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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 9
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries

by Rodolfo Lanciani

published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company

Boston and New York,

Text, maps and black & white illustrations are in the public domain.
Any color photos are © William P. Thayer.


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Chapter 11

 p259  CHAPTER X


Many of my readers must have seen districts of the Roman Campagna, either when walking, riding, or gliding swiftly by in the railway carriage; many must have read descriptions of it in historical works, or in works of fiction; but I wonder if a passing view only, in some particular season of the year, or a more or less imaginary description, has placed before them a true picture. In a letter addressed to his friend M. de Fontanes, the charming writer Comte de Chateaubriand speaks of the famous district in the following terms: —

"Imagine something like the desolation of Tyre and Babylon, of which the Holy Scripture speaks: a silence and a solitude as vast as the noise and tumult of the men who formerly occupied the same soil. One imagines that he ears again the malediction of the prophet: 'Venient tibi duo haec in die uno, sterilitas et viduitas,' — 'Two things shall come to thee in the same day, sterility and widowhood.' One can see here and there remnants of old Roman roads in places where now no one passes; one can see here and there dried-up beds of winter torrents, which, at a certain distance, have the aspect of roads well beaten and frequented, and in reality are only the furrows excavated by a passing wave. One hardly meets with a tree; but everywhere, in whatever direction one gazes, are ruins of tombs and aqueducts, — ruins which appear like a forest of indigenous plants, the growth of an earth composed of  p260 the dust of the dead. Sometimes, in the large plain yonder, one seems to discover rich, luxuriant harvests; one approaches: burnt grass and dry herbs have deceived the eye. On examining these sterile harvests traces of ancient cultivation are discovered. No birds, no laborers, no happy country sounds, no activity, no bleating of flocks; no villages clustered around the antique church. A small number of dilapidated farm-houses rise from the midst of the plain: the windows and doors are closed; no smoke rises in graceful curls from the chimney; one hears no noise; in fact there are no inhabitants, — a sort of savage, pale and trembling with the chill of the evening dew, gazes at these dens of fever, like the spectres who in Gothic ballads defend the entrance to an abandoned château. In fact, one would say that no nation has dared to succeed the great masters of the world on their native soil; and that the fields of Latium are as they were left by the iron spade of Cincinnatus, and by the last Roman plough."

After this impressive description you might be led to believe that there is nothing worse to behold than the Roman Campagna. You would be greatly mistaken. The Campagna has an inconceivable grandeur of its own; one is always ready, in contemplating its wonderful aspect, to exclaim: Salve, magna parens frugum, Saturnia tellus, magna virum! — Hail, land of fecundity, land of Saturn, mother of great men! If you look at it from an economic point of view, it will completely discourage you; if you contemplate it as an artist, as a poet, even as a philosopher, you would not wish, perhaps, to have it different from what it is. The view of an undulating field of grain, or of a luxuriant vineyard, cannot give you a stronger emotion than the aspect of this Campagna, the soil of which as not been rejuvenated by a modern cultivator, and has  p261 remained as ancient as the ruins which cover it. Nothing can equal, or be compared with the lines of the Roman horizon, the gentle inclination of its plains, the soft and fugitive outlines of the mountains which surround it. Often the valleys in the Campagna have been shaped by nature like arenas, circuses, and hippodromes; their slopes are cut in steps and terraces, as if the powerful hand of the Romans had up-turned and moulded all this land. A peculiar kind of vapor, rising in the distance, softens all objects, and hides those that might be hard or ungainly in their outlines; the shadows are never heavy or black; there are never masses of rock or foliage so dense or obscure that some little ray of light does not penetrate them. A singularly harmonious tint unites the earth, the heavens, the sea: by means of an insensible gradation of color, the lines of contact melt so that one cannot determine water one shade begins and the other finishes.

