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This webpage reproduces an article in the
American Journal of Philology
Vol. 22, No. 4 (1901), pp420‑425.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p420  The Pomerium and Roma Quadrata

Nothing in connection with the topography of Rome has been discussed more frequently or at greater length, than the pomerium. The problem is complicated by the fact that not only the line of the pomerium is in question, but also the meaning and use of the word. As the pomerium was extended at various times during the history of the city, so the term itself underwent certain changes in meaning.

This whole subject has been treated with great fullness in the works referred to below,​1 but contradictory results have been reached. The only excuse for the present paper is to draw attention more closely to the relation between the pomerium​2 of the Palatine city and Roma quadrata.

So far as I know, the only definite allusion to this relation is made by Jordan (Topographie, I, 1, 168 note) who remarks: — "Um dies (i.e. Varro's description of the extent of Roma quadrata) mit dem unten erörterten Pomerium und der Auffassung des Dionys. I 88: περιγράφει τετράγωνον σχῆμα τῷ λόφῳ in Einklang zu bringen, ist es unumgänglich nothwendig dass der Ausdruck Roma quadrata technisch in doppeltem Sinne gebraucht wurde; einmal zur Bezeichnung der Linie des Pomeriums, zweitens der parallelen Linie der Befestigung der Arx."

But it is reasonably certain that Roma quadrata is also used in the sense of mundus or augural centre of the city-templum, and  p421 therefore we should be obliged to assume three different meanings of the word! This would require very strong evidence for its support.

Let us first consider the extant evidence with regard to the use of Roma quadrata. There is of course no doubt of the literal meaning of the term. It refers to a city laid out in square or rectangular form, for quadrata does not necessarily imply perfect squareness.

The passages in classical literature which are to be considered, are the following: —

(1) Dionysius II 65: οὔτε γὰπ τὸ χωρίον τοῦτο, ἐν ᾧ τὸ ἰερὸν φυλάττεται πῦρ, Ῥωμύλος ἦν ὁ καθιερώσας τῇ θεῷ. μέγα δὲ τούτου τεκμήριον, ὅτι τῆς τετραγώνου καλουμένης Ῥώμης, ἢν ἐκεῖνος ἐτείχισεν, ἐκτός ἐστιν.

(2) Ibid. I 88: περιγράφει τετράγωνον σχῆμα τῷ λόφῳ, βοὸς ἄρρενος ἅμα θηλείᾳ ζευχθέντος ὑπ’ ἄροτρον ἐλκύσας αὔλακα διηνεκῆ τὴν μέλλουσαν ὑποδέξεσθαι τὸ τεῖχος.

(3) Plutarch, Romulus 9: Ῥωμύλος μὲν οὖν τὴν καλουμένην Ῥώμην κουαδράτην, ὅπερ ἐστὶ τετράγωνον, ἔκτισε καὶ ἐκεῖνον ἐβούλετο πολίζειν τὸν τόπον.

(4) Tzetzes in Lykophron. 1235: πρὸ δὲ τῆς μεγάλης ταύτης Ῥώμης ἣν ἔκτισε Ῥωμύλος περὶ τὴν Φαιστύλου οἰκίαν ἐν ὄρει Παλατίῳ, ἑτέρα τετράγωνος ἐκτίσθη Ῥώμη παρὰ Ῥώμου καὶ Ῥωμύλου παλαιοτέρων τούτων.

This last citation, which is sometimes supposed to be a fragment of Dio Cassius (IV 15), is due probably only to the Scholiast, and has no value whatever (cf. Hülsen, Mitth. 1896, 211 note.)

All that can be learned from the Dionysius and Plutarch passages is, — (1) the city which Romulus founded was called Roma quadrata; (2) the temple of Vesta was outside Roma quadrata; (3) a strict interpretation of No. 2 would seem to imply that the τετράγωνον σχῆμα around the hill was the αὔλαξ διηνεκής, which was to be the line of the wall itself.

(5) Varro ap. Solin. I 17; nam ut adfirmat Varro auctor diligentissimus Romam condidit Romulus, Marte genitus et Rea Silvia, vel ut nonnulli Marte et Ilia; 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.

This passage corroborates inference No. 1, drawn from the previous passages, and then states two limiting points on the boundary of Roma quadrata.

 p422  Supercilium scalarum Caci naturally refers to the top of the steps, the remains of which are still plainly to be seen, and begin at some little distance back from the edge of the cliff — so far as one can judge now of the original condition of the ground. The point is further defined by ubi tugurium Faustuli fuit. This hut, and its later stone representative, can hardly have been at the extreme edge of the cliff, and it is altogether probable that the ancient stone wall, at the top of the steps of Cacus, marks the approximate site of the tugurium. This terminus, then, of Roma quadrata, may be placed somewhere within a circle which has its centre at the top of the steps and a radius of not more than 20 metres.

