Pomerium

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Map shows Rome during the reign of king Servius Tullius. Pink colour marks the area within the Serovian walls. Dotted line marks pomerium.
THE RIONI

Pomerium was a sacred strip of the land located along both outside and inside the city walls. As mentioned before this strip of a land had sacred character and marked Rome’s borders. The name post murus means “outside the wall”.

The tradition of marking pomerium was taken from the Etruscans.According to the legend Romulus in 753 BC made a furrow with the plow on the west top of Palatine Hill. In this way he marked borders of (Roma quadrata). Pomerium was also considered as inner city area. A line of pomerium was sacrificed for underground deities. Border crossing was forbidden and punished by death because of sacrilege. During marking of the border a plow was lifted several times to leave some unploughed ground. In these places city gates were built. The line of pomerium was later marked by stone poles and alone this line Romans tried to erect defensive walls. Except defensive role these walls had a big religious importance, because they separated chaotic area fulfilled with demons from inner well – organised one, which possessed its center. A hole digged at the beginning of each building was considered as this center.
As far as territory of Rome was being exanded new pomerium was officially marked. Because the whole procedure was done with delay, it created some perturbations within the city. Finally at the turn of the first and second centuries BCE pomerium included inhabited area during the reign of Servius Tulius (first half of fourth century BCE), except Aventine Hill, which was added to pomerium during the time of Emperor Claudius. Pomerium was marked along the defensive walls for the last time during the reign of Emperor Aurelian in 271 CE. Aurelian’s Wall was 19 km long (most part of it survived to our times).

Pomerium had religious and legal significance. Separate official divinations were made for areas inside and outside pomerium. Staying of the army or execution of death sentence were forbidden within pomerium. Only well-deserved Romans and servants of goddess Westa could be buried there. After final victory of Christianity over old beliefs in fourth century CE the churchyard cementaries inside the city walls were founded. Pomerium separated civil and military authority. Military orders weren’t in force within its borders. That’s why during uncertain times of Roman republic military commanders convened the Senat in temples on the Field of Mars, where pomerium didn’t reach. No one armed could enter the city except military triuphs. For this reason on the Field of Mars public meetings took place. As a sign of unlimited authority of Roman politicians outside the city walls lictors put their axes in bundles of rods (fasces) whenever they crossed pomerium. No hostes populi Romani (“enemies of Rome”) were allowed to cross pomerium. That’s why envoys were accepted only in the temple of goddess Bellona on the Field of Mars, if they came from hostile lands or lands in a state of truce with Rome. Even Gaius Julius Caesar had to respect pomerium and Cleopatra didn’t dare to cross the city borders during her visit.

Sources

  • Cary M., Scullard H. H., Dzieje Rzymu. Od czasów najdawniejszych do Konstantyna t. I, Warszawa 1992

Author of translation: Kimberly Sas

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