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This webpage reproduces an article in
The Classical Journal
Vol. 18, No. 4 (Jan. 1923), pp220‑224.

The text is in the public domain.

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 p220  The Location of a Shrine of Vacuna

By Mary A. Grant
Topeka, Kansas

This article is an attempt to localize the shrine of the Sabine goddess Vacuna, mentioned in Pliny, Natural History III.108, 109.

The evidence for the worship of Vacuna in Sabine territory is as follows: Two inscriptions have been found at Poggio Fidoni in the valley of the Canera, a little to the southwest of Rieti (ancient Reate);1 one at Bacugno, to the northeast of Rieti in the upper valley of Velino;2 another at Posta, near Bacugno;3 and perhaps a fifth at Rocca Giovane, near the commonly accepted site of Horace's Sabine Farm.4 Among the ancient authors,5 Horace speaks of an old shrine of Vacuna on his Sabine Farm,6 and Dionysius of Halicarnassus,7 following Varro, in a passage describing the worship of Νίκη on an island in Lake Cutilia (to the east of Rieti) perhaps refers to Vacuna,8 since in another place9 Varro has identified the goddess with Victory. The Pliny passage, Plin. H.N. III.108, 109, I shall quote in full:

Sabini, ut quidam existimavere, a religione et deum cultu Sebini appellati, Velinos accolunt lacus, roscidis collibus. Nar amnis exhaurit illos sulpureis aquis, Tiberim  p221 ex his petens, replet e monte Fiscello Avens iuxta Vacunae nemora et Reate in eosdem conditus; et ex alia parte Anio in monte Trebanorum ortus, lacus tris amoenitate nobilis qui nomen dedere Sublaques defert in Tiberim. In agro Reatino Cutiliae Lacum, in quo fluctuetur insula, Italiae Umbilicum esse M. Varro tradit.

The grove of Vacuna mentioned in this passage has been differently located by modern authorities: Mommsen,10 Nissen,11 and Persichetti12 place it at Bacugno; Wissowa,13 Preller,14 Gori15 and Ward Fowler16 near Lake Velinus. Does Pliny's description apply equally well to both of these locations?

We must admit that the passage presents many difficulties though some of these have already been cleared up. The emendation of "Avens" for the "labens" of the MSS. is now generally accepted. The Avens is undoubtedly the modern Velino, and most commentators agree with Preller in placing Mount Fiscellus to the east, on the border of the Sabini and Vestini.17 Pliny is discussing Lake Velinus, and the river system near it, including the Avens, the Nar and the Tiber. The Nar drains the lake and then empties into the Tiber; the Avens flows into the lake.18 But  p222 the exact relation of the phrase "iuxta nemora Vacunae" to the rest of the clause in which it stands, is still not clear. Mommsen's interpretation of the passage (and I think the others who place the shrine at Bacugno argue in a similar way) is that Pliny, imagining himself traveling down the Avens from its source to its outlet, mentions in order the places of interest he passes on the way: first, Mount Fiscellus; second, nemora Vacunae; third, Reate; fourth, the outlet into the lake. So Preller's location of the shrine near the Lake Velinus seems to him wrong, because Pliny mentioned the "nemora Vacunae" before he mentioned Reate; consequently it must be to the east of Reate. The site Bacugno, however, agrees with the order followed by Pliny.19

To a geographer the source and outlet of rivers are the most important facts, and it seems to me that the emphasis of the passage rests, not on what the Avens passed in its course, but on its emptying into Lake Velinus. This is shown by the contrast of the words "exhaurit" and "replet," and by the repetition of "lacus" in the phrase, "in eosdem conditus." Furthermore, the preposition "iuxta" does not normally mean "past" or "by" with verbs of motion, as Mommsen's rendering of the passage would necessitate, but is ordinarily used with verbs of rest to signify adjacent position. Draeger, Lat. Syn. I, p587, gives as normal usage, "iuxtaque murum castra posuit," Caes. B. C., I.16; "sepultus est iuxta Viam Appiam," Nep. Att. 22.2; "iuxta genitorem adstat Lavinia," Virg. Aen. VII.72. The use of "iuxta" with "provehimur" in Virgil, Aeneid, III.506, "provehimur pelago vicina Ceraunia iuxta" he says is rare and unclassical. The preposition "praeter" would normally be used in such cases. Cf. Caesar, B. G. I.48, "praeter castra Caesaris suas copias  p223 transduxit." Cic. Verr. 2.3, 25, 62, "Ligures praeter oram Etrusci maris Neapolim transmisit;" Livy, 40.41, "praeter radices montis lapsus amnis;" id. 42.48, "praeter oram Italiae supervectus." Even if "iuxta" had the unusual meaning of "praeter" in the Pliny passage, there is no verb of motion with which to associate it, since, according to Mommsen's view, it has no connection with "replet."

