Old Latium

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Old Latium (Latin: Latium Vetus) was, in ancient Roman times, the part of the Italian peninsula bounded on the North by the river Tiber, on the East by the central Apennine mountains and on the South by Monte Circeo. It corresponded to the central part of the modern eponymous regione (administrative district) of Lazio (Italy). It was the traditional territory of the Italic tribe known as the Latins, to which the inhabitants of the archaic city of Rome themselves belonged. It was called "old" to distinguish it from the expanded region, denoted Latium by later Romans, that included the region to the South of Old Latium, between Monte Circeo and the river Garigliano - the so-called Latium adiectum ("attached Latium").


Literary tradition[edit]

Dionysius of Halicarnassus is the main literary source that preserves ancient traditions on the settlement of Latium. In the first book of his Roman Antiquities he scrupulously lists and discusses all the legends and traditional stories related by trustworthy historians or scholars, both Greek and Roman. Other important sources are Pliny the Elder, who in book III of his Natural History gives two lists of the settlements of old Latium, that he says by his time had already disappeared. Livy, Strabo, Festus and Servius Danielis also give important information.

According to these sources Latium was first settled by Sicels and Ligures at a very early time.[1] Sources do not state which of these two people settled Latium earlier: even though Servius says that the Sicels were expelled from the Septimontium (more or less the site of Rome) by the Ligures, his statement does not look to be firmly grounded in an earlier tradition, as Festus lists these two people without any timeline definition in a parallel passage. These nations were over time forced out of Latium by the constant pressure exerted by the Aborigines who formerly dwelt the lands of the interior around Reate and eventually they made their way to Sicily where they settled. Their migration took place some time before the Trojan War or after it.[2] Traces of the presence of the Ligures and Sicels remain in the toponymy and onomastics.[3] Generally speaking the movement of peoples appear to have taken place from the hills and mountains of the interior towards the plains, but there are testimonies of the arrival from the sea of Greek colonizers, as in the legend of the Argive Evander, and also from the South of Italy as for the Sicels who were considered an offspring of the Oenotrians[4] and the Rutulians of Ardea, who were believed of Daunian origin.

The story of the arrival of Aeneas with his six hundred companions and of the foundation of Lavinium is the breaking point that signals the beginning of civilisation in Latium. The legend of the white sow that gave birth to thirty piglets has a religious meaning for the establishment of the new community of the Latins: the thirty populi Albenses.[5] This story bears the characters of the a foundation myth and explains the religious significance of the Latin League bounded by the cult of Iuppiter Latiaris.

Pliny's list[edit]

The lists given by Pliny do not include all the centres of Latium Vetus that developed into towns, but rather lists those which according to the scholar had disappaeared by his time without leaving traces of their existence: thence he does not mention Anxur, Tibur, Cora, Ficulea, Nomentum, Praeneste, Gabii, Ardea, Aricia, Tusculum, Lavinum, Laurentum, Lanuvium, Labicum, Velitrae. But some settlements he mentions were in fact visited by Strabo only seventy years earlier (as Tellenae) and some still certainly stood such as Pedum. Another oddity of the passage is that while he claims there were fifty-three centres that had disappeared, his double list numbers only fifty. Even though elsewhere he mentions two other, Apiolae and Amyclae, this does not make up the number. The list is in book III of his Natural History ch. 68 and 69:

"In the first region moreover in Latium were the famous oppida (walled towns) Satricum, Scaptia, Politorium, Tellena, Tifata, Caenina, Ficana, Crustumeria, Ameriola, Medullum, Corniculum, Saturnia where now is Rome, Antipolis that is now the Janiculum within Rome, Antemnae, Camerium, Collatia, Amitinum, Norba, Sulmo, and together with them the Alban Peoples who use to receive the (sacrificial) meat on the Alban Mount: Albani, Aesolani, Accienses, Abolani, Bubetani, Bolani, Cusuetani, Coriolani, Fidenates, Foreti, Hortenses, Latinienses, Longani, Manates, Macrales, Munienses, Numinienses, Olliculani, Octulani, Pedani, Poletaurini, Querquetulani, Sicani, Sisolenses, Tolerienses, Tutienses, Vimitellari, Velienses, Venetulani, Vitellienses."

