The tales of the Tarpean Rock and Capitoline Geese are both imbued in history and myth.
While the lowest and smallest of Rome’s seven hills, the Capitoline is perhaps the most closely bound to the city’s history given it has since antiquity always been Rome’s political and religious hub.
The Capitoline Legend
Legend has it that in the age of Rome’s foundation, the hill was conquered by the Sabines as a result of a Roman maiden, named Tarpeia’s betrayal. Tarpeia is said to have offered to open the city’s gates in return for gold rings and bracelets the Sabine’s wore on their arms. Tarpeia’s luck however ran out and she was in turn herself betrayed by the Sabines who, once inside, crushed her to death under the weight of their shields. This then is the legend, although in all probability Tarpeia was none other than a divinity protecting the Capitol’s oldest hill, Mons Tarpeium over which stands the goddess’ statue, in a triumphant stance on top of a pile of weapons. Throughout antiquity Mons Tarpeium was the tragic spot chosen for hurling off anyone who had been accused of betrayal, hence its name the Tarpeian Rock (Rupe Tarpea).
However the most famous event on the Capitoline Hill is indisputably connected to the 18th July 390 B.C. invasion, the day when the Romans were defeated by the Gauls at the River Allia. After advancing for three days, the Gauls reached Rome and sacked it all, apart that is the Capitoline Hill which held out against the enemy for months. According to legend the Gaul’s nightly forays were foiled thanks the fortuitous warning given by a startled gaggle of Capitoline geese, which were kept in the sacred enclosure of the Temple of Juno: The Capitoline Hill was thus saved by its geese! To commemorate the event, between 353 and 344 B.C. the Temple of Juno Moneta was built (The denomination Moneta, referring to the divinity’s peculiar capacity for warning). The Temple of Juno was also to house the fist mint (moneta workshop got its name from the temple, from which today’s Italian word “moneta”, meaning currency, derives).