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This webpage reproduces an article in
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 15, No. 1 (Jan.‑Mar. 1911), pp44‑59.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p44  Privernum

The two books that deal specially with the history and topography of ancient Privernum,​1 by Teodoro Valle​2 and Giuseppe Marocco,​3 are antiquated and unscientific; and later writers, if they mention the monuments at all, either repeat the statements of these authorities or state that further local investigation is needed.​4 From October, 1909, to June, 1910, therefore, I made a study of the remains in the territory of Privernum, including modern Piperno,​a the plain of the Amaseno and the neighboring hills. A brief summary of some results of these researches, with the evidence of ancient and modern historical sources, is here presented.

The subject may be conveniently divided into two parts: the Volscian city, or Privernum before the Roman conquest of 329 B.C.; and Privernum under Roman rule, from 329 B.C. to  p45 the fourth century A.D. Some remains, however, cannot be assigned definitely to one period to the exclusion of the other.

I. The Volscian City

As is the case in respect to many other Italian cities, there are no literary records of the history of Privernum before it became the opponent of Rome. Virgil tells the story of its warrior queen, Camilla, a legend which is still well known to the inhabitants of Piperno; but the tradition seems to contain no kernel of fact.5

The account of the city's single-handed struggle with Rome can be given in a few words.​6 After a long period of peace, the Privernates in 358 B.C. laid waste some Roman territory, probably in the Pontine Marshes. Gaius Marcius Rutilus in a brief campaign the next year defeated them and celebrated a triumph.​7 According to Livy, twice later, in 342 and 330 B.C., the Privernates laid waste the lands of the Roman colonies of Norba and Setia, and were twice defeated by a certain Gaius Plautius in 341 and 329 B.C.8 Modern historical criticism reduces these two wars to one, that of 330‑329 B.C.,​9 which resulted in the capture of the city and the granting of a triumph to its captor, Gaius Plautius Decianus Hypsaeus. As a punishment for the attack on Rome, the walls of Privernum were destroyed and the senators of the city were deported to quarters in Rome on the right bank of the Tiber.​10 The lands of these nobles were probably confiscated and afterward assigned to Roman citizens; to this event the statement of Livy, that the Romans seized two-thirds of the territory of Privernum in 341 B.C.,​11 undoubtedly refers. At any rate, as Mommsen and Pais  p46 have pointed out,​12 the date of this assignment of land was shortly before 318 B.C., when there were enough Roman citizens in the territory of Privernum to warrant the formation of the tribe Oufentina.​13 Livy and others assert that the Privernates did not suffer further punishment, but were granted full Roman citizen­ship, owing to the spirit of liberty displayed by their envoys and the firm attitude of Plautius.​14 This tale, however, was clearly invented to flatter the Plautii;​15 and it is impossible to believe that the Privernates received greater privileges than those which the neighboring colonies of Circeii, Norba, and Setia, and the cities of Fundi and Formiae, then possessed.16

Regarding the exact site of this Volscian city, or the presence of other Volscian settlements in this vicinity, the literary evidence gives no assistance; the question can be answered only by studying the sites in the territory of Privernum where walls exist that are supposed to be Volscian. I shall therefore briefly describe these sites (which are marked on Figure 1), including the necessary measurements.

[image ALT: A map of a small area with many small hills, some crowned with villages. Between the hills, a plain is crisscrosed by a few roads and a railroad ec tracks the only large stream. It is a map of the area around Piperno, a small town in Italy.]

Figure 1: Piperno and Vicinity, showing Supposed Volscian Remains.

[A fully readable large version opens here.]

The walls, which are all built of the local limestone, of three varieties. To begin with, we have remains of the "first polygonal" style,​17 in which the blocks are heaped together with little or no careful fitting of the joints. These are the following:

 p48  (1) Above the springs of Gracilli on the Pontine Marshes, the supporting wall of an ancient road, traceable several hundred metres in a southeasterly direction along the hillside (Fig. 1, 1; Fig. 2).​18 Just below the piece shown in Figure 2 is another retaining wall of some sort, visible for about 15 m.

[image ALT: A pile of stones about 50 cm high.]
Figure 2: Supporting Wall of Road at Gracilli.

(2) Above Ceriara on the southern slope of Monte Macchione, the retaining walls of the road mentioned in Not. Scav. 1899, p94. Of these I traced five distinct lines, making four zigzags (Fig. 1, 2).

Secondly, there are the following walls of the "second polygonal" style, in which the joints are carefully fitted, but the surfaces are left more or less rough.

