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Chapter I

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Rome
Tenney Frank

published by
Henry Holt and Company
New York 1923

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter III

 p14  Chapter IΙ

Latium before and during Etruscan Occupation

The Latin plain. The backbone of the Italian peninsula is formed by a limestone ridge called the Apennines, which had risen out of the sea in the Tertiary period. The western shore of this area was shallow and soon began to fill in from the alluvium of the mountain ridge. To help the process of land-making a long series of volcanoes all through Tuscany, Latium, and Campania began to arise and eject lava and ashes. This process began at the north and progressed southward. Vesuvius on the bay of Naples is still active occasionally. The Tuscan plain filled in many millennia before historic times, but the Alban volcanoes, commanding the Latin plain, continued their eruptions till the last millennium before Christ. In fact Latium seems not to have been habitable until about a thousand years before our era: on the present surface, at least, few implements used by man have been found antedating the iron age, though Tuscany and the Apennine mountains behind reveal marks of human habitation of long ages before.

It is well to keep this in mind because it explains why the Latin soil remained rich and unexhausted longer than that of some other parts of Italy. The volcanic ash contained a good store of potassium and phosphates, which are, of course, very desirable for agriculture. After a period of jungle and timber growth which brought nitrogenous matter into this soil, it was ready to support a very dense population.

The plain of Latium is very small, bound in by the Apennines on the east, a spur of the same called the Volscian  p15 mountains on south, the sea on the west and the Tiber on the north. It is no larger than an average county in America, or the area of the present city of Chicago with its nearest suburbs. A good walker can cross it in either direction in a day. Before the Etruscans came, the Latins, or rather the Faliscans, a very closely related tribe, extended north of the Tiber for some distance. Indeed it is likely that the Latin tribe had once been an extensive group of Terramara peoples which had been pushed south across the Tiber into the forest country of Latium by the expansion of the Umbrians on the north.

The Latin villages. The Latins in occupying the new land settled, as early European usually did, in villages on ridges which would give some natural defense and whose springs of water could be made reasonably secure. It is difficult for Americans to comprehend the meaning of such villages, for we have nothing like them. Most of our country was settled by farmers who received about 160 acres each from the government and built each his lonely house on his land. Our "villages," which grew up at the crossroads near post-stations here and there, are only settlements of middlemen who came in afterwards to provide articles needed by the farmers in exchange for the farmers' products. The early Italian villages arose in a different way. They were close-packed dwelling-places of all the farmers of the community. The settlers of Italy lived together because they felt the need of society, because, in the lack of a strong government to protect their possessions, it was dangerous to live alone, and because their plots of land consisted of only a few acres and were, therefore, within easy access of the village home. Without machinery all farming was necessarily intensive garden-culture, and under that system a family could not take care of many acres.

This manner of living naturally had its peculiar effects upon society. It provided an interesting life for the women  p16 and children — preventing the dreary monotony of the isolated farm-house that makes it difficult in America "to keep the young men on the farm." It also encouraged a simple type of democratic self-government. Every individual was thoroughly acquainted with every other, and undue power was not apt to fall to anyone. By intermarriage within the village, close feelings of kinship sprang up and natural "brotherhoods" were formed.

It was customary to group the population of the town into ten of these brotherhoods or curiae, for voting or military purposes. For the direction of the assemblies and their armies, these curiae every year elected at town meeting a magistrate, and the fathers of families acted as a senate of elders which gave advice to the magistrate.

Since even the Terramara folk practised agriculture, there is every reason to believe that the Latins had adopted the institution of private property in land long before they settled in Latium; but we may suppose that some woodland was if possible left undivided where every citizen could cut wood for his own use, and that some meadow land, less desirable for cultivation, was also left for village owner­ship where each citizen had a right to graze his proper proportion of sheep and cattle.

