The Roman historian Suetonius recorded a claim by the Emperor Augustus that he found Rome “…of brick, but left it of marble.” This may have been true on the surface, but the vast structures that wowed your average captive barbarian, were – including Augustus’s own palace – still solidly brick at heart.
He built his palace on the Palatine Hill, the most central of the Seven Hills of Rome, and the site not only of his own birth but also of the city’s symbolic heart: the Cave of the Lupercal. Buried in its depths is where, so the myth goes, a female wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, legendary founders of the city. A possible candidate for this cave has recently been located, 18 metres down inside the hill, buried under an avalanche of brick, bearing witness to how the mound was extended up and out with palace after palace by succeeding emperors who favoured its siting commandingly above the Forum Romanum on one side and the Circus Maximus on the other – so many in fact that the very word “palace” was spawned from the Palatine’s name. I (rgw)