Ancient Rome as a City

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The geographer Strabo described Rome around A.D. 20. The historian William Stearns Davis wrote: “Addressing a Greek audience, Strabo gives us this impression of the physical aspect of the mighty city that had mastered the Greek World.. He wrote in the age of Augustus. The city probably continued to increase in magnificence for the next two hundred years, and a number of the most famous buildings, e.g. the Flavian Amphitheater, were not yet erected.”

Strabo (64/3 B.C.- A.D. c.21) wrote in “Geography”, V.iii (A.D. c. 20): “The Greek cities are thought to have flourished mainly on account of the felicitous choice made by their founders, in regard to the beauty and strength of their sites, their proximity to some haven, and the fineness of the country. But the Roman prudence was more particularly employed on matters which have received but little attention from the Greeks — such as paving their roads, constructing aqueducts, and sewers. In fact they have paved the roads, cut through hills, and filled up valleys, so that the merchandise may be conveyed by carriage from the ports. The sewers, arched over with hewn stones, are large enough in parts for actual hay wagons to pass through, while so plentiful is the supply of water from the aqueducts, that rivers may be said to flow through the city and the sewers, and almost every house is furnished with water pipes and copious fountains. [Source: Strabo (64/3 B.C.- A.D. c.21): “Geography”, V.iii A.D. c. 20, William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 232-237]

“We may remark that the ancients [of Republican times] bestowed little attention upon the beautifying of Rome. But their successors, and especially those of our own day, have at the same time embellished the city with numerous and splendid objects. Pompey, the Divine Caesar [i.e. Julius Caesar], and Augustus, with his children, friends, wife, and sister have surpassed all others in their zeal and munificence in these decorations. The greater number of these may be seen in the Campus Martius which to the beauties of nature adds those of art. The size of the plain is remarkable, allowing chariot races and the equestrian sports without hindrance, and multitudes [here] exercise themselves with ball games, in the Circus, and on the wrestling grounds. The structures that surround [the Campus], the greensward covered with herbage all the year around, the summit of the hills beyond the Tiber, extending from its banks with panoramic effect, present a spectacle which the eye abandons with regret.

“Near to this plain is another surrounded with columns, sacred groves, three theaters, an amphitheater, and superb temples, each close to the other, and so splendid that it would seem idle to describe the rest of the city after it. For this cause the Romans esteeming it the most sacred place, have erected funeral monuments there to the illustrious persons of either sex. The most remarkable of these is that called the "Mausoleum" [the tomb of Augustus] which consists of a mound of earth raised upon a high foundation of white marble, situated near the river, and covered on the top with evergreen shrubs. Upon the summit is a bronze statue of Augustus Caesar, and beneath the mound are the funeral urns of himself, his relatives, and his friends. Behind is a large grove containing charming promenades. In the center of the plain [the Campus Martius] is the spot where [the body of] this prince was reduced to ashes. It is surrounded by a double enclosure, one of marble, the other of iron, and planted within with poplars. If thence you proceed to visit the ancient Forum, which is equally filled with basilicas, porticoes, and temples, you will there behold the Capitol, the Palatine, and the noble works that adorn them, and the piazza of Livia [Augustus's Empress], each successive work causing you speedily to forget that which you have seen before. Such then is Rome!

“In Rome there is continual need of wood and stone for ceaseless building caused by the frequent falling down of houses, and on account of conflagrations and of sales which seem never to cease. These sales are a kind of voluntary falling-down of houses, each owner knocking down and rebuilding according to his individual taste. For these purposes the numerous quarries, forests, and rivers in the region which convey the materials, offer wonderful facilities.

“Augustus Caesar endeavored to avert from the city the dangers alluded to, and instituted a company of freedmen, who should be ready to lend their assistance in the ease of conflagration, while as a preventive against falling houses he decreed that all new buildings should not be carried to the same height as formerly, and those erected along the public ways should not exceed seventy feet in height. But these improvements must have ceased except for the facilities afforded to Rome by the quarries, the forests, and the ease of transport.”

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Pliny the Elder on the Layout of Rome

William Stearns Davis wrote:“The following short sketch of Rome, its streets, buildings, etc., is given us by a careful author, writing in the reign of Vespasian (69-79 A.D.). While the area of Rome was far inferior to various great modern capitals, probably the masses of the population were so compactly housed that the inhabitants in Pliny's time numbered well up to 1,500,000, although any estimates must be very uncertain.”

Pliny the Elder wrote in “Natural History” III.v.66-67: “Romulus left the city of Rome, if we are to believe those who state the very greatest number, with only three gates, and no more. When the Vespasians' were Emperors and Censors in the year of the building of the city, 826 [73 CE], the circumference of the walls which surrounded it was thirteen and two-fifths miles. Surrounding as it does the Seven Hills, the city is divided into fourteen districts, with 265 crossroads under the guardianship of the Lares [i.e., a little shrine to the Lares would stand at each crossing]. [Source: Pliny the Elder (23/4-79 A.D.), “The Grandeur of Rome”, from Natural History, III.v.66-67, NH XXXVI.xxiv.101-110, NH XXXVI.xxiv.121-123. (A.D. c. 75) , William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 179-181, 232-237]

“If a straight line is drawn from the mile column placed at the entrance of the Forum to each of the gates, which are at present thirty-seven in number — taking care to count only once the twelve double gates, and to omit the seven old ones, which no longer exist — the total result will be a straight line of twenty miles and 765 paces. But if we draw a straight line from the same mile column to the very last of the houses, including therein the Praetorian camp [in the suburbs] and follow throughout the line of the streets, the result will be something over seventy miles. Add to these calculations the height of the houses, and then a person may form a fair idea of this city, and surely he must confess that no other place in the world can vie with it in size.

“On the eastern side it is bounded by the mound (agger) of Tarquinius Superbus — a work of surpassing grandeur; for he raised it so high as to be on a level with the walls on the side on which the city lay most exposed to attack from the neighboring plains. On all the other sides it has been fortified either with lofty walls, or steep and precipitous hills; yet it has come to pass, that the buildings of Rome — increasing and extending beyond all bounds — have now united many outlying towns to it.

Model of the area around the Pantheon in ancient Rome

Roman Buildings

Roman structures looked more like modern buildings than their Greek counterparts. Roman structures were not just rows of columns with a roof; the columns intermingled with solid walls and arches. In the introduction of his ten-volume treatise on architecture, the Roman architect Vitruvius laid the basic rules for a good building — it had to be functional, firm and delightful.

Roman architecture was oriented towards practical purposes and creating interior spaces. Roman buildings looked heavy on the outside. One of the main goals was to create large interior spaces.

Some say that the Romans took Etruscan elements — the high podium and columns arranged in a semicircle — and incorporated them with Greek temple architecture. Roman temples were more spacious than their Greek counterparts because unlike the Greeks, who displayed only a statue of the god the temple was built for, the Roman needed room for their statues and weapons they took as trophies from the people they conquered.

One of the main differences between Greek and Roman architecture was that the Greek buildings were intended to be viewed from the outside and Romans created huge indoor spaces that were put to many uses. Greek temples were essentially a roof with forest of columns underneath it that were necessary to support it. They had nevr learned to develop the arch, dome or vaults to great level of sophistication. The Romans used these three elements of architecture to construct all sorts of different kinds of structures: baths, aqueducts, basilicas, etc. The curve was the essential feature: "walls became ceilings, ceilings reached up to the heavens." ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

The Greeks depended on post-and-lintel architecture while the Romans used the arch. The arch helped the Romans construct larger interior spaces. If the Pantheon was built using Greek methods the large open space inside would have been overcrowded with columns.

Unlike the Greeks who primarily built their edifices from cut and chiseled stone, the Romans used concrete (a mixture of limestone-derived mortar, gravel, sand and rubble) and fired red brick (often decorated with colored glazes) as well as marble and blocks of stone to construct their buildings.

Pliny the Elder on the Great Buildings and Achievements of Rome

Pliny the Elder wrote in “Natural History” History XXXVI.xxiv.101-110: “In great buildings as well as in other things the rest of the world has been outdone by us Romans. If, indeed, all the buildings in our City are considered in the aggregate, and supposing them — so to say — all thrown together in one vast mass, the united grandeur of them would lead one to imagine that we were describing another world, accumulated in a single spot. [Source: Pliny the Elder (23/4-79 A.D.), “The Grandeur of Rome”, from Natural History, III.v.66-67, NH XXXVI.xxiv.101-110, NH XXXVI.xxiv.121-123. (A.D. c. 75) , William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 179-181, 232-237]

area around Circus Maximus and Colosseum

“Not to mention among our great works the Circus Maximus, that was built by the Dictator Caesar — one stadium broad and three in length — and occupying with the adjacent buildings no less than four iugera [about 2 acres] with room for no less than 160,000 spectators seated — am I not, however, to include in the number of our magnificent structures the Basilica of Paulus with its admirable Phrygian columns [built also in Julius Caesar's day], the Forum of the late Emperor Augustus, the Temple of Peace erected by the Emperor Vespasian Augustus — some of the finest work the world has ever seen? [and many others].

“We behold with admiration pyramids that were built by kings, while the very ground alone that was purchased by the Dictator Caesar, for the construction of his Forum, cost 100,000,000 sesterces. If, too, an enormous expenditure has its attractions for any one whose mind is influenced by money matters, be it known that the house in which Clodius [Cicero's enemy] dwelt was purchased by him at a price of 14,800,000 sesterces — a thing which I for my part look upon as no less astonishing than the monstrous follies that have been displayed by kings.”

