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APENNI´NUS MONS ( Ἀπέννινος, τὸ Ἀπέννινον ὄρος. The singular form is generally used, in Greek as well as Latin, but both Polybius and Strabo occasionally have τὰ Ἀπέννινα ὄρη. In Latin the singular only is used by the best writers). The Apennines, a chain of mountains which traverses almost the whole length of Italy, and may be considered as constituting the backbone of that country, and determining its configuration and physical characters. The name is probably of Celtic origin, and contains the root Pen, a head or height, which is found in all the Celtic dialects. Whether it may originally have been applied to some particular mass or group of mountains, from which it was subsequently extended to the whole chain, as the singular [p. 1.154]form of the name might lead us to suspect, is uncertain: but the more extensive use of the name is fully established, when it first appears in history. The general features and direction of the chain are well described both by Polybius and Strabo, who speak of the Apennines as extending from their junction with the Alps in an unbroken range almost to the Adriatic Sea; but turning off as they approached the coast (in the neighbourhood of Ariminum and Ancona), and extending from thence throughout the whole length of Italy, through Samnium, Lucania, and Bruttium, until they ended at the promontory of Leucopetra, on the Sicilian Sea. Polybius adds, that throughout their course from the plains of the Padus to their southern extremity they formed the dividing ridge between the waters which flowed respectively to the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic seas. The same thing is stated by Lucan, whose poetical description of the Apennines is at the same time distinguished by geographical accuracy. (Pol. 2.16, 3.110;. Strab. ii. p.128, v. p. 211; Ptol. 3.1.44; Lucan 2.396-438; Claudian. de VI. Cons. Hon. 286.) But an accurate knowledge of the course and physical characters of this range of mountains is so necessary to the clear comprehension of the geography of Italy, and the history of the nations that inhabited the different provinces of the peninsula, that it will be desirable to give in this place a more detailed account of the physical geography of the Apennines.

There was much difference of opinion among ancient, as well as modern, geographers, in regard to the point they assigned for the commencement of the Apennines, or rather for their junction with the Alps, of which they may, in fact, be considered only as a great offshoot. Polybius describes the Apennines as extending almost to the neighbourhood of Massilia, so that he must have comprised under this appellation all that part of the Maritime Alps, which extend along the sea-coast to. the west of Genoa, and even beyond Nice towards Marseilles. Other writers fixed on the port of Hercules Monoecus (Monaco) as the point of demarcation: but Strabo extends the name of the Maritime Alps as far E. as Vada Sabbata (Vado), and says that the Apennines begin about Genoa: a distinction apparently in accordance with the usage of the Romans, who frequently apply the name of the Maritime Alps to the country of the Ingauni, about Albenga. (Liv. 28.46; Tac. Hist. 2.12.) Nearly the same distinction has been adopted by the best modern geographers, who have regarded the Apennines as commencing from the neighbourhood of Savona, immediately at the back of which the range is so low that the pass between that city and Carcare, in the valley of the Bormida, does not exceed the height of 1300 feet. But the limit must, in any case, be an arbitrary one: there is no real break or interruption of the mountain chain. The mountains behind Genoa itself are still of very moderate elevation, but after that the range increases rapidly in height, as well as breadth, and extends in a broad unbroken mass almost in a direct line (in an ESE. direction) till it approaches the coast of the Adriatic. Throughout this part of its course the range forms the southern limit of the great plain of Northern Italy, which extends without interruption from the foot of the Apennines to that of the Alps. Its highest summits attain an elevation of 5000 or 6000 feet, while its average height ranges between 3000 and 4000 feet. Its northern declivity presents a remarkable uniformity: the long ranges of hills which descend from the central chain, nearly at right angles to its direction, constantly approaching within a few miles of the straight line of the Via Aemilia throughout its whole length from Ariminum to Placentia, but without ever crossing it. On its southern side, on the contrary, it sends out several detached arms, or lateral ranges, some of which attain to an elevation little inferior to that of the central chain. Such is the lofty and rugged range which separates the vallies of the Macra and Auser (Serchio), and contains the celebrated marble quarries of Carrara; the highest point of which (the Pizzo d'Uccello) is not less than 5800 feet above the sea. Similar ridges, though of somewhat less elevation, divide the upper and lower vallies of the Arnus from each other, as well as that of the Tiber from the former.