Such was the normal system in the primitive Latin towns before outside influences from the Etruscans created difficulties. There were a great many of these small communities within Latium, perhaps more than fifty, if we may accept a late tradition. The whole tribe of course acted in unison at times of invasion from the outside, but it had no strong central government that could impose laws or rules. The tribal unity was kept up chiefly by means of annual meetings held on top of the high Alban mountain where the chief god of the tribe, Jupiter, was supposed to dwell. Once every year the Latins sacrificed to him and partook with their god of a common meal. For a long time before the pressure from the Etruscan invaders became  p17 dangerous the simple sturdy farmers lived thus in peace multiplying rapidly on that rich land. The soil was new and, after the timber had been cut, the most fertile of Italy. It seems clear also that these early settlers did not suffer from the want of humidity which now prevails there. At present the soil of Latium yields only scanty crops, not only because the soil is exhausted but also because the dry season comes on so early in June that wheat has not sufficient time to fill out. The deterioration of the climate is probably due to the cutting of the timber on the high mountains east and south of Latium. In the early days of Latium, however, a thick forest on the Apennine kept the winter snows longer than at present, and this kept the temperature somewhat cooler; and furthermore the forest-grown mountains had a deeper soil which held the last spring rains from running off quickly, and thus insured subsoil moisture for the crops on the plains somewhat longer into the summer than at present. The early Latins probably did not have the long dry season which now prevents gardening in the summer and which compels the modern peasants of Latium to drive their flocks to the mountains early in July. Under the conditions that prevailed then, Latium could support very many people; and we may suppose that the strength of the Latin tribe, despite the circumscribed area in which it dwelt, was due to the density of the population.

The primitive religion. These early peoples had a very simple religion. There were no temples as yet, and no images of any gods. They believed in good and evil spirits that should be worshiped or propitiated, but did not conceive of them as having human form. The god of the tribe by whom all members took their most sacred oaths was a spirit, represented by the light of heaven and by lightning. His name was Light-father, Jupiter. Him they worshiped on the Alban mount because that reached farthest into the sky, perhaps also because they knew that this had once  p18 been a mountain of fire (a volcano). There was a spirit in sown crops called Saturnus, a wild spirit in the woods, injurious to cattle and men as well, called Mars, a spirit of gardens called Venus, and a mysterious spirit of the deep woods about Lake Nemi, called Diana. Then there were spirits in every spring deserving of offerings, a spirit called Blight (Robigus) that sometimes let the grain rust, a spirit called Terminus which protected boundary stones so that farmers should not move them to their own advantage, and a large number of helpful spirits of various functions called Lares. In short, the religion was simple animism with but few suggestions of anthropomorphism.

Simple though this worship was, it was also remarkably clean of baser superstitions like the magic and tabu which we find in the animism of American Indians, the South Sea Islanders, and even in the rites on ancient Greece. There were a few magical practices like the employment of "sympathetic magic" by which priests tried to get rain from heaven by pouring water over a stone while repeating charms; and there were also a few instances of tabu. But such things are extraordinarily rare in the recognized religion. Some scholars attribute this purity to the high-minded ordinances of some religious legislator like the legendary king "Numa," but it is more likely that the clean Indo-European customs which the ancestors of the Italian peoples had brought down from the North were for a long time left uncontaminated by the superstitions of a lower civilization. It has been noticed that Homer also, who represents the early unmixed Hellenic culture, has fewer references to such base beliefs than later Greek authors. It was the Etruscans and the Greeks of Cumae who taught the Romans anthropomorphic notions of the gods, and it was the Etruscans with their gloomy view of life and their mysterious superstitions that brought in the haruspices who professed to foretell the future by inspecting the entrails of animals. Animism is, to be sure, polytheistic, but it has  p19 spiritual value, and some beauty; and it is, under guidance of thoughtful men, capable of spiritual growth, as it was in Palestine. This is particularly true when the tribal deity is conceived of as a universal attribute like light. It was a great misfortune for the Latins that the Greeks and Etruscans brought in their picturesque stories before the Latins were advanced enough in thought to resist their deluding attractiveness.

