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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria

by George Dennis

published by John Murray, Albemarle Street
London, 1848.

The text is in the public domain.

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 p387  Chapter XX


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Inde Graviscarum fastigia rara videmus
Quas premit aestivae saepe paludis odor.


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Graviscae, the port of Tarquinii  — Its site disputed  — Le Saline or S. Clementino  — Legend of St. Augustine  — Ruins on the right bank of the Marta  — Discovery of an ancient arch and embankment  — A port confessed  — Here stood Graviscae  — Desolation of this coast

As Tarquinii carried on an extensive commerce with foreign countries, yet was situated some miles from the sea, she must have had a port. This, though nowhere expressly named, can have been no other than Graviscae, a town on this coast,1 said by Livy to have belonged to  p388 Tarquinii,2 and whose position is indicated by the geographers and Itineraries as somewhere in this neighbourhood.3

Of Graviscae a few scattered notices only have come down to us. We have no record of its foundation, yet we learn that it was of high antiquity.4 It was probably a  p389 colony of Tarquinii, raised solely for purposes of commerce; and it must have followed the fortunes of its mother-city. Yet it fell into the hands of the Romans at an earlier period, for it was taken from Tarquinii. In the year 573 (181 B.C.) it became a Roman colony,5 and it appears to have been in existence as late as Trajan,6 but in the time of Rutilius it was in utter ruin, and scarcely a vestige of it was visible.7 If this were the case 1450 years since, what can we expect to find now? Its general position is pretty clearly indicated by ancient writers, but its precise site has not been satisfactorily determined, — most placing it near the Porto San Clementino, between the mouths of the Marta and Mignone8 — Westphal alone pointing out a site on the right bank of the Marta.9 I have visited both spots, and have come to the opinion that the latter is the true site of Graviscae.

S. Clementino, or Le Saline, as it is called from the neighbouring salt-works, is a small port, four or five miles below Corneto. Though called a port, it is scarcely a village — a large Dogana, a puny fort, and a few hovels inhabited by the labourers in the salt-works, are its sole  p390 ingredients. A little commerce, however, is carried on, for its exports the two grand tests of Arab hospitality — salt to Fiumicino or the capital, and cornº in considerable quantities to France and England, as in ancient times to Rome.10 This is in the cool season. In the summer months the place is well nigh deserted. Not a soul enters this fatal region, save under imperious necessity. The doganiere turns his face to the waveless, slimy expanse, which mocks his woe with dazzling joy, and sighs in vain for a breath of pure air to refresh his fevered brow;— the lonely sentinel drags his sickening form around the pyramids of salt which stud the shore, using his musket for a staff, or he looks out from his hovel of reeds on the brink of a salt-pit, to the naked trembling swamp around, and curses the fate which has consigned him to this lingering death. It is a dreary spot, where danger is not masked in beauty, but comes in its native deformity. Such has ever been the character of this coast. Virgil describes it as most unhealthy11 — and the very name of Graviscae, according to Cato, is significant of its heavy pestilent atmosphere.12 The curse on Moab and Ammon is here realised — "Salt-pits and a perpetual desolation."

The salt-works, with the exception of those at Cervia in Romagna, are the largest in the Papal dominions. Eight pyramids on an average, each containing nearly a million of pounds, are annually made here. It is strange that none of this salt is consumed at Corneto, which receives her supply from France — the heavy duties on the native product, as usual a government monopoly, making it more expensive than that imported.

 p391  At San Clementino are traces of ancient habitation — two vaults and a sewer of Roman date, and fragments of pottery mingled with the soil.13 As the space thus strewn is very circumscribed, and nothing is of Etruscan character, I regard this as the site of some Roman station;14 there is nothing extant to warrant the conclusion that it is that of Graviscae.15

Three miles along the shore to the south stands the lonely Tower of Bertaldo, at the mouth of the Mignone,16 probably marking the site of Rapinium, another station on this coast, half-way between Centum Cellae (Civita Vecchia) and Graviscae. It is more commonly called Sant Agostino, from a legend of that saint. The holy man, as he once strayed along this shore, was pondering on the mysteries of the Trinity, and doubts, suggested by the evil powers whose attacks he deplores in his "Confessions," were arising in his mind, when, on reaching this spot, he beheld a child busied in filling with water a small hole in the sand. St. Augustine asked what he was about. "Trying to put the sea into this hole," replied the criatura. "Impossible," cried the saint, laughing at the boy's simplicity. "Most easy this," said the other, who now stood confessed an angel, "than for thee to comprehend those sublime mysteries thou art vainly seeking to penetrate."

