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This webpage reproduces an article in
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 12, No. 2 (Apr.‑Jun. 1908), pp172‑183.

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p172  Roma Quadrata and the Septimontium

The remarkable progress in our knowledge of the early history of Rome which has been accomplished in the last half century, dating roughly from Schwegler's first edition (1853) or that of Mommsen (1854), has been gained largely at the expense of Roman tradition. The courage to go behind the tradition and to assert the falsity of the Romans' favorite theories of their origin, and the ability to substitute other theories based on anthropology and paleontology for the current Roman dogmas have in the main gone hand in hand. Occasionally, unwarranted scepticism has laid violent hands on some worthy tradition, but the correction has usually followed; and while to‑day we are not as great believers as our grandfathers were, we are in the main more orthodox than our fathers.

Probably the most brilliant results of this restrained critical method are to be found in the field of early Roman religion, where Mommsen and Wissowa have subjected the Romans' own statements about their own religion to careful analysis, removing the Greek alloy and giving the world a product purer than anything which even Varro possessed.

In the field of general Roman history the same kind of work is being done by Eduard Meyer, and the others in that group of scholars whose contributions appear in the Beitraege zur Alten Geschichte.

The subject of the origin of the city of Rome has fallen quite naturally into the field of two distinct sets of scholars, the topographers and the historians. If these two sets of investigators were working hand in hand, the duplication of labor would probably result in an advantage; as things are, however, the topographers are at a distinct disadvantage. Their own methods, which have given such brilliant results  p173 in later periods, avail but little in a period of which there are practically no physical remains; whereas their skill in treating the literary sources for the early period is decidedly deficient compared with that of the historian, whose whole training fits him to handle such evidence. Unfortunately, up to the present at least, topographers do not seem to realize the progress which the historians have been making, while they themselves are content to follow a traditional schematic view for which they can offer no sufficient proof.

In this paper I have attempted to unite the two methods historical and topographical, in the hope that topography may take the correction before it finds itself in the condition in which the Greek and Latin grammarians of twenty years ago found themselves, in regard to the origin of those languages, in the presence of the victorious Comparative Philologists.

The traditional scheme for the development of Rome — found in practically all the handbooks, and traceable in its main outlines as far back as Varro​1 — is briefly as follows:

I. Roma Quadrata, the original city of Rome, surrounded by a wall and a pomerium. In this they all agree, though they differ as to the technique of the wall, as to the shape of the pomerium, whether square, quadrilateral, or circular, and as to whether the pomerium was inside or outside of the wall.​2

II. The Septimontium, according to them the second traceable step in Rome's development, when the original city on the Palatine had increased to include certain other hills, the whole surrounded by a wall, and outside of this a pomerium. In this they all agree, though they differ as to whether the other cities included had individual walls and individual pomeria of their own, and also as to the exact name and location of one or two of these hills.​3

 p174  III. The City of the Four Regions, according to them the third traceable step in Rome's growth, gained by adding to the Septimontium the Quirinal and the Capitoline, also surrounded by a wall and a pomerium. Here they differ only as to the status of the Capitolium,​4 and as to whether the pomerium was inside or outside of the city wall.

IV. The Servian City, according to them the fourth traceable step in Rome's development, retaining the pomerium of the Four-Region City, but possessed of a wall of its own, including, as its most characteristic addition, the Aventine. Here they are all in virtual agreement except as to the character of the wall and as to the reasons why the pomerium was not changed so as to include the Aventine.5

Let us proceed now to test the historic reality of these four forms. Here, of course, we must work backward from the well known to the less known, and from the known to the unknown. We begin, accordingly, with the Servian City.6

Of all the kings of Rome, possibly Servius Tullius alone can lay claim to historic reality.​7 When freed from their supernatural elements, the traditions concerning his activity form  p175 a consistent and reasonable whole,​8 and the connection of his name with a certain definite form of the city may well be accepted as an historical fact. To be sure, the actually remaining bits of the so‑called Servian Wall belong to the end of the fourth century rather than to the middle of the sixth century B.C.,​9 but it is reasonable to suppose that this stone wall of the fourth century was built on the line of an older earth wall, and bore the same relation to it that the paved streets of Rome bore to their unpaved predecessors. Appius Claudius or some one of his predecessors is responsible for the change.10

We may assert, therefore, that about the middle of the sixth century B.C. Rome was an "urbs" surrounded by some sort of a wall, coinciding in location with the actually existing remains of the fourth-century so‑called Servian Wall. The question then arises: Have we any proofs of the existence of an "urbs" antecedent to, and necessarily smaller than, the Servian City?

