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Bill Thayer

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

by George Dennis

published by John Murray, Albemarle Street
London, 1848.

The text is in the public domain.


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 p194  Chapter XII


Cernimus exemplis oppida posse mori.

— Rutilius.

Multa retro rerum jacet, atque ambagibus aevi
Obtegitur densâ caligine mersa vetustas.

— Sil. Ital.

These headings of the author's are used here as local links to text on this webpage.
Let the page load completely before clicking on them.

Local Chroniclers Annio of Viterbo, and his forgeries Viterbo supposed to be the Fanum Voltumnae Vestiges of an Etruscan town The Museum of Etruscan relics Tomb of the beautiful Galiana Lions of Viterbo

Appendix. Surrina Galiana's epitaph

Almost every town in Italy and Spain has its chronicle, written generally by some monk, who has made it a labour of love to record the history, real or imaginary, of his native place from the creation down to his own time. In these monographs, as they may be termed, the great object appears to be to exalt the antiquity and magnify the pristine importance of each respective town, often at the expense of every other. It is this feeling which has ascribed to many of the cities of Spain a foundation by Japhet or Tubal-Cain; and to this foolish partiality we owe many a bulky volume replete with dogmatical assertions, distortions of history, unwarranted readings or interpretations of ancient writers; and sometimes even blackened with forgery.

Among those who have been guilty of this foulest of literary crimes, stands foremost in impudence, unrivalled in voluminous perseverance, Fra Giovanni Nanni, commonly called Annio di Viterbo, a Dominican monk of this town, who lived in the fifteenth century. He was a wholesale and crafty forger; he did not write the history of his native place, but pretended to have discovered fragments of various ancient writers, most of which are made, more or  p195 less directly, to bear testimony to its antiquity and pristine importance. Besides these fragments of Berosus, Manetho, Archilochus, Xenophon, Fabius Pictor, Cato, Antoninus, and others, he forged, with the same object, a marble tablet with an edict purporting to be of King Desiderio, the last of the Lombard dynasty, in which it is decreed that "within one wall shall be included the three towns, Longula, Vetulonia, and Tirrena, called Etruria or Viterbum,"​1 which city Annio further attempted to prove one of the Twelve, and the metropolis of ancient Etruria. His forgeries for some time imposed on the world; but they have been long exposed, and he is now universally regarded as an impostor.2

One of his statements, however, that Viterbo was the site of the Fanum Voltumnae, the shrine at which the princes of Etruria were wont to assemble in frequent conclave to deliberate on the affairs of the Confederation — has been assented to by many of his opponents, and is an opinion still generally entertained.​3 That the Fanum was somewhere in this district is probable enough; but as Livy,  p196 who alone mentions it, has given no clue to its locality,​4 and as no inscriptions have thrown light on the subject, it can be but pure conjecture to assign to it this or that particular site. Viterbo, inasmuch as it contains a church named Santa Maria in Volturna,​5 may be considered as having some claims to that honour, certainly much stronger than can be argued for Castel d'Asso. Yet such is far from amounting to positive evidence, for, to say nothing of the corruption of words in the course of two thousand years, Voltumna or Volturna was a deity of the Etruscans, and probably had many temples in different parts of the land.6

Though Viterbo has been a bone of contention to archaeologists, ever since the days of Annio, its name contains a clear indication of its antiquity, being evidently composed of Vetus urbs.​7 There are, moreover, indisputable proofs of the existence of an Etruscan town on this spot, in the numerous sepulchral caves in the cliffs around, and in the tombs which from time to time have been excavated, yielding genuine Etruscan objects, some of which are preserved in the Museum of the city. No remains of the ancient town itself are now extant, beyond the foundations of a bridge near the cathedral, composed of large rectangular blocks of emplecton, in six courses, rusticated and uncemented,​8 and sundry sewers cut in the  p197 neighbouring cliffs. The name of the ancient town seems from Latin inscriptions to have been Surrina or Sorrina.9

The Museum is in the Palazzo Comunale, and though the collection of antiquities is small, it is worth seeing. It is under the care of the Canon Don Luca Ceccotti, a gentleman of whose urbanity I retain grateful recollection. In the court-yard below are several sarcophagi of nenfro, with bas-reliefs on the sides, and the effigy of the deceased as large as life reclining on the lid. In the cabinet of the Museum up-stairs, are similar sarcophagi of terra-cotta. The collection of Etruscan relics comprises urns, vases, and other articles of pottery, conical cippi with sepulchral inscriptions, a few small idols of bronze, and other objects of the same metal. The pottery is plain, either black or uncoloured, showing antiquity, not richness or elegance — being generally of coarse material, and comprising none of the beautiful, figured, Greco-Tyrrhene vases of the more luxurious cities of Vulci, Tarquinii, or Clusium. Here is also a collection of geological specimens from the neighbourhood. In another room in the palace is the marble tablet with the decree of the king Desiderio, already mentioned, the authenticity of which has given rise to so much discussion,​10 — and the Tabula Cibellaria, another of Annio's forgeries, by which he sought to make it appear that his town was as ancient as Corythus, or prior to the foundation of Troy.