But after approaching within a short distance of the Adriatic, so as to send down its lower slopes within a few miles of Ariminum, the chain of the Apennines suddenly takes a turn to the SSE., and assumes a direction parallel to the coast of the Adriatic, which it preserves, with little alteration, to the frontiers of Lucania. It is in this part of the range that all the highest summits of the Apennines are found: the Monti della Sibilla, in which are the sources of the Nar (Nera) rise to a height of 7200 feet above the sea, while the Monte Corno, or Gran Sasso d'Italia, near Aquila, the loftiest summit of the whole chain, attains to an elevation of 9500 feet. A little further S. is the Monte Majella, a huge mountain mass between Sulmo and the coast of the Adriatic, not less than 9000 feet in height, while the Monte Velino, N. of the Lake Fucinus, and nearly in the centre of the peninsula, attains to 8180 feet, and the Monte Terminillo, near Leonessa, NE. of Rieti, to above 7000 feet. It is especially in these Central Apennines that the peculiar features of the chain develope themselves. Instead of presenting, like the Alps and the more northern Apennines, one great uniform ridge, with transverse vallies leading down from it towards the sea on each side, the Central Apennines constitute a mountain mass of very considerable breadth, composed of a number of minor ranges and groups of mountains, which, notwithstanding great irregularities and variations, preserve a general parallelism of direction, and are separated by upland vallies, some of which are themselves of considerable elevation and extent. Thus the basin of Lake Fucinus, in the centre of the whole mass, and almost exactly midway between the two seas, is at a level of 2180 feet above the sea; the upper valley of the Aternus, near Amiternum, not less than 2380 feet; while between the Fucinus and the Tyrrhenian Sea we find the upper vallies of the Liris and the Anio running parallel to one another, but separated by lofty mountain ranges from each other and from the basin of the Fucinus. Another peculiarity of the Apennines is that the loftiest summits scarcely ever form a continuous or connected range of any great extent, the highest groups being frequently separated by ridges of comparatively small elevation, which afford in consequence natural passes across the chain. Indeed, the two loftiest mountain masses of the whole, the Gran Sasso, and the Majella, do not belong to the central or main range of the Apennines at all, if this be reckoned in the customary manner along the line of the water-shed between the two seas. As the Apennines descend into Samnium [p. 1.155]they diminish in height, though still forming a vast mass of mountains of very irregular form and structure.