Doubtless every one has admired in the landscapes of Claude de Lorraine and Gaspard Poussin that seemingly ideal light, more beautiful almost than nature itself. Well, this is the light, this is the atmosphere of Rome. I never tire of looking from some lofty point — for instance, from the Parnassus or Belvedere of the Villa Medici on the Pincian — at the sun setting behind the stately cypresses of Monte Mario, or behind the pines of the Villa Pamphili, planted by Le Nôtre. Often I have sailed up the Tiber, as far as its junction with the Anio under the hill of Antemnae, in order to enjoy the grand scene of the declining day. The summits of the Sabine Mountains appear as if they were melted in lapis lazuli and opals, while their slopes and bases are steeped in a violet or purple tint. Sometimes beautiful clouds, resembling light chariots of gods borne along with inimitable grace and swiftness by the wind,  p262 make one almost believe in former apparitions of the inhabitants of Olympus, under this mythological sky. Sometimes ancient Rome seems to have spread on the western horizon, under the last steps of the god of day, all the purple robes of her consuls and of her Caesars. This rich and powerful effect does not fade as quickly as in northern climates; when you think that the last tints are dying away, they suddenly light up again in some other part of the horizon; one twilight follows another, and the magical effect of sunset is thus indefinitely prolonged. It is true that at this hour the Campagna rests in deep repose: one hears no pastoral songs; the laborers have migrated to other climates: dulcia linquimus ora! But one still can see the gigantic white oxen, raised on the banks of the Clitumnus, or herds of half-wild horses, descending to the bed of the Tiber, to refresh themselves in its cool waters. One imagines one's self transported to the time of the old Sabines; to the age of Evander the Arcadian, when the river was called Albula; to the age of the pious Aeneas, sailing up the unknown waters to moor his ship at the foot of the Palatine.

I admit that the views of Naples, of Rio de Janeiro, of Constantine, are more dazzling than that of Rome. For instance, when the brilliant sun or our own satellite rises above Vesuvius, like a ball of fire thrown up by the volcano, the bay of Naples, with its banks fringed with blooming groves of lemon and orange trees; with its island of Capri, rising in snowy whiteness from the sapphire waters of the Tyrrhenian; with the hills of Posillipo clothed in myrtle, stretching towards Baiae and Miseno; all this land sung by Virgil presents, no doubt, a truly magic aspect. But, in my opinion, it has not the grandeur of the Roman Campagna. However that may be, one soon becomes prodigiously attached to this famous soil.

 p263  Has the Campagna always been in its present state of fascination desolation? By no means. It is sufficient to take a ride across its fields and valleys in any direction you may choose, to meet at every step with remains of villas and farms which in ant times must have been teeming with life. These villas are all modelled on a uniform pattern, rising in steps and terraces from the foot of the hill, each terrace supported by huge foundation walls, ornamented with niches, and nymphaea. The lower terraces never contain buildings; they were simply laid out in gardens, and less frequently in an orchard: the mansion of the landlord is perched on the very top of the hill, and within the area of the highest terrace. This general type of a Latin villa was praiseworthy for two reasons: first,  p264 because from the edge of each platform the eye could freely command every point of the horizon; secondly, because, with a comparatively small quantity of water, many fountains and nymphaea could be supplied, by taking advantage of the surplus of every basin, and making as many shows of its as there were steps and terraces. But it is incredible how ingenious and clever ancient architects proved themselves to be, in adapting the general type of villa to the natural conditions of the special tract of land which had been selected for its establishment; and equally surprising was their skill in exposing palace and gardens to the north, or to the mid-day sun, according as their patron wished to have a winter or a summer country residence.

From the last century of the republic, and on a much larger scale under the imperial rule, the wealthiest patrician families owned not one but several villas, planned and arranged on a different principle, in accordance with their destination of winter, spring, or summer residences. The two ill-fated brothers, Quintilius Condianus and Quintilius Maximus,​a owned a magnificent winter seat at the fifth milestone of the Appian Way; indeed, so magnificent that the Emperor Commodus caused both brothers to be murdered, to secure by confiscation what he had failed to secure by direct purchase. This villa, the ruins of which cover an area of nearly a square mile, was only seven miles distant from another, built by the same family on the slopes of Tusculum, as a summer resort. The Valerii, likewise, owned a line of villas, beginning at the second milestone of the Via Latina, and ending near the Castrimoenium, the modern Marino, which was adaptable to the various seasons of the year. The same practice is known to have prevailed in Servilian, the Flavian, the Claudian, and other families of the old aristocracy.