The logical interpretation of the passage is that "iuxta" meaning "near," is connected with "replet;" the "Vacunae nemora" and "Reate" are then associated with the outlet of the stream; the phrase "e monte Fiscello" is thrown in as a piece of additional information as to the source of the river, and the sequence in which the points of interest are named is of no importance.

To reinforce this point, I would call attention to other passages in Pliny in which similar situations are described: NH III.148, "Colapis in Saum influens iuxta Sisciam gemino alveo insulam ibi effecit quas Segestica appellatur," where there is no possibility of confusion; NH XXXVII.39, "Ctesias (dixit) in Indis flumen esse Hypobarum; fluere a septentrione in exortivum oceanum iuxta montem silvestrem arboribus electrum ferentibus." Here, if objection is made that a verb of most (fluere) is used, and that "iuxta montem" refers to some point on the river's course rather than at its outlet, it is clear that Pliny has deserted the logical sequence by mentioning the river's outlet before a point it passes on its course, and that no arguments based on sequence can therefore be made for the description of the Avens.

We must, then, (not doubting, of course the inscriptional evidence for the worship of Vacuna at Bacugno) place the particular grove of the goddess mentioned in the Pliny passage near the outlet of the Avens. Gori's insistence on Poggio Fidoni (Cerchiara), has as a basis the two inscriptions found there, but it is too far from the river and the lake to answer Pliny's description well. A better site is Pie di Luco, on the north side of the lake, suggested by Preller. There is no inscriptional  p224 evidence for this site, it is true, but the name "Luco" may well be reminiscent of the sacred grove of the goddess mentioned by Pliny.

[image ALT: A summary map of the northern part of the modern Italian region of Lazio, corresponding to part of the Sabine country in Roman times. It shows the Tiber, Nar and Velinus rivers and the river now called the Canera.]

[The Avens and Nar have changed their courses with regard to Lake Velinus since Pliny's day. In this map no attempt is made to trace the ancient channels.]

The Author's Notes:

1 CIL IX.4751, 4752.

2 CIL IX.4636.

3 N. d. Sc., 1906, p465.

4 Cf. CIL, XIV.3485; and A. W. Van Buren, J. Rom. St. VI, 1916, p202.

5 Ovid's reference, Fast., VI.307, is general.

6 Epist. I.10.49.

7 I.15.

8 Preller, Rom. Myth. I, 409; Nissen, Ital. Landesk. II, p476; cf. note 4 supra.

9 Varro in Scholiast on Hor. Epist. I.10.49.

10 On CIL, IX.4636, p435.

11 Ital. Landesk., II, p468.

12 N. Persichetti, Viaggio archeologico sulla via Salaria nel circondario di Cittaducale, Rome, 1893, p173; id. N. d. Sc., 1906, p465; id., Röm. Mitteil., XXIV, p242.

13 Rel. u. Kult. d. Rom., p49.

14 Rom. Myth., I, 408.

15 Fabio Gori, "Comento alle Antiche Iscrizioni Reatini" in Michaeli, Memorie storiche di Rieti, Vol. I, p99, sq.

16 Virgil's Gathering of the Clans, 1916, p66.

17 Preller, Aus. Auf. p257; Mommsen, CIL, IX, p435, and Kiepert, Atlas, 1908; Nissen, Ital. Landesk., I, 237, and II, 437; and Hülsen, P. W., 1909, Fiscellus, identify it more exactly with the Gran Sasso d' Italia. F. Gori, op. cit., however, says it is the "monte delle Marmore da cui cade il Velino nella Nar."

18 Mommsen interpreted "replet" wrongly by making "Narem amnem" its object: CIL, IX, on inscr., 4636. Preller, Aus. Auf., p257, corrected him. "Illos" is the object of "replet," for "das Gegensatz 'replet e Monte Fiscello' drückt dieses deutlich aus: was durch den Nar abfloss, das strömte durch den Avens immer von neuem zu." The words "Nar exhaurit illos" refer to the canal made by the consul M'. Curius Dentatus in 465 B.C., from the lake to the Nar by which the district was made more fertile. Varro in Serv. Aen., VII.712; Cic. ad Att. IV.15.5; Tac. Ann., I.79; Virg., Aen. VII.712.

19 CIL, IX, p435. Aventem Plinii fluvium esse hodie Velinum dictum, montem Fiscellum eum qui est inter Amiternum et Reate Preller, ut egregie demonstravit, ita non recte nemora Vacunae collocavit ad lacus Velinos inter Reate et confluentes Naris et Aventis, cum Plinius ea ante Reate nominet.

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