Livy and the Aventine Sanctuary of Diana in Archaic Rome

Lora Louise Holland

University of North Carolina at Asheville

Varro (De lingua Latina 5.43) described the Aventine in the pre-historical era as olim paludibus mons erat ab reliquis disclusus, when it was bounded by the Tiber to the west and the marshy ground of the Vallis Murcia on the city side. Because of this antiquarian knowledge he derived the etymology of Aventinus from advectus, since the watery conditions allowed access by boat from the Tiber through the Velabrum (during the rainy season, at least). Ammerman's recent study (JRA 11 (1998): 213-23) of the environmental archaeology, especially the hydrology, of the basin of the Roman Forum and the adjacent Vallis Murcia, has shown that these two valleys have a similar geomorphic history, and suggests that they were similarly re-formed during the Archaic period into monumentalized public spaces. He concludes that Livy's account of the formation of the Forum and Circus Maximus by King Tarquinius Priscus to some degree reflects an historical event, whether or not one believes in the historicity of the Roman kings per se. This paper will focus on some implications of the transformation of the Vallis Murcia, located on the edge of the Roman pomerium, and will argue that this was a watershed event that forever changed city-side access to the Aventine.

This topographical change allows us to understand better Livy's account (1.45) of the founding of the temple of Diana, assigned to the reign of Servius Tullius (conventionally dated 578-535 BCE). With the earlier marshy state of the Vallis Murcia no longer an impediment to Roman construction on the Aventine, Servius made plans addere decus urbi, as Livy put it. The new temple must have been readily visible from the vantage point of the city. Though ostensibly established for the Latin peoples in common, it put the stamp of Roman authority on this important Latin cult, providing for it laws which were remarkably long-lived (leges arae Dianae in Aventino: CIL 3.1933, 12.4333, and 11.361). As Livy said of Servius' achievement, ea erat confessio caput rerum Romam esse.


Back to 2006 Meeting Home Page