 p265  We must not consider, however, this abundance and variety of country seats an extravagant display of luxury. The old Roman aristocracy was educated under the same principles as the English aristocracy is at the present time. Latin gentlemen of the republic and of the empire, as English gentlemen of nowadays, were not brought up in laziness and inactivity, but served their country with their intelligence and their strength, fighting gallantly in their youth against the foes of the commonwealth, and sharing the cares of government in their mature age. From identity in the education and principles of the two aristocracies came identity in their systems of life. Our patricians, like the English, had houses in town, in keeping with the rank of the owners, in which hospitality was practised during the winter, as it is now during the London season; though in Rome the season was, so far as I can judge, exceedingly sort. As soon as spring began to appear, with its tepid breezes and brilliant sunshine, the aristocracy dispersed at once to their country seats; I mean to those the average distance of which did not exceed six or seven miles from the outskirts of the metropolis. So sort a distance, which they could cover with their swift Numidian ponies in less than an hour, allowed them to attend daily, and without inconvenience, to their official duties, — to the administration of public waters and granaries; to the préfecture of the Tiber and its docks and harbors; to the government of the city, and of the praetorium; to the administration of justice; to court duties; to the sittings of Parliament. At the same time, the comparative quiet of their delicious dwellings, half urban, half rustic, helped them wonderfully to recover the peace broken or lost among the vicissitudes of political life, to shelter themselves from court intrigues; to regain strength and vigor, after the hardships of long  p266 journeys, made through the military outposts, along the far-away frontiers, and through the provinces beyond the sea; How like the Roman aristocracy of the present day!

We must attribute to the state of things which I have described the origin of that circle of villas which surrounded the Capitol within a radius of four to ten miles from the umbilicus Romae; otherwise it would be impossible to explain why the Romans should have spent fortunes for building-sites which could not be inhabited in summer, as they were at that season hotter and less salubrious than the town itself. The number of these villas is really incredible: one must have scoured the Campagna as I have for twenty years; one must have explored every remotest corner, to recognize ow near to truth comes the theory of those who extend the surface of Rome as far as the neighboring territories of Ostia, Bovillae, Tusculum, Tibur, and Veii. In the golden age of the empire, before the transformation of Rome into an intrenched camp, accomplished by Aurelian, it was impossible to define, even approximately, its extent. To the thick nucleus of the fourteen regions into which Augustus had divided the city, to the houses adjoining one another succeeded a second ring of houses separated by small gardens; a third, of houses separated by larger estates; and lastly, a fourth ring of great villas and huge latifundia, each one constituting a populous and flourishing village. These groups of rustic dwelling were laid out in the town fashion, with the shrines of the compital or domestic gods at the street corners, and with local festivities and solemnities, registered in the Calendars discovered by Colocci and by Della Valle. One who attempts in our days to cross the wilderness of Fiorano, for instance, and of Capobianco on the Via Appia and on  p267 the Via Nomentana, finds it difficult to believe that, in bygone days, these very solitudes could have resounded with the joyful mirth of large gatherings of the peasantry; but of those meetings, festivities, and games, we possess records engraved on stones discovered on the spot. To this radiation of life from the city, decreasing, it is true, in direct proportion to the distance, but decreasing little by little, without the sudden transition of the present day, — to this radiation of life, I say, let us add the intensity of traffic on the high-roads, on the cross-lanes, on the flood and on the banks of the Tiber; let us think of the aqueducts, running on triumphal arcades through the inhabited centres of the district, distributing everywhere life and health; let us mould again those shapeless ruins into temples, shrines, and sanctuaries, lining at short intervals the banks of the high-roads with roofs of bronze, glistening under the rays of the sun; let us picture to the mind those endless marble cemeteries, shaded by the ilexes of the villa, and by the olive-trees of the farm; let us animate the brilliant scene with groups of countrymen carrying into town the produce of the fertile soil, with pious pilgrims offering libations and flowers on the tombs of dear ones, and with travellers carried on the lectica or driving the rheda or the petorritum, — and we shall thus gain a faint idea of the aspect of the Roman Campagna in bygone times.