[image ALT: A very ruined wall of small more or less regularly laid stones and large blocks of unevenly fitted stone.]
Figure 3: Lowest Terrace Wall at Li Cattivi.

(a) At Li Cattivi on the eastern slope of Monte S. Angelo  p49 (Fig. 1, 3), a series of terrace walls, following the contour of the hillside. The lowest wall is about 16 m long (Fig. 3); 3.90 m above it is a parallel wall traceable for 24.30 m; 23.60 m higher is another parallel wall of about 12.60 m in length (Fig. 4). Connecting the southern ends of the two lower walls is a cross-wall running back for 8.70 m (Fig. 5); no other cross-walls can be identified with certainty. The site has been so built over in Roman and modern times that the exact plan of the older walls is difficult to ascertain.

[image ALT: A low retaining wall in a field, of mixed stonework.]
Figure 4: Highest Terrace Wall at Li Cattivi; Roman Walls in Front.

[image ALT: The corner of a low retaining wall made of large squared blocks of stone now partly worn.]
Figure 5: Corner of Terrace at Li Cattivi.

 p50  (2) In the plain east of Colle Ferruccio (Fig. 1, 4) are some badly preserved walls that form a great platform like that of Ceriara. The line of a back-wall of about 67 m in length is clear. Toward the western end of this wall, and 3.50 m behind it, a parallel line of blocks is embedded in the ground; we might suppose we were dealing with a road, were it not for a cross-wall beginning 38.50 m from this same western end and running back for 3 m. From the eastern end of the back-wall another wall projects at right angles into the plain for 28 m, forming a corner with a wall, parallel to the long back-wall, that can be traced for only 23 m toward the west. All these walls are more regularly laid than those at Li Cattivi.

(3) The platform of Ceriara, fully described in Not. Scav. 1899, pp88 ff. (Fig. 1, 5). The walls of this approach in regularity those of the third variety.

 p51  (4) At Fascia d'Oliva on the Pontine Marshes (Fig. 1, 6), a wall, most regularly laid than the walls at Colle Ferruccio, is built into the modern fence along the foot of the hill for a distance of 30 m and is traceable for 70 m more toward the north.

The third variety may be called "quasi-ashlar." It differs from the "second polygonal" style in having four-sided blocks, laid in more or less regular courses. The surfaces are still rough or "rusticated." I have also included under this head some walls, apparently laid in courses, of which only one line of stones is left, although the masonry may have resembled one of the other two styles when it was intact. The ruins of this "quasi-ashlar" masonry in the territory of Privernum are as follows:

(1) Two imposing platforms, separated by a ravine, projecting from the hillside above the Pontine Marshes at Castello Valentino (Fig. 1, 7). The one to the west (seen in the distance  p52 in Fig. 6) has a southern front about 27.50 m long and over 4 m high (Fig. 7), with a western side (Fig. 8), partly rebuilt in mediaeval times, 24 m long, and an eastern side, which is now visible for a distance of 5 m. About 12 m back from the front, and 4 m east of the eastern side of the main platform, is a corner extending for 21 m east and 24 m north, the greatest height of which is 6 m. This, however, as the plentiful use of mortar and small stones shows, was rebuilt in late Roman, or more probably, in mediaeval times. Mediaeval also are: a wall of small stones running for 5 m toward the west from the northern end of the last-named wall; similar walls inside the platform at the southwest and outside it at the southeast; and two under­ground reservoirs, one inside the ancient platform, the other outside it.

[image ALT: A scene of trees and brush rising to the top of a low hill; very dimly seen, near the top, two small manmade stone structures, much overgrown by vegetation.]
Figure 6: Western Platform at Castello Valentino.
(Ancient wall at left, mediaeval wall at right.)

[image ALT: In a landscape of low trees and brush, a stone wall about 20 meters long, comprising seven or eight courses of well-laid and well-cut rectangular blocks.]
Figure 7: Western Platform at Castello Valentino, South Wall.

[image ALT: A close-up view of part of an ancient wall, about 1.50 meters high and of similar length; it is formed of six irregular courses of stone cut to irregular if roughly rectangular shapes.]
Figure 8: Western Platform at Castello Valentino, West Wall.

[image ALT: A stretch of wall, about five meters long and maybe 2 meters high, consisting of four courses of well-cut rectangular blocks about 80 cm long. The wall is partly overgrown by bushes.]
Figure 9: Corner of Terrace at Mura Saratte.

