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Chapter 1
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 3



In the preface to his beautiful volume, "Ancient Rome in 1885," Professor Henry Middletonº announces the discovery of an Etruscan city "of great size and importance," said to have existed even "before the legendary regal period, on one of the largest hills" of Rome. This announcement has been made popular and more widely known by the comments published in English literary papers and reviews, especially by an elaborate criticism in the "Atenaeum" of February 6, 1886. The interest raised among students and amateurs by such an extraordinary statement can be easily understood. The existence of an Etruscan settlement on the ground afterwards occupied by the Eternal City would not only give "a serious blow to the long-established tradition of the early supremacy of the Latin race" on the region of the seven hills, but would also upset the notions established by the modern school regarding the origin and early history of Rome. As I have had officially the charge of scientific investigations in the area of the new quarters of the town, on the Esquiline and Viminal hills, in which the alleged discovery would have taken place, and as I have brought to light, as it were with my own hands, the many thousands of objects belonging to the archaic cemeteries of those same hills, upon the nature of which this new theory of a pre-Roman Etruscan city is based, I may be allowed, I hope, to express my opinion on the subject, en pleine connaissance de cause.

 p27  To begin at once with the conclusion, I say that nothing has been found within the last sixteen years, either in the new or in the old quarters of Rome, which can give any foundation to Professor Middleton's theory. What has been ascertained confirms fully and corroborates with additional evidence the conclusion at which modern science, palaeo-ethnology as well as history, had already arrived, namely, that Rome was founded by a colony of shepherds from the Alban hills, on ground which had never been occupied permanently before.

Many among my readers will recollect with delight the drive taken from Frascati to Castel Gandolfo and Albano, following the rim of the volcanic crater, which age has transformed into a lake, the Lago di Castello, one of the loveliest sheets of water in the world. On one side of the road, the precipitous cliffs descend almost perpendicularly far below the level of the deep greenish water; on the other side, the mountain slopes more gently toward the ancient Appian Way and toward the blue Tyrrhenian, undulating in rich pasture lands which are called the "Pascolare di Castello." It was precisely here, in the Pascolare di Castello, that in the early spring of 1817 a discovery took place, which, despised and neglected at the time, is now considered to be the most important ever made in connection  p28 with the foundation and early history of Rome. Some peasants of the neighborhood, having decided to plant new vineyards on the Monte Cucco and Monte Crescenzio, the highest hills of the Pascolare, cut a trench many yards long and four feet wide, to investigate the nature of the ground, and determine whether it would prove adapted to the cultivation of the grape.

First of all comes a stratum of modern vegetable soil, humus, fourteen inches thick; in the second place, a stratum, thirty-six inches thick, of the hardest kind of peperino, which is a volcanic stone produced by the mixture of greenish ashes with hot water; in the third place, an exceedingly narrow line of fossil vegetation. Then follows a bed, about fifty inches thick, of yellowish volcanic ashes; and underneath, other more or less compact volcanic matters, such as lapilli, tufa, and again ashes and peperino. Taking into consideration only the four upper strata, it is evident that after the eruption of yellowish ashes a long period of comparative tranquillity must have elapsed, during which plants and grass could grow and vegetate abundantly on the surface of the ashes. Then another eruption of lava followed, which was evidently the last of its kind in this district of the Pascolare, but not the last in the history of the  p29 Alban craters. The discovery above alluded to took place in the bed of yellowish ashes immediately under the lava. Here began to appear to the astonished eyes of the peasant hand-made and sun-dried jars, of an exceedingly rough kind of terra cotta, each one containing one of those vases shaped like a prehistoric hut, which have been accordingly called by Sir John Lubbock hut-urns. Each hut-urn contained the remains of an incinerated body, with fibulae and other objects in amber and bronze, and it was surrounded by vases and utensils of every shape and description.

As soon as the news of the find spread, it was met at first with incredulity; the superstition of the peasant was also aroused, as if the evil spirit himself, or a supernatural power, had accomplished the deed of concealing treasures in the thickness of a virgin rock. But when the news reached the ears of the authorities and of scientific men, a legal compte-rendu of the discovery was drawn by the hand of a public notary, and Alessandro Visconti was asked to illustrate it from an archaeological point of view. In Visconti's pamphlet, Sopra alcuni vasi sepolcrali rinvenuti nelle vicinanze dell' antica Alba Longa, the true explanation of the mystery, wonderful to say, is given at once. He describes the jars as cinerary urns buried by volcanic eruptions, but fails to trace any connection between this fossil cemetery and Alba Longa and Rome.

 p30  Tambroni, who wrote a Lettera intorno alle urne cinararie dissotterrate nel Pascolare di Castel Gandolfo, suggested the idea that the cemetery belonged to barbaric warriors of the fifth century of our era; the learned Duc de Blacas came back to Visconti's opinion, modifying it according to his own judgment; and finally, Giuseppe Ponzi, the late leader of Italian geologists, decided that the vases had not been buried by the lava eruptions, but had been introduced under the lava bed from a Roman road which crosses the Pascolare close by.

The controversy was finally settled in May, 1867, fifty years after its origin, by a committee composed among others of Professors Ponzi, De Rossi, and Pigorini. They broke the crust of lava in many places, and succeeded in discovering jars and smaller pottery under the same conditions as those described by Alessandro Visconti. The scientific results of the inquiry were far more important. It was determined that traces of the work of man are to be found all over the northwest spurs of the Alban hills, and around the craters of Castello, Valle Marciana, and other volcanoes; in the second place, it was ascertained that the grass which grew in the period between the last two (ash and peperino) eruptions was the lolium perenne, the shape of the leaves and stems being still visible against the lower surface of the peperino; in the third place, that the district inhabited by the population to which the cinerary urns belong stretched between the famous caput aquae Ferentinae, in the Parco Colonna at Marino, and the cliffs of Palazzolo, the supposed site of Alba Longa, remains of square huts with hard blackened floor, traces of coal and domestic utensils, having been found, especially in the neighborhood of springs of pure drinkable water. In the fourth place, it was ascertained that  p31 the inhabitants of the slopes of the Alban volcanoes carried on a brisk traffic with their more civilized neighbors, the Etruscans; many specimens of Etruscan or Italo-Greek pottery, of a beautiful archaic pattern, having been found scattered on the floor, not only of tombs, but also of the square huts. It follows, evidently, from these facts, not only that the Alban shepherds, of a well-to‑do sort, imported foreign earthenware, but also that local manufacturers tried to imitate the shape and the style of the imported specimens by moulding their rough cups and flasks with a certain degree of approximation. Finally, it was determined that, although the use of iron may have been known in this district before the total extinction of the craters, no iron is to be found inside or near the cinerary urns above described. The tombs consequently belong to the prehistoric age of bronze.

What are the consequences to be drawn from the discovery of this geological Pompeii on the Alban hills? Let us compare the data concerning the history of the Latin volcanoes with the earliest traditional accounts of Alba Longa and Rome. If we could trust Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who describes Alba Longa as lying between the foot of Monte Cavo and the lake, near the modern Palazzolo, we ought to place the extinction of the Castello craters at a very remote period, before the first appearance of mankind in central Italy. It is impossible, in fact, to suppose that men would willingly and permanently settle within a few thousand feet from the mouth of a very active volcano. But students familiar with Dionysius will easily recognize that he describes the site of Alba as it appeared in his own age, not as it was in prehistoric times. One crater only was in full activity the year during and after the foundation of Alba, the crater of Monte Pila; its position, however, is such that a  p32 town at Palazzolo is absolutely out of reach of a direct lava eruption, although it may have been exposed to indirect havoc and danger from earthquakes and showers of ashes. Alba Longa was much safer than Nicolosi is now on Mount Etna, or S. Sebastiano on Mount Vesuvius. (See the accompanying map.) There is no possibility of denying the continuation of volcanic action long after the foundation of Alba Longa and Rome, during the period of the kings. Livy speaks so often, so minutely, and so exactly of eruptions, of showers of pumice-stones and ashes, of boati, or subterranean thundering noises, that it is impossible to resist his overwhelming evidence. The historian describes the eruptions with the phrase, In monte Albano lapidibus pluit — A rain of stones fell on the Alban hills. Sometimes he adds fuller particulars; In monte Albano biduum continenter lapidibus pluit — For two consecutive days and without intermission the shower of pumice-stones lasted. He picturesquely calls the "boati" vox ingens e luco et e summo montis cacumine — a supernatural voice from the woods which clothe the summit of the mountain. Is possible to suppose that so many characteristic circumstances should be a creation or a fiction of the historian's fancy? His accounts are proved absolutely correct by a decisive argument. In the early religion of Rome, there was a special ceremony to be performed, according to a prescribed ritual, every time an eruption was announced from the Alban hills: Quoties idem prodigium in monte Albano nunciaretur, feriae per novem dies agerentur. This religious practice shows how frequent and common phenomena of a volcanic nature were in Latium during the first centuries of Roman history.