The picture which I have endeavored to sketch is not imaginary; it represents with exactness the state of things under the first three centuries of the empire, as I have been able to reconstruct it, by the aid of daily discoveries, and on the evidence of many thousand published and unpublished documents which I have collected. Wherever, since 1867, I have seen excavations made in the Campagna, always and everywhere, even in the most remote and secluded  p268 corners, they have brought to light traces of the work of man, — roads, bridges, aqueducts, drains, rustic houses, patrician villas, mosaic pavements, enclosure walls, tombs, granaries, wine cellars, oil presses, and besides, amphorae, oil jars, utensils, bricks, water-pipes, building materials, sculptured marbles, busts, statues, inscriptions, and so forth. Totally unknown, I am sure, to my foreign readers, and, I dare say, to my countrymen also, are the names of the "tenuta (farm) di Benzone," lost in the wilderness crossed by the Via Praenestina; of the "tenuta delle Casaccie," lost in the woodlands crossed by the Via Clodia; or the savage glen of Monte Oliviero on the Flaminia; desolate places, miles distant from the nearest inhabited house. And yet the excavations made under my personal supervision in these three places, in 1873, 1878, and 1883, seemed like excavations made in Rome itself, so grand was the extent and the magnificence of the buildings, the perfection of roads and drains, the abundance of works of statuary. If any one supposes the tints of my picture too enthusiastic, let him examine de visu, or at least let him read the official account of the excavations which my learned friends, the brothers Lugari, are carrying on, in their farm of Tor Carbone, at the fourth milestone of the Appian Way, with a view to laying open permanently a district of the ancient Campagna. Although these researches are far from being completed, the work accomplished in the last five years by the Lugaris is enough to convey to the visitor the true idea of the perfection to which the suburban districts were brought under the empire. The ground is crossed at right angles by roads, as frequent as they would be in the city itself; and these roads are so neatly levelled and paved, and their sidewalks so cleverly arranged, that one would scarcely believe them to be country roads. Some cross-lanes  p269 were on private property, and were closed accordingly with gates at each end. You can see still the very walls, or maceriae, as they were styled in ancient times, enclosing the fields; and in these fields, remains of rustic dwellings, of a modest appearance, but wonderfully well adapted to their purpose. They show what care Roman landlords took of the hygiene and welfare of their peasants. The ground-floor rooms are provided with double pavements, for the circulation of the hot air, or vapor, in the interstices, — a precaution most commendable in damp, low lands. Great care was bestowed on the drainage of the house, which was always carried to a great distance, and forced through its channel by a permanent jet of water. Remarkable, also, were the arrangements for the supply of water; which, when not actually needed for drinking, bathing, or irrigating purposes, was stored in huge reservoirs and cisterns, ready for any extraordinary emergency. At the crossing of the roads, or quadrivia, there were fountains for the accommodation of travellers and of their horses; in fact, the gentleness and kindness of those happy generations went so far as to provide the weary pilgrim with seats, shaded by trees, where he could rest during the hottest hours of the day.

The starting of a patrician family for its country manor (I quote Becker and Friedländer almost verbatim) was always an event of great importance, witnessed by idlers with curiosity and admiration. Driving in a carriage was forbidden in Rome, at least during the first century of the empire, on account of the narrowness and crookedness of the streets, filled as they were with a motley, bustling crowd, especially about the sixth hour of the day, when there was a general cessation from business, and people were wont to take their morning meal. Great annoyance was created by sellers of matches (sulphurata) and of boiled peas, who  p270 would sometimes take in exchange broken glass instead of money. The abode of these miserable street pedlars was Trastevere, from which quarter they dispersed every morning through the whole city, but especially in the direction of the infamous Subura. The streets were coked, too, with clusters of disagreeable shops, built, in spite of municipal regulations, by hucksters and merchants of all sorts, barbers and salve-sellers, butchers and pastry cooks, but chiefly by wine-sellers, whose tables, protruding far into the street, were covered with bottles which were fastened by little chains, lest they might be stolen by some passer-by.

