In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Topography of Rome

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Late Antique–Medieval Sources and Antiquarian Studies
  • Palatine: Early City and Imperial Residences
  • Capitoline Hill and Roman Forum
  • Imperial Fora
  • Campus Martius
  • Quirinal, Esquiline, and Aventine Hills
  • Valleys of the Colosseum and Circus Maximus
  • Waterworks and Baths
  • Walls and Fortifications
  • Roads and Tombs

Classics Topography of Rome
Eve D'Ambra
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0067


Roman topography is the study of the city of Rome, its monuments, buildings, and open spaces in their physical setting on the seven hills besides the Tiber River. The ancient written sources of Latin literature and history, as well as the corpus of inscriptions and coins, provide evidence for the physical structure of the city and the urban plan. Archaeological excavations, often spurred on by political interventions (as during the Napoleonic era, the Risorgimento of the later 19th century, the Fascist imperial revival in the 1930s, and the Vatican’s Jubilee celebrations in 2000), brought structures to light that confirmed, complemented, or complicated the testimony of the ancient texts. Archaeological fieldwork continues to revise our views of the city of Rome.

General Overviews

Lanciani 1888 captures the spirit of those involved in the recovery efforts in the 1870s and 1880s. Ridley 1992 gives a thorough account of archaeology in the Napoleonic period, when Rome was coming to grips with its past amid competing foreign interests. The application of computer modeling and digital reconstruction has motivated more recent research (Haselberger and Humphrey 2006 and Rome Reborn).

  • Haselberger, Lothar and John Humphrey, eds. 2006. Imaging ancient Rome: Documentation, visualization, imagination. Proceedings of the Third Williams Symposium on Classical Architecture, May 20–23, 2004, supp. 61. Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology.

    Applications of digital technology and new media to the project of reconstructing Rome.

  • Lanciani, Rodolfo. 1888. Ancient Rome in the light of recent discoveries. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

    The authoritative account of the ancient city coming to light during the construction of the capital of the modern state.

  • Le Gall, Joël. 1953. Le Tibre: Fleuve de Rome dans l’antiquité. Paris: Presses Univ. de France.

    Rome’s urban development depended upon the Tiber in many ways: for example, the course of the river can be seen as an extension of the system of roads and fortifications in various historical periods and places within the city.

  • Richardson, Lawrence, Jr. 1992. A new topographical dictionary of ancient Rome. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    A valuable account of the history of topographic studies is in the Introduction.

  • Ridley, Ronald T. 1992. The Eagle and the spade: Archaeology in Rome during the Napoleonic era, 1809–1814. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Astute on the political aspects of archaeology and how it produces ownership of the past.

  • Sartorio, Giuseppina Pisani. 1983. Roma capitale 1870–1911: L’archeologia in Roma capitale tra sterro e scavo VII. Venice: Marsilio.

    The Roma Capitale exhibition catalog documents the collision of modern and ancient Rome, and the ruins in a more pristine state at the time of the unification of Italy.

  • Rome Reborn

    An international team, under the direction of Bernard Frischer, has begun producing 3D digital models to illustrate Rome’s development from c. 1000 BCE–550 CE. They have started with the major monuments of Rome in 320 CE, a time of peak population and urban expanse of the pagan and Christian city. The project takes its inspiration from, but goes well beyond the model of ancient Rome, the plastico di Roma antica, created by Italo Gismondi from 1933–1974 and displayed in the Museum of Roman Civilization in L’EUR (Rome).

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