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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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 p78  Chapter XXXV


Lunaï portum est operae cognoscere cives!

— Ennius.

Anne metalliferae repetit jam moenia Lunae,
Tyrrhenasque domos?

— Statius.

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Luna an Etruscan town Its glorious port Site and vestiges of Luna Historical records Its produce Marble of Luna

The most northerly city of Etruria was Luna. It stood, indeed, on the very frontier, on the left bank of the Macra, which formed the north-western boundary of that land.​1 And though at one time in the possession of the Ligurians, together with a wide tract to the south, even down to Pisa and the Arno, yet Luna was originally Etruscan, and as such it was recognised in imperial times.​2 It was never  p79 renowned for size or power;​3 its importance seems to have been derived chiefly from its vast and commodious port, truly "worthy of a people who long held dominion of the sea,"​4 and which is now known as the Gulf of Spezia.5

Insignis portu, quo non spatiosior alter

Innumeras cepisse rates, et claudere pontum.​6

But its size and security are the least of its charms. To the tranquil beauty of a lake it unites the majesty of the sea. No fairer bay could poet sigh for, "to float about the summer-waters." Never did purer wave mirror more glorious objects. Shining towns — pine-crested convents — luxuriant groves — storm-defying forts — castled-crags —  p80 proud headlands — foam-fretted islets — dark heights, prodigal of wine and oil — purple mountains behind, — and naked marble-peaked Apennines over all,

"Islanded in immeasurable air."

About three miles from Sarzana, on the high-road to Lucca and Pisa, and just before reaching the modern frontier of Carrara, the traveller will have on his right a strip of low grassy land, intervening between him and the sea. Here stood the ancient city. Let him turn out of the high-road, opposite the Farm of the Iron Hand — Casino di Man di Ferro — and after a mile or more he will reach the site. There is little enough to see. Beyond a few crumbling tombs, and a fragment or two of Roman ruin, nothing remains of Luna. The fairy scene, described by Rutilius,​7 so appropriate to a spot which bore the name of the virgin-queen of heaven — "the fair white walls," shaming with their brightness the untrodden snow — the smooth, many-tinted rocks, over-run with "laughing lilies" — if not the pure creation of the poet, have now vanished from the sight. Vestiges of an amphitheatre, of a semi-circular building, which may be a theatre, of a circus, a piscina, and fragments of columns, pedestals for statues, blocks of pavement, and inscriptions, are all that Luna has now to show. The walls, from Rutilius' description, are supposed to have been of marble; indeed, Ciriacus of Ancona tells us that what remained of them in the middle of the fifteenth century, were of that material;​8 but not a block is now left to determine the point.

 p81  Since so little remains of the Roman town, what vestige can we expect of Etruscan Luna? No monument of that antiquity has ever been discovered on the site, or in its vicinity;​9 not even a trace of the ancient cemetery is to be recognized, either in the plain, or among the neighbouring heights, so that we might almost doubt the Etruscan antiquity of Luna; yet such is expressly assigned to it by the ancients. No record, however, has come down to us prior to Roman times.​b

The earliest mention we have of Luna is from old Ennius, who took part in the expedition against Sardinia, which sailed from this port in 539 (B.C. 215), under Manlius Torquatus; and the poet, struck with the beauty of the gulf, called on his fellow-citizens to come and admire it with him, —

"Lunaï portum est operae cognoscere, cives!"​10

The first historical notice to be found of Luna is in the  p82 year 559 (B.C. 195), when Cato the consul collected a force in the port, and sailed there against the Spaniards.​11 It is mentioned again in the year 568,​12 in 577, in the Ligurian War, it received a colony of two thousand Romans.​13 In the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, it is said to have been in utter decay, inhabited only by a venerable soothsayer —

Arruns incoluit desertae moenia Lunae.​14

But a few years later it was re-colonized by the Romans;​15 and inscriptions found on the spot prove it to have existed at the close of the fourth century of our era.