The list is apparently made up by two sections, the first is referred to as clara oppida and the second as populi Albenses. The last two towns mentioned among the clara oppida, Norba and Sulmo, were in fact within Latium Adiectum. They were destroyed in the 1st century BC during the war between Marius and Sulla.

The second section gives the names of the populi Albenses: these were local communities which inhabited the region of Mons Albanus (now Monte Cavo) and its immediate neighborhoods, the Alban Hills. Only some of them seem to have reached the urban stage and the list reflects the typical archaic Bronze Age organizations of human settlement, sparse, polycentric and gravitating around a religious centre, in this case the sanctuary of Iuppiter Latiaris.

Dionysius's list[edit]

Dionysius gives a list of the Latin towns members of the league, that voted for war against Rome after the capture of Fidenae by the Romans, under the influence of Aricia and of former king Tarquinius the Proud at an assembly at Ferentinum:[6]

"Ardea, Aricia, Bovillae, Bubentum, Cora, Carventum, Circei, Corioli, Corbio, Cabum, Fortinea, Gabii, Laurentum, Lanuvium, Lavunium, Labici, Nomentum, Norba, Praeneste, Pedum, Querquetula, Satricum, Scaptia, Setia, Tibur, Tusculum, Tolerium, Tellenae, Velitrae."

As Niebuhr remarked once again the total yields the sacred number of thirty, but the sum is made up of different components. It is a mix of some of the members of the populi Albenses and some of the clara oppida. In fact many of the oppida had been destroyed or resettled by the Romans during the regal period: Caenina, Politorium, Ficana, Cameria, Medullium, Corniculum, Collatia: among the clara oppida of Pliny's list here show up Satricum, Norba, Sulmo, Scaptia, Tellenae and of the populi Bubentum, Corioli, Pedum, Querquetula, Tolerium and possibly Nomentum.

Other sources[edit]

The geographer Strabo in his description of Augustan region I, which included Old Latium, mentions many old towns, among them Collatia, Antemnae, Fidenae and Labicum as reduced to mere villages, private rural estates or displaced to different locations, Apiolae, Suessa and Alba Longa as disappeared, Tellenae on the lows to the Southwest ot the Alban Hills as still standing.

Historiographer Livy and lexicographer Festus too mention repeatedly the old Latin towns.

The quest for Old Latium: archaeological finds[edit]

Even though erudites and scholars have been trying to ascertain the location of the ancient towns of Latium for a long time (at least the last four centuries: see e . g. Cluvier) and despite the recent progress made by archaeology in the field of the human settlement of ancient Latium, only few towns of archaic Latium cited by ancient sources have been identified with certainty, whereas a remarkable number of settlements that have been unerthed remain not identified. This is due to the lack of epigraphic confirmations, that stems from the rare usage of writing in archaic times. Of many about which the sources handed down information there is still doubt on their exact location. Towns which have been identified archaeologically include Satricum, Politorium, Ficana, Tellenae, Crustumerium, Corniculum, Antemnae, Collatia, Fidenae, Pedum, Apiolae, Gabii and perhaps Querquetulum. Alba Longa, Pometia and Corioli remain unidentified.

The most conspicuous case and that which has given rise to a longstanding debate is Alba Longa. The famous city, according to tradition founded by Ascanius and metropolis of the Latins for 418 years, is still a mystery: some scholars have argued that it has not yet been identified because the Ancients themselves did not know exactly where it was located and the reason of their ignorance was that Alba had never been a real city. It would rather have been a loose collection of protohistoric villages organised in the Bronze Age wise around the sanctuary of Mount Albanus, in which human settlement remained sparse, and it was abandoned before it reached the urban stage.[7]


It was a centre located to the east of Rome on the Corniculan Mountains, not far from Curniculum: its identification is due to an inscription that mentions a pagus amentinus.


