rapidly; the walls must have been essentially complete by his death. Probus (AD 276–82) finished the project.

The walls were built primarily by the bricklayers' guilds and at first served as a somewhat modest defensive system, strong enough to contain the attacks of peoples technologically incapable of conducting sustained sieges. The wall was constructed of brick and measured 6 meters high and 3.50 meters thick, punctuated every 100 Roman feet (29.60 meters) by a square tower with an upper room for ballistae. The most important gates consisted of two identical arched entrances, faced in travertine and framed by two semicircular towers. Some gates had only a single arch, while the most modest gates were simply openings in the center of a section of wall located between two square towers.

The entire course of the fortification was just under 19 kilometers, following a strategic line that took in the hills and, to the extent possible, the larger existing structures. The incorporation of various buildings in the walls attests to the haste in which the work was carried out; in fact, preexisting buildings constitute one tenth of the wall.

The fortification must have seemed inadequate and in need of reinforcement soon after completion. The walls were first restored under Maxentius, and his work is easily distinguished by the manner of construction, primarily opus vittatum (horizontal rows of bricks alternating with small tufa blocks). The excavation of a moat was begun but never completed. In 401–2, during the reigns of Honorius and Arcadius, the walls received their most extensive renovation in the face of attacks by the Goths; the work essentially doubled their height. A covered gallery, outfitted with numerous slit windows, replaced the earlier patrol walkway. Above this ran a new wall walk, furnished with merlons. The inclusion of the Mausoleum of Hadrian during this renovation marked the principal change made in the course of the wall, thus transforming the funerary monument into an outwork on the right bank of the Tiber. The double entrances in some of the gates were reduced to single openings, and the towers were raised and reinforced. With the addition of a second internal gate, connected to the principal entrance by lateral walls, the new gate complexes in effect became independent fortresses.

Other restorations, principally those of Belisarius, were undertaken in the sixth century AD during the Gothic War. The walls were repaired and reconstructed periodically, and they continued to protect the city until 1870, when papal troops defended them for the last time against the Italian army.


The Servian Walls

The following description of the walls begins from the western side of the Capitoline, which was included within the city's fortified area (FIG. 3).

Even during the earliest phase of construction, the walls, built of cappellaccio, ran at a level halfway up the slopes of the hill. A structure inopus quadratum whose remains occupy the summit functioned as a terrace wall during the fourth century BC, although it too may have formed part of the defensive complex. The largest surviving fragment in this area can be seen on Via del Teatro di Marcello. It consists of five rows of cappellaccio blocks incorporated within a modern retaining wall. One of the gates, the Porta Catularia (not shown on plan), was probably located nearby; this provided access to the summit of the hill and to the Area Capitolina by means of a long flight of stairs. Another gate stood on the opposite side of the hill, facing northwest, at the foot of the Arx. This was the Porta Fontinalis, toward which the Vicus Lautumiarum ran from the Forum and from which the Via Flaminia began its course. Several blocks of Grotta Oscura tufa from this gate are still visible in the modern pavement in front of the Museo del Risorgimento.

From here the wall must have run along the saddle that connected the Capitoline to the Quirinal. Excavation on this ridge in preparation for the construction of Trajan's Forum removed every trace of the ancient structure. Two short sections of the wall in cappellaccio belonging to the earliest phase of the fortification are visible on the slope of the Quirinal behind Trajan's Markets, along the modern Salita del Grillo.

A little farther ahead, in Largo Magnanapoli, a more important section of the walls extends for about 10 meters, built of Grotta Oscura tufa and now situated on the circular traffic diverter at the center of the piazza. These are probably the remains of the northern side of a gate, which has been identified as the Porta Sanqualis.

