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ALBA LONGA (Ἄλβα: Albani), a very ancient city of Latium, situated on the eastern side of the lake, to which it gave the name of Lacus Albanus, and on the northern declivity of the mountain, also known as Mons Albanus. All ancient writers agree in representing it as at one time the most powerful city in Latium, and the head of a league or confederacy of the Latin cities, over which it exercised a kind of supremacy or Hegemony; of many of these it was itself the parent, among others of Rome itself. But it was destroyed at such an early period, and its history is mixed up with so much that is fabulous and poetical, that it is almost impossible to separate from thence the really historical elements.

According to the legendary history universally adopted by Greek and Roman writers, Alba was founded by Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, who removed thither the seat of government from Lavinium thirty years after the building of the latter city (Liv. 1.3; Dionys. A. R. 1.66; Strab. p. 229); and the earliest form of the same tradition appears to have assigned a period of 300 years from its foundation to that of Rome, or 400 years for its total duration till its destruction by Tullus Hostilius. (Liv. 1.29; Just. 43.1; Verg. A. 1.272; Niebuhr, vol. i. p. 205.) The former interval was afterwards extended to 360 years in order to square with the date assigned by Greek chronologers to the Trojan war, and the space of time thus assumed was portioned out among the pretended kings of Alba. There can be no doubt that the series of these kings is a clumsy forgery of a late period; but it may probably be admitted as historical that a Silvian house or gens was the reigning family at Alba. (Niebuhr, l.c.) From this house the Romans derived the origin of their own founder Romulus; but Rome itself was not a colony of Alba in the strict sense of the term; nor do we find any evidence of those mutual relations which might be expected to subsist between a metropolis or parent city and its offspring. In fact, no mention of Alba occurs in Roman history from the foundation of Rome till the reign of Tullus Hostilius, when the war broke out which terminated in the de--feat and submission of Alba, and its total destruction a few years afterwards as. a punishment for the treachery of its general Metius Fufetius. The details of this war are obviously poetical, but the destruction of Alba may probably be received as an historical event, though there is much reason to suppose that it was the work of the combined forces of the Latins, and that Rome had comparatively little share in its acomplishment. (Liv. 1.29; Dionys. A. R. 3.31; [p. 1.88]Strab. v. p.231; Niebuhr, vol. i. p. 350, 351.) The city was never rebuilt; its temples alone had been spared, and these appear to have been still existing in the time of Augustus. The name, however, was retained not only by the mountain and lake, but the valley immediately subjacent was called the Vallis Albana, and as late as B.C. 339 we find a body of Roman troops described as encamping “sub jugo Albae Longae” (Liv. 7.39), by which we must certainly understand the ridge on which the city stood, not the mountain above it. The whole surrounding territory was termed the “ager Albanus,” whence the name of Albanum was given to the town which in later ages grew up on the opposite side of the lake. [ALBANUM] Roman tradition derived from Alba the origin of several of the most illustrious patrician families--the Julii, Tullii, Servilii, Quintii, &c.--these were represented as migrating thither after the fall of their native city. (Liv. 1.30; Tac. Ann. 11.24.) Another tradition appears to have described the expelled inhabitants as settling at Bovillae, whence we find the people of that town assuming in inscriptions the title of “Albani Longani Bovillenses.” (Orell. no. 119, 2252.)

But, few as are the historical events related of Alba, all authorities concur in representing it as having been at one time the centre of the league composed of the thirty Latin cities, and as exercising over these the same kind of supremacy to which Rome afterwards succeeded. It was even generally admitted that all these cities were, in fact, colonies from Alba (Liv. 1.52; Dionys. A. R. 3.34), though many of them, as Ardea, Laurentum, Lavinium, Praeneste, Tusculum, &c., were, according to other received traditions, more ancient than Alba itself. There can be no doubt that this view was altogether erroneous; nor can any dependence be placed upon the lists of the supposed Alban colonies preserved by Diodorus (Lib. vii. ap. Euseb. Arm. p. 185), and by the author of the Origo Gentis Romanae (100.17), but it is possible that Virgil may have had some better authority for ascribing to Alba the foundation of the eight cities enumerated by him, viz. Nomentum, Gabii, Fidenae, Collatia, Pometia, Castrum Inui, Bola, and Cora. (Aen. 6.773.) A statement of a very different character has been preserved to us by Pliny, where he enumerates the “populi Albenses” who were accustomed to share with the other Latins in the sacrifices on the Alban Mount (3.5, 9). His list, after excluding the Albani themselves, contains just thirty names; but of these only six or seven are found among the cities that composed the Latin league in B.C. 493: six or seven others are known to us from other sources, as among the smaller towns of Latium1, while all the others are wholly unknown. It is evident that we have here a catalogue derived from a much earlier state of things, when Alba was the head of a minor league, composed principally of places of secondary rank, which were probably either colonies or dependencies of her own, a relation which was afterwards erroneously transferred to that subsisting between Alba and the Latin league. (Niebuhr, vol. i. pp. 202,203, vol. ii. pp. 18--22; who, however, probably goes too far in regarding these “populi Albenses” as mere demes or townships in the territory of Alba.) From the expressions of Pliny it would seem clear that this minor confederacy co-existed with a larger one including all the Latin cities; for there can be no doubt that the common sacrifices on the Alban Mount were typical of such a bond of union among the states that partook of them; and the fact that the sanctuary on the Mons Albanus was the scene of these sacred rites affords strong confirmation of the fact that Alba was really the chief city of the whole Latin confederacy. Perhaps a still stronger proof is found in the circumstance that the Lucus Ferentinae, immediately without the walls of Alba itself, was the scene of their political assemblies.

