On a lofty hill in
olive-growing country, about 72 km E-SE of Rome. It
controls the valley of the river Cosa. A town of the
Hernici, Aletrium dates perhaps from the 6th c. B.C.
From the 4th c. B.C. on, it was a loyal ally of Rome. In
90 B.C. it acquired Roman citizenship and became a
municipium but is rarely mentioned in ancient literature.
It has always been a considerable town.
Its massive walls, the finest and most remarkable example of polygonal construction in Italy, are its principal
monument. They are built of large blocks of limestone,
which are sometimes over 3 m long and over 2 m high:
the irregularly shaped blocks are fitted tightly together
without cement and their faces have been smoothed. The
walls are in two circuits, usually thought to be contemporaneous: they may belong to the 4th c. B.C., but some
scholars date them as late as the 2d or even the 1st c. B.C.
Both circuits can be traced in their entirety.
The first circuit, which is mingled with mediaeval fortifications, surrounds the town as a whole. Elliptical in
shape, it extends for ca. 4 km. Impressive sections of it,
over 3 m high in places, can be seen in the N quarter
of the town between the Porta S. Francesco and the Porta
S. Pietro. Both these gates are ancient and were originally
double, their two faces separated by small courts. Some
of the polygonal blocks have apotropaic figures carved on
them in bas relief, but these are badly weathered.
The second circuit, much shorter but far more impressive, is trapezoidal and extends for more than 600 m
around the citadel at the town summit. These walls, except for a short stretch on the N, are almost perfectly
preserved and free of later accretions; and they are now
easily accessible, since a peripheral road (Via Gregoriana) was built at the foot of them in 1843. Their height
varies according to the slope of the ground. At the SE
angle they rise to ca. 17 m in 14 interlocked courses.
Near the same angle, in the S wall, is the main entrance
(Porta di Civita) by which one ascends through the
thickness of the wall along an inclined ramp and up some
steps to the citadel above: the actual gate (2.75 x 4.50 m)
has for its lintel an enormous horizontal monolith. A
smaller gate (Grotta del Seininario) pierces the NW wall
of the citadel in the same way; its lintel also is horizontal
and huge and, although smaller than its mate, weighs
several tons: it is adorned with three much damaged
apotropaic phalli in bas relief.
Antiquities are housed in the Museo Civico (Palazzo
Casegrandi). The notable collection of Latin inscriptions
includes one which reveals that ca. 100 B.C. the local
grandee L. Betilienus Varus brought an aqueduct into
Aletrium from the S. Agnello springs, some 16 km to
the N above Guarcino: conspicuous remains of it are
visible near the confluence of the river Cosa and the
Fosso del Purpuro.
A small temple of the so-called Etrusco-Italic type was
excavated on the N outskirts of Alatri in the late 19th c.,
and a full-scale, if somewhat fanciful, reconstruction of
it was erected in the garden of the Museo Nazionale di
Villa Giulia in Rome, where it can still be seen.
H. Winnefeld, “Antichità di Alatri” in Mitteil. deut. arch. inst., Röm. Abt
. 4 (1889), 126-52,
pls. V, VIMPI
; M. E. Blake, Ancient Roman Construction
(1947) 97f; G. Lugli, La Tecnica Edilizia Romana
(1957) 131-34, pls. VII, XXI; L. Gasperini, Aletrium
E. T. SALMON