The other point, the grove (silva) in area Apollinis, is not so easily located. The area Apollinis must mean the inclosure or temenos of the great temple of Apollo. The exact site of this temple has been assigned by most topographers to the spot between the Flavian Palace and the Hippodrome, and under the present Villa Mills, but since the demonstration by Hülsen (Rom. Mitth., 196, 193‑212) that this area can not possibly be large enough, it must be sought elsewhere. No room seems to be left for it except that assigned by Hülsen, viz., the extreme northeastern part of the hill, now largely occupied by the Vigna di San Sebastiano.

According to Hülsen's estimate, the very smallest possible dimensions which can be assigned to the porticus, within which the temple of Apollo stood, are about 80 × 90 metres, and probably it was much larger.

Now a line drawn from the top of the scalae Caci to the approximate centre of the area Apollinis (if it is placed at the northeastern corner of the hill), will be found to run very nearly east and west. This suggests at once that Varro may be describing the decumanus of a templum, especially as we observe that he is careful to follow the theory of the decumanus, by mentioning the eastern end first, the line being drawn ab oriente ad occasum.

The phrase 'quod ad aequilibrium foret posita is unique in its use as descriptive of direction in space. Aequilibris is occasionally used in the sense of horizontal, a meaning which is readily derived from the position of the arm of the balance when the weights are equal. If aequilibrium be the correct reading in this passage, such an interpretation is natural as would refer the position of Roma quadrata to the points of the compass, corresponding to the EW decumanus.

 p423  In fact, however, a templum drawn on this decumanus, does not correspond in the least with the top of the hill, but stretches far beyond it on the NE and SW where the angles project out into the Forum the Velabrum.

This hypothesis, therefore, is untenable.

There can be no doubt that the line a silva . . . ad supercilium is an EW line, and if it can not be the decumanus of a quadratum, it may be the diagonal. On this as a diagonal, it is possible to draw a slightly trapezoidal figure which will include practically all the top of the hill, provided we place the tugurium Faustuli as close to the edge of the cliff as possible, and suppose the limit of the silva to be at the extreme eastern edge. This templum would not be square, but would answer the augural requirements.

We assume then that Varro was describing the extreme limits of Roma quadrata, which were of course the two opposite ends of the longest diagonal. It is evident that the augural boundary ran along the edge of the hill, on its top, and certainly not outside of the existing wall. It must either have run inside this wall, or have coincided with it. By no possibility could it have coincided with the pomerium described by Tacitus.

Let us now examine certain other passages.

(6) Festus 258: 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. eius loci Ennius meminit cum ait "Et quis est erat (qui se sperat, Müller) Romae regnare quadratae."

Taking the text as it stands, it is clear that Festus is thinking of something quite different from the templum of the city in its ordinary sense, and that he has in mind some sort of a receptacle built of stone and square in shape. On the other hand, it is very doubtful whether Ennius, in the passage quoted, was thinking of any such receptacle, and not rather of the Roma quadrata referred to elsewhere.

The phrase ubi . . . adhiberi suggests certain other passages which refer to the so‑called mundus —

(7) Plutarch, Romulus 11: — βόθρος γὰρ ὠρύγη περὶ τὸ νῦν κομίτιον κυκλοτερὴς, ἀπαρχαὶ δὲ πάντων, ὅσοις νόμῳ μὲν ὡς καλοῖς ἐχρῶντο, φύσει δ’ ὡς ἀναγκαίοις, ἀπετέθησαν ἐνταῦθα. καὶ τέλος ἐξ ἧς ἀφῖκτο γῆς ἔκαστος ὀλίγην κομίζων μοῖραν ἔβαλλον εἰς ταῦτα καὶ συνεμίγνυον. καλοῦσι δὲ τὸν βόθρον τοῦτον ᾧ καὶ τὸν ὄλυμπον ὀνόματι, μοῦνδον. Εἶτα ὥσπερ κύκλον κέντρῳ περιέγραψαν τὴν πόλιν.

 p424  (8) Ovid, Fasti IV, 821‑827:

fossa fit ad solidum. fruges iaciuntur in ima

et de vicino terra petita solo.

foss repletur humo plenaeque imponitur ara,

et novus accenso fungitur igne focus.

inde premens stivam designat moenia sulco:

alba iugum niveo cum bove vacca tulit.