The platform to the east is not so well preserved. It has a  p53 southern front about 30 m long and 3.50 m high, with a western side running back for about 6 m; there are no traces of an eastern side.

(2) At Mura Saratte, on the eastern slope of Monte della Difesa (Fig. 1, 8), remains of another platform are visible. The southeastern corner is intact; the southern side runs back for about 9 m, and the front is preserved for a distance of 7 m, and then, after a gap of 16 m, for 7 m more, including one peculiar jog (Fig. 9). Below this terrace there are a large mediaeval wall and an immense Roman reservoir which has been almost entirely destroyed.

(3) The wall at the Madonna delle Grazie (Fig. 1, 9), which is described and illustrated in Not. Scav. 1899, pp95-96, and p97, Fig. 10. Neither its location nor its size is correctly given there. It is really 290 m almost due south of the Madonna delle Grazie, and measures 19 m along the front and 5.10 m along the side. Here, too, are scanty traces of Roman occupation, but these are on the terrace itself.

(4) At Pozzi Reali (Fig. 1, 10), in the little valley to the southeast of S. Eramo, one course of rather rough wall is embedded in the ground (Fig. 10). It forms a corner, with sides 4.80 m and 3 m in length.

[image ALT: A field — trees in the background — with a sort of depression in the center, with the low remains of what appears to have been a wall.]
Figure 10: Wall at Pozzi Reali.

(5) In two places at the Rione Mortola, which is some distance east of the Fascia d'Oliva already mentioned (Fig. 1, 11  p54 gives the location), just at the edge of the marsh are parallel lines of stones which seem to mark the elevated causeway of an ancient road. The first piece, situated to the east of the stream which is shown in Figure 1, is curving; the lines of stones are 3.90 m apart and are 8.30 m and 7.40 m in length. The other piece is some distance to the west of the same stream, above a broad terrace supported by a rough retaining wall. The lines of stones are 3.10 m apart and are 12.50 m and 8 m in length. In neither of these fragments do the two lines of stones begin directly opposite each other; in fact, the side of the second piece, which is more distant from the marsh, is visible at intervals in the turf for about 45 m to the east of the point where it becomes a continuous wall.

 p55  (6) Along the southern side of the hill opposite the casello of the railway, which is numbered 48.652 (Fig. 1, 12), runs a single line of rough stones for about 80 m. This may mark the line of a road which joined the main road that ran not far to the northwest through the plain.

It is clear from the above descriptions that not one of these remains is on the site of the ancient city. The walls that do not serve as supporting walls for roads are usually situated in the open, which would be the last place in the world for the ancient Volscians to build a town.​19 The Ruins of Mura Saratte, Li Cattivi, and Castello Valentino are situated on hillsides, to be sure; but not one of them is extensive enough for a city of importance, and each of them is exposed to attack from above.

Moreover, the excavations at Norba have shown that the  p56 early date formerly given to both types of polygonal walls is not always warranted.​20 The walls in the vicinity of Piperno, like those of Norba, may date from a time later than the fourth century B.C., that is, from the period after the Roman conquest. Indeed, the presence of later Roman remains in several places, as mentioned above, arouses suspicion, and makes us wonder if we are not dealing at times with very late imitations of an earlier style.​21 At any rate, all of the "polygonal" walls in the territory of Privernum may belong to the Roman period rather than to the Volscian; and the "quasi-ashlar" masonry is certainly not earlier than the "second polygonal" style, but is rather a later development of it.

Notwithstanding this lack of evidence, I believe that the  p57 probable site of Volscian Privernum may be fixed. A careful study of this territory, in fact, shows that only two places can possibly have serious claims, namely, the hill on which the town of Piperno is situated, and Monte Macchione.

The hill on which Piperno is situated is rather low (150 m), but is fairly well isolated and near the later Roman settlement of Privernum. Its claim is supported by the fact that in the early Middle Ages most of the people who lived in the plain near Roman Privernum moved to this hill; for it was a common practice in mediaeval times, when people moved from a plain to the hills, to return to a height that was occupied in ancient times and was later abandoned, as happened at Cività Castellana, Cervetri, and Norma. However, for so important a city as Privernum, the hill now occupied by Piperno offers too much slope and too little flat surface at the top; and there are no traces whatever of ancient habitations on this hill or on the low ridges adjoining it to the northwest.22

