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A CITY DESTINED TO GROW GREAT
The geography of Italy
The most important feature of the historical geography of Italy is the close interaction of plain, hill and mountain. Only about one-fifth of the total land surface of Italy is officially classified as plain (that is, land below 300 meters), and of this lowland area more than 70 per cent is accounted for by the valley of the Po. Of the rest, about two-fifths is classified as mountain (land over 1000 meters), and the remaining two-fifths as hill (land between 300 and 1000 meters). The alternation of these types of relief and their distribution throughout the country create a great diversity of climatic conditions and sharp contrasts in the physical appearance of the landscape from one region to another.
Italy is separated from central Europe by the great barrier of the Alps. In spite of their altitude these mountains have not kept Italy isolated from the rest of the continent. Although the winter snows make them impenetrable for more than half the year, most of the passes have been known since the earliest times; movements of people across the Alps have taken place throughout history, sometimes on a very large scale, for example during the incursions of the Celts and the Cimbri in the republican period and the barbarian invasions in the 5th and 6th centuries of our era.
Although there can be no doubt about the basic geographical unity of the Italian mainland to the south of the Alps, it is convenient to draw a distinction between "continental Italy," which consists of the valleyof the Po and its surrounding mountain fringes the Alps in the north, the Apennines in the south and "peninsular Italy," which comprises the rest of the country apart from the islands. The two areas are different in climate and physical topography, as well as in cultural and economic development.
Peninsular Italy enjoys a typically "Mediterranean" climate, which is characterized by mild winters, hot summers and a moderate annual rainfall; this rainfall is however concentrated in heavy precipitations during the winter months, so that fierce drought occurs in June, July and August. Continental Italy on the other hand belongs climatically to central Europe. It has much greater extremes of temperature; the severe cold of the winter is matched by the intense heat of the summer, when temperatures are as high as those of the peninsula. Annual rainfall is no heavier than in some parts of peninsular Italy, but it is more evenly distributed through the seasons. The most telling sign of the climatic distinction between the two areas is that the olive tree, which is grown almost everywhere in peninsular Italy and along the Ligurian riviera, is not to be found north of the Apennines.
Today the Po plain is the most productive agricultural district in Italy. Its economic predominance certainly goes back to ancient times, and writers such as Strabo dwell on its fertility, the size of its population and the prosperity of its towns. Communications are made easy by the Po river itself, then as now navigable as far as Turin. In antiquity the region was well wooded, and its abundant acorns fed the herds of swine that supplied most of the meat consumed in the city of Rome. However in the lower part of its course the Po runs through a wide flood plain, and widespread inundations are prevented only by means of canals and dikes. It is clear that in pre-Roman times the lower part of the Po valley was marshy and subject to flooding, especially in Emilia and the Veneto; the marshes on the south side of the river formed a serious obstacle to Hannibal's invading army in 218 BC. But after the Roman conquest the land was reclaimed by a system of canals and dikes which the censor M. Aemilius Scaurus had constructed in the area between Parma and Modena in 109 BC. Further schemes were carried out by the emperor Augustus and his successors, and during the 1st century of our era northern Italy was one of the most prosperous areas of the Empire.
Continental Italy is bounded on its southern side by the Apennines, a system of massifs which runs the whole length of the peninsula from the Ligurian Alps to the straits of Messina, and continues beyond the straits along the north coast of Sicily. In doing so the mountains adopt a serpentine course. In the north they extend in a straight line which cuts obliquely across the peninsula from the Ligurian riviera in the west almost as far as Rimini in the east; at this point they curve gently round towards the south and run parallel with the Adriatic coast, reaching their highest peaks in the Abruzzi region at the Gran Sasso d'Italia (2914 meters) and the Montagna della Maiella (2795 meters). From there they once again cut diagonally across the peninsula to reach the Tyrrhenian coast in Lucania, and thence they extend into Calabria and on into Sicily.
In terms of physical features, then, the difference between continental Italy and peninsular Italy can be summed up in the observation that the former is essentially a large lowland plain surrounded by mountains, while the latter consists of a central mountain chain surrounded by small coastal plains.
As far as peninsular Italy is concerned, the coastal plains have a historical importance out of all proportion to their relative area. Broadly speaking the Apennines divide the peninsula into two separate lowland zones. The main central chain of the Apennines is much closer to the eastern than the western seaboard, and for a distance of about 350 kilometers from Rimini to the Biferno river there is only a very narrow lowland strip, about 30 kilometers wide, between the coast and the mountains of the interior. On the western side, however, the Apennines descend gently and irregularly into the lowland plains of Latium and Campania and the hilly but fertile land of Etruria.