After the fall of the Roman Empire Luna was desolated by the Lombards, Saracens, and Normans, but it was a yet more formidable, though invisible, foe that depopulated the site, and that ultimately caused it, in the fifteenth century, to be utterly deserted.16

Luna, under the Romans, was renowned for its wine, which was the best in all Etruria;​17 and for its cheeses, which were stamped with the figure, either of the moon, or of the Etruscan Diana, and were of vast size, sometimes weighing a thousand pounds.​18 But what gave Luna most  p83 renown was her marble; known to us as that of Carrara. This does not appear to have been known in the time of Etruscan independence, for we find scarcely a trace of it in the national monuments;​19 and surely a people who made such extensive use of alabaster, and executed such exquisite works in bronze, would have availed themselves of this beautiful material, had it been known to them; yet, on the other hand, it is difficult to understand how its nivea metalla could have escaped their eye. It does not seem to have been discovered much before the Christian era. The earliest mention we have of it is in the time of Julius Caesar;​20 but a stone which was whiter than Parian marble,​21 and yet might be cut with a saw,​22 was not likely  p84 to be neglected by the luxurious Romans of that age; and accordingly it soon came into extensive use, as the Pantheon, the Portico of Octavia, the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, and other monuments of that period, remain to testify;​c and it was to this discovery that Augustus owed his boast — that he had found Rome of brick, but had left it of marble. From that time forth, it has been in use for statuary, as well as for architectural decoration; and from the Apollo Belvidere to the Triumphs of Thorwaldsen,​d "the stone that breathes and struggles" in immortal art, has been chiefly the marble of Luna.23

The Author's Notes:

1 Strabo, V.p222. Strabo speaks of Macra as a place — χωρίον; but Pliny is more definite in marking it as a river, the boundary of Etruria — flumen Macra, Liguriae finis patet ora Liguriae inter amnes Varum et Macram adnectitur septimae, in quâ Etruria est, ab amne Macra Tiberis amnis à Macra.

2 Much confusion has arisen from the contradictory statements of ancient writers in calling this territory sometimes Ligurian, sometimes Etruscan. On one side are Mela (II.4 — Luna Ligurum); Frontinus (Strat. III.2 — Luna, oppidum Ligurum); Persius (Sat. VI.6); Statius (Sylv. IV.3, 99);​a Justin (XX.1); Polybius (II.16); Aristotle (or the author of De Mirand. Auscultat., c94); Lycophron (Cassandra, 1356); cf. Juven. Sat. III.257; Liv. XXI.59. On the other hand, we have Strabo (V. p222); Pliny (III.8; XIV.8, 5); Silius Italicus (VIII.482); Lucan (I.586); Statius (Sylv. IV.4, 23); Martial (Epig. XIII.30); cf. Plin. XI.97; Ptolemy (Geog. p68, ed. Bert.); and Stephanus (sub voce Σελήνη); who all represent Luna as Etruscan. Livy (XLI.13) explains the discrepancy by stating that Luna with its ager was captured by the Romans from the Ligurians; but that before it belonged to the latter it had been Etruscan. Lycophron, however, represents the Ligures as dispossessed of Pisa and its territory by the Etruscans. Cluver (II p458) gathers from Servius (Aen. X.179), that Luna must have been founded some ages before the Trojan War.

3 Dempster erroneously classed it among the Twelve chief cities of the Etruscan Confederation (II. pp41, 80); so also Targioni Tozzetti (Viaggi in Toscana, X. p406); and to this opinion even a recent writer is inclined, on account of the port. Promis, Memorie della Città di Luni, p24. But Strabo testifies to the small size of Luna. Tozzetti says it was not more than two miles in circuit.

