Reflections of expansion : the Cloaca Maxima and urban image in Tarquin Rome

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2004-12-18

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Hopkins, John North

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Abstract

According to Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Tarquinius Superbus oversaw the construction of Rome's Cloaca Maxima in the late sixth centuy B.C. as a drainage canal for a preexisting forum stream that traversed the Forum Romanum from the base of the Esquiline Hill to the Tiber. Modern excavations demonstrate that the masonry of its earliest walls, whose construction technique they also date to the late sixth century, was built of monumental 4x4 foot blocks of cappellaccio tufa. Livy describes the completed Cloaca as a work "for which the new magnificence of these days has scarcely been able to produce a match. (I.56.2) Along with other scholars (Cornell, Davies), I believe that in an effort to give a more powerful face to the expanding economic, political and military endeavors of Rome, the Tarquins envisioned an urban image of monumental proportion. The monumentality of the Cloaca belongs alongside other great works that the Tarquins undertook in the late Roman regal period including the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the Circus Maximus, the first monumental reconstructions of the Regia, and the massive landfill operation and pavement of the Forum Romanum. In order to better understand the Tarquins reasons for and ability to construct this program one must consider the economic, military and political world that it became a part of. Tarquin Rome was, by both literary and archaeological account, a time of great expansion. Livy maintains that Priscus sacked and annexed seven of Rome's Latin neighbors, bringing home cartloads of plunder, and Superbus, after securing treaty with the Etruscans to the north and with the Carthaginians in N. Africa, sought hegemony over Gabii and other states in Latium. Ivory, bone, and amber deposits found near the Forum Boarium and terracotta, bronze and iron deposits from the Forum Romanum demonstrate a rich artistic tradition in sixth century Rome. By contextualizing the Cloaca within the larger Tarquin program and within its cultural surroundings, we can improve our ideas about the functions that urban image served in sixth century B.C. Rome. Based on Colin Renfrew and John Cherry's theories of peer-polity interaction, I argue that the Cloaca did not serve simply as urban beautification for the pleasure of Rome's inhabitants, but that, as a monumental structure alongside the Tarquins' other works, it served as a beacon at the center of Rome that signaled to anyone, foreign or local, that Rome's political power and civic strength was expanding.

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