previous next

POPULO´NIUM

POPULO´NIUM or POPULO´NIA (Ποπλώνιον: Eth. Populoniensis: Populonia), an ancient city of Etruria, situated on the seacoast, nearly opposite the island of Ilva (Elba), and about 5 miles N. of from the modern city of Piombino. It stood on a lofty hill, rising abruptly from the sea, and forming the northern extremity of the detached and almost insulated promontory, the southern end of which is occupied by the modern town of Piombino. This promontory (the Ποπλώνιον ἄκρον of Ptolemy) is separated from the hills in the interior by a strip of flat marshy ground, about ,5 miles in width, which in ancient times was occupied in great measure by lagunes or paduli; so that its position is nearly analogous to that of the still more striking Monte Argentaro. The Maritime Itinerary places it 30 miles S. of the Vada Volaterrana, which is just about the truth (Itin. Marit. p. 501). Strabo says it was the only one of the ancient Etruscan cities which was situated on the sea-shore (Strab. v. p.223), and the remark is repeated by Pliny; thus apparently excluding Cosa as well as Pyrgi and other smaller places from that designation. It is probable at least that Populonium was the most considerable of the maritime cities of Etruria; but there are no grounds for regarding it as one of the Twelve Cities of the League, or as ever rivalling in importance the great cities of the interior. Virgil indeed represents it as one of the Etruscan cities which sent forces to the assistance of Aeneas (Aen. 10.172), a statement that seems to prove his belief in its antiquity; but other accounts represented it as a colony of Volaterrae, and therefore of comparatively recent date. Servius tells us that it was first founded by the Corsicans, from whom it was afterwards wrested by the Volaterrans; and distinctly represents it as of later date than the twelve chief cities of Etruria. (Serv. ad Aen. l.c.) It pro. bably derived its chief prosperity from its connection. with the neighbouring island of Ilva, the iron produced in the latter being all conveyed to Populonium to be smelted, and thence exported to other regions. (Strab. l.c.; Pseud. Arist. de Mirab. 95; Varr. ap Serv. ad Aen. 10.174.) Hence, in B.C. 205, when Scipio was fitting out his fleet for Africa, and the Etruscan cities came forward with their voluntary contributions, the Populonians undertook to supply him with iron. (Liv. 28.45.) This is the first occasion on which the name is mentioned in history; a few years later (B.C. 202) we are told that the consul Claudius Nero, on his voyage to Sardinia, took refuge with his fleet in the port of Populonium from the violence of a storm. (Id. 30.39). No further mention of it occurs in history; but we learn from Strabo that it sustained a siege from the forces of Sulla at the same time with Volaterrae, and it appears to have never recovered the blow it then received; for in the time of that geographer the city itself was almost desolate, only the temples and a few houses remaining. The port, however, was still [p. 2.660] frequented, and a town had grown up around it at the foot of the hill. (Strab. v. p.233.) Its name is still mentioned as an existing town by all the other geographers, and Ptolemy especially notices the city as well as promontory of Populonium (Mel. 2.4.9; Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 8; Ptol. 3.1.4); but this is the last evidence of its existence; and before the close of the Western Empire it had fallen into complete decay. It is described by Rutilius at the beginning of the fifth century as entirely desolate, nothing remaining but fragments of its massive walls and the fallen ruins of other edifices. Gregory the Great also describes it towards the close of the sixth century as in a state of complete decay, though retaining an episcopal see; but at a later period of the middle ages a feudal castle was erected on the site, which, with the few adjacent houses, still bears the name of Populonia, and is a conspicuous object from a distance. (Rutil. Itin. 1.401--414; Gregor. Ep. ap. Cluver. Ital. p. 514.)

The only Etruscan remains now existing at Populonium (with the exception of a few tombs of no interest) are those of the ancient walls, which may be traced in fragments all round the brow of the hill, throughout the entire circuit of the city. This did not exceed a mile and a half in circumference; it was of an irregular form, adapted to the requirements of the ground. The walls are constructed of rude masses of stone, arranged, like those of Volterra, in horizontal layers, but with little regularity; they are not, however, nearly so gigantic in character as those of Volterra, Fiesole, or Cortona. Within the circuit of the walls are to be seen some vaulted chambers, six in a row (which have been erroneously called an amphitheatre), a mosaic pavement, and some reservoirs of water, all unquestionably of Roman date. (Dennis's Etruria, vol. ii. p. 236--238.)

On the highest point of the hill, in the days of Rutilius, stood a lonely watch-tower, serving at the same time as a beacon for ships. (Rutil. Itin. 1.407.) It was from this point that, according to Strabo, the view comprised not only Corsica (which is visible from many points of the mainland), but Sardinia also. (Strab. l.c.) But this last assertion, though it has been repeated by many writers, is certainly erroneous, as, even if the distance were not too great, the nearer mountains of Elba would effectually conceal those of Sardinia from the view. (Dennis, vol. ii. p. 239.)

We learn from the Tabula that there were hot springs in the territory of Populonium, which had given rise to a bathing-place called the AQUAE POPULONIAE (Tab. Peut.). These were evidently the same now known as Le Caldane, at the foot of Campiglia, about 6 miles from Populonium, which have been identified by some writers with the “aquae calidae ad Vetulonios” mentioned by Pliny (2.10. s. 106); but there is no authority for placing Vetulonia in this neighbourhood. (Dennis, vol. ii. p. 225.) [VETULONIA]

Populonium was the only city of Etruria which had a silver coinage of its own, of a very peculiar style, the reverse being generally quite plain, without type or legend, and not incuse or indented, as on the earliest Greek coins. The ordinary type is a Gorgon's head or mask, similar to that on many Etruscan monuments. The copper coins give the Etruscan name of the city “Pupluna” at full--ΠΥΠΛΥΝΑ. It is not improbable (as suggested by Millingen) that the Populonians derived the art of coinage from the Phocaeans of Corsica; but there is certainly no ground for admitting the existence of a Phocaean colony at Populonium itself. (Millingen, Numism. de l'Anc. Italie, p. 163; Eckhel, Num. Vet. Anecd. pp. 10--18.)

COIN OF POPULONIUM.

[E.H.B]

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: