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From Platner & Ashby’s (1929) Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome:

PALATINUS MONS, the centremost of the seven hills of Rome, an irregular quadrilateral in shape, and about 2 kilometres in circuit. Its highest point is 43 metres above the level of the Tiber, and 51.20 above sea-level; and its area was about 25 acres.

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According to tradition, it was the first of the hills to be occupied by a settlement; and some authorities think that ritual reasons had much to do with its selection. Pigorini believed that the Prisci Latini occupied it owing to its similarity in shape to that of the rectangular ‘ terremare ‘ of the plain of the Po, from which they came, and also to the fact that it was surrounded by streams. He further favoured the derivation from palus (Perche l’ antica Roma e sorta sul Palatino, in Archivio Storico per la Sicilia Orientale, xv.).1 To others the natural advantages of its position seem sufficient.

It was a flat-topped hill with two distinct summits,2 the Palatium and Cermalus (the former name does not appear to have extended over the whole hill until the third century B.C.-see below-though in common parlance it may have done so earlier), protected by lofty cliffs far more formidable than they seem at present (v. DOLIOLA for the discovery of republican buildings under the arch of Janus Quadrifrons, which show that the valley was originally much deeper than it now appears to be) and almost entirely surrounded by two marshy valleys traversed by winding streams, being connected only by the narrow ridge of the Velia (on the summit of which stands the arch of Titus) with the Oppius, an outlying part of the Esquiline. It was thus a position of great natural strength, and its neighbourhood to the river gave it the command of the crossing of the Tiber, probably a ford at or near the site of the pons Sublicius. This crossing was of great importance, for it was the only permanent one on the whole of the lower course of the river.

The usual form of the name is Palatium, the substantive form differentiating it from all the other hills on the left bank of the Tiber, except the Capitolium. The word is generally connected with the root pa-, which appears in pasco and Pales; but this etymology is disputed.

We find variations both in form and quantity-e.g. Palatualis (Ennius ap. Varro, LL vii. 45), Palatuar (Fest. 348). Naevius brings it into association with balare and calls it Balatium (Varro, LL v. 53; Fest. 220; cf. Solin. i. 14). Even Martial (i. 70. 5; ix. 101. 13) makes the d long.

The ancient tradition (Varro, LL v. 164; Fest. 266 Mtill.; Tac. Ann. xii. 24; Plut. Rom. 3 ; Dionys. i. 87; Liv. I. 7 ; Gell. xiii. 14) is unanimous in placing on the Palatine the earliest nucleus of Rome, and modern scholars have generally agreed (Mommsen, RG9 (1903), 47; Jord. i. I. 162; Richter 30; HJ 35; Rose in JRS 1922, 106 sqq.). Though some recent investigators have cast doubts on it for various reasons, none of them is of sufficient validity; Pinza (Mon. L. xv. (1905), 747) resolves the city into isolated villages on the different hills, so that the Palatine loses its primacy; while Carter (AJA 1908, 172-183; AJP 1908, 325) is equally sceptical; but cf. Hilsen in Geogr. Jahrb. xxxiv. (1911), 191, 192.

The legend of the LUPERCAL (q.v.) speaks also for the early dating of the foundation of the Palatine settlement; nor can it be proved that the Luperci Collini were earlier than those of the Palatine; cf. Fest. 87: Faviani etQuintiliani appellabantur luperci, a Favio et Quintilio praepositis suis; Fest. 257 (similar); CIL vi. 1933 (the inscription of a Lupercus Quinctialis vetus); Ov. Fast. ii. 377; Liv. v. 46 (B.C. 390):sacrificium erat statum in Quirinali cole gentiFabiae.