 p392  To reach the other site on the right bank of the Marta, it is necessary on leaving Corneto to take the road to Leghorn, as far as the Marta, a mile distant; then, crossing the bridge, turn at once to the left, and after a couple of miles in a country-road, you will reach some Roman ruins by the way-side. A few furlongs beyond is an eminence, some thirty or forty feet high, on and around which are scattered sundry large blocks of tufo, and fragments of travertine columns. This I take to be the site of Graviscae. That more than a temple or villa occupied it is clear, from the extent of the broken pottery, and from several circumstances presently to be mentioned. True, it is almost two miles from the sea, yet scarcely a furlong from the Marta, which here swells into a respectable stream, and bears palpable evidence of having been of much more importance in ancient times than at present, and of having been in direct connexion with this eminence.

To discover these traces of antiquity, you must follow the course of the stream from the point where you first meet with the Roman ruins; and at the distance of two or three furlongs you will come upon some large blocks rising from the soil. Further examination will show them to be the crest of an arch. Look over the bank — you will perceive the vault beneath you; and if you clamber down, you will find it to be one of the finest specimens of an ancient arch in all Etruria. My astonishment on making this discovery was great. A friend who had previously visited this site had remarked the blocks rising from the soil, but had not perceived the grand relic of antiquity at his feet. Grand it is, for the vault is not inferior to the Cloaca Maxima in span, or about fourteen feet, while the masonry is on a much larger scale.17 The arch opens in a  p393 long embankment of regular masonry, which, rising some twenty feet above the stream, extends in fragments a considerable distance towards the sea. The masonry of both arch and embankment is of tufo, uncemented, and though not emplecton, is of manifest antiquity. The vault must be the mouth of a sewer or stream, as is clearly shown by the mound of earth which chokes it. Were it not for all this, and the trees which have taken root in it, the arch could not be examined from this bank; and to the boughs of the said trees I acknowledge my "indebtedness" for the sketch which is copied in the woodcut at the head of this Chapter.

Remounting the bank, I descried a double line of substructions stretching away in connection with the arch, in a direct line towards the height of the town. I traced it across the plain, till the modern road, which skirts the base of that eminence, obliterated its vestiges. It was obviously the ancient road or causeway from the stream to the town. Scarce a block of the pavement remained, but the skeleton — the double line of kerb-stones — was most palpable. This causeway explained the long embankment to have been a quay, and a port was at once confessed.18 I could not doubt that this was a quay, for the opposite bank was very low, and entirely without masonry. The whole seemed the counterpart of the Pulchrum Littus and the Cloaca Maxima; the embankment being of the same height, the vault of the same dimensions, and the object being doubtless similar — to drain the low grounds on this bank,19 and to serve as a barrier against occasional floods —  p394 the Marta being the natural emissary of the Lake of Bolsena. This must have been one reason, added to the all-cogent one of superior salubrity, which led the founders of the town to select a site, not on the sea-shore, or on the banks of the stream, but on the first convenient eminence, though it were two miles inland. This quay, sewer, and causeway, raise Westphal's opinion that this was the site of Graviscae, from mere probability almost to certainty.20

 p395  West of the town is a rising ground, in which are some caves, and here, it is said, tombs have been found. Sepulchres richly decorated and furnished, are not likely, however, to be discovered here; for Graviscae can have been little more than a place of business to the parent city — a landing-place for goods — where the merchant princes of Tarquinii had their warehouses and offices.21 No one would have dwelt in the pestilent atmosphere of this swampy coast, who could have afforded a residence on the comparatively salubrious heights of Tarquinii. The fever-fraught climate of the summer months is the only feature which the site retains of its ancient character. Nothing can be more dreary and desolate than the scenery around. The sun calls forth no beauty; the showers no verdure or luxuriance. Of the dense pine-groves which over-shadowed the waves of old,22 not a solitary tree remains — the vineyards which still earlier gave Graviscae renown,23 have left not a vestige, — a patch of corn here and there in the plain, and the dull grey olive-woods on the distant slopes of the Montarozzi, are the only signs of cultivation within view.

