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The Seven Hills of Rome

The semicircle of hills forming the nucleus of historic Rome which converge round the hollow of the Forum - the Palatine, towards the south ; the Velian, Esquilian, Viminal, Quirinal, towards the east and north-east) is closed in, towards the north-west, by a steep hill of volcanic tufa, the Capitoline. The Capitoline separates from each other two plains of very unequal size : to the north, the plain bordering on the Tiber, the Campus Martius ; to the south, the Forum Boarium with its adjacent land of the Velabrum and the Forum, leaving between them only two narrow passages : the one to the south-west, about two hundred yards wide, along the river; the other, at its north-eastern extremity, in the vicinity of the Quirinal.

Primitively, the Capitoline hill was not, as it is to-day, a height isolated on all sides. It was joined to the Quirinal, of which it formed a prolongation, by a rocky saddle about a two hundred yards long and thirty-three yards high. This saddle, which existed throughout the period of the Republic, disappeared at the beginning of the second century AD, when Trajan, in order to establish a direct connection between the Forum and the Campus Martius, levelled the natural soil and built, at a lower level, the Forum that bears his name.

The Capitoline hill, which is about five hundred yards long from north-east to south-west, and two hundred yards broad, in its widest part, comprises two summits connected by a saddle fairly similar to the one formerly linking together the Capitol and the Quirinal. The northern summit, the ancient Arx, is at once the highest part (rather more than fifty yards, at the site of the present Church of S. Maria in Aracoeli) and that which has the smallest area (eight thousand eight hundred to nine thousand nine hundred square yards) ; the southern summit, the Capitol properly so called, of slightly less altitude (fifty yards at the site of the Palazzo Caffarelli) possesses a considerably larger area (about sixteen thousand five hundred square yards). The saddle connecting the two summits, the ancient Asylum, has an altitude of forty-two yards at the site of the Piazza del Campidoglio ; its area is almost equal to that of the Arx. The whole of the Capitol, with its two culminating points (fifty-three and fifty yards), has a mean altitude of thirtythree yards above the Campus Martius to the north-west (height nineteen to twenty yards), and to the south-west above the hollow of the Velabrum (ancient level at the foot of the Janus Quadrifons, twelve yards) and the Forum (fourteen yards).

The essential geographical characteristics of the Capitol, - to wit, its being naturally connected with the Quirinal, and, on the contrary, its being isolated from the Palatine, on account of the marshes of the Forum and the Velabrum ; its rising, on all sides, steeply above the surrounding plains ; and, last of all, its restricted area, which did not lend itself, as the table-lands of the Palatine, the Caelian, and the Quirinal did, to the establishment of considerable-sized colonies, - exercised a decisive influence on the history of the hill.

The two portions of the Capitol seem to have, at first, had an independent history and development. Until the end of the monarchical period, there was no name which designated the whole of the hill. From the outset, the Arx appears to have depended on the Quirinal, and on the Sabine colony that was established there. The southern height primitively bore the name of the Mons Tarpeius. It was occupied by a colony, probably of Latin origin, which, according to the legend, had been founded by Saturn, and, from the name of its founder, had taken the name of Saturnia.

The wars which were subsequently waged between the Latins of the Palatine and the Sabines of the Quirinal resulted in the Sabines temporarily occupying the Capitol. The treaty concluded between Romulus and Titus Tatius, which terminated the dissensions of the two peoples and gave equal powers to the two kings, opens a new era in the history of the Capitol. Henceforward, the unity of the populations established in the center of the Roman soil was an accomplished fact. The Capitol became the citadel of the town.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:28:49 ZULU