Richter 32 is wrong in referring to the earliest Palatine settlement oppidacondebant Etrusco ritu (Varro LL. v. 143) and Cato ap. Serv. ad Aen. v. 755: conditores enim civitatis taurum in dextram, vaccam intrinsecus iungebant etita sulco ducto loca murorum designebant, for it was a Latin community, and no Etruscans had as yet reached Latium (REi.A. 1013; cf.Klio 1905,85; Korte in RE vi.743). ROMAQUADRATA is also recent in its extended sense (BPW 1903, 1645). It could not arise till Palatium and Cermalus were one; and in the lists of the Argei (third century B.C.) they are still separate (Wissowa, Ges. Abh. 224). The fortifications of the Palatine present something of a puzzle. It is most likely that the original settlers relied on the great natural strength of the hill; and that the remains of defensive walls of the sixth century B.C., which are to be found at the north-west corner (there are a few blocks higher up also) of the hill, belong either to a separate enceinte contemporary with the Servian wall of the whole city, or to this wall itself (see MURUS SERVII TULLII) ; while those of the fourth century- generally known as the wall of Romulus-on the west and south sides of the hill, may belong to a separate fort, erected perhaps in 378 B.C., further remains of which may be seen near the top of the Scalae Caci (TF 91-102). Whatever may be our view as to the non-inclusion of the Aventine, the fragments of walling on the west side and high up on the south (if these last are correctly explained) must belong to a separate enceinte, even if those low down on the south did not. Cf. Ann. d. Inst. 1871, 44 (the fourth and fifth pieces are no longer visible: for the fifth cf. Visconti e Lanciani, Guida del Palatino, plan No. 26, and see PORTA MUGONIA); 1884, 189-204; Richter, 133, 134). Bagnani suggests that the object of a separate enceinte on the Palatine may have been the defence of the Pons Sublicius and the all-important crossing of the Tiber (see VICUS IUGARIUS).

According to Varro (and Pliny (NH iii. 66), who gives no names), the Palatine had three gates-the porta Romana, the porta Mugonia and the porta Ianualis (LL. v. 164). This last, however, was on the north side of the forum, and can have had nothing to do with the Palatine (see IANUS GEMINUS). And if it was founded according to Etruscan ritual, it should have had three. Most authorities, on the other hand, speak of only one gate (e.g. Liv. i. 12: ad veteremportam Palati; Ov. Trist. iii. I. 21). The most probable explanation is that the road which passed through the porta Mugonia forked, one branch going to the Esquiline across the Velia, and the other along the north and west slopes of the Palatine, descending as it went. (clivus Victoriae) to the porta Romana, which was situated somewhere on this clivus. The Scalae Caci, at the foot of which was the third (nameless) gate, formed a footway, avoiding this long winding road, down to the bottom of the hill. The lower part of them may well have resembled the stairway described in Whitaker, Motya, 154-159.

Among the earliest buildings on the Palatine may be mentioned two archaic cisterns, both constructed in walling of cappellaccio tufa, in cavities cut in the rock, with an external packing of clay between the rock and the wall. Both have been cut through and destroyed by later walls of 2 foot blocks of tufa. One originally had a beehive roof; and at least one more similar cistern has been found below the ‘ house of Livia’ (ASA 3). The other is made of thin slabs set on edge, and is 6 metres in diameter, with steps leading down into it. Four sixth century vases were found in the clay lining. Lower down is a small square shrine (?) approached by a flight of steps (which have nothing to do with the temple of the Magna Mater above), which is possibly the CASA ROMULI (q.v.; cf. TF 105); though it is useless to attempt an exact identification, its general situation is certain. A little lower down again is an inhumation tomb, assigned to the fourth century B.C., but found half full of debris of various ages (and therefore tampered with in ancient times); and below it the native rock has been exposed, and pole sockets, possibly for huts (and curved cuttings, attributable to the same purpose), have been found in it. It was asserted that remains of archaic tombs were discovered, but this interpretation of the results is now generally rejected. The tufa walls mentioned above have been interpreted as being retaining walls for raising the level of the whole area after the fire of 111 B.C., which destroyed the temple of the Magna Mater, made of blocks taken from the fourth century fortifications on each side of the Scalae Caci (TF 102-107), but this is by no means certain, and some of them may themselves be part of these fortifications.

The excavations were suspended at this point in 1907 and have not been carried further down the hill. But it is noticeable that this group of remains was spared by later constructions. Tiberius, Domitian and Hadrian all preferred to build enormous substructions out towards the forum rather than encroach upon this area at the top of the SCALAE CACI (q.v.), sacred to the earliest memorials of the city. ,/P>

For recent excavations in this area, see also BC 1897, 52; NS 1886, 51; 1896, 291; 1907, 185-205, 264-282, 444-459, 529-542; RL 1907, 669-680; 1908, 201-210; 1909, 249-262; HJ 42; YW 1907, 21-22; 1908, 23, 24; 1909, 20; CQ 1908, 145-147; TF 98-107; Pinza, Angolo sudovest del Palatino, 1907 (from Annali Soc. Ingegneri ed Architetti Italiani); RE i. A. 1014; ZA 171-176; Van Buren, Terracotta Revetments, 9, 28, 37, 39, 47, 61, 64, 67-69.