In the square in front of this palace, fixed against the wall of the church of St. Angelo in Spata, is a marble  p198 sarcophagus with a bas-relief of a lion fighting a boar, with hunters around, called by some Etruscan,​11 but evidently of Roman workman­ship. An inscription attached shows it to have been raised in honour of a Viterbian damsel of the olden time, who had such extraordinary beauty, that, like Helen, she was made the cause of a war — "causa teterrima belli." On her account the city was besieged by the Romans; and after unsuccessful assaults they agreed to raise the siege, on condition of the fair Galiana displaying her charms from the ramparts — an instance of "the might, the majesty of loveliness" never surpassed in any age.12

It may partly be owing to this Italian Helen that the daughters of Viterbo still enjoy a proverbial reputation for beauty. But these are delicate matters not to be handled by an antiquary. What more shall I say of Viterbo? It is the second city in the Papal State within the limits of ancient Etruria, and can boast of thirteen or fourteen thousand inhabitants, and in former times was often the residence of the Popes. I will say nothing of the remains of Santa Rosa, the holy patroness of the city — of the pulpit of San Bernardino of Siena — of the celebrated "Deposition" of Sebastian del Piombo, from the design of Michael Angelo — of the palace where Olimpia Pamfili held her revels — of the Gothic Cathedral, stained with the royal blood of England​13b — are they not all written in the guidebooks of Starke and Murray? Yet I must testify to the  p199 neatness and cleanliness of Viterbo — to the Tuscan character of its architecture — to its well-paved, ever dry streets — to its noble fountains, proverbial for their beauty — all so many evidences of its vicinity to the frontier of the more civilised Dukedom — and above all in importance to the traveller, to the comfort and civility experienced in the spacious hotel of the Aquila Nera, which he should make his head-quarters while exploring the antiquities of the neighbourhood.


Note I. — Surrina.

The existence of a "Surrina Nova" is made known by sundry inscriptions, most of which have been found in the neighbourhood. In some we find "Surrinenses" (Muratori, 201, 6, and 1083, 8); in another "Sorrinenses Novenses," (Mariani, de Etrur. Metrop. p125). "Sorr." occurs in a fragment in the house of the Cristofori at Viterbo, and "Sorr. Nov." in an inscription in the church of S. Flaviano at Monte Fiascone. The names of Surina, and Civitas Surinae, were attached to the place in the middle ages; and Surianum is said often to occur in old documents. Orioli (Nouvel. Ann. Inst. 1836, p41) says, the town of Surrina Nova stood half a mile from Viterbo, just where Annio placed it, between the Grotta di Riello, the stream of the Arcione, and the modern baths, where are numerous ruins, and traces of a town, so manifest that one must be blind not to perceive them. The same author, in opposition to Marini (Frat. Arval. II. p424), who referred Surrina Nova to Soriano on the eastern slope of the Ciminian, would rather consider that town to be the Surrina Vetus, from which this, distinguished as Nova, may have been originally peopled. But to me it appears more probable, that the old town of this name was that on the very site of Viterbo, on the heights of the Cathedral, as already stated, and that when the Roman settlement was made on the lower ground, indicated by Orioli, it received the epithet of "Nova," while that on the original site was distinguished only as "the old town," — vetus urbs — of which Viterbo is obviously a derivative. In the seventh and eighth centuries, says Inghirami, (Mem. Inst. IV.  p200 p204, and Mon. Etrus. IV.p145), they began to record Beterbon, Veturbium, Viterbium, Castrum Viterbii.

That the long lost Vetulonia occupied this or a neighbouring site, is an opinion held not only by Annio, and the early antiquaries of Italy, but even in our own times has found its advocates, who cite in support of their views the oriental magnificence of the sepulchres of Norchia and Castel d'Asso (Inghir. Mem. Inst. IV. p98 et seq.). This has been ably controverted by Dr. Ambrosch, in his reply to the letters of Inghirami on the subject. A much more probable site will be indicated for Vetulonia in a subsequent chapter.

Note II. — Galiana.

For the satisfaction of the curious in such matters, I give the doggerel hexameters of Galiana's epitaph. —

Flos honor patriae, species pulcherrima rerum,

Clauditur hic tumulo Galiana ornata venusto;

Foemina si qua polos conscendere pulchra meretur

Angelicis manibus diva hic Galiana tenetur.

