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Rome Reborn

Asylum

Asylum

This was originally a grove in the depression between the two summits of the Capitoline Hill. Tradition recounted that city-founder Romulus received new settlers here, beginning Rome's policy of encouraging a diverse population. The Temple of Veiovis (of which substantial remains survive) was built in the Asylum.

Asylum

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 55-56.

An enclosed area in the depression (inter duos lucos) between the two summits of the Capitoline (see Mons Capitolinus). The name was explained by the story that Romulus welcomed here the refugees from surrounding communities (Verg. Aen. II.761, and Serv. viii.342; Liv. I.8; Dionys. II.15; Strabo V.230; Tac. Hist. III.71; Plut. Rom. 9; Cass. Dio XLVII.19; Vell. I.8; Flor. I.1; Schol. Iuv. VIII.273; p56de vir. ill. 2.1). Asylum and Inter Duos Lucos (q.v.) were sometimes synonymous terms (Jord. I.2.117).

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Additional source material

  • Ancient Library Sources (from Peter Aicher, Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, vol. 1, Bolchazy-Carducci: 2004) [Works cited]

    9. Overview of the Capitoline Hill. Commentary.

    Although the smallest of Rome's seven hills in area, the Capitoline was in several important ways both the utilitarian and talismanic core of ancient Rome. Here were the early city's last-stand defensive walls as well as its chief place of contact with its tutelary imperial deity, Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Together with the hill's Asylum, the geography of the Capitoline gave topographical expression to the greatness of the state: the Temple, Asylum, and Arx respectively grounded Rome's power in the heavens, enabled and defined its means of growth, and guaranteed its survival. As such, the hill often stands in ancient literature for Rome itself [9.1 to 9.3], especially in its capacity to endure over time.

    Each of the three parts into which the hill, in accordance with its contours, is traditionally divided contributes to this picture. The hill has two summits, separated by a saddle occupied now by the Piazza designed by Michelangelo. On the southwest summit above the Tiber, the great temple of Jupiter [10.] towered over the city and ultimately over the empire: “I have given the Romans rule without limit,” runs the famous promise of Virgil's Jupiter (Imperium sine fine dedi). Appropriately, this temple was the destination point of a Roman military triumph, with the victorious general robed and painted like the cult statue of Jupiter himself.

    The other summit, topped now by St. Maria d' Aracoeli, was sometimes distinguished from the rest of the hill as the Citadel (Arx) proper of the hill, although the fortifications of the hill circled the entire Capitoline Hill and not just the northeast end of it. Perhaps this end, the slightly taller of the two, retained a more fortress-like character, in contrast to the eventually crowded platform of the other summit; calling it the Arx also served to highlight this vital function of the entire hill as the most difficult part of the city to capture, on account of the Capitoline's natural escarpments in some sections and fortifications in others. Livy's account of the Gallic sack of Rome [9.9] emphasizes the emotional significance of the uncaptured Capitoline as the vital core of the city. The northeast summit also contained the Auguraculum, another important site that like the Temple of Jupiter linked weighty matters of state to the divine order.

    The third major area, the saddle between the two crests, contained the sacred area called the Asylum [15.]. Tradition had it that Romulus, in need of a larger population to fill his city, designated this area as the point of arrival for newcomers to Rome who wished to start over—a strategy, Livy comments, that was crucial to Rome's advancement and eventual greatness. The Asylum-legend is a parable for Rome's subsequent policy of enfranchisement, and this part of the Capitoline, which apparently remained a distinct and designated open space even in Imperial times, represented Rome's ability to grow—not, as was guaranteed by the great Temple of Jupiter, by expanding geographically under Jupiter's all-seeing eyes through the agency of Rome's generals, but by incorporating peoples of diverse origins in the protective grove of the Roman state.

    As the scene of executions, the Capitoline also provided stark visual reminders of the community's ultimate power over citizens and conquered leaders, whether the condemned were pushed off the Tarpeian cliffs [12.], or strangled in the Prison [20.] at the foot of the hill, after which the corpse might be exposed to public view on the Gemonian Steps that led up to the Capitoline from the Forum.

    Even in imperial times, crowded buildings around the Capitoline's base would have diminished the hill's earlier acropolis-like profile, and several millennia of subsequent erosion along with a compost of building-rubble many yards deep around its base have done the same. Institutional changes in imperial Rome also diminished the symbolic profile of the hill. With his new Forum, Augustus stole some of Jupiter's thunder, and he moved the Sibylline Books to the Palatine [63.], where the imperial palaces eventually established that hill as a rival to the Capitoline in locating the nucleus of Rome's power.

    Even so, the Capitoline retained into modern times its special role in expressing civic power. It was here that the noble families in the Middle Ages established a city government and built a town hall as a response to Pope's power, and here Cola di Rienzo (whose statue stands on the grass between the Cordonata and Ara Coeli stairways) self-consciously invoked ancient Rome in his charismatic foundation of a short-lived republic in the 1300s. Here too beginning in the 1920s Mussolini would give speeches at elaborate ceremonies that celebrated with renewed fervor the birthday of ancient Rome on April 21. And here, in circumstances richly ironic in the context of ancient praises of the hill, was the setting of Gibbon's epiphany: “It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the bare-footed fryars were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.” (Autobiography, 1897, p. 302)


    15. Grove of Asylum. Commentary.

    The Asylum, apparently at one time a grove itself between two other groves on the slopes either side of it, remained a separate walled enclosure into imperial times. Ovid [16.2] suggests it was adjacent to the Temple of Veiovis (also “Vediovis”), which was at the northwest corner of the Tabularium platform that monumentalized the saddle of the Capitoline facing the Forum. This would locate the Asylum in the area around the steps of the current day Palazzo Senatorio (the seat of today's City Council).

    The Asylum is one of several monuments in the city that insisted on Rome's humble beginnings. Its primary importance, however, may have been as a memorial to the Roman belief that their nation was founded not by a pure, homogeneous people “native to the land,” (as Greek and other accounts commonly mythologize communal origins) but rather as a collection of diverse people. The myth of the Asylum's foundation, especially in Livy's version, has in it the experience of Rome's subsequent history of incorporating as citizens both ethnically diverse peoples and former slaves.


    15. Grove of Asylum. Sources.

    15.1.

    The city's defensive works kept expanding to incorporate one location after another, since they fortified the town with an eye on future population rather than the existing numbers. Then, lest large parts of the city remain empty, they had recourse to an old tactic used by city founders for increasing population: they attract outsiders of obscure and humble origin who they then claim are native to the land. To this end, they designated a location (now an enclosure between the two groves as you ascend the Capitoline) as an asylum; a crowd of commoners, both free and enslaved, poured in from the neighboring territories, eager for new conditions. This was the first step towards the strength Romulus envisioned for Rome.

    Livy, History 1.8.4-6


    15.2.

    Romulus made the city large and populous in the following manner. First, he required all citizens to raise all of their male children as well as the first-born girl, and forbid them from killing any of their children under three years old, unless the children were maimed or deformed from birth, in which case the parents could expose them, provided they had shown the child to five neighbors who concurred with the parents' assessment.…


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