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Bill Thayer

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 p546  Article on pp546‑548 of

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

Vaticanus. (1) Vaticanus Ager: the district on the right bank of the Tiber, between its lower reaches and the more restricted Veientine territory (Plin. NH III.53: Tiberis . . . citra XVI milia passuum urbis Veientem agrum a Crustumino, dein Fidenatem Latinumque a Vaticano dirimens; Liv. X.26.15 (295 B.C.): alii duo exercitus haud procul urbe Etruriae oppositi unus in Falisco, alter in Vaticano agro). Its fertility is spoken of slightingly by Cicero (de leg. agr. II.96), its wines are frequently derided by Martial (I.18.2; VI.92.3; X.45.5; XII.48.14), and references to farms or estates are very few (Gell. XIX.17.1: in agro Vaticano Iulius Paulus poeta . . . herediolum tenue possidebat; Symm. Ep. VI.58.1: rus Vaticanum quod vestro praedio cohaeret accessimus; VII.21: urbanas turbas Vaticano in quantum licet rure declino). This name continued long in use, for it occurs in Solinus (II.34: Claudio principe ubi Vaticanus ager est in alveo occisae boae spectatus est solidus infans, from Plin. NH VIII.37, where in Vaticano is used for Vaticanus ager), and in Gellius (XVI.17.1‑2: et agrum Vaticanum et eiusdem agri deum praesidem appellatum acceperamus a vaticiniis quae vi atque instinctu eius dei in eo agro fieri solita essent . . . sed praeter hanc causam M. Varro in libris divinarum aliam tradit istius nominis rationem: non sicut Aius . . . ita Vaticanus deus nominatus penes quem essent vocis humanae initia . . .), who gives two current explanations of the name.

It is probable that the adjective form, Vaticanus, is derived from some substantive, perhaps Vaticanum (Elter, see below), or from the early Etruscan name of some settlement, like Vatica or Vaticum (Niebuhr), of which all other traces have vanished, except possibly the cognomen Vaticanus which is found twice in the consular Fasti in 455 and 451 B.C. (RE I. A. 1071; BC 1908, 23‑26).

(2) Vaticani Montes: without much doubt a general designation for the hills in the ager Vaticanus, but used, in its only occurrence in literature,  p547 of the long ridge from the Janiculum to the modern Monte Mario (Cic. ad Att. XIII.33.4: a ponte Milvio Tiberim duci secundum montes Vaticanos, campum Martium coaedificari, illum autem campum Vaticanum fieri quasi Martium campum). Here campus Vaticanus must be used of the whole district between Monte Mario and the Tiber, known in modern times until very recently as the Prati di Castello.

(3) Vaticanus Mons in the singular could be used of any one of the montes within the limits of the ager Vaticanus. It occurs in Horace (Carm. I.20.7: redderet laudes tibi Vaticani montes imago, cf. Porphyr. et Acron ad loc.), where it means the Janiculum, and in Juvenal (6.344: et Vaticano fragiles de monte patellas), where it is more general, as the clay pits are scattered all along this ridge. Festus' Vaticanus collis (379: Vaticanus collis appellatus est quod eo potitus sit populus Romanus vatum responso expulsis Etruscis) is to be explained as a mere variant of mons, introduced simply for the sake of the etymology. There is no evidence that Vaticanus mons was a specific name for any one part of the ridge during the classical period. It was in consequence of the gradual restriction of Vaticanum (see below) to the area occupied by the Circus Gai et Neronis (q.v.), and the identification of this site as the burial place of S. Peter, that Vaticanus mons became localised in its mediaeval and modern sense (Prud. c. Symm. I.583: qui . . . Vaticano tumulum sub monte frequentat quo cinis ille latet genitoris amabilis obses). With this new importance in Christian Rome, it took its place among the seven hills (Not. app.).

(4) Vaticana Vallis: used once, by Tacitus, for the site of the circus Gai et Neronis (Ann. XIV.14: clausumque valle Vaticana spatium in quo equos regeret, haud promiscuo spectaculo), or, if not for its exact site, for the entrance to the depression of the modern Vicolo del Gelsomino, just south-west of the area occupied by the circus proper.

(5) Vaticanum: the substantive, either an original place name or the neuter of the adjective (see above), which was used first to designate, in whole or in part, the level district between the Janiculum-Monte Mario ridge and the Tiber, being more or less equivalent to Cicero's campus Vaticanus, and extending south, probably to the city limits proper (Plin. NH XVIII.20: aranti quattuor sua iugera in Vaticano quae Prata Quinctia (q.v.) appellantur Cincinnato viator attulit dictaturam; VIII.37; XVI.237: vetustior autem urbe in Vaticano ilex). Part at least of this district was regarded as unhealthy (Tac. Hist. II.93: infamibus Vaticani locis magna pars tetendit); thrice tombs are mentioned that probably stood along the line of the modern Borghi (Hist. Aug. Ver. 6.4; Elag. 23.1; Acro ad Hor. Ep. 9.25: tunc levati cineres eius sunt de pyramide in Vaticano constituta); and it contained a recognised pauper element in its population (Amm. Marcell. XXVII.3.6: accitos a Vaticano quosdam egentes opibus ditaverat magnis).

With the building of the circus Gai et Neronis, which was also called  p548 circus Vaticanus (Plin. NH XVI.201; XXXVI.74), increased importance was given to this particular area, and Vaticanum then came to be used of the circus itself, as well as of the whole district (Suet. Claud. 21.2: circenses frequenter etiam in Vaticano commisit; Amm. Marcell. XVII.4.16: quorum unus (obeliscus) in Vaticano; Not. Reg. XIV, cf. however, Pr. Reg. 207).

Another application of the name Vaticanum seems to have been to the shrine of the Magna Mater, whose cult was established close to the circus (cf. Frigianum), if we may judge from an inscription found at Lyon (CIL XIII.1751: L. Aemilius Carpus vires excepit et a Vaticano transtulit; cf. also an inscription of 236 A.D. from Kastell near Mayence, ib. 7281: deae Virtuti Bellonae montem Vaticanum vetustate conlabsum restituerun(t) hastiferi Civitatis Mattiacor.) (Jord. I.1.438; HJ 623; Gilb. II.122; III.449; and especially Elter, RhM 1891, 112‑138).

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