From the Monte Nerone, near the sources of the Metaurus, to the valley of the Sagrus, or Sangro, the main range of the Apennines continues much nearer to the Adriatic than the Tyrrhenian Sea; so that a very narrow strip of low country intervenes between the foot of the mountains and the sea on their eastern side, while on the west the whole broad tract of Etruria and Latium separates the Apennines from the Tyrrhenian. This is indeed broken by numerous minor ranges of hills, and even by mountains of considerable elevation (such as the Monte Amiata, near Radicofani), some of which may be considered as dependencies or outliers of the Apennines; while others are of volcanic origin, and wholly independent of them. To this last class belong the Mons Ciminus and the Alban Hills; the range of the Volscian Mountains, on the contrary, now called Monti Lepini, which separates the vallies of the Trerus and the Liris from the Pontine Marshes, certainly belongs to the system of the Apennines, which here again descend to the shore of the western sea between Tarracina and Gaieta. From thence the western ranges of the chain sweep round in a semicircle around the fertile plain of Campania, and send out in a SW. direction the bold and lofty ridge which separates the Bay of Naples from that of Salerno, and ends in the promontory of Minerva, opposite to the island of Capreae. On the E. the mountains gradually recede from the shores of the Adriatic, so as to leave a broad plain between their lowest slopes and the sea, which extends without interruption from the mouth of the Frento (Fortore) to that of the Aufidus (Ofanto): the lofty and rugged mass of Mount Garganus, which has been generally described from the days of Ptolemy to our own as a branch of the Apennines, being, in fact, a wholly detached and isolated ridge. [GARGANUS] In the southern parts of Samnium (the region of the Hirpini) the Apennines present a very confused and irregular mass; the central point or knot of which is formed by the group of mountains about the head of the Aufidus, which has the longest course from W. to E. of any of the rivers of Italy S. of the Padus. From this point the central ridge assumes a southerly direction, while numerous offshoots or branches occupy almost the whole of Lucania, extending on the W. to the Tyrrhenian Sea, and on the S. to the Gulf of Tarentum. On the E. of the Hirpini, and immediately on the frontiers of Apulia and Lucania, rises the conspicuous mass of Mount Vultur, which, though closely adjoining the chain of the Apennines, is geologically and physically distinct from them, being an isolated mountain of volcanic origin. [VULTUR.] But immediately S. of Mt. Vultur there branches off from the central mass of the Apennines a chain of great hills, rather than mountains, which extends to the eastward into Apulia, presenting a broad tract of barren hilly country, but gradually declining in height as it approaches the Adriatic, until it ends on that coast in a range of low hills between Egnatia and Brundusium. The peninsula of Calabria is traversed only by a ridge of low calcareous hills of tertiary origin and of very trifling elevation, though magnified by many maps and geographical writers into a continuation of the Apennines. (Cluver. Ital. p. 30; Swinburne, Travels in the Two Sicilies, vol. i. pp. 210, 211.) The main ridge of the latter approaches very near to the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the neighbourhood of the Gulf of Policastro (Buxentum), and retains this proximity as it descends through Bruttium;. but E. of Consentia (Cosenza) lies the great forest-covered mass of the Sila, in some degree detached from the main chain, and situated between it and the coast near Crotona. A little further south occurs a remarkable break in the hitherto continuous chain of the Apennines, which appears to end abruptly near the modern village of Tiriolo, so that the two gulfs of Sta Eusfemia and Squillace (the Sinus Terinaeus and Scylletinus) are separated only by a low neck of land, less than 20 miles in breadth, and of such small elevation that not only did the elder Dionysius conceive the idea of carrying a wall across this isthmus (Strab. vi. p.261), but in modern times Charles III., king of Naples, proposed to cut a canal through it. The mountains which rise again to the S. of this remarkable interruption, form a lofty and rugged mass (now called Aspromonte), which assumes a SW. direction and continues to the extreme southern point of Italy, where the promontory of Leucopetra is expressly designated, both by Strabo and Ptolemy, as the extremity of the Apennines. (Strab. v. p.211; Ptol. 3.1.44.) The loftiest summit in the southern division of the Apennines is the Monte Pollino, near the south frontier of Lucania, which rises to above 7000 feet: the highest point of the Sila attains to nearly 6000 feet, and the summit of Aspromonte to above 4500 feet. (For further details concerning the geography of the Apennines, especially in Central Italy, the reader may consult Abeken, Mittel-Italien, pp. 10--17, 80--85; Kramer, Der Fuciner See, pp. 5--11.)

Almost the whole mass of the Apennines consists of limestone: primary rocks appear only in the southernmost portion of the chain, particularly in the range of the Aspromonte, which, in its geological structure and physical characters, presents much more analogy with the range in the NE. of Sicily, than with the rest of the Apennines. The loftier ranges of the latter are for the most part bare rocks; none of them at. tain such a height as to be covered with perpetual snow, though it is said to lie all the year round in the rifts and hollows of Monte Majella and the Gran Sasso. But all the highest summits, including the Monte Velino and Monte Terminillo, both of which are visible from Rome, are covered with snow early in November, and it does not disappear before the end of May. There is, therefore, no exaggeration in Virgil's expression, “nivali
Vertice se attollens pater Apenninus ad auras.
Aen. 12.703; see also Sil. Ital. 4.743.

The flanks and lower ridges of the loftier mountains are still, in many places, covered with dense woods; but it is probable that in ancient times the forests were far more extensive (see Plin. Nat. 31.3. 26): many parts of the Apennines which are now wholly bare of trees being known to have been covered with forests in the middle ages. Pine trees appear only on the loftier summits: at a lower level. are found woods of oak and beech, while chesnuts and holm-oaks (ilices) clothe the lower slopes and vallies. The mountain regions of Samnium and the districts to the N. of it afford excellent pasturage in summer both for sheep and cattle, on which account they were frequented not only by their own herdsmen, but by those of Apulia, who annually drove their flocks from their own parched and dusty [p. 1.156]plains to the upland vallies of the neighbouring Apennines. (Varr. de R. R. 2.1.16.) The same districts furnished, like most mountain pasturages, excellent cheeses. (Plin. Nat. 11.42. s. 97.) We find very few notices of any peculiar natural productions of the Apennines. Varro tells us that wild goats (by which he probably means the Bouquetin, or Ibex, an animal no longer found in Italy) were still numerous about the Montes Fiscellus and Tetrica (de R. R. 2.1.5.), two of the summits of the range.