To gain the outskirts of the city, ladies and gentlemen of fashion made use of litters. These litters were manned by six powerful slaves in bright liveries; the rest of the escort were dressed in brown travelling suits. Numbers of slaves were despatched in advance with the baggage, while others followed in the rear, the lord and the lady being accompanied by those only whose services were deemed absolutely indispensable. The carriage which awaited the travellers outside the gate was the rheda, a sort of light vehicle drawn by a couple of swift ponies. The body of the carriage was ornamented with beautifully wrought foliage in metal, and Medusa heads. The hood of leather served as a protection against the hot rays of the midday sun, whilst the purple hangings, half fastened, admitted an agreeable current of cool air, and protected the inmates from being incessantly seized by the hands, addressed, or kissed, by passers-by. This exceedingly disagreeable fashion, which began to prevail under Augustus, is ridiculed in several humorous epigrams by Martial. Not merely at the official morning salutation, but at every meeting in the streets, a person was exposed to a shower of kisses, from friends and acquaintances, in fact from any one who desired to show  p271 his attachment, whether farmer, tailor, barber, shoemaker, or what not. The misanthrope Tiberius, who was unwilling to be humbled by this custom, issued an imperial decree against it; but it does not seem to have done much good, as the jokes of the poet above alluded to prove. In winter only was it improper to annoy another with one's cold lips.

Roman villas, as a general rule, but especially those of the Campagna, were divided into two distinct and independent portions. The first comprised the lord's manor, with more or less spacious gardens surrounding it: the second comprised the farmer's house, the various stables and barns, the dwelling of the slaves, orchards, olive-yards, vineyards, cornfields,º woodlands, and so forth.

The characteristic of an ornamental Roman garden was the entire absence of natural beauty. Its style can be compared, to a certain extent, to the French and Italian villas  p272 of the sixteenth century. No tree or shrub dared to grow in its own natural fashion, for the topiarius, or head gardener, was ready instantly to force it into the prescribed form. The allées were shut in by walls of green box or laurel, with windows, doors, and niches imitating the architecture of palaces. Here and there appeared threatening forms of wild beasts, bears and lions, serpents winding themselves round the trees, all cut by the skilful hand of the topiarius out of the green cypress, box, yew-tree, myrtle, and laurel. The reluctant foliage was compelled to imitate letters, indicating in one part the name of the owner, in another the name of the artist to whose invention the garden owed its present appearance. Grounds laid out in this style, in which vegetation is forced into stiff geometrical figures, and every vestige of nature's free dominion annihilated, are not only described by ancient writers, especially in the famous letter of Pliny the younger, on his Laurentine estate, but actually painted, I might almost say photographed, in the frescoes of Pompeian dining-rooms, in those of the greenhouse in the gardens of Maecenas on the Esquiline, and in those found in the villa of Livia, ad Gallinas Albas, near the eighth milestone of the Via Flaminia. An excuse for such absurdities can be found in the fact that the means afforded by nature in those days were but small in comparison with the abundant resources of our time. Foreign countries had not as yet unfolded their rich treasures of rare and splendid vegetation, nor their thousand shrubs and flowers: restricted to a barren flora, but little improved by culture, the Romans sought to create, by artificial means, a striking contrast to the free forms of nature. This is, at all events, the excuse given by Becker.

The trees represented in the magnificent paintings of the villa of Livia are the laurel, the pomegranate, the stone  p273 pine, three different kinds of firs, corbezzoli, popularly called sea cherries, ilexes, plane trees, myrtles, and cypresses. Great ingenuity was displayed in training ivy, evergreens, and acanthus upon the walls, the trees, and the terraces. Patios were usually covered with trellises and green arbors, constructed of canes and vines; and their floors were spread with yellow golden sand. Windows were generally lined with flower pots.

Greenhouses were very common; winter grapes, asparagus, gherkins, watermelons, and flowers were forced, by the proper exposure of the conservatories to the mid-day sun, and by a proper shelter of glass. Much might be said concerning the flowers known to the Romans; for, though the flora of those days was but poor in comparison with ours, still there is no truth in the assertion that the Romans contented themselves solely with wild plants, and neither laid out flower gardens, nor cultivated any exotics. Violets and roses were certainly the main ornament of pleasure grounds. Next came the bulbous roots, the crocus, narcissus, lilies of more than one sort, iris, hyacinths, poppy, amarynth,º and so on. The Roman flower, however, the flower par excellence, was the rose. So excessive was the demand for roses in the cold season, that to supply the requirements of the market, and to meet the deficiency of native production, they were imported from Egypt; means were employed, of course, for keeping them as fresh as possible during the journey. Another famous place for the winter rose trade was Paestum, and the surrounding lowlands, bordering on the Gulf of Salerno, biferi rosaria Paesti, as Virgil calls those gardens, because they bloomed for a second time in the late autumn.