4 Strabo, loc. cit.

5 As that Gulf lies on the Ligurian, and Luna on the Etruscan side of the Macra, it has been supposed either that there was anciently a port, properly that of Luna, at the mouth of the river, on the spot now called the Marsh of Seccagna (Holsten. ad Cluver. p25; Targioni, Viaggi in Toscana, X. pp406, 440), or that the town occupied another site. It is true, as Promis observes (p15) that the alluvial deposits of the Magra have encroached much upon the sea, so as to have altered the course of the stream, and to have removed the site of the ancient town to a considerable distance from the shore. The whole plain in which it stands seems to have been formed by these deposits. Yet no harbour within the mouth of the stream would answer to Strabo's description, which manifestly refers to the Gulf of Spezia. Holstenius (pp26, 277), however, insists on the port being at the mouth of the Magra, and declares he saw the posts with rings attached, to which the ancient shipping had been moored. Cluver (II p456) placed the site of Luna at Lerici, in which he is followed by Mannert (Geog. p288), who thinks this the reason why the Latin corrector of Ptolemy, instead of Lunae Portus puts Ericis Portus. Others have also placed it on the right bank of the Magra; while Sarzana, Avenza, Spezia, even Carrara, have respectively been indicated as its site; and Scaliger went so far as to deny it a local habitation, and to submerge it beneath the sea. See Repetti, v. Luni, II. p936. Cramer (I. p171) however and Müller (Etrusk. einl. 2, 13) think its site is clearly established at Luni.

6 Sil. Ital. VIII.483. Pliny (III.8) also speaks of Luna as — oppidum portu nobile.

7 Rutil. Itiner. II.63 —

Advehimur celeri candentia moenia lapsu,

Nominis est auctor Sole corusca soror.

Indigenis superat ridentia lilia saxis,

Et laevi radiat picta nitore silex.

Dives marmoribus tellus, quae luce coloris

Provocat intactas luxuriosa nives.

8 Ciriacus, who wrote in 1442, is the earliest antiquary who gives us an account of Luni. He describes the blocks of marble as being 8 "paces" (palms?) long by 4 high. Promis does not credit him as to the material; all the remains of masonry at present on the spot being of the coarse brown stone from the neighbouring headland of Corvo; and the fragments of architectural or sculptural decoration, which are of marble, are not more numerous than on similar sites in Italy (pp. 61, 66). Müller (I.2, 4) credits both Ciriacus and Rutilius, and thinks these marble walls must have been of Etruscan times. Targioni Tozzetti (XII. p142) speaks of the walls as still of marble in his day.

9 Except a stone inscribed with Etruscan characters, found in the Val di Vara, many miles inland, at the head of the Gulf of Spezia. Promis, p61. No coins belonging to Luna have been discovered on the spot. Promis, p23. The bronze coin, with this name in Etruscan characters, has on the obverse a bearded, garlanded head, which Lanzi takes for that of the genius of the Macra; and on the reverse, a reed, four globules, and wheel divided into four parts, and surrounded with rays like a sun. Lanzi, II. pp26, 73, tav. I.10; Passeri, Paralipom. ad Dempst. tab. V.1. Müller (Etrusk. I p337) is inclined to refer these coins to Populonia; so also Mionnet (Supplem. I. pp199, 203), Sestini (Geog. Numis. II. p4), and Millingen (Numis. Anc. Ital. p173). A series of coins, with a young man's head wearing the cap of an Aruspex, and with a sacrificial knife, an axe, and two crescents, but no inscription, on the reverse, is supposed by Melchiorri to have belonged to Luna. Bull. Inst. 1839, p122.

10 Ennius, ap. Pers. Sat. VI.9; cf. Liv. XXIII.34.

11 Liv. XXXIV.8.

12 Liv. XXXIX.21.

13 Liv. XLI.13. Whether Luna or Luca is here the correct reading, is disputed. Vell. Paterculus (I.15) has Luca. Promis (p29) thinks Luna was intended; but Repetti (II. p939) holds the opposite opinion.

14 Lucan. I.586. Here again some editions have "Lucae." Dante (Inferno, XX.47) places this soothsayer in the mountains —

Che ne' monti di Luni, dove ronca

Lo Carrarese che di sotto alberga,
Ebbe tra bianchi marmi la spelonca

Per sua dimora; onde a guardar le stelle
E 'l mar, non gli era la veduta tronca.

15 By the Triumvirate, under the Lex Julia. Frontin. de Colon. p19, ed. 1588.

16 There is an old legend which ascribes its destruction to another cause. The lord of Luna won the affections of a certain Empress, who, to obtain her end, feigned herself dead; her lover playing the resurrectionist, and carrying her to his own house. This coming to the ears of the Emperor, he not only took vengeance on the offenders, but laid the city in the dust. Alberti, Descrit. d'Italia, p22.

