The word "Vatican"

Is it true that the word Vatican means from the greek word Vatis=divine,and,can=serpent?

NO. The supposedly “Greek” words vatis and can are not even proper Greek at all, nor do they mean “Divine serpent”; but yes, the region was originally infamous as being an unhealthy swampy area and a breeding-ground for snakes that even Pliny reported that there were snakes there of such enormous size who were known to swallow babies whole (!!!).

The actual origin of the name Vaticanus is unclear. Many think that it is a borrowing from Etruscan. In fact, the hill may have originally been the site of an Etruscan settlement called Vaticum. This can easily be explained when we consider that the region of the modern Vatican, on the right bank of the Tiber, originally belonged to Etruria, or rather, apparently, to the southernmost of the Etruscan cities, the powerful Veii with which Rome had to struggle so much during its first period of expansion. The Romans, in fact, named the area across the Tiber Ripa Etrusca (Etruscan bank).

When the city fell under the power of the Romans in 396 BC in the Battle of Veii, Vatican became part of the city of Rome, although it always remained outside the walls: the so-called Servian Wall of the 4th century B.C. and, much later, the walls built by the emperors Aurelianus and Probus between 270 and 278 AD to defend the city against the fearful invasions of the barbarians. When Augustus divided the city into fourteen regions in 7 BC, the Vatican became part of the fourteenth, which included the territory “beyond the Tiber” (Transtiberim, the modern Trastevere).

Some, meanwhile, connect it with the Latin word vatis or vates, an archaic word originally meaning “prophet”, “seer” or “oracle” (also by extension, “poet”): for example, a few claim that it came from the phrase vates canunt (the seers proclaim).

1 Like

Wow! That is great information! What is your source?

1.) Pliny’s reference to Vatican Hill is from Naturalis Historia 8.14.37:

The serpents which in Italy are known by the name of boa, render these accounts far from incredible, for they grow to such a vast size, that a child was found entire in the stomach of one of them, which was killed on Vatican Hill during the reign of the Emperor Claudius.

2.) Margherita Guarducci discusses the history of the hill for a bit in The Tomb of St. Peter.