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Raychal Kinner
Aurelian Walls and Gates
The Aurelian Walls and accompanying gates are a line of defensive walls that
once enclosed the city for protection. They were built in the third century AD,
between 270 and 275. Barbarians from Northern Europe were threatening to
invade Rome, so Emperor Aurelian commissioned the construction of these walls to
guard the city. The walls were nineteen kilometers long, which is about twelve
miles, and enclosed almost fourteen square kilometers in area. They were six feet
tall with a walkway along the top and a taller tower every thirty meters. It is
constructed of brick and concrete, and the Roman army built it. Along the wall
where different roads left the city, gates were built to allow travel in and out. All the
gates are different, and the size and structure of the gate was determined by the
importance of the road.
An older wall, the Servian Wall, existed before the Aurelian Wall. This was
built in the fourth century BC, but Rome grew outside of the region enclosed by this
wall. Because of this expansion, Rome was extremely unprotected which was
apparent during the Crisis of the Third Century. During this crisis, civil war,
economic unrest and plague were devastating the Roman Empire. On top of this,
Barbarians invaded Rome and the empire nearly collapsed. In 270 Barbarians again
attacked Northern Italy, this solidified the need for a defensive wall around Rome.
Aurelian decided to have the walls build in reaction the Barbarian invasion. It was
built in the short time of five years. The wall was of course used to protect the city,
but it was also a symbol of Roman power and of Aurelian’s authority.
Raychal Kinner
The wall has gone through quite a few restorations in its history. Maxentius
fixed small parts of the wall in the fourth century that needed repair. This was a
small restoration compared to the work of Emperor Honorius. In the beginning of
the fifth century, Honorius completely restructured the wall. He doubled the height
of the wall, making it twelve feet tall. Another walkway was added to the wall; one
had slits for archers’ arrows and the other had places for war machinery. A second
room was added to the towers. All these improvements were made to improve the
defensive qualities of the wall.
There is debate about the effectiveness of the Aurelian Wall. The entire
Roman defense was only about 25,000 men, which was not enough to adequately
guard the nineteen-kilometer long wall. The wall would not be able to prevent
attacks, but instead it would slow an invasion and act as a blockade. The walls were
used for defense up until 1870; this was when Bersaglieri seized Rome. And
surprisingly enough, the Aurelian Walls were used as the boundary for the city until
the nineteenth century. Today the city of Rome extends outside the walls.
There were sixteen different gates in the Aurelian Walls throughout Rome, a
lot of which are well preserved today. Notable of which is the Porta del Popolo in
Piazza del Popolo, which was used more for traffic than military use because of the
importance of the street that runs through it. Also, Porta Pia, which replaced Porta
Nomentana, is significant because it was commissioned by Pope Pius IV and
designed my Michelangelo. My personal favorite gate is Porta San Giovanni because
it is in great condition and still attached to the surrounding wall. It is position right
in front of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which is a cool view.
Raychal Kinner
I really enjoyed going around Rome and seeing all the different parts of the
wall and gates; there is nothing like this in the United States. I think it is amazing
that such huge parts of this wall still exist so long after their construction. The idea
of an entire city enclosed by a single wall is baffling, and it demonstrates the
priorities of city in the fourth century. Their main goal was to protect Rome and its
citizens, although from a present day perspective, it does not seem very efficient.
The several advances in military defense and technology are clear after studying the
Aurelian Walls. Still this wall and the gates are an amazing testament to Rome’s
power and control.
Raychal Kinner
Works Cited
Claridge, Amanda (1998). Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, First,
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 59, 332-335
Aldrete, Gregory S (2004). Daily Life In The Roman City: Rome, Pompeii,
And Ostia, Greenwood Press, 2004, pp. 41-42.
Alaric Watson, Aurelian and the Third Century (Taylor & Francis, 2004)
Museo delle Mura. (n.d.). The aurelian walls. Retrieved from