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The City of Rome

The city, which was not built in a manner suitable to the grandeur of the empire, and was liable to inundation of the Tiber, as well as to fires, was so much improved under his administration, that he boasted, not without reason, that he found it of brick, but left it of marble. He also rendered it secure for the time to come against such disasters, as far as could be effected by human foresight. --- The Divine Augustus by Suetonius

The entire period from the date of the foundation of the city, 753 BC, to the establishment of the republic, 509 B.C., is in its detailed history unknown, and from the mass of myth and legend it is possible to derive the very broadest conceptions only of the beginnings of the Roman state. This is due to the fact that the authentic records of Rome date only from 390 BC, the year of the destruction of the city by the Gauls. Tradition, then, speaks of seven kings who, including Romulus, ruled over the city for 243 years and assigns to each definite services rendered to the state.

The situation of Rome on the hills near the mouth of the Tiber was favorable for its development, and in the course of time the city extended its authority over the neighboring country until with the destruction of Alba Longa, the ancient religious center of the Latin peoples, it came to assume a predominant position in Latium.

Mommsen has described the city of Rome under the republic in the following graphic words: "The streets ascended and descended narrow and angular, and were wretchedly kept; the footpaths were small and ill paved. The ordinary houses were built of bricks negligently and to a giddy height, mostly by speculative builders. Like isolated islands amidst this sea of wretched buildings were seen the splendid palaces of the rich, beside whose marble pillars and Greek statues the decaying temples, with their images of the gods still in great part carved of wood, made a melancholy figure. A police supervision of streets, of river-banks, of fires, or of buildings was almost unheard of."

Julius Caesar made some progress in remedying this state of affairs and in beautifying the city, but it was left to his successor to carry his plans to completion. Agrippa, the minister of Augustus, rebuilt the aqueducts, reorganized the water department, and constructed a number of new baths, bridges, and temples, but the greater part of the work was carried out under the direct supervision of the emperor. Augustus proudly wrote in the memorial of his life which the inscribed record found at Ancyra in Asia Minor, and known as the monumentum Ancyranum, has preserved to us: "The Capitolium and the Pompeian theatre- both very costly works-I restored. . . . Water-conduits in many places that were decaying with age I repaired. . . . The Forum lulium and the basilica, which was between the temple of Castor and the temple of Saturn, works begun and far advanced by my father, I completed. ... In my sixth consulship, I repaired eighty-two temples of the gods. . . . On ground belonging to myself I built a temple to Mars Ultor and the Forum Augustum, with money arising from the sale of the spoils of war;" and so the record runs through a list which might well justify him in boasting that "he found Rome brick and left it marble." To protect the lives and property of the citizens he established a fire and police department, numbering seven or eight thousand men, and reorganized the system of municipal administration.

The Romans imitated the Greeks in many things but not in their abandonment of human sacrifice, which was a part of the festivities at the funerals of the great. From simpler arenas these events were transferred to the market places, the first to the Forum Boarium, 264 B.C. For a long time the Forum Romanum was one of the most popular stages for these bloody shows. The Colosseum succeeded it. The Colosseum was the conception and the achievement of the Flavian emperors: Vespasian began it, Titus advanced it and Domitian completed it. Vespasian came from the people; looked to them for popularity and support and built this, the first considerable edifice for the public since the time of Augustus, for the. use of the classes. It was in the heart of Rome, a short distance from the Capitol, adjacent to the palaces of the Caesars. About it surged the high tide of Roman life.

The Romulan Circus, afterward known as the Circus Maximus, was in the valley between the Palatine and the Aventine, and was the only one in Rome for nearly 400 years. The Flaminian, constructed in 212 BC, was the second, and the Flora came next, the gift of a noted courtesan. The wealthy and powerful then began to attach circuses to their establishments - Sallust, between the Quirinal and the Pincian, Caligula in the Vatican gardens, Heliogabalus in the Varian gardens, and Alexander Severus in his grounds. It was a subject of satirical comment that Rome possessed nine circuses and only three theatres and three amphitheatres.

Temples, unknown in the earliest Roman worship, came to hold a large place in the life of the city, and were probably the first public buildings in time and importance. There were eight types; the aedes, a sacred edifice with prescribed parts; the templum, an open space or edifice consecrated by the augurs; the fanum, a plot of ground consecrated by the pontiff; the dulubrum, an edifice consecrated to several divinities; the tesca, for the deities of a desert place; the sedicula, a little temple apart; the sacellum, a roofed or unroofed cella containing the statue of its divinity, and the lucus, a sacred grove.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:51:06 ZULU