In the south of the peninsula, from Molise and the northern edge of the Gargano promontory, the Apennines run almost due south into Lucania and Calabria (the "toe"). To the east of this line lies the second main lowland area of peninsular Italy, the region of Apulia, which stretches from the plain of the Tavoliere around Foggia to the tip of the Salentine peninsula (the "heel").
In general the Tyrrhenian side of Italy enjoys certain natural advantages over the Adriatic side; as a consequence the northwestern lowland area (Campania-Latium-Etruria) has been culturally favored by comparison with the southeastern district of Apulia. These differences relate largely to climate and to the nature of the soil. The main climatic difference lies in the general distribution of rainfall. Taking the country as a whole it can be said that the north is wetter than the south, and, except in the Alpine regions, the west is wetter than the east. This general pattern is complicated by the fact that more rain falls on the high ground than on the plains; but for the present purpose it is sufficient to note the general trend, which can be illustrated by comparing the average annual rainfall of La Spezia on the northwest coast (115 centimeters) with that of Ancona on the Adriatic (64 centimeters), or that of Naples (79 centimeters) with that of Bari (60 centimeters).
The Tyrrhenian coast is moreover fortunate in being served by relatively large rivers, at least two of which, the Tiber and the Arno, were navigable waterways in classical antiquity. The streams which flow into the Adriatic on the other hand are mostly dried up in the summer, and in winter become raging torrents which erode the thin soil from the upland slopes. The Adriatic coast is at a further disadvantage in having no good harbors.
The consequence of this natural imbalance has been that the western side of Italy has played a more prominent part in the history of civilization than the east, ever since the earliest Greek colonists rejected the desolate Adriatic coast and chose to make their homes on the Ionian and Tyrrhenian shores.
Apulia has always been a backward region. It has the lowest rainfall of all the regions of peninsular Italy (an annual average ranging between 57 and 67 centimeters), and suffers badly from drought, especially in the barren and riverless uplands of the Murge, the limestone plateau between Bari and Taranto. In Cicero's day (the 1st century BC) Apulia was the "most sparsely populated part of Italy" (Letters to Atticus 13.4), and throughout antiquity it remained culturally isolated and politically unimportant.
The other main lowland area of peninsular Italy lies to the west of the central Apennines and occupies the regions of Campania, Latium and Tuscany. These regions exhibit a variety of physical features. A network of volcanic hills and mountains runs down the western side of Italy from Mount Amiata in southern Tuscàny to the still active Vesuvius on the bay of Naples. The greater part of this system consists of extinct volcanoes surrounded by volcanic tuff plateaus and interspersed with a series of crater lakes, the main examples being lakes Bolsena, Vico and Bracciano in south Etruria, Albano and Nemi to the south of Rome in the Alban hills, and Lake Averno in the Campi Flegrei to the west of Naples. The volcanic soil of this central region contains essential natural fertilizers (phosphates and potash) and is extremely productive. Along the Tyrrhenian coast is a series of small alluvial plains, while the interior of the region is traversed by an interconnected chain of elevated basins which borders the eastern side; the most important of these alluvial valleys are the upper Arno between Florence and Arezzo, the Val di Chiana, the middle Tiber, and the Liri, Sacco and Volturno valleys which connect Latium and Campania.
These river valleys are also natural corridors of communication, and together they form the main longitudinal route along the western side of Italy which is followed today by the main railroad track and the Autostrada del Sole between Florence and Naples. The chief natural lines of communication from the coast to the interior also run along the river valleys, and above all along the Tiber. The lower Tiber valley is the nodal point of the network of natural communications of central Italy, and it was inevitable that the lowest available crossing of the Tiber, which occurs at Rome, should become an important center. A defensible position with a good supply of fresh water, it dominated the crossing point at the Tiber island, where the first bridge, the Pons Sublicius, was constructed in the reign of King Ancus Marcius. In historical times this part of the city comprised the commercial harbor (the Portus) and the cattle market (the Forum Boarium). It was also the site of the "Great Altar" of Hercules, which was supposedly founded by the natives of the region in gratitude to Hercules, who had slain Cacus, the giant of the Palatine. The legend implies that the Forum Boarium was an important meeting place which was frequented before the city of Rome was founded.
