Alba Longa

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For the German wine grape, see Albalonga (grape).
Castel Gandolfo on a long, sunlit ridge overlooking Lake Albano, the most likely site of ancient Alba Longa.

Alba Longa (occasionally written Albalonga in Italian sources) was an ancient city of Latium[1] in central Italy, 12 miles (19 km) southeast of Rome,[2] in the Alban Hills. Founder and head of the Latin League, it was destroyed by Rome around the middle of the 7th century BC. In legend, Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, had come from the royal dynasty of Alba Longa, which in Virgil's Aeneid had been the bloodline of Aeneas, a son of Venus.

Alban war with Rome[edit]

In the 7th century BC the Romans under king Tullus Hostilius went to war with Alba Longa which was at that time ruled by Gaius Cluilius.

The pretext for war was that some Roman and Alban peasants had plundered each other's lands, although according to Livy the real reason was Tullus Hostilius' warlike disposition. Ambassadors were dispatched by each side to demand restitution, and war was thereafter proclaimed, first by the Romans and soon after by the Albans also.[3]

Livy describes the war as being akin to a civil war, because the Romans were said to be descended from the Albans.[4]

Cluilius marched with his army into Roman territory, established camp, and constructed a giant trench surrounding Rome, which became known as the Cluilian trench. Cluilius however, died in the camp of unspecified causes and the Albans then appointed Mettius Fufetius dictator.[4]

Tullus emerged from Rome with his army, passed the Alban camp at night and marched into Alban territory. Mettius followed, camped nearby the Roman army, and then sent a representative to invite Tullus to confer before any engagement. Tullus accepted the invitation, however both sides were drawn up for battle whilst the leaders met between the two forces.[4]

At the conference, Mettius proposed that the dispute be resolved by some means other than mass bloodshed, citing the concern that the nearby Etruscans would fall upon the two Latin states if weakened by war and unable to defend themselves. It was agreed that a set of triplets from each side, three brothers Horatii and three Curiatii, would battle for the victory of the two states. Livy refers to conflict amongst his own sources as to which set of brothers represented which state, but prefers the view that the Horatii were the Romans, and the Curiatii Albans.[5]

Vows were entered into in a most solemn form by each of the Romans and the Albans as to this agreement by which the future of each state would be bound by the outcome of the fight. Marcus Valerius was appointed fetial, and Spurius Fusius pater patratus, for the purposes of binding Rome by the treaty.[6]

The battle was fought. Two of the Romans were the first to fall. Then the remaining Roman, Publius Horatius, slew the three Albans, and thus won victory for Rome.[7]

After the dispute was thus determined, Tullus ordered Mettius to return with his army to Alba, but to keep the Alban youths ready in case war with Veii should break out. The Albans became, in substance, a vassal state of Rome.[8]

Not long afterwards, war did indeed break out with Veii and also with the Fidenates. Mettius and the Albans were ordered to march to battle with Tullus and the Romans, and they met the Etruscans on the far side of the Anio, on the banks of the Tiber. However, when the battle commenced, Mettius led his troops away from the battle, leaving the Romans to fight the Etruscans alone.[9]

Rome was victorious against the Etruscans. After the battle Tullus executed Mettius for his perfidy. Then, on Tullus' orders, the Roman soldiers demolished the 400-year old city of Alba Longa, leaving only the temples standing, and the entire population of Alba Longa was transported to Rome, thereby doubling the number of Roman citizens. Tullus enlisted the leading families of Alba amongst the patricians, namely the Julii, Servilii, Quinctii, Geganii, Curiatii and Cloelii. Tullus built a new senate-house, the Curia Hostilia, to house the enlarged Roman senate. He also recruited ten new turmae of equites from amongst the Albans, and new legions.[10] The Alban immigrants lived on the Caelian Hill in Rome.[11]

Archaeological data and historical interpretation[edit]

O: Two jugate heads of Di Penates, D · P · P R:Soldiers with spears pointing at lying sow, C·SV(LP)ICI·C·F
Reverse depicts scene from Aeneid. According prophecy white sow which casts 30 piglets predicts foundation of (Lavinium) and a new city called after white sow built by Ascanius 30 years later (Alba Longa).

Silver serrate denarius struck by C. Sulpicius C. f. Galba in Rome 106 BC. ref.: Sulpicia 1., Sydenham 572., Craw. 312/1

Livy said of Alba Longa that it was founded by Ascanius to relieve crowding at Lavinium. He placed it at the foot of the Alban Mount and said that it took its name from being extended along a ridge.[12] Dionysius of Halicarnassus repeated the story, but added that Ascanius, following an oracle given to his father, collected other Latin populations as well. Noting that alba means "white" (and longa "long") he translated the name "long white town." Dionysius placed the town between the Alban Mount and the Alban Lake,[13] thus beginning a long controversy about its location.

Since the 16th century, the site has been at various times identified with that of the convent of S. Paolo at Palazzola near Albano, Coste Caselle near Marino, and Castel Gandolfo. The last name of these places in fact occupies the site of Domitian's villa, which ancient sources state in turn occupied the arx of Alba.

Archaeological data show the existence of a string of villages in the Iron Age, each with its own necropolis, along the south-western shore of Lake Albano. At the time of being destroyed by Rome, these villages must have still been in a pre-urban phase, beginning to group around a centre. That center may well have been Castel Gandolfo, since its significantly larger necropolis suggests a larger town.

In the later republican period the territory of Alba (the Ager Albanus) was settled once again with many residential villas, which are mentioned in ancient literature and of which remains are extant.

The shrine of Jupiter Latiaris[edit]

On the top of the Monte Cavo (Mons Albanus) was a very ancient shrine consecrated to Jupiter Latiaris. Florus (2nd century) states that the site was selected by Ascanius, who, having founded Alba, invited all the Latins to celebrate sacrifices there to Jupiter, a custom which eventually led to the annual celebration there of the Feriae Latinae, at which all the cities that belonged to the Latin Confederation would gather under the aegis of Alba, sacrificing a white bull, the flesh of which was distributed among all the participants.

After Alba Longa was destroyed and her leadership role was assumed by Rome, tradition records the building of a full-scale temple to Jupiter Latiaris on the Alban Mount in the reign of Tarquinius Superbus; of which only a few courses of perimeter wall remain today, now removed off site; and substantial remains of the paved road that connected it to the Via Appia near Aricia.

See Also[edit]


  1. ^ Guralnik, David B, ed. (1986). "Alba Longa". Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (Second College ed.). New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press. ISBN 0-671-41809-2. (indexed), (plain edge), ISBN 0-671-41811-4 (pbk.), ISBN 0-671-47035-3 (LeatherKraft). 
  2. ^ Mish, Frederick C, ed. (1985). "Alba Longa". Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (9th ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc. ISBN 0-87779-508-8. (indexed), ISBN 0-87779-510-X (deluxe). 
  3. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:22
  4. ^ a b c Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:23
  5. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:23–24
  6. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:24
  7. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:25
  8. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:26
  9. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:27
  10. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:28–30
  11. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:33
  12. ^ Titus Livius. "I.3". History of Rome. ISBN 0-89236-763-6. 
  13. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus. "I.66". Roman Antiquities. ISBN 0-674-99352-7. 


  • Ashby, Thomas (1899). "Alba Longa". The Journal of Philology 27 (53): 37–50. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°44′49″N 12°39′01″E / 41.74691°N 12.65026°E / 41.74691; 12.65026