The 7 Hills of Rome

01
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The 7 Hills of Rome

Rome geographically features seven hills:  Esquiline, Palatine, Aventine, Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, and Caelian Hill.

Before the founding of Rome, each of the seven hills boasted its own small settlement. The groups of people interacted with each other and eventually merged together, symbolized by the construction of the Servian Walls around the seven traditional hills of Rome.

Read on to learn more about each of the hills. The heart of the great Roman Empire, each hill is loaded with history. 

To clarify, Mary Beard, classicist and columnist for the UK Times, lists the following 10 hills of Rome: the Palatine, Aventine, Capitoline, Janiculan, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, Pincian, and Vatican. She says it is not obvious which should be counted as the seven hills of Rome. The following list is a standard one, but Beard does have a point.

02
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Esquiline Hill

Temple of Minerva Medica on the Esquiline Hill in Rome
Esquiline | Palatine | Aventine | Capitoline | Quirinal | Viminal | Caelian. Temple of Minerva Medica -Esquiline Hill - CC Gaspa at Flickr.com

The Esquiline was the largest of the seven hills of Rome. Its claim to fame comes from the Roman emperor Nero who built his domus aurea 'golden house' upon it. The Colossus, Temple of Claudius, and Baths of Trajan were all located on the Esquiline.

Before the Empire, the eastern end of the Esquiline was used for dumping refuse and the puticuli (burial pits) of the poor. Carcasses of criminals executed by the Esquiline gate were left to the birds. Burial was forbidden within the city proper, but the burial area of the Esquiline was outside the city walls. For health reasons, Augustus, the first Roman emperor, had the burial pits covered over with soil to create a park called the Horti Maecenatis 'Gardens of Maecenas'.

03
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Palatine Hill

Clivus Palatinus
Esquiline | Palatine | Aventine | Capitoline | Quirinal | Viminal | Caelian. Clivus Palatinus - Xerones - From Flickr Creative Commons License

The area of the Palatine is about 25 acres with a maximum height of 51 m above sea level. It is the central hill of the seven hills of Rome joined at one time with the Esquiline and the Velia. It was the first hill area to become a settlement.

Much of the Palatine has not been excavated, except for the area nearest the Tiber. The residence of Augustus (and Tiberius, and Domitian), the Temple of Apollo and temples of Victory and the Great Mother (Magan Mater) are there. The exact location on the Palatine of Romulus' home and the Lupercal grotto at the foot of the hill are unknown.

Legend from an even earlier period locates Evander and his son Pallas' band of Arcadian Greeks on this hill. Iron age huts and possibly earlier tombs have been excavated.

BBC News' 'Mythical Roman cave' unearthed reported, on November 20, 2007, that Italian archaeologists think they've found the Lupercal cave, near the palace of Augustus, 16m (52ft) underground. The dimensions of the circular structure are: 8m (26ft) high and 7.5m (24ft) in diameter.

04
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Aventine Hill

Aventine and the Tiber
Esquiline | Palatine | Aventine | Capitoline | Quirinal | Viminal | Caelian. Aventine and the Tiber - antmoose - Flickr Creative Commons License

Legend tells us that Remus had selected the Aventine to live on. It was there that he watched the bird omens, while his brother Romulus stood on the Palatine, each claiming the better results.

The Aventine is noteworthy for its concentration of temples to foreign deities. Until Claudius, it was beyond the pomerium. In "Foreign Cults in Republican Rome: Rethinking the Pomerial Rule", Eric M. Orlin writes:

"Diana (supposedly erected by Servius Tullius, which we may take as an indication of a prerepublican foundation), Mercury (dedicated in 495), Ceres, Liber, and Libera (493), Juno Regina (392), Summanus (c. 278), Vortumnus (c. 264), as well as Minerva, whose temple foundation is not precisely known but must precede the end of the third century."

The Aventine Hill became the home of the plebeians. It was separated from the Palatine by the Circus Maximus. On the Aventine were temples to Diana, Ceres, and Libera. The Armilustrium was there, too. It was used to purify arms used in battle at the end of the military season. Another significant place on the Aventine was Asinius Pollio's library.

05
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Capitoline Hill

Capitoline Hill
Esquiline | Palatine | Aventine | Capitoline | Quirinal | Viminal | Caelian. Capitoline Hill - antmoose - Flickr Creative Commons License

The religiously important head hill -- Capitoline -- (460 m long northeast to southwest, 180 m wide, 46 m above sea level high) is the smallest of the seven and was situated between Rome's heart (the forum) and the Campus Martius (the field of Mars, basically, just outside the ancient city limits).

The Capitoline was located within the earliest city walls, the Servian Wall, in their northwestern section. It was like the acropolis of Greece, serving as a citadel in the legendary period, with sheer cliffs on all sides, except the one that used to be attached to the Quirinal Hill. When Emperor Trajan built his forum he cut through the saddle connecting the two.

The Capitol hill was known as the Mons Tarpeius. It is from the Tarpeian Rock that some of Rome's villains were tossed to their deaths on the Tarpeian crags below. There was also an asylum Rome's founding king Romulus was said to have established in its valley.

The name of the hill comes from the legendary human skull (caput) found buried in it. It was the home to the temple of Iovis Optimi Maximi ("Jupiter Best and Greatest") that was built by the Etruscan kings of Rome. The assassins of Caesar locked themselves in the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter after the murder.

When the Gauls attacked Rome, the Capitoline did not fall because of geese who honked their warning. From then on, the sacred geese were honored and annually, the dogs who had failed in their job, were punished. The temple of Juno Moneta, possibly named moneta for the warning of the geese, is also on the Capitoline. This is where coins were minted, providing the etymology for the word "money".

06
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Quirinal Hill

Fountain of Piazza del Quirinale
Esquiline | Palatine | Aventine | Capitoline | Quirinal | Viminal | Caelian. Fountain of Piazza del Quirinale - antmoose - Flickr Creative Commons License

The Quirinal is the most northerly of the seven hills of Rome. The Viminal, Esquiline, and Quirinal are referred to as colles, more diminutive than montes, the term for the other hills. In early days, the Quirinal belonged to the Sabines. The second king of Rome, Numa, lived upon it. Cicero's friend Atticus also lived there.

07
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Viminal Hill

Maria degli Angeli
Esquiline | Palatine | Aventine | Capitoline | Quirinal | Viminal | Caelian. Maria degli Angeli - antmoose - Flickr Creative Commons License

Viminal Hill is a small, unimportant hill with few monuments. Caracalla's temple of Serapis was on it. To the northeast of the Viminal were the thermae Diocletiani, Baths of Diocletian, whose ruins were re-used by churches (now the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli and the Museo Nazionale Romano) after the baths became unusable when the Goths cut the aqueducts in 537 CE.

08
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Caelian Hill

Caelian
Esquiline | Palatine | Aventine | Capitoline | Quirinal | Viminal | Caelian. Caelian - Xerones - Flicker - Creative Commons License

The Baths of Caracalla (Thermae Antoniniani) were built south of the Caelian Hill, which was the most south-easterly of the seven hills of Rome. The Caelian is described as a tongue "2 kilometres long and 400 to 500 metres wide" in A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

The Servian Wall included the western half of the Caelian in the city of Rome. During the Republic, the Caelian was densely populated. After a fire in 27 CE, the Caelian became home to Rome's wealthy.