1902 Encyclopedia > Latium


LATIUM, in ancient geography, was the name given to the portion of central Italy which adjoined the Tyrrhenian Sea on' the west, and was situated between Etruria and Campania. The name was, however, applied in a very different sense at different times, and the extent of country comprised under this appellation varied materially. Latium originally means the land of the Latini, and in this sense, which is that alone in use historically, it was a tract of comparatively limited extent; but after the overthrow of the Latin confederacy, when the neighbouring tribes of the Hernicans, Volscians, and Auruncans, as well as the Latins properly so called, were reduced to the condition of subjects and citizens of Rome, the name of Latium was extended so as to comprise them all, and include the whole country from the Tiber to the Liris. The change thus introduced was not formally established till the reign of Augustus; but it is already recognized by Strabo (v. p. 228), as well as by Pliny, who terms the additional territory thus incorporated Latium Adjectum, while he designates the original Latium, extending from the Tiber to Circeii, as Latium Antiquum. We shall confine ourselves in the first instance to the description of Latium in this limited sense, in which it figures in Roman history from the foundation of the city to the days of Cicero.

I. LATIUM ANTIQUUM. In this original sense Latium was a country of but small extent, and consisted principally of an extensive plain, now known as the Campagna di Roma, bounded towards the interior by the lofty range of the Apennines, which rise very abruptly from the plains at their foot to a height of between 4000 and 5000 feet. Several of the Latin cities, including Tibur and Praeneste, were, however, situated on the terrace-like underfalls of these mountains, while Cora, Norba, and Setia were placed in like manner on the slopes of the Volscian mountains or Monti Lepini, a rugged and lofty range, which branches off from the Apennines near Prseneste, and forms a continuous mountain barrier from thence to Terracina. In the midst of the plain thus limited rises a group of volcanic moun-tains, of about 30 miles in circuit, and attaining to a height of over 3000 feet, now commonly known as the Alban hills, though the designation of Albani Montes is not found in any ancient writer. But the highest summit, now called Monte Cavo, on which stood the temple of Jupiter Latiaris, was known as Mons Albanus; while the north-east summit, which almost equalled it in height, bore the name of Mount Algidus, celebrated in all ages for the dark forests of ilex with which it was covered. No volcanic eruptions are known to have taken place in these mountains within the historic period, but the remains of a crater are distinctly seen near the summit of the Mons Albanus, forming the basin now known as the Campo di Annibale, while the cup-shaped lakes known as the Alban Lake and the Lake of Nemi unquestionably occupy the basins of similar craters at a lower level on the southern slope of the moun-tain, and the adjacent Lacus Aricinus, now drained, was another vent of a similar character.
But, besides this distinctly volcanic group, by far the greater part of the plain now called the Campagna di Roma was formed by volcanic deposits, consisting for the most part of the rock called tufo, an aggregate of volcanic sand, pebbles, and cinders or scoriae, varying greatly in hardness and consistency, from a compact rock well adapted for building stone to a loose disintegrating sand known by the local name of puzzolano. In a few places only beds of lava are found, the most distinct of which is a continuous stream extending from the foot of the Alban hills to within 2 miles from Rome, along which the line of the Appian Way was carried. These deposits have been formed upon previously existing beds of Tertiary formation, which here and there rise to the surface, and in the Monte Mario, a few miles north of Rome, attain to the height of 400 feet. The surface is by no means an uniform plain, like that of the Terra di Lavoro (the ancient Campania), but is a broad undulating tract, furrowed throughout by numerous depressions, with precipitous banks, serving as water-courses, though rarely traversed by any considerable stream. As the general level of the plain rises gradually, though almost imperceptibly, to the foot of the Apennines, these channels by degrees assume the character of ravines of a formidable description.

Between the volcanic tract of the Campagna and the sea there intervenes a broad strip of sandy plain, evidently formed merely by the accumulation of sand from the sea, and constituting a barren tract, still covered, as it was in ancient times, almost entirely with wood. This long belt of sandy shore extends without a break for a distance of above 30 miles from the mouth of the Tiber to the promontory of Antium (Porto dAnzo), which is formed by a low but rocky headland, projecting out into the sea, and giving rise to the only considerable angle in this line of coast. Thence again a low sandy shore of similar' character extends for about 24 miles to the foot of the Monte Circello, an isolated mountain mass of limestone of about 9 miles in circumference, and rising to a height of 2000 feet. From the almost insulated character of this remarkable promontory, which is united to the Apennines at Terracina by a similar strip of sandy coast, between the Pontine Marshes and the sea, there can be no doubt that it was once an island, which has been gradually united to the mainland by alluvial deposits. But it is certain that these deposits must have commenced long before the historical period, and the assertion strangely ascribed by Pliny to Theophrastus, that the Circeian promontory was in the days of that philosopher still an island, is certainly erroneous. The region of the Pontine Marshes, which occupies almosS the whole tract between the sandy belt on the sea-shore and the Volscian mountains, extending from the southern fool of the Alban hills below Velletri to the sea near Terracina, a distance of about 30 miles, is a perfectly level plain, rendered pestilential by the stagnation of numerous streams that descend from the neighbouring mountains, and are unable to find their way through this extremely low and level tract, while their outlet to the sea is barred by the? sands of the coast between Monte Circello and Terracina.

At the earliest period of which we have any historical record the whole of the country that we have thus described, or Latium in the proper sense of the term, was inhabited by the people known to the Romans as Latini. Of their origin or ethnical affinities we have very little information, except that they belonged to the same branch of the Italian races with the Umbrians, Oscans, and Sabellians (see ITALY). At the same time they constituted, according to the general testimony of ancient writers, a distinct people from their neighbours the Sabines and the Volscians, who held the mountain districts adjoining their territory, as well as (in a much higher degree) from the Etruscans on the other side of the Tiber. There was once, however, a people called the Rutuli, who occupied a small portion of the Latin territory adjoining the sea-coast, and are described as a separate people under their own king,—a tradition familiar to all modern readers from its having been adopted by Virgil. But the name of the Rutuli, as that of an independent people, disappears from history at a very early period, and their capital city of Ardea was certainly one of the thirty cities that in historical times constituted the Latin league. The list of these cities given us by Bionysius of Halicarnassus, which has every appearance of being derived from an authentic document (see Niebuhr's Roman History, vol. ii. p. 23), enumerates them as follows : —Ardea, Aricia, Bovillse, Bubentum, Corniculum, Carven-tum, Circeii, Corioli, Oorbio, Cora, Fortinei (1), Gabii, Laurentum, Lavinium, Labicum, Lanuvium, Nomentum, Norba, Prseneste, Pedum, Querquetulum, Satricum, Scaptia, Setia, Tellense, Tibur, Tusculum, Toleria, Tricrinum (1), Velitrse.

The list thus given by Dionysius is arranged in an order approximately alphabetical. Omitting the two names which are probably corrupt, and a few of which the site cannot be determined with any certainty, the others may be described according to their geographical arrangement. Laurentum and Lavinium, names so conspicuous in the legendary history of iEneas, were situated in the sandy strip near the sea-coast,—the former only 8 miles east of Ostia, which was from the first merely the port of Rome, and never figured as an independent city. Farther eastward again lay Ardea, the ancient capital of the Rutuli, and some distance beyond that Antium, situated on the sea-coast, which, though not in the list of Dionysius, was certainly a Latin city. On the southern nnderfalls of the Alban mountains, commanding the plain at the foot, stood Lanuvium and Velitrse ; Aricia rose on a neighbouring hill, and Corioli was probably situated in the plain beneath. The more im-portant city of Tusculum occupied one of the northern summits of the same group ; while opposite to it, in a commanding situation on a lofty offshoot of the Apennines, rose Preeneste, now Palestrina. Bola and Pedum were in the same neighbourhood, Labicum on the slope of the Alban hills below Tusculum, and Corbio on a rocky summit east of the same city. Tibur (Tivoli) occupied a height commanding the outlet of the river Anio. Corniculum, farther west, stood on the summit of one of three conical hills that rise abruptly out of the plain at the distance of a few miles from Monte Gennaro, the nearest of the Apennines, and which were thence known as the Montes Corniculani. Nomentum was a few miles farther north, between the Apennines and the Tiber, and close to the Sabine fron-tier. The boundary between the two nations was indeed in this part very fluctuating. Nearly in the centre of the plain of the Campagna stood Gabii ; Bovillae was also in the plain, but close to the Appian "Way, where it begins to ascend the Alban hills. Several other cities—Tellenae, Scaptia, and Querquetulum—men-tioned in the list of Dionysius were probably situated in the Cam-pagna, but their site cannot be determined. Satricum, on the other hand was south of the Alban hills, apparently between Velitrse and Antium ; while Cora, Norba, and Setia (all of which retain their ancient names with little modification) crowned the rocky heights which form advanced posts from the Volscian mountains towards the Pontine Marshes.