These early folk held of course no clear tenet concerning the immortality of the soul, though they, like the Indo-European people generally, had long inferred that the spirit might hover about a dead body. They may have inferred this from diseases that spread near plague-stricken bodies, or perhaps from acts of vengeance that followed violent death. At any rate, they had concluded that it was prudent to avoid the dangers from such ghosts by burning the bodies of the dead. That is why Viking heroes, as well as Homeric warriors, were burned and not buried. The Terramara and Villanova peoples had continued this custom of cremating the dead, and in early Latium it was customary to burn at least the bodies of adults. But the rite was less generally observed after the Latins came into contact with the Etruscans, who regularly buried their dead.

The Latins seem to have preserved some slight trace of the old belief in ghosts that hung about, for they performed annual rites at the tomb of the dead, whether the corpse had been cremated or buried. It is possible, however, that these annual rites were early introduced by the Etruscans, and that we should not draw inferences from them regarding primitive Latin rites.

The Etruscans at Rome. Rome was said by late tradition to have been founded in 753 B.C., and when in Cicero's day men measured epochs from the date of foundation (A. U. C.ab urbe condita) that date was regularly assumed. The Romans, however, used the date only for convenience of reckoning, for they knew that no records had been preserved  p20 from the earliest period. No one claimed absolute accuracy for the date. We know now, from examination of graves in the Forum and on the hills of Rome, that there were several villages on the site of Rome as early as a thousand years before our era, and that there was, except for a growth and gradual unification of the villages, no vital change in the situation till about 600 B.C.

Then Etruscan adventurers, having already penetrated Italy as far south as Capua, and having gained possession of Praeneste and the territory in southern Latium, which afforded a road to the sea‑coast past Velitrae to Satricum, also seized possession of the Roman hills and turned them into a stronghold. The approximate date of this founding of Rome is known only by a combination of archaeological data. The cemetery of the Forum was in use at least till 600 B.C. as is proved by the remains there of Greek pottery,  p21 the style of which can be approximately dated. We know that when the Etruscans founded a city they drew a sacred circle called a pomerium about the city and strictly forbade burial within that circle. Since the cemetery of the Forum was near the center of this area, the city wall of Etruscan Rome cannot be older than 600 B.C.

The new city did not receive its name from any of the very old villages on its site, but it was given a new Etruscan name, Roma, and the names of several of the traditional kings who ruled during the next century are also Etruscan, as for instance Romulus, Ancus, Numa, and Tarquinius. Since hardly any records were kept in this early time we can do no better than accept the statement of Livy who says that the story of the early kings are largely untrustworthy in detail. But when we notice that medieval legends are apt to preserve a memory of striking events, we may well believe that the names of the seven traditional kings of Rome were not invented, and that the tale that the kings were finally driven out by a republican revolt is based upon facts.

[image ALT: A schematic relief map of a group of about a dozen hills, all except one on the same side of a winding river. A wall surrounds the central group of eight hills, and it is pierced you seven gates; the area within it is divided into four regions, some of them further subdivided. It is the city of Rome in the Etruscan period.]

The four regions: I, Suburana; II, Palatina; III, Esquilina; IV, Collina. The chief gates: a, Collina; b. Viminalis; c. Esquilina; d, Caelimontana; e, Capena; f, Fontanalis. The chief buildings: 1, Temple of Jupiter; 2, Janus; 3, Quirinus; 4, Vesta; 5, Saturn; 6, Diana; 7, Circus Maximus; 8, Cloaca Maxima.

The detailed stories of early Rome, brilliantly told by Livy in his first book, contain facts and myths inseparably interwoven, as Livy well knew. They relate the following events. Aeneas, escaping with other Trojans when their city was taken by the Greeks, passed on the Trojan civilization to the new race which at once founded a Latin kingdom at Alba Longa. (We know that this story was invented by the Greeks to explain the remarkable growth of Rome, and that the Romans later adopted it, accepting it as true because the story was so similar to the facts of the Etruscan immigration over the sea. Vergil's Aeneid later made a national hero of Aeneas.) Several hundred years later a priestess of Alba Longa bore Romulus and Remus the sons of Mars. By order of the king the children were exposed, but a she‑wolf nourished them at the foot  p22 of the Palatine hill. At this site Romulus later founded the city, and gave it laws and a constitution. He was carried to heaven alive and was worshiped as Quirinus. (Most of this is of course pure legend.)

