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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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 p62  Chapter III


. . . . tot vacuas urbes!

— Lucan.

Revolving, as we rest on the green turf,
The changes from that hour when He from Troy
Went up the Tiber.


These headings of the author's are used here as local links to text on this webpage.
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The banks of the Tiber Site of Antemnae Anglo-Roman Sports Campagna scenes and sounds Sites of ancient deeds Ponte Salaro Site and vestiges of Fidenae Historical notices A panorama

Appendix. The eight captures of Fidenae

If from Veii the traveller follow the course of the Crémera for five or six miles, it will lead him to the Tiber, of which it is a tributary. In the cliffs of the lonely but beautiful ravine through which it flows he will observe in several places sepulchral caves, particularly at the end nearer Veii; and on reaching the mouth of the glen, he will have, on the right, the ruin-capt heights which are supposed by Nibby and Gell to have been the site of the Castle of the Fabii.

Exactly opposite the mouth of this glen, and on the other bank of the Tiber, rises the hill which was once crowned by the city of Fidenae. This, though beyond the bounds of Etruria Proper, being on the left bank of the Tiber, was an Etruscan city,​1 and in all probability a colony of Veii; for Livy speaks of the consanguinity of the inhabitants of the two cities.​2 It seems at least to have been  p63 dependent on Veii, and was frequently associated with her in opposition to Rome. Its history, indeed, save that on several occasions it fell into the hands of the Romans, is almost identical with that of Veii.

The traveller who would visit the site of Fidenae, had better do so from Rome; for unless, like Cassius, he be prepared to

          "leap into the angry flood
And swim to yonder point,"

he will find no means of crossing "the troubled Tyber;" and rapid and turbulent is the current at this point.​3 It is but a short excursion — only five miles — from Rome, and the road lies across a very interesting part of the Campagna. There are indeed two roads to it. One, the carriage road, runs direct from the Porta Salara, and follows the line of the ancient Via Salaria. But the traveller on foot or horseback should quit the Eternal City by the Porta del Popolo, and leaving the Florence road on the left, take the path to the Acqua Acetosa. Here a green hill — one of those bare, square table-lands, so common in the Campagna — rises on the right. Ascend it where a broad furrow in the slope seems to mark the line of an ancient road. You are on a plateau, almost quadrangular in form, rising steeply to the height of nearly two hundred feet above the Tiber, and isolated, save at one angle where it is united to other high ground by a narrow isthmus. Not a tree — not a shrub on its turf-grown  p64 surface — not a house — not a ruin — not one stone upon another, to tell you that site had been inhabited. Yet here once stood Antemnae, the city of many towers,​4 one of the most ancient of Italy.​5 Not a trace remains above ground. Even the broken pottery, that infallible indicator of bygone civilisation, which marks the site and determines the limits of habitation on many a now desolate spot of classic ground, is here so overgrown with herbage that the eye of an antiquary alone would detect it. It is a site strong by nature, and well adapted for a city, as cities then were; for it is scarcely larger than the Palatine Hill, which, though at first it embraced the whole of Rome, was afterwards too small for a single palace. It has a peculiar interest as the site of one of the three cities of Sabina, whose daughters, ravished by the followers of Romulus, became the mothers of the Roman race.​6 Antemnae was the nearest city to Rome — only three miles distant — and therefore must have suffered most from the inhospitable violence of the Romans.

It was a bright spring morning when I first visited the spot. All Rome was issuing from its gates to witness the meeting of the huntsmen at the tomb of Caecilia Metella. Shades of Flaccus and Juvenal! can ye rest amid the clangour of these modern Circenses? Doth not the earth weigh heavy on your ashes, when "savage Britons," whom ye were wont to see "led in chains down the Sacred Way," flaunt haughtily and mockingly among your hearths and altars? — when, spurning the sober pleasures of the august and solemn city, in the pride of their wealth and power, they startle all Rome from its propriety by races  p65 and fox-hunts, awakening unwonted echoes among the old sepulchres of the Appian Way, and the ruined aqueducts of the Campagna?