Pliny the Elder wrote in “Natural History” XXXVI.xxiv.121-123: “Passing to the dwellings of the city, in the consulship of Lepidus and Catulus [78 B.C.] we learn on good authority there was not in all Rome a finer house than that belonging to Lepidus himself, but yet — by Hercules! — within twenty-five years the very same house did not hold the hundredth rank simply in the City! Let anybody calculate — if he please — considering this fact, the vast masses of marble, the productions of painters, the regal treasures that must have been expended in bringing these hundred mansions to vie with one that in its day had been the most sumptuous and celebrated in all the City; and then let him reflect that, since then and down to the present, these houses had all of them been surpassed by others without number. There can be no doubt that the great fires are a punishment inflicted upon us for our luxury; but such are our habits, that in spite of such warnings, we cannot be made to understand that there are things in existence more perishable than even man himself.”

Buildings in Rome

Palatine Hill (near the Arch of Titus, overlooking the Forum) is a plateau with a 75-acre park with the remains of palaces belonging to many Roman emperors and important Roman citizens such as such as Cicero, Crassus, Mark Antony and Augustus. The word palace and “palazzo” come from the name "Palantine." According to legend Palatine Hill is where Romulus and Remus were suckled by their she wolf mother and where Rome was founded in the 8th century B.C., when Romulus killed Remus there. Augustus was born on Palantine Hill and lived in a modest house there that was recently excavated, revealing extraordinary frescoes that mostly likely came from Egypt after the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra.

Most of the great imperial Roman palaces have been reduced to foundations and walls but are still impressive, if for no other reason than their immense size. One of the largest and best preserved complexes is the ruined Palace of Domitian which shares the top of hill with a garden and is divided into an official palace, private residence and stadium. The walls are so high, archaeologists are still unsure how the roof was put one without making the walls collapse. In the House of Livia (August's wife) you can still the remnants of wall paintings and black and white mosaics. Next to the Domus Flavia is the ruin of a small private stadium and fountain so large it occupies an entire square.

Model of the area around Fori-imperiali in ancient Rome

Fori Imperiali (across Via dei Fori Imperiali from the Forum) is a collections of temples, basilicas and other buildings dating back to the A.D. 1st and 2nd centuries. Established by Caesar, it contains the Forum of Caesar, the Forum of Trajan, the Markets of Trajan, the Templeto Venis Gentex, Forum of Augustus, Forum Transitorium, and Vespasian's Forum (now part of the Church of Santo Cosma e Damiano).

Hadrian's Tomb (on the east side of the Tiber River, not far from Piazza Navona) was built in the A.D. 2nd century. The fortress-like impregnability of this massive round block has made it useful for more than just entombing bodies. It has also been used as a palace, prison and fortress for Popes and rival nobles. It now houses military and art museums. Mausoleum of Augustus (adjacent to the Altar of Peace) is a circular brick mound. It once housed the funerary urns of the Roman emperor and his family.

The Ara Pacis (near the Ponte Cavour on the Tiber River) contains some of the finest bas reliefs from the Roman period. Dedicated in A.D. 9 and housed in a glass case, this beautiful box shrine is decorated on the outside with reliefs of Roman myths, families and toga-clad children enjoying processions and celebrations. On the inside is a simple altar with a set of stairs. There are ornamental and allegorical panels more reminiscent of something you would find decorating a mosque or a manuscript not a Roman shrine, which is dedicated to the period of peace after the Roman victories in Gaul and Spain. “Ara Pacis” means the “Altar of Peace.”

The Palestrina is the home of the majestic Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, a massive complex built in the first century B.C. with six different levels organized like steps. The first consists of a broad road hidden from view by a sloping triangular wall. The second two levels are formed by a series of ramps that are supported by arched colonnades. The fort level consists of a courtyard surrounded by buildings and capped by a the fifth level, a long tower.

Other Roman Ruins include the massive ruined arches of a bridge on the island of Tiber; the Bath of Diocletian near the Train Station; the remnants of the Aurelian Wall; 83-foot-tall embellished Column of Marcus Aurelius (built after his death to honor his military victories); and a portion of the base of Milliarium Aureum (the "golden milestone"), the gilded bronze column raised in 20 B.C. by Augustus that listed the mileage between Rome and her principal cities.

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Roman Forum

The Roman Forum (between the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill) is a huge jumble of weathered arches, fallen columns, broken pedestals, stone blocks and buildings still in the process of being restored. Set up like a big park, it is a good place to stroll around admire Roman architecture and watch cats fight.