The town was located three miles to the north of Rome on the left bank of the river Anio and close to its confluence with the Tiber. Its name in fact means "between the rivers" (interamnes). Some of its ruins were discovered in 1880 when the place was excavated for the building of the fortress "Forte Antenne". Later excavations have yielded other material. The place is now within the urban area of Rome.

It was colonised by Rome since the time of Romolus in its first push to control the left bank of the Tiber up to the Anio, thus ensuring a communication route with Etruria along the Via Salaria. The Antemnates and the Caeninenses were granted full Roman citizenship. Nevertheless it revolted several times, the last in 507 BC.[8]


The site of Caenina is not yet identified with certainty. It may have been located near present day "La Rustica" nigh the Anio river, on a trade route connecting Latium with Etruria and Campania.[9] Festus states it was close to the old Roman settlement. It was subjected to synoecism and its cults and sacerdotes were transferred to Rome[10] by Romulus, who celebrated his first triumph after conquering the Caeninenses and killing their king Acron. However, it is still mentioned at the beginning of the Republic: the Vindicius who revealed the conjuration of the Aquilii to Publius Valerius was a slave from Caenina captured in war.[11] Its name may be related to Latin caenum mud, lime, itself a word with no Indoeuropean etymology.[12]

Cameria or Camerium[edit]

This town fought many wars against Rome since the time of Romulus and by him was subjected to receiving a Roman colony. It was destroyed in 502 BC. It was located to the northeast of Rome. Its ruins have not yet been identified.


Strabo places Collatia some 30 stadia from Rome: it was reduced to a farm by his time. The site has not yet been identified with certainty, but it was located near modern Lunghezza, to the east of Rome: there have been discovered the remains of an old town. The identification is supported by the fact that Lunghezza is at the very end of the ancient Via Collatina.

Collatia was founded by Latin king Silvius of Alba Longa and it was the hometown of Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, one of the first two consuls of the Roman Republic.


The town has been located by modern scholars in the present position of Montecelio (formerly Monticelli) in the comune of Guidonia, not far from Tibur. The two adjacent hills which form a couple of horns were at the origin of its name and the nearby mountain range is still known as "Monti Cornicolani". Near Montecelio have been discovered materials dating from the Iron Age and fragmentary pottery of the 7th-6th centuries BC.

The town was destroyed by Tarquinius Priscus[13] and was believed to be the hometown of Servius Tullius's mother Ocresia.


Crustumerium has been identified since the 19th century on the hills in the Park (Riserva Naturale) of Marcigliana Vecchia, to the north of Rome near Settebagni, on the Via Salaria. The town was also known as Castrimoenium and Crustumeria and has given its name to the surrounding countryside and hills known as "Ager Crustuminus" and "Montes Crustumini". According to Servius it was originally a Sicel settlement, founded by the Sicel Clitemnestrus.[14] The etymology of the name is unclear and may reflect an ancient Preindoeuropean toponymic crustulum, meaning pond.[15]

Crustumerium has been and is still being excavated by archaeologists and its study has been important for the understanding of urban development in Old Latium. It was located on one of the routes that linked Veii and Gabii, close to a ford on the Tiber, which fact, along with the richness of its countryside, was the cause of its importance and wealth.

