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p392 Pomerium

Article on pp392‑396 of

Samuel Ball Platner (as completed and revised by Thomas Ashby):
A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome,
London: Oxford University Press, 1929.


The less advanced student should probably first read
the entry Pomoerium in Smith's Dictionary.

Pomerium: the boundary line of the site destined for the city, which site, according to the rules of augural procedure, was inaugurated as a templum, or rectangular area, within which auspices could be taken, marked off from the ager publicus by a line of stones at regular intervals. The formal founding of a city is thus described by Varro (LL V.143): oppida condebant in Latio Etrusco ritu multi, id est iunctis bobus, tauro et vacca, interiore aratro circumagebant sulcum (hoc faciebant religionis causa die auspicato), ut fossa et muro essent muniti. terram unde exculpserant, fossam vocabant et introrsus iactam murum; post ea qui fiebat orbis, urbis principium, qui quod erat post murum, postmoerium dictum, eoque auspicia urbana finiuntur. Thus the furrow represented the moat; and the earth thrown up by the plough, the wall of the city. The line urbis principium or pomerium, behind (i.e. within) the murus, marked the limit of the inaugurated district within which auspices could be taken. The word pomerium was soon transferred to the strip of land between this line and the actual city wall, and was then used in both senses (Dionys. I.88); while at a later period it seems to have been still further extended in application and to have been incorrectly used of the strip on both sides of the wall (Liv. I.44).

In Rome the first pomerium is that of the Palatine city, the wall of which must have been built on the slope of the hill; but its line can only be a matter of conjecture, and that which Tacitus (Ann. XII.24) p393describes as marked out by Romulus (a foro boario . . . sulcus designandi oppidi coeptus, ut magnam Herculis aram amplecteretur; inde certis spatiis interiecti lapides per ima montis Palatini ad aram Consi, mox curias veteres, tunc ad sacellum Larum) is evidently the course followed by the Luperci in his day. It does not agree with Varro ap. Solin. I.17 (cf. Roma Quadrata (1)). At three points in the circuit, the plough was carefully lifted up, and carried for a few feet. These breaks in the furrow marked the position of the three gates required for every settlement by Etruscan ritual (Varro cit. 142; Serv. ad Aen. I.422; Dionys. II.50; Fest. 144; Solin. I.24; Jord. I.1.162‑178; AJP 1901, 420‑425; Richter, Älteste Wohnstätte des röm. Volkes (Berlin 1891); Mitt. 1892, 292‑295; HJ 35‑45; AJA 1908, 172‑183; Carter, Journ. Brit. Am. Arch. Soc. IV.246‑254; Pl. 35‑38; Ausonia 1912, 177‑198; TAPA 1913, 19‑24; AJA 1918, 176).

The successive stages in the growth of the city (see Septimontium, Regiones Quattuor) mark corresponding enlargements of its pomerium, but when the Servian wall was constructed the line of the pomerium was not extended to coincide with it, but remained as it had been during the previous period, the Esquiline remaining outside it (for the Aventine, which was probably not included within the wall until after 390 B.C., see CP 1909, 420‑432). And so it remained until the time of Sulla. He was the first Roman to extend the pomerium, and he based his action on this principle (Gell. XIII.14.3): habebat autem ius proferendi pomerii qui populum Romanum agro de hostibus capto auxerat. In his time this referred to territory in Italy (Sen. de brev. vit. 13; Mommsen, Staatsrecht II.738), but later it was expanded to cover the ager barbaricus (Hist. Aug. Aurel. 21). Of Sulla's extension nothing is known, nor of similar action ascribed to Julius Caesar (Cass. Dio XLIII.50), Augustus (Tac. Ann. XII.23; Cass. Dio V.6), Nero, Trajan and Aurelian (Hist. Aug. Aurel. 21).

A recent attempt has been made (BC 191, 24‑32) by Laffranchi to show that Augustus' extension of the pomerium occurred thrice, in 27, 18 and 8 B.C., from an examination of his coins. Those used as evidence are Cohen, Aug. 114, 116, 117 (not 177); Babelon, Iulia 153, 155, 156; BM Imp. I. p102, Nos. 628‑630; 104, Nos. 637‑642; cf. p29.

An extension by Claudius in 49 A.D. is proved by unimpeachable literary testimony (Tac. Ann. XII.24; Gell. XIII.14.7) and by the discovery of inscribed terminal cippi. These rectangular cippi bear on the top the word Pomerium, on the front the inscription recording the fact of the extension, and on the left side the number of the stone. This number is found on four of the eight cippi so far discovered; on the others it has been obliterated or was never cut.

The numbered cippi are:

(a) CIL VI.31537a, found in situ south-east of monte Testaccio, with the number VIII (d in text fig. 4).

p394 (b) CIL VI.1231b = 31537b, found near the porta Metrovia inside the Aurelian wall, probably not far from its original site, with the number XXXV (c in text fig. 4).

(c) NS 1909, 45; BC 1909, 130, found in situ about 70 metres west of the Via Salaria and about 400 north of the Porta Salaria, with the number CIIX (x in text fig. 4).

(d) NS 1913, 68; BC 1913, 67; AJA 1914, 400, found in situ 32.50 metres west of the Via Flaminia and 330 metres north of the Porta del Popolo, with the number CXXXIX.


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The unnumbered cippi are:

(e) NS 1909, 44; BC 1909, 132, a fragment found close to the Tre Archi, where the railway lines pass through the Aurelian wall north of the Porta Maggiore. This cippus was probably very near its original site.