I have now to bring evidence on three different points, to which allusion has briefly been made above. I have to  p33 demonstrate, first, that Rome was built by colonists from Alba Longa; secondly, that these colonists were simple shepherds; thirdly, that the foundation of Rome dates from the age of bronze, and was caused by the necessity felt by the Alban shepherds to escape from the threatening neighborhood of the volcano.

From these facts, duly verified and established, will follow the consequence that the Etruscans had nothing to do with the foundation of Rome, and that the theory proposed by Professor Middleton is not based upon the evidence of recent discoveries.

As regards the first point, we have in our favor early Roman traditions and the unanimity of early annalists and historians; although, of course, their evidence must be accepted with caution and with a certain degree of skepticism. Let me repeat what Livy remarks in the magnificent preface to his history: "Whatever tradition reports regarding the origin of Rome is to be taken rather as a poetical legend than as true history. We cannot condemn our ancestors, if, by mingling human and supernatural events, they gave an almost divine origin to their city. At any rate, if there is a people in the world which may claim and boast a direct descent from the gods, and can actually call Mars its founder and forefather, it is certainly the people of Rome, which, exchanging the shepherd's staff for the warrior's sword, his subjected the entire world to its rule."

It would, of course, be impossible to discuss in the compass of single chapter the general question of the credibility of early Roman history. We are already far, thank Heaven, from the period in which it was fashionable to follow the exaggerations of that famous hypercritical school which denied every event in Roman history previous to  p34 the second Punic war. Late discoveries have brought forth such a crushing mass of evidence in favor of ancient writers, and in support of their reports concerning the kingly period, that every detail seems to be confirmed by monumental remains. In our younger days, when we were stepping for the first time over the threshold of an archaeological school, we used to scorn the idea that a real Romulus had existed, and that such was the name of the builder of Rome. Philological researches have shown that the name of Romulus is a genuine one, and that it belongs to the builder of Rome, as we shall presently see. There is no doubt that the general spirit of modern criticism has been unreasonably skeptical and unduly captious with respect to early Roman history; any further attempt to diminish or to lessen the value of its traditional sources must henceforth be absolutely unsuccessful. What does tradition say, under the guise of poetical myth and legend, of the meeting of Rhea Sylvia with Mars, and of the exposure of the twin infants on the banks of the Tiber, at the foot of the Palatine hill? Nothing, except that the leader of the new group of settlers on the banks of the Tiber was a man from Alba, and a man of high birth, connected with the royal house of the Sylvii. The various and sometimes absurd versions of the event agree always on these two points, and we cannot be blamed if we accept them as historical truth.