Numa, according to tradition, was chosen the second king of Rome by the people. He preserved peace and organized the religious cults and priesthoods. (Historians to‑day have noticed that the official calendar of holidays drawn up many centuries later by Julius Caesar distinguished, by large lettering, the names of gods and holidays which had come down from a very early calendar, a calendar obviously belonging to a primitive agricultural people. The Romans were right, therefore, when they held that an early legislator had organized the cults and made a calendar of sacred days. They may be right also in attributing this work to Numa.)

Tullus Hostilius, the third king, is described as a warlike and aggressive king who captured Alba Longa and incorporated it in Rome. (Again, there is some truth in this legend, though the name may possibly be an invention. We may feel certain, however, that one Latin city would never have attacked and destroyed another city belonging to the Latin tribe unless it had been driven to do so by a foreign king. Rome certainly broke up the league of the Latins and incorporated a large part of it in some such way as Livy's story implies. The deed can only be explained as instigated by some Etruscan king of Rome.)

Ancus Marcius, the fourth king, continued the subjection of the Latins, and, to invite traders to Rome, founded a harbor at Ostia, the mouth of the Tiber. (Once more the legend represents a fact. The Etruscan cities north of the Tiber took a vigorous part in commerce, and they must have tried to bring Rome into the same current. Excavations at Ostia have recently revealed some foundations that seem to date from the regal period.)

Tarquin the Elder, the fifth king, is represented as extending  p23 the possessions of Rome eastward. (This is likely, because the Roman king must have been eager to gain possession of the trading road that crossed the Tiber further east and compel the traders who traveled from Etruria to Campania to pass through Rome.)

Servius Tullius, the sixth king, is credited with building the first stone wall around the city, called the "Servian wall," and with the organization of the army under the "Servian constitution." (This is wholly credible. The great wall, parts of which are still standing, dates largely from about 360 B.C. and later, but it contains portions that are made out of a material which was popular at Rome in the sixth century B.C. We shall revert to the Servian constitution later.)

Tarquin the Proud, the last king, is represented by Livy as a great builder and conqueror and a lordly chief whose heavy taxes and acts of tyranny drove the Romans to revolt. The occasion for the revolt was offered when one of the Tarquins violated the fair Lucretia, a Roman matron of high station. Her husband, Collatinus, with the aid of his friends Brutus and Valerius, then organized the revolution, drove out the king and his family, and established a republic. (Many picturesque elements were later added to this story by dramatists who made chronicle plays of the tale, but there is no reason to believe that the kernel of so important a political incident would not have been treasured with great care.)

We may conclude, therefore, that though many fanciful tales are incorporated in the early legends, the course of events attending Rome's growth under the kings must have followed the general lines sketched by Livy's striking account.

Latium under the Etruscans. The rise of city-states. The arrival of the Etruscan princes in Rome and other Latin villages was a very important fact in the development of the Italic race. Even before they took possession  p24 the threatened invasion of Latium caused great social changes in the tribe. The Etruscans had already pushed the Umbrians back on the Sabellian tribes which caused them in turn — Sabines, Aequi, Volsci, and others — to press inward on Latium from the east. This together with the Etruscan raids forced the Latins of the small open villages to concentrate in various towns that could be protected; and this in turn tended to break the unity of the Latin League in favor of strong towns like Rome, Ardea, Velitrae, Aricia, Tibur and Praeneste. This seems to be the real cause of the growth of city-states in early Latium. Rome, for instance, was not under Etruscan dominion till about 600 B.C., but her state organization of the thirty  p25 brotherhoods (curiae) from three separate villages had probably been formed on Latin ideas before ever the Etruscans captured the site and walled it in. And there can be little doubt that the other cities of the League which grew to prominence had also developed in the same way and assumed predominance over their surrounding land through the accretion of people from nearby villages that were less favorably situated. The Etruscan princes of course continued this process of centralization by fortifying the cities that they captured and building up small monarchies in each, so that the League practically fell into insignificance during the Etruscan occupation.