Here, beyond the echo of the tally-ho, I lay down on the green sward, and gave myself up to enjoyment. Much was there to afford delight — the brightness and beauty of the scene — the clear blue sky — the genial warmth of the sun, by no means oppressive, but just giving a foretaste of his summer's might — there was the interest of this and other sites around — and there was Livy in my hand. No one can thoroughly enjoy Italy without him for a companion. There are a thousand sites and scenes which might be passed by without interest, but which, once touched by the wand of this magician, rise immediately into life and beauty. Be he more of a romancer than historian — I care not; but prize him as among the first of Roman poets. To read him thus, reclining on the sunny sward, with all the influences of nature congenial, and amid the scenes he has described, was perfect luxury.

Here no sound —

Confusae sonus urbis et illaetabile murmur —

told of the proximity of the city. Rome seldom, save on great festive occasions, raises her voice audibly. Never does she roar tempestuously like London, nor buzz and rustle like Paris or Naples — at the most she utters but, as Carlyle would say, "an inarticulate slumberous mumblement." She is verily more "blessed" in the want than in the possession of the "noise and smoke" of Horace's time. —

Omitte mirari beatae
Fumum et opes strepitumque Romae.

Far beneath me, at the foot of the steep cliff which bounds Antemnae to the north, flowed the Anio, not here the "headlong" stream it shows itself at Tivoli, and higher  p66 up its course,​7 but gliding soberly along to meet its confluent Tiber.​8 Beyond it, stretched a long level tract of meadow-land, dotted with cattle; and bounding this, a couple of miles or more distant, rose another eminence crested by some building and jutting out from the adjoining heights till it almost overhung the Tiber. This was Castel Giubileo, the site of the ancient Fidenae. On the low hills to the right, Romulus, when at war with that city, laid his successful ambush.​9 But in the intervening plain was fought the desperate conflict between the Romans and the allied forces of the Veientes and Fidenates, in the reign of Tullus Hostilius. With Livy's vivid page before me, it required little imagination to people the scene anew, and to picture the army of Veii crossing the Tiber, and joining the troops of Fidenae in this plain. The Romans, encamped at the confluence of the streams at my feet, advance to meet them. Tullus Hostilius marches his forces along the Tiber to the encounter. Mettus Fuffetius,º his ally, the leader of the Albans, meditating treachery, and willing to throw his weight into the heavier scale, is creeping up the hills on the right, where with his army he remains a spectator of the combat, till fortune befriends the Romans. Here I see the Fidenates flying back to defend their city; and there the Veientes are driven into the Tiber, or cut down in numbers on its banks. And I shudder to behold in imagination the terrible vengeance inflicted by the victorious Roman upon his treacherous ally.10

On the same field was fought many a bloody fight between  p67 the Romans and Etruscans. Here, in the year of Rome 317, the Fidenates, with their allies of Veii and Falerii, were again defeated, and Lars Tolumnius, chief of the Veientes, was slain.​11 And a few years later, Mamilius Aemilius and Cornelius Cossus, the heroes of the former fight, routed the same foes in the same plain, and captured the city of Fidenae.​12 Here too, Annibal seems to have pitched his camp when he marched from Capua to surprise the City.13

I turned to the right, and there, at the foot of the hill, the Ponte Salaro, a venerable relic of antiquity, spanned the Anio. It may be the identical structure which, in the year of Rome 393, was the scene of many a fierce encounter between the Romans and Gauls encamped on opposite banks of the stream, and on which Manlius Torquatus did combat with the gigantic Gaul who had defied the Roman host, and, like another David, smote his Goliath to the dust.14

I turned to the left, and yon ruins on the further bank of the Tiber, marked the supposed site of the Castle of the Fabii; nearer still several crumbling towers indicated the course of the Flaminian; and yon cave at the base of a cliff was the celebrated tomb of the Nasoni. Further down the Tiber was the Ponte Molle, the scene of Constantine's battle with Maxentius, and of the miracle of the flaming cross. On every hand was some object attracting the eye by its picturesque beauty, or exciting the mind to the contemplation of the past.

