The Fall of Rome and its Countryside

The first barbaric invasions forced emperor Aurelian to construct another wall around Rome since the Servian Wall, after 700 years, bore the damages of time and thus did no longer guarantee security; furthermore, the city of Rome was growing.

Rome was thus surrounded by 19 km of wall (against the 11 km of the Servian Wall) reinforced by 383 square towers 100 feet (about 30 metres)apart. To enter the city, which covered a surface of 1,230 hectars,the inhabitants had 14 gates at their disposal.
During the Gothic war (535-554) the aqueducts were severely damaged and flooded the surrounding lands, transforming the area into pestilential marshes and forcing the rich owners to leave their dwellings.

In 1985 Prof. Andreina Ricci of the History Department of the University of Tor Vergata began a study on the area of Tor Vergata and its surroundings. Her studies of the territory spanning from the Archaic Age up to the 19th century provide a new outlook in terms of how the area must have been like in the late Archaic Age and Middle Medieval period. Unexpectedly, the area seems to have been densely populated. The inhabitants lived on small farms, manufacturing vessels and doing metal works.

The Roman countryside, described by most 19th century artists as a deserted landscape scattered with ruins, was instead lively and productive, even more so than in other periods, and was closely interwoven with Rome in terms of providing services to the city.

As Rome’s decay progressed, the bishop of Rome was the only authority granting stability in the area, through his great moral prestige and by excercising his power through his network of suburbian bishops and by being the biggest landowner.

Thanks to the donations made by emperor Constantine to the Church, the latter became the owner of the largest imperial estates. This fact and the subdivision of the land into dioceses allowed Pope Gregorius the Great (590-604) to begin a slow process of reconversion of the countryside, which was continued by his successors. The newly built churches and convents became the focal point of agricultural settlements which assembled spontaneously in the areas where the remains of ancient constructions provided shelter and water supply.