The legend of Rhea Sylvia, the vestal virgin, the daughter of the kings, led into temptation by Mars, inspired many artists, whose masterpieces have come down to us intact. I shall mention one only, of comparatively recent discovery, a marble altar found at Ostia, in the office of the corporation of the Sacomarii, on the west side of the Area Cereris (the square surrounding the temple of Ceres).º On the opposite page is a sketch of this lovely piece, which dates from the time of Hadrian.

 p35  For the second point ascertained in connection with the building of Rome, namely, that the colonists from Alba Longa, the settlers on the Palatine were simple shepherds, we have to resort to philological arguments, which, however, are so powerful and convincing that not a trace of doubt will be left on the mind of the reader.

The oldest and most venerable sanctuary of kingly Rome was the Lupercal, a grotto consecrated by the emigrants from Alba to Faun, columns Lupercus; that is to say, the  p36 "driver-away of wolves" and the protector of herds. This grotto, through which an icy crystalline spring flowed into the green field below, opened under the northwest spur of the Palatine. On February 15, it was the centre of great rejoicings and of religious ceremonies called the Lupercalia, during which the head shepherds, clothed with skins, used to run around the precincts of their Palatine village, asking the protection of Faunus Lupercus on their flocks of sheep. These Lupercalia show clearly what was the condition of the founders of Rome: they were shepherds. I may remark also that it was the very last to die out, in the fight between Christianity and pagan superstition. Traces of it have been found as late as the end of the fifth century of the Christian era, under the pontificate of Pope Gelasius. It is evident from what I have said that the pasture grounds on the Alban hills having become inadequate to suppose the increased number of flocks, or having become insecure in consequence of violent volcanic eruptions, which followed a long period of calm, a certain number of owners of cattle assembled, and decided to migrate into a richer, larger, and more secure district. The luxuriant plains which stretched from the foot of the hill to the shore of the blue Tyrrhenian naturally attracted their attention. The migration began by exceedingly slow states; the shepherds advanced through the green fields until a mighty river stopped their journey, and obliged them to settle on its banks. Here they found a hill surrounded by almost inaccessible perpendicular cliffs, and protected besides by a circuit of deep marshes; here they found springs of pure water in a grotto which they dedicated at once to Faun, the god of the shepherds; here, accordingly, they settled and built a village, or rather a huge sheepfold. Such was the  p37  origin of Rome; such has been the origin of many other prehistoric settlements, which in process of time have taken a prominent place in the history of the world. Thus the central village of the Edomites in the plains of the Haûran, was named Bozrah, and Bozrah means a "fortified sheepfold." The hill on the banks of the Tiber, which harbored the Alban emigrants and their flocks, was named the Palatium or Palatinus monuments. The root of this name is Pales, the goddess of shepherds, the pastorum dea, whose feast, called Paliliae, fell on April the 21st. Such was the importance of Pales for the primitive inhabitants of the Palatine that the date of her festival, the 21st of April, has been universally accepted and recognized for the last twenty-five centuries as the date of the foundation of Rome itself, and we modern Romans are proud to keep it as a great national day, since very few celebrations are, like ours, two thousand six hundred and forty years old.

The fortified sheepfold or inclosure on the Palatine had a gate named Mugonia; the root of the name is mugire, the mooing of cattle. In the worship of their gods, the men of the Palatine used milk for the sacred libations. Could a more conclusive chain of evidence be desired?

The mighty river which washed the foot of the Palatine had, at that remote period, no special name; it was called Rumon, which means simply "a stream, a river." The inhabitants of the surrounding villages, which were mostly perched on high hills and mountains, Tusculum, Aricia, Alba, Tibur, Praeneste, having entered into commercial communications with the new settlement, began to name it from its most prominent topographical feature, from its connection with the Rumon or river: they called it Roma, which means the "town of the river," the "Stromstadt," as Professor Corssen has literally translated the word; they  p38 called the leader of the settlement Romulus, which means "the man from the town of the river."

All that I have said is so simple and matter of fact that it conveys persuasion at once, as plain truth always does. But if another argument is required to prove that the name Roma and romulus are derived from the aboriginal word Rumon or stream, here it is at hand. The gates of a town are not denominated from the town to which they belong, but from the place to which they lead. Thus some of the gates of Rome were named Tiburtina, Praenestina, and Ostiensis, because the roads issuing from them led respectively to Tibur, to Praeneste, and to Ostia. One of the gates of the early Alban settlement on the Palatine hill was called "Romana." It is evident that the name was given to the gate, not from the settlement itself, but because it led to the Rumon or river. And when the walls of the city were enlarged by Servius Tullius, the new gate leading to the river was likewise named Flumentana.