Situated in a long green valley that was originally a swamp, it was used by the predecessors of the Etruscans to bury their dead. The Etruscans and Greeks set up a market there. The early Romans established a village where Romulus held a meeting on 753 B.C. that led to the rape of the Sabine women. In Imperial Rome, , the Forum was sort of like New York's Park Avenue and Washington D.C.'s Mall all rolled into one. It was the political and economic center of Rome and the main gathering place for Rome's people.

People came here to chat and gossip with their friends; to listen to orators and politicians, who stood on podiums pontificating about the issues of the day; to worship and make sacrifices to their pagan Gods; and to shop for foodstuffs and items brought in from as far as Africa and Persia. Emperors and noblemen built their palaces on the hills surrounding the Forum.

For 500 years, until the middle of the 5th century when Rome was sacked, every emperor raised new monuments in the Forum. After Rome was claimed by Barbarian tribes, the Forum was abandoned and ignored. When archeologists began excavating it in the 19th century it was covered by 20 feet of soil and cattle grazed on the grass above it.

The Forum today is divided into the Civic Forum (Capitoline Hill side of the Forum), Market Quare, the Lower Forum, the Upper Forum (Colosseum-side entrance of the Forum), the Velia and Palantine Hill. As is true with the Colosseum, most of the buildings are the brick superstructures of the originals, whose marble facades were dismantled and carted away and used to make other building in Rome such as St. Peter's Basilica. Some of the pieces of stone have numbers on them to identify their position. The Temple of Mars Ultor (mars the Avenger) is dedicated to the god of war for evenging Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar.

Buildings in the Roman Forum

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Forum area
Sacred Way is a stone-paved walkway that runs from Titus's Arch to the Arch of Septimius Severus near Capitoline Hill. The oldest street in Rome and the main thoroughfare of the Forum, it is where chariot-borne emperors rode past worshipping crowds and where victorious Roman generals once paraded their troops. Most of the main buildings of the Forum face the Sacred Way.

Buildings in the Roman Forum included the Arch of Septimius Severus (Capitoline Hill side of the Forum), erected in A.D. 203 to commemorate Severus's victories in the Middle East; Civic Forum, the home of the some of most important buildings in the Forum: the Basilica Aemilia, curia and commitium; Basilica Aemilia (next to the Arch of Septimius Severus), a large structure built in 179 B.C. for money changers to operate (remains of melted bronze coins can be seen in the pavement); and the Basilica Julia (next to the Temple of Saturn), an ancient courthouse. Today it consists mostly of the pedestals and the remains of foundations.

the Curia (next to the Basilica Aemilia) is a partially restored brick structure that once housed the Roman Senate. In front of the curia is the “commitium” , an open space where representatives of the plebeians (ordinary people) met and the Twelve Tablets, inscribed bronze tablets on which the first codified laws of the Roman Republic were kept. The large brick platform on the edge of the commitium is the Rostrum. Erected by Caesar shortly before his death on 44 B.C., it was used for giving speeches.

Market Square (below the Civic Forum) is where you can find the Lapis Niger, a black marble slab that reputedly marks the tomb of Romulus, the legendary, wolf-reared founder and first king of Rome. It contains the oldest known Latin inscription (a warning not desecrate the shrine). In the middle of square the Three Sacred Trees of Rome (olive, fig and grape ) have been replanted. Nearby is a well-preserved single column that was built in honor of Phocas, a 7th century Byzantine emperor.

The Basilica of Maxentius (in the Velia area, near the Arch of Titus on the Colosseum-side entrance of the Forum) is one of the largest Forum monuments. Also known as Basilica of Constantine, it is an A.D. fifth-century structure with towering brick walls and three huge barrel-vaulted arches. The design of the basilica reportedly inspired St. Peter's basilica. Parts of the gigantic statue that were once inside are now kept in the Palazzo die Conservatori on Capatoline Hill). Nearby is the Forum Antiquarium, a small museum with a display of funeral urns and skeletons from the necropolis.

Temples in the Roman Forum

The Lower Forum (below Palantine Hill on the Capitoline Hill side of the Forum) is the home of the Temple of Saturn, Temple of Castor and Pollex, the Arch of Augustus and the Temple of Deified Julius. Temple of Saturn (below Palantine Hill on the Capitoline Hill side of the Forum) is a structure with eight standing columns where wild orgies honoring the god Saturn were held.

House of the Vestals
The Temple of Castor and Pollex (next to the Basilica Julia) honors the Gemini twins, the equivalent of patron saints for armies and commanders. According legend they appeared at the Basin of Juturna at the temple and helped the Romans defeat the Etruscans at a pivotal battle in 496 B.C. The most noticeable part of the temple is a group of three connected columns. Down the road from the Temple of Castor and Pollex is the Arch of Augustus and the Temple of Deified Julius, which Augustus built to honor his father. Behind the Temple of Deified Julius is the Upper Forum.