We must not suppose that all the villas of the Roman Campagna were absolutely identical in stiffness, of the type  p274 I have attempted to describe; and that in every one of them nature was constrained into uncongenial forms. I have excavated and examined one, at least, from which art had been thoroughly banished, and everything left to the free play of nature. The author and inspirer of this magnificent park is the over-calumniated young Emperor Nero, the Hausmann of ancient Rome. The place selected by him is one of the wildest gorges of the Simbruine spurs of the Apennines, a little above the modern town of Subiaco. Through this gorge the icy stream of the Anio forces its way, leaping by three graceful falls into the valley below. By damming it three times, with dams more than two hundred feet high, he created three mountain lakes, where he could indulge in the sport of trout fishing and in cold bathing, his passion for hydropathy being well known. These sheets of water were overshadowed by enormous oaks and beeches, and overhanging rocks, in the interstices of which grew arborescent ferns. The two hunting lodges, on either side of the glen, were connected by a bridge spanning the abyss at a prodigious height. One of these lodges, discovered three years ago, directly under the famous Sacro-Speco, the abbey founded by St. Benedict, makes us wonder at its extreme simplicity. But what perfection in that simplicity! What exquisite wall paintings! what exquisite mosaic pavement, and marble ornamentation! We found, in the course of the excavations, only one marble statue, and that lacks a head; but this statue, headless as it is, is perhaps the only purely Greek work which has come to light since I began to take an interest in excavations. It represents a youthful male figure, nude, in a leaning posture, perhaps engaged in athletic exercises. The Secretary of State for Public Instruction, to whom the care of national monuments belongs, has accepted our suggestion of leaving the statue  p275 close by; and henceforth visitors will surely be struck by the appearance of this wonderful specimen of Greek art under the mediaeval cloisters of an abbey, hidden in one of the wildest cañons of the central Apennines.

Trajan, who was fond of warlike and hunting sports, moved a step farther in the direction chosen by Nero; he built another lodge, on the very summit of the pass leading from Nero's villa to the source of the Anio, at a height of 3,200 feet above the sea. Words cannot properly describe the natural attractions of the place selected by the imperial sportsman for his summer residence. Limestone peaks 7,000 feet high, marked occasionally with snow even in the heart of summer; green valleys, resorted to as a summer pasture-ground by flocks of cattle from the Campagna; dense oak and beech forests, the haunts of bears and wolves; mountain streams teeming with trout, — in fact all the characteristics and beauties of a modern Alpine summer resort, with the addition of a magnificent marble palace, furnished with the treasures of the world.

Hadrian, the successor of Trajan, inherited his passion and love for travel, for mountains, and for fine natural scenery; only he went much higher. If the Torre del Filosofo, the striking ruin near the top of Mount Etna, did really belong to a lodge built by Hadrian, we have in it an instance of a Roman summer palace 3,631 feet higher than the Rigi Kulm, and 3,277 feet higher than Mount Washington.

A very interesting chapter might be written on the destruction of the villas of the Campagna, during the appalling vicissitudes which shook and nearly annihilated the Peninsula, in the fifth and sixth centuries of our era. I do not belong to the school which condemns the barbaric  p276 hosts, and holds them responsible for the material destruction of Rome and its immediate surroundings. The barbarians took gold, silver, bronze, jewelry, whatever could be easily moved and carried away; they may have set fire to a few monuments in the excitement of battle, or out of spite; in their ignorance and in their hatred of the Latin name, they may have knocked down from their pedestals statues of emperors and gods; but it would be folly to throw upon them the blame and the shame of the destruction of substantial marble, stone, and brick buildings. They did not have time to indulge in that sort of sport; they did not possess the proper tools to accomplish such Titanic deeds; they did not care to commit acts of vandalism from which they could reap no benefit. Rome should be destroyed by its own inhabitants; and, if I dared to deviate from the subject of this chapter, I could easily prove how perfectly true is the statement, announced in the Preface, that during the glorious cinquecento more harm was done, more destruction was accomplished, more monuments were overthrown, than in the course of the preceding ten centuries.