We hear of a number of earlier buildings and sanctuaries on the hill -the curiae Veteres, the curia Saliorum, the curia Acculeia, the sacella of Acca Larentia and of Volupia; the shrines and temples of Aius Locutius, Dea Viriplaca, Febris, Fides, Fortuna, Iuno Sospita, Luna Noctiluca, Venus, etc. But the only sanctuaries that scholars can attempt to localise belong to the later centuries of the republic-VICTORIA, IUPPITER VICTOR and MAGNA MATER (q.v.), and only with regard to the last has any certainty been attained.

The road system of the Palatine was fundamentally changed by the buildings of the imperial period; these also blotted out the remains of the private houses, which, as the Palatine changed its character and began to come into favour, owing to its position, as a place of residence for the aristocracy, sprang up all over the hill. The oldest of which we have any record is that of VITRUVIUS VACCUS (q.v.) in 330 B.C. Later we hear of that of Cn. Octavius, consul in 165 B.C., which was bought by M. SCAURUS for the enlargement of his own house (q.v.); and not far off was that of Crassus. The house of M. Fulvius Flaccus, consul in 125 B.C., on the site of which Q. Lutatius Catulus built a portico, and a house for himself close to it, must have lain near the north end of the hill; as also must that of M. Livius Drusus, as well as that of Cicero. Other important republican houses, such as those of Q. Cicero, Milo, P. Sulla and Licinius Calvus, were also situated in this part of the Palatine; but the site of that of Mark Antony cannot be fixed. Nor is it possible to identify with certainty any of the houses mentioned above with the remains of republican houses which have been found under the imperial palaces. (See JRS 1913, 242-252).

On the other hand, the identification of the house of Hortensius, which later on was bought by Augustus, with that generally known as the house of Livia is almost certain (see DOMUS AUGUSTI). This house was left standing up to the end of the classical period, being respected by the later emperors just as was the house of Romulus. Tiberius, in building his palace on the north-west summit of the hill (the Cermalus), did not encroach upon it, and it escaped the fires of Nero 3 and Titus, and was similarly spared by Domitian and Hadrian (v. DOMUS TIBERIANA).

For the history of the other summit of the hill, upon which Nero appears to have built a part of the domus Transitoria over the ruins of republican private houses, while the whole was later remodelled by Domitian (to whom the Palatine owed far more than to any other emperor), with additions by Septimius Severus, see DOMUS AUGUSTIANA, SEPTIZONIUM.

The transference of the name Palatium first to the imperial palace on the Palatine and then to any palace is explained as follows by Cass. Dio:καλεῖταιδὲ βασίλεια παλάτιον…ὅτι ἔν τῷ Παλατίῳ ὁ Καῖσαρ ὤκει … καί τινακαὶ πρὸς τὴν τοῦ ῾Ρωμύλου προενοίκησιν φήμην ἡ οἰκία αὐτοῦ ἀπὸτοῦ παντὸς ὄπους ἔλαβε (liii. 16).

After the Severan period we hear but little of the Palatine, though it continued to be the imperial residence (Hist. Aug. passim). It is recorded both of Elagabalus and of Alexander Severus that they laid pavements of porphyry and Lacedaemonian marble (verde antico) (Hist. Aug. Elag. 8. 6; 24.6; Alex. Sev. 25. 7), but no remains can be identified of any of their buildings (HJ 105-107). Nor can we identify the stable which Carinus decorated with a fresco of a great venatio (Hist. Aug. Carin. 19. 1), nor the thermae which Maxentius erected (Chron. 148).

It is clear that in the time of Constantine a considerable part of the hill was occupied by streets and private buildings (the Notitia gives 20 vici, 89 domus, 2642 (or 2742) insulae) ; and the removal of the imperial residence to Byzantium meant the beginning of the end. Constantius, it is true, was ‘inPalatium receptus ‘ when he visited Rome in 356 A.D. (Amm. Marcell. xvi. 10. 13). We know very little about the FORUM PALATINUM (q.v.) which was given to the Roman people by Valentinian I and his colleagues in 374 A.D.

