Aventine Hill

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The Aventine Hill is one of the seven hills on which ancient Rome was built. It belongs to Ripa, the twelfth rione, or ward, of Rome.

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Location and boundaries

The Aventine hill (in Latin, Aventinus Mons) is the southernmost of Rome's seven hills. It comprises two distinct heights, one greater to the northwest and one lesser to the south east, divided by a steep cleft that provides the base for an ancient roadway between the heights. During the Republican era the two hills may have been recognised as a single entity. The Augustan reforms of Rome's urban neighbourhoods (vici) recognised the ancient road between (the modern Viale Aventino) as a common boundary between the new Regio XIII, which absorbed Aventinus Maior, and the part of Regio XII known as Aventinus Minor.[1]

Etymology and mythology

Most Roman sources trace the name of the hill to a legendary king Aventinus. Servius identifies two kings of that name, one ancient Italic, and one Alban, both said to have been buried on the hill in remote antiquity. The hill, he says, was named after the first, Italic Aventinus or after the birds (aves) of ill omen that "rising from the Tiber" nested there. The Alban king would have been named after the hill. He cites and rejects Varro's proposition that the Sabines named the hill after the nearby Aventus river; likewise, he believes, the Aventinus fathered by Hercules on Rhea Silvia was likely named after the Aventine hill, not vice versa.[2]

The Aventine was a significant site in Roman mythology. In Virgil's Aeneid, a cave on the Aventine's rocky slope next the river is home to the monstrous Cacus, killed by Hercules for stealing Geryon's cattle.[3] In Rome's founding myth, the divinely fathered twins Romulus and Remus hold a contest of augury, whose outcome determines the right to found, name and lead a new city, and to determine its site. In most versions of the story, Remus sets up his augural tent on the Aventine; Romulus sets his up on the Palatine. Each sees a number of auspicious birds (aves) that signify divine approval but Remus sees fewer than Romulus. Romulus goes on to found the city of Rome at the site of his successful augury. An earlier variant, found in Ennius and some later sources, has Romulus perform his augury on one of the Aventine hills. Remus performs his elsewhere, perhaps on the southeastern height, the lesser of the Aventine's two hills, which has been tentatively identified with Ennius' Mons Murcus.[4] Skutsch (1961) regards Ennius' variant as the most likely, with Romulus's Palatine augury as a later development, after common usage had extended the Aventine's name – formerly used for only the greater, northeastern height – to include its lesser neighbour. Augural rules and the mythos itself required that each twin take his auspices at a different place; therefore Romulus, who won the contest and founded the city, was repositioned to the more fortunate Palatine, the traditional site of Rome's foundation. The less fortunate Remus, who lost not only the contest but later, his life, remained on the Aventine: Servius notes the Aventine's reputation as a haunt of "inauspicious birds".[5][6]

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