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This webpage reproduces an article in
Classical Philology
Vol. 2, No. 4 (Oct. 1907), pp463‑464.

The text is in the public domain.

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 p463  Mons and Collis

The distinction between mons and collis, as applied to the hills of Rome, is well known. The montes — Aventinus, Palatinus, Capitolinus, Caelius, Esquilinus, including Oppius and Cispius — were sharply distinguished from the hill on the northeast side of the city. This seems to have been called simply collis at first, and the adjectives Viminalis, Quirinalis, Salutaris, Mucialis, Latiaris, were afterward employed to denote its different parts. Books of reference state that this distinction was regularly observed, or at least no exceptions are noted. Compare Orelli Onomasticon II, p506: proprie dicimus collem Quirinalem, collem Viminalem; contra montem Esquilinum, Palatinum, Aventinum, Caelium, Oppium; Gilbert Topographie I, p271; Jordan Topographie I.I, p179. Professor Tracy Peck has called my attention to three passages that seem at first sight to be exceptions to this rule, and there are a few others which may possibly be cited as evidence that collis and mons were sometimes interchangeable. These passages are the following:

(1) Cicero De rep. ii.11: ex omni parte arduis praeruptisque montibus (urbis) ut unus aditus qui esset inter Esquilinum Quirinalemque montem.

(2) Florus I.7 (13).16: Fabium . . . . ab area dimisit qui sollemne sacrum in Quirinali monte conficeret.º

(3) Eutropius I.7 (6): hic (Servius Tullius) quoque Sabinos subegit, montes tres Quirinalem Viminalem Esquilinum urbi adiecit.

(4) Claud. De bell. Gild. 117, 118:

tuque (Cybebe) o si sponte peraltum

vecta Palatinis mutasti collibus Idam.

(5) Id. De sext. cons. Hon. 39‑41:

non alium certe decuit rectoribus orbis

esse larem, nulloque magis se colle potestas

aestimat et summi sentit fastigia iuris.

(6) Id. ibid. 535, 536:

erexit subitas turres cunctosque coegit

septem continuo colles iuvenescere muro.

(7) Id. ibid. 543, 544:

omne Palatino quod pons a colle recedit


These passages fall naturally into three groups, the first including (1) and (3). In (1) montem is seen at once to be justified by the presence of montibus just before, used in a general sense for the hills of Rome, and especially by the coupling of Esquilinum with Quirinalem. Inter Esquilinum montem collemque Quirinalem would be both cumbrous and pedantic, while inter Esquilinum Quirinalemque collem would be open to the same objection on the score of irregularity as what Cicero actually wrote. One might, to be sure, maintain that Esquilinum is here a noun, and that montem is not to be understood as belonging to it at all, but it is very doubtful whether Esquilinus was ever used without a distinct  p464 adjectival sense being attached to it, even if mons were not expressed. This, however, happened rarely, for Esquiliae was the proper substantive form. So in the passage from Eutropius it was the most natural thing in the world to employ the common term montes when speaking of three hills, the most important of which in the early period was the Esquiline. Here, too, an amplification like colles Quirinalem Viminalemque et montem Esquilinum would be wholly foreign to the style of the Breviarium. Neither of these passages contains any definite evidence in support of the theory that in the days of either Cicero or Eutropius mons and collis had become interchangeable.

The second group comprises (4), (5) and (6), where collis is used comprehensively of the hills of the city, but the fact that Claudian chose to write collis instead of mons, where it was necessary to use one or the other, is no evidence that earlier distinctions were breaking down. Palatinis collibus is indeed a striking invention of the poet, in the substitution of Palatinis for urbis as well as in the use of collibus, and for that very reason has no bearing on the question at issue.

There remain two passages, (2) and (7), of the third group. Florus apparently did write Quirinali monte. This is his only mention of the Quirinal, and neither Viminalis nor collis occurs at all, so that we have no means of knowing whether he substituted mons for collis regularly or not. Claudian, on the other hand, uses Palatinus mons twice, Palatinus alone once, and finally Palatino colle in the passage cited. This usage, however, may easily be explained as in a sense a development of Palatinis collibus. Having once invented this combination, Claudian might easily have felt himself justified in going one step farther and writing Palatino colle, which would have appealed to him because it was a combination so wholly unusual and therefore striking. This particular occurrence of collis applied to a mons, by a poet at the beginning of the fifth century, can have only infinitesimal value in this discussion.

The Florus passage remains as the only one that can be cited in support of the belief that the Quirinal, and presumably the Viminal, were sometimes called montes. It is true that a very little positive outweighs any amount of negative evidence, and it may perhaps be admitted that even Florus would not have written mons Quirinalis if he had never heard the expression, but in the face of so many instances of the regular usage and in view of the possibilities of error in transmission, it seems very hazardous to regard an isolated occurrence in a writer of the character and date of Florus as evidence that any exception to the ordinary rule was permitted in good usage. This position is strengthened by the absence, so far as I know, of such exceptions in the inscriptions, where they might naturally be looked for.

Samuel Ball Platner

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