Palatine: Overview and first Settlements

The ascent to the Palatine in Antiquity and for tourists

 Ascent to the Palatine in Antiquity
photos: Clivus Palatinus: Old_Man_Leica and ascent tourist: Nathan deGargoyle

A different road was used to ascend the Palatine in Antiquity. Homes along this street or on the Palatine cost a fortune, or as Cicero put it ‘a few coins’.

“The street along which people ascend(ed) the Palatine is called Clivus Palatinus by archeologists, the ‘Palatine slope.’ Cicero bought a home in this street for which he paid no less than 3.500.000 sestertius, an amount equal to what some 2400 workers earned in a year. ‘Near enough the whole city,’ he said, ‘can see my house. It costs a few coins, but that is well worth it.”
Cited and translated from: Jona Lendering, ‘Stad in marmer Gids voor het antieke Rome aan de hand van tijdgenoten’, Athenaeum- Polak&Van Gennep, Amsterdam 2002 p. 210.

View of the Palatine from the lower situated  Roman Forum

View of Palatine from  Roman Forum
photos: Phillip Capper and Quite Adept

The Palatine is one of the seven hills in Rome. As described earlier, this is where the city’s first inhabitants resided. The Palatine consists of three hill tops: the Germalus, the Palatium and the Veli (click here for a map of the Palatine with the three hill tops and the two branches of the Tiber: Vallis Murcia and the Velabrum).

The origin of  Rome Capitoline (left) and Palatine (right) 

Model Rome
photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

The ficus ruminalis

The basket holding Remus and Romulus stranded at the Velabrum, underneath a fig tree: the ficus ruminalis. The twins were raised by a female wolf on the southwest base of the Palatine, in a cave, the Lupercal. Before the discovery of the Lupercal in 2007. At the entrance, which connected the Circus Maximus with the Lupercal (Wikipedia), was a bronze statue of the wolf with the twins.

As mentioned, the remnants of the cabins were found not far from the Lupercal, including the so-called Romulus hut. The remnants of the staircase of Cacus can be seen next to this hut.

Palatine Hill village Romulus

The village on the  Palatine Hill and the hut of Romulus

The first inhabitants of Rome, the Latin people, lived on the Palatine Hill. They were a people of shepherds. Archaeological research uncovered several post holes, enabling the huts they lived in to be reconstructed. Nowadays, the post holes can still be seen underneath a little corrugated roof. This is called the hut of ‘Romulus.’
The Sabine shepherds lived on two neighbouring hills, the Capitoline and the Esquiline. The terrain, a valley between these hills, is the  Roman Forum. The Roman and Sabine villages on the three hills grew so rapidly that they had to expand their territory towards the slopes of the hills near the valley.

The hut of Romulus 

Romulus Hut Palatine
photo: Vitold Muratov

According to one legend, the giant Cacus terrorised the inhabitants on the hills of Rime. Before Aeneas even set foot in Latium, the Greek demi-god Heracles also visited Rome. Cacus had stolen Heracles’ herd. Exactly at the place near the bank of the Tiber, where the cattle market (Forum Boarium) was later established. Our Greek hero didn’t stand for this, and after an epic battle he defeated Cacus. The Romans were grateful and constructed an altar for Hercules.

This staircase was the ascent from the southwest, from the Lupercal, to the Palatine. Romulus united the three tribes atop the Palatine hills into a single people. After Romulus, according to legend, founded the city in 753 BC., a wall was built around the shepherd’s village: the roma quadrata. a wall was built around the shepherd’s village: the roma quadrata. Some remnants of this first city wall have been discovered (see map below of the hilltop Germalus, no. 2). The oldest buildings on the Palatine can be found at the southwest corner, on the Germalus.

One of the oldest buildings is the mundus, a round building that likely served as a well (map no. 6). Every year after harvest, the first picked fruits were thrown in the mundus. Any stranger who wished to enter the city was required to throw some soil of his birthplace into the mundus.

Map Southwest side of the Palatine: the hill top Germalus: 
1. Porta romanula (city gate)
2. Remnants of the Roma quadrata
3. Foundations from the 8th century  BC
4. City gate
5. Foundations of unknown origin
6. Mundus
7. Cistern
8. Temple of Magna Mater Cybele
9. Auguratorium

Cisterna Arcaica

Palatine: Cisterna Arcaica
photo: Ursus

The temple of Magna Mater Cybele (temple relief and statue) was built during the war against arch-enemy Carthage around 191 BC. Magna Mater Cybele, the great mother, was a goddess worshipped in the city of Troas, present-day Turkey, where Aeneas was born. A remarkable black stone – likely a meteorite – was brought to Rome by the ambassador of the King of Pergamon. The black stone did not travel under favourable circumstances. The ship with the black meteorite got stuck in the Tiber. Thankfully, a Vestal virgin came to their aid, who was not too keen on saving her virginity anyway.

Remnants of the podium of the temple of Magna Mater

Remnants podium temple Magna Mater Palatine
photo: Olga Lyubimova

Magna Mater    Arnolfo di Cambio St. Peter c. 1300

Statue Magna Mater
photos: Kwong Yee Cheng and St. Peter: Jordiferrer

The accused virgin used her belt to pull the ship back afloat and in doing so, saved her own life. The stone was first placed in the temple of Victoria, but later on was carried to the temple of Magna Mater Cybele. The statue of the great mother was given the black stone atop her torso instead of a head. The great mother was very popular with the Romans. Her right foot was kissed so often that it needed a replacement more than once. This custom can be found centuries later with Mary and Peter statues. The Catholics were wise enough to provide the right foot of the Saint with a copper or silver cover, as shown with the statue of the H. Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio from c. 1300 in the St. Peter.

Continuation Rome day 3 Palatine: Casa Livia and Augustus