Upper Forum (Colosseum-side entrance of the Forum) contains the House of Vestal Virgins, the Temple of Antonius and Fustina (near the Basilica of Maxentius. The House of Vestal Virgins (near Palantine Hill, next to the Temple of Castor and Pollex) is a sprawling 55-room complex with statues of virgin priestess. The statue whose name has been scratched is believed to belong to a virgin who converted to Christianity. The Temple of the Vestal Virgins is a restored circular buildings where vestal virgins performed rituals and tended Rome's eternal flame for more than a thousand years. Across the square fromm the temple is the Regia, where Rome's highest priest had his office.

The Temple of Antonius and Fustina (left of the Basilica of Maxentius) contains a firm foundation and well-preserved ceiling lattice work. Nearby is an ancient necropolis with graves that date back to the 8th century and an ancient drainage sewer that is still in use. The Temple of Romulus contains its original A.D. 4th century bronze doors, which still have a working lock.

Water Supply and Aqueducts in Rome and Roman Cities

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The site of Rome itself was well supplied with water. Springs were abundant, and wells could be sunk to find water at no great depth. Rain water was collected in cisterns, and the water from the Tiber was used. But these sources came to be inadequate, and in 312 B.C. the first of the great aqueducts (aquae) was built by the famous censor, Appius Claudius, and named for him the Aqua Appia. It was eleven miles long, of which all but three hundred feet was underground. This and the Anio Vetus, built forty years later, supplied the lower levels of the city. The first high-level aqueduct, the Marcia, was built by Quintus Marcius Rex, to bring water to the top of the Capitoline Hill, in 140 B.C. Its water was and still is particularly cold and good. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

Roman aqueduct

“The Tepula, named from the temperature of its waters, and completed in 125 B.C., was the last built during the Republic. Under Augustus three more were built, the Julia and the Virgo by Agrippa, and the Alsietina by Augustus, for his naumachia. The Claudia, whose ruined arches are still a magnificent sight near Rome, and the Anio Novus were begun by Caligula and finished by Claudius. The Traiana was built by Trajan in 109 A.D., and the last, the Alexandrina, by Alexander Severus. Eleven aqueducts then served ancient Rome. Modern Rome is considered unusually well supplied with water from four, using the sources and occasionally the channels of as many of the ancient ones. The Virgo, now Acqua Vergine, was first restored by Pius V in 1570. The springs of the Alexandrina supply the Acqua Felice, built in 1585. The Aqua Traiana was restored as the Acqua Paola in 1611. The famous Marcia was reconstructed in 1870 as the Acqua Pia, or Marcia-Pia.

“The channels of the aqueducts were generally built of masonry, for lack of sufficiently strong pipes. Cast-iron pipes the Romans did not have, lead was rarely used for large pipes, and bronze would have been too expensive. Because of this lack, and not because they did not understand the principle of the siphon, high pressure aqueducts were less commonly constructed. To avoid high pressure, the aqueducts that supplied Rome with water, and many others, were built at a very easy slope and frequently carried around hills and valleys, though tunnels and bridges were sometimes used to save distance. The great arches, so impressive in their ruins, were used for comparatively short distances, as most of the channels were underground. |+|

“In the cities the water was carried into distributing reservoirs (castella), from which ran the street mains. Lead pipes (fistulae) carried the water into the houses. These pipes were made of strips of sheet lead with the edges folded together and welded at the joining, thus being pear-shaped rather than round. As these pipes were stamped with the name of the owner and user, the finding of many at Rome in our own time has made it possible to locate the sites of the residences of many distinguished Romans. In Pompeii these pipes can be seen easily now, for in that mild climate they were often laid on the ground close to the house, not buried as in most parts of this country. The poor must have carried the water that they used from the public fountains that were placed at frequent intervals in the streets, where the water ran constantly for all comers.” |+|

Pliny the Elder on the Sewers and Aqueducts of Rome

Pliny the Elder wrote in “Natural History” History XXXVI.xxiv.101-110: ““Frequently praise is given to the great sewer system of Rome. There are seven "rivers" made to flow, by artificial channels, beneath the city. Rushing onward like so many impetuous torrents, they are compelled to carry off and sweep away all the sewerage; and swollen as they are by the vast accession of the rain water, they reverberate against the sides and bottoms of their channels. Occasionally too the Tiber, overflowing, is thrown backward in its course, and discharges itself by these outlets. Obstinate is the struggle that ensues between the meeting tides, but so firm and solid is the masonry that it is able to offer an effectual resistance. Enormous as are the accumulations that are carried along above, the work of the channels never gives way. Houses falling spontaneously to ruins, or leveled with the ground by conflagrations are continually battering against them; now and then the ground is shaken by earthquakes, and yet — built as they were in the days of Tarquinius Priscus, seven hundred years ago — these constructions have survived, all but unharmed.” [Source: Pliny the Elder (23/4-79 A.D.), “The Grandeur of Rome”, from Natural History, III.v.66-67, NH XXXVI.xxiv.101-110, NH XXXVI.xxiv.121-123. (A.D. c. 75) , William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 179-181, 232-237]