The natural advantages of the site were clearly recognized by the Romans themselves. Thus Livy, in a speech which he puts into the mouth of Camillus: "Not without reason did gods and men choose this spot for the site of our city the salubrious hills, the river to bring us produce from the inland regions and sea-borne commerce from abroad, the sea itself, near enough for convenience yet not so near as to bring danger from foreign fleets, our situation in the very heart of Italy all these advantages make it of all places in the world the best for a city destined to grow great" (Livy 5. 54.4).
The foundation of Rome
The beginnings of Rome have been the object of inquiry, speculation and controversy since historical writing first began. As early as the 5th century BC Greek historians included Rome among the foundations of the Trojan hero Aeneas, who was thought to have fled to Italy after the sack of Troy. Aeneas was in fact only one of several mythical adventurers who were said to have wandered around the western Mediterranean and to have founded settlements along its shores. Whether any historical reality lies behind these legends is doubtful, but they were popular with the Greek reading public and eventually took root also in Rome.
The Romans themselves produced no historical literature until about 200 BC when a senator of illustrious family, Q. Fabius Pictor, wrote the first history of Rome. The work, written in Greek, does not survive, apart from a few quotations. Fabius Pictor probably consulted priestly archives, the records of the leading aristocratic families and the accounts of Greek historians; these sources, together with the evidence of popular oral tradition and of archaic inscriptions, monuments and relics, are likely to have formed the basis of his account of Rome's earliest history. Fabius Pictor attributed the foundation of the city to Romulus. According to the traditional story, Romulus was abandoned as a child on the banks of the Tiber, together with his twin brother Remus. The infants were saved when they were suckled by a she-wolf, and then rescued by shepherds among whom they spent their early years in the hills overlooking the left bank of the river. It was here that Romulus later founded the city that bore his name, after killing his brother in a petty quarrel.
This famous story was part of the oldest native tradition, and was well established as part of the city's heritage many years before the time of Fabius Pictor. But at a certain point (the dating is uncertain) the story of Aeneas was accepted locally and grafted onto the native tradition. The result was a version which eventually became canonical: Aeneas arrived in Latium where he founded the city of Lavinium; after his death his son Ascanius founded Alba Longa, where his descendants ruled as kings for over 400 years. Romulus and Remus belonged to this line, being the sons of the god Mars and the daughter of one of the kings of Alba.
This contrived assemblage of folk tale and conjecture was put together in the course of the 3rd century BC. A version of it certainly appeared in Fabius Pictor, and it was handed down and developed in later historical works until it received definitive treatment in the hands of Virgil, Ovid and Livy. Historical elements in the story are hard to discern. As has been said, the part played by Aeneas and the Trojans is almost certainly pure fiction, although some scholars see in it a dim memory of contacts between the Aegean world and Italy in the Mycenaean age. The prominence of Lavinium and Alba Longa does however reflect the importance which these places had as religious centers in early times; it is striking that some of the earliest archaeological traces of permanent settlement in Latium have been found precisely at Lavinium and in the area of the Alban hills. It should be noted, however, that the very earliest Latin sites also include Rome, which cannot at present be shown to be later than either Lavinium or the Alban hills sites. The developed tradition held that all the historic centers of Latium were colonies of Alba Longa and that Rome was the latest; but the supposed chronological interval between the foundations of Alba and Rome is a purely artificial construction based on the discrepancy between the conventional Greek date (1182 BC) for the Trojan War, in which Aeneas took part, and the firmly held belief of the Romans that their city was founded in the 8th century BC. The consequence was that a dynasty of kings of Alba had to be fabricated in order to fill the gap of more than 400 years between Aeneas and Romulus.
Most Roman writers believed that the city was founded in the 8th century BC, although there was disagreement about the exact year. Fabius Pictor placed it in 748 BC, but other alternatives (753, 75l, 728) were canvassed by his successors. The date which finally became standard (753) was proposed by the scholar M. Terentius Varro at the end of the Republic. Traces of primitive huts have been found on the Palatine hill, traditionally the site of Romulus' settlement, dating from the 8th century BC; but other finds, mostly from tombs in the valley of the Forum, seem to indicate that the site had been occupied from at least the 10th century. The archaeological evidence does however seem to confirm that the Palatine was the first part of the city to be permanently settled. Thus it can be said that some of the elements of the foundation story may be based on fact, although Romulus himself cannot be considered historical. But the belief that the city came into being through a deliberate act of "foundation" made it necessary to postulate a founder; the same mechanical process required that Romulus must have created some of the basic institutions of the city. Thus the senate, the tribes, the curiae and so on are attributed to him by our sources, which are effectively saying that these institutions were as old as the city itself. In this they were probably correct.