The emperors of the fifth century also resided on the Palatine when in Rome-Honorius (Claudian, Sext. Cons. Hon. 35), Valentinian III (Marccll. com. ad a. 434 in Chron. Min. ii. 79, Aetius (ibid. i. 303; ii. 27, 86, 157), Livius Severus (ibid. ii. 158), as well as Odoacer and Theodoric; the latter restored the Palatine, as well as the walls of the city, with funds from the arca vinaria (ibid. i. 324), and Cassiodorus, Var. vii. 5. 5, enumerates the workmen employed; while several brick-stamps of Theodoric have been found, especially in the hippodromus. It is surprising that it is never once mentioned by Procopius; though we are told that Narses died there in 571 (ibid. ii. 336). He appears also to have removed many of the works of art (see p. 301). In 687,4 in the sepulchral inscription of Plato v(ir) ill(ustrissimus) cura(tor) palatii urbisRomae, repairs to a long staircase are mentioned, perhaps that descending from the domus Tiberiana to the forum, in which case the residence of this Byzantine official was situated there (HJ 110). Another official, the cartularius, or head of the military archives (who appears from the history of the seventh and eighth centuries to have been actually in command of troops), dwelt near the arch of Titus and the region later (eleventh to thirteenth centuries) known as Palladium (p. 165); and here the papal archives were later kept, and not in the mediaeval Turris Cartularia, which took its name from its neighbourhood to the Cartularium (RL 1912, 767-772). On the slope above, the great supporting wall of the platform on which S. Sebastiano stands was strengthened by a mediaeval fortification wall of uncertain date, which was, if not built, at least used, by the Frangipani, who occupied the whole Velia and may have built the tower (ibid. 1909, 527-539; HJ 15-17; ZA 167, 168).

By this time the lower slopes of the hill had already been occupied by various churches. S. Anastasia, at the western angle near the Lupercal, probably goes back to the middle of the fourth century. It was erected in imitation of the Holy Place in Bethlehem, and was decorated with paintings by Damasus (Inscr. Chr. ii. i. p. 150) and was the first of the titular churches, ranking only after the Lateran and S. Maria Maggiore (Mel. 1887, 387-413; Grisar, Anal. Rom. i. 595sqq.; HCh 172-173). Under the church are important remains of six different periods from republican opus quadratum down to repairs of the time of Theodoric (HJ 134; ZA 269-274). They have nothing to do with the circus Maximus, but are remains of arcades belonging to the lower slopes of the Palatine.

  1. Teodoro, on the north-west side, lies well above the classical level, and is constructed in the second of the three courtyards of the HORREA AGRIPPIANA (q.v.). It is mentioned in the Not. Diacon. of the sixth century. The mosaic in the apse is attributed to the sixth century (Wilpert, Mos. und Mal. 1074; cf. HCh 489).

For S. Maria Antiqua, see DOMUS TIBERIANA; and for the churches on the south (S. Lucia and S. Maria in Pallara), see SEPTIZONIUM, DOMUS AUGUSTIANA (p. 165). For S. Cesareo, see id. (p. 164).

The centre of the hill must have been rendered inaccessible by earthquakes, notably by that of the time of Leo IV; and we have practically no mention of it in the Anonymus Einsiedlensis nor in the Mirabilia.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Palatine, still called by its mediaeval name of Palazzo Maggiore, was covered with gardens and vineyards. Between 1540 and 1550 the whole of the north half of the hill was bought by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and converted into a garden. Excavations were made in the state apartments of the DOMUS AUGUSTIANA (q.v.) in the eighteenth century; but the site of the DOMUS TIBERIANA (q.v.) remained untouched until the excavations of Rosa for Napoleon III (which cannot have been very thorough) and is still a beautiful example of a formal garden (BA 1914, 369-380). The central portion belonged to the Paolostati family, from whom it paused successively to the Mattei, Spada, Magnani; then it was bought by Sir William Gell, but soon passed to Mr. Charles Mills, who built the pseudo-Gothic villa which still bears his name. Later on it became a nunnery. The Vigna Ronconi occupied the south-east portion, from the Stadium onwards, in the sixteenth century; while the south-west portion was in the hands of the English College until after 1870. The east angle was occupied by the Vigna Barberini.

See LR 107-189; Haugwitz, Der Palatin (Rome 1901); NS 1904, 43-46 (the latest survey and map 5); HJ 29-I 1; RE i. A. 1011 sqq., 1026; ZA 159-221; ASA 133-138; Hulsen, Forum und Palatin, Berlin 1926, and (in an English translation) New York 1928.

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Cite this page as: Darius Arya, The American Institute for Roman Culture, “Palatinus Mons (Palatine Hill)” Ancient Rome Live. Last modified 06/23/2020.


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