As to the epoch in which the foundation of Rome, this greatest event in the history of mankind, took place, it was, chronologically speaking, the seven hundred and fifty-fourth year before Christ; prehistorically speaking, it was the age of bronze.

The state of the ancient world in the year 754 B.C. was as follows: Egypt was ruled by the twenty-fourth Saitic dynasty, the last king of which, named Bokenranf by the Egyptians, Bokkoris by Herodotus,a was captured and burnt alive by the Ethiopian invader Shabak, sixteen years only after the foundation of Rome. Assyria was ruled by King Assurdanil, of the second dynasty, and was suffering a temporary decadence, which is figured in the legend of the first destruction of Nineveh and in the legend of King Sardanapalus. Ozia was king of Judah, and Zachariah  p39 (the fifth and last sovereign of the house of Jehu, afterwards murdered by Sallum) was king of Israel. The throne of China was occupied by the dynasty of the Cehoo, the third after Yas. Athens was undergoing a change in the form of its constitution, namely, the substitution of an Archon for ten years to an Archon for life. Alcmaeon is the last ruler of the old system; Charops begins the new. The year 754 is included in the fifth Olympiad, the champion of which, in the competition of the Stadion, was Polychares from Messene.

Such being the political and ethnographical conditions and divisions of the civilized world when Rome was founded, the inhabitants of Central Italy, Etruria excluded, had only attained that degree of civilization which is called the civilization of bronze. This statement is confirmed by many arguments. First, in the fossil cemetery of Alba Longa, buried by that volcanic conflagration which induced some of the Albans to migrate into the plain below, no trace of iron has been found, only of amber and bronze. Secondly: the same absence of iron has been noticed in the archaic tombs of Rome discovered within the walls of Servius Tullius, and consequently older than the walls themselves. In the third place, early Roman religious rites show such an abhorrence of iron that we may infer from it that iron was regarded as a profane innovation, as a material which could not be substituted for the venerable brass utensils without offence to the gods. I shall enter into more particulars on this subject, because to the attraction of novelty it joins the attraction of a profound interest, especially in a country like America, for which the prehistoric is the only possible kind of national archaeology.

Every student is familiar with the verse of Lucretius, —

"Et prius aeris erat quam ferri cognitus usus,"

 p40  (And the use of bronze was known before that of iron), because it proclaims a scientific law, which, forgotten for nearly twenty centuries, has only lately been revived. Lucretius must have drawn his information from early Roman rituals, in which the use of iron was anathematized, and forbidden to priests in their religious capacity, and excluded also from places of worship. Here are some instances of this practice:—

When a village or a town was founded, its limits were determined religiously by a furrow traced with a bronze plough, aeneo vomere; and this practice was maintained long after the contrivance of iron ploughs.

The flamen Dialis, one of the high priests of Rome, and belonging to an order instituted at a very remote period, could not shave himself or have his hair cut and trained with an iron razor or knife, — aeneis cultris tondebantur; it was his duty to make use exclusively of a bronze instrument. I may add that several bronze razors have been discovered in the archaic cemetery on the Esquiline.

The earliest of Roman bridges, built by Ancus Martius across the Tiber, one hundred and fourteen years after the foundation of the city, was called Sublician, because it was entirely constructed of wood. Among the details of its construction which have been transmitted to us, one is very characteristic: no iron had been used in building the bridge; and, on the strength of religious tradition, no iron was ever used in its subsequent restorations, even in the Christian era, down to the fall of the Empire. The fact is certified by Dionysius, V.24; Varro, V.83; Ovid, V.622; and Pliny, in the 36th book (c. 23) of his Natural History. Pliny, ignorant as he was of prehistoric antiquities, gives a wrong explanation of the fact: he says the Romans have always excluded iron from the Sublician bridge because, at the time  p41 of its gallant defence by Horatius Cocles, they had such a hard time cutting it down to prevent the enemy from crossing it. The explanation is absurd: iron was proscribed from the structure because iron was not known when the bridge was first thrown across the river, 114 A.U.C.