The Author's Notes:

1 Called also Gravisca, and Graviscium. Plin. III.8; Strab. C. p225; Mela, II.4; Ptolem. p68, ed. Bert.

2 Liv. XL.29.

3 Strabo (loc. cit.) describes it as 300 stadia (37½ miles) from Cosa, and somewhat less than 180 (22½ miles) from Pyrgi. The Maritime Itinerary of Antoninus states the distance from Pyrgi as 27 miles. The Peutingerian Table is defective in the distances on this side of Graviscae, but states that from Cosa to be 19 miles, which is much too small. Ptolemy indicates it as lying between Cosa and Castrum Novum. Precision in these matters is not to be looked for from the ancient geographers, both on account of their imperfect means of information, and from the great facility for the introduction of errors in the transcribing of figures. We must be content with an approximation to truth.

Antonine Itinerary
(Via Aurelia)

Castro Novo VIII
Centum Cellis V
Marta X
Forum Aureli XIIII
Cossam XXV

Antonine Maritime Itinerary

Panapionem III
Castrum Novum VII
Centum Cellas V
Algas III
Rapinium III
Graviscas VI
Maltanum III
Quintianam III
Regas VI
Arnine fluv. III
Portum Herculis XXV

Peutingerian Table

Punicum V
Castro Novo VIIII
Centum Cellas IIII
Mindo fl.  —
Gravisca  —
Tabellaria V
Marta II
Foro Aurelii III
Armenita fluv. IIII
Ad Nonas III
Succosa II
Cosam  —
Portum Herculis XX

4 Sil. Italicus (VIII.475) characterises it as — veteres Graviscae. Virgil (Aen. X.184) mentions it among the Etruscan cities of the time of Aeneas. Lanzi (Sagg. II p67) thinks, from the connection in which Virgil cites it, with Caere and Pyrgi, that it was of Pelasgic origin.

There are certain coins — with the legend ΓΡΑ, and the head of Jupiter, two eagles on a thunderbolt, and two dots as the sign of a sextans, — which have been attributed to Graviscae. Lanzi (Sagg. II pp26, 68) refers them to this city (so Mionnet, Med. Ant. I. p100), because he has no proof to the contrary, but remarks on their great similarity to those of Agrigentum, so that it might be suspected the inscription was altered from ΚΡΑγαντι, the usual legend on those Sicilian coins. Sestini (Lett. Numis. VI. (p389)pp5, 7) finds fault with this conjecture, but Müller (Etrusk I. p340) confirms it, and says the types of these coins are wholly Agrigentine, and that the omission of the initial Α is not uncommon, so that Γραγας was probably used for Ακραγας. Millingen (Médailles Inédites, cited by Müller) refers these coins to Crastos in Iapygia; and Cramer (Ancient Italy, I p197) following Sestini, to Graia Callipolis, in the same part of Italy.

5 Liv. loc. cit.; V. Paterculus (I.15) dates this event a year earlier. Fabretti (X. p748) gives a Latin inscription which refers the colony to Claudius Pulcher, consul in the year 570. Frontinus (de Coloniis) speaks of a later colonisation of Graviscae by Augustus, and says that Tiberius marked out its ager by huge stones.

6 This is learned from the designation of a legion as "Ulpia" on one of the inscriptions found at Tarquinii, and which refers to Graviscae. It is given in Ann. Inst. 1832, p152.

7 Rutil. Itin. I.281.

8 Cluver. II p484. Cramer, Ancient Italy, I p197. Micali, Ant. Pop. Ital. I, p146; Abeken, Mittelitalien, p36. This view is based on the Itineraries given above. Holstenius and Dempster offer no opinion on the site of Graviscae.

9 Ann. Inst. 1830, pp28, 30.

10 Liv. IX.41. I cannot learn that coral is found on this coast as in ancient times. — Plin. XXXII.11.

11 Intempestaeque Graviscae — Virg. Aen. X.184; Serv. in locum; Rutil. I.282.

12 Ap. Serv. loc. cit.ideo Graviscae dictae sunt, quod gravem aerem sustinent.

13 Westphal is therefore in error in denying the existence of ancient remains on this site.— Ann. Inst. 1830, p28.

14 An inscription on the Dogana calls it the ancient Forum Aurelii, but that was much more probably at or near Montalto on the Fiora.

15 At this site, however, painted vases have been found, which, if of the usual character, would indicate Etruscan habitation. They were found in sarcophagi of stone or earthenware, not in tombs, but buried at a very little depth below the surface, and in a circumscribed spot of ground. In one were found all the bones of a horse, and (as if the owner had left to his steed the post of honour) by its side lay a human skeleton of gigantic size. Ann. Inst. 1829, p95 — Avvolta.

