We shall certainly be nearer the truth in recognizing these structures not as walled towns, but as places of refuge for the inhabitants of the district, such as were doubtless found in more ancient times over all Italy, although constructed in less artistic style. It was natural that at the period when the stocks that had made the transition to urban life were surrounding their towns with stone walls, those districts whose inhabitants continued to dwell in open hamlets should replace the earthen ramparts and palisades of their strongholds with buildings of stone. When peace came to be securely established throughout the land and such fortresses were no longer needed, these places of refuge were abandoned and soon became a riddle to after generations.
Localities Of The Oldest Cantons
These cantons accordingly, having their rendezvous in some stronghold, and including a certain number of clanships, form the primitive political unities with which Italian history begins. At what period, and to what extent, such cantons were formed in Latium, cannot be determined with precision; nor is it a matter of special historical interest The isolated Alban range, that natural stronghold of Latium, which offered to settlers the most wholesome air, the freshest springs, and the most secure position, would doubtless be first occupied by the new comers.
Here accordingly, along the narrow plateau above Palazzuola, between the Alban lake (-Lago di Castello-) and the Alban mount (-Monte Cavo-), extended the town of Alba, which was universally regarded as the primitive seat of the Latin stock, and the mother-city of Rome as well as of all the other Old Latin communities; here, too, on the slopes lay the very ancient Latin canton-centres of Lanuvium, Aricia, and Tusculum. Here are found some of those primitive works of masonry, which usually mark the beginnings of civilization and seem to stand as a witness to posterity that in reality Pallas Athena when she does appear, comes into the world full grown. Such is the escarpment of the wall of rock below Alba in the direction of Palazzuola, whereby the place, which is rendered naturally inaccessible by the steep declivities of Monte Cavo on the south, is rendered equally unapproachable on the north, and only the two narrow approaches on the east and west, which are capable of being easily defended, are left open for traffic. Such, above all, is the large subterranean tunnel cut--so that a man can stand upright within it--through the hard wall of lava, 6000 feet thick, by which the waters of the lake formed in the old crater of the Alban Mount were reduced to their present level and a considerable space was gained for tillage on the mountain itself.
The summits of the last offshoots of the Sabine range form natural fastnesses of the Latin plain; and the canton-strongholds there gave rise at a later period to the considerable towns of Tibur and Praeneste. Labici too, Gabii, and Nomentum in the plain between the Alban and Sabine hills and the Tiber, Rome on the Tiber, Laurentum and Lavinium on the coast, were all more or less ancient centres of Latin colonization, not to speak of many others less famous and in some cases almost forgotten.
The Latin League
All these cantons were in primitive times politically sovereign, and each of them was governed by its prince with the co-operation of the council of elders and the assembly of warriors. Nevertheless the feeling of fellowship based on community of descent and of language not only pervaded the whole of them, but manifested itself in an important religious and political institution--the perpetual league of the collective Latin cantons. The presidency belonged originally, according to the universal Italian as well as Hellenic usage, to that canton within whose bounds lay the meeting-place of the league; in this case it was the canton of Alba, which, as we have said, was generally regarded as the oldest and most eminent of the Latin cantons. The communities entitled to participate in the league were in the beginning thirty--a number which we find occurring with singular frequency as the sum of the constituent parts of a commonwealth in Greece and Italy. What cantons originally made up the number of the thirty old Latin communities or, as with reference to the metropolitan rights of Alba they are also called, the thirty Alban colonies, tradition has not recorded, and we can no longer ascertain. The rendezvous of this union was, like the Pamboeotia and the Panionia among the similar confederacies of the Greeks, the "Latin festival" (-feriae Latinae-), at which, on the "Mount of Alba" (-Mons Albanus-, -Monte Cavo-), upon a day annually appointed by the chief magistrate for the purpose, an ox was offered in sacrifice by the assembled Latin stock to the "Latin god" (-Jupiter Latiaris-). Each community taking part in the ceremony had to contribute to the sacrificial feast its fixed proportion of cattle, milk, and cheese, and to receive in return a portion of the roasted victim. These usages continued down to a late period, and are well known: respecting the more important legal bearings of this association we can do little else than institute conjectures.
From the most ancient times there were held, in connection with the religious festival on the Mount of Alba, assemblies of the representatives of the several communities at the neighbouring Latin seat of justice at the source of the Ferentina (near Marino). Indeed such a confederacy cannot be conceived to exist without having a certain power of superintendence over the associated body, and without possessing a system of law binding on all. Tradition records, and we may well believe, that the league exercised jurisdiction in reference to violations of federal law, and that it could in such cases pronounce even sentence of death. The later communion of legal rights and, in some sense, of marriage that subsisted among the Latin communities may perhaps be regarded as an integral part of the primitive law of the league, so that any Latin man could beget lawful children with any Latin woman and acquire landed property and carry on trade in any part of Latium. The league may have also provided a federal tribunal of arbitration for the mutual disputes of the cantons; on the other hand, there is no proof that the league imposed any limitation on the sovereign right of each community to make peace or war.