Macrobius, who wrote in the fifth century of our era, when Christianity had already become the religion of the state, says that, from a very remote period, brass instruments alone could be used for religious purposes. In consequence of this rule, which shows the tenacity and the antiquity of Roman religious practices, every time iron chanced to touch a temple, or a shrine, or any religious building made venerable by age, sacrifices had to be performed to expiate the profanation, except in those cases where the use of iron had been duly authorized and sanctioned by a decree of both the political and the religious authorities.

Many years ago, a bronze tablet was discovered among the ruins of Furfo, near the village of S. Nicandro, in the province of Aquila, which contains a rather remarkable document on this subject, namely, the law passed by the municipal magistrates for the building and dedication of a shrine to Jupiter. The law, dated July 11, of the year 58 B.C., and written in a rude kind of Latin, such as  p42 was spoken at that time among the mountains of Abruzzo, declares and provides that although the use of iron in religious buildings was not lawful, still, all circumstances being taken into consideration, its use was authorized in this shrine of Jupiter, and no expiatory sacrifices were required to purify the shrine from the unlawful contact.

More remarkable still is the instance afforded by the laws of the most antique and venerable of Roman religious brotherhoods, the College of the Fratres Arvales. The origin of this brotherhood is lost in the darkness of age: it was most likely imported into Rome from Alba together with the institution of the Vestal Virgins; at any rate, it is always mentioned by ancient writers in connection with Romulus, the founder of the city. It was composed of twelve members, selected from the highest patrician families, whose duty was to offer sacrifices on various days and months of the year to a goddess called Dea Dia, to implore the blessings of heaven on the produce of the soil, such as crops and harvests of every description, the vintage, and so forth. Their ceremonies correspond, to a certain degree, to the Christian ceremony of the Rogations.

They used to assemble in a little wood at the fifth milestone of the Via Campana, on the slope of the hills which now overlook the farm of La Magliana, the rendezvous de chasse of Pope Leo X, where he caught the fever which caused his death. The slope, now occupied by a vineyard belonging to the Ceccarelli family, was excavated from top to bottom in 1868 and 1869, at the expense of the Empress Augusta of Germany, and under the direction of the late Professor W. Henzen. The very temple of the Dea Dia was discovered, a round marble structure raised on a very high platform, on the vertical surface of which the annals, or yearly records, of the fraternity were engraved. To  p43 speak of the importance of these annals, which begin with the reign of Augustus and stop with that of Gordianus II, a lapse of two centuries and a half, and which contain an almost incredible amount of archaeological, historical, and chronological information, would not be consistent with the spirit of this chapter. I must notice, however, one particular, which is evidently a recollection of the age of bronze. The annals of each year were engraved on the marble basement of the temple during the month of April, and were engraved, of course, with iron or steel tools. To expiate this profanation, in the same month of each year sacrifices were offered, ob ferri inlationem et elationem, for the introduction and removal of iron within the sacred precinct: a sow and a sheep were slain over the altar, and their flesh was eaten afterwards by attendants and sacristans of an inferior order.

