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This webpage reproduces an article in
Classical Philology
Vol. 4, No. 4 (Oct. 1909), pp420‑432.

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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p420 The City of Servius and the Pomerium
By Elmer Truesdell Merrill

The Romans of the last century of the Republic were well acquainted with a traditional stage in the early development of their city which took its name from King Servius Tullius. Certain political and religious institutions of their own day were ascribed to him as their founder, and the topographical unity of the city over which he ruled was still marked for them by massive remains, here and there, of the great ring-wall which he was believed to have built. Even when portions of the wall had disappeared from view in the progress of peaceful history through several centuries, its course was still well known. Starting from a point on the Tiber bank near the Capitoline mount, it swung around that ancient citadel on its western flank, ran straight across the intervening valley to skirt the northern edge of the Quirinal, shut in the exposed plateau of Viminal and Esquiline behind a mighty rampart, and in its southern course curved a protecting arm around Caelian and Aventine, and touched the river again close to the last-named hill, leaving the venerated Palatine in the middle of the safely harbored group of the seven hills.

But recent criticism has established the fact that the pieces of the "Servian wall" that the Romans of the late Republic beheld, and some of which we may ourselves see at the present day, are by no means of such hoary antiquity as the reign of (the actual or mythical) Servius Tullius. Yet concerning their age there is variation of opinion. Otto Richter, to whom apparently belongs the credit of being the first effective investigator of the problem, would assign the earliest part of the existing remains to a time as late as the fourth century B.C.1 With this dating Christian Hülsen, in oral lectures a dozen years ago before the students of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome, agreed. The p421latest writer to touch on the subject, Director Carter, of the American School of Classical Studies in Rome,2 remarks that "Appius Claudius or some one of his predecessors is responsible for the change [sc. ut uidetur, from an earth-wall to that of stone]." "Appius Claudius" would generally be understood to mean the decemuir legibus scribundis; but as just above Mr. Carter refers the existing remains of the "Servian wall" to the fourth century (with Richter), he may possibly be in agreement with Pais and others in attributing the "decemviral " legislation to a period no earlier than the fourth century, instead of to the middle of the fifth century, to which the Roman tradition assigned it, and accordingly may identify the decemuir with the homonymous censor of 312 B.C. As regards the period of the stone wall, it certainly could not be pushed so far back as the traditional date of the Decemvirs; for, to say nothing of other evidence, if Rome had been protected by a new and massive line of fortifications at the time of the Gallic invasion, it is not conceivable that the stories of that event would represent the citizens as neither making nor proposing any attempt to prevent the entry of the enemy through their gates. Rome certainly figures in 390 B.C. as a city without any effective ring-wall,3 and with a citadel that was not a perfectly fortified place.

After the retirement of the Gauls, and the determination to rebuild the ruined city, the problem of providing effective fortifications must have been regarded as extremely pressing. Three passages in Livy appear to preserve (though unwittingly, so far as the writer was concerned) some record of the action taken at that time:

1. Liv. VI.4.11 (389 B.C.): eodem anno, ne priuatis tantum operibus cresceret urbs, Capitolium quoque saxo quadrato substructum est, opus uel in hac magnificentia urbis conspiciendum.

Cf. Plin. H. N. XXXVI.104: sed tum senes aggeris uastum spatium et substructiones insanas Capitoli mirabantur.

The reference appears to be not to any work on the platform of the Temple of Jupiter, but to the construction of massive stone p422walls planted, according to the best science of the day, upon a shelf of the hillside, when the slope was less steep, or on the edge of the plain summit, when the cliff was more nearly vertical. In the former case the wall would doubtless be built up vertically to a height to correspond in some measure with the height of the hill, and earth and rubbish would be heaped in behind it to bring the upper surface of the hill to a more extended level, supported by this retaining-wall. In the latter case a wall of less height would be needed; and in either case the side of the hill below the wall was doubtless scarped.4 Thus the citadel was put into a condition of effective defense within a brief time after the Gallic invasion, though the work could by no means have been completed within the year, as Livy appears to say. These citadel-walls naturally formed a part of the total enceinte in the circuit of which they stood.

