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FU´CINUS LACUS

FU´CINUS LACUS ( Φουκίνα λίμνη, Strab.: Lago Fucino or Lago di Celano), a lake in the centre of Italy, in the country of the Marsi, remarkable as being the only one of any extent that is found in the central Apennines. Strabo calls it “in size like a sea” (πελαγία τὸ μέγεθος, v. p. 240); but this expression would convey a very exaggerated notion of its magnitude: it is, however, the largest lake in Central Italy, though but little exceeding those of Trasimene and Volsinii. Its circumference is variously estimated at 30, 40, or even 50 miles, but according to the best maps does not really exceed 25 Italian, or about 29 English miles. Its form is nearly oval; and it is situated in a basin, surrounded on all sides by mountains, without any visible natural outlet. In a geographical point of view the lake Fucinus is of importance as being situated almost exactly in the centre of the peninsula of Italy, being just about half way between the Tyrrhenian sea and the Adriatic, and also at the middle point of a line drawn from the northern ridge of the Apennines to the gulf of Tarentum. It would therefore have justly deserved the name of the “Umbilicus Italiae,” applied with much less reason to the insignificant pool of Cutilia. [CUTILIAE LACUS.] The basin of the lake Fucinus is itself at a considerable elevation, the waters of the lake being not less than 2176 feet above the level of the sea; but the mountains rise on all sides of it to a much greater height, especially on the N., where the doublepeaked Monte Velino attains the elevation of 8180 feet. On the E. and W. the basin of the lake is bounded by limestone ridges of much inferior elevation, but steep and rocky, which separate it from the valleys of the Liris and the Gizio. Towards the NW. its shores are gentle and sloping, and separated only by a very moderate acclivity from the waters of the Imele or Salto, which flow towards Rieti and the valley of the Tiber.

The lake Fucinus is almost always described as situated in the country of the Marsi (Strab. v. p.240; Vib. Seq. pp. 16, 23; D. C. 60.11), and that people certainly occupied its shores for at least three-fourths of their extent; but Alba (surnamed Fucensis from its proximity to the lake) appears to have been more properly an Aequian city. [ALBA FUCENSIS] Alba stood on a. hill about 3 miles from the NW. extremity of the lake; on its eastern shore, close to the water's edge, was situated MARRUBIUM the capital of the Marsi, of which the ruins are still visible at S. Benedetto. CERFENNIA also a Marsic town, occupied the site of Sta. Felicità, about 2 miles N. of Marrubium, and at the foot of the steep mountain pass known as the Mons Imeus or Forca Caruso, which afforded the only communication from the basin of the Fucinus to that of the Aternus and the Adriatic. On the W. shore of the [p. 1.918]lake stood the LUCUS ANGITIAE a sanctuary and sacred grove of the goddess Angitia, who was in all probability a native Marsic divinity, whose supposed connection with Circe and Medea was derived from the fact of her presiding over the magic herbs and incantations for which the Marsi were always famous. [MARSI] At a later period there grew up a town upon the spot, which is called in inscriptions ANGITIA, but must have also been currently known as Lucus; for we find the Lucenses mentioned by Pliny among the towns of the Marsi. and the name is still retained by the modern village of Luco or Lugo. [LUCUS ANGITIAE] The beautiful lines of Virgil, in which he associates the grove of Angitia with the “glassy waters” of the Fucinus, are well known. (Verg. A. 7.759; Sil. Ital. 4.344.)

