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From Classical Geography, by H. F. Tozer, from the series of Literature Primers edited by John Richard Green; New York :  American Book Company; pp. 92-106. [92]


1.   General Features of Italy :  The Apennines. — The comparison by which the shape of Italy can best be described is the familiar one of a boot 93 kicking a football. According to this, Sicily is the ball, Bruttium is the toe of the boot, and Calabria the heel, the interval between which is formed by the Bay of Tarentum; and the promontory of Gargānus is the spur. The determining features of the geography of Italy are the Alps and the sea, by which it is bounded, and the Apennines which intersect it. The seas between which it lies are the Adriatic (Mare Hadriaticum, Hadria), or, as it was more commonly called by the Romans, the Mare Superum, and the Tyrrhenian Sea, or Mare Inferum, while between the sole of the boot and the coast of Greece the Ionian Sea extended. For purposes of description the entire country may conveniently be divided into three portions : — the northern, or that which lies between the Alps and a line formed by the coast of the Ligusticam Mare (Gulf of Genoa) and the Apennines as far east as Arimĭnum; the central, reaching from thence to the southern limit of Campania and Mount Garganus; while the remainder is the southern portion. The Apennines, which take their rise near the point where the Alps sink down towards the Ligurian Sea, pursue an easterly course till they almost touch the Adriatic, and then turning directly to the south-east, throughout Central Italy are not far removed from that sea, but send down spurs to the Mare Inferum, which enclose plains of considerable extent in Latium and Campania. In the southern portion, on the other hand, the mountains retire from the Adriatic, and leave room for an extensive tract of level ground in . The rivers, which, except in the north, are nowhere of great size, run from this central backbone towards the two seas; and the greater part of the surface of the country is broken up into deep valleys which penetrate amongst and through the mountains. Thus Italy is diversified by fertile plains, upland pastures, and forest land. It has also a line of volcanic action running through it and Sicily from south to north, in the active volcanoes 94 of Ætna, Stromboli, and Vesuvius, the extinct crater of the Mons Vultur, between Lucania and Apulia, the Phlegræan plains in Campania, the Alban Hills in Latium, and several spots in Etruria.

2.   Contrast of Italy and Greece. — From this description it will be seen that the configuration of Italy, when compared with that of Greece, presents many points of contrast which greatly affected the development of the two peoples. The long sea line of Italy is comparatively uniform, and but little indented with bays and harbours, nor are there, as in Greece, numerous islands lying off the coast. The last limb, in which the peninsula would naturally culminate, instead of being attached to the body, as the Peloponnese is to the rest of Greece, in the case of Sicily is dissevered from it by a strait. And the irregularities of the valleys in the interior, by providing a means of passing from one district to another, caused the separate parts to be less complete in themselves. Thus the inhabitants were not tempted to a maritime life, like the Greeks, nor drawn out of themselves; while at the same time the internal influences were less local and less characteristic. It should also be remarked how Greece and Italy stand, as it were, back to back to one another; for whereas the outlets of the former country are, as we have seen, towards the east (p. 67), those of Italy are towards the west; and thus the two were left, during the greater part of their history, to pursue their own courses independently of one another.

3.   The Alps. — The vast chain of the Alps, which presents a formidable obstacle to those who approach Italy from the north, stretches in an arc from the head of the Mare Inferum to that of the Mare Superum, starting from the former near the Portus Herculis Monæci (Monaco), and descending on the latter beyond Tergeste (Trieste). The passes of the Alps were not distinguished by the Romans by a different name from that of the chains through which they led. 95 Starting from the Ligurian Sea, the range at first takes a northerly direction between Gaul and Italy, including, — first, the Alpes Maritimæ; next, the Alpes Cottiæ, over which an important pass (Mont Genêvre) led from Vienna on the Rhone (Vienne) through the territory of the Allobrŏges to Augusta Taurinorum (Turin); and lastly, the Alpes Graiæ (Little St. Bernard), by which Hannibal entered Italy. Here the Alps begin to turn towards the east, the corner stone at the angle being formed by Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. Then follows the Pennine chain, between Helvetia and Italy, with the pass of the great St. Bernard, and still further to the east the Alpes Rhæticæ. After this, the mountains that sweep round towards the Adriatic bear the name of Carnian or Julian Alps. The Apennines, though a well-marked chain, nowhere approach the elevation of the Alps, for their loftiest summits in the centre of the peninsula do not reach 10,000 feet, whereas some of the Alps are half as high again.

