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Campus Martius

Campus Martius

This was the level ground between the slopes of the Capitoline, Quirinal, and Pincian hills and the Tiber River. It covered about 600 acres and was for a long time publicly owned. During the Republic, the area was used for training soldiers and for foot and horse races. The Villa Publica was located here: it was the place where foreign ambassadors were received and where returning generals waited to learn if they were to be awarded the honor of a triumph. The triumph started nearby and, as a result, many temples recording triumphs were built in the Campus. Somewhere near the Villa Publica was an Altar of Mars. During the Empire, the area took on a new role: it came to house large entertainment complexes as well as monuments honoring emperors and other members of the imperial families ruling Rome.

Campus Martius

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 91-94.

The level ground between the slopes of the Capitoline, the Quirinal, and the Pincian hills, and the Tiber. This term varied somewhat in its signification; for, while originally and in its widest sense it embraced all this district, other names for small sections seem to have come into use later. Thus as early as the fifth century B.C. the south portion of the plain was probably known as Prata Flaminia (q.v., Liv. III. 54, 63), and campus Martius was the ordinary designation of what lay beyond. After Augustus had divided the city into fourteen regions, the name campus Martius was restricted to that portion of Region IX (circus Flaminius) which lay west of the via Lata, the modern Corso; and here again there seems to have been a further distinction, for a cippus (CIL VI.874) found near the Pantheon indicates that the campus Martius of the time of Augustus was divided into two parts — the district between the cippus and the circus Flaminius, which had been more or less built over, and the open meadow to the north, the campus proper; cf. ib. 31189; BC 1883, 11-12.

The campus Martius covered an area of about 250 hectares (600 acres), extending a little more than two kilometres north and south from the Capitoline to the porta Flaminia, and a little less than two kilometres east and west in its widest part, between the Quirinal and the river. It was low, from 10 to 15 metres above the level of the sea in antiquity (13 to 20 now), and from 3 to 8 above that of the Tiber, and of course subject to frequent inundations. It contained several swamps or ponds, as well as streams, the largest of which, the Petronia Amnis (q.v.), which formed the limit of the city auspices (AR 1909, 67-70) came from a spring on the Quirinal, called the Cati fons, and flowed into the largest swamp, the palus Caprae or Capreae, where were afterwards the pool and baths of Agrippa. In the north-west part of the campus, near the great bend in the river, there were hot springs, probably sulphurous, and other traces of volcanic action. Some small part at least was wooded, for we know of two groves, Aesculetum and Lucus Petelinus (qq.v.).

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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]

    2. The Tiber River. Commentary.


    Cicero send greetings to Atticus: [July, 45 BC] Capito happened to speak of the proposed expansion of the city: the Tiber, starting from the Milvian Bridge [upstream of the city], is to be re-channeled alongside the Vatican hills, and the Campus Martius opened up to development. The Vatican fields in turn will become a sort of Campus Martius.… “This law will be passed,” Capito said; “Caesar wants it.”

    Cicero, Letters to Atticus 13.33a

    6. Pomerium. Commentary.


    It is forbidden that the Centuriate Assembly convene inside the pomerium, since an army can be commanded only outside the city; inside, there is no such right. Therefore the Centuriate Assembly is held in the Campus Martius.

    Gellius, Attic Nights 15.27.5

    51. Domus Publica (House of the Pontifex Maximus). Sources.


    The October Horse is the name given to the horse (specifically, the right-hand horse of the winning chariot) sacrificed to Mars each year after the race in the Campus Martius. The head of this horse becomes an object of fierce contention between two neighborhoods: those from the Sacred Way hope to mount it on the wall of the Regia, and those from the Subura want to attach it to the Tower of Mamilius.

    The tail of the October Horse, however, is quickly transported to the Regia so that some of its blood can trickle onto the sacrificial hearth and make a link to Mars. Some people say that this is offered to the War-god in place of a sacrificial victim (not, as the story commonly goes, as a punishment visited upon this creature because the Trojans, ancestors of the Romans, were defeated by the Wooden Horse).

    Festus 190

    81. Overview of the Campus Martius. Commentary.

    As Strabo depicts the “Field of Mars,” this flat expanse north of the city, even when the population of Rome approached a million in the time of Augustus, preserved an open, grassy look, studded with monuments of rulers but largely free of congestion. There were some early Republican uses for the southern part of the plain not far from the Capitoline and along the river leading up to sharp bend at today's Ponte Vittorio Emanuele, but much of it remained a blank slate for the projects of dynasts, beginning with Pompey and burgeoning under Augustus and Agrippa. The general impression from the sources is that this was an area of the city that most people visited rather than inhabited. Flooding may have had something to do with this, although this didn't stop the Campus from becoming the city center since the Middle Ages.

    It is instructive that Strabo puts Pompey, Caesar, and Augustus in the same category as builders. Although Pompey and Caesar became mortal enemies in life and protagonists in a civil war that long continued to haunt Roman memory, they were twin products of the Roman system. Amazingly, for all the turmoil of the late Republic, Rome expanded and grew rich as never before, in part because of the competitive system that encouraged foreign aggression as a way of promoting political careers at home. The new wealth of Asia and Gaul, and then Egypt found its way to the Campus with Pompey's Theater, Caesar's voting precinct, and numerous projects under Augustus.

    81. Overview of the Campus Martius. Sources.


    [After the Tarquin royal family had been expelled from Rome in 509 BC,] their land, which lay between the city and the river, was consecrated to Mars and became the Campus Martius.

    Livy, History 2.5.2


    Especially in recent times [the late C1 BC] the Romans have adorned their city with many beautiful buildings [in addition to the utilitarian works of sewers and aqueducts]. In fact, Pompey, the deified Caesar, and Augustus, along with his children, his friends, his wife Livia, and his sister Octavia, have outdone all others in the energy and funding they have devoted to construction. The Campus Martius has been the site for most of this work, thereby adding to its natural beauty the beauty of design.

    The extent alone of this plain is impressive, providing so much room that chariot-racing and the other equestrian exercises can occur simultaneously with a multitude of other people exercising at ballgames, ring-toss, and wrestling. The grounds that are green with grass all year long, the monuments and works of art interspersed throughout, and the crests of the hills beetling right up to the river plain give the Campus the look of a painted backdrop for a stage.

    Next to the Campus Martius is yet another plain, with numerous encircling colonnades, sacred precincts, three theaters, an amphitheater, and lavish temples, all very close together and almost giving the impression that the other part of the city downtown is an outgrowth of it.

    Strabo, Geography 5.3.8

    105. Tiber Island and the Temple of Aesculapius. Sources.


    [After the Tarquin royal family had been expelled from Rome in 509 BC,] their land, which lay between the city and the river, was consecrated to Mars and became the Campus Martius. It is said that the Campus happened to be covered at that time with a crop of wheat ready for harvest, but since it was now consecrated and could not be consumed, a large crew of men was sent in together to cut it down, stalk and all, and carry it in baskets to the Tiber, where it was to be dumped. Since it was midsummer and the river was low, as is usual at that time of year, heaps of grain piled up in the shallows and became coated with sediment. Gradually an island arose, enlarged by the various materials that the current accumulated here. Later, I presume, manmade embankments were added and improvements carried out to create a platform suitably high above the water and firm enough to sustain even temples and colonnades.

    Livy, History 2.5.2-4

  • Stanford Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project
  • German Archaeological Institute
  • Flickr images
  • Wikipedia

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