Very few distinctive appellations of particular mountains or summits among the Apennines have been transmitted to us, though it is probable that in ancient, as well as modern, times, almost every conspicuous mountain had its peculiar local name. The MONS FISCELLUS of Varro and Pliny, which, according to the latter, contained the sources of the Nar, is identified by that circumstance with the Monti della Sibilla, on the frontiers of Picenum. The MONS TETRICA (Tetricae horrentes rupes, Verg. A. 7.713) must have been in the same neighbourhood, perhaps a part of the same group, but cannot be distinctly identified, any more than the MONS SEVERUS of Virgil, which he also assigns to the Sabines. The MONS CUNARUS, known only from Servius (Serv. ad Aen. 10.185), who calls it “a mountain in Picenum,” has been supposed by Cluver to be the one now called Il Gran Sasso d'Italia; but this is a mere conjecture. The “GURGURES, alti montes” of Varro (de R. R. 2.1.16) appear to have been in the neighbourhood of Reate. All these apparently belong to the lofty central chain of the Apennines: a few other mountains of inferior magnitude are noticed from their proximity to Rome, or other accidental causes. Such are the detached and conspicuous height of Mount Soracte (SORACTE), the MONS LUCRETILIS (now Monte Genearo), one of the highest points of the range of Apennines immediately fronting Rome and the plains of Latium; the MONS TIFATA, adjoining the plains of Campania, and MONS CALLICULA, on the frontiers of that country and Samnium, both of them celebrated in the campaigns of Hannibal; and the MONS TABURNUS, in the territory of the Caudine Samnites, near Beneventum, still called Monte Taburno. In the more southern regions of the Apennines we find mention by name of the MONS ALBURNUS, on the banks of the Silarus, and the SILA in Bruttium, which still retains its ancient appellation. The Mons Vultur and Garganus, as already mentioned, do not properly belong to the Apennines, any more than Vesuvius, or the Alban hills.

From the account above given of the Apennines it is evident that the passes over the chain do not assume the degree of importance which they do in the Alps. In the northern part of the range from Liguria to the Adriatic, the roads which crossed them were carried, as they still are, rather over the bare ridges, than along the vallies and courses of the streams. The only dangers of these passes arise from the violent storms which rage there in the winter, and which even, on one occasion, drove back Hannibal when he attempted to cross them. Livy's striking description of this tempest is, according to the testimony of modern witnesses, little, if at all, exaggerated. (Liv. 21.58; Niebuhr, Vorträge üiber Alte Länder, p. 336.) The passes through the more lofty central Apennines are more strongly marked by nature, and some of them must have been frequented from a very early period as the natural lines of communication from one district to another. Such are especially the pass from Reate, by Interocrea, to the valley of the Aternus, and thence to Teate and the coast of the Adriatic; and, again, the line of the Via Valeria, from the upper valley of the Anio to the Lake Fucinus, and thence across the passage of the Forca Caruso (the Mons Imeus of the Itineraries) to Corfinium. The details of these and the other passes of the Apennines loftiest will be best given under the heads of the respective regions or provinces to which they belong.

The range of the Apennines is, as remarked by ancient authors, the source of almost all the rivers of Italy, with the exception only of the Padus and its northern tributaries, and the streams which descend from the Alps into the upper part of the Adriatic. The numerous rivers which water the northern declivity of the Apennine chain, from the foot of the Maritime Alps to the neighbourhood of Ariminum, all unite their waters with those of the Padus; but from the time it takes the great turn to the southward, it sends off its streams on both sides direct to the two seas, forming throughout the rest of its course the watershed of Italy. Few of these rivers have any great length of course, and not being fed, like the Alpine streams, from perpetual snows, they mostly partake much of the nature of torrents, being swollen and violent in winter and spring, and nearly dry or reduced to but scanty streams, in the summer. There are, however, some exceptions: the Arnus and the Tiber retain, at all seasons, a considerable body of water, while the Liris and Vulturnus both derive their origin from subterranean sources, such as are common in all limestone countries, and gush forth at once in copious streams of clear and limpid water.


hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 7.713
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 2.12
    • Lucan, Civil War, 2.396
    • Lucan, Civil War, 2.438
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 11.42
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 31.3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 28, 46
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 21, 58
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
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