4.   Northern Italy. — Northern Italy was composed of three districts, Liguria, Gallia Cisalpina, and Venetia. The first-mentioned of these countries included the shores of the Ligusticum Mare, and the range of the Apennines which here borders the sea, together with the territory at the back, as far as Augusta Taurinorum and the Padus. It was a rugged district, inhabited by equally rude mountaineers. The last named, Venetia, was all that lay east of the Athĕsis (Adige), about the head of the Adriatic. Its chief city was Aquileia, near the innermost waters of that sea, which derived its importance from its being the first stronghold to oppose an enemy who entered Italy by land from the east. In the west, Patavium, the birthplace of Livy, was also a place of importance. The rest of Northern Italy was the country inhabited by the Italian Gauls, which, to distinguish it from Gallia proper, was known as Gallia Cisalpina; in later times it was also called Togāta, because of the number 96 of Roman citizens who were settled in it. This entire area is one perfectly level expanse, 200 miles in length, from the upper waters of the Po near Turin to the Adriatic, and from 60 to 100 in width between the Alps and the Apennines. On its northern side, at the foot of the Alps, and flanked by the spurs of those mountains, lie several lakes, the principal of which were called in ancient times Verbānus (Lago Maggiore), Larius (Lago di Como), and Benācus (Lago di Garda). The vast plain is drained by the Padus or Eridănus (Po) — the king of rivers, “fluviorum rex,” as Virgil calls it — which runs due west and east; and by its numerous tributaries, the principal of which flow from the northern side, where they are fed by the waters and snows of the Alps. The chief of these are those which carry off the waters of the three great lakes — the Ticĭnus those of Verbanus, the Addua of Larius, and the Mincius of Benacus. Of the southern affluents only one deserves notice, and that less for its size than for the great battle between the Romans and Carthaginians that was fought on its banks — the Trebia, which joins the Padus near Placentia. In consequence of this abundant supply of water this region is one of the most fertile tracts in Europe. The principal Gallic tribes that were settled in it were — to the south of the lakes of Verbanus and Larius the Insubres, whose chief city was Medioeānum (Milan); between Benacus and the Padus the Cenomāni; about the mouths of the Padus the Lingŏnes; between these and the Apennines the Boii; and to the south of Ariminum the Senŏnes. In later times the district was occupied by important Roman colonies which were planted there, at first with the object of keeping the Gauls in check — thus Placentia and Cremōna were founded just before the second Punic war — and afterwards with the view of occupying the productive lands. To the south of the Padus, following the line of the Via Æmilia, by which the great northern road from Rome, the Via Flaminia, was 97 continued from Ariminum towards the north-west, were Bononia (Bologna), Mutĭna (Modena), Parma and Placentia (Piacenza). On the northern side, to the west of Placentia stood Ticinum (Pavia) on the Ticinus; to the east, Cremona on the Padus, Mantua on the Mincius, and Verōna on the Athesis. On the coast between Ariminum and the mouths of the Padus was Ravenna, the station of the Roman fleet on the Mare Superum.

5.   Central Italy :  Etruria. — the mountain region of Italy commences with Etruria, which was the northernmost country of the central district. We have seen (p. 93) how in this part the Apennines, which intersect the peninsula, are further removed from the lower than from the upper sea, and form the extensive plains of Latium and Campania by means of lateral spurs, which run down to the sea and thus enclose them on the two sides. Etruria, which interposes between Cisalpine Gaul and Latium, is neither a level nor yet a highly mountainous country, but composed for the most part of irregular hilly ground, though the sea-coast is skirted by a flat marshy tract, now called the Maremma, and there are considerable spaces of alluvial ground about the two principal river-valleys — that of the Arnus in the north, and that of the Clanis, which flows at right angles to it, towards the south. The boundaries of Etruria are, on the north the Apennines, on the west the Tyrrhenian Sea, and on the east the Tiber, which skirts it throughout its whole course from its source to its mouth, and receives the waters of the Clanis. The sea-coast, the line of which was followed by the Via Aurelia, at two points formed considerable headlands — the Mons Agentarius near the town of Cosa, and the promontory of Populonium near the town of that name; between the latter and Corsica lay the island of Ilva (Elba). The southern portion of the country is a volcanic district, comprising a number of lakes which occupy extinct craters; the largest of these is that of 98 Vulsinii, and of the same character was the Ciminian Lake, the hills and forest in the neighbourhood of which were for a long time the limit of the Roman arms. In this part lay the cities which were most closely connected with Roman history — Veii, only twelve miles distant from Rome, and Agylla or Cære in the same neighbourhood, a little to the north of which were Falerii and Tarquinii. Beyond these, Clusium, the city of Porsena, stood in the valley of the Clanis, and Perusia (Perugia), near that of the Tiber, and within a triangle formed by these two cities and Cortōna was the lake Trasimenus, on the northern shore of which occurred the great defeat of the Romans by Hannibal. In the upper valley of the Arnus, at the foot of the Apennines, was Arretium, and near its lower course Fæsŭlæ, close to which on the river itself the colony of Florentia (Florence) was planted by the Romans in the later period of the republic; near its mouth lay Pisæ (Pisa), the port of which was used by the Roman fleets. In this enumeration the names of the principal of the twelve cities of the Etrurian League have occurred. This people possessed the earliest civilisation of any in Italy, and were a great maritime power in the infancy of the Roman state. Their proficiency in the arts is shown by the paintings in their sepulchres, and by their works in metal and pottery, as well as their massive works in masonry, such as the Cloaca Maxima at Rome.

6.   Umbria. — In the more restricted use of the name Umbria was the country enclosed by the Apennines, the Tiber, which separated it from Etruria, and the Nar, one of the principal tributaries of that river, which was famed for its white and sulphureous water. But this region was after a time extended across the Apennines to the Adriatic, so as to include the territory possessed by the Gallic tribe of the Senones; and this additional district was divided from Picēnum by the river Aësis, and from Cisalpine Gaul by the Rubicon. As Cisalpine Gaul was not 99 included in Italy at the time when it formed part of Cæsar’s province, his crossing that river was equivalent to an invasion of Italy and a declaration of war. On the Adriatic coast of this country lay the important towns of Ariminum and , to the southward of the latter of which flowed the small river Metaurus, famous for the defeat of Hasdrubal. The region to the south of the Apennines was for the most part mountainous, but in the centre of it lies a plain famed for its beauty and fertility, being watered by the clear stream of the Clitumnus; here were bred the white oxen that were sacrificed by the Romans on occasions of special festivity. The principal cause of the importance of Umbria was that it commanded the approach to Rome from the north by the line of the Via Flaminia, which, starting from Ariminum and following the valley of the Metaurus upwards, crossed the Apennines, and passed through Nuceria, Mevania, Carsŭlæ, and Narnia in that country.