The next task was the much greater one of replacing the earlier, and now useless, ring-wall, mainly, doubtless, of earth, by one of stone. This would naturally be somewhat postponed, on account of the stress of poverty, and the pressure of making the interior of the city properly habitable. Meanwhile the Capitol would at any rate serve as a safe refuge from any sudden storm of war, and as a center for the defense of the city. The construction of the rampart and wall that survived so many centuries must have been a work of years. The remaining two passages from Livy preserve the mention of two incidents in the history of the task:

2. Liv. VI.32.1.2 [377‑376 B.C.]: paruo interuallo ad respirandum debitoribus dato, postquam quietae res ab hostibus erant, celebrari de integro iuris dictio, et tantum abesse spes ueteris leuandi fenoris ut tributo nouum fenus contraheretur in murum a censoribus locatum saxo quadrato faciundum.

The construction of this great work at the expense of an impoverished people naturally dragged along through a considerable period, and the third passage from Livy shows it yet incomplete a score and more of years later:

p423 3. Liv. VII.20.9 [354‑353 B.C.]: in Faliscos eodem noxios crimine uis belli conuersa est, sed hostes nusquam inuenti. cum populatione peragrati fines essent, ab oppugnatione urbium temperatum, legionibusque Romam reductis reliquum anni muris turribusque reficiendis consumptum.

Herr Richter erroneously says that this last passage is the only one that refers to work upon the wall during this period.5 He apparently overlooked the two passages first cited, or interprets them in some other manner. He furthermore objects (and Mr. Carter repeats him in this)6 that this last passage refers to repairs upon the wall, which must, therefore, have been earlier built. But the Romans of Livy's time were so thoroughly assured that the wall as they beheld its remnants was a construction, in the main, of the time of Servius, that it is quite natural for Livy to interpret any such reference to such labor as pertaining to a system of repairs, even though it was in reality the substitution of a stone wall for a ruined earthwork of much earlier date. In fact, such a massive construction of masonry could hardly have needed extensive repairs within the first few decades of its peaceful existence.

Yet whatever the variance of opinion concerning the restoration, or construction, of this later wall, all modern authorities (including Mr. Carter) appear to agree that it ran upon the line of the earlier fortification of the "City of Servius," which therefore included the Aventine.

Let us turn now to another archaeological survival. A few Romans of the late Republic, including mainly antiquaries and students of augural science, were acquainted with the earlier existence and official recognition of something called the "pomerium." But their knowledge was confused and fragmentary, because the thing itself belonged to the very early history of their city, and authentic records were lacking. That it was in some sense connected with the sacred, ritual boundary of the city, they were agreed. Of its etymology they were also assured. It evidently was derived from post and moerus, or murus. Some believed it therefore to be properly a strip of land along the inside of the actual ring-wall that was, or according to ritual law should be, left p424free from habitation or cultivation. It was a space immediately "behind the wall." Others believed it to be a similar strip of unoccupied land running along the outside of the wall. It was the consecrated space "behind which the wall" was, or "behind the wall" from a standpoint inside the city. Others yet, with the generosity of impartial minds, were willing to make their etymology squint Janus-like in either direction at discretion. It was the strip of land on both sides of the wall.7 But whatever their confusion of idea, they apparently all agreed that the pomerium, as the ritual boundary of the city, was formally advanced from time to time during the early days, to correspond with the successive enlargements of the city.8 They also agreed that Servius Tullius was the last magistrate who had thus advanced the pomerium,9 and that his pomerium did not include the Aventine,10 though his wall did.

This alleged incongruity of action on the part of Servius has complicated much of the modern discussion of the pomerium. But it only moderately perturbed the spirit of the ancient scholars. They accepted as indubitable fact the tradition concerning the extent of the Servian pomerium, and they had before their eyes the actual Servian wall in its sweep that included the Aventine. Despite the clear indications contained in the definitions and early traditions that they cited, they evidently felt no constraining sense of the necessary close spatial relation in early times between the pomerium and the actual ring-wall. The exclusion of the Aventine from the pomerium did indeed appear to them a strange thing, and they busied themselves with various conjectures as to the reason for the exclusion.11 These reasons, or others that appeared to themselves more sensible, have also been cited with more or less satisfaction by modern scholars.12 But ancients and moderns p425alike have not confronted the basis difficulty. The serious question is not, "What reason had Servius for the exclusion of the Aventine from the pomerium?" but, "In consideration of the ritual nature of the pomerium, how could any reason explain the alleged fact of wrenching the wall and the pomerium so far apart, and especially of running the wall so far outside of the pomerium?" Reasons for the exclusion of the Aventine by Servius from the pomerium that involve a total wreck of all the ritual nature of the pomerium, which, nevertheless, he himself ritually advanced (according to the Roman belief), are worse than useless.