[image ALT: A schematic relief map of a roughly triangular area of land along a southwesterly-facing coast of Italy, irrigated by one marked river, the Tiber, and its tributary the Anio; much of the area is taken up by an area containing about 20 small towns, subdivided into three further regions. It is the Latium and the cities of the Latin League under the early Roman Republic.]

Latium in the Early Republic: Latin cities of the Latin League, about 500 B.C.

Princes and serfs. A second effect of the Etruscan invasion was the reduction of many landed districts practically to serfdom under the usurping princelings. We can see the signs of this state of affairs particularly below Velitrae. Here an extensive system of under­ground drainage canals has been discovered. These channels are cut a few feet below the surface through the solid tuff; usually they measure about 3 × 1½ feet, and extend in length from the sides of the Alban hills down several miles towards the sea. They were apparently made to carry off the rain waters and thus preserve the arable soil which alone supported the very dense population. The system is so extensive that we cannot suppose it to have been undertaken by hundreds of poor peasants without direction. When we find similar systems in Etruria, where we know that wealthy Etruscan landlords had the service of subjugated peoples, we must conclude that in Latium also these foreign landlords seized the lands, and compelled the peasants to acknowledge them as masters, pay them rent, and carry out their commands.

That the lords of Velitrae, Lanuvium, Satricum, and Ardea grew very wealthy on this exploitation of the Latin peasants we have learned from the excavations in those places. Several burial mounds have been opened where jewelry and table-ware have been found imported from  p26 Phoenicia, Egypt, and Greece. The early temples of these Latin towns were, like those of Etruria, decorated by excellent Greek artists. In fact, there seems to have been a time when several independent lords, holding sway in various Latin cities, threatened to divide the little tribe up into small principalities as they had already divided the best part of the Umbrian nation north of the Tiber.

Rome as an Etruscan principality. The princes of Rome, however, grew in power more rapidly than the others, and in time subjected to themselves not only the nearby Latin villages but also most of the other lords who had seized Latin towns. Before Tarquin was driven out he was the acknowledged ruler of nearly all of Latium. And to gain the support of the Latins he — or one of his predecessors — had taken charge of the tribal cult of the Alban Mount, had moved the very popular cult of Diana from Lake Nemi to Rome, and had begun to build a magnificent temple to Jupiter on the Capitoline, intending to make it the center of the Latin religion.

Let us follow the growth of Rome under this foreign régime. The city itself developed rapidly because it became the governmental seat of all of Latium instead of being merely the home of the peasants who cultivated the farms nearby. The influential and rich landlords naturally moved to the city where the king lived, and they required carpenters and builders and craftsmen of every kind to supply their needs. The growth of the population attracted traders with their wares, and traders encouraged the manufacturing of goods that could be exchanged for imports. Latium to be sure had few natural products to sell. It contained no mineral deposits. Nevertheless, being very rich in soil, it could in exchange for grain acquire copper from the north and cattle and hides from the interior, and use these articles for barter, and in addition it could offer certain goods produced by the skilled labor of its dense population.

 p27  For maritime trade Rome was not very well situated since it lay thirteen miles from the sea. The Tiber had too strong a current for the ships of that day. Ships cannot readily go up a river under sail, and merchant ships did not carry enough oarsmen to pull up a river against a stiff current. Indeed the most conveniently placed commercial towns of that early day were those that lay on easily protected plateaus three or four miles from the sea, just off some low sand‑bar where the flat-bottomed trading vessels could beach while the trading-master brought his wares up to the market-place for barter. It is clear, therefore, that towns like Caere, Tarquinii, and Ardea, nearer the coast, had an advantage over Rome in attracting seagoing commerce.​1 To overcome Rome's disadvantage of distance, her princes had to make a trading port at the mouth of the Tiber whence the wares could be brought up to Rome by row‑boats or pack-animals.