lead pipes

Pliny the Elder wrote in “Natural History” XXXVI.xxiv.121-123: “But let us now turn our attention to some marvels that, if justly appreciated, may be pronounced to remain unsurpassed. Quintus Marcius Rex [praetor in 144 B.C.] upon being commanded by the Senate to repair the Appian Aqueduct and that of the Anio, constructed during his praetorship a new aqueduct that bore his name, and was brought hither by a channel pierced through the very sides of mountains. Agrippa, during his aedileship, united the Marcian and the Virgin Aqueducts and repaired and strengthened the channels of others. He also formed 700 wells, in addition to 500 fountains, and 130 reservoirs, many of them magnificently adorned. Upon these works too he erected 300 statues of marble or bronze, and 400 marble columns, and all this in the space of a single year! In the work which he has written in commemoration of his aedileship, he also informs us that public games were celebrated for the space of fifty-seven days and 170 gratuitous bathing places were opened to the public. The number of these at Rome has vastly increased since his time.

“The preceding aqueducts, however, have all been surpassed by the costly work which has more recently been completed by the Emperors Gaius [Caligula] and Claudius. Under these princes the Curtian and the Caerulean Waters with the "New Anio" were brought a distance of forty miles, and at so high a level that all the hills — whereon Rome is built — were supplied with water. The sum expended on these works was 350,000,000 sesterces. If we take into account the abundant supply of water to the public, for baths, ponds, canals, household purposes, gardens, places in the suburbs and country houses, and then reflect upon the distances that are traversed from the sources on the hills, the arches that have been constructed, the mountains pierced, the valleys leveled, we must perforce admit that there is nothing more worthy of our admiration throughout the whole universe.”

Juvenal Complains About All the Foreigners in Rome

Like most Roman satirists, Juvenal wrote in from a conservative viewpoint. His Third Satire is an aggressive attack on the internationalization of the city Rome. Juvenal wrote in Satire III: On the City of Rome (A.D. c. 118): ““Since at Rome there is no place for honest pursuits, no profit to be got by honest toil — my fortune is less to-day than it was yesterday, and to-morrow must again make that little less — we purpose emigrating to the spot where Daedalus put off his wearied wings, while my grey hairs are still but few, my old age green and erect; while something yet remains for Lachesis to spin, and I can bear myself on my own legs, without a staff to support my right hand. Let us leave our native land. There let Arturius and Catulus live. Let those continue in it who turn black to white; for whom it is an easy matter to get contracts for building temples, clearing rivers, constructing harbors, cleansing the sewers, the furnishing of funerals, and under the mistress-spear set up the slave to sale. [Source: “The Satires of Juvenal, Persius, Sulpicia and Lucilius,” translated by Rev. Lewis Evans (London: Bell & Daldy, 1869), pp. 15-27]

“It is that the city is become Greek, Quirites, that I cannot tolerate; and yet how small the proportion even of the dregs of Greece! Syrian Orontes has long since flowed into the Tiber, and brought with it its language, morals, and the crooked harps with the flute-player, and its national tambourines, and girls made to stand for hire at the Circus. Go thither, you who fancy a barbarian harlot with embroidered turban. That rustic of yours, Quirinus, takes his Greek supper-cloak, and wears Greek prizes on his neck besmeared with Ceroma. One forsaking steep Sicyon, another Amydon, a third from Andros, another from Samos, another again from Tralles, or Alabanda, swarm to Esquiliae, and the hill called from its osiers, destined to be the very vitals, and future lords of great houses. These have a quick wit, desperate impudence, a ready speech, more rapidly fluent even than Isaeus. Tell me what you fancy he is? He has brought with him whatever character you wish — grammarian rhetorician, geometer, painter, trainer, soothsayer, ropedancer, physician, wizard — he knows everything. Bid the hungry Greekling go to heaven! He'll go. In short, it was neither Moor, nor Sarmatian, nor Thracian, that took wings, but one born in the heart of Athens. Shall I not shun these men's purple robes? Shall this fellow take precedence of me in signing his name, and recline pillowed on a more honorable couch than I, though imported to Rome by the same wind that brought the plums and figs? Does it then go so utterly for nothing, that my infancy inhaled the air of Aventine, nourished on the Sabine berry? Why add that this nation, most deeply versed in flattery, praises the conversation of an ignorant, the face of a hideously ugly friend, and compares some weak fellow's crane-like neck to the brawny shoulders of Hercules, holding Antaeus far from his mother Earth: and is in raptures at the squeaking voice, not a whit superior in sound to that of the cock as he bites the hen.

