The founding of a city in the strict sense, such as the legend assumes, is of course to be reckoned altogether out of the question: Rome was not built in a day. But the serious consideration of the historian may well be directed to the inquiry, in what way Rome can have so early attained the prominent political position which it held in Latium--so different from what the physical character of the locality would have led us to anticipate. The site of Rome is less healthy and less fertile than that of most of the old Latin towns. Neither the vine nor the fig succeed well in the immediate environs, and there is a want of springs yielding a good supply of water; for neither the otherwise excellent fountain of the Camenae before the Porta Capena, nor the Capitoline well, afterwards enclosed within the Tullianum, furnish it in any abundance. Another disadvantage arises from the frequency with which the river overflows its banks. Its very slight fall renders it unable to carry off the water, which during the rainy season descends in large quantities from the mountains, with sufficient rapidity to the sea, and in consequence it floods the low-lying lands and the valleys that open between the hills, and converts them into swamps. For a settler the locality was anything but attractive. In antiquity itself an opinion was expressed that the first body of immigrant cultivators could scarce have spontaneously resorted in search of a suitable settlement to that unhealthy and unfruitful spot in a region otherwise so highly favoured, and that it must have been necessity, or rather some special motive, which led to the establishment of a city there. Even the legend betrays its sense of the strangeness of the fact: the story of the foundation of Rome by refugees from Alba under the leadership of the sons of an Alban prince, Romulus and Remus, is nothing but a naive attempt of primitive quasi-history to explain the singular circumstance of the place having arisen on a site so unfavourable, and to connect at the same time the origin of Rome with the general metropolis of Latium. Such tales, which profess to be historical but are merely improvised explanations of no very ingenious character, it is the first duty of history to dismiss; but it may perhaps be allowed to go a step further, and after weighing the special relations of the locality to propose a positive conjecture not regarding the way in which the place originated, but regarding the circumstances which occasioned its rapid and surprising prosperity and led to its occupying its peculiar position in Latium.

Earliest Limits Of The Roman Territory

Let us notice first of all the earliest boundaries of the Roman territory. Towards the east the towns of Antemnae, Fidenae, Caenina, and Gabii lie in the immediate neighbourhood, some of them not five miles distant from the Servian ring-wall; and the boundary of the canton must have been in the close vicinity of the city gates. On the south we find at a distance of fourteen miles the powerful communities of Tusculum and Alba; and the Roman territory appears not to have extended in this direction beyond the -Fossa Cluilia-, five miles from Rome. In like manner, towards the south-west, the boundary betwixt Rome and Lavinium was at the sixth milestone. While in a landward direction the Roman canton was thus everywhere confined within the narrowest possible limits, from the earliest times, on the other hand, it extended without hindrance on both banks of the Tiber towards the sea. Between Rome and the coast there occurs no locality that is mentioned as an ancient canton-centre, and no trace of any ancient canton-boundary. The legend indeed, which has its definite explanation of the origin of everything, professes to tell us that the Roman possessions on the right bank of the Tiber, the "seven hamlets" (-septem pagi-), and the important salt-works at its mouth, were taken by king Romulus from the Veientes, and that king Ancus fortified on the right bank the -tete de pont-, the "mount of Janus" (-Janiculum-), and founded on the left the Roman Peiraeus, the seaport at the river's "mouth" (-Ostia-). But in fact we have evidence more trustworthy than that of legend, that the possessions on the Etruscan bank of the Tiber must have belonged to the original territory of Rome; for in this very quarter, at the fourth milestone on the later road to the port, lay the grove of the creative goddess (-Dea Dia-), the primitive chief seat of the Arval festival and Arval brotherhood of Rome. Indeed from time immemorial the clan of the Romilii, once the chief probably of all the Roman clans, was settled in this very quarter; the Janiculum formed a part of the city itself, and Ostia was a burgess colony or, in other words, a suburb.

The Tiber And Its Traffic

This cannot have been the result of mere accident. The Tiber was the natural highway for the traffic of Latium; and its mouth, on a coast scantily provided with harbours, became necessarily the anchorage of seafarers. Moreover, the Tiber formed from very ancient times the frontier defence of the Latin stock against their northern neighbours. There was no place better fitted for an emporium of the Latin river and sea traffic, and for a maritime frontier fortress of Latium, than Rome. It combined the advantages of a strong position and of immediate vicinity to the river; it commanded both banks of the stream down to its mouth; it was so situated as to be equally convenient for the river navigator descending the Tiber or the Anio, and for the seafarer with vessels of so moderate a size as those which were then used; and it afforded greater protection from pirates than places situated immediately on the coast. That Rome was indebted, if not for its origin, at any rate for its importance, to these commercial and strategical advantages of its position, there are accordingly numerous further indications, which are of very different weight from the statements of quasi-historical romances. Thence arose its very ancient relations with Caere, which was to Etruria what Rome was to Latium, and accordingly became Rome's most intimate neighbour and commercial ally.

The Period Anterior to the Abolition of the Monarchy Page 21

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