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Bill Thayer

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Article on pp346‑348 of

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

 p346  Mundus: According to our ancient authorities, there was a holy place in Rome, called mundus, or probably mundus Cereris (Fest. 142: Cereris qui mundus appellatur, qui ter in anno solet patere; VIIII Kal. Sept.  p347 (explained as postridie Volkanalia, ib. 156) et III Non. Octobr. et VI Id. Novembr. Qui vel enim1 dictus est quod terra movetur), which was in connection with the worship of the gods of the underworld. It was a domed structure, large enough for a man to enter (ib. 157: qui . . . quid ita dicatur sic refert Cato in commentaris iuris civilis: 'Mundo nomen impositum est ab eo mundo, qui supra nos est: forma enim eius est, ut ex is qui intravere cognoscere potui, adsimilis illae') and in the floor of it there was an opening, leading to a chamber or shaft, which was sacred to the Di Manes, and was only opened on the three days above mentioned, which were regarded as unlucky. Varro (ap. Macrob. I.16.18) also says 'mundus cum patet, deorum tristium atque inferum quasi ianua patet'; cf. Serv. ad Verg. Aen. III.134: 'quidam aras superorum deorum voluit esse, medioximorum, id est marinorum focos, inferorum vero mundos.' That the stone which closed the opening was called Manalis lapis is a pure conjecture (see Manalis Lapis (1)). Nor have we any information whatsoever as to the site of the mundus.

On the Palatine there was a small shrine (generally, since the time of K. O. Müller, Etrusker, II.99, identified with the mundus, but without sufficient grounds), which was a memorial of the foundation of the city, named Roma Quadrata (q.v.), by Festus 258, and described by Ovid, Fast. IV.821 sqq., who, however, gives it no name.

From this point Romulus started the furrow (sulcus primigenius) which was to mark the line of the enceinte of the city. Plutarch's statement (Rom. 11), βόθρος γὰρ ὠρύγη περὶ τὸ νῦν κομίτιον κυκλοτερὴς . . . καλοῦσι δὲ τὸν βόθρον τοῦτον ᾧ καὶ τὸν ὄλυμπον ὀνόματι μοῦνδον, is the result of confusion; and its absurdity is increased by his placing the centre of the city of Romulus on the Comitium.

In 1914, under the north-east part of the peristyle of the domus Augustiana, a chamber with a bee‑hive roof was found, the sides of which are lined with blocks of cappellaccio (a soft tufa); in the centre of it a circular shaft descends to two under­ground passages cut in the rock (which here rises to near the surface) which diverge but (after forming a right-angle triangle with a hypotenuse of 12 metres) meet again in a rock‑cut domed chamber, half of which has been destroyed by Domitian's foundations (YW 1914, 12‑13; CRA 1914, 109‑111; ZA 208; Mitt. 1926, 212‑228).

Leopold (Meded. Nederland. Hist. Inst. I (1921) 45‑61; Bull. Pal. Ital. 1924, 193‑206) not only accepts the bee‑hive chamber as the mundus (or a mundus), but believes that traces of Roma quadrata were also found close by, and were indeed visible before the construction of the palace of Domitian. He notes, however, that the mundus, which is never brought into connection with the foundation of Rome, may be a good deal later than the first settlement on the Palatine. He further believes that the combination of mundus and Roma quadrata was repeated  p348 in the forum in the lapis niger, which was not merely an altar of the gods of the underworld, but a record of the place on which the city was founded; and he thus explains Plutarch's statement that it was situated in the Comitium, and localises here (and not on the Palatine) the distribution of suffimenta ad Romam quadratam in 204 A.D.

The identification or juxtaposition of the mundus and Roma quadrata, and the placing of the latter here, will not square with any of the possible theories in regard to the site of the temple of Apollo (Fest. 258), and it may be a late antiquarian invention.

For an attempt to parallel with the Palatine mundus certain under­ground tholoi (at Piperno, Circeii, etc), see AJA 1914, 302‑320.

See JRS 1912, 25‑33; 1914, 225, 226; DAP 2.xi.192‑194.

The Authors' Note:

1 So Lindsay: Müller has 'omni . . . No satisfactory emendation has yet been proposed.

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