BMCR 2022.04.36

From “Roma quadrata” to “la grande Roma dei Tarquini”: a study of the literary tradition on Rome’s territorial growth under the kings

, From "Roma quadrata" to "la grande Roma dei Tarquini": a study of the literary tradition on Rome's territorial growth under the kings. Potsdamer Altertumswissenschaftliche Beiträge, 70. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2020. Pp. 352. ISBN 9783515124515 €58,00.

Table of Contents

[Apologies for the late review.]

The author is best known for his research on mid-republican temples and his proposal for the course of the Via Sacra and Via Sacra Nova.[1] This current work grew out of his seminar at the University of Warsaw which has already produced a philological, topographical and historical commentary on the toponomastic chapters of Varro’s De lingua Latina.[2] As his reading of Varro in A. Ziółkowski and K. Kokoszkiewicz (2013) diverged from the consensus, he decided to pursue a study of the other ancient literary sources on the subject.

This volume is concerned with reconstructing the growth of the city of Rome from a pre-urban settlement to a fully urban phase. The author has entered an area beset with methodological problems for both the historian and the archaeologist. Archaeologists are usually not historians and historians are generally not practicing archaeologists. A formulation for the interaction between the two disciplines is the aim of this work. Some scholars have chosen to deal only with the archaeological material.[3] Others hold that the archaeological evidence confirms the literary tradition.[4] The main questions are which form of evidence should have priority and how to reconcile archaeological findings with the Roman literary tradition. Ziółkowski has set out to restore the primacy of the written evidence in the face of what he considers a too ready dismissal of the sources.[5] The author reduces this study to the essential question concerning the basis for the uniform tradition that the Palatine was the birthplace of the city and concludes that the written sources present reliable information on the stages of the city’s growth.

The book is divided into five chapters. The first chapter presents the methodological and technical problems faced in studying early Rome and its growth. Chapter 2 covers the information handed down about pre-Roman settlements on the site of Rome. Chapters 3 deals with the location of the first settlement and which particular areas were later added, as given in the written sources. Chapter 4 concerns the gates and walls within the “Servian Wall” and other structures attributed to the early kings. Chapter 5 sets forth the archaeological evidence that includes the controversy over Carandini’s “Palatine Wall”, the Quirinal settlement, the origin of the Forum Romanum, the Sacra Via and the Velia and the date of the Septimontium. There are three appendices: Varro, De lingua Latina 5.41–56, Tac. Ann. 12.24.1–2 and urban pagi and the earliest city. Also included are tables covering the chronology of the Latial Early Iron Age and Early Archaic Age and the places that celebrated the Septimontium according to Antistius Labeo, lists of the Seven Hills, 17 indispensable maps, a list of abbreviations, bibliography (24 pp.), an index of written sources, a topographical index and a general index. The reader should be aware that the texts cited have not been translated, nor have quotations (some quite extensive) from Italian scholars.

The current orthodoxy on the foundation and growth of the city has a history reaching back to the nineteenth century, when it was held that Rome in the regal period was characterised by four phases:

1. the original Palatine settlement
2. the city of Seven Hills
3. the city of four regions which had expanded into the Quirinal, the Viminal and the Capitol
4. the Servian city encircled by the “Servian Wall”

This was replaced by Gjerstad’s theory[6] of separate villages that converged c. 625 BCE or by Müller-Karpe’s reconstruction of an original Palatine settlement which had expanded by the 8th century to include the Esquiline, the Capitol and the Quirinal with the Forum as the centre of the community. The question basically revolved around the extent of the first settlement— was it the area of the four regions or was it only the Palatine, the Velia, the Capitol and the edges of the Forum basin?

Ziółkowski summarises the written sources as follows. They set out four stages:

1. the founding by Romulus
2. the settlement of the Aventine
3. the settlement of the Caelius under Ancus Marcius (or together with Tullus Hostilius or Tarquinius Priscus)
4. the Servian city

The third stage Ziółkowski finds unhistorical. Instead, he reconstructs three stages:

1. a foundation by Romulus on the Palatine
2. a Romulean-Sabine city on the Palatine-Velia together with the Capitol, Quirinal and the Forum
3. the Servian-Tarquinian city of four regions with the “Servian Wall”

Ziółkowski’s main findings are that the archaeological evidence of habitation on the Palatine and Capitol is close to what the ancient writers knew, and the traditional dates for the city’s founding are ‘quite a good estimate’ (p. 260). He dates the Romulean-Sabine (on the Quirinal) to 650–625 BCE. Roma quadrata was created in the third quarter of the 6th century, comprised of the traditional seven hills and encircled by the “Servian Wall”. The festival of the Septimontium was a memory of this phase. His rejection of a large proto-urban populated settlement is compelling (pp. 197–201) as is his carefully argued view that the shifting locations of burial grounds do not necessarily indicate the lines of expanding habitation (pp. 201–207).