7.   The Sabine Territory. — The territory that lay to the south-east of Umbria, separated from it by the Nar, and from Latium by the Anio, was inhabited by the Sabines. Its principal river was the Velīnus, which flows into the Nar. It was an elevated and rugged district throughout, so that even the Mons Lucretĭlis, which borders on the Campagna of Rome, reaches a height of more than 4,000 feet. In consequence of this its occupants were known for their frugality and purity of domestic life, which are the best characteristics of mountaineers, and formed a marked contrast to the luxury and depravity of the neighbouring capital. Their chief town was Reāte, to which the Via Salaria led from Rome. At the back of the Mons Lucretilis flowed the Digentia, on the banks of which Horace had his Sabine farm. From the upper part of this region, near the foot of the Apennines, which was the original home of the Sabines, went forth a number of colonies, who formed the nations of the Picentes, the Samnites, and the Hirpīni.


8.   Picenum; Vestini, Marrucini, Frentani, Marsi, Peligni. — The country to the east of Umbria, between the Apennines and the Adriatic, was occupied by the Picentes or people of Picenum, after whom followed in order the Vestīni, Marrucīni, and Frentāni, which last tribe was separated from Apulia by the Tifernus. The characteristics of this entire region are the same — a fertile soil, a genial climate, hills sloping from the lofty mountains to the coast, and numerous streams of no great size running parallel to one another. It contained no cities of first-rate importance, with the exception of Ancōna in the north of Picenum, which was originally a Greek colony, and possessed a good harbour. The elevated valleys in the heart of the Apennines, which lay inland from the Vestīni and Marrucīni, were occupied by the Marsi and Peligni, of whom the Marsi were settled in the basin of the Lacus Fusĭnus, the level of which is more than 2,000 feet above the sea. This lake is the most central point in the Italian peninsula, lying exactly equidistant from the northern and southern extremity, and midway between the two great seas. In consequence of their great elevation, the Marsian and Pelignian territories had a very severe climate, so that Horace speaks of extreme cold as “Peligna frigora;” the hardy Marsi were known as the bravest troops in the Roman army. The Frentani were bordered on the south by the Samnites, from whom they were descended, and with whom at a later time we find them closely connected. Of the other tribes who were of Sabine origin, the Picentes, from their remote position towards the north, were somewhat dissociated from the rest; but the Vestini, Marrucini, Marsi, and Peligni formed a sort of league amongst themselves, and at the time of the Social War we find them closely combined against Rome.

9.   Latium :  General Features. — We come now to Latium, the most important province of Italy on account of its close connection with Rome. 101 In its widest extent it was bounded on the west by Etruria, from which it was separated by the Tiber; on the east by a corner of Samnium and by Campania, where the limit was formed by the Liris; and on the south by the sea. But it must be remembered, that throughout early Roman history Latium signifies the land of the Latini, and did not include the territories of the Æqui, Hernĭci, and Volsci, which lie within the boundaries that have just been given. The physical features of this district are strikingly different from those of the other countries of Central Italy that we have described. Here a plain of considerable extent, intersected by the Tiber, is interposed between the Apennines and the sea, and is enclosed, on the west by the mountains of Etruria; on the east by a long spur thrown out by the main chain, the northern heights of which were occupied by the Æqui, the southern by the Volsci; at the point where this reached the sea stood the town of Anxur or Tarracina, built in a conspicuous position on white cliffs — “impositum saxis late candentibus,” as Horace describes it. Between the mountains of the Æqui and Volsci a wide valley intervenes, which is watered by the Trerus, a tributary of the Liris; this formed the natural passage from Rome into Campania, and was the line followed by the Via Latina. On the northern side of it, close to the Æqui, was the territory of the Hernĭci; and the importance to Rome of their alliance with that people arose from their lying between their common enemies, the Æqui and Volsci. Now the western part of the plain thus enclosed belonged to Etruria, while the eastern part, which now forms the Campagna of Rome, was Latium; hence it will be seen that many objects which were conspicuous from Rome did not lie within the latter country :  thus Lucretilis to the north-east was in the Sabine territory; and Soracte due north, the snows on which Horace speaks of as visible from the city, was on the western bank of the Tiber, and consequently in Etruria. In 102 the middle of the plain, separated from the Apennines above Prænaste by an interval of five miles, and by an equal distance from the Volscian mountains, there rose an isolated group of volcanic hills, the outer line of which is nearly circular, forming the rim of a vast crater, while in other parts were smaller craters, several of which were filled with water. These hills were the Alban Hills, and the largest of these pieces of water was the Alban Lake. In its neighbourhood was the city of Alba Longa and the Alban Mount, with the temple of Jupiter on its summit, which was the central sanctuary of the Latin race; and on the outer hills stood Tuscŭlum (Frascati) facing Rome, while on the other side Mount Algĭdus rose opposite to the Volscian mountains :  on one of the southern spurs Lanuvium was situated. The rest of Latium was an irregular undulating plain, the volcanic soil of which was cut into ravines by torrents, and thus afforded positions for fortified cities. The coast was sandy and fringed with forests, and formed small headlands at Ostia, the port of Rome at the mouth of the Tiber, and at , and a more considerable promontory at Circeii, where a solitary mountain rises from the sandy shore. Not far from this point, at the foot of the Volscian mountains, lay the extensive Pomptine marshes.