17 Plin. XIV.8, 5.

18 Martial. XIII. epig. 30; Plin. XI.97. Though the Greek writers translate the name of this town by Σελήνη, and though a moon seems to have been the symbol of Luna under the Romans (Mart. loc. cit.), we have no ground for concluding that such was the meaning of the Etruscan name. Some have thought that Luna was derived from the form of its port — even Müller (Etrusk. I.4, 8) held this opinion — but the name is not at all descriptive of the harbour, which cannot be likened to a moon, whether full, half, or crescent. Lanzi suggests that "losna," the name attached to a goddess with a crescent as her emblem, represented on a mirror (Saggio, II. p26, tav. 8; see also Gerhard, Etrusk. Spieg. taf. CLXXI), may be the ancient Latin form; Müller thinks it the Etruscan. But this is certainly a Roman monument. It appears to me highly probable that Luna was an Etruscan word, misinterpreted by the Romans. For the three chief ports on this coast, as we learn from coins, had this termination to their names — Luna, Pupluna (Populonia), and Vetluna (Vetulonia); and as no inland town of Etruria had the same ending, it is not improbable that Luna had a maritime signification, and meant "a port" — this, which has no prefix to its name, being, from its superior size, pre-eminently "the port" of Etruria.

19 The only instance I remember of such marble being used in an Etruscan work (not to mention the inlaid letters at the Augustine Convent, Cervetri, see page 27), is in the Cathedral of Corneto, where an inscription is carved on a slab of that material. See Etruscan_marble "onMouseOver="return Ebox(INARRAY,0,WIDTH,175)" onMouseOut="nd();"> vol. I. p279. Kellermann (Bull. Inst. 1833, p61) gives another inscription on a cone of marble, also, he says, now in Corneto. The statue of Ilithiyaº in the Volterra Museum is not of Luna marble.

20 Mamurra, Praefect of Caesar's army in Gaul, was the first who had his house lined with marble, and every column in it was of solid marble, either from Carystos or Luna. Corn. Nepos, ap. Plin. XXXVI.7.

21 Plin. XXXVI.4, 2. Strabo (V. p222) says truly that the quarries of Luna yielded not only white, but variegated marble, inclining to blue.

22 Plin. XXXVI.29. Lunensemº silicem serrâ secari This silex has been supposed only a white tufo, not marble (Quintino, Marmi Lunensi, cited by Müller, I.2, 4, n63); but the term was of general application to the harder sorts of rock, and the use of it here is expressive of the singularity of the circumstance that the stone should be sawn, and the word would lose its force if applied to a soft volcanic formation.

23 For further notices of Luna and its port, I refer the reader to Targioni's Toscana X. pp403‑466; but especially to the work of Promis, already cited, and to Repetti's Dizionario della Toscana. Promis' work is reviewed by Canina, Bull. Inst. 1838, p142.

Thayer's Notes:

a A slip on Dennis's part, I think, or at least puzzling. That passage of Statius does speak of the mines of the Ligures in the context of a marble mountain, but doesn't mention Luna; when he does, it's as he quotes him at the head of this chapter: the walls of Luna and the homes of the Tyrrhenians.

b See also Etruscan_remains "onMouseOver="return Ebox(INARRAY,0,WIDTH,175)" onMouseOut="nd();"> W. H. Hall, The Romans on the Riviera and the Rhone, pp65‑68, in which the absence of ancient ruins is also discussed.

c Photographs of all three are onsite: Pantheon, Porticus Octaviae, Tomb of C. Cestius, the last named giving the best idea of the marble.

d These will probably not be familiar to today's reader. The Swedish sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen (1770‑1844) was Dennis's contemporary, and much in vogue: he is, for example, the only Protestant artist to be represented by work in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

A better sculptor by far, although equally frigid — indeed, Luni or Carrara marble, with its almost disagreeable pure whiteness, lends itself well to very formal works — was Antonio Canova. His celebrated statue of Pauline Borghese is carved of this stone.

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