The topographer answers yes, and his statement is correct, though the proof which he adduces turns out to be of almost no value.

His answer is the "City of the Four Regions," and his proof is primarily Varro, L. L. V, 45‑54, and the chapels of the Argei. To be sure, he acknowledges that Wissowa​11 is correct in his demonstration that the whole matter of the Argei is a Greek rite introduced in the third century B.C., and that the chapels do not antedate that period: yet the topographer still continues to use this ceremonial, or rather the passage relating to it, as a proof of the existence of the "Four-Region City," which ceased to exist from two hundred to three hundred years before these chapels were built.​12 As for the four regions of the republic and the four city tribes, so far as anything the topographer  p176 advances is concerned, there is no reason why they should not have sprung up inside of the Servian City.

Because of the weakness of this argument we are not compelled, however, to renounce a city roughly approximating to the so‑called Four-Region City. Fortunately there are two other arguments, both of which I believe to be conclusive, though one of them will be admitted more readily than the other.

The first of these two arguments may be called for convenience "the argument from the so‑called calendar of Numa." It is surprising that this argument has not long ago been pressed into the service of topography. It has been stated clearly enough by Wissowa (Religion und Kultus der Roemer, p27). Briefly it is as follows: The stone calendars (dating, all of them, from the end of the republic and the beginning of the empire) differ in some things, but agree in a certain series of festivals, engraved in large letters. Mommsen​13 has shown that this represents a very early religious calendar, whose age may be approximately fixed. That it antedates Servius Tullius is clear from the absence of all references to the Capitoline Triad and to Diana, both of which cults are connected with the so‑called Servian period. But such a calendar presupposes absolutely an organized and unified community. It is not the ritual merely of a league of neighboring towns. The so‑called calendar of Numa therefore proves the existence of a city before Servius. It gives us also some idea of the extent of this city, for its festivals include celebrations on the Capitoline, on the Palatine, in the valley between the Palatine and the Capitoline (the later Velabrum), on the Quirinal and in the valley between the Palatine and the Quirinal (the later Forum), in the valley between the Palatine and the Aventine (the later Circus Maximus), and on the Caelian Hill.14

The argument ex silentio cannot, of course, be used, and other hills, including the Esquiline, doubtless formed a part of this city; but the important thing is that both Capitol and Quirinal are mentioned, so that the city whose existence is thus established is clearly to be distinguished from the "Septimontium,"  p177 which, according to those who believe in its existence, included neither Quirinal nor Capitoline.

The second argument, while destined to arouse sharp opposition, is, I believe, fully as strong as the first. It may be called for convenience "the argument from the pomerium." Mommsen once characterized the question of the pomerium as "das vielleicht schwierigste aller Probleme der Roemischen Topographie," but in the same article​15 he did much to increase its difficulty for the early period while making splendid progress regarding the later period.

The locus classicus on which the whole matter depends is Varro, L. L. V, 143: oppida condebant in Latio Etrusco ritu multi,​16 id est iunctis bobus, tauro et vacca, interiore aratro circumagebant sulcum. Hoc faciebant religionis causa die auspicato, ut fossa et muro muniti. Terram unde exculpserant, Fossam vocabant et introrsum iactam Murum.