Another fragment can be found in the main hall of Palazzo Antonelli (Largo Magnanapoli no. 158), consisting of a stone arch made of Monteverde tufa (saxum rubrum) set on piers composed partly of the same tufa, partly of Grotta Oscura tufa. The arch was previously thought to be a gate, but the fact that it sits so high on the wall—the original base of the wall is considerably lower—suggests that this was an opening for ballistae. It need not be assigned, as some have argued, to a restoration of 87 BC. The technique employed in the construction appears to be older and would tend to indicate a date between the third and second centuries BC; this being the case, the addition was probably occasioned by the Hannibalic War.

From here the walls continue along the crest of the Quirinal, where two gates must have afforded access to the city: the Porta Salutaris and the Porta Quirinalis, each taking its name from nearby temples, those of Salus and Quirinus, respectively. The first was located near the present-day Via della Dataria, and the second near Via Quattro Fontane. Remains that have come to light on various occasions belong, almost without exception, to the oldest structure in cappellaccio. One short segment can be seen under the Caserma dei Corazzieri on Via XX Settembre, another in Largo S. Susanna inside the traffic divider.

An important stretch of wall in Grotta Oscura tufa, measuring about 12 meters in length, survives on Via Salandra within the Ministero dell'Agricoltura. Here in 1900 a section of the ramparts was excavated, in which a fragment of red figure Attic pottery, dated to the beginning of the fifth century BC, was found. We can thus assign the second phase of the earthwork to this period.

Two important sections in cappellaccio can be seen at the intersection of Via Carducci and Via Salandra, each more than 11 meters long. These are among the finest and most interesting examples of the archaic fortification wall. The presence of opus caementicium in the footings has led some to associate this late addition with the very last restoration of the Servian Wall in 87 BC. It appears more likely, however, that the concrete was added somewhat later, albeit still during the late Republic, to support the aging fortification. Inside a store on the other side of Via Salandra lies another section in Grotta Oscura tufa that is aligned with these two segments and originally connected with the wall preserved within the nearby Ministero dell'Agricoltura.

From here, the walls projected outward, forming a large salient, before turning toward the south; nothing of this section is visible at present, although various fragments were observed during the construction of the area around Piazza Sallustio. One of the city's most important gates, the Porta Collina, stood just beyond the southern turn. The remains of this gate were seen during construction of the former Ministero delle Finanze under the northern corner of the building. The Vicus Portae Collinae—the continuation of the Alta Semita, which was the principal axis of the Quirinal—passed through this gate and split off into Via Nomentana and Via Salaria.

The stretch of walls between Porta Collina and Porta Esquilina (the Arch of Gallienus) flanked the eastern side of the city, the weakest and most exposed section of the enclosed area. For this reason, the walls here were reinforced with an agger (rampart) and fossa (trench) (FIG. 4). Halfway in-between these gates stood Porta Viminalis, located at the center of the present-day Piazza dei Cinquecento.

Several ancient writers describe the defensive system; the Augustan author Strabo (5.3.7) reports the following:

Servius ... added the Esquiline and Viminal, which could easily be attacked from outside. For this reason, a deep trench was excavated, and the dirt was thrown toward the inner side of the trench, forming an earthwork at the edge of the trench that extended for six stades [1,110 meters]. On top of the earthwork they erected a wall with towers that ran from Porta Collina to Porta Esquilina, at the center of which is a third gate that has the same name as the Viminal Hill.

According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus (9.68.3–4), the length of theagger was 7 stades (1,295 meters), a measurement closer, albeit rounded, to the actual length of more than 1,300 meters. Dionysius also records other dimensions, such as the trench's width (100 Roman feet = 29.60 meters) and depth (30 feet = 8.90 meters). The actual measurements are in fact greater (approximately 36 by 17 meters). The discrepancy might be explained by an enlargement of the trench undertaken subsequent to a description of the fossa that Dionysius used as his source. A wall about 10 meters high stood at the edge of the trench and supported the earthen rampart that extended 30–40 meters on the city side. The other end of the rampart was in turn supported by a retaining wall.