As regards the Campagna, however, there is no doubt that the barbarians were the indirect cause of its abandonment and devastation in the fifth and sixth centuries after Christ. In that age not only ad the patrician families lost nearly all the fortune necessary to keep up those costly establishments, because the latifundia, which they possessed in the various provinces of the empire, gad already fallen into the hands of the invader; but the insecurity of the Campagna, even during the interval of peace between two successive incursions, had become so great, that no one any longer dared to leave, even for a short time, the shelter of the town walls. Moreover, by the cessation of the supply  p277 of water, the most important source of life, health, and wealth had been withdrawn from the Campagna. And finally, we have the positive evidence of an eye-witness, the Byzantine historian Procopius, that during the numberless sieges of Rome by the Goths and Vandals, the districts surrounding their camps were given up occasionally to merciless devastation. In the account of the Gothic war, Procopius describes one of these camps established by the barbarians among the arcades of the great aqueducts, at the sixth milestone of the Via Latina, between the picturesque tower, known by the name of Torre Fiscale, and  p278 the modern race-course at the Capannelle. Here the two main aqueducts of the Claudia and of the Marcia cross each other twice, leaving, between the first and the second crossing, an oval space, two thousand feet long by six hundred wide, encircled by lofty arches, and presenting the aspect of an amphitheatre. This enclosure the Goths fortified by walling up the arches with huge stones; and they established themselves within, within all possible comfort. They numbered seven thousand men, not including the outposts. Here they remained many months, waiting for the proper occasion to storm the city. In the mean time they spent their leisure hours in setting fire to neighboring villas, in uprooting trees, in violating tombs, and in destroying farms, until an outbreak of pestilence obliged them to leave their fortified camp and disperse. Commendatore de Rossi has collected important evidence on the accuracy and truthfulness of the account by Procopius of this episode of the Gothic war. In 1853 he saw many tombs in the course of excavation in the modern road to Albano, and within half a mile of the Torre Fiscale. These tombs were built with the spoils of more ancient ones, and contained skeletons covered with rich clothes woven with golden thread. Of the skeletons were bound around the loins and the breast with bands saturated with blood. "I at once recalled," Commendatore de Rossi says, "the account of Procopius, and thought myself in the presence of Roman or Gothic warriors, whose wounds had been hurriedly dressed, and who had been slain during that murderous campaign." This supposition was confirmed by discoveries made near and on the same spot in 1876, and described by the same distinguished archaeologist.

In spite of the devastation of the Campagna, which closely followed the fall of the Empire; in spite of its present  p279 state of abandonment and solitude; in spite of the works of improvement begun by our national government, which threaten to change altogether the aspect of this venerable district, there are still, there always will be, nooks and corners which will enable one to form a vivid idea of its ancient beauty. Take, for instance, the Casino del Ligorio and its surroundings, in the Vatican gardens. It is a perfect image of an ancient country-house. Take, also, the Villa Barberini, at Castel Gandolfo, which I consider not only the very finest I have ever seen, but also the one which comes nearer than any other to the type of an ancient suburbanum. It is true that its general plan and outline follow precisely the plan and the outline of the glorious villa of Domitian, which that emperor built on the  p280 west slope of the Lake of Albano, uniting in one body his own with the villa of Clodius and Pompey the Great. But the ancient ruins, the foundation walls of the huge terraces, the nymphaea, and other remains are so completely concealed and screened by a thick growth of ivy, ferns, and other evergreens, that one feels, more than sees, the antiquity of the place. By a singular coincidence, no tree, no shrub, no flower, no bird, that is not purely classic, seems to be allowed to live in this magnificent domain. In looking at the groups of aged ilexes, pines, firs, cypresses, corbezzoli, laurels, myrtles, and pomegranates, which shade the lawns in graceful and picturesque clusters, one is led to remember the frescoes representing the villa of Livia. No flower is allowed to diversify the emerald green of the lawns, except the classic rose and violet. And to make the illusion more perfect, flocks of peacocks have selected the groves of this villa for their abode, and increase the variety of the scene with the brilliancy of their plumage. As to the view which one commands from the Villa Barberini, there is perhaps more classic history contained in the district stretching far away, from the foot of the Alban hills to the Mediterranean, from the promontory of Circe to Mount Soracte, from Ostia to the Tiber, than in all other districts of Italy together. Another particular worth mentioning is this: it was a well-known custom of Roman patricians to build the last resting-place of the family within the precinct of the paternal villa, — a pious and touching practice, almost completely abandoned and forgotten by modern generations! It has not been forgotten, however, in this Villa Barberini at Castel Gandolfo, and the family tomb has been raised in the lovely pine forest which borders the domain on the side of the Lake of Albano.