On the other hand, I find his rejection of the evidence in the form of a votive deposit on the Capitol for the location of the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius to be somewhat arbitrary by saying only that these were graves (p. 207–8, n. 51), and likewise his rejection of Carandini’s identification of the Temple of Jupiter Stator (pp. 215–216). Scholarship which argues against his own proposed site for the temple (the podium on which had stood the medieval Torre Cartularia) finds no mention in this work.[7] Neither is it mentioned that other suggested locations for the Temple of Jupitor Stator have a considerable impact on his own arguments for the course of the Sacra Via Nova.

For the reader to be convinced of Ziółkowski’s thesis that the written evidence should not be discredited in the light of the archaeological material, one would expect that he validate the authenticity of that evidence, that he address the sources that the ancient writers used, and that he present a balanced assessment of the main authors (for example, Ziółkowski accuses Varro of inventing material [p. 73] and Livy of being “reductive in the extreme” [p. 104]). These statements cannot be left to stand without explanation. On the authenticity of the written evidence, he notes the strong objection first raised in the 18th century that the first Roman historians were distant by five centuries from early Rome.[8] This view is maintained by the “hypercritical school” that dismisses all evidence for Rome prior to 300 BCE (that is, from the time the pontifices first began keeping the annales maximi). Against this there is reason to consider a fifth century dating for the commencement of record keeping in the annales maximi.[9] On the possibility of an oral tradition (practically a discipline in itself) and the value of memory Ziółkowski is able to say only, “Finally, if the modern historian is unable to trace the ways of memory of the ancient Romans, this is his problem and not the proof that their writings are all a pack of lies and inventions” (p. 21). Of the sources he uses, the most recent dates to 2007.

This brings us to the disappointing aspect of this volume. Ziółkowski’s aim covers such vast material that it is just not possible to be comprehensive in a single volume of 305 pages of text and maps. The author necessarily had to make choices and this has led to neither the historian or archaeologist being satisfied with the treatment of their own speciality. There are several ways that it could have been divided so as to be published in two volumes. In such an expansion much material from his work in Polish on Varro might have been included. In reading this work its brevity on certain aspects makes it necessary to follow up the references in the notes in order to understand fully how the conclusions in the text were reached.

In conclusion, this volume is a thought-provoking counterbalance to the current literature on the subject.


[1] A. Ziółkowski. 1992. The Temples of Mid-Republican Rome and their Historical and Topographical Context, Roma.

[2] A. Ziółkowski and K. Kokoszkiewicz. 2013. Siedem Wzgórz Rzymu. M. Terentius Varro De lingua Latina 5.41–56. Tekst, przeklad, kommentarze, Warsaw [Polish].

[3] For example, H. Müller Karpe. 1959 Vom Anfang Roms, Heidelberg.

[4] A. Carandini. 2006. Romo e Romolo. Dai rioni dei Quiriti alla città dei Romani, Torino.

[5] Ziółkowski’s volume is in reaction to (most recently) Carandini who has labelled ancient history and classical studies as discredited intellectual traditions. He has claimed that excavation work has made ancient history obsolete. See A. Carandini. 2007. “Archeologia e libero pensiero”, Workshop di archeologia classica 4, 11–16 and A. Carandini 2008. Archeologia classica. Vedere il tempo antico con gli occhi del 2000, Turin, 44.

[6] Gjerstad E. 1966. Early Rome 4: Synthesis of Archaeological Evidence (Acta Instituti Romani Regni Sueciae 4, 17.4). Lund.

[7] See J. Arce. 1994. “Iuppiter Stator en Roma”, in: X. Dupre i Raventós (ed.), La ciudad en el mundo romano. XIV Congreso Internacional de Arqueologia Clásica I, Tarragona, 79–90. Thanks go to T.P. Wiseman. 2017. “Iuppiter Stator in Palatio. A New Solution to an Old Puzzle”, Mitteilungen des Deutischen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung 123, 13–45, esp. 27 for this reference.

[8] L. de Beaufort 1738/1866, Dissertation sur l’incertitude des cinq premiers siècles de l’histoire romaine, Utrecht/Paris, 4.

[9] J. Rich. 2013. “Annales Maximi”, in: T.J. Cornell et al., Fragments of the Roman Historians, vol. 1, Oxford, 141–159, esp. 148–150.