16 Anciently the Minio, mentioned by Virgil. Aen. X.183; Serv. in loc.; Mela, II.4; Rutil. I.279. Cluver (II p483) regards the Rapinium of the Maritime Itinerary as a corruption of Minio.

17 The voussoirs are from five to six feet in depth; those of the Cloaca Maxima are scarcely two feet and a half; but there is a triple row of them.

18 The river would not serve as a port now-a‑days, but must have been quite deep and broad enough for the gallies of the ancients. The causeway may possibly have formed part of the ancient Via Aurelia, but the absence of all traces of a bridge across the Marta seems opposed to that view.

19 The arch may possibly have been a bridge over a small stream, which fell into the Marta, but no traces of a channel could I perceive in the plain. The (p394)proprietor of the ground, Signor Falzacappa, of Corneto, is of opinion that the arch, called by the peasantry Il Pontone, is a bridge originally crossing the Marta itself, which has since changed its course. But the comparatively narrow span of the arch, the absence of all vestiges of a former channel, and the long embankment, forbid me to entertain this view.

20 I stated this opinion in Bull. Inst. 1847, p92, and it elicited the following remarks from Cav. Canina. "The remains of ancient walls existing near the mouth of the Marta, cannot have belonged to Gravisca, because this city is placed in the Maritime Itinerary of Antoninus at three miles' distance from the said river, and at twelve from Centumcellae, i.e., very near the mouth of the river Mignone, where remains are extant, and which site agrees with the distance of a little less than 180 stadia, prescribed by Strabo as that between Pyrgi and Gravisca. The remains mentioned by Mr. Dennis must have belonged to that castle indicated in the Maritime Itinerary under the name of Maltano (Maltanum), which was placed precisely at the mouth of the said river Marta, as may be deduced from the agreement of the Itineraries in registering that station with the simple name of Marta."

I should not have arrived at the above opinion, could I have yielded, as the learned Cavaliere appears to do, implicit credence to the Itineraries. But finding them so often widely in error, or at variance — as a comparison of them in this very case will attest — I cannot afford them confidence, in the face of the more convincing evidence of extant remains. If Graviscae were the port of Tarquinii, no site could be better adapted to it than this, on the stream which washed the walls of that city. I confess that the agreement of the Maritime Itinerary and the Peutingerian Table in placing Graviscae between the Marta and the Minio is not without weight; yet I cannot think that it outbalances the stronger evidence to the contrary adduced in the text. And I cannot in any way accord to Cavaliere Canina that Graviscae stood near the mouth of the Mignone. For if with him, I cite the Maritime Itinerary in evidence, I find Graviscae placed 12 miles from Centumcellae (Civita Vecchia), while the Minio is in fact but 7 or 8 miles distant; the Saline, where Graviscae is generally supposed to have stood, is but 10, whereas my site is just 12½ miles from that port. And Strabo's distance of 180 stadia from Pyrgi is much better answered in the Saline than in the mouth of the Mignone; while the Maritime Itinerary in stating it at 27 miles, favours the site on the right bank of the Marta. Thus these very authorities may be made to support my view as well as that of the Cav. Canina, but I lay no further stress on this than (p395)as it shows how little dependence is to be placed upon them for precise information.

There is much plausibility in Westphal's proposed amendment of the Peutingerian Table (Ann. Inst. 1830, p32). In the chart, after "Mindo fl." is placed "Gravisca" without any distance attached; next a station with the simple word "Co"; and beyond that "Tabellaria V." Westphal proposes merely to shift the word "Gravisca" a little to the left, by which the three words are thrown into one sentence — "Tabellaria co (i.e. cum) Gravisca," — a mode elsewhere adopted by the Table to indicate a place at some distance from the station, but connected with it by a branch road. Next we find "Marta II" but with no station indicated. This Westphal would read "Marta fl." showing that Tabellaria was on that river, instead of two miles from it. In fact he would place this station at the present bridge, a mile below Corneto.

21 It was probably, like Alsium and Pyrgi, a mere — oppidum parvum (Rutil. I.224); for Strabo (V. p223) and Pliny (III.8) assert that there was but one Etruscan city on this coast — Populonia.

22 Rutil. Itin. I.283; Müller (Etrusk. I.1, 1, n8) deduces from this passage that it was these pine-woods which checked the extension of the bad air.

23 Plin. N. H. XIV.8, 5.

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