This horror of iron, however, is not the only recollection of prehistoric ages to be found in the ritual of this Arvalian brotherhood. There is another one, still more curious and characteristic. I have already spoken of the hand-made and sun-dried fossil pottery discovered in the volcanic district of Alba Longa and in the earliest cemeteries of Rome. The Romans knew that this rough kind of earthenware had been manufactured, as utensils of prime necessity, by their rough, uncivilized ancestors. Hence Tibullus wrote: Fictilia antiquus primum sibi fecit agrestis pocula (The ancient shepherd first contrived clay cups and vessels).º In memory of this primitive state of things, the use of earthenware was obligatory, or at any rate was preferred, in sacrifices and libations. "It is worth noticing," Pliny remarks, "how, in the incredible luxury of our age, libations are offered to gods, not with the cups of crystal and murrha, but with rough terra-cotta paterae." The same remark is made by Dionysius;  p44 and Valerius Maximus adds that the sacred fire of Vesta was kept in an earthen jar. Among the most venerable relics preserved in ancient Rome, there was one called the simpuvium Numae, the drinking-cup of Numa Pompilius. Juvenal (VI.341) describes it as a simple terra cotta tazza, of a dark color and evident made by hand, — a description which fits exactly the whole archaic suppellex discovered at Alba and at Rome. It is easy to understand that in the reign of Numa Pompilius ceramics were manufactured in that with prehistoric roughness, characteristic of the age of bronze. The worship of this ancient cup of Numa lasted until the fall of the Empire. In the annals, also, of the Arvalian brotherhood, the following record is many times engraved: Ollas precati sunt (They have addressed their prayers to earthen jars). Although it is obvious that a connection could be traced between this practice of the Arvalians and the worship of Numa's cup, still no evidence of the fact could be produced. But in 1870, a few weeks before the excavations of the Empress Augusta were brought to a close, there were found at the foot of the temple eighteen prehistoric cups, which, although in a more or less fragmentary condition, could be recognized as absolutely identical with the fossil pottery of Alba Longa.

Other prehistoric souvenirs, besides those already described, are to be found in ancient Rome. First, flint implements, arrow-heads, and paalstabs belonging to the age of polished stone. These were considered by the Romans as a product of lightning: inveniuntur in loco fulmine icto. Hence they are called gemmae cerauniae, meteoric gems, by Pliny; and lapides fulminis, lightning stones, by Sidonius Apollinaris. They were kept as amulets and sacred relics, on account of their celestial origin. A Latin inscription, published by Montfaucon (Orelli, 2510), speaks of a  p45 diadem ornamented with flint implements offered to Isis. Prudentius describes the helmets of the German tribes as crowned with flint arrow-heads. More important still is the testimonial of Claudianus, who speaks of the same implements discovered in the caverns of the Pyrenees, along the bed of the mountain torrents.

"Pyrenaeisque sub antris

Ignea flumineae legere ceraunia nymphae."

Who has not heard of the discoveries made by Lartet in the ossiferous caverns of the Pyrenees, of the Perigord, and of old Castile?

Not every Roman, however, believed this story of the electric origin of arrow-heads. Augustus, the founder of the Empire and a passionate student of palaeo-ethnology, made excavations in the prehistoric caverns in the island of Capri; and the res vetustate ac raritate notabiles, "the rare and curious things," which he found there are described by Suetonius (Aug. 72) as bones of giants, that is to say, of fossil gigantic monsters, and as arma heroum, weapons of men living in past forgotten ages, which is a tolerably good scientific definition. During my long experience in Roman excavations, twice only have I met with stone implements. An arrow-head, probably kept as an amulet, was discovered in 1874 in a tomb twenty-six centuries old, near the church of S. Martino ai Monti,º together with other bronze tools. In the same year, a paalstab of jadeite was found buried at a depth of thirty-eight feet under the Monte della Giustizia, near the central railway station; but it had no scientific value, as it was lying on the mosaic pavement of a Roman house, built in the year 123 of the Christian era. Nevertheless, we possess the evidence of the actual use of stone knives by the Romans. When a  p46 treaty of peace or a suspension of hostilities was sworn between Rome and its foes, the negotiator, called fecialis, would offer a sacrifice and kill the victims, saxo silice or lapide silice as Livy describes it (I. 2), a practice imported from the half-savage populations (Aequicoli) living in the upper valley of the Anio.

To cut the matter short, I will quote only one more instance, because it gives us an important and unbroken chain from the historic to the prehistoric times, between the age of gold and silver and the archaeolithic age.

