The Palatine Hill (/ˈpælətaɪn/; Latin: Collis Palatium or Mons Palatinus; Italian: Palatino [palaˈtiːno]) is the centermost of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city. It stands 40 metres above the Forum Romanum, looking down upon it on one side, and upon the Circus Maximus on the other. It is the etymological origin of the word “palace” and its cognates in other languages (Italian “Palazzo”, French “Palais”, German “Palast”, Czech “Palác” etc.). According to Livy (59 BC – AD 17) the Palatine hill got its name from the Arcadian settlement of Pallantium. More likely, it is derived from the noun palātum “palate”; Ennius uses it once for the “heaven”, and it may be connected with the Etruscan word for sky, falad. The term palace itself stems from Palatium.
According to Roman mythology, the Palatine Hill was the location of the cave, known as the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf Lupa that kept them alive. According to this legend, the shepherd Faustulus thereafter found the infants, and with his wife Acca Larentia raised the children. When they were older, the boys killed their great-uncle (who seized the throne from their grandfather), and they both decided to build a new city of their own on the banks of the River Tiber. Suddenly, they had a violent argument with each other and in the end Romulus killed his twin brother Remus. This is how “Rome” got its name – from Romulus. Another legend to occur on the Palatine is Hercules’ defeat of Cacus after the monster had stolen some cattle. Hercules struck Cacus with his characteristic club so hard that it formed a cleft on the southeast corner of the hill, where later a staircase bearing the name of Cacus was constructed. Rome has its origins on the Palatine. Indeed, recent excavations show that people have lived there since approximately 10,000 BC. According to Livy, after the immigration of the Sabines and the Albans to Rome, the original Romans lived on the Palatine.
Many affluent Romans of the Republican period (c.509 BC – 44 BC) had their residences there. During the Empire (27 BC – 476 AD) several emperors resided there; in fact, the ruins of the palaces of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), Tiberius (14 – 37 AD) and Domitian (81 – 96 AD) can still be seen. Augustus also built a temple to Apollo here, beside his own palace. The Palatine Hill was also the site of the festival of the Lupercalia. One building, believed to be the residence of Livia (58 BC – 29 AD), the wife of Augustus, is currently undergoing renovation. Situated near to the house of Livia is the temple of Cybele, currently not fully excavated and not open to the public. Behind this structure, cut into the side of the hill, is the so-called House of Tiberius.
Overlooking the Forum Romanum is the Flavian Palace which was built largely during the reign of the Flavian dynasty (69 – 96) – Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. This palace, which was extended and modified by several emperors, extends across the Palatine Hill and looks out over the Circus Maximus. The building of the greater part of the palace visible from the Circus was undertaken in the reign of the emperor Septimius Severus (146 – 211).
Immediately adjacent to the Flavian palace of Severus is the Hippodrome of Domitian or Stadium (160 x 48 m). This is a structure which has the appearance of a Roman Circus and whose name means Circus in Greek, but is too small to accommodate chariots. Hippodromes were originally areas for exercising horses, but later in Rome, Hippodrome was used to describe elongated rectangular gardens. It can also be described as a Greek Stadium that is a venue for foot races. However, its exact purpose is disputed. While it is certain that during the Severan period it was used for sporting events, it was most likely originally built as a stadium-shaped garden. According to a guide from the Sopraintendenza Archeologica di Roma, most of the statuary in the nearby Palatine museum comes from the Hippodrome.
On the eastern side of the Hippodrome is a large exedra decorated with sculptures and fountains commanding views of the garden below. Domitian also built a larger stadium that was actually used for foot-racing competitions; it exists today as Piazza Navona, lo stadio di Domiziano. During Augustus’ reign, an area of the Palatine Hill was roped off for a sort of archaeological expedition, which found fragments of Bronze Age pots and tools. He declared this site the “original town of Rome.” Modern archaeology has identified evidence of Bronze Age settlement in the area which predates Rome’s founding. There is a museum on the Palatine in which artifacts dating from before the official foundation of the City are displayed. The museum also contains Roman statuary.
An altar to an unknown deity, once thought to be Aius Locutius, was discovered here in 1820. In July 2006, archaeologists announced the discovery of the Palatine House, which they believe to be the birthplace of Rome’s first Emperor, Augustus. Head archaeologist Clementina Panella uncovered a section of corridor and other fragments under Rome’s Palatine Hill, which she described on July 20 as “a very ancient aristocratic house.” The two story house appears to have been built around an atrium, with frescoed walls and mosaic flooring, and is situated on the slope of the Palatine that overlooks the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. The Republican-era houses on the Palatine were overbuilt by later palaces after the Great Fire of Rome (64), but apparently this one was not; the tempting early inference is that it was preserved for a specific and important reason. On the ground floor, three shops opened onto the Via Sacra. The location of the domus is important because of its potential proximity to the Curiae Veteres, the earliest shrine of the curies of Rome.