Destinies very dissimilar awaited these different branches. Those settled in Sicily, Magna Graecia, and Campania came into contact with the Greeks at a period when they were unable to offer resistance to their civilization, and were either completely Hellenized, as in the case of Sicily, or at any rate so weakened that they succumbed without marked resistance to the fresh energy of the Sabine tribes. In this way the Siculi, the Itali and Morgetes, and the Ausonians never came to play an active part in the history of the peninsula. It was otherwise with Latium, where no Greek colonies were founded, and the inhabitants after hard struggles were successful in maintaining their ground against the Sabines as well as against their northern neighbours. Let us cast a glance at this district, which was destined more than any other to influence the fortunes of the ancient world.


The plain of Latium must have been in primeval times the scene of the grandest conflicts of nature, while the slowly formative agency of water deposited, and the eruptions of mighty volcanoes upheaved, the successive strata of that soil on which was to be decided the question to what people the sovereignty of the world should belong. Latium is bounded on the east by the mountains of the Sabines and Aequi which form part of the Apennines; and on the south by the Volscian range rising to the height of 4000 feet, which is separated from the main chain of the Apennines by the ancient territory of the Hernici, the tableland of the Sacco (Trerus, a tributary of the Liris), and stretching in a westerly direction terminates in the promontory of Terracina. On the west its boundary is the sea, which on this part of the coast forms but few and indifferent harbours. On the north it imperceptibly merges into the broad hill-land of Etruria. The region thus enclosed forms a magnificent plain traversed by the Tiber, the "mountain-stream" which issues from the Umbrian, and by the Anio, which rises in the Sabine mountains. Hills here and there emerge, like islands, from the plain; some of them steep limestone cliffs, such as that of Soracte in the north-east, and that of the Circeian promontory on the south-west, as well as the similar though lower height of the Janiculum near Rome; others volcanic elevations, whose extinct craters had become converted into lakes which in some cases still exist; the most important of these is the Alban range, which, free on every side, stands forth from the plain between the Volscian chain and the river Tiber.

Here settled the stock which is known to history under the name of the Latins, or, as they were subsequently called by way of distinction from the Latin communities beyond the bounds of Latium, the "Old Latins" (-prisci Latini-). But the territory occupied by them, the district of Latium, was only a small portion of the central plain of Italy. All the country north of the Tiber was to the Latins a foreign and even hostile domain, with whose inhabitants no lasting alliance, no public peace, was possible, and such armistices as were concluded appear always to have been for a limited period. The Tiber formed the northern boundary from early times; and neither in history nor in the more reliable traditions has any reminiscence been preserved as to the period or occasion of the establishment of a frontier line so important in its results. We find, at the time when our history begins, the flat and marshy tracts to the south of the Alban range in the hands of Umbro-Sabellian stocks, the Rutuli and Volsci; Ardea and Velitrae are no longer in the number of originally Latin towns. Only the central portion of that region between the Tiber, the spurs of the Apennines, the Alban Mount, and the sea--a district of about 700 square miles, not much larger than the present canton of Zurich--was Latium proper, the "plain,"(2) as it appears to the eye of the observer from the heights of Monte Cavo. Though the country is a plain, it is not monotonously flat. With the exception of the sea-beach which is sandy and formed in part by the accumulations of the Tiber, the level is everywhere broken by hills of tufa moderate in height though often somewhat steep, and by deep fissures of the ground. These alternating elevations and depressions of the surface lead to the formation of lakes in winter; and the exhalations proceeding in the heat of summer from the putrescent organic substances which they contain engender that noxious fever-laden atmosphere, which in ancient times tainted the district as it taints it at the present day. It is a mistake to suppose that these miasmata were first occasioned by the neglect of cultivation, which was the result of the misgovernment in the last century of the Republic and under the Papacy. Their cause lies rather in the want of natural outlets for the water; and it operates now as it operated thousands of years ago. It is true, however, that the malaria may to a certain extent be banished by thoroughness of tillage--a fact which has not yet received its full explanation, but may be partly accounted for by the circumstance that the working of the surface accelerates the drying up of the stagnant waters. It must always remain a remarkable phenomenon, that a dense agricultural population should have arisen in regions where no healthy population can at present subsist, and where the traveller is unwilling to tarry even for a single night, such as the plain of Latium and the lowlands of Sybaris and Metapontum. We must bear in mind that man in a low stage of civilization has generally a quicker perception of what nature demands, and a greater readiness in conforming to her requirements; perhaps, also, a more elastic physical constitution, which accommodates itself more readily to the conditions of the soil where he dwells. In Sardinia agriculture is prosecuted under physical conditions precisely similar even at the present day; the pestilential atmosphere exists, but the peasant avoids its injurious effects by caution in reference to clothing, food, and the choice of his hours of labour. In fact, nothing is so certain a protection against the "aria cattiva" as wearing the fleece of animals and keeping a blazing fire; which explains why the Roman countryman went constantly clothed in heavy woollen stuffs, and never allowed the fire on his hearth to be extinguished.

The Period Anterior to the Abolition of the Monarchy Page 16

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