It must be borne in mind that the list given by Dionysius belonged to a date about 490 B.C., and a considerable number of the Latin cities had before that time either been utterly destroyed or reduced to subjection by Borne, and had thus lost their independent existence. Such were Antemnse and Ccenina, both of them situated within a few miles of Borne, and the conquest of which was ascribed to Romulus; Fidense, about 5 miles north of the city, and close to the Tiber; and Crustumerium, in the hilly tract farther north towards the Sabine frontier. Pometia also, on the borders of the Pontine Marshes, to which it was said to have given name, was a city of importance, the destruction of which was ascribed to Tarquinius Superbus. But by far the most important of these extinct cities was Alba, on the lake to which it gave its name, which was, according to the tradition universally received, the parent of Borne, as well as of numerous other cities within the limits of Latium, including Gabii, Fidense, Collatia, Nomentum, and other well-known towns. Whether or not this tradition deserves to rank as historical, it appears certain that at an early period there existed a confederacy of thirty towns, of which Alba was the supreme head. A list of these is given us by Pliny (iii. 5, 968) under the name of " populi Albenses," which includes only six of those found in the list of Dionysius; and these for the most part among the more obscure and least known of the names there given ; while the more powerful cities of Aricia, Lanuvium, and Tusculum, though situated immediately on the Alban hills, are not included, and appear to have maintained a wholly independent position. This earlier league was doubtless broken up by the fall of Alba ; it was probably the increasing power of the Volsci and iEqui that led to the formation of the later league, including all the more powerful cities of Latium, as well as to thi/ alliance concluded by them with the Romans in the con-sulship of Sp. Cassius (493 B.C.).

The cities of the Latin league continued to hold general meetings or assemblies from time to time at the Grove of Ferentina, a sanctuary at the foot of the Alban hills in a valley below Marino, while they had also a common place of worship on the summit of the Alban Mount (the Monte Cavo), where stood the celebrated temple of Jupiter Latiaris. The participation in the annual sacrifices at this sanctuary was regarded as typical of a Latin city; and they continued to be celebrated long- after the Latins had lost their inde-pendence and been incorporated in the Roman state. This change took place in 338 B.C. During the centuries that followed down to the end of the Roman republic many of the Latin towns sank into a very decayed condition. Cicero speaks of Gabii, Labicum, and Bovillse as places that had fallen into abject poverty, while Horace refers to Gabii and Fidenae as mere " deserted villages." Many of the smaller places mentioned in the list of Dionysius, or the early wars of the Romans, had altogether ceased to exist, but the statement of Pliny that fifty-three communities (populi) had thus perished within the boundaries of Old Latium is certainly exaggerated, and his list of the " illustrious cities " (clara oppida) that had thus disappeared is very confused and unintelligible. Still more erroneous is his statement that there were once twenty-four cities on the site occupied in his time by the Pontine Marshes,—an assertion not con-firmed by any other authority, and utterly at variance with the physical conditions of the tract in question.

II. LATIUM NOVUM, or ADJECTUM, as it is termed by Pliny, com-prised the territories occupied in earlier times by the Volscians, Hernicans, and Auruncans. It was for the most part a rugged and mountainous country, extending at the back of Latium proper, from the frontier of the Sabines to the sea-coast between Terracina and Sinuessa. But it was not separated from the adjacent territories by any natural frontier or physical boundaries, and it is only by the enumeration of the towns in Pliny according to the division of Italy by Augustus that we can determine its limits. It included the upper valley of the Anio, with the towns of Sublaqueum and Treba; the Hernican cities of Anagnia, Ferentinum, Alatrium, and Vernlaj—a group of mountain strongholds on the north side of the valley of the Trerus or Sacco ; together with the Volscian cities on the south of the same valley, and in that of the Liris, the whole of which, with the exception of its extreme upper end, was included in the Volscian territory. Here were situated Signia, Frusino, Fabra-teria, Fregelke, Sora, Arpinum, Atina, Aquinum, Casinum, and Interamna ; Anxur, or Tarracina, was the only seaport that properly belonged to the Volscians, the coast from thence to the mouth of the Liris being included in the territory of the Auruncans, or Ausonians as they were termed by Greek writers, who possessed the maritime towns of Fundi, Formiee, Caieta, and Minturnee, together with Suessa in the interior, which had replaced their more ancient capital of Aurunca. Sinuessa, on the sea-coast between the Liris (Garigliano) and the Vulturnus, was the last town in Latium according to the official use of the term.

Thongh the Apennines comprised within the boundaries of Latium do not rise to a height approaching that of the loftiest sum-mits of the central range, they attain to a considerable altitude, and form steep and rugged mountain masses from 4000 to 5000 feet high. They are traversed by three principal valleys :—(1) that of the Anio, now called Teverone, which descends from above Subiaco to Tivoli, where it enters the plain of the Campagna; (2) that of the Trerus or Sacco, which has its source below Palestrina (Praeneste), and flows through a comparatively broad valley that separates the main mass of the Apennines from the Volscian mountains or Monti Lepini, till it joins the Liris below Ceprano ; (3) that of the Liris or Garigliano, which enters the confines of New Latium about 20 miles from its source, flows under the walls of Sora, and has a very tortuous course from thence to the sea at Mintnrnse ; its lower valley is for the most part of considerable width, and forms a fertile tract of considerable extent, bordered on both sides by hills covered with vines, olives, and fruit trees, and thickly studded with towns and villages.

It may be observed that, long after the Latins had ceased to exist


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