The Ponte Salaro is on the line of the ancient Via Salaria, the high road to Fidenae. It is a very fine bridge, of three arches; the central one, eighty feet in  p68 span, and about thirty above the stream; the side ones stilted, and not more than twelve feet in span. The structure is faced with travertine; but this indicates the repairs made by Narses in the sixth century after Christ; the original masonry, which is uncovered in parts, is of tufo, in the Etruscan style, and may possibly be of Etruscan construction; as it may be presumed were most of the public edifices in Rome and her territory for the first few centuries of her existence. Its masonry is rusticated, and in the arrangement and dimensions of the blocks precisely similar to that of the ancient walls at Sutri, Nepi, Civita Castellana, Bieda, and other Etruscan sites in the southern district of the land. It is at least of the time of the Republic.

Just beyond the bridge is an osteria, in which was once a Roman sepulchre, where he who foots it to Fidenae may refresh himself with tolerable wine. The road runs through the meadows for a couple of miles to Castel Giubileo. In the low hills to the right, are caves, which have been tombs. Just before Fidenae, at a bend in the road, stands the Villa Spada, the height above which is supposed by Gell to be the site of the Villa of Phaon, the scene of Nero's suicide.15

The first indications of the ancient city are in the cliffs on the right of the road, in which are remains of tombs with niches, and a sewer,​16 all excavated in the rock beneath the city-walls — walls, I say, but none exist, and the outline of the city is to be traced only by the character of the ground and the extent of its fragments of pottery. The height above the tombs bears these unequivocal traces of bygone habitation; and at certain parts on the edge of the cliffs are remains of opus  p69 incertum, probably of some Roman villa. The hill of Castel Giubileo, on the other hand, has also formed part of the city, and its steep, lofty, and isolated character has with great probability caused it to be regarded as the Arx of Fidenae.​17 A farm-house now crests its summit, raised to that elevation for protection, not from man's attack, but from a more insidious foe, the malaria of the Campagna. The ancient Via Salaria, whose course the modern road follows, passed between these two eminences, that is, through the very heart of Fidenae. In the cliff beneath the farmhouse is another tomb. Sepulchres were often hollowed out beneath, though very rarely within, the walls of Etruscan cities. The whole face of the steep, at the time I first visited it, was frosted over with the bloom of the wild pear-trees which clothe it, tinted with the rosy flowers of the Judas-tree —

          "One white empurpled shower
Of mingled blossoms."

Had the whole city been comprehended on this height, it would be easy to understand Livy's description; "the city, lofty and well-fortified, could not be taken by assault;"​18 but as it also covered the opposite eminence, the walls which united them must have descended in two places, almost to the very level of the plain. These were the vulnerable points of Fidenae, and to them was perhaps owing its frequent capture. It seems very probable, from the nature of the position, that the earliest town was confined to the height of Castel Giubileo. Yet, in this case, Fidenae would scarcely answer the description of Dionysius, who says, "it was a great and populous city"  p70 in the time of Romulus.​19 This was probably meant in a comparative sense, in reference to the neighbouring towns. It would seem, however, that Fidenae was never of great size or importance. It was little more than two miles in circuit. Its vicinity to and frequent contests with Rome gave it a prominence in history, to which, from its inferior size and power, it was not entitled.

Making the circuit of Castel Giubileo, you are led round till you meet the road, where it issues from the hollow at the northern angle of the city.​20 Beside the tombs which are found on both sides of the southern promontory of the city, there is a cliff, running far into the rock, and branching off into several chambers and passages. Fidenae, like Veii, is said to have been taken by a mine;​21 and this cave might be supposed to indicate the spot, being subsequently enlarged into its present form, had not Livy stated that the cuniculus was on the opposite side of Fidenae, where the cliffs were loftiest, and that it was carried into the Arx.

