Palatine Hill

The Palatine Hill, (/ˈpælətn/; Latin: Collis Palatium or Mons Palatinus; Italian: Palatino [palaˈtiːno]) which is the centremost of the Seven Hills of Rome, is one of the most ancient parts of the city and has been called "the first nucleus of the Roman Empire."[1] The site is now mainly a large open-air museum while the Palatine Museum houses many finds from the excavations here and from other ancient Italian sites.

The Palatine Hill
One of the seven hills of Rome
Latin nameCollis Palatinus
Italian namePalatino
BuildingsFlavian Palace
PeopleCicero, Augustus, Tiberius, Domitian
EventsFinding of Romulus and Remus
Ancient Roman religionTemple of Apollo Palatinus, Temple of Cybele, Lupercalia, Secular Games
Mythological figuresRomulus and Remus, Faustulus
View of the Palatine Hill from across the Circus Maximus.
A schematic map of Rome showing the seven hills and the Servian Wall
Plan of the Palatine with modern buildings overlaid
Palaces on the Palatine
Palatine Hill from the Colosseum
Massive retaining walls extended the area on the Palatine available for the Imperial building complex.

Imperial palaces were built here started by Augustus. Even before Imperial times the hill was mostly occupied by the houses of the rich.

The hill originally had two summits separated by a depression; the highest part was called Palatium and the other Germalus (or Cermalus).


According to Livy[2] (59 BC – AD 17) the Palatine hill got its name from the Arcadian settlement of Pallantium. More likely, it is derived from the noun palātum "palate"; Ennius uses it once for the "heaven", and it may be connected with the Etruscan word for sky, falad.[3]

The name of the hill is the etymological origin of the word palace and its cognates in other languages (Greek: παλάτιον, Italian: palazzo, French: palais, Spanish: palacio, Portuguese: palácio, German: Palast, Czech: palác, etc.).[a][4]

The Palatine Hill is also the etymological origin (via the Latin adjective palatinus) of "palatine", a 16th century English adjective that originally signified something pertaining to the Caesar's palace, or someone who is invested with the king's authority. Later its use shifted to a reference to the German Palatinate.[5] The office of the German count palatine (Pfalzgraf) had its origins in the comes palatinus, an earlier office in Merovingian and Carolingian times.[6]

Another modern English word "paladin", came into usage to refer to any distinguished knight (especially one of the Twelve Peers of Charlemagne) under Charlemagne in late renditions of the Matter of France.[b][7]


According to Roman mythology, the Palatine Hill was the location of the cave, known as the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf Lupa that kept them alive.

Another legend occurring on the Palatine is Hercules' defeat of Cacus after the monster had stolen some cattle. Hercules struck Cacus with his characteristic club so hard that it formed a cleft on the southeast corner of the hill, where later a staircase bearing the name of Cacus was constructed.[8]


Rome has its origins on the Palatine. Excavations show that people have lived in the area since the 10th century BC.[9] Excavations performed on the hill in 1907 and again in 1948 unearthed a collection of huts believed to have been used for funerary purposes between the 9th and 7th century BC approximating the time period when the city of Rome was founded. [10]

According to Livy, after the immigration of the Sabines and the Albans to Rome, the original Romans lived on the Palatine.[11] The Palatne Hill was also the site of the ancient festival of the Lupercalia.

Many affluent Romans of the Republican period (c.509 BC – 44 BC) had their residences there.

From the start of the Empire (27 BC) Augustus built his palace there and the hill gradually became the exclusive domain of emperors; the ruins of the palaces of at least Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), Tiberius (14 – 37 AD) and Domitian (81 – 96 AD) can still be seen.

Augustus also built a temple to Apollo here.

The great fire of 64 AD destroyed Nero's palace, the Domus Transitoria, but he replaced it by 69 AD with the even larger Domus Aurea over which was eventually built Domitian's Palace [12]

From the 16th century, the hill was owned by the Farnese family and was occupied by the Farnese Gardens, still partially preserved above the remains of the Domus Tiberiana.

At the top of the hill, between the Domus Flavia and the Domus Augustana, the Villa Mattei was built in the 16th century, then purchased around 1830 by the Scot Charles Mills who turned it into an elaborate neo-Gothic villa. At the end of the 19th century the villa was converted into a convent. This was partially demolished from 1928 to allow excavations and in the surviving part of the building the Palatine Museum has been installed.


Dominating the site is the Palace of Domitian which was rebuilt largely during the reign of Domitian over earlier buildings of Nero. Later emperors, particularly those of the Severan Dynasty, made significant additions to the buildings, notably the Domus Severiana.

The Palace of DomitianEdit

Houses of Livia and AugustusEdit

plan of Domus Livia
Water garden of the Domus Augustana

The House of Livia, the wife of Augustus, is conventionally attributed to her based only on the generic name on a clay pipe and circumstantial factors such as proximity to the House of Augustus.[13]

The building is located near the Temple of Magna Mater at the western end of the hill, on a lower terrace from the temple. It is notable for its beautiful frescoes.

