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The timber huts of a pastoral people; the Lupercal Cave, where Romulus and Remus were found, suckled by the she-wolf; the Casa Romuli, which was venerated as the dwelling of Romulus, himself, where, says Virgil, Aeneas spent his first night in Rome--all are placed on the Palatine hill (Mons Palatinus), its boundary (pomerium) first marked out by Romulus (Tacitus, Annals, XII.24).. It also was considered to be the most fashionable residential district in Rome, where its most illustrious citizens, including Sulla, Cicero, Crassus, Agrippa, and Mark Antony, built their homes. Augustus, too, had his house on the Palatine, which has been identified as the Casa di Livia. Most private homes eventually gave way to make room for what, in effect, was the imperial palace (the word, in fact, takes its name from the hill).


The first palace, the Domus Tiberiana, was built by Tiberius and occupied the northwest portion of the hill. Except for the ruins that loom behind the Forum, almost nothing now remains, having been covered by the Farnese Gardens. Later additions, completed by Domitian in AD 92, extended the complex of buildings and terraces over the entire Palatine. Together, they comprise a basilica and state rooms (Domus Flavia) for official use, as well as the imperial palace itself, the Domus Augustiana.

"When he built the Septizonium he had no other thought than that his building should strike the eyes of those who came to Rome from Africa."

Historia Augusta: The Life of Septimius Severus (XXIV.3; also XIX.5)


Extending beyond the arched substructions built by Septimius Severus that still dominate the landscape above the Circus Maximus was the Septizodium, so named for the seven planetary deities it honored. The decorative façade, which was dedicated by Severus in AD 203, partially screened the hill behind and so make the first appearance of the imperial precinct all the more impressive to the visitor approaching along the Via Appia.

Similar to the scaenae frons that served as the imposing backdrop of the Roman theater stage, it probably held statues of the imperial family among its niches and Corinthian columns. Although the architecture is similar to that of a nymphaeum, there is no evidence that there ever was running water or fountains. Ammianus Marcellinus considered the Septizodium "a much frequented spot, where the emperor Marcus Aurelius [sic] erected a Nymphaeum of pretentious style" (XV.7.3).

Portions of the three-story structure survived until the late sixteenth century, when its rare marbles were appropriated for various papal buildings.

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