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p509 Tarpeius Mons

p509 Article on pp509‑510 of

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


Tarpeius Mons: the earliest name of the Capitoline hill, if we are to believe the statements of Roman and Greek writers (Varro, L. L. V.41: hic mons ante Tarpeius dictus a virgine Vestali Tarpeia, quae ibi ab Sabini necata armis et sepulta, cuius nominis monimentum relictum quod etiam nunc eus rupes Tarpeium appellatur saxum; Prop. IV.4.93; Dionys. III.69.4; Plut. Rom. 18; Steph. Byz. 355). It is also used of the whole hill, apparently, in Not. app. (montes VII . . . Tarpeius) and in Auct. de vir. ill. (II.7), while in other passages it might refer to the whole hill or, more probably, only to the Capitolium (Liv. I.55; Suet. Iul. 44; cf. ad Her. IV.43; denominatio est quae ab rebus propinquis et finitimis trahit orationem, qua possit intelligi res quae non suo vocabulo sit appellata. id aut ab inventione conficitur ut si quis de Tarpeio loquens eum Capitolium nominet). The corresponding Greek name was Ταρπηΐος λόφος, which occurs with some frequency (Dionys. III.69.4; IV.60.3, 4; 61.1; VII.35.4; Plut. Rom. 18, Numa 7; Steph. Byz. 355), or ὄρος (Cass. Dio, fr. VII.11.5; Steph. Byz. 604; Lyd. de mens. IV.155).

From the precipitous cliffs of this hill criminals, convicted of capital crimes, were hurled to their death (Gell. XI.18.8; XX.1.53), and these cliffs were regularly called Tarpeium saxum (Varro, L. L. V.41; Liv. VI.20.12; Fest. 340; cf. ib. 34; Tac. Ann. VI. (19) 25; de vir. ill. XXIV.6; LXVI.8; Ampel. XXVII.4; Prop. III.11.45), saxum alone (Liv. XXV.7.13; Sen. contr. I.3.3, 4) or Tarpeium alone (Plin. NH VII.143). Twice Tarpeius is used alone, with reference to other things than executions, where mons is probably to be supplied (Plin. NH XXVIII.15; Tert. de spect. 5). Other variants in Latin poetry are arx Tarpeia (Verg. Aen. VIII.652‑654; Prop. IV.4.29‑30), and Tarpeia sedes (Verg. Aen. VIII.347 and cf. supra, 55, 97).

The alleged tradition that the Capitoline was first called mons Tarpeius was probably only an invention of the Roman antiquarians, and p510Tarpeius was most probably, according to the general rule in such cases, derived from that of a gens Tarpeia, some of whom lived in the immediate neighbourhood, and one of whose women was the heroine of the myth of Tarpeia which circulated in so many versions.1 For some discussion of this question and references to the abundant literature, see Sanders, Univ. of Michigan Studies, I.1‑47; Pais, Anc. Legends 96‑108; Storia I2.430, 538; Rev. Arch. 1908, I.64‑74; Rosch. V.111‑116.

That Tarpeius mons continued in use to some extent is shown by an inscription of 259 A.D. (NS 1892, 407; CIL VI.37170: deae Virgini Caelestis praesentissimo numini loci montis Tarpei), and there seems to be no doubt that it was sometimes applied to the whole Capitoline hill, but, like Capitolinus, that it was also used of the southern summit alone.

Rupes Tarpeia is clearly identified by Varro (L. L., V.41) with saxum Tarpeium, but nowhere in extant Latin literature is this name found in connection with the execution of criminals. In several passages it is closely connected with the cult of Jupiter (Sil. Ital. III.623; X.360; Prop. IV.1.7; Claud. 28.45; Firm. Mat. math. I.10.17), once with the temple of Saturn (Lucan III.154), once it occurs with no topographical indication (Liv. VI.17.4), while Tacitus (Hist. III.71) connects it with the centum gradus, of which nothing further is known. The equivalent of rupes in Greek seems to be κρημνός (Dionys. VII.35.4; VIII.78.5), or πέτρα (Plut. Rom. 18).

There has been much divergence of opinion as to the position of this saxum from which criminals were thrown, but the unequivocal statement that it overhung the forum (Dionys. VII.35.4; VIII.78.5), and that executions could be seen by all the people assembled there, together with the close connection between rupes Tarpeia and the temple of Jupiter, point clearly to the cliffs at the south-west corner of the hill, over the ancient vicus Iugarius and the modern Piazza della Consolazione.2 A recent attempt to locate the saxum on the arx (Pais, Anc. Legends 109‑127) is unsuccessful, and takes no account of Suetonius (Iul. 44), where Tarpeius mons at any rate could not possibly mean the arx overlooking the forum. For further discussion and literature, see Jord. I.2.127‑131, and Capitolinus Mons.


The Authors' Notes:

1 There was a statue of Tarpeia in the temple of Jupiter in the Porticus Metelli (Fest. 363).

2 Jordan (Capitol, Forum, und Sacra Via, 5) makes a good point in noticing that the saxum, from which traitors (perfidi) were thrown, was close to the temple of Fides (q.v.): see Hülsen in Festschrift für Kiepert, 215, and plan.


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