The chief necropolis of Fidenae was probably on the heights to the north-east, called Poggio de' Sette Bagni, where are a number of caves; and here, also, are traces of quarries, probably those of the soft rock for which Fidenae was famed in ancient times.22

The ruin of Fidenae is as complete as that of Antemnae. The hills on which it stood are now bare and desolate; the shepherd tends his flocks on its slopes, or the plough furrows its bosom. Its walls have utterly disappeared; not one stone remains on another, and the broken pottery  p71 and the tombs around are the sole evidence of its existence. Yet, as Nibby observes, "few ancient cities, of which few or no vestiges remain, have had the good fortune to have their sites so well determined as Fidenae."​23 Its distance of forty stadia, or five miles from Rome, mentioned by Dionysius,​24 and its position relative to Veii, to the Tiber, and to the confluence of the Anio with that stream, as set forth by Livy,​25 leave not a doubt of its true site.

The history of Fidenae is a series of struggles with Rome, of captures and rebellions, if the efforts of a people to free themselves from a foreign and unwelcome yoke may be thus designated. We have no less than eight distinct captures of it recorded.​26 Livy sneeringly remarks, "it was almost more often captured than attacked."​27 It was first taken by Romulus, and by him made a Roman colony; and such it continued, save at intervals when it threw off the yoke, till its final capture and destruction in the year of Rome 328.​28 Its destruction was an act of policy on the part of Rome. She had experienced  p72 so much annoyance from the towns in her immediate neighbourhood, especially from Fidenae, which she had subdued again and again, and re-colonised with Romans: but the hostility of the original inhabitants being ever ready to break forth, made it a thorn in her side; and it was undoubtedly to rid herself of these foes at her very gates, that she either destroyed or suffered to fall into decay Fidenae, Antemnae, Veii, and other towns of the Campagna. The destruction of Fidenae was complete, and in after ages its desolation became a bye-word.​29 Yet its site seems to have been inhabited in the time of Cicero,​30 and still later it was a village,​31 or more probably only the site of some private villa.​32 Under the Empire it seems to have increased in importance, for an amphitheatre of wood was erected there, in the reign of Tiberius, which gave way during the performance, and fifty thousand persons were mutilated or crushed to death by its ruins.​33 It must not, however, be supposed that such was the population of Fidenae in those times, for Tacitus states that a great concourse flocked thither from Rome, the more abundant from the propinquity of the place.​34 Fidenae continued in existence long after this; for it is mentioned in Roman inscriptions of the close of the third, and by the Peutingerian Table in the fourth century.

 p73  Though there are so few local antiquities — little more than associations of the olden time — remaining at Fidenae, the scenery should alone be sufficient to attract the visitor to the spot. From these heights you look down on "the yellow Tiber" winding through the green valley — rafts floating down its stream, and buffaloes on its sandy banks, slaking their thirst, or revelling in its waters. That opening in the cliffs on its opposite bank is the glen of the Crémera, whose waters, oft dyeing the Tiber with crimson, told the Fidenates of the struggles between their kinsmen of Veii and the common foe. Those ruins on the cliff above the glen are supposed to mark the site of the Camp of the Fabii, that band of heroes, who, like Leonidas and his Spartans, devoted themselves to their country, and fell in her cause. Further, in the same direction, yon distant tree-capt mound points out the site of Veii; it is the tumulus of Vaccareccia. On the high ground to the left may be recognised the palace at Isola Farnese, and the inn of La Storta; and the solitary towers at intervals between this and Rome, mark the line of the Via Cassia. There you see the undulating heights around the lake of Bracciano; and the grey head of the Ciminian beyond; the tufted cone of Monte Musino; and that pyramid of Nature's raising, Soracte, rarely now snow-capt as in days of yore,​35 but towering in the dark and lonely grandeur from the plain. Do you seek for snow? — turn to the range of Apennines, whose frozen masses are glittering like ice-bergs in the sun, piled above nearer and darker heights, among which Monte Gennaro, the "Lucretilis amoenus" of Horace,​36 stands prominent; and at its feet Tivoli, ever dear to the poet,37  p74 sparkles out from the dense olive-groves.​38 There, where the purple range sinks to the plain, "cool Praeneste" climbs the steep with her Cyclopean walls.​39 Here, as your eye sweeps over the bare Campagna, it passes the site of many a city, renowned in the early history of Italy, but now, like Fidenae and Antemnae, in utter desolation, and lost to the common eye.​40 And there, on the slope of the Alban, that most elegant of mountains, with its soft flowing outlines and long graceful swells, still brightened by towns — once stood Alba, the foster-mother, and rival of Rome; Tusculum with its noble villas its Academy, where the greatest of Romans lived, wrote, debated, taught, and where —