A more recent mode of avoiding one division of this particular difficulty consists in the denial that Servius did advance the pomerium, and in the assumption therefore that the pomerium of the City of the Four Regions was the last pomerium before Sulla's time. But neither Richter, nor Wissowa, nor Carter argues the matter out, or states even briefly the reason for the position he espouses.13 But it must spring from the difficulty of understanding how Servius could have been led to advance the pomerium at all without advancing it far enough to take in the Aventine, which lay within his ring-wall. But their position requires the arbitrary rejection of the ancient statement that Servius did advance the pomerium, and involves further the belief that the ancient, and apparently reasonable, theory, of the nature of the pomerium had broken down and been forgotten in precisely that early period when religious conceptions were most active.

The proper answer to the difficulty appears to be that the "City of Servius Tullius," the city marked by that original Servian ring-wall which the later Romans confused with the magnificent fortifications of the fourth century, did not take in the Aventine, and did not extend beyond the pomerium. Once admit this, and all difficulty connected with the wide separation in that early day between fortification-wall and the boundary-line of the pomerium (with the pomerium far inside instead of outside the wall) at once disappears. There seems to be no reason for the belief that the fortifications of the fourth century ran on precisely the line of the p426prehistoric Servian wall except the negative one of the absence of reference in the Roman tradition to any change of course. But that is easily explained by the extreme meagerness and confusion of records of all events during that period. The Romans of the late Republic looked back vaguely to the City of Servius as the first and only stage of an organized urban community in their history; and as they had lost all knowledge of the later construction of the fortifications then visible, they naturally measured the topographical extent of that earlier urban community by the line of the wall with which they were acquainted.

It is easy enough to believe that in the long interval between the time of Servius and the building of the fourth-century ring-wall all proper understanding of the theory of the pomerium had disappeared. It is easy to comprehend from the mental attitude of the later Romans of the Republic how bits of disjointed and scattered tradition could persist without leading to the proper piecing of them together. But it is by no means easy to believe that all proper understanding of the theory of the pomerium could have vanished in the comparatively brief interval that intervened between the organization of the Four-Region urbs and that of the urbs of Servius,14 whether or no we accept the statement of the ancients that Servius advanced the pomerium. Yet this magic vanishing must be believed by those who would cling to the unnecessary notion that the original Servian ring-wall included the Aventine.

The existence of a pagus Auentiniensis can work no difficulty in accepting the supposition that I have advanced: for even though the urbs may be properly marked by the inclusion within its wall of oppida and adjacent pagi,15 yet the existence of a true pagus Auentiniensis in the time of Servius cannot be substantiated,16 and p427furthermore, the existence of the pagus Ianiculensis17 is a clear enough indication that pagi may be outside a ring-wall.

Nor can any difficulty in believing that the urbs of Servius did not include the Aventine arise from the fact that the worship of Diana on that mount is attributed by the ancients to his foundation: for though we may not go so far in skepticism as does Ettore Pais,18 there is abundance of reason to believe that this cult was introduced much later than the days of Servius.19

But even if we accept the tradition that Servius established that worship on the Aventine (Liv. I.45, et al.), it by no means follows that the hill must have been included within his ring-wall. It was sufficient for the indication of the now pre-eminent position of Rome in the Latin league that the common shrine should be built in the immediate vicinity of the dominant city, as the temple of the Latin Jupiter stood on the Alban mount, near, but not within the corporate limits of, the earlier head of the league. Indeed, the inclusion of the new league-cult within Rome itself would have been the sign of the subjugation to Rome — as the gods of conquered communities were transferred to the city of the victor. It would have gone far beyond any sign of Rome's mere hegemony among allied states.

The hypothetical City of the Four Regions is held by all who believe in its existence to have extended as far toward the Aventine as the pomerium of Servius, and to have been well settled in that southern portion. The Aventine strategically commanded it as fully as it did the corresponding part of the intra-pomerial City of Servius. Any argument for the necessary inclusion of the Aventine within the early Servian wall would appear to apply with possibly equal force to the period of the City of the Four Regions. But the Aventine certainly was not included within the putative ring-wall of the City of the Four Regions. Therefore no sufficient strategical reason can be advanced for believing that it must have been included within the Servian City.

p428 But in the interval between the reign of Servius and the fourth century, conditions had greatly changed. The inclusion of the Aventine within the ring-wall was now a strategical necessity, if the new and elaborate scheme of fortification was to correspond with the demands of the age and the progress that had been made in military science. The pagus Auentiniensis had doubtless increased in population, prominent temples had been erected on the Aventine, and the hill commanded not merely the crowded business section that had grown up about the Emporium on the Tiber-bank, but also the Circus Maximus and Forum Boarium, which had risen in importance, as had also the strategic control of the early course of the roads to Ostia and to the Alban region, which the possession of the Aventine assured.

The pomerium is doubtless properly the entire city-area20 included within the ritual furrow.21 Without is ager, within is urbs.22 Under the divine protection lies all within this boundary — all that is "behind the wall;" and the transfer in popular thought of the idea of the pomerium from the included area to the including boundary is easy and natural — precisely as to many people a circle suggests the periphery rather than the surface. There seems to be every reason why in the most ancient days the idea should prevail that, as the boundaries of the corporate urbs were from time to time enlarged, the new city also needed the protection of the gods to be secured through the due extension of the ritual furrow around it, as the divine protection had been extended around the earlier, smaller settlement. The apparently unquestioned belief of the Romans of the late Republic that such extensions had marked the early history of their city (p424, n2) corresponds to natural inference, and its innate reasonableness need not arouse suspicion concerning it. Those later Romans were far from being well enough informed in the theory of the matter to draw the inferences that appear so p429easy to us, and to project them backward into the vacant places of facts. And when the long-standing difficulty caused by the reputed action of Servius has been removed, there seems no sufficient reason to believe that the pomerium was ritually immovable.23 Even Wissowa24 concedes that during the early period the pomerium was repeatedly extended, though he also says that at the time of the Servian constitution "die Meinung zum Durchbruche kam, dass das Pomerium der Stadt, das früher wiederholt vorgeschoben worden war, unverrückbar bleiben müsse, und so bei der weiteren Ausdehnung des angebauten Terrains, oder sogar des Mauerringes, das neue Stadtgebiet nicht in die Weichsbildsgrenze aufnahm." But he of course starts with the preconception that the City of Servius actually did extend, in its walled area, far beyond the pomerium, by including the Aventine — a thing which I have ventured to doubt. Moreover, for such a new conception to crystallize into conviction requires a long period of time during which the aspect of the finished city as a sacred entity, judged complete for all time, dwells before the eyes, and impresses itself upon the mind. To assume that this period of crystallization was that which elapsed between the constitution of the Four-Region City and that of the City of Servius, tolerably brief as that time apparently was, is to beg the question, considering the lack of necessity to believe that Servius actually advanced his wall beyond his pomerium. If it were necessary to explain thus the action of later days, it would be more reasonable to imagine that this crystallization into new conviction took place between the time of Servius, whose wall lay properly within the pomerium, and the fourth century, when the new wall and rampart were built. For the City of Servius was to the Roman belief the one complete stage in the urban development. The City of the Four Regions was at most but a hazy notion of the antiquaries.

p430 Wissowa's attempt (loc. cit.) to fortify his argument by analogy through the attribution to this period of other conceptions of final completeness of categories might well be turned to the support of the hypothesis advanced in this paper. To the period marked by the Servian constitution belong the final closing of the album of the patrician families, of the pantheon of the old gods (di indigetes), of the period of successive extensions of the pomerium. Hereafter all additions must stand on a new and inferior basis. All new families united with the community must rank as plebeians; all new gods admitted to worship must be classed as di nouensides; all newly populated suburbs must be content to be left outside the divinely consecrated city. The Servian pomerium (not the pomerium of the Four Regions) was to be the final pomerium of Rome, and neither this pomerium nor the Servian wall that ran inside of it included the Aventine.

To another occasion must be left the discussion of the probable boundaries in other directions of the City of Servius, and of its topographical and other relations to the assumed City of the Four Regions, with which some considerations appear to make it almost possible to believe the Servian City identical, save for its organization.