The town stretched along a road trench and occupied an area of 60 hectares. The walls were a complex made by several (four or five) parallel stretches connected by normal ones and covered with stone slabs. Tombs contained a rich production of fine pottery painted in white and red, weapons and other instruments from the early Iron Age onward. The town is mentioned in the Aeneid. In the history of Rome it is one of those involved in the abduction of the Sabine women and subsequent war. Romulus is said to have installed there a colony of Romans. Later it is frequently mentioned in the wars between Rome and its neighbours. Literary sources put the destruction of Crustumerium at the end of the 6th century,[16] but archaeology has shown it was still occupied in the 5th century and declined only in the 4th century.[17]


Ficana was located on the left bank of the Tiber downstream from Rome, near present day Acilia on the highland over Monte Cugno which in ancient times was steeper and a dominant position on the river. Its identification is made certain by the find of an inscription. The sources state it was destroyed twice by Ancus Marcius in his push to control the lower course of the Tiber and the salines, together with Politorium and Tellenae. Its importance was due to the fact that it was a port and afforded a commercial route to the hinterland toward the Alban Hills and Aricia.

Archaeology though has shown it was still a prosperous centre during the 4th century and reached its maximum expansion after the Roman conquest. It declined only in the 4th and 3rd centuries after the development of Ostia. Excavations have unearthed the town wall, housing areas and a necropolis. Amphors with a long neck, decorated in relief or scratched, typical of 7th-century Old Latium testify to the early quality of the local material culture. The area of Ficana is now an archaeological park.


Also known in the sources as Medullia, its exact location is unknown. It was the hometown of Hostus Hostilius's family. It was conquered by Tullus Hostilius even though not destroyed. Its name looks related to the Ligurian tribe of the Medulli (Medylloi in Strabon IV 1, 11) and would appear to be cognate with Celtic deity Meduna.[18]


Politorium has been identified in the archaic settlement found near Castel di Decima, at the southeast of Rome. The identification though lacks epigraphic confirmation. It is mentioned by Cato, who records its foundation, Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassos, who describe its capture and successive demolition by Ancus Marcius. Its inhabitants would have been deported to the Aventine. These facts are part of the first expansive push by Rome in the direction of the sea, which also brought about the fall of Ficana and Tellenae.

The excavations have uncovered remains of the fortifications and a princely necropolis.

Modern studies on the settlement of prehistoric Latium[edit]

Linguistic and palaethnologic studies[edit]

The earliest settlement of Latium is ascribed by tradition to the Sicels and Ligures. Literary sources include Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Pliny the Elder. Pliny records as settlers of Latium the Aborigenes, Pelasgians, Arcades, Sicels, Aurunci, and Rutulians.[19] Concerning the origin of the Sicels Antiochus of Syracuse considers them an offshoot of the Oenotrians, a nation of Greek origin that migrated from Arcadia. The Sicels were expelled by the Aborigenes with the help of the Pelasgians. Antemnae, Fescennium, Falerii, Saturnia, and Tibur became Pelasgian settlements but their sites would have been first settled by Sicels.[20] Festus relates that the Sicels were expelled from the site of Rome by the Sabine sacrani from Reate. They are also mentioned by Solinus along with the Aurunci and Pelasgians as one of the most ancient peoples of Italy. The Sicanians too are mentioned by Solinus, Pliny (also as one of the populi albenses), Virgil, Aulus Gellius and Macrobius. According to the grammarian Servius Crustumerium too was originally a Sicel settlement.

Another tradition related by Philistos of Syracuse calls the Sicels Ligures whose king was a Sikelos. This tradition is followed by Stephanos of Byzantium who cites Hellanicus of Lesbos as authority.

These ancient traditions have led some scholars to look for traces of the presence of these peoples. W. Helbig first remarked that the name of Alba Longa reminded that of many Ligurian settlements as Albieis north of Massalia with their centre Alba Augusta, as well as Albium Intemelium, Albium Ingaunum and Alba Pompeia in Italy. He observed the name Alba Longa could hardly mean white as the Latin adjective albus does, since the rocks in the area of vulcanic Mount Albanus are deep grey in colour.[21] Giuseppe Sergi[22] remarked that the early name of the Tiber was Albula, a name that recurs elsewhere in hyronomy where there are traces of Ligures and Sicels.[23] Further evidence connecting Ligures and Sicels would be provided by a neolithic skeleton unearthed at Sgurgola near Anagni which was painted in red as the ones found in the Ligurian cave of the "Arene Candide". Sergi concluded that Ligures and Sicels were in fact just one ethnos, even though since they lived far apart they had come to be considered as two distinct peoples. Their identity would be confirnmed by ancient toponyms found in Latium as well as other regions of Italy. Strabon also mentions that a former names for the Alps was Albia.

