Capitoline Hill

Rome is called the city on “Seven Hills”.  Of these, Capitoline Hill is considered the most historic (and sacred).  This is where the oldest temples were located – including the Temple to Jupiter and the Capitoline Triad (Temple for Jupiter, Juno, and their daughter Minerva).  The Romans considered the hill and specifically these buildings as symbols of Rome as “Caput Mundi,” capital of the world.

Historical Significance

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus built the Temple to Jupiter and the Capitoline Triad in 509 BC.  He was the 7th and final King of Rome.  It was round that time that the Etruscan ruler saw an uprising that led to the establishment of the Roman Republic.

Capitoline Hill was the scene for a number of key events in ancient Roman history:

  • Celtic Gauls were unable to take this during their raid on Rome in 390 BC
  • The Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, often met here to push for land reforms (ones socialistic and populist in nature) in the late 2nd Century BC
  • Julius Caesar approached the hill on his knees, in an effort to avoid incurring a bad omen – it was to no avail as he was murdered 6 months later
  • Brutus and his fellow assassins locked themselves here after murdering Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, 44BC
  • The southern summit of Capitoline Hill contains a cliff known as “Tarpeian Rock” – famous as place of execution for Rome’s more notorious criminals or political prisoners *
  • The Tabularium was built here @ 78 BC and served as official place for holding Roman records and archives.  It also housed the offices of many officials, and as such, became a kind of seat of government.
  • Vespasian’s brother and nephew were besieged here in 69 AD – the Year of Four Emperors

By the Middle Ages, the area fell into disrepair.  Now termed as “Goat Hill”, the location was in desperate need of an overhaul.  In 1536, Pope Paul III (1468 – 1549) commissioned Michelangelo to transform the area into a public area.  Thus, work began on the Piazza del Campidoglio.

Did You Know?

In Roman mythology, the maiden named Tarpeia betrayed the city of Rome to the Sabines.  “Tarpeia, daughter of the commander of the citadel, Spurius Tarpeius, approached the Sabine camp and offered them entry to the city in exchange for “what they bore on their left arms”. Greedy for gold, she had meant their bracelets, but instead the Sabines threw their shields—carried on the left arm—upon her, crushing her to death. Her body was then hurled from (or, according to some accounts, buried at) a steep cliff of the southern summit of the Capitoline Hill.” The Emperor Augustus depicted this event @ 20 BC on the backside of a denarius.