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Bill Thayer

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chapter 44:
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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chapter 46:

 p257  Chapter XLV


— dives opum Priami dum regna manebant;

Nunc tantum sinus, et statio malefida carinis.


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The Ombrone Village of Telamone Caution to travellers Ancient remains Legendary and historical notices The port Road to Orbetello The Osa and Albegna Ferries

South of Grosseto, the next place of Etruscan interest is Telamone, or Talamone, eighteen miles distant. For the first half of the way the road traverses a wide plain, crossing the Ombrone by a ferry. This, the Umbro of antiquity — non ignobile flumen — is a stream of no great width, and ought to be spanned by a bridge. In Pliny's time it was navigable;​1 but for what distance we know not. Passing Alberese and its quarries,​2 the road enters a wooded valley, with a range of hills on the right renowned as a favourite haunt of the wild-boar and roebuck —

Ubi cerva silvicultrix, ubi aper nemorivagus.

Hither accordingly the cacciatori of Rome and Florence resort in the season, taking up their quarters at Collecchio,  p258 a way-side inn, twelve miles from Grosseto.​3 Where this range sinks to the sea, a castle on a small headland, a few houses at its foot, and a vessel or two off the shore, mark the port of Telamone.

Telamone lies nearly two miles off the high road, and to reach it you have to skirt the sandy shores of the little bay, sprinkled with aloes, and fragments of Roman ruin. The place is squalid beyond description, almost in utter ruin, desolated in summer by malaria, and at no time containing more than some hundred and fifty befevered souls — febbricitanti, as the Italians say — on whose heads Heaven has rained

"The blistering drops of the Maremma's dew."

Inn there is none; and no traveller, who seeks more than mere shelter and a shake-down, should think of passing the night here, but should go forward to Orbetello, twelve miles to the south. Indeed, I know not why the antiquarian traveller should halt at Telamone, for the castle is only of the middle ages, and nothing within it is of higher antiquity; though the shores of its bay are covered, like those of Baiae, with abundant wrecks of Roman villas.​4 No vestiges of Etruscan times could I perceive or hear of at Telamone, or in its immediate neighbourhood; although the place can lay claim to that remote antiquity. There are said to be Roman remains also on the tower-crested head land of Telamonaccio, which forms the eastern horn of the port, and which even  p259 disputes with Telamone the honour of being the site of the Etruscan town.

Telamone has retained its ancient name, which is said to be derived from Telamon, the Argonaut, who touched here on returning from the celebrated expedition to Colchis, prior to the Trojan war, and thirteen centuries before Christ.​5 But such an origin is clearly fabulous. There is no doubt, however, of its high antiquity; but whether it was founded by the Tyrrhene-Pelasgi, who built many towns on this coast,​6 or was simply of Etruscan origin,​7 we have no means of determining.

There is no historical mention of Telamon in the times of Etruscan independence. We hear of it first in the year 529, when the Romans defeated, in this neighbourhood, an army of Cisalpine Gauls, who had made an irruption into Etruria.8

It was at the port of Telamon that Marius landed on his return from Africa (87 B.C.), to retrieve his ruined  p260 fortunes.​9 This is the last historical notice we have of it in ancient times; and except that it is mentioned in the catalogues of the geographers and in the Itineraries,​10 we have no further record of its existence till the beginning of the fourteenth century.11

Though we do not learn from ancient writers that Telamon was used as a port in Etruscan times, it is impossible to believe that the advantages of a harbour, sheltered from every wind save the south, and protected even in that quarter by the natural break-water of Monte Argentaro and its double isthmus, could have been over­looked or neglected by the most maritime nation of their time, the "sea-kings" of Italy.​12 The recent discovery of an Etruscan city of great size in the neighbourhood, sufficiently establishes the fact,​13 which is further confirmed by the evidence of its coins.14

 p261  The bay is now so choked with sand and sea-weed, that even the small coasting craft, when laden, have much ado to enter; and in summer the stagnant pools along the shore send forth intolerable effluvia, generating deadly fevers, and poisoning the atmosphere for many miles around. What little commerce is now carried on, consists in the shipment of corn,º timber, and charcoal.

The road to Orbetello runs along the swampy shore, with low bare heights inland, once crowned by one of the proudest cities of Etruria, whose site had been forgotten for ages; and with the lofty headland of Monte Argentaro seaward, and the wooded peaks of the Giglio — Igilii silvosa cacumina15 — by its side; often concealed in a dense black line along this coast. The river Osa, the Ossa of antiquity,​16 has to be crossed by a ferry, where large masses in the stream proclaim the wreck of the Roman bridge, by which the Via Aurelia was carried across. Four or five miles beyond, is the Albegna, anciently the Albinia,​17 a much wider river, with a little fort on its left bank, marking the frontier of the Presidj, a small district on this coast, which belonged first to Spain, then to Naples, and was annexed to Tuscany at the Congress of Vienna. This stream is also crossed by a ferry. There is a saying — "When you meet with a bridge, pay it more respect than you would to a count" —

Quando vedi un ponte,
Fa gli più onor che non ad un conte —

and with good reason, for counts in Italy are plenti­ful as  p262 blackberries — you meet them at every turn; but bridges! — they are deserving of all reverence, albeit patronised by neither saint nor sovereign. Three rivers in a morning's drive along one of the best roads in Tuscany, and all still under the protection of St. Christopher, the first Christian ferryman! For the next five or six miles the road traverses pine-woods, and then branches off to Orbetello, which lies at the extremity of a long tongue of sand, stretching into its wide lagoon, and is overshadowed by the double-peaked mountain-mass of Argentaro.