Gauls in Rome

“Besides, there is nothing that is held sacred by these fellows, or that is safe from their lust. Neither the mistress of the house, nor your virgin daughter, nor her suitor, unbearded as yet, nor your son, heretofore chaste. If none of these are to be found, he assails his friend's grandmother. They aim at learning the secrets of the house, and from that knowledge be feared. And since we have begun to make mention of the Greeks, pass on to their schools of philosophy, and hear the foul crime of the more dignified cloak. It was a Stoic that killed Bareas--the informer, his personal friend--the old man, his own pupil--bred on that shore on which the pinion of the Gorgonean horse lighted. There is no room for any Roman here, where some Protogenes, or Diphilus, or Erimanthus reigns supreme; who, with the common vice of his race, never shares a friend, but engrosses him entirely to himself. In exact proportion to the sum of money a man keeps in his chest, is the credit given to his oath. Though you were to swear by all the altars of the Samothracian and our own gods, the poor man is believed to despise the thunder-bolts and the gods, even with the sanction of the gods themselves. Why add that this same poor man furnishes material and grounds for ridicule to all, if his cloak is dirty and torn, if his toga is a little soiled, and one shoe gapes with its upper leather burst; or if more than one patch displays the coarse fresh darning thread, where a rent has been sewn up. Poverty, bitter though it be, has no sharper pang than this, that it makes men ridiculous. "Let him retire, if he has any shame left, and quit the cushions of the knights, that has not the income required by the law, and let these seats be taken by the sons of pimps, in whatever brothel born! Here let the son of the sleek crier applaud among the spruce youths of the gladiator, and the scions of the fencing-school.

“Who was ever allowed at Rome to become a son-in-law if his estate was inferior, and not a match for the portion of the young lady? What poor man's name appears in any will? When is he summoned to a consultation even by an aedile ? All Quirites that are poor, ought long ago to have emigrated in a body. Difficult indeed is it for those to emerge from obscurity whose noble qualities are cramped by narrow means at home; but at Rome, for men like these, the attempt is still more hopeless; it is only at an exorbitant price they can get a wretched lodging, keep for their servants, and a frugal meal. A man is ashamed here to dine off pottery ware, which, were he suddenly transported to the Marsi and a Sabine board, contented there with a coarse bowl of blue earthenware, he would no longer deem discreditable. Here, in Rome, the splendor of dress is carried beyond men's means; here, something more than is enough, is taken occasionally from another's chest. In this fault all participate. Here we all live with a poverty that apes our betters. Why should I detain you? Everything at Rome is coupled with high price. What have you to give, that you may occasionally pay your respects to Cossus? that Veiento may give you a passing glance, though without deigning to open his mouth? One shaves the beard, another deposits the hair of a favorite; the house is full of venal cakes.

Juvenal on the Dangers in Rome

“I must live in a place, where there are no fires, no nightly alarms. Already is Ucalegon shouting for water! already is he removing his chattels: the third story in the house you live in is already in a blaze. Yet you are unconscious! For if the alarm begin from the bottom of the stairs, he will be the last to be burnt whom a single tile protects from the rain, where the tame pigeons lay their eggs. Codrus had a bed too small for his Procula, six little jugs the ornament of his sideboard, and a little can besides beneath it, and a Chiron reclining under the same marble; and a chest now grown old in the service contained his Greek books, and mice gnawed poems of divine inspiration. Codrus possessed nothing at all; who denies the fact? and yet all that little nothing that he had, he lost. But the climax that crowns his misery is the fact, that though he is stark naked and begging for a few scraps, no one will lend a hand to help him to bed and board. But, if the great mansion of Asturius has fallen, the matrons appear in weeds, the senators in mourning robes, the praetor adjourns the courts. Then it is we groan for the accidents of the city; then we loathe the very name of fire. The fire is still raging, and already there runs up to him one who offers to present him with marble, and contribute towards the rebuilding. Another will present him with naked statues of Parian marble, another with a chef-d'oeuvre of Euphranor or Polycletus. Some lady will contribute some ancient ornaments of gods taken in our Asiatic victories; another, books and cases and a bust of Minerva; another, a whole bushel of silver. Persicus, the most splendid of childless men, replaces all he has lost by things more numerous and more valuable, and might with reason be suspected of having himself set his own house on fire. [Source: “The Satires of Juvenal, Persius, Sulpicia and Lucilius,” translated by Rev. Lewis Evans (London: Bell & Daldy, 1869), pp. 15-27]

“If you can tear yourself away from the games in the circus, you can buy a capital house at Sora, or Fabrateria, or Frusino, for the price at which you are now hiring your dark hole for one year. There you will have your little garden, a well so shallow as to require no rope and bucket, whence with easy draft you may water your sprouting plants. Live there, enamored of the pitch-fork, and the dresser of your trim garden, from which you could supply a feast to a hundred Pythagoreans. It is something to be able in any spot, in any retreat whatever, to have made oneself proprietor even of a single lizard. Here full many a patient dies from want of sleep; but that exhaustion is produced by the undigested food that loads the fevered stomach. For what lodging-houses allow of sleep? None but the very wealthy can sleep at Rome. Hence is the source of the disease. The passing of wagons in the narrow curves of the streets, and the mutual reviles of the team drivers brought to a standstill, would banish sleep even from Drusus and sea-calves. If duty calls him, the rich man will be borne through the yielding crowd, and pass rapidly over their heads on the shoulders of his tall Liburnian, and, as he goes, will read or write, or even sleep inside his litter, for his sedan with windows closed entices sleep. And still he will arrive before us. In front of us, as we hurry on, a tide of human beings stops the way; the mass that follows behind presses on our loins in dense concourse; one man pokes me with his elbow, another with a hard pole; one knocks a beam against my head, another a ten-gallon cask. My legs are coated thick with mud; then, anon, I am trampled upon by great heels all round me, and the hob-nail of the soldier's caliga remains imprinted on my toe.

“Tunics that have been patched together are torn asunder again. Presently, as the tug approaches, the long fir-tree quivers, other wagons are conveying pine-trees; they totter from their height, and threaten ruin to the crowd. For if that wain, that is transporting blocks of Ligustican stone, is upset, and pours its mountain-load upon the masses below, what is there left of their bodies? Who can find their limbs or bones? Every single carcass of the mob is crushed to minute atoms as impalpable as their souls. While, all this while, the family at home, in happy ignorance of their master's fate, are washing up the dishes, and blowing up the fire with their mouths, and making a clatter with the well-oiled strigils, and arranging the bathing towels with the full oil-flask. Such are the various occupations of the bustling slaves.

“Now revert to other perils of the night distinct from these. What a height it is from the lofty roofs, from which a potsherd tumbles on your brains. How often cracked and chipped earthenware falls from the windows! with what a weight they dint and damage the flint-pavement where they strike it! You may well be accounted remiss and improvident against unforeseen accident, if you go out to supper without having made your will. It is clear that there are just so many chances of death, as there are open windows where the inmates are awake inside, as you pass by. Pray, therefore, and bear about with you this miserable wish, that they may be contented with throwing down only what the broad basins have held. One that is drunk, and quarrelsome in his cups, if he has chanced to give no one a beating, suffers the penalty by loss of sleep; he passes such a night as Achilles bewailing the loss of his friend; lies now on his face, then again on his back. Under other circumstances, he cannot sleep.

“In some persons, sleep is the result of quarrels; but though daring from his years, and flushed with unmixed wine, he cautiously avoids him whom a scarlet cloak, and a very long train of attendants, with plenty of flambeaux and a bronzed candelabrum, warns him to steer clear of. He stands right in front of you, and bids you stand! Obey you must. For what can you do, when he that gives the command is mad with drink, and at the same time stronger than you! "Where do you come from?" he thunders out: "With whose vinegar and beans are you blown out? What cobbler has been feasting on chopped leek or boiled sheep's head with you? Don't you answer? Speak, or be kicked! Say where do you hang out? In what Jew's begging-stand shall I look for you?" Whether you attempt to say a word or retire in silence, is all one; they beat you just the same, and then, in a passion, force you to give bail to answer for the assault. This is a poor man's liberty ! When thrashed he humbly begs, and pummeled with fisticuffs supplicates to be allowed to quit the spot with a few teeth left in his head.

“Nor is this yet all that you have to fear, for there will not be wanting one to rob you, when all the houses are shut up, and all the fastenings of the shops chained, are fixed and silent. Sometimes too a footpad does your business with his knife, whenever the Pontine marshes and the Gallinarian wood are kept safe by an armed guard. Consequently they all flock thence to Rome as to a great preserve. What forge or anvil is not weighed down with chains? The greatest amount of iron used is employed in forging fetters; so that you may well fear that enough may not be left for plowshares, and that mattocks and hoes may run short. Well may you call our great-grandsires happy, and the ages blest in which they lived, which, under kings and tribunes long ago, saw Rome contented with a single jail.

“To these I could subjoin other reasons for leaving Rome, and more numerous than these; but my cattle summon me to be moving, and the sun is getting low. I must go. For long ago the muleteer gave me a hint by shaking his whip. Farewell then, and forget me not! and whenever Rome shall restore you to your native Aquinum, eager to refresh your strength, then you may tear me away too from Cumae to Helvine Ceres, and your patron deity Diana. Then, equipped with my caliga, I will visit your chilly regions, to help you in your satires — unless they scorn my poor assistance.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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