The New Student's Reference Work/Rome

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Ancient Rome

Rome.  Modern Rome occupies the plain on each side of the Tiber (about 15 miles from the mouth) and the slopes of seven hills, the central one of which was the Palatine hill, whose summit is about 160 feet above the sea.  These gave Rome the name of the City of the Seven Hills.  Romulus is said to have founded the city upon the Palatine, and upon its northwestern slope grew the sacred fig, under which he and his brother Remus were found sucking the she-wolf.  Upon this hill were the temple of Jupiter Stator and other sacred buildings, besides many of the finest houses in Rome.  Recent excavations have brought to light numerous remains of the palatial and other structures with which the Palatine was once covered, and these are among the most interesting remains of the Eternal City.  The Palatine was fortified at a very early period, and in the time of the later or Etruscan kings at least five of the hills had been surrounded by separate defenses.  These fortified hills with the marshy hollows between them were then enclosed by a huge rampart or agger of earth.  This agger formed the only defense until the reign of Aurelian 800 years later, and the great wall which bears the name of Aurelian is to a great extent identical with the present walls.  To the period of the kings belongs the huge, arched sewer which drains the marshy hollow between the Capitoline, Palatine and Esquiline hills.  In this valley was situated the Forum, containing about two and one half acres, which became both the market and the place of political meeting for the tribes that occupied the surrounding hills.

In the great aqueducts we have the most notable remains of the period of the republic.  The oldest was that constructed by Appius Claudius Caecus in 312 B. C., which brought water from springs more than seven miles away.  Other aqueducts were constructed during the imperial period.  These aqueducts, 14 in number, have an aggregate length of over 300 miles and are among the most striking features of modern Rome.  Of the numerous temples in Rome, of which there are said to have been as many as 300, the names and sites of about half are known, the preservation of the few which remain being due to their having been converted into churches.

The Thermæ of Agrippa, of which the Pantheon is the only portion that remains, were the earliest of the great public baths for which imperial Rome was noted.  On the low grounds at the south of the Cœlian hill were the baths of Caracalla, which were built to accommodate 1,600 bathers.  The outer walls enclosed nearly 27 acres, the baths themselves occupying nearly one fourth of this space.

A large marshy plain, which now forms the most densely populated part of Rome, extended from the Capitoline, Pincian and Quirinal hills to the Tiber, which, on account of being used for military exercises, was called Campus Martius.  Here was erected the theater of Pompey, which is said to have contained seats for 40,000 persons.  Campus Martius was the most famous of the eight campi or public parks of ancient Rome.  It lay outside the walls.  Originally a place for military exercises and contests and for the assemblings of the people, it later became a suburban pleasure-ground and was laid out with gardens, walks, baths, a race-course and theaters.  Marble halls were built there by Julius Cæsar, public baths and the Pantheon by Agrippa, the Egyptian obelisk and his own splendid tomb by Augustus.  Here also was built the first amphitheater of stone.  Later the Campus Martius became crowded with public buildings and private dwellings, and was inclosed within the city boundaries.  Near the capitol was the theater of Marcellus, of which a considerable portion yet remains.  This was begun by Julius Caesar and finished by Augustus in 11 B. C., who named it after his nephew.  The Flavian amphitheater, known as the Colosseum, which was built for gladiatorial exhibitions and the combats of wild beasts, is an ellipse, the longer diameter measuring a little over 600 feet and the shorter a little over 500.  It rises 160 feet, and covers five acres.  The oldest circus was Circus Maximus in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills, which was about three furlongs in length and one in breadth, and is said to have seated 250,000 persons.  The arrangements of a Roman circus can best be studied in the well-preserved circus on the Appian Way, which usually bears the name of Emperor Maxentius but is more correctly assigned to Romulus, his son.  Of the 12 bridges over the Tiber three are survivals of the eight or nine bridges of ancient times, the oldest being Pons Fabricius, leading from the city to the island in the Tiber.

The population in the time of Vespasian has been estimated at 2,000,000, but it is extremely doubtful if it ever exceeded 1,000,000.  The walls, which enclose nearly 4,000 acres, are 14 miles in circumference, with 15 gates, two of which are closed.  The largest palaces are the Vatican, the residence of the pope, and the Quirinal, the residence of the king, formerly a papal palace, in which were held the conclaves of cardinals for the election of popes.  The chief papal collections are contained in the galleries attached to the Vatican, probably the largest palace in the world.  In addition to the private gardens and apartments of the pope, the Vatican comprises large reception-halls, with chapels, libraries, picture-galleries and vast museums of sculptures, ancient inscriptions and other antiquities.  The famous Vatican Library, with its priceless manuscripts and collections of early printed books, occupies two immense halls.

The churches, said to number upward of 300, are among the most conspicuous features of modern Rome.  St. Peter’s, the largest cathedral in the world, begun in 1506 and completed in 1626, covers five acres and cost $10,000,000.  There also are churches of the great religious orders, 28 parish churches and titular churches of the cardinals.  Before Rome became the capital of Italy in 1870, the greater part of the Pincian, Quirinal and Esquiline hills was occupied by villas of nobles; but these have mostly been destroyed and their sites covered with modern houses, in many cases with blocks of buildings many stories in height, let out in tenements.  The ancient city is assuming the aspect of a modern capital, broad, straight thoroughfares running through many quarters formerly occupied by narrow streets and mean, crowded houses.  The seven hills, as such, have almost ceased to exist.  One of the greatest of improvements is the embankment of the Tiber and the straightening and deepening of its channel, which ended the disastrous floods to which the lower parts of the city were formerly subject.  All the necessaries of life have to be imported from a distance, as Rome is surrounded by the Campagna di Roma (q. v.), a marshy plain which includes the greater part of ancient Latium and, for the most part, is an untilled and uninhabited waste, about 90 miles in length and from 20 to 40 in width.  Corn and wine are brought from Tuscany and from the fertile Terra di Lavoro near Naples.  There are practically no manufactures; and the prosperity of the city depends mainly on the courts of the king and the pope and on the foreign visitors who crowd the hotels during the winter.  The railways from all parts of Italy converge outside the city, which they enter near Porta Maggiore on the Esquiline, having a common terminus on the summit of the Quirinal.  See Roman Empire.  See Vernon Lee’s The Spirit of Rome, Hare’s Walks in Rome, Mommsen’s Rome and Crawford’s Ave Roma Immortalis.  Population of the city 538,634; of the district 1,298,142.