Excerpted from ATLAS OF THE ROMAN WORLD by Tim Cornell and John Matthews. Copyright © 1982 by Equinox Ltd. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
|Part One: Early Italy and the Roman Republic|
|A City Destined to grow Great||10|
|The Conquest of Italy and of the Mediterranean||34|
|Crisis and Reform||54|
|Part Two: From Republic to Empire|
|The Roman Revolution||66|
|A Polite and Powerful Empire||102|
|Part Three: Provinces of the Empire|
|Gaul and Germany||128|
|Egypt and Cyrenaica||164|
|Part Four: The Empire in Decline|
|Disorder and Recovery||168|
|Constantine the Great and the 4th Century||188|
|The Fall of the Western Roman Empire||208|
|The Ostrogothic Kingdom and the Byzantine Reconquest||220|
|Town Life at Pompeii||86|
|Early Imperial Rome||90|
|Ostia: Port of Rome||92|
|Festivals of the State Religion||94|
|The Oriental Cults||96|
|The Emperors: Augustus to Justinian||98|
|Communications in the Roman World||114|
|Mills and Technology||184|
|The City of Constantine||204|
|Late Imperial Rome||206|
|Courtly Munificence at Ravenna||218|
|The Roman Legacy||224|
|List of Maps|
|The geographical setting of Italy||10|
|Temperature in ItalyJanuary and July||12|
|Rainfall in Italyannual, January and July||13|
|The geology of Italy||16|
|Augustan regions of Italy and the regions of Rome||19|
|Bronze and Iron Age sites in Italy||20|
|Etruria and Etruscan cities, 6th century BC||21|
|The languages of pre-Roman Italy, 450-400 BC||22|
|Greek and Phoenician colonies in the western Mediterranean||23|
|Rome and its neighbors during the monarchy||27|
|Northern Italy under Celtic occupation||29|
|Archaeological sites in Latium Vetus||30|
|The wars of conquest and colonization in Italy, 334-241|
|BC, and central Italy in 338 BC||35|
|Roman roads in the republican period||38|
|Distribution of pottery made in Rome in the 3rd century BC||39|
|The growth of the Roman Confederacy||40|
|The First Punic War||45|
|Italy during the war with Hannibal||46|
|The Second Punic War||47|
|Colonization in Italy, 2nd century BC||49|
|The land reforms of the Gracchi||57|
|Rome and the Mediterranean world, c. 146-70 BC||60|
|Italy and the Social War, 91-89 BC||62|
|Colonization in Italy, 1st century BC||67|
|The rise of Julius Caesar||70|
|The emigration of Roman citizens to the provinces||72|
|The government of the Roman Empire||75|
|The wars of 68-70 AD||84|
|Shipwrecks in the Mediterranean from 300 BC to 300 AD||93|
|Provinces and frontiers of the Empire to 106 AD||107|
|The German-Raetian limes from Vespasian to the Antonines||108|
|Linguistic divisions of the Empire and physical|
|conditions in relation to the distribution of cities||111|
|Key to the province maps||113|
|The provinces of Africa||118|
|The provinces of Spain||124|
|The provinces of Gaul and Germany||129|
|The province of Britain||135|
|The provinces of the Danube||140|
|The provinces of Greece||146|
|The provinces of Asia Minor and Cyprus||150|
|The provinces of the east||157|
|The provinces of Egypt, Crete and Cyrenaica||164|
|Diocletianic defense system: the "Saxon shore"||171|
|Invasions and frontiers of the Empire in the 3rd century|
|The later Empire in the time of Diocletian||173|
|The eastern frontier of Diocletian (strata Diocletiana)||174|
|The distribution of Christian churches, 3rd and early 4th|
|Mesopotamia and the campaigns of Julian, 363 AD||191|
|The German campaigns of Julian and Valentinian||192|
|The distribution and influence of monasticism, 300-500 AD||199|
|Estate distribution according to the Liber Pontificalis||200|
|Barbarian incursions and settlements in the west||209|
|Political divisions of the Empire and barbarian|
|occupation, 526 AD||214|
|Persia in the time of Justinian||220|
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