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Bill Thayer

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Ch. 16
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Romans
on the Riviera and the Rhone

by W. H. Hall

originally published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Ch. 18

 p163  Chapter XVII
Via Aurelia

Section 1: Aurelia proper.
Section 2: Aemilia Scauri.

"Via Aurelia. A Roma per Tusciam et Alpes Maritimas Arelatum usque M. P. DCCXCVII."

Such is the title of the Road following for the most part the shore of the Mediterranean, from Rome to Arles, which is found in the Itinerary of Antonine — the sole official document known to us which contains a complete list of the names of the main roads of the Roman Empire.

While the Itinerary of Antonine is in the shape of a small volume giving the names of the roads, and of the Post Stations, with the distances between each, the Table of Peutinger takes the form of a map, disproportionately compressed from North to South, and elongated from East to West to suit the greater extension of the Roman Empire in that direction. The specimen of one of the twelve sections of the Table of Peutinger shown at the end of the volume will give the reader an idea of its quaint archaic character.

I do not propose here to go at any light into the question of the origin and authenticity of the two above-named documents, which, together with the mile-stones which remain, constitute the main source of our information on the subject of Roman Roads. I shall confine  p164 myself to giving the general conclusions arrived at, namely that both documents are of a post-Constantine age, probably executed during the reign of Theodosius the Great, though based upon fragments of earlier geographical attempts to depict the Roman world.

The existence of the name Constantinopolis and some others having Christian associations, found in both documents may be accepted as sufficient proof that they were at all events corrected up to a date, when the Roman world had become Christian.

While the originals of the Itinerary of Antonine and the Table of Peutinger are entirely lost, they are only known to us in careless and corrupt copies of a comparatively late age. Although these copies corroborate each other in the main, marked discrepancies are often found in the distances given by the two documents between the same Stations on the same roads.

While the Itinerary of Antonine limits itself to an enumeration of the main roads, the Table of Peutinger gives besides branches and short cuts (compendia) not to be found in the former document. And this especially applies to the case of the Via Aurelia, the course of which as given in both documents I now propose to consider in some detail. Having devoted portions of ten or more winters to the exploration of the road itself, wherever it can still be traced between Vada Volaterrana and Arles — a distance of about 400 miles — and having besides carefully collected whatever rays of light can be thrown upon the subject by classical and modern writers, I hope I shall not exhaust the patience of my readers by dwelling on it here at some light.

For the Via Aurelia will be found to form a convenient and interesting thread for the traveller to follow up for the whole length of his journey from Arles to Rome or vice versa. In its Roman and international character, the Via Aurelia recognizes no frontiers, and connects the French and Italian Rivieras by an indissoluble bond.

 p165  Numerous as are the treatises dealing with the various sections of the Via Aurelia, there is not a single one in any language, which treats of it at all adequately as a whole. Even Mommsen has dealt with it in a fragmentary way. For although everything that is known about it is to be found in his monumental work, the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, the references to the Via Aurelia are scattered over three separate volumes of about 1000 pages each, and sometimes occur under most unexpected headings, such for instance as Clastidium, Vol. V Part 2, p828. To unearth them and piece them together is no light task.

In his Provence Maritime and its English translation The Riviera, Ancient and Modern, the pages of M. Lentheric abound in references to the section of the Via Aurelia which lies through French territory, while its onward course along the Italian Riviera is almost entirely ignored. But, even within that limited area, where at all events he ought to be at home, M. Lentheric has fallen into the unaccountable error of attributing the authorship of this section to an Aurelius Cotta, who was consul B.C. 119.1 For the name of the Via Aurelia is unquestionably derived from a much earlier Aurelius — in all probability the Aurelius Cotta, who was censor B.C. 241. There is however unfortunately no classical text to cite as positive proof of this fact, which has been accepted since the time of Bergier, whose great work, Les grands Chemins de l'Empire Romain, was published nearly three centuries ago.

Passing out of Rome through the Porta Aurelia, the original section of the Via Aurelia was carried through Forum Aurelii, as far as Vada Volaterrana on the Etrurian coast — the port of the famous fortress Volaterrae, which itself crowns a lofty ridge, at least 20 miles inland.

The explanation of the Roman road being called Aurelia in Provence is to be found in the fact that the name Aurelia, under which the coast road started from  p166 Rome and which was confined originally to its first section, was subsequently transferred to the whole length of the road from Rome to Arles. In our own day on the same principle main lines of railway swallow up the subsidiary names, under which their successive sections were known at first.

It was then a quite gratuitous mistake on the part of M. Lentheric to press into his service a later Aurelius, who had nothing whatever to do with Provence or road-making. The first road-maker there, as I have explained above, was Domitius Ahenobarbus, and the original name of the Provençal section of the Via Aurelia was "Via Domitia."

Hirschfeld, however, the author of Vol. XII of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, which deals with Gallia Narbonensis, declines to apply the name "Aurelia" to the section in question at any period of its existence, in spite of the fact that the Provençal name "Lou camin Ourelian" has been applied to it by the peasantry from time immemorial.2 I venture however to differ from that very high authority. For, in my judgment formed after much intercourse with the natives in all parts of Provence, the Roman roads which connect Frejus with Aix by a single line, and Aix with Arles by two branches, forming a loop passing through Marseilles and Salon respectively, are both entitled to the use of the name "Aurelia." I base my opinion on long established usage, corroborated by the mention of the name in the Itinerary of Antonine.