 p281  The number of ancient family crypts and mausoleums scattered all over the Campagna is really astonishing; and whereas it helps us to form an idea of the number of ancient villas, within the precincts of which those tombs were raised, it enables us, in many cases, to identify the name of the family to which the property belongs; because we seldom find a tomb, without finding, at the same time, epitaphs and inscriptions relating its history. Among the many thousand tombs which have been discovered in modern times in the Campagna, and among the many hundred which have been discovered by myself, or in my presence, one has always attracted and captivated my sympathy more than any other, — the tomb of a beautiful, fascinating girl of the highest aristocracy, whose premature death has been so sadly and touchingly described by Pliny the younger, in the sixteenth letter of the sixth book. I refer to the sepulchre of Minicia Marcella, daughter of Minicius Fundanus, brought to light by military engineers, on the very top of the Monte Mario, the highest summit in the vicinity of Rome, when they were laying the foundations and digging the moat of the new fortress, which commands the approach to Rome from the upper valley of the Tiber. The family crypt of the Minicii presented the appearance of a room, twenty-six feet square, of modest acuZZZ, with brick pavement, door, steps, and posts of common stone, and walls simply whitewashed. When the stillness and solitude of the place was first broken, and we stepped over the threshold which had never been violated since the burial of the girl, seventeen centuries and a half ago, I saw six marble sarcophagi, without inscriptions, set up in couples against three sides of the cell. Near the wall facing the entrance there stood a marble cippus, or cinerary urn, inscribed with the name of Statoria Marcella, the mother of our heroine.  p282 The cippus, or cinerary urn, contained the ashes of this lady. A fine piece of marble, exquisitely carved and ornamented, stood in the centre of the room. The inscription engraved upon it reads as follows:


"To the soul of Minicia Marcella, daughter of Fundanus; died at the age of twelve years, eleven monts, and seven days." C. Minicius Fundanus, father of the girl, was consul from the first of May to the first of September, in the year 107; and governor of Asia Minor in 124. Being a cultivated gentleman, he enjoyed the intimacy of many distinguished contemporaries, — of the Emperor Hadrian, of Pliny the younger, and especially of Plutarch, who speaks of him in his book on "Equanimity," and introduces him, as a leading personage, in his dialogue "De Cohibenda Ira," — "How to check Anger." There is no doubt that Fundanus and Statoria were the parents of the young girl whose tomb we discovered on the Monte Mario: as a proof, we have the beautiful letter of Pliny, above alluded to, addressed to their common friend Marcellinus, of which letter I will give a few extracts: "I write to you with my soul deeply saddened and distressed, on account of the death of the younger daughter of our Fundanus, a bright, lovable, attractive girl, worthy not only of a longer life, but I might almost say of immortality. Although she had not yet completed her thirteenth year, se united the wisdom and the gravity of a matron to the simplicity and gentleness of a girl, the modesty and sweetness of a virgin. With tranquillity, patience, and strength of mind she supported her fatal disease, followed the advice of the attending physicians, consoled her father and elder sister, and maintained the declining strength of her body with the  p283 vigor of her mind! Already she was betrothed to a worthy young gentleman; the day of the marriage had been settled, the invitations issued. I cannot express to you in words the sense of grief I experienced, when I heard Fundanus order that all the money which had been put aside for the trousseau, and settled on for the marriage, should be devoted to the ceremony of the cremation of the poor body." Pliny then urges his friend Marcellinus to hasten his return, that he may comfort Fundanus in his terrible affliction and bereavement, and concludes his letter with the following exquisite sentence: "As it happens that the wounded body dreads, at first, the hand of the surgeon, later endures it, and finally seeks it with anxiety, so the soul, depressed or bent down with sorrow or grief, rebels, at first, against words of comfort, later hears them with resignation, and lastly seeks them as the sweetest balsam for a wounded heart."

The Author's Notes:

1 zzz

2 zzz

Thayer's Note:

a The two ill-fated brothers: For once, Lanciani has missed a good story; read it in Cassius Dio, LXXII5.3 ff..

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