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Etymology of Latin names

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)


According to Marcus Terentius Varro, whose works have been preserved in a very small and poor form, we can trace the etymology of Latin names associated with the rise of the city of Rome. And so, the place where Rome is today, was called Septimontium, from the seven hills that were later included in the city walls.

The hill name Capitol is supposed to come from the skull (caput), as in this place during the digging of the foundations of the Jupiter temple a human head was supposedly found.

The message about the Capitol and its name was left by Pliny the Elder. He mentions a certain Olenus Calenus who was augur in the Etruscan town of Veii. During his office, he heard that a skull was found in Rome in the ground where the foundations of the Jupiter temple were created on the Capitol. Having learned this, he considered it as good omen and wanted to move the artifact from Rome to his city. When Roman deputies came to him – as one of the greatest augurs – wanting to hear his opinion and explanation of the sign, he gestured and marked with staff on the ground the temple’s area and asked, “Here is to be, as you say, the Romans, the temple of Jupiter the Best, the Greatest? Here we found the skull?”. Livy claimed that if they answered the question in the affirmative way, the happy fate that this sign foretold for Rome would have passed into the city of Veii. But they had a warning and in this way they denied him: “Not at all here, we are talking, but a head was found in Rome.”

The Capitol was also called the Tarpean Hill.

  • Joseph Rykwert, Idea miasta. Antropologia formy miasta w Rzymie, w Italii i w świecie starożytnym
  • Marcus Terentius Varro, De Lingua Latina

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