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Richard's Writings > The Birth of Rome > Chapter 17: Servian Walls

Synopsis of Chapter 17: Servian Walls

Servius Tullius hires Publius Valerius to oversee the construction of the great wall around the city, and personally finances the construction of a Public House in the Forum for himself. The enslaved prisoners from Veii build the foundation, then the whole city pitches in to build the walls, each clan contributing its share of laborers. Tanaquil is the power behind the throne, and tells Tullius and Tarquinia the Sibyl of Cumae's prophecy. Lucumo's nephew Arruns Tarchna Collatinus marries Sabrina, further uniting the Sabine and Latin tribes. The years go around the seasons and old Marcus Junius passes away.

Excerpt from Chapter 17: Servian Walls

The construction of the wall began in earnest. While thousands of men and women shifted a small mountain of dirt from the ditch to the rampart, hundreds more positioned slabs of gray tufa into place and cemented them together. Every morning people streamed up the valleys to the escarpment to work on the project, and poured back down at noon to rest through the heat of the afternoon. Then, after dinner, they all streamed back up again to continue working until nightfall. The clans delegated the workload through their extended families, while at the same time ensuring that their shops and factories remained open. Meanwhile, every nine days, two hundred soldiers and sixty cavalry troopers went out to garrison the camp by the quarry, and that same number came in from the field.

All day long wagon after wagon rolled across the Pons Sublicius, the Bridge of Pilings, proceeded down the length of the Forum, and then climbed the gentle slope of the Via Sacra to the top of the escarpment. Once on top, they turned north and proceeded for another mile to the current worksite. An enormous amount of stone was required for this project. As soon as a wagon arrived it was directed to a place along the stretch of wall being raised, and its haul of gray slabs were immediately harnessed and pulled onto the wall. Slowly, but relentlessly, the massive barrier rose above the level of the plain.

Between the ditch and the rampart was the foundation for the wall itself, a level surface topped with gravel and sand, a perfect roadway for the wagons. One line of wagons ran up to the end point of the current construction, dropped their load, and joined the line returning in the other direction. The teamsters often took workers back down the hill in the beds of their empty wagons. As the wall grew higher, the level of the rampart grew higher to match it. The tufa slabs were simply pulled up the long slope of the rampart to the top of the wall and fixed into place. More earth was made available from the ditch on the other side as needed, and the rampart rose another foot to meet the new level of the wall. The wall rose from left to right in a staggered formation, slowly growing sideways with every new layer, each layer beginning with four new slabs laid head to head on the foundation's gravel surface. The slabs were then overlapped with the layer to the left, and so on, slowly rising like a flight of stairs until they reached the height of the finished wall. The final labor was removing enough earth from the rampart to create a wide, level surface that served as a roadway in peace and a fighting platform in battle.

When the wall finally reached the crest of the valley that flanked the southern end of the Oppius, a city-wide celebration was held. Everyone was given a market interval of nine days to rest. The final day of the nunindea was the market day itself, and then the whole enormous enterprise began again from the beginning. A second wall running nearly a mile long, with a matching ditch and rampart, was built parallel to the first wall. In time the people simply began to call this portion of double wall the Agger, meaning "the rampart." And after all this work, on that distant day when the Agger would be considered complete, the project was not even one fifth finished.


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