Rome and the secret of its name

Everybody knows the current name of the eternal city, some people know the name it had in the past, somebody knows (or maybe thinks to know) its origins. How many people can say they actually know the real name?

Uncertain origins: the numerous stories about Rome
Ancient and contemporary historians disagree about the origins of the official name of the city – Cicero and Ennis talked about it, even two thousand years ago, but just to discuss about the name Roma or Remora.

There are many fascinating hypotheses, often more fascinating than real: some people assume the name comes from the Pelasgians. It is said that people named it with a word meaning “strength” and “value”; some people say it takes its origins by the Aeneid’s verse concerning the river Tiber, “Rumon” or “Rumen”; somebody else says it is an evolution of the terms ruma, rumia and rumina, the ancient translation of udder, concerning the famous wolf fed Romolo and Remo or the shape of Colle Palatino, and there is the group saying it comes from the legend, so from Romolo. The last idea is it comes from the ancient Italic people: they used to measure the cities they conquered, supervised by an Augure, who used to draw two lines, from the north to the south (the decumana line) and from the west to the east (the cardo line); the meeting point was named “groma”, “gruma” and “croma”, so it probably became Roma. No legend or historian mentions any other name, the only very important one for the ancient Roman people – so important to be a State secret, never known by the peasants, jealously bequeathed by the highest offices.

In nome nomen: the importance of a name
The first one who talked us about the secret name of the city was Pliny. In his Naturalis Historia, he said: “mysterious rituals forbid to pronounce the other name of Rome. Valerio Sorano was punished for having shared it. Here you are an interesting fun fact about the ancient religion of this silence. Goddess Angerona’ simulacrum, to whom a sacrifice was offered on 21st December, has the mouth covered by a bandage.
Valerio Sorano, told by the ancient historian, was a tribune of the peasants who wrote the “Epoptides”, a work about the mysteries revealed – including the mystery of the name – that brought him to death. Important people, such as Solino and Macrobio, confirmed the story about the secret name and the punished tribune: why so much secrecy? We have to deeply investigate on some mysterious rituals and beliefs to answer to this question.
Ancient Roman people used to evocate the divinity protector of the village they wanted to conquer, promising her to give her homage in the Urbs. As many writers tell about, this custom was also considered in the Pontiffs laws: the Popes were the guardians of the secret goodness name, so that nobody could offer it to the Urbis. As Livius told us, Camillo invocated the tutelary name of Veio, persuading the divinity to abandon the city to reach the Urbis. Scipio did the same, during the last attack to Cartagena, pronouncing the petition to the Gods, as Macrobio lately told us, as well as many others did, as Verrio Flacco said, quoted by Pliny.

So, which is the real name of Rome?

Inscriptions, silence and misdirection of the investigation: the great mystery
There are many different opinions, as well as numerous legends about the other name of Rome, just to confuse ideas and keep the secret.

In his Saturnali, Macrobio said the name was written in very ancient texts, each one very different from the other; some papers said it was Jupiter’s name, others it was the Moon’s and Angerona’s name, and someone, as Macrobio himself did, said it was Ope Consivia. Another brilliant idea to misdirect investigations is the inscription on an altar down the Colle Palatino: “Sei deo sei deivae”, followed by “Genio urbis romae sive mas sive foemina”, written on a holy shield dedicated to Jupiter in the Campidoglio: “as you are a God or a Goddess, to the city of Rome genius, woman or man”; actually, the people couldn’t even know the gender of the tutelary name of the city. The Colle Palatino, was consecrated to Goddess Pale at the time, and on the Campidoglio, there was a temple for Saturn.

The most plausible hypothesis is the one discovered in Pompei, on a domus wall: it shows the both vulgar and the holy name of the Squared Rome of the time: Roma and Amor. Amor is the typical Venus feature, tutelary Goddess secretly venerated, according to the Latin classics, never mentioned in the Carmi Salii. Initially, Venus was venerated as Angerona, Volupia, Ope and other names, as a symbol of creation, but never named by her real appellative.

According to Prudenzio, the poet, the temples dedicated to the Goddesses Roma and Venus had the same size and both of them received offers; it is said Augustus started his power on a field consecrated by the name of Venus, as Horace told us. There is a famous palindrome couplet very difficult to be understood: “signa te; signa; temere me tangid et angis/ Roma; tibi subito motibusibit amor”.

Without certain sources, it is just an hypothesis, hard to be demonstrated and proved wrong – but maybe the absence itself makes the city more mysterious and guardian of wonderful secrets, even after thousands of years.

Do you want to stay in Rome?

For this location we recommend Hotel Oxford, the ideal starting point to discover Rome!

eternal cityRomolo and RemoPliny Naturalis HistoriaMacrobio SaturnaliRome and Amor