If this mundus was called Roma quadrata, then doubtless we have another reference to it in the following fragment of an inscription of the Ludi Saeculares:

(9) Acta ludor. saecul. Sever. Eph. Epig. VIII, 283, line 12: — tribunal . . . . . . quod est ad Romam quadratam.

This tribunal was one of the several tribunalia on the Palatine from which the XV viri distributed the suffimenta. One of these was quite certainly "in Palatio in area Apollinis" (cf. Hülsen, Mitth. 1896, 204 note).

(10) Ovid, Tristia III, 1, 27‑64:

paruit et ducens "haec sunt fora Caesaris" inquit:

"haec est a sacris quae via nomen habet.

hic locus est Vestae, qui Pallada servat et ignem:

hic fuit antiqui regia parva Numae."

inde petens dextram "porta est" ait "ista Palati,

hic Stator, hoc primum condita roma loco est."

singula dum miror, video fulgentibus armis

conspicuos postes tectaque digna deo.

"et Iovis haec" dixi "domus est?" quod ut esse putarem,

augurium menti querna corona dabat.

(Apostrophe to Augustus)

inde tenore pari gradibus sublimia celsis

ducor ad intonsi candida templa dei.

signa peregrinis ubi sunt altera columnis

Belides, et stricto barbarus ense pater:

quaeque viri docto veteres coepere novique

pectore, lecturis inspicienda patent.

Hülsen (loc. cit.) endeavors to prove that in this passage, hoc primum condita Roma loco est refers to this same mundus which was known to Ovid as Roma quadrata, and compares the form of expression used by Josephus, Ant. Iud. XIX 3, 2: ἐν εὐχωρίᾳ δὲ τοῦ Παλατίου γενομένοις — πρῶτον δὲ οἰκηθῆναι τῆς Ῥωμαίων πόλεως τοῦτο  p425 παραδίδωσιν ὁ περὶ αὐτης λόγος — καὶ ἤδη τοῦ δημοσίου ἀντιλαμβανομένοις πολὺ πλείων ἡ ἐπιφοίτησις ἦν τῶν στρατιωτῶν etc.

The pretorian guards are hurrying from the Palatine towards the Sacra Via, and passing the area Palatina.

Whether Ovid is referring to the mundus or not, there is little doubt that such a structure did exist, and the well-known figure on the Capitoline plan (Jordan, F. U. I.1) probably represents it.

Furthermore, the direct statement of Festus (6) corroborated by the fragment of the inscription of the Ludi Saeculares (9) may be regarded as sufficient evidence that the term Roma quadrata was used to denote this mundus. We have already seen that it was also used to denote the city-templum, drawn on the line described by Varro, as a diagonal, and that the boundary of this templum can not have extended beyond the wall which surrounded the Palatine at its very edge. This boundary marked the augural limits of the city, as is implied in the very nature of a templum.

If now the line described by Tacitus (Ann. XII 24) as that of the pomerium of Romulus, and which extended from the Ara Herculis per ima montis Palatini to the ara Consi, the curiae veteres, and so around the hill, was the original pomerium, we are confronted with this dilemma: —

Either there were two city-templa, one called Roma quadrata on the hill, and another larger one inclosed by this pomerium line; or else one or the other of these inclosures was not an augural templum at all. Neither of these hypotheses is possible, and we are forced to the conclusion that Tacitus' line was not the original pomerium, and that his error was due to the current belief that the course followed by the Luperci in their procession, was that of this first pomerium.

The real pomerium of the Palatine city ran within the line of fortification, and marked the boundary of Roma quadrata. In this way the discrepancy between the natural meaning of the word "post murum," and the fact that Tacitus' line is outside the existing wall, can be explained.

Samuel Ball Platner

The Author's Notes:

1 Mommsen, Das Begriff des Pomeriums, Hermes X 24‑50, and Röm. Forschungen II 23‑41; F. Wehr, Das Palatinische Pomerium. Brüx, 1895; O. Richter, Die älteste Wohnstätte des Röm. Volkes. Prog., Berlin, 1891; Topographie der Stadt Rom, 2nd ed. 32‑34; Becker, Topographie, 92‑108; Jordan, Topographie, I, 1, 163‑175; Gilbert, Topographie, I, 114‑134; Hülsen, Mitth. 1892, 293.

2 Tacitus, Ann. XII 24, describes the line of the Palatine pomerium thus: — sed . . . 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 amplecteretur. inde certis spatiis interiecti lapides per ima montis Palatini ad aram Consi, mox curias veteres, tam ad sacellum Larum, etc.

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