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BENA´CUS LACUS (Βήνακος λίμνη, Strab.: Βαίνακος, Ptol.), a lake in Cisalpine Gaul, at the foot of the Alps, formed by the river Mincius, now called the Lago di Garda. (Plin. Nat. 3.19. s. 23; Verg. A. 10.205.) It is the largest of all the lakes in Italy, greatly exceeding both the Lacus Larius and Verbanus in breadth and superficial extent, though inferior to them in length. Strabo, on the authority of Polybius, states its length at 500 stadia, and its breadth at 130 (iv. p. 209). but the former distance is greatly exaggerated, its real length being less than 30 G. miles, or 300 stadia: its greatest breadth is nearly 10 G. miles. The northern half of it, which is pent in between lofty and very precipitous mountains, is however comparatively narrow: it is only the southern portion which expands to the considerable breadth above stated. The course of the lake is nearly straight from NNE. to SSW., so that the north winds from the high Alps sweep down it with unbroken force, and the storms on its surface exceed in violence those on any other of the Italian lakes. Hence Virgil justly speaks of it as rising into waves, and roaring like the sea. (Fluctibus et fremitu assurgens Benace merino, Verg. G. 2.160; Serv. ad loc.) The shore at its southern extremity is comparatively low, being bounded only by gently sloping hills, from which projects a narrow tongue of land, forming the beautiful peninsula of SIRMIO which divides this part of the lake into two nearly equal portions. The river Mincius issues from its SE. extremity, where stood the town of ARDELICA on the site of the modern fortress of Peschiera. Most ancient writers speak of the Mincius as having its source in the lake Benacus (Serv. ad Aen. 10.205 ; Vib. Seq. pp. 6, 14; Isidor. Orig. 13.19), but Pliny tells us that it flowed through the lake without allowing their waters to mix, in the same manner as the Addua did through the Larian Lake, and the Rhone through the Lacus Lemannus. (2.103. s. 106.) It is evident, therefore, that he must have considered the river which enters the lake at its northern extremity, and is now called the Sarca, as being the same with the Mincius, which would certainly be correct in a geographical point of view, though not in accordance with either ancient or modern usage; According to the same author vast quantities of eels were taken at a certain season of the year where the Mincius issued from the lake. (Plin. Nat. 9.22. s. 38.)

Several inscriptions have been found, in which the name of the BENACENSES occurs, whence it has been supposed that there was a town of the name of Benacus. But it is more probable that this name designates the population of the banks of the lake in general, who would naturally combine for various purposes, such as the erection of honorary statues and inscriptions. The greater part of these have been found at a place called Toscolano, on the W. bank of the lake, about 5 miles N. of Salò; the ancient name of which is supposed to have been Tusculanum. (See however Orelli, 2183.) It appears to have had a temple or sanctuary, which was a place of common resort from all parts of the lake. The name of Benacus occurs in an inscription found at S. Vigilio on the opposite shore, as that of the tutelary deity of the lake, the “Pater Benacus” of Virgil. (Rossi, Memsorie di Brescia, pp. 200, 201; Cluver. Ital. p. 107.) The modern town of Garda, from whence the lake derives its present appellation, appears from inscriptions discovered there to have been inhabited in Roman times, but its ancient name is unknown.


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