The ancient traveler bent on making a tour of Flavian Rome, and coming northward up the Tiber from Ostia, would first of all have noted the swiftness of the muddy current, carrying along the soil of hills and valleys to the sea. In this simple fact lay the leisurely tragedy of erosion, the difficulty of two-way commerce on the river, the periodical silting of the Tiber’s mouth, and the floods that almost every spring inundated the lower levels of Rome, confined the residents to upper stories reached by boats, and often destroyed the corn stored in granaries on the wharves. When the waters fell they carried houses to ruin, and men and animals to death. As he neared the city the visitor’s eye would be caught by the Emporium, which ran for a thousand feet along the river’s eastern edge, and was noisy with workers, warehouses, markets, and moving goods. Beyond it rose that Aventine hill on which the angry plebs had staged its “sit-down strikes” of 494 and 449 B.C. On the left bank at this point were the gardens that Caesar had bequeathed to the people, and behind them the Janiculum. Near the eastern shore at the beautiful Pons Aemilius lay the Forum Boarium or Cattle Market, with its (still standing) temples to Fortune and Mater Matuta, the Goddess of the Dawn. Farther north on the right loomed the Palatine and Capitoline hills, thick with palaces and temples. On the left bank were Agrippa’s gardens, and beyond them the Vatican hill. North of the city’s center, off the eastern shore, stretched the spacious lawns and decorative buildings of the Campus Martius, or Field of Mars; here were the theaters of Balbus and Pompey, the Circus of Flaminius, the Baths of Agrippa, and Domitian’s stadium; here the legions practiced, athletes competed, chariots raced, the people played ball, and the Assembly gathered, under the emperors, to go through the motions of democracy’s ghost.

Disembarking at the city’s northern limits, the visitor saw some remains of the wall ascribed to Servius Tullius. Rome had probably rebuilt it after the Gallic raid of 390 B.C., but the power of Roman arms, and the apparent security of the capital, allowed the rampart to lapse into ruins; not till Aurelian (A.D. 270) would another wall rise, a symbol of security gone. Gates had been cut in the wall, usually as single or triple archways, to permit the passage of the great roads from which they took their names. Touring the boundary of the city east and then south, the visitor would see the luxuriant gardens of Sallust, the dusty camp of the Praetorians, the arches of the Marcian, Appian, and Claudian aqueducts, and on his right, in turn, the Pincian, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, and Caelian hills. Leaving the walls and walking northwest on the Appian Way, he would pass through the Porta Capena along the southern slope of the Palatine to the Nova Via (“New Street”), and then northward through a maze of arches and buildings to stand in the ancient Forum, the head and heart of Rome.