Although the two quarto volumes of Nicholas Bergier of Rheims are full of erudition conveyed in a delightful form on the construction and administration of Roman roads in general, they unfortunately contain little direct information about any particular road. All that we get from Bergier in addition to the statement that Aurelius Cotta (censor B.C. 241) "donna son nom et son commencement" to the Via Aurelia is the quaint but not  p167 very instructive observation "Ce n'est pas toutefois, qu'Aurelius, qui lui a donné son commencement, l'ait conduite jusqu'à Arles. Il a esté continué par plusieurs d'autres jusqu'à dedans la Gaule Narbonnaise sans perdre son nom."

So far from it being a fact that the coast road was carried onwards to Arles without ever losing its original name "Aurelia," we have the well known and undisputed text of Strabo3 to prove that on its first continuation through Pisae into Liguria the road was called "Aemilia," after Aemilius Scaurus, the author of its prolongation to Vada Sabata.4

That Strabo should have omitted to mention the name of the exact point, whence Aemilius Scaurus carried his road forward, is most unfortunate. We have however the authority of Mommsen for fixing it at Volaterrae, by which he means of course Vada Volaterrana. For it is impossible to believe that the coast road would have been carried up hill 20 miles out of its way. In Vol. V part 1, of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, we read at p885: "a Volaterris, ubi finem Aureliae caputque Aemiliae fuisse crediderim."

A Roman milestone, which I saw myself in the present year (1898) in the Campo Santo at Pisa, bears in clearly cut letters of the best period the name

Via Aemilia


proving that the coast road, at a date not specified on it, bore the name Aemilia at the distance of 188 miles from Rome. As Vada Volaterrana is about 175 miles from Rome the coast road may have borne the name "Aurelia" up to that point, becoming Aemilia beyond it.

For when we come to consider the Julia Augusta section of the coast road, we shall find that the milestones bearing its name are marked at the same time  p168 with the total of the distance from the capital, notwithstanding that the road changed its name twice in its continuation to Rome over the Via Aurelia Lepidi and the Via Flaminia.

That the coast road bore the name of Aurelia for a considerable distance from Rome is proved by the mention of it in the XIIth Philippic,5 where Cicero refers to it, when declining the proposal that he should repair to Mutina as one of the envoys to treat with Antony when he was laying siege to that place.

"Tres viae sunt ad Mutinam. . . . A supero mari Flaminia,º ab infero Aurelia, media Cassia."

Further proof of the extension of the Via Aurelia is given by a passage in the life of the Emperor Aurelian by Vopiscus. "Etruriae per Aureliam usque ad Alpes maritimas ingentes agri sunt." This text alone seems to prove that the name Aurelia was applied to the coast road up to the Maritime Alps in the reign of the Emperor Aurelian, A.D. 270‑275.

Section No. 2 or Via Aemilia Scauri section of the coast road was about 165 Roman miles in length, its important stations being Pisa, Luna, and Genoa, the last of which is unaccountably omitted by Strabo. From Luna it was carried some considerable distance inland up the valley of the Magra to avoid the precipitous coast between Spezia and Moneglia, where (as I explained in Chap. VII)º it was again brought down to the shore. In its onward course through Sestri Levante to Genoa, it sometimes followed the coast, at others kept a mile or two inland. Traces are to be found of its passage at Riva, where the remains of Roman brickwork may be seen on the edge of the stream about 300 yards from its mouth.

Between Rapallo and Ruta the Strada Romana, under which name alone it is known to the natives, may still be followed for an unbroken stretch of three or four miles. It is paved throughout and forms an inland short-cut  p169 and pleasant alternative to following the windings of the modern high road.

The Strada Romana is hardly ever practicable for wheeled traffic, being often very steep and slippery, after the manner of Roman roads. It offers the great advantage of being cool, moist and shady at all times, and is in strong contrast to the dusty high road, which however commands wider views. The road is the usual width of Roman roads, the pavement measuring about 8 ft., being the regulation width laid down by an ancient law of the Twelve Tables.

I am disposed to believe that much of the pavement which consists of pebbles laid edgeways is Roman. For the large polygonal blocks, with which the roads were paved in towns, were seldom or never used for country roads.

In the Communes of Quinto and Quarto, formerly Roman Stations, five and four miles respectively distant from Genoa, the thread of the Strada Romana can be picked up again and followed for at least half-an‑hour's most interesting walk. Here again it lies inland from the dusty or muddy (as the case may be) but always noisy high road, which follows the shore.

In the Commune of Quarto, the Strada Romana is carried over the river Stura by a bridge mainly of Roman construction, the pebbled road being 10 ft. wide in the centre of the bridge. Immediately beyond the bridge, the road winds up the steep and rocky slope to gain the high ground, over which Genoa extends.

Between Genoa and Vada Sabata (now Vado, a suburb of Savona) no further trace of the Via Aemilia Scauri is to be found along the coast, so far as I am aware. I have already treated of its inland continuation to Dertona.

It remains for me to explain in the next chapter the course of the Via Julia Augusta, constructed by Augustus B.C. 12 to fill up the gap on the coast between Vada Sabata and the Var, which was still without a regular Roman road, and unprovided with post stations.

The Author's Notes:

1 The Roman mile was about 100 yards shorter than the English, measuring 1666 yards. It consisted of 1000 paces — the Roman "passus" being 5 ft., i.e. the space from the raising up to the setting down of the right foot.

Thayer's Note: The 1666 yards given here translates to 1523 meters; the usual modern consensus is that the Roman mile was about 1480 meters.

2 Riviera, Ancient and Modern, p22.

3 CIL, Vol. XII p634.

4 Strabo, p217, "ὁ Σκαῦρος . . . ὁ καὶ τὴν Αἰμιλίαν ὁδὸν στρώσας διὰ Πισῶν καὶ Λούνης μέχρι Σαβάτων κἀντεῦθεν διὰ Δέρθωνος."

5 XII.9.

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Page updated: 26 Aug 16