Some of the most imposing and best-preserved sections of the wall are to be found on Piazza dei Cinquecento, where parallel segments can be seen on the northern side. The outer section, facing east, is built of Grotta Oscura tufa and Anio tufa, with an inner lining of concrete faced with coarse opus reticulatum, a feature that dates this section to the restoration of 87 BC. This work evidently reinforced the section of the earlier wall in Grotta Oscura tufa that can be seen about a meter to the west. To the west of this section (27.50 meters) are two segments in cappellaccio that constituted part of the agger's retaining wall and thus allow us to observe at first hand its thickness at this point. That these segments are part of the archaic wall is clear not only from the material used, but also from the presence of Grotta Oscura tufa in the restoration, which can be dated to the fourth century BC. The wall in this restoration veers toward the east at a right angle, projecting outward in order to respect an earlier cult place. In fact, an altar made of peperino, now preserved in the Capitoline Museums, was found here with a dedication to Verminus, an otherwise unknown divinity but certainly associated with diseases peculiar to livestock. A. Postumius Albinus, probably consul in 151 BC, dedicated this altar, as well as another in Largo Argentina.

Farther south in the square stands a 30-meter-long section of wall, constructed in various types of tufa (Grotta Oscura, Anio, Monteverde, sperone) with four external buttresses, another remnant of the restoration of 87 BC. This is followed by another small stretch of Grotta Oscura tufa. The two walls in sperone located further ahead, perpendicular to the wall and extending outward, are all that remains of the Porta Viminalis. There follows, to the left of the facade of the Stazione Termini, perhaps the most impressive extant section of the wall in the entire city. It measures approximately 94 meters long, 10 high, and 4 deep and consists of seventeen courses of Grotta Oscura tufa blocks, many of which still preserve their quarry marks. Above the first eight courses, the typical arrangement of alternating headers and stretchers can be observed. Closer inspection reveals two joins, one 20 meters, the other 36 meters from the southernmost point, each associated with a different construction crew. The irregularity of the blocks facing the interior is explained by the fact that the earthen rampart was built up against the inside of the wall. On the outside are two quadrangular buttresses and the remains of brick walls from buildings of the Imperial period. Excavations have unearthed numerous remains in cappellaccio of the agger's inner retaining wall west of and parallel to this last section; these can now be seen in the subterranean passages of the railroad station. The course of this wall is not exactly parallel to its external counterpart and thus confirms that the two belong to different phases.

Farther to the east, in Piazza Manfredo Fanti, is another important section of the wall constructed in Grotta Oscura tufa, which is 23 meters long and forms an obtuse angle; the remains of a semicircular foundation abut the inside, suggesting the possibility of a buttress or tower. Walls in opus reticulatum rest against the outside of the city wall; these clearly belong to a structure built during the last decades of the first century BC, when the walls were no longer needed to defend the city.

A small section of the wall in Grotta Oscura tufa can be seen in Via Carlo Alberto, incorporated at an oblique angle into a modern building. This fragment is aligned with and must originally have reached the nearby Porta Esquilina. This gate, consisting of three entrances, was the terminus of the agger. It was entirely rebuilt by Augustus and subsequently dedicated to Gallienus, whence its modern name (FIG. 53).


Excerpted from Rome and Environs by Filippo Coarelli, James J. Clauss, Daniel P. Harmon, J Anthony Clauss, Pierre A. Mackay. Copyright © 2014 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

Translators' Preface


City Walls


Roman Forum

Imperial Fora


Valley of the Colosseum



Quirinal, Viminal, and the Via Lata

Campus Martius

Forum Holitorium, Forum Boarium, Circus Maximus, and the Baths of Caracalla

Aventine, Trastevere, and the Vatican

Via Appia

Eastern Environs: Viae Latina, Praenestina, Labicana, Tiburtina

Northern Environs: Viae Salaria, Nomentana, Flaminia, Cassia

Western Environs: Viae Aurelia, Campana, Ostiensis



Tivoli and the Tiburtine Territory

The Alban Hills and Praeneste



Illustration Sources


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