"Still the eloquent air breathes, burns, with Cicero;" —

and from its highest peak shone the Temple of Jove, the common shrine of the Latin cities, a worthy altar to the King of Heaven. Then, after again sweeping the surface of the wide Campagna, strewn in this quarter with league-long lines of ruined aqueducts, with crumbling tombs, and many a monument of Roman grandeur, your eye reaches at length the Imperial City herself. She is in great part concealed by the intervening Pincian, but you catch sight of her most prominent buildings — the pinnacled statues of St. John Lateran, the tower and cupolas of S. Maria Maggiore, and the vast dome of St. Peter's; and you look in imagination on the rest from the brow of Monte Mario, which rises on the right, crested with dark cypresses and snow-white villas.



Fidenae was taken, 1st, by Romulus, who pursued the routed citizens within the gates. Liv. I.14; Dion. Hal. II, p116; Plut. Romul.

The 2nd time by Tullus Hostilius, who reduced it by famine. Dion. Hal. III, p172.

The 3rd by Ancus Martius, by means of a cuniculus. Dion. Hal. III, p180.

The 4th by Tarquinius Priscus, by storm. Dion. Hal. III, p194.

The 5th in the year of Rome 250, by the Consuls Valerius Poplicola, and Lucretius Tricipitinus, also by storm. Dion. Hal. III, p310.

The 6th in the year 256, by the Consul Largius Flavus, by famine. Dion. Hal. III, p325.

The 7th in the year 319, by the Dictator A. Servilius Priscus, by means of a cuniculus. Liv. IV.22.

The 8th, and last time, in the year 328, by the Dictator Mam. Aemilius Mamercinus, in the same manner as it was first taken by Romulus, (Liv. IV.34,) though Florus (I.12) says it was set on fire by its own citizens.

The Author's Notes:

1 Liv. I.15; Strab. V, p226.

2 Liv. l.c. Plutarch (Romul.) says Fidenae was claimed by Veii. Dionysius (II, p116) says that Fidenae was originally a colony of Alba, formed at the same time as Nomentum and Crustumeria, and that the founders of these three towns were three brothers, of whom he of Fidenae was the first-born. Virgil also cites it among the Alban colonies (Aen. VI.773). Solinus (Polyhistor. II, p13) gives it the same origin, and says it was settled by Ascanius himself. According to Plutarch (Romul.), Fidenae, in the time of Romulus, was possessed by the Sabines. Niebuhr (II, p455, trans.) thinks the Fidenates were originally Tyrrheni, and that when Livy calls them Etruscans, — nam Fidenates quoque Etrusci fuerunt — it is through the ordinary confusion between the Tuscans and Tyrrhenes. Müller (Etrus. Einl. 2.14) thinks there must have been in the population of Fidenae the same three elements as in that of Rome — Etruscans, Latins, and Sabines. Livy (I.27) makes it clear that the native language of the Fidenates was not Latin. Martial (IV. Epig. 64 v. 15) testifies to the antiquity of Fidenae.

3 Dionysius (III. p165) notices this fact.

4 Turrigerae Antemnae, — Virg. Aen. VII.631.


Antemnaque prisco

Crustumio prior. —

Sil. Ital. VIII.367. cf. Dion. Hal. II, p103.

6 Liv. I.9, 10; Dionys. II, p101; Plut. Romul. The other two were Caenina and Crustumium.

7 "Praeceps Anio." Hor. Od. I.7.13; Statius, Silv. I, 5, 25.

8 Varro (de Ling. Lat. V.28) says the name of the city was derived from its position. "Antemnae, quod ante amnem qui Anio influit in Tiberim." Servius (Aen. VII.631) and Festus (v. Amnenses) say the same.

9 Liv. I.14; Dion. Hal. II, p117; Plut. Romul.; Frontin. Strat. II.5. 1.

10 Liv. I.27, 28; cf. Dion. Hal. III, p161‑172; Flor. I.3; Val. Max. VII.4. 1; Ennius, Ann. II.30, et seq.; A. Vict., Vir. Ill., IV.