Taken in their simplicity these words can have but one meaning. The murus is the strip of clods of earth turned up by the plough. It is a symbolic wall of protection and is not identical with the actual fortificatory wall made by man. It is this confusion of the god-wall with the man-wall which has made the always difficult pomerium even more difficult in the pages of Mommsen and Jordan. There pomerium is understood to mean "the space behind the city wall," and is thus either identical with the space enclosed by the city wall or restricted to a still smaller space inside the city wall. On the contrary, the pomerium is merely the space included in the murus made by the plough; inside of this clod wall the city wall itself is built. The divine protection must embrace the whole city, including the wall itself, and it is unthinkable that in its original shape the city should at any point have overstepped it.17

If this interpretation be correct, it will readily be seen that  p178 the pomerium offers a conclusive proof of the existence of a city preceding the Servian City, for it cannot be either coincident with or later than the Servian City because it is within that city, and its existence necessitates the assumption of a smaller city in turn inside of it. As for the dimensions of this city, we have seen the information which the calendar of Numa gives us.

The topographers seem correct, therefore, in their assumption of a city preceding the Servian City, which, for convenience, we may agree with them in calling the "City of the Four Regions."

We ask next whether we have any knowledge of a city preceding the Four-Region City. The topographer answers the "Septimontium," and points us to a religious festival held on December 11, the so‑called "Septimontium." This festival has had the advantage of a brilliant treatment by Wissowa,​18 who has made clear the original identity of the Septem Montes. But the detailed study of the festival indicates that it was a celebration carried out jointly by seven small communities, rather than a celebration by seven parts of one city. The Septimontium proves the league of seven communities, rather than the existence of one city containing all seven of them. Of such a city we have no records either of a fortificatory wall or of a pomerium. Hence there are absolutely no proofs of its existence.19

But even if the Septimontium period has to be given up, it is still, of course, theoretically possible that Roma Quadrata may be saved. We turn now to it.

 p179  Not many years ago the belief in Roma Quadrata was still unshattered by historical criticism. Rome was believed to have been founded on the Palatine, and the Palatine city was considered gradually to have extended its borders, absorbing the neighboring towns. Pieces of its wall were thought to be visible on the sides of the Palatine, and its pomerium rested on the authority of Tacitus, whose description still usually forms the starting-point for the study of the Palatine.20

But the so‑called walls of Romulus have had to retreat to the third or at earliest to fourth century B.C., and now some months ago (in April, 1907), a tomb of the fifth or early fourth century has been found on the very site which some topographers had chosen for the course of the eighth-century wall.21

Then again the classic passage in Tacitus is by no means above dispute. To one who reads it carefully, taking a start sufficiently far back to acquire the general trend of the whole, it will become clear that Tacitus begins with great distinctness and emphasis to describe a certain pomerium line, commencing in the Forum Boarium and passing along the valley of the Circus Maximus. Up to this point the matter is treated in detail. But then begins a mere sketching of the other three sides of the quadrilateral. In other words, the only part of the Palatine pomerium of which Tacitus has any knowledge is  p180 not a part of the pomerium of the Palatine at all, but only of the pomerium of the so‑called City of Four Regions, one portion of which was supposed to coincide with the hypothetical Palatine pomerium, the other three sides of which were purely imagine lines. The Tacitus passage is, therefore, no proof of the Palatine pomerium.

But aside from the pomerium and the wall, let us inquire first whether there are any proofs of the early existence of the term "Roma Quadrata"; and then, aside from the name, whether there are any evidences of the fact, namely the existence on the Palatine of not only the oldest settlement in Rome, but also of that particular settlement which became the nucleus of all the rest.

First the term "Roma Quadrata." Here we must distinguish between two uses. (1) Roma Quadrata as another name for the particular mundus, or entrance to the Lower World, which was situated on the Palatine. It is to this mundus that Ennius refers in a passage quoted by Verrius Flaccus and preserved in Festus.​22 Verrius Flaccus also explains the origin of the name, "quia saxo munitum est initio in speciem quadratam." References to this Roma Quadrata are not infrequent in later writers.

(2) Roma Quadrata as the name for Rome in one of the stages of its growth is found first in Varro, quoted by Solinus:​23 dictaque primum est Roma Quadrata, quod ad aequilibrium foret posita. Ea incipit a silva quae est in area Apollinis, et ad supercilium scalarum Caci habet terminum, ubi tugurium fuit Faustuli.

 p181  All other references to Roma Quadrata date from that of the empire.