Other correspondences include the ancient name of the Lake of Bracciano, Sabatinus Lacus and the town of Sabate on its shores, the river Sāpis in Umbria which are based on a Praeindoeuropean root *sāb- meaning water, seen also in the name Vada Sabatia (today Vado Ligure).[24]


  1. ^ Festus s. v. sacrani p. 424 L: "Sacrani are named those who moved from Reate and expelled the Sicels and Ligures from the Septimontium"; Servius Danielis Ad Aeneidem XI 371, VIII ; Dionysius of Halicarnassus RA I 12, 2 citing Sophocles's Triptolemus on Oenotrians and Ligures settling the coasts of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
  2. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus Roman Antiquities I 22 citing Antiochus of Syracuse, Philistus and Thycidides.
  3. ^ See the works by G. Sergi, F. Ribezzo, G. Devoto, G. Alessio and A. Grandazzi cited below.
  4. ^ Dionysius of Hal. RA I 12, 3.
  5. ^ And later the thirty curiae of Rome.
  6. ^ Dionysius V 61 3. D. calls Ferentinum the caput Ferentinae or aquae Ferentinae of Roman authors. See below A. Grandazzi's citations in the discussion of the issue.
  7. ^ A. Grandazzi "La localisation d' Alba" in MEFRA 1986. See section below.
  8. ^ Dionysius Hal. V 21.
  9. ^ P. Zaccagni in Civiltá del Lazio primitivo. Catalogo della Mostra Roma 1976 p. 155.
  10. ^ R. E. A. Palmer The Archaic Community of the Romans Cambridge 1970 p. 106 n. 3; A. Alföldi Early Rome and the Latins Ann Arbor 1965, p. 132; G. Wissowa RE 1279.
  11. ^ Dionysius V.
  12. ^ G. Alessio "Problemi storico-linguistici messapici" in Studi salentini 1962 14 p. 318 n. 131.
  13. ^ Livy I 38; 39. Dionysius III 50; IV 1. Ovid Fasti VI 627 ff.
  14. ^ Servius Danielis "ad Aeneidem" VII 631 = Cassius Hemina fragm. 2 Peter.
  15. ^ Costanzo Garancini
  16. ^ Livy II 19
  17. ^ A. Amoroso "Crustumerium: a frontier settlement" in Bollettino di Archeologia 2001.
  18. ^ G. Alessio "Genti e favelle dell'antica Apulia" Cressati Taranto 1949 p. 17 n. 3 (= Archivio Storico Pugliese II 1949) citing Holder Altceltische Sprache II col. 528: cfr. German Met.
  19. ^ Pliny the Elder NH III 9.
  20. ^ Dionysius I 16; 21. IX 9.
  21. ^ W. Helbig Die Italiker in der Poebene 1879.
  22. ^ G. Sergi Da Albalonga a Roma. Inizio dell'incivilimento in Italia, ovvero Liguri e Siculi Turin 1934 p. 3ff.
  23. ^ The Albula, a source near Tibur. The Albula oracle in Virgil's Aeneis. An Albula river in Picenum near Numana, town that Pliny NH III 13 ascribes to the Sicels, and another one in the Lepontine Alps and one in the Grisons in present day Swytzerland. The Albinia river in Etruria (now Albegna), a river Alba in Sicily and another one in Northeast Spain.
  24. ^ C. Battisti Sostrati e parastrati Florence 1959 p. 125 ff. ; A. Trombetti Studi Etruschi XIV 1940 p. 187; G. Devoto Gli antichi Italici Rome 1969 p. 126.