According to a tradition mentioned by Pliny and Solinus there had formerly existed on the shores of the Fucinus a town named Archippe, which had been swallowed up by the waters of the lake (Plin. Nat. 3.12. s. 17; Solin. 2.6); and Holstenius tells us that the neighbouring inhabitants still preserved the tradition, and pretended that the remains of the lost city were visible, when the waters were low, at a spot between Trasacco and Ortucchio, near the S. shore of the lake. (Holsten. Not. ad Cluv. p. 154.) But the whole story has a very fabulous aspect. Another marvel related of the lake Fucinus was, that it was traversed by a river called the Pitonius, without their waters becoming mingled. (Vib. Seq. p. 16; Plin. Nat. 2.103. s. 106, 31.3. s. 24.) The story (which is told of many other lakes) is the more singular in this case, because the Fucinus has no visible natural outlet, no stream flowing from it in any direction. But there can be no doubt that its surplus waters were originally carried off by a subterranean channel, the opening of which, at a spot a little to the N. of Luco, is distinctly visible, and is still called La Pedogna, a name evidently retaining that of the ancient Pitonius. On the other hand, the only stream of any magnitude that flows into the lake is that now called the Giovenco, which enters it close to Marrubium, and is a perennial stream of clear water, supposed by some local writers to be derived from the neighbouring Lago di Scanno: this, therefore, must be the Pitonius of the ancients. There can be little doubt that a part of the waters of the Fucinus sink into a chasm or natural cavity at La Pedogna, from which they emerge (as is often the case in limestone countries) at some distant point: and this is precisely the statement of Lycophron, whose expressions are unusually clear upon the subject of the Pitonius, though he has distorted the name of the Fucinus into that of λίμνη Φόρκη Μαρσιωνίς (Alex. 1275). Later writers went further, and conceived that they could recognise the spot where these waters emerged again from their subterranean channel, which they identified with the sources of the Aqua Marcia in the valley of the Anio, though these are more than 20 miles distant from the lake Fucinus, and separated from it by the deep valley of the Liris. This belief appears to have had no better foundation than the great clearness of the water in both cases (which would apply equally to many other sources much nearer to the lake), but it was generally adopted in antiquity: Strabo states it as a well-known fact; and Pliny, combining both marvels in one, relates that the Aqua Marcia, which was called at its source Pitonia, took its rise in the mountains of the Peligni, flowed through the Marsi and the lake Fucinus, then sunk into a cavern and ultimately emerged in the territory of Tibur, from whence it was carried by an aqueduct to Rome. Statius also speaks of the Aqua Marcia as derived from the snows of the Marsic mountains. (Strab. v. p.240; Plin. Nat. 31.3. s. 24; Stat. Silv. 1.3.)

The subterranean outlets of the Fucinus were, however, often insufficient to carry off its surplus waters; and the lake was in consequence subject to sudden rises, when it overflowed the low grounds on its banks, and caused much mischief. Strabo tells us that it sometimes swelled so as to fill up the whole basin to the foot of the mountains, at others would sink and leave dry a considerable tract, which then became susceptible of culture. (Strab. v. p.240.) The project of obviating the evils arising from this cause, by the construction of an artificial emissary or subterranean canal from the lake into the valley of the Liris, was among the great designs entertained by Caesar, but frustrated by his death. (Suet. Jul. 44.) Its execution was afterwards repeatedly urged upon Augustus by the Marsi, but. without effect, and it was reserved for Claudius to accomplish this great work. The main difficulty consisted in the hardness of the limestone rock through which the gallery had to be cut: the length of this is stated by Suetonius at three Roman miles (an estimate somewhat below the truth1); and he tells us that 30,000 workmen were employed on it continuously for a period of 11 years. The opening of it was celebrated by Claudius with great magnificence, and a mock naval combat was exhibited on the lake upon the occasion; but owing to the defective arrangements, a catastrophe ensued, in which many persons lost their lives, and the emperor himself narrowly escaped. (Suet. Cl. 20, 21, 32; Tac. Ann. 12.56, 57; D. C. 60.33.) The emissary, however, appears to have fully answered its purpose at the time; but Nero, through hatred of Claudius, suffered the works to fall into decay, and it became necessary for Hadrian to restore them, on which account his biographer gives him the credit of having constructed them. (Plin. Nat. 36.15. s. 24; Spartian. Hadr. 22, who says briefly, “Fucinum emisit.” ) From this period we have no further account of it; but it appears to have fallen into decay in the middle ages, and became obstructed by the falling in of stones and earth from above; and though many attempts have been made from the year 1240 to the present day to clear it out, and restore it to a serviceable state, they have been hitherto without effect. It is, however, readily accessible at both ends, and even in its present state sufficiently attests the justice of Pliny's admiration, who deservedly. ranks it among the most memorable proofs of Roman greatness. (Plin. l.c.) The whole work was examined in detail and described, in 1825, by a Neapolitan engineer named Rivera: the results of his researches are given by Kramer, whose excellent monography of the lake Fucinus (Der Fuciner See, 4to. Berlin, 1839) and the surrounding country is one of the most valuable contributions to our knowledge of Italian geography. Its authority has been generally followed in the present article. [E.H.B] [p. 1.919]

1 The actual length, according to the measurements of Rivera, is 21,395 palms, or about 15,600 English feet. (Kramer, Der Fuciner See, p. 40.) The Monte Salviano, through the solid limestone rock of which it was pierced, rises more than 1000 feet above the level of the lake.

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