It would not be surprising if it were Varro himself who elevated the phrase "Roma Quadrata" into the term for a stage of Rome's growth, for it is also Varro who considers the Septimontium as another epoch in that same development.

Leaving the question of the name, we must now ask whether there are any evidences that the Palatine settlement was the mother city of Rome. Here we are confronted with two facts: First, the important old cult centres of Rome are scarcely any of them found on the Palatine.​24 Juppiter Feretrius, the political Juppiter who preceded Juppiter Optimus Maximus, was on the Capitoline; Vulcan, Vesta, and Saturn were in the Forum valley; Quirinus and Flora were on the Quirinal; Consus, in the valley of the Circus; Carna, on the Caelian. To be sure, the southern corner of the Palatine was given over to associations of great antiquity with the casa Romuli and the scalae Caci; but the casa Romuli had its rival on the Capitoline, and the scalae Caci gained their significance by association with a late myth,​25 and even then falsely, because Cacus' real rendezvous was the Aventine. Lastly, though of course it is always possible that a Palatine sepulcretum may be found older than the one discovered last summer, at the moment of writing both the Esquiline sepulcretum and the Forum sepulcretum are unquestionably older than the sepulcretum discovered on the Palatine.26

So far, therefore, as any outward signs go, the Palatine, far from laying claim to be the mother settlement of Rome, seems positively younger than the Capitoline, the Esquiline, and the Quirinal; and when we add to this the fact that the dogmatic claim made for the priority of the Palatine is easily explained  p182 out of its own history by the preference of the aristocracy for it as a place of residence during the last two centuries of the republic and by the imperial favor which made the Palatine into a palace, we see how groundless such a claim would be.

Thus far we have seen the proofs of the existence of a Servian City and of the Four-Region City preceding it, but the Septimontium and Roma Quadrata have failed to make good their claim. Must we therefore renounce the possibility of knowing anything about Rome before the Four-Region City?

On the contrary, a knowledge of the manner in which the primitive Italic peoples formed their settlements will go far toward filling the blank. These peoples (cf. especially the able article by Kornemann, 'Pales and Urbs,' Klio, 1905, pp72 ff.) settled in two ways: on the one hand, on hilltops in villages fortified by walls, the oppidum, and alongside of this in farms scattered through the valleys and plains, these valleys and plains being divided into districts known as pagi. These two classes of settlers settled the region of Rome, its hills and its valleys, and were known respectively as oppidani and pagani, though the oppidani were also known as montani.

Thus on the hilltops the oppida were built, — on the Capitoline, the Esquiline, the Quirinal, the Palatine, etc. In the course of time seven of these oppida formed a sacral union with its festival, the Septimontium. Those who celebrated this festival, the montani, were in reality the oppidani, and were brought into inevitable contrast to the pagani, the inhabitants of the valleys.27

But the oppida themselves and their union into the league of the Septimontium are quite different things from the urbs, the city of Rome. The urbs is characterized principally by two things, the union of both oppida and pagi by a large surrounding wall, and the presence outside of this wall of a pomerium.

When the idea of the urbs came to the inhabitants of the oppida and the pagi, and whether it was brought in by foreign  p183 (Etruscan?) influence, are questions which at present we are not able to answer. But with the urbs seems to have come the idea of the pomerium. Hence, just as the Four-Region City was the first form of the Roma urbs, so it seems to have been the first and, so far as ancient Rome is concerned, the only city form with a pomerium.

It was not a city in the modern sense of the word, but rather a fortified region, containing both hilltop towns and fertile crop-raising valleys. Hence its size was not out of proportion to the population, as has hitherto always seemed to be the case.

When at a later period Servius, probably for strategical reasons, decided to enlarge the wall, the pomerium could not be changed; hence the Aventine (which was probably devoid of a town and was hence known merely as the pagus Aventinensis) was included in the fortifications but excluded from the pomerium.

It remained for a later day, distant by almost five centuries, to invent such a theory of the pomerium as would give the Dictator Sulla the privilege of changing it. But for early Rome there was, and could be in the nature of things, but one pomerium, that of the City of the Four Regions.28

Jesse Benedict Carter.


