According to tradition, the most city’s first walls were built by the sixth king of Rome, Servius Tullius (sixth century BC). The walls now visible, however, built of tufa from the quarries of Grotta Oscura, were built after the Gallic invasion. Livy (Titus Livius) says that construction of the wall was decided in 390 BC by the censors, the magistrates who oversaw public works. They used tufa from quarries that fell Rome after the conquest of Veii (396 BC). These walls enclosed an area of 426 hectares and were rebuilt on a number of occasions between the fourth century BC and 87 BC (during the civil war between Marius and Sulla).
After the republican era, however, the city remained practically without wralls until 271 AD, when the Emperor Aurelian decided it was advisable to fortify Rome against Barbarian incursions, above all in the long periods when wars kept him abroad. The work went ahead rapidly and by the time of Aurelian’s death in 275 most of the wall must have been built. It fell to his successor Probus to complete the work.
This wall, made of brick, was 6 metres high and 3.50 metres thick. It was fortified with square towers every hundred passi (equal to 29.60 metres). Its length was just under 19 kilometres and it took in numerous earlier edifices. The first emperor to strengthen it was Maxentius, but the most massive enlargement was the work of Arcadius and Honorius. Facing attacks by the Goths in 401-402 they doubled the wall’s height; the path along its top patrolled by guards was replaced by a covered gallery and the Mausoleum of Hadrian was included in the fortification as a castle outpost on the right bank of the Tiber.
Other buildings were also incorporated in the Roman walls. One of the most ancient annexed during construction of Aurelian’s wall was the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, erected under his testament in less than 330 days. The bronze statues of Caius Cestius, now in the Musei Capitolini, were paid for with money from the sale of tapestries from Pergamum which could not be placed in the sepulchre because of a sumptuary law of 18 BC.
Aurelian Walls: The Gates
In Aurelian’s project the main gates set in the walls consisted of twin entrances, covered with arches and contained within twyo semicircular towers. More modest entrances were simply inserted in a stretch of walls between two square towers.
In the course of the reinforcements decided by Arcadius and Honorius many of the double entrances were eliminated and the towers were raised and fortified. The gates, with an inner counter-door, were transformed into self-sufficient fortresses, The closure wras doubled and consisted on the outside of a double door and on the inside of a portcullis which could be raised and lowered.
One of the best preserved stretches of the Aurelian walls between Porta Latina and Porta San Sebastiano, with the Museo delle Mura (Museum of the City Walls). Here it is also possible to walk along the top of a section of the walls.
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