Fresco of the tablinium of the House of Livia

House of TiberiusEdit

Built by Tiberius, he spent much of his time in his palaces in Campania and Capri. It was later incorporated into Nero's Domus Transitoria.[14] Part of its remains lie in the current Farnese Gardens.

Domus SeverianaEdit

Temple of CybeleEdit

Temple of Apollo PalatinusEdit


Domus TransitoriaEdit


Already during Augustus' reign an area of the Palatine Hill was subject to a sort of archaeological expedition which found fragments of Bronze Age pots and tools. He declared this site the "original town of Rome." Modern archaeology has identified evidence of Bronze Age settlement in the area which predates Rome's founding.

Intensive archaeological excavations began in the 18th century and culminated in the late 19th century, after the proclamation of Rome as the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. Discoveries continued spasmodically throughout the 20th century until the present time.

In 2006, archaeologists announced the discovery of the Palatine House, believed to be the birthplace of Rome's first Emperor, Augustus.[15] A section of corridor and other fragments under the Hill were found and described as "a very ancient aristocratic house."[citation needed] The two-story house appears to have been built around an atrium, with frescoed walls and mosaic flooring, and is situated on the slope of the Palatine that overlooks the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. The Republican-era houses on the Palatine were overbuilt by later palaces after the Great Fire of Rome (AD 64), but apparently this one was not and perhaps was preserved for an important reason. On the ground floor, three shops opened onto the Via Sacra. The location of the domus is significant because of its potential proximity to the Curiae Veteres, the earliest shrine of the curies of Rome.[16]

The photo of the excavated cave beneath the Domus Livia on the Palatine Hill, perhaps the Lupercal

In 2007 the legendary Lupercal cave was claimed to have been found beneath the remains of the Domus Livia (House of Livia) on the Palatine. Archaeologists came across the 16-metre-deep cavity while restoring the decaying palace, with a richly decorated vault encrusted with mosaics and seashells.[17] The Lupercal was probably converted to a sanctuary by Romans in later centuries. Many Others have denied its identification with the Lupercal on topographic and stylistic grounds, and believe that the grotto is actually a nymphaeum or underground triclinium from Neronian times.[18][19][20]

See alsoEdit

Explanatory notesEdit

  1. ^ The different spellings originate from the different languages that used the title throughout the ages (a phenomenon called lenition).
  2. ^ This word came into use after an obsolete English "palasin" (from OF palaisin) came into disuse.


  1. ^ Merivale, Charles, A General History of Rome: from the Foundation of the City to the Fall of Augustulus, B.C. 753— A.D. 476. New York: Harper & Brothers (1880), p. 39.
  2. ^ Livy 1.5.1.
  3. ^ Ernout and Meillet, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine, s.v. palātum.
  4. ^ "Palace". From the Oxford English Dictionary
  5. ^ "Palatine". From the Oxford English Dictionary
  6. ^ Stowe, George B. (1995). Kibler, William; Zinn, Grover A. (eds.). Palatinates. Medieval France: An Encyclopedia. Garland. p. 576. ISBN 9780824044442.
  7. ^ "Paladin". From the Oxford English Dictionary
  8. ^ CACUS: Giant of the Land of Latium".
  9. ^
  10. ^ Archeology 03MAR2011
  11. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:33
  12. ^ Rome, An Oxford Archaeological Guide, A. Claridge, 1998 ISBN 0-19-288003-9, p. 120
  13. ^ "The House of Livia - Rome, Italy - History and Visitor Information". Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  14. ^ Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire, 184p.
  15. ^ For a classical account of the birth (and birthplace) of Augustus, refer to: Suetonius, Life of Augustus, 5.
  16. ^ Varro Linguae Latinae 5.155; Festus L 174; Tacitus Annales 12.24
  17. ^ "Sacred Cave of Rome's Founders Found, Scientists Say". Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  18. ^ Aloisi, Silvia "Expert doubts Lupercale 'find'" The Australian November 24, 2007 Archived 2007-11-24 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "È uno splendido ninfeo, ma il Lupercale non era lì" la Repubblica November 23, 2007 [1]
  20. ^ Schulz, Matthia "Is Italy's Spectacular Find Authentic?"Spiegel Online November 29, 2007 Archived 2012-02-02 at the Wayback Machine
  • Tomei, Maria Antonietta. "The Palatine." Trans. Luisa Guarneri Hynd. Milano: Electa (Ministero per i Beni e le Actività Culturali Sopraintendenza Archeologica di Roma), 1998.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 41°53′18″N 12°29′13″E / 41.88833°N 12.48694°E / 41.88833; 12.48694