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Tarpeian Rock


Tarpeian Rock

The site of the Tarpeian Rock as it appeared in 2008.
A 19th century etching of the Tarpeian Rock.

The Tarpeian Rock (; Latin: Rupes Tarpeia or Saxum Tarpeium, Italian Rupe Tarpea) was a steep cliff of the southern summit of the Capitoline Hill, overlooking the Roman Forum in Ancient Rome. It was used during the Roman Republic as an execution site. Murderers, traitors, perjurors, and larcenous slaves, if convicted by the quaestores parricidii, were flung from the cliff to their deaths, as were the disabled and mentally ill.[1] The cliff was about 25 meters (80 ft) tall.[2]


  • History 1
  • Notable victims 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Sources 5


According to early Roman histories, when the Sabine ruler Titus Tatius attacked Rome after the Rape of the Sabines (8th century BC), the Vestal Virgin Tarpeia, daughter of Spurius Tarpeius, governor of the citadel on the Capitoline Hill, betrayed the Romans by opening the city gates for the Sabines in return for “what they bore on their arms.” Titus Tatius bribed Tarpeia into letting his army into the gates in exchange for the golden bracelets and bejeweled rings. In Book 1 of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, the Sabines “accepti (in arcem) obtruam armis necavere,” meaning, “having been accepted into the citadel, [the Sabines] killed her, having been overwhelmed by weapons, and “scuta congesta”, meaning, “[they] heaped up shields [on her].”[3] The Sabines crushed her to death with their shields, and her body was buried in the rock that now bears her name. Regardless of whether or not Tarpeia was buried in the rock itself, it is significant that the rock was named for her deceit.[4]

About 500 BC, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh legendary king of Rome, leveled the top of the rock, removing the shrines built by the Sabines, and built the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus on the intermontium — the area between the two summits of the hill. The rock itself survived this remodelling, being used for executions well into Sulla's time[5] (early 1st century BC).

There is a Latin phrase Arx tarpeia Capitoli proxima (“the Tarpeian Rock is close to the Capitol”) which some have interpreted to mean that “one's fall from grace can come swiftly”.

To be hurled off the Tarpeian Rock was, in some sense, a fate worse than death, because it carried with it a stigma of shame. The standard method of execution in ancient Rome was by strangulation in the Tullianum. Rather, the rock was reserved for the most notorious traitors, and as a place of unofficial, extra-legal executions such as the near-execution of then-Senator Gaius Marcius Coriolanus by a mob whipped into frenzy by a tribune of the plebs.[6]

Notable victims

Victims of this punishment included:[7]

See also


  1. ^ Platner (1929). A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, Tarpeius Mons, pp509-510. London. Oxford University Press.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Plutarch, Lives; Livy, Ab Urbe Condita; M. Grant, Roman Myths.
  8. ^ Livy. Book 6 [20.9]


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