Monte Macchione, in my opinion, is rather the place which deserves the honor.​23 It is almost completely isolated, and it compares favorably in height with other ancient sites in the vicinity.​24 The top is a magnificent plateau nearly a kilometre in length, with two high points that would serve admirably as citadels. It does not control the entrance to the plain of Privernum like the height of Quartara, which rises to the south, but it over­looks both the Pontine Marshes and the plain and commands the short routes through the mountains toward Sezze, the ancient Setia. Above all, the road line leading up Monte Macchione proves that there was an ancient settlement at the top. This settlement, of course, might be an early Roman colony like Setia and Norba, rather than the original  p58 Volscian city. But for an early Roman colony at Privernum there is not a bit of literary evidence; and even if we should grant that there was such a colony on this hill, it would be difficult to explain why no imposing walls like those of Setia and Norba are left. Regarding the Volscian city, however, we have Livy's statement​25 that the Romans tore down its walls and placed a strong guard over it. If this is true, the fact that there are no walls on Monte Macchione confirms the opinion already expressed, that on it was situated Volscian Privernum.

In closing, a few words must be said of the possibility that other remains which I have described above may be connected with the Volscian period. It is tempting to assume that the platform of Ceriara dates from the time of the Volscian city which lay above it on Monte Macchione; but the part of it that looks the most archaic, the cistern, resembles the cistern of Roman Norba,​26 and the question must be left open.

It is more reasonable to suppose that this terrace, and the one like it to the east of the Colle Ferruccio, were built at a later time on the line of an old Volscian road or path that skirted the hills on the north side of the plain. Certainly a Volscian road extended to the foot of Monte Macchione, from which the road that is still visible wound up to the Volscian settlement.

At any rate, one Volscian road in this territory can be identified with certainty, namely, the route along the Pontine Marshes the course of which is clearly marked by the walls at Fascia d'Oliva, the causeway at the Rione Mortola and the long retaining wall at Gracilli.​27 As stated before, none of these walls is necessarily Volscian, though I believe that the remains at Gracilli are of that period, as they are the only walls in the territory of Privernum that resemble those of the road up Monte Macchione. But this route existed from an early time, for it formed part of the only short and easy means of communication  p59 that the people of this territory had until the Via Appia, with its branch to Setia, was built in 312 B.C. Even after the Via Appia became the great highway, this older route was still used; and it is interesting to note that it has continued to be a thoroughfare down to the present, and that the new short railway line from Rome to Naples, as it passes through the territory of Privernum, will follow this old Volscian road.28

Henry H. Armstrong.

University of Michigan,
Ann Arbor, 1910.

The Author's Notes:

1 This subject was suggested to me by Director Jesse Benedict Carter of the American School in Rome; I am most grateful to him for his kind assistance. I wish to thank also Director Thomas Ashby of the British School in Rome, and Ispettore Giuseppe Jannicola, Rag. Annibale Poggi, Sig. Simoni, the Secretary of the Commune, Don Umberto Belmonte, Don Giulio Bianconi, Don Ercole Reali, Sig. Pietro Tacconi, and other citizens of Piperno, for information generously given me.

2 La regia et antica Piperno, città nobilissima di Volsci nel Latio. Naples, 1637.

3 Descrizione topografica e cenni storici di Piperno. Rome, 1830. Reprinted in his Monumenti dello Stato Pontifico, Vol. IV (1834), pp162‑187.

4 For example, Cappelletti, Le chiese d'Italia, Vol. VI (1847), pp539‑543; Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica, Vol. LIII (1851), pp239‑249; Abbate, Guida della Provincia di Roma, Vol. II (1894), pp501‑502; Nissen, Italische Landeskunde, Vol. II2 (1902), pp646‑647; Frothingham, Roman Cities in Italy and Dalmatia (1910), pp73, 80.

Other short accounts of no great value are: Cluverius, Italia Antiqua (1659), p579, whose statement about the ruins is referred to in Smith's Dictionary of Geography, p670; Westphal, Die römische Kampagne (1829), pp54, 87; G. Grandi in Natura ed Arte, Vol. III (1893‑1894), pp256‑258.

5 Aen. VII.803 ff., XI.532 ff., with comments of Servius.

6 See Nissen, l.c.; Mommsen in CIL X, p637.

7 Livy, VII.15.11; 16.3‑6; Acta Triumphorum under 397 A.U.C.

8 Livy, VII.42.8, and VIII.1.1‑3; VIII.19.4‑21.10.

9 See Weissenborn's notes on Livy, VIII.1.3 and 20.6; Mommsen, l.c., and History of Rome (English ed.), Vol. I, pp459‑460, foot-note 1; Pais, Storia di Roma, Vol. I, Part II, pp131, 254‑256, who is still more radical.