But it may be not out of place to subjoin a few words concerning certain later operations about the pomerium. The dictator Sulla "proferundi pomerii titulum quaesiuit" (Gell. loc. cit.). It does not appear likely that his professional advisers (doubtless chiefly the augurs) violated through servility the traditions of their craft. They do not appear to have truckled to any desire of Sulla to emulate the royal founders of the city. They probably, in contrast to some of our modern scholars, had no idea that the pomerium of Servius was ritually unalterable, though they doubtless wondered that it had not been advanced since his day. But they honestly imagined that such a formal religious rite as that of the extension of the pomerium must have been symbolic, instead of being due to the simple faith of an early day that when the growing city needed the legal extension of its corporate limits, the new precincts also should be placed under the protection of p431the gods, as the old had been. Starting with this ecclesiastical preconception, and observing the fact that the kings who were reported as having advanced the pomerium had enlarged by conquest the territorial possessions of Rome, the Sullan augurs naturally decided, as Gellius (loc. cit.) later recorded (probably on the authority of Messalla), "habebat autem ius proferendi pomerii, qui populum Romanum agro de hostibus capto auxerat."25

Sulla accordingly revived the ancient rite, and advanced the pomerium, and, if we may trust the literary sources, Julius Caesar26 and Augustus27 did likewise. Claudius, who had a scholar's taste for the antique and useless, followed suit,28 as did also various later emperors. But neither Sulla, nor Julius Caesar, nor Augustus included the Aventine within his extension. Claudius, however, did so. The reason why the Aventine was left outside by the three earlier rulers, and taken in by Claudius, has been set down as a mystery by modern writers, though an explanation lies ready at hand. The advisers of Sulla found in their grubbings that the Aventine, though inside the "Servian" wall, had, singularly enough, been left by Servius outside the pomerium. No reason for this fact lay within their official knowledge, but their official decision was the prudent one that proper ritual reasons precluded the inclusion of the Aventine even at this later day. Guesses were plenty concerning the reason that underlay the curious action of Servius (cf. nn11 and 12), but Julius and Augustus followed the decision given Sulla. Claudius, however, had an investigator's spirit, and took up the matter anew. Whether he arrived at the explanation of the apparent anomaly in the action of Servius that I have ventured to set forth in this paper cannot p432be said; but at any rate he (properly enough) decided that no sufficient ritual reason existed for the exclusion of the Aventine from the pomerium, if the pomerium was to be advanced at all. He therefore reversed the decision of the Sullan tribunal on that point, and his extension finally included the Aventine (Gell. loc. cit.). From that time the anomalous condition that had prevailed during later Republican centuries disappeared, and the pomerium-boundary ran altogether outside the city ring-wall, as it had not done since the fourth-century wall-builders left the Servian pomerium behind them with the Servian wall.29

The University of Chicago

The Author's Notes:

1 O. Richter Über antike Steinmetzzeichen (Berlin, 1885); id., Top.2, p43.

2 "Roma Quadrata and the Septimontium," Amer. Jour. of Arch., 2d ser. XII (1908), pp172 ff.

3 Chr. Hülsen, in the lectures referred to above.

4 J. H. Middleton Remains of Ancient Rome I, pp112, 227; Richter Top.2, p42.

5 Richter Top.2, p43, n6.

6 Carter loc. cit., p175 n3.

7 Liv. I.44.5, and the summary in Gilbert Gesch. und Top. der Stadt Rom I, pp114 ff.

8 Liv. I.44.5; Tac. Ann. XII.24; Gell. XIII.14.2.

9 Liv. I.44.3; Dionys. IV.13; Gell. XIII.14; Tac. Ann. XII.23.

10 Sen. Breu. Vit. 13.8; Gell. XIII.14; and probably Fest. 249.

11 Sen. et Gell. loc. cit.

12 Cf.e.g., Mommsen "Der Begriff des Pomerium," Röm. Forschungen II, p37, n30; Jordan Top. I.1, p279; Gilbert Gesch. u. Top. II, pp185 ff.; Carter loc. cit., p183 (evidently following Wissowa; cf. p425, n1).

13 Richter Top.2, p40; G. Wissowa Religion und Kultus der Römer, p37; Carter loc. cit., p183 (who promises — loc. cit., n1 — the publication of an article on the pomerium).