10.   Its Rivers and Cities. — Of the rivers of Latium, the Tiber, which was far the most considerable, flowed from the north, and the Anio from the north-east, emerging from the mountains at the city of Tibur (Tivoli), where it leapt over the rocks and formed the celebrated waterfall. On the north side of the Anio, a short distance from its junction with the Tiber, rose a low hill, the Mons Sacer, famous as the scene of the secession of the Plebs; and the Tiber, also a few miles above the confluence, is joined by the small stream of the Allia, where the forces of Rome were overthrown by the Gauls; while from the side of Etruria it receives the waters of the Cremĕra, noted 103 for the almost total destruction of the Gens Fabia on its banks on the same inauspicious day of the year (July 16). The city of Rome was situated three miles below the junction of the Tiber and Anio, and was twenty-seven miles distant from the sea at Ostia by the river, but only fifteen in a direct line. The rest of the places of note in Latium besides those already mentioned, may for the most part be given by following the two great roads, the Via Latina and Via Appia. On or near the Latin Way, which followed the more inland route, were, first, Tusculum in the Alban Hills, then Anagnia, once the capital city of the Hernĭci, and further on Ferentīnum and Fregellæ, near which last town the Liris was crossed and Campania entered, after which the Latin Way joins the Appian at Casilīnum. On the Appian Way the first stage was at the southern foot of the Alban Hills, then Tres Tabernæ and Appii Forum, at which place the Pomptine marshes begin, and extend nearly to Anxur, where the road skirts the sea; after which it leads by Fundi, Formiæ, and Minturnæ on the banks of the Liris into Campania. In the neighbourhood of Minturnæ were the extensive marshes, in which Caius Marius lay concealed; and on a small headland near Formiæ stood Caiēta (Gaeta), the reputed burial-place of Æneas’ nurse. Near the sea-coast between Ostia and Antium were Lavinium, the foundation of which was ascribed by tradition to Æneas, and Ardea, the chief city of the Rutŭli. Finally, Prænaste (Palestrina) ought especially to be noticed on account of its strong position on a spur of the Apennines, lying due east of Rome; and half-way between the two cities lay the ancient town of Gabii. The topography of Rome itself will be given in the next chapter.