(f) CIL VI.1231c = 31537c, found in 1738 in the Vigna Nari outside the Porta Salaria, very near (c). It was not reported as found in situ. (b in text fig. 4).

p395 (g) CIL VI.1231a = 31537d, found in the campus Martius near S. Lucia della Chiavica, not absolutely in situ, but probably not far removed from its proper place (a in text fig. 4).

(h) NS 1912, 97; BC 1912, 259‑260; AJA 1913, 444: another cippus corresponding in form to those of Claudius but without any inscription except the word pomerium at the top, found under the new Palazzo delle Ferrovie, at the corner of the Viale del Policlinico, just outside the Porta Pia, not exactly in situ.

If we suppose that the line began at the river south of the Aventine, where the Aurelian wall afterwards commenced, the distance to (a), marked VIII, is approximately 570 metres, almost exactly eight times 71 (568). 71 metres equal 240 Roman feet, the bini actus, which was the length of the long side of a iugerum, the distance between the openings in the specus of the aqueducts (Vitruv. VIII.6.3), and the distance between their terminal cippi, so that it is quite probable that the cippi of the pomerium were at the same distance apart. From (a) to (b), marked VIII and XXXV, is about 1920 metres, which again nearly equals 71 × 27 (1917); and from (c) to (d), CIIX and CXXXIX, the distance might easily be made about 2201 metres, that is, 71 × 31. If this line continued to the Tiber directly from (d), about 300 metres, there would have been three or four more cippi, 142 or 143 in all (BC 1913, 68‑70). Further, if the pomerium passing through these four numbered points followed in general the line afterwards taken by the Aurelian wall, leaving out such projections as that made by the wall south of the baths of Caracalla, (e) would naturally fall into it, and (f) and (h) might be supposed to have been moved somewhat from their proper places. The line on the western side of the city is, however, entirely uncertain, for (g) is probably near its original location, and the Iseum and the porticus Octaviae were outside the pomerium in the time of Tiberius (Cass. Dio LV.8), and when Vespasian celebrated his triumph in 71 A.D. (Josephus, Bell. Iud. VII.5.4 (123 sqq.)).

Vespasian also extended the pomerium. Permission was given him in the lex de imperio (CIL VI.930, 14‑16), and three inscribed cippi of his line have been found (e, f, g in text fig. 4):

(i) CIL VI.31538a; BC 1882, 154, found about 1540‑1550 outside the porta Pinciana with the number XXXI. The original is lost and its exact position cannot now be determined, but it was probably about 150 metres in a west-north‑west direction from the gate (Hermes 1887, 621‑622).

(k) CIL VI.1232 = 31538b = NS 1886, 232, found in 1856 near the porta Ostiensis, just inside the Aurelian wall and 60 metres from (a), with the number XLVII on its left side and P·CCCXLVII on the right.

(m) CIL VI.31538c; NS 1900, 15‑17; BC 1899, 270‑279, found under the church of S. Cecilia in Trastevere, built into a late wall and probably not in its original position. This cippus has no number, and p396the face where the distance to the next stone was inscribed has been broken off.

The termination of Trajan is thought to be recorded in a coin of 107 (?) (Cohen, Trajan 539), which was restored in two contorniates (BC 1919, 35‑38).

Under Hadrian in 121 A.D. the line was again marked out, and four of his cippi have been found, but they record a restoration and not an extension:

(n) CIL VI.1233a = 31539a; NS 1887, 181; BC 1887, 149, found in 1867 under No. 18 Piazza Sforza Cesarini, with the number VI on the left side and P·CCCCLXXX on the right. (h in text fig. 4).

(o) CIL VI.31539b, found in 1732 or 1735 in the foundations of a wall near S. Stefano del Cacco (i in text fig. 4).

(p) CIL VI.1233b = 31539c, copied in the sixteenth century "ante domum Caesiam," which gives no evidence of its original locality.

(q) There seems to be good reason for accepting the account of Ligorio (Taur. XV.205) of the discovery of a cippus near the so‑called Porta Chiusa (marked Porta(?), just south of the Castra Praetoria in text fig. 4); the text is identical with that of CIL VI.31539a (LS II.248).

For Commodus we have Cohen, Comm. 39, 40, 181‑185 (BC cit. 39‑43).

For a full discussion of the pomerium during the empire, see Jord. I.1.319‑336; Hermes 1886, 497‑562; 1887, 615‑626; Mél. 1901, 97‑99; CIL VI pp3106‑3107; BC 1896, 246‑248; NS 1913, 69; Homo, Aurélien 224‑231.

A comparison of the cippi thus far found seems to justify certain conclusions:

(1) that north of the Pincian the pomerium of the empire lay somewhat beyond the line of the Aurelian wall; (2) that the thirteenth, and most of the twelfth, region of Augustus lay within it; (3) that at some points (cf. (b), (e), (h)) pomerium and wall coincided; (4) that, whatever may have been the case with the line of Claudius (see above), the pomerium of Vespasian and Hadrian crossed the campus Martius approximately from the ara Ditis to the south end of the Saepta (cf. (n), (o)), and that the part of the campus north of this line was outside the pomerium; (5) that the discovery of one stone (m) does not, under the circumstances, make it probable that Vespasian extended the pomerium across the Tiber; (6) that the distances from the next cippi which are indicated on two stones (k, n), and the inscribed numbers do not afford sufficient data to enable us to draw the rest of the line except possibly for part of that of Claudius.

For the octroi line of M. Aurelius and Commodus, see Regiones Quattuordecim (p444), Muri Aureliani; BC 1892, 93; Mitt. 1897, 150. 
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