There was well-known custom, in ancient times, of throwing votive offerings (sacrae stipes) into lakes, rivers, and springs, which were sacred to the gods, or were famous for their mineral hygienic properties. The custom dates from very remote ages, as the following discovery will testify. In 1852, the Jesuit fathers, owners of the celebrated sulphur springs called by us "Sorgenti di Vicarello," by the ancients "Aquae Apollinares," on the west border of the lake of Bracciano, sent from Rome a gang of masons to clear the mouth of the central spring, and to put the whole into neat order. In draining the well, a few feet only below the ordinary level of the waters they came across a layer of brass and silver coins of the fourth century after Christ. Then they discovered a second layer of gold and silver imperial coins of the best period, together with a certain quantity of votive silver cups. In the third place, they came across a stratum of silver family or consular coins, belonging to the last centuries of the republic, and under this they found bronze coins, sextants, quadrants, tridents, and so forth. Seeing that there remained nothing but brass to plunder, after having partaken of the precious booty in equal shares, the masons resolved to announce their discoveries. It is unnecessary to say that when Padre Marchi,  p47 the well-known numismatist, ran to the spot, he found only a few hundred pieces of aes grave signatum, the earliest kind of Roman coinage. Under these there was a bed of aes rude, that is to say, of shapeless fragments of copper, a kind of currency which preceded the use of aes grave signatum. At the bottom of the well, under the shapeless fragments of copper, there was nothing but gravel; at least the workmen and their leaders thought so. It was not gravel, however; it was a stratum of arrow-heads and paalstabs and knives of polished stone, offered to the sacred spring by the half-savage people settled on the shores of the Lago di Bracciano before the foundation of Rome. Thus this admirable chronological series of votive offerings, beginning with the age of stone, and perhaps with the first appearance of mankind in Central Italy, and ending with the fourth century of the Christian era, has been dispersed and made useless, in a certain degree, to science, partly by robbery, partly by ignorance. Still, the few hundred pieces saved by Padre Marchi, and deposited by him in the Kircherian Museum, Rome, are considered the finest numismatic group in existence with reference to the origin of Roman and Italian coinage.

Now that I have come to the end of this chapter, I feel almost sorry that I have confined myself to a strict scientific inquiry in connection with the origin of Rome, and have spoken the language of dry exactness, when I might easily have abandoned myself to the fascination of poetical and legendary traditions. The duty of a modern archaeologist is rather hard and unpleasant if he has any spark of enthusiasm and poetry in his soul; compelled as he is to demolish piece by piece theories which have been believed and cherished for centuries, and to refuse credence to legends which have inspired artists and writers in the creation of their masterpieces  p48 of art and literature. I recollect the thrill of emotion which I used to feel — and which I feel now in spite of conviction — in reading the speech which Livy attributes to Camillus (V.54) when he was trying to stop the emigration of his fellow-citizens to Veii: "Not without reason did gods and men select this site for the foundation of Rome: healthy hills; a convenient river, equally adapted to inland and maritime trade; the sea not too far off to prevent a brisk international trade, nor so near as to expose Rome to the danger of a sudden attack from foreign vessels; a site right in the centre of the peninsula, — a site made, as it were, on purpose to allow the city to become the greatest city in the world." We have seen, to our common regret, I trust, that no supernatural influence or inspiration, no deep political thought, presided over the foundation of Rome; that its origin must be attributed plainly to the duris urgens in rebus egestas, the necessity which compelled Alban shepherds to look for surer and better pasture grounds. We have seen that even its name is a matter-of‑fact name, derived from the most noticeable landmark of the place. But if we cannot admire the pretended political forethought and wisdom of the founders of Rome, we are compelled, at any rate, to admire their manly vigor, their indefatigable energy, which led them in a short time to exchange their pastoral rod for the sceptre of kings, and which turned them, to use the expression of Homer, from leaders of flocks into leaders of men.

The Author's Notes:

1 zzz

2 zzz

Thayer's Note:

a Herodotus never mentions Bocchoris under any spelling. Lanciani was thinking of Diodorus, who mentions him several times (I.45, 65, 79, 94‑95).

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