11.   Campania. — The second great plain on the western side of the Apennines was that of Campania. This country lay between the Samnite mountains and the sea, and was separated from Latium by the Liris, 104 and on the south was bounded by a spur of the Apennines, which forms a strongly-marked chain of lofty summits, and projects into the sea on the south side of the Bay of Naples. It was not, like Latium, an irregular plain, but an almost unbroken level, though the northern district about Suessa and Teānum was hilly; but this was not originally included in Campania, which, as its name implies, was the country of the Campāni, or dwellers in the plain. The delightful climate of this region, and the fertility of the soil, was proverbial in ancient times; there it was that the famous oil of Venāfrum and the Massic and Falernian wines were produced. The soil of the plain was volcanic, and traces of volcanic action were found not only in Mount Vesuvius, in the recesses of the Bay of Naples, but also in the hills on the northern side of that bay, which terminated in the promontory of Misēnum, and in the neighbouring territory of Cumæ, which was called the Phlegræi Campi. To trace out the different districts :  between the quiet stream of the Liris — “taciternus amnis,” as Horace calls it — and the larger and swifter Vulturnus there intervened, in the lower part of their course, first a line of low hills, the Mons Massĭcus, and then an extent of level country, the Falernus Ager, while further inland lay , originally the capital of the Aurunci, Teanum, and Cales, and, nearer to the borders of Samnium, Venafrum. The Via Latina passed through the three last-named places, and joined the Via Appia at Casilinum, an important position, because it commanded the passage of the Vulturnus. From Teanum a branch line ran through Samnium to Beneventum. Three miles from Casilinum lay , the chief city of the whole region, and further to the south-east, Suessŭla, at the foot of the Samnite mountains, and Nola, in the plain between them and Vesuvius.

12.   The Crater. (Bay of Naples). — The fairest part of the coast of Campania was the bay, called from its form the Crater or “Bowl,” 105 and now known as the Bay of Naples. Its varied form, and the islands which form a continuation of its two promontories — Prochyta and Ænaria on the north, and Capreæ on the south, resemble the shores of Greece more than any other part of Italy, and possess great maritime advantages; accordingly, we are not surprised to find that several Greek colonies were planted here, that of Cumæ in particular, on the coast to the north of Cape Misenum, dating from a very early period. In the later Roman times, it was a favourite retreat of the wealthy Romans, and its coasts were covered with their sumptuous villas. In the innermost bay on the north side lay Neapolis (Naples), and at the foot of Vesuvius towards that place, Herculaneum was situated, and on the further side Pompeii; on the southern coast, under the steep mountains which bound it, lay Surrentum, famous for its wines. Between the harbour of Naples and Cape Misenum a deep inlet, the Bay of Baiæ, ran in northward among the volcanic hills in that quarter, and on the west side of this stood the town of that name, on the east that of Puteŏli. This neighbourhood in particular was a great place of resort, not only on account of its position, but because of the warm springs which issued from the volcanic soil. Near Baiæ were two lakes — the Lucrine, a shallow lagoon, famous for its oysters, and separated from the sea by a strip of sand, though subsequently it was converted into a port by Agrippa; and the Avernus, a freshwater lake close by, occupying the crater of a volcano, the sides of which were clothed with forests; this was the place of the oracle of the dead.

13.   Samnium. — The district that lay inland from Campania and the east of Latium was occupied by the Samnites, who during a long period were the most formidable enemies of Rome. It was a confused mass of rugged mountains, but there were two important passages through it; one the line of the Via Appia, which passed from Capua to Beneventum, the 106 capital of the independent Samnite tribe of the Hirpīni, and thence by Equus Tutĭcus into Apulia; the other from Venafrum in the valley of the Vulturnus to Æsernia, and so to Boviānum near the head-waters of the Tifernus, which flowed into the Adriatic. As Bovianum was in the heart of Samnium, it was by this latter route that the Roman invasions of the country were usually made. Its rivers were the upper course of the Vulturnus in the north, and its tributary the Calor in the south. The mountains of the greatest historical importance were those that lay between Beneventum and the plain of Campania. To the west of that city rose Mount Taburnus, the neighbourhood of which was the land of the Caudīni, which contained the pass called the Caudine Forks; and between this and the plain ran a long ridge, the extremity of which, overlooking Capua, was Mount Tifāta, the post so long occupied by Hannibal.

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CHAPTER X. The Topography of Rome. Southern Italy and Sicily.

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