11 Liv. IV.17, 18, 19.

12 Liv. IV.32, 33, 34.

13 Liv. XXVI.10.

14 Liv. VII.9, 10; Serv. Aen. VI.825; Aul. Gell. IX.13. Dio Cassius (Excerp. Mai, tom. II. p530), makes it the king of the Gauls whom Manlius slew, transferring his greatness from his stature to his station.

15 Gell. I, p439.

16 An upright channel cut in the rock, about six feet high, and two wide.

17 Gell I, p441. The character of the ground exactly tallies with Livy's description, that it was steepest on the side furthest from Rome — ab aversâ parte, suâpte naturâ tutissima erat. Liv. IV.22.

18 Liv. loc. cit.

19 Dion. Hal. II, p116. Silius Italicus (XV.90) testifies to the early power of Fidenae, while he hints at its subsequent decay.

20 This is the steepest and most impregnable side of Fidenae, and as such is referred to by Dionysius (V, p310), and more expressly by Livy (loc. cit.).

21 Liv. loc. cit. Dionysius (III, p180) mentions a prior capture of Fidenae by Ancus Martius by means of a cuniculus.

22 Vitruv. II.7; Plin. XXXVI.48.

23 Nibby II, p51.

24 Dion. Hal. II, p116, III, p167, and X, p648. Strabo V, p230. It is the first station from Rome on this road in the Peutingerian Table, which calls it six miles distant — reckoning from the Forum.

25 Liv. I. 14, 27; IV. 17, 21, 31, 32, 33, 34, see also Dionysius, III, pp165, 181, 191, 193.

26 See the Appendix to this Chapter.

27 Liv. IV.32, — prope saepius captas quam oppugnatas.

28 Florus (I.12) speaks of it as having been burnt by its inhabitants, — cremati suo igne Fidenates — the proto­type of Moscow. Yet not many years after, shortly after the Gauls had evacuated Rome, we hear of the Fidenates, in conjunction with some of the neighbouring people, suddenly rising, and striking such terror into the Romans, that they commemorated the event ever after by a public festival on the Nones of July, called "Populifugia" or Poplifugia. Varro de L. L. VI.18; Macrob. Saturn. III.2. Dionysius, however (II, p118),º gives a very different version of the origin of this festival, referring it to the time immediately subsequent to the death of Romulus. This discrepancy leads Arnold (II, p10) to regard the story as "uncertain," and Niebuhr (II, p573) justly doubts if these towns could have been left standing at the period of the Gaulish invasion.

29 Hor. Epist. I.XI.7. —

Gabiis desertior atque

Fidenis vicus.

30 Cic. de Leg. Agrar. II.35.

31 Strabo V, p226.

32 Strabo V, p230.

33 Tacit. Ann. IV.62, 63. This number is confirmed by the anonymous author of the Olympiads (Ol. 201, 2) quoted by Cluverius (II, p657), but according to Suetonius (Tiber. 40) twenty thousand only perished in the ruins.

34 Tacitus (l.c.), Juvenal (VI.56, X.100) too, who wrote not many years after this, speaks contemptuously of Fidenae, and by coupling it with Gabii seems to refer to the proverb, cited by Horace. Livy also (V.54), and Virgil (Aen. VI.773) couple these towns together. cf. Propert. IV.1. 34, 36.

35 Vides ut altâ stet nive candidum Soracte, &c. — Hor. Od. I.9, 1.

36 Hor. Od. I.17.1.


Tibur, Argeo positum colono,

Sit meae sedes utinam senectae!

Hor. Od. II.6.5.


Densa Tiburis umbra.

Hor. Od. I.7.20.

39 Hor. Od. III.4.22; Juven. Sat. III.190.

40 Pliny (III.9) enumerated fifty-three towns of ancient Latium, which in his day had utterly perished, without a trace remaining — interiere sine vestigiis — among them were Antemnae and Fidenae. But, as regards the latter, this is hardly in accordance with the facts mentioned in p72.

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