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The ruins of the Roman rooms lie in the interior of the Palace Canevari, former headquarters of the Italian Geological Institute

Archaeologists discover ancient Rome may have been much larger than previously believed

A house discovered in ancient Rome’s central district may prove that the city was considerably larger than previously believed. The rectangular residence, which is still largely intact, has been discovered on the Quirinal Hill, between the modern Via Veneto and the Termini train station, and may date back to the sixth century BC.

The Quirinal is thought to have been occupied during the reign Servius Tullius, the sixth of Rome’s seven early kings. It once the site of a village of the Sabines who venerated a god called Quirinius, hence the name of the hill.

Ancient ruins on Quirinal Hill, Rome. Representational image.

Ancient ruins on Quirinal Hill, Rome. Representational image.(Paul Kelley/ CC BY 2.0 )

Archaeologists have previously believed the site to be a sacred area, reserved for temples and a necropolis, with residential areas situated further south near the Forum. The Quirinal is now the location of the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic, although the king of Italy and the Pope have also lived there.

Schematic map of Rome showing the Seven Hills of Rome, including Quirinal Hill.

Schematic map of Rome showing the Seven Hills of Rome, including Quirinal Hill. ( Creative Commons )

Rome was ruled by seven kings , beginning with Romulus, the legendary founder of the city (753 to 715 BC). Servius Tullius reigned between 579 BC and 535 BC and was succeeded by Tarquinus Superbus (534 to 510 BC) who was overthrown and forced into exile. The Roman historian Livy wrote that the Republic that came after was established by Brutus and Collatinus. Thereafter it was governed by a system in which two consuls were elected, both of them answerable to the Senate. The kings had absolute power with the Senate only responsible for putting their commands into practice. It was the symbol of these kings, the bunch of rods surrounding an axe known as the ‘fasces’, that gave rise to the word ‘fascism’. The purple toga was retained by later Roman executives, particularly members of the Senate.

The house was constructed with wooden beams and clay walls . It consisted of two rooms and may have been entered via a porch. The building rests on a volcanic stone called tufa which is abundant in central Italy and was regularly used by ancient engineers. A building of this type was most probably occupied by a wealthy member of the Roman elite.

Its discovery may indicate that early sixth century Rome was not just centered on the Forum, but actually much bigger. It is possible the building was a custodians’ residence linked to a nearby temple discovered in 2013, however there are indications that it was constructed at least 50-60 years before the temple itself. 

“This is an exceptional find, among the most important of the last 10 years” Francesco Prosperetti, superintendent for Rome’s Archaeological Heritage, told The Telegraph . Mr Prosperetti announced the discovery of the residence last week.

Ms Serlorenzi told the Italian news agency, ANSA, that in the early sixth century Rome was much larger and extended over a wider area than the central district arranged around the Forum. The newly discovered residence could have been the abode of a custodian of a temple that was discovered in 2013.

Painting of the Colosseum in Rome in 1832, showing extensive disrepair and vegetation.

Painting of the Colosseum in Rome in 1832, showing extensive disrepair and vegetation. Public Domain

According to Darius Arya, an American archaeologist involved with excavations at Ostia Antica, a large part of Rome’s historical heritage is not so well preserved as those monuments currently undergoing grand restoration projects, such as the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain.

The ruins of a Roman amphitheater in Lecce, Italy. Representational.

The ruins of a Roman amphitheater in Lecce, Italy. Representational. (Dan Diffendale/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

Featured image: The ruins of the Roman rooms lie in the interior of the Palace Canevari, former headquarters of the Italian Geological Institute (TeleSur/EFE).

By Robin Whitlock

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