If any historical meaning or value could be attached to the Trojan legend, we should be led to connect the origin of Alba with that of Lavinium, and to ascribe them both to a Pelasgian source. But there are certainly strong reasons for the contrary view adopted by Niebuhr, according to which Alba and Lavinium were essentially distinct, and even opposed to one another; the latter being the head of the Pelasgian branch of the Latin race, while the former was founded by the Sacrani or Casci, and became the centre and representative of the Oscan element in the population of Latium. [LATINI.] Its name--which was connected, according to the Trojan legend, with the white sow discovered by Aeneas on his landing (Verg. A. 3.390, 8.45; Serv. ad loc.; Varr. de L. L. 5.144; Propert. 4.1. 35)--was probably, in reality, derived from its lofty or Alpine situation.

The site of Alba Longa, though described with much accuracy by ancient writers, had been in modern times lost sight of, until it was rediscovered by Sir W. Gell. Both Livy and Dionysius distinctly describe it as occupying a long and narrow ridge between the mountain and the lake; from which circumstance it derived its distinctive epithet of Longa. (Liv. 1.3; Dionys. A. R. 1.66; Varr. l.c.) Precisely such a ridge runs out from the foot of the central mountain--the Mons Albanus, now Monte Cavo--parting from it by the convent of Palazzolo, and extending along the eastern shore of the lake to its north-eastern extremity, nearly opposite the village of Marino. The side of this ridge towards the lake is completely precipitous, and has the appearance of having been artificially scarped or hewn away in its upper part; at its northern extremity remain many blocks and fragments of massive masonry, which must have formed part of the ancient walls: at the opposite end, nearest to Palazzolo, is a commanding knoll forming the termination of the ridge in that direction, which probably was the site of the Arx, or citadel. The declivity towards the E. and NE. is less abrupt than towards the lake, but still very steep, so that the city must have been confined, as described by ancient authors, to the narrow summit of the ridge, and have extended more than a mile in length. No other ruins than the fragments of the walls now remain; but an ancient road may be distinctly traced from the knoll, now called Mte. Cuccú, along the margin of the lake to the northern extremity of the city, where one of its gates must have been situated. In the deep valley or ravine between the site of Alba and Marino, is a fountain with a copious supply of water, which was undoubtedly the Aqua Ferentina, where the confederate Latins used to hold their national assemblies; a custom which evidently originated while Alba was the head of the league, but continued long after its destruction. (Gell, Topogr. of Rome, p. 90; Nibby, Dintorni di Roma, vol. i. p. 61--65; Niebuhr, vol. i. p. 199.) The [p. 1.89]territory of Alba, which still retained the name of “ager Albanus,” was fertile and well cultivated, and celebrated in particular for the excellence of its wine, which was considered inferior only to the Falernian. (Dionys. A. R. 1.66; Plin. Nat. 23.1. s. 20; Hor. Carm. 4.11. 2, Sat. 2.8. 16.) It produced also a kind of volcanic stone, now called Peperino, which greatly excelled the common tufo of Rome as a building material, and was extensively used as such under the name of “lapis Albanus.” The ancient quarries may be still seen in the valley between Alba and Marino. (Vitr. 2.7; Plin. Nat. 36.22. s. 48; Suet. Aug. 72; Nibby, Roma Antica, vol. i. p. 240.)

Previous to the time of Sir W. Gell, the site of Alba Longa was generally supposed to be occupied by the convent of Palazzolo, a situation which does not at all correspond with the description of the site found in ancient authors, and is too confined a space to have ever afforded room for an ancient city. Niebuhr is certainly in error where he speaks of the modern village of Rocca di Papa as having been the arx of Alba Longa (vol. i. p. 200), that spot being far too distant to have ever had any immediate connection with the ancient city.


1 The discussion of this list of Pliny is given under the article LATINI.

hide References (13 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (13):
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 1.272
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 8.45
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 3.390
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 2.7
    • Tacitus, Annales, 11.24
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 72
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 36.22
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 23.1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 39
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 52
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 29
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 30
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