December 6, 1907.

The Author's Notes:

1 The classic passages from Varro are: for Roma Quadrata, a quotation by Solinus (I, 18); for the Septimontium, L. L. V, 41, and VI, 24; for the Quatuor Regiones, L. L. V, 45‑54.

2 Richter (Top. 33) considers the pomerium as outside the wall, i.e. running around the roots of the Palatine (per ima montis Palatini, Tac. Ann. XII, 24). Platner (American Journal of Philology, XXII, 1901, p425) considers that it was within the line of the fortifications, and that Tacitus was wrong. For another possible solution, see below.

3 On the Septimontium, see below.

4 The usual compromise effected is that the Capitoline was inside the wall and the pomerium, but outside the four regions. So Richter, p38, and Platner, p44. Studemund (Philologus, 1889, pp168‑177) attempted to reduce the Four-Region City to the scheme of a templum; cf. the critique of Richter, Die Aelteste Wohnstaette des roem. Volkes, Berlin, 1891.

5 The various hypothetical reasons for the exclusion of the Aventine are given in full by Merlin, L'Aventin (Paris, 1896). In this connection one cannot forbear quoting Seneca, De Brevitate vitae, 13: Nam de illis nemo dubitabit, quin operose nihil agant, qui literarum inutilium studiis detinentur, quae iam apud Romanos quoque magna manus est. . . . Sullam ultimum Romanorum protulisse pomerium, quod numquam provinciali, sed Italico agro adquisito proferre moris apud antiquos fuit. Hoc scire magis prodest, quam Aventinum montem extra pomerium esse, ut ille adfirmabat, propter alteram ex duabus causis, aut quod plebs eo secessisset, aut quod Remo auspicante illo loco aves non addixissent.

6 In this discussion of the customary treatment of Rome's beginnings I have purposely omitted to discuss the theories of Gilbert (Geschichte und Topographie der Stadt Rom, 2d edition, Munich, 1901) and of Pais (Ancient Legends, New York, 1905). For a good criticism of Gilbert's theories, cp. Jordan-Huelsen, III, 35, Anm. 15. Pais's proposition is much more reasonable; but neither Pais's theory nor that of Gilbert has the advantage either of being in accord with tradition or of differing from it along the lines of anthropology.

7 Nissen's arguments against his reality (Roem. Gesch. p15) are interesting but questionable.

8 Especially his attitude toward the Latin league and the worship of Diana, and his cult of Juppiter Latiaris and Juppiter Optimus Maximus.

9 For this diminution in the age of the so‑called Servian Wall we are indebted chiefly to Richter (for a résumé of his arguments, cf. his Topographie, p43).

10 Livy, VII, 20, 9 (B.C. 354‑353), speaks of repairs to the walls and towers, but this is apparently merely restoration.

11 Wissowa in Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. Argei (1895) = Ges. Abh. pp211 ff.

12 Platner (p45) rightly remarks on the value of this topographical information from the century of the Punic Wars; but that does not justify its use for a period three hundred years before the Punic Wars.

13 Mommsen, CIL I1, pp361 ff.= I2, pp283 ff.

14 For the detailed proof, see Wissowa, l.c.

15 Mommsen, 'Der Begriff des Pomeriums,' Hermes, X, 1896, pp40‑50 = Roem. Forsch. II, pp23‑41.

16 ut multa: Augustinus.

17 Thus, granting for the moment the reality of a Palatine pomerium, Platner's dilemma (American Journal of Philology, XXII, p425) loses its force, and Richter's statement of the pomerium of the Palatine gains in significance (Top. 33).

18 In Classical Philology, I, 1906, Platner makes a good presentation of Wissowa's theory. Unfortunately he quotes the article in question merely as in Satura Viadrina, a relatively rare publication, and omits to mention that it is easily accessible in Wissowa's Gesammelte Anhandlungen, Munich, 1904.

