1902 Encyclopedia > The Alps > Ancient Divisions of the Alps

The Alps
(Part 5)


(e) Ancient Divisions of the Alps

From the time of Julius Caesar downwards, The Romans, in the prosecution of their policy of universal dominion, or for the purpose of maintaining communication with their military colonies, had become acquainted with all the easiest and most serviceable passes of the Alps, and were thus naturally led to attach names to the chief groups, As their acquaintance with the entire region was very incomplete, the exact boundaries of these group were imperfectly understood, and the denominations adopted by them were never accurately defined. As might have been expected, the divisions thus roughly established had reference rather to the aspect of the mountains as presented to one traveling from Italy towards the north or west, than to a general view of the physical conformation of the entire region. Hence the ancient divisions are essentially defective, as taking no note of some important groups, or including under a single designation groups entirely distinct. Notwithstanding these defects, the ancient divisions have been adhered to by all but fee modern geographers, and it is therefore desirable to record them separately.

1. Maritime Alps (Alpes Maritimae). --These included the potion of the main chain dividing south-western Peidmont form the coast of the Mediterranean, and extending northward to the neighbourhood of the conspicuous peak of Monte Viso.

2. Cottian Alps (Alpes Cottiae or Cottianae) included the portion of the main chain dividing Piedmont from Dauplhine and Savoy, and extending from Monte Viso to the neighbourhood of the Mont Cenis. The name appears to be derived from Cottius, the king or chief of a powerful tribe who ruled the greater part of this region when the paramount authority of Augustus was established in Cisalpine Gaul.

3. Graian Alps (Alpes Graiae). -- Under this designation was known the great group of mountains between Turin and the upper Val d’ Aosta, and the portion of the main chain lying between the Mont Cenis and the Little St Bernanrd. Pliny and other Latin writer derive the name from the legendary passage of a body of Greeks led by Hercules through this region; but true derivation is probably from some lost Celtic appellation.

4. Pennine Alps (Alpes Penninae) was the name applied to the great range including Mont Blanc and Monte Rosa, which, from the time of Julius Caesar, if not earlier, was recognized as the highest portion of the entire chain. The word Pen or Ben is still in use in the living dialects of the Celtic stock as a common designation for a conspicuous mountain, and was certainly in use in the speech of this part of Cesalpine Gaul, where many other Celtic terms are preserved in the local names. The Romans designation Jupiter Penninus was undoubtedly taken from the Celtic root, but the asserted use of the name Pen for a divinity by the native tribes is not established by valid evidence.

5. Lepontine Alps (Alpes Lepontinae). --- It would appear that this denomination was originally restricted to the parts of the main chain lying on either side of the pass of St Gotthard, including the sources of the river Ticino, with those of its tributaries, of which the most important is the Tosa or Toccia, draining the range between the neighbourhood of the Simplon Pass and that of the Gries. The name is derived from the Lepontii, a tribe of doubtful extraction (Rhaetian, according to Strabo) who inhabited the main valley of the Tessin or Ticino, the upper part of which is still called Val Leventina. The eastern limit of this group was usually fixed at the pass of San Bernardino.

6. Rhaetian Alps (Alpes Rhaeticae) derived their name from the Rh_ti, a powerful tribe or nation holding a large tract territory which appears to have extended from the sources of the Thine and the Ticino on the west, to those of the Adige and the Saiza on the east. The area included under this vague heading is at least equal in area to that of the five divisions hitherto enumerated.

7. Noric Alps (Alpes Noricae) --- Under this name the entire region lying north of the Drave, and extending thence to the valley of the Danube on the north and the plains of Hungary on the east, was included.

8. Carnic Alps (Alpes Carnicae) --- This name was given to the mountain tract lying between the upper Drave and the low country of Friuli. By some writers it has been limited to the ranges that feed the Tagliamento (Tilaventus) and its tributaries; by others the range seems to have held to extend from the sources of the Piave to those of the Savc. The name Carnia is still in use in Friulu, but is strictly limited to the basin of the Tagliamento.

9. Julian Alps (Alps Juliae) --- this designation has been still more vaguely used by ancient and modern geographers than any of the preceding. The lofty group of peaks crowed by the Tergion, and lying between the head waters of the Isonzo and those of the Save, undoubtedly forms the chief nucleus of the group distinguished by this name; but it also appears to have included the ranges of eastern Friulu, which province, as well as the Alps in question, took its name from the Roman Forum Julii, now known as Cividalc. By others, and even by contemporary Italian writer, the term Julian Alps is made to extend through the district of Karst between Carniola and the shores of the Adhriatic, and thence through Croatia to the frontiers of Bosnia. A great part of this district is an undulating plateau, in part not attaining to 2000 feet above the sea-level, to which by no stretch of language can be term Alps be probably applied.

In addition to the groups above mentioned some writers have enumerated the Dinaric Alps (Alpes Dinaricae), and include under that term the mountain range extending along the western frontier of Bosnia. This is a portion of the extensive mountain system of European Turkey, which is one direction includes the Balkan, and in another is continued through Albania into Greece. The Romans probably applied to these the designation Alps as some of their later writers did to the Pyrenees and the mountains of southern Spain; but it can merely cause confusion to speak of them as a portion of the great system to which the name Alps specially applies. For the reasons already mentioned it is impossible to regard the ancient groups above enumerated as affording a satisfactory division of the region under consideration; but so far as they can be made to correspond with the divisions suggested by a more exact knowledge of its physical configurations, it seems desirable to retain the established nomenclature.

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