The historical alternative to the myth.

The Palatine Hill - site of Rome. The forum and the Tiber.

The strategic position of Rome in Italy and the Mediterranean.


The Palatine Hill

The summit of the Palatine hill itself was roughly trapezoidal in shape. On three sides, the rock sloped steeply down into valleys which were often full of flood water. On the other, north-eastern, side, a narrow saddle of rock led to the adjoining hill. The cluster of hills, each between 60 and 100 metres high, stood on a plateau above the surrounding plain, the soil of which was continually enriched by deposits of volcanic silt from the Tiber and its tributaries. We may imagine, then, the summit of the Palatine Hill covered with clusters of small thatched huts of wood and clay, and somewhere a flat, open meeting space, the forerunner of the Roman forum. The burial place was in the marshy ground at the foot of the hill, where years later would stand the great forum of republican and imperial Rome.

thatched hut

Thatched village hut, 8th century BC, on the Palatine Hill. (From Helen and Richard Leacroft, The Buildings of Ancient Rome, Brockhampton Press, 1969)

The site was an inspired one for other reasons, too. The sea, with its potential for foreign trade, was only a few miles downstream. The hill overlooked the shallows which constituted the most convenient point for crossing the river as it neared the sea, and thus commanded the main route along western Italy. The city lay mid-way between the north and south of Italy, that natural formation of land enclosed by the Alps to the north, and by the sea everywhere else. Furthermore, Italy itself lay centrally in the Mediterranean, with ready access to the rest of Europe, to Africa, and to the east.

At much the same time as the first settlement on the Palatine Hill, the Greeks were establishing sea-ports round the south and west coasts, and in Sicily. The port farthest north, and one of the first to be built, was Cumae on the bay of Naples, within comparatively easy reach of Rome. Through these ports Rome had access to the Greek world; from the Greeks at Cumae, the Latins learned the Greek alphabet, which they adapted for their own use and language.

Map of Sicily and southern Italy

Southern Italy and Sicily (Ancient World Mapping Center)


The Seven hills

The canonical "seven hills" of Rome were the Palatine, Capitoline, Aventine, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline and the Caelian mount.

The seven hills of Rome

The hills of Rome. (After Enea nel Lazio, from R. Ross Holloway, The Archaeology of Early Rome and Latium, Routledge 1994)

Believe it or not:

The 14th-century proverb, “All roads lead to Rome”, meaning all paths or activities lead to the centre of things, was literally true of Rome from its foundation.

Not only have traces of huts of the eighth century BC been found on the Palatine Hill, but in 2005 it was announced that the remains of a 345-square-metre palace of the same period had been discovered at the foot of the hill, in the forum of Rome.