Si Veneri non posse mori natura dedisset,

Nec fragili Galiana mori mundo potuisset.

Roma dolet nimium; tristatur Thuscia tota;

Gloria nostra perit; sunt gaudia cuncta remota;

Miles et arma silent, nimio perculsa dolore.

Organa jam fidibus pereunt caritura canoris

Anno milleno centeno terque deceno

Octonoque diem clausit dilecta Tonanti.

Galianae Patritiae Viterbensi,

Cujus incomparabilem pulchritudinem

Insigni pudicitiae junctam

Sat fuit vidisse mortales,

Consules majestatis tantae foeminae

Admiratione hoc honoris ac pietatis

Monumentum hieroglyphicum exscerp.


The Author's Notes:

1 Elsewhere, in his work, "Antiquitatum Variarum Volumina," p12, Annio calls the four cities of the Tetrapolis "Voltursena, Vetulonia, Tusca, and Harbanum." In the Palazzo Comunale are the arms of the town, supported by two lions, with the letters F.A.V.L., which are explained as "Fanum Auguste Volturne Lucumonum, and this doggerel distich below:

Hanc Fanum, Arbanum, Vetulonia, Longula quondam

Oppida, dant urbem prima elementa F.A.V.L.

2 The authenticity of the Desiderio decree has been much disputed. Even Holstenius (Adnot. ad. Cluver., p68) contended for its authenticity; and as late as 1777 Faure maintained it to be genuine.

3 Cluverius, II. p565; Cellarius, Geog. Ant. tom. I. p581; Ambrosch, Mem. Inst., IV. p149. Perhaps the forged fragments of the Itinerary of Antoninus, long received as genuine, in which Annio places "Fanum Volturnae" immediately after "Juga Cyminia," on the road to Volsinii, may, in some degree, have favoured this opinion. Orioli (Ann. Inst. 1833, p26), however, thinks the reasons adduced in its support quite as frivolous as those which would place Vetulonia, Longula, and Arbanum on this site.

Thayer's Note: Dennis will favor Montefiascone as the site of the Fanum Voltumnae; see his Chapter 28 (and the notes there) for the details.

4 Liv. IV. 23, 25, 61; V.17; VI.2.

5 Lanzi. Saggio, II. p107; Camilli, Mon. di Vit., p13, 39. On this fact rests the sole argument for the Fanum being on this site.

6 Orioli (Nouv. Ann. Inst. 1836, p41) thinks that nothing more can be deduced from this, than that a temple to Vertumnus at some period or other occupied this site.

7 Yet old Fazio degli Uberti could find another derivation —

"Che nel principio Veghienza fu decta,

Sino al tempo che a Roma fu nemica,

Ma vinta poi agli Roman dilecta,

Tanto per le buone acque e dolcie sito

Che' n vita Erbo del suo nome tragecta."

— Dittamundi, III. cap. 10.

8 Urlichs (Bull. dell' Inst. 1839, p74) calls the blocks peperino, but they are of the same hard green sandstone that forms the pavement of the town. In dimensions and arrangement they are like Etruscan; but the material differing from the red tufo rock on which they rest, and the general style of the masonry, make me unhesitatingly pronounce them of Roman construction. This hill, on which the cathedral stands, down to the thirteenth century was called Castellum Herculis. Its cliffs are pierced with sewers and caves, as are also two neighbouring heights — that to the north, on which stand the churches of San Giovanni and Sant Agostino, is honey-combed with caves.

9 See Appendix, Note I.

10 It may be found in Gruter, p220.

11 Camilli, Monum. di Viterbo, p18.

12 See Appendix, Note II.

13 The cathedral is dedicated to S. Lorenzo, and occupies the site of a temple to Hercules, mentioned in early Christian documents. Orioli thinks the transfer of worship from Hercules to St. Laurence easy and natural enough, as both met their death in a somewhat similar manner; and he further suggests that some ancient picture of Hercules on the funeral pile may have given the idea of substituting for him this particular saint. Nouv. Ann. Inst. 1836, pp44 and 48.

Thayer's Notes:

a There would be a lot to say on the subject — never have I seen so many depictions of lions in a single town — but Dennis forgot to say it, or took it out, leaving only this tease of a caption.

b On March 13, 1271, while at Mass in the church of S. Silvestro (now the Gesù), Henry of Almain, son of Richard, Earl of Cornwall and nephew of King Henry III, was murdered by his cousins Guy and Simon de Montfort to avenge the murder of their father, the elder Simon de Montfort, by the then future King Edward I. Since King Henry had gone to bat on behalf of the Montforts, though, the crime was seen as particularly heinous, and Dante puts Guy de Montfort in the seventh circle of Hell for it (Inferno, XII.115). Some twenty years later, Pope Martin IV pardoned the Montfort brothers.

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