Tenditur in medias mons Argentarius undas,

Ancipitique jugo caerula rura premit.

The Author's Notes:

1 Plin. III.8. — Umbro, navigiorum capax, et ab eo tractus Umbriae. Rutilius (I.337‑341) speaks of the snug port at its mouth. Cluver (II p474) thinks from Pliny's mention of it, that it gave its name to the Umbrians; but Müller (Etrusk. einl. 2, 12) on the contrary considers it to have received its name from that ancient people; and interprets Pliny as meaning that a district on the river was called Umbria.

2 A modern writer opines that Alberese may be the site of the Eba of Ptolemy. Viaggio Antiquario per la Via Aurelia, p43. But an ancient etymology is here quite superfluous, for the name is manifestly derived from the limestone — alberese which is quarried here.

3 Not far from Collecchio is a ruined tower, called Torre della Bella Marsilia; and tradition asserts that a fair daughter of the Marsilj family was in bygone ages seized here by some Barbary corsairs, and carried to Constantinople, where her beauty raised her to share the throne of the Sultan. Repetti, I. p765.

4 There are said to be some Roman vaults on the heights above Telamone, but I sought them in vain.

5 Diod. Sic. IV. p259, ed. Rhod. Diodorus calls it 800 stadia (100 miles) from Rome, which is rather less than the distance by the road. Lanzi (II. p83) suggests that this port may have received its name from its form of a girdle — Τελαμών. Telamon is not the only Argonaut mentioned in connection with Etruria. Jason also is said to have landed in Elba, whence Porto Ferrajo received its ancient name of Argous Portus (Strabo, V.p224; Diodor. loc. cit.); and to have contended with the Tyrrhenes in a naval combat. Possis of Magnesia ap. Athen. VII. c12, p296.

6 Cluver (II p477) ascribes its origin to the Pelasgi; and so also Cramer, I. p192.

7 Mela (II.4) in mentioning it among the coast-towns of Etruria, says they were all Etruscan both in site and name — Etrusca et loca et nomina; but this must be taken with reservation, as in the same list are Pisae, Pyrgi, and Castrum Novum, as manifest Greek and Roman respectively in name, as they are known to have been in origin. cf. Steph. Byzant. v. Τελωμὼν.º

8 Polybius (II.27) places the site of this battle near Telamon; Frontinus (Strateg. I.2, 7) says it was at a place called Colonia, which some think was Colonna di Burano, between Grosseto and Follonica (Cramer, Anc. Italy, I. p194); but Repetti (I. p784) opines that it was fought much to the south, in the neighbourhood of Toscanella. Some editions of Frontinus have "Poplonia" instead of "Colonia".​a

9 Plutarch, Marius.

10 Plin. III.8 — portusque Telamon. Ptolemy (p68) speaks of its "promontory."

11 Repetti, V. p498.

12 Diodorus (IV. p259) indeed calls it a port in the time of the Argonauts, but beside that such a record of fabulous times cannot be received as authentic, the word he uses may signify merely a natural haven, without the addition of a town.

13 See Chapter XLVIII on Vetulonia. Müller hesitates whether to regard Telamon as the port of Rusellae, Saturnia, or Vulci, but inclines to the latter. Etrusk. I p296 cf. 333. But Müller knew not of the existence of a first-rate city, only a few miles inland, to which it must undoubtedly have served as a port. Though Stephanus calls Telamon a "city," it can have been but a small town, or a fortified landing-place; just as Graviscae, the port of Tarquinii, and Pyrgi, the port of Agylla, together with Alsium, appear to have been. See Vol. I p395; II. pp13, 70.

14 The coins attributed to Telamon are in general just like the as and semis of early Rome, having the bearded Janus-head on the obverse, and the prow on the reverse, but with addition of "TLA" in Etruscan characters. Sometimes in place of the Janus, there is the head of Jove, or that of a helmed warrior, whom Lanzi takes for Telamon, as it was customary to represent heroes or heroines on coins. And he interprets the prow also as referring to the Argonauts. One, a decussis, has the legend of "TLA," in Etruscan characters, which Lanzi proposes to blend in such a way as to read "TLAMNE," or Telamon; but Müller suggests that these coins may belong to the foedus LatinumTlate being put for Tlatium. A sextans with the head of a young Hercules, and a trident between two dolphins, with the legend "TEL," is referred by Sestini to Telamon. Lanzi, II. pp28, 84, tav. II.4‑6; Müller, Etrusk. I p333; Sestini, Lett. Numis. III. pp11‑13; Mionnet, Suppl. I. pp203‑4. Cramer, Anc. Italy, I. p192. Millingen (Numis. Anc. Italie, p173) doubts if these coins should be referred to Telamon.

15 Rutilius, I.325; Caesar, Bell. Civ. I.34; Mela, II.7. Called also Aegilium; by the Greeks, Aegilon. Plin. III.12.

16 Ptolem. Geog. p68.

17 Called Albinia by the Peutingerian Table, Almina by the Maritime Itinerary.

Thayer's Note:

a The two different editions on line have neither, both reading Vetuloniam; on what grounds, I don't know. The print source of the text linked above passes over this emendation in silence.

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