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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Brief History of The Palatine Hill in Rome

What is Palatine Hill?

The Palatine Hill is the centremost of Rome’s seven hills once occupied by the luxurious villas of wealthy noblemen and the imperial family.

Palatine Hill Entrance

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Palatine Hill History

The history of Rome begins with a myth. A peculiar story that takes place here at the Palatine Hill. Once upon a time, not far from here, a princess gave birth to twin sons: Romulus and Remus. The king, her wicked uncle, had stolen the throne from the princess’s father. In fear that the twins would one day lay claim to the kingdom, he ordered his servants to throw them into the River Tiber.

Fortunately, since the Tiber had broken its banks, the king’s servants could find no way to the flowing part of the river. So they decided to leave the twins at the nearest point of the overflow, in the hope that the river would carry them away when it receded. As the children sat in the floating basket, a she-wolf rescued them, and suckled and cared for them until they were discovered by a local shepherd.

Upon learning their true origin, Romulus and Remus overthrew the princess’s wicked uncle, the usurper of their grandfather’s kingdom. Later they were seized with a desire to found their own city amongst the hills that overlook the Tiber, the site of their abandonment. Since they were twins, their age could not determine who became king, as was customary, so it was agreed that the gods would offer a sign to designate their preference.

Palatine Hill and Arch of Titus

Romulus took the Palatine; Remus the Aventine, the hill south-west from where you’re standing. Both stood and waited. Remus was the first to receive a sign, six vultures flying overhead. Just as Remus reported this to his brother, Romulus witnessed twelve vultures pass over the Palatine. Both were celebrated as undisputed ruler by their respective followers, one claiming his sign had appeared first, the other that his was more significant. When Remus leaped over the new walls of the Palatine as a provocation to his brother, Romulus proceeded to kill him in anger, adding the phrase: ‘So perish whoever else shall leap over my walls’. And so the city of Rome was established, taking its name from its first king.

From then on, the Palatine was considered the most desirable neighbourhood in the city. First occupied by the luxurious villas of wealthy noblemen during the Republic, it later became home to the imperial family when Augustus, the first emperor, came to power just before the turn of the millennium. In its day, the Palatine Hill was the Mayfair or Upper East Side of the capital, offering spectacular views of the city and welcome fresh air inaccessible to those who lived in the noisy streets below.

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