10 Livy, VIII.20.7‑9; Acta Triumphorum under 425 A.U.C.; the coins in Babelon, Plautia 8‑12, which he refers to the Plautius of 341 B.C. as does De Sanctis, Storia dei Romani, Vol. II, p273, foot-note 2.

11 Livy, VIII.1.3.

12 Mommsen, l.c.; Pais, op. cit. pp298‑299.

13 Livy, IX.20.6; Festus, p194 M.

14 Livy, VIII.20.10‑21.10; Val. Max. VI.2.1‑2; Dio Cass. frag. 35.11; Dionys. Hal. (who connects the story with Gaius Marcius Rutilus) XIV, frag. xiii.

15 See Weissenborn's note on Livy, VIII.20.10; Pais, op. cit. pp254‑256.

16 Mommsen, l.c. Pais, op. cit. pp254‑256, 292 ff.; Beloch, Der italische Bund unter Roms Hegemeonie, pp50, 122; and others. Circeii, Norba, and Setia were "Latin" colonies (Pauly-Wissowa, Coloniae, pp514‑515); Fundi and Formiae were civitates sine suffragio (Mommsen in CIL X, p601, with references).

17 My first two varieties are the same as the first two styles of "polygonal" masonry in the classification adopted by Rodolfo Fonteanive, Avanzi detti Ciclopici nella Provincia di Roma (Rome, 1887), pp24 ff.; Giov. Batt. Giovenale, I monumenti preromani di Lazio (Rome, 1900), pp5‑8; and L. Savignoni and R. Mengarelli in Not. Scav. 1901, p550. Their "third style" of polygonal masonry is not found in the territory of Privernum; my third variety, or "quasi-ashlar" work, has many of the features of the "second polygonal" style, but is a rudimentary ashlar rather than a polygonal masonry.

18 Figures 2‑10 are from photographs taken by Mr. J. H. Ten Eyck Burr, of the American School in Rome, who has spared neither time nor trouble in making this part of the work a success. I am deeply indebted to him for this valuable aid to my investigations, and for his advice and assistance in other ways during the trips he made with me to Piperno and the surrounding country.

19 The absurdity of the idea of most writers, that Volscian Privernum was in the plain, is clear to any one who knows anything about the sites of early cities. See on this point Nissen, l.c., Frothingham, op. cit. p73, Not. Scav. 1899, p96. Silius Italicus calls Privernum altum (VI.42‑43).

20 Not. Scav. 1901, pp548 ff.; 1903, pp259 ff. Frothingham, op. cit. pp59‑60, 81‑83, 94‑96, defends the older view, that these walls at Norba, and others like them, date from the pre-Roman period.

21 For such an imitation at Grotte di Torri in the Sabine country, see Giovenale, op. cit. pp42‑48.

Thayer's Note: Guardabassi, in his capsule on the walls at Grotte di Torri in Indice-Guida dei Monumenti . . . dell' Umbria, p69 (1872), calls them "Umbro-Pelasgic".

22 In Not. Scav. 1899, p96, Ispettore Giuseppe Jannicola reported polygonal walls at Montanino (Fig. 1, 13), the name given to the eastern slope of the hill of S. Lorenzo, which lies just to the northwest of Piperno and is separated from it by a shallow depression. I have been carefully over the ground twice, especially in the "proprietà di Mattia Monti," where the wall is said to be, but can find no traces of any such construction.

23 The fact that this must be the site of some ancient settlement was pointed out in Not. Scav. 1899, p4.

24 Height of Monte Macchione, 271 m; of Sezze, ancient Setia, 319 m; of Roman Norba, 387 m (higher in places).

25 Livy, VIII.20.7.

26 A similar cistern exists inside the citadel walls of Monte Circeo, which may be pre-Roman, but it proves nothing as to the date of the walls themselves. See Ashby in Mél. Arch. Hist. XXV (1905), p178, note 2.

27 Marked as vestigia viae on Pl. I of De la Blanchère's monograph, Terracine, Bibliothèque des Écoles Françaises d'Athènes et de Rome, Fascicule XXXIV (1884).

28 The more frequented road, however, used as a post-road until Pius VI re-opened the Via Appia, has been through the plain of Privernum and the city of Piperno.

Thayer's Note:

a Piperno was the name of the town for many centuries; it was renamed Priverno in 1928, as part of the Fascist government's program of renaming towns to recall the grandeur of imperial Rome; but in ordinary speech the preferred adjective for an inhabitant is still Pipernese.

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