Urbanizing the Eternal City:
How did the ancient Romans adapt to and alter Rome’s landscape?
In order to build the Eternal City, the ancient Romans had to modify their landscape and adapt to unforeseen challenges.
The origins of Rome have long remained an elusive subject. The story of the twin founders, Romulus and Remus, is simply myth, first recorded when Rome was already the head of a growing empire. Archaeological traces of early inhabitants at the site are either lost or buried beneath two and a half millennia of subsequent urban accumulation. Fortunately, though, new technologies and environmental methodologies are beginning to revolutionize conceptions of early Rome. They paint a picture of an incipient city dramatically altering the landscape and adapting to dynamic conditions. The Tiber River offered both opportunities for and challenges to urban growth at the site of Rome. In order to urbanize, early inhabitants engaged in large-scale landscape modification projects in the 7th-6th centuries BCE. Rapid urban development, however, resulted in fresh environmental consequences, particularly an increase in flooding and sedimentation. This case study explores the Romans’ adaptive strategies and their long-term struggle to build a city in a volatile river valley.