However, Rome possessed a great advantage in her command of the crossings of the Tiber, whereby she could compel all caravans passing by land from Etruria to Campania or Latium to bring their wares to Rome. By her possession of the high hills on both sides of the Tiber she could have and protect a bridge at that place, and her princes made that bridge the sole route for the north-south land trade by taking possession of Gabii through which the only other easy land route passed.

These princes also controlled the road to the best salt flats of the western coast — those near the mouth of the Tiber — and as all the tribes of the interior of central Italy must have their salt from those flats, the Roman monopoly in salt doubtless proved to be very profitable. The east and west road through Rome is still called the Via Salaria.

From the wealth of the Latin soil and the profits of industry  p28 and trade, the Romans were able to improve and fortify the city. The marshes in the valley were drained by a closed sewer, and a large market-place — later called the Forum — was laid out there. A stone wall was built along the upper edges of the hills, enclosing an area that might hold three or four hundred thousand inhabitants, although it must not be supposed that Rome ever had that number of inhabitants in the early days. This extensive area had to be included within the walls in order to take in three separate villages. Besides, the hills lay in such a way that the architect in availing himself of natural escarpments could thus provide for the future at no added cost.

Several temples were also built, some for the gods of the tribe, some for gods of other villages who had to be brought along with the people whenever a town was captured. In fact, one reason why the Romans came to have so many gods is that the government often introduced those of conquered cities. By building these temples and placing statues of gods in them the Etruscan princes did much to change the religion of the Romans. No Roman had thought of Jupiter or Juno as a person. But when Greek or Etruscan artists were hired by the kings to make statues of those gods, they took their models from the statues of those Greek divinities that most resemble the Roman ones in their attributes. The image of Jupiter was made to resemble one of the Greek Zeus, while Juno was made to look like Hera, and the other deities were treated in a similar like way. Thus it was largely the work of imported artists that taught the Romans how their gods ought to look. The new generation, which saw these images from childhood, completely forgot that gods were spirits. Anthropomorphism is a disease that spreads very quickly, as the prophets of the Old Testament learned to their sorrow.

The "Servian" army. The most momentous change introduced by the Etruscans was the organization of a strong army, on the basis of the so‑called Servian constitution.  p29 The wealthiest men, who could afford to provide both armor and horses, were chosen for the cavalry. Of these there were 1800. Next to these were chosen eighty centuries (8000) of men who were wealthy enough to provide heavy armor for service in the first line. These were called men of the first class. The second, third, and fourth classes provided twenty centuries each, the fifth class thirty, and from among the numerous poor who had no property only five centuries of artisans were taken. This system threw the heaviest army service on those who could best afford the time and the costs of the equipment, and who presumably had most at stake in a war. It has been calculated that since the first class of citizens of military age could provide as many as 9800 men Latium must then have had a population of at least 400,000. This is a very large number for an area of only about 400‑600 square miles then in the control of Rome, but as we have seen the city had grown rapidly under Etruscan enterprise and the soil was being intensively cultivated.

The importance of this organization of the army is twofold. It taught the Romans the art of making an effective army, which they constantly improved in their days of independence, and it also introduced the principle of classifying the citizen-body according to wealth, a classification later used by the founders of the republic in creating their primary assembly for voting and law‑making purposes. That assembly, based upon wealth, then gradually displaced the old‑time assembly of brotherhoods. The conservative character of the republican government is in large measure due to this early adoption of the timocratic principle.

The Author's Note:

1 In the fifth century such towns met with heavy reverses because they had no harbors where they could protect their ships against the fleets of war vessels which by that time had been equipped by various cities of Sicily and Etruria.

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