14 Even Mr. Carter believes that the Four-Region City had a corporate existence before the City of Servius, and supports his belief by a new and striking argument from the "Calendar of Numa."

15 Mommsen Staatsrecht III, pp114 ff.; Kornemann, "Pales and Urbs," Klio (1905), pp72 ff.

16 The only reference to the pagus Auent. is in CIL XIV.2105 (from the Augustan age): cf. Hülsen in Pauly-Wissowa II.2282, corrected in Jordan-Hülsen Top. I.3, p153, n8.

17 Cf. Jordan Top. I.1, p278, n43.

18 Cf. E. Pais "The Legend of Servius Tullius," Ancient Legends of Roman History, pp128 ff.

19 The lack of mention of the Aventine Diana in the "Calendar of Numa" may look in the same direction; but other reasons for the omission than this, or than that mentioned by Mr. Carter (loc. cit., p176) might be rationally proposed.

20 Cf. Gell. loc. cit.; Varr. L. L. V.143; Fest. 250; Mommsen in Röm. Forsch. II, pp29 ff.; Gilbert Gesch. u. Top. II, pp318, n2; 322 n2; D. Detlefsen "Das Pomerium Roms unde die Grenzen Italiens," Hermes XXI (1886), p508; Carter, loc. cit., p177.

21 Varr. L. L., loc. cit.; Plut. Rom. 11; Dion Cass. frag. 5.2.

22 Detlefsen loc. cit., pp505, 507; Richter Top.2, p32.

23 Mr. Carter appears to have reached the belief not merely that the pomerium of the City of the Four Regions was ritually immovable (loc. cit., p183), but even that it was the only proper ritual pomerium that Rome ever had: but of course he starts with the same preconception as that of Richter and Wissowa. His promised article on the pomerium will doubtless explain the reasons for his belief.

24 Wissowa loc. cit., p37.

25 That their decision did not pass without criticism is indicated by the remark in Seneca loc. cit.: "Sullam ultimum Romanorum protulisse pomerium, quod numquam prouinciali sed Italico agro adquisito proferre moris apud antiquos fuit;" but there is quite the contrary here of any indication that the pomerium of Servius was believed by any to be irreformable.

26 Cf. Gell. loc. cit.; Dion Cass. XLIII.50.1; XLIV.49.2; but Mommsen Staatsrecht II, p738, against whom Detlefsen loc. cit., p513.

27 Cf. Tac. Ann. XII.23; Vopisc. Aurel. 21; Dio Cass. LV.6.6. But no mention occurs in the Mon. Ancyr.

28 Gell. loc. cit.; Tac. Ann. XII.23, 24; S. C. de imp. Vesp., ll. 14 f. (CIL VI.930); CIL VI.1231 a, b, c.

29 The main contention of this paper was briefly suggested by the writer in 1904 in a review (unsigned) of Mr. Platner's Topography and Monuments of Ancient Rome, published in the (New York) Nation, No. 2045. Since this paper was written, and, indeed, in type, there has come to my knowledge an address of Herr P. Graffunder before the Archaeologische Gesellschaft of Berlin (cf. Berl. Philol. Wochenschrift, November 7, 1908, p1421). But even if his conclusions concerning the date of extant remains of the Servian wall be accepted in their entirety, my main contention remains untouched; only the date of the extension of the ring-wall around the Aventine must be pushed further back than the fourth century, though not necessarily to the age of Servius. But against the acceptance of Herr Graffunder's views there appear, at this distance, to be some valid considerations to be urged. The dictum of Mommsen concerning the "Roman foot," the date of its introduction, and the immediate universality of its use, is by no means unassailable; the difficulties of making at the present day inerrant measurements of badly weathered stones must be recognized; the question whether Roman stone-cutters, working probably with some haste on this particular task, and working on rude materials, invariably observed micrometric accuracy, is a very practical question; and, granted everything else, the possibility appears very reasonable that in a hurriedly constructed wall, not requiring great accuracy of joints, and betraying at the present day carelessness of structure, old materials may have been used to a considerable extent, and in just such situations as those in which Herr Graffunder believes he found stones of the "Oscan" standard. (Of course the Gauls did not wreck any ring-wall of Rome; cf. p421 above).

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