19 There can be little doubt that the seven hills, or rather the oppida situated on them, formed the nucleus for the subsequent city, i.e. the Four-Region City. When this city was formed, the celebration of the Septimontium naturally continued, but in the course of time it became widened into a general festival of the hills, so that it included all the great hills, the number being kept roughly at seven by the inevitable dropping of the names of those old minor hills subsequently included in the greater hills. This is the explanation of the fact that the lists differed in different epochs. Had the Septimontium ever formed a closed city community, it is doubtful whether the names of the original seven hills would ever have become obscured.

20 Tacitus, Ann. XII, 24; Sed initium condendi, et quod pomerium Romulus posuerit, noscere haud absurdum reor. Igitur a foro Boario ubi aereum tauri simulacrum aspicimus, quia id genus animalium aratro subditur, sulcus designandi oppidi coeptus, ut magnam Herculis aram aplecteretur. Inde certis spatiis interiecti lapides per ima montis Palatini, ad aram Consi, mox curiae veteres, tum ad sacellum Larum, inde forum Romanum; forumque et Capitolium non a Romulo, sed a Tito Tatio additum urbi credidere.

21 Cf. Vaglieri, Nuova Antologia, 1907, p314, Not. Scav. 1907, p185; and especially Pigorini, Rend. Acc. Lincei, XVI, 1907, Fasc. 11. That the remains of tufa structures on the edge of the Palatine represent the original wall is a theory which is fast losing ground, though still retained by Platner, p34, and previous to that by Lanciani (Annali, 1871), by Jordan (Top. I, 1, p172), and by Fiorelli (Not. Scav. 1886, p51). That these remains are contemporary with the late date of the restored Servian Wall is Richter's opinion (Top. p31 and Anm. 4). Pais (Ancient Legends, p238) sees in the remains the Palatine walls after the Gallic invasion. Cf. also Jordan-Huelsen, III, 87, Anm. 17, who admits the late date of the existing remains (except one bit), but asserts the existence of an older wall.

22 Festus, p258: Quadrata Roma in Palatio ante templum Apollinis dicitur, ubi reposita sunt, quae solent boni ominis gratia in urbe condenda adhiberi, quia saxo munitus est initio in speciem quadratam, cuius loci Ennius m. cum ait: "et quis est erat (!) Romae regnare quadratae."

A reference to the Roma Quadratamundus is also found in the acts of the Saecular games of Septimius Severus (Eph. Epigr. VIII, p283 = CIL VI, 32327), and possibly in Ovid, Trist. III, 1, 32, and in Josephus, Ant. Iud. XIX, 3,2. (Cf. Jordan-Huelsen, III, p43, Anm. 27). It is extremely doubtful whether Fragment 1 of the Forma Urbis represents the mundus.

23 Solinus, I, 18. Degering (Berl. Phil. W. 1903, col. 1646) is scarcely correct when he limits the quotation from Varro to the words, Romam condidit Romulus Marte genitus et Rea Silvia vel ut nonnulli Marte et Ilia, and makes what follows depend on Solinus alone.

24 The Lupercal in the cult of Faunus is scarcely an exception, as it was at the foot of the hill and really in the valley. Pales is perhaps the most important early deity associated with the Palatine.

25 Cf. Wissowa in Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. Cacus.

26 If the Palatine had had any very ancient religious associations, it is questionable whether the cult of the Magna Mater would have been introduced there, even though the times in which she arrived were very troubled and the feeling for the pomerium had broken down. On the date of the Palatine grave, cf. Pigorini, Rend. Acc. Lincei, XVI, 1907, Fasc. 11.

27 Cf. especially Varro, L. L. VI, 24: dies Septimontium nominatus ab his septem montibus, in quis sita urbs est, feriae non populi sed montanorum modo, ut paganalia qui sunt alicuius pagi. The pagus Montanus and the pagus Aventinensis form no real exceptions to this contrast, as they were rural districts rather than oppida; whatever inhabitants they had were therefore in this early period pagani and not oppidani (montani).

28 For a further enlargement of these theories, especially in relation to the Etruscans, the reader is referred to an article by the writer, on the 'Pomerium,' which will appear in the forthcoming volume of the publications of the British and American Archaeological Society of Rome.

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