Mons manufactus: Rome’s man-made mountains between history and natural history (c. 1100-1700)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Rome’s man-made mounds occupy a position between built antiquities and natural features. In the Middle Ages and early modern period, particular attention was paid to Monte Testaccio, the Mausoleum of Augustus, and the related ‘mons omnis terra’. Debate focused on the origins and composition of the mounds, thought to contain either earth brought to Rome as symbolic tribute, pottery used to hold monetary tribute, or pottery produced locally. Developing over time in different genres of writing on the city, these interpretations were also employed in works on historical, religious and geological themes. The importation of material, expressive of relations between Rome and the wider world in antiquity, was used to draw positive and negative comparisons with present-day rulers and the papacy, and to associate Rome with Babylon. The growth of the mounds and the presence of ceramics were invoked in discussions of the formation of mountains and montane fossils. If the mounds’ ambiguities facilitated their incorporation into other debates, the terms in which they are discussed reflect ongoing engagement with literature on the city. The reception of these monuments thus offers a distinctive perspective on the significance of Rome to connections between spheres of knowledge in this period.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-204
Number of pages34
JournalPapers of the British School at Rome
Early online date22 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Medieval Studies
  • Centre for Environmental Humanities


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