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CAERE (Κἱρε, Ptol.; Καιρέα, Strab.; Καίρητα, Dionys. : Eth. Καιρετανὸς, Eth. Caeretanus, but the people are usually called Caerites), called by tie Greeks AGYLLA (Ἄγτλλα: Eth. Ἀγτλλαῖος), an ancient and powerful city of Southern Etruria, situated a few miles from the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, on a small stream now called the Vaccina, anciently known as the “Caeretanus amnis.” (Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 8; Caeritis amnis, Verg. A. 8.59.) Its territory bordered on that of Veii on the E. and of Tarquinii on the N.; the city itself was about 27 miles distant from Rome. Its site is still marked by the village of Cervetri. All ancient writers agree in ascribing the foundation of this city to the Pelasgians, by whom it was named Agyllaj the appellation by which it continued to be known to the Greeks down to a late period. Both Straboh and Dionysius derive these Pelasgians from Thessaly, according to a view of the migration of the Pelasgic races, very generally adopted among the Greeks. The same authorities assert distinctly that it was not till its conquest by the Tyrrhenians (whom Strabo calls Lydians), that it obtained the name of Caere: which was derived, according to the legend related by Strabo from the Greek word Χαῖρε, will which the inhabitants saluted the invaders. (Strab. v. p.220; Dionys. A. R. 1.20., 3.58; Serv. ad Aen. 8.597; Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 8.) We have here the clearest evidence of the two elements of which the population of Etruria was composed; and there seems no reason to doubt the historical foundation of the fact, that Caere. was originally. a Pelasgic or Tyrrhenian city, and was afterwards conquered by the Etruscans or Tuscans (called as usual by the Greeks Tyrrhenians) from the north. The existence of its double name is in itself a strong confirmation of this fact; and the circumstance that Agylla, like Spina on the Adriatic, had a treasury of its own at Delphi, is an additional proof of its Pelasgic origin (Strab. l.c.).

The period at which Caere fell into the hands of the Etruscans cannot be determined with any approach to certainty. Niebuhr has inferred from the narrative of Herodotus that the Agyllaeans were still an independent Pelasgic people, and had not yet been conquered by the Etruscans, at the time when they waged war with the Phocaeans of Alalia, about B.C. 535. But it seems difficult to reconcile this with other notices of Etruscan history, or refer the conquest to so late a period. It is probable that Agylla retained much of its Pelasgic habits and connexions long after that event; and the use of the Pelasgic name Agylla proves nothing, as it continued to be exclusively employed by [p. 1.467]Greek authors down to a very late period. Roman authorities throw no light on the early history of Caere, though it appears in the legendary history of Aeneas as a wealthy and powerful city, subject to the rule of a king named Mezentius, a cruel tyrant, who had extended his power over many neighbouring cities, and rendered himself formidable to all his neighbours. (Liv. 1.2; Verg. A. 8.480.)

The first historical mention of Agylla is found in Herodotus, who relates that the Agyllaeans were among the Tyrrhenians who joined the Carthaginians in an expedition against the Phocaean colonists at Alalia in Corsica; and having taken many captives upon that occasion, they put them all to death. This crime was visited on them by divine punishments, until they sent to consult the oracle at Delphi on the subject, and by its advice paid funeral honours to their victims, with public games and other ceremonies. (Hdt. 1.166, 167.) It is clear, therefore, that at this time Agylla was a maritime power of some consideration; and Strabo speaks of it as having enjoyed a great reputation among the Greeks; especially from the circumstance that the Agyllaeans refrained from the piratical habits common to most of the other Tyrrhenian cities. (Strab. l.c.) This did not, however, preserve them at a later period from the attacks of Dionysius of Syracuse, who, having undertaken an expedition to the coasts of Tyrrhenia under pretence of putting down piracy, landed at Pyrgi, the seaport of Agylla, and plundered the celebrated temple of Lucina there, from which he carried off an immense booty, besides laying waste the adjoining territory. (Strab. v. p.226; Diod. 15.14.)

Caere plays a much less important part in the history of Rome than we should have expected from its proximity to that city, and the concurrent testimonies to its great wealth and power. From the circumstance of its being selected by the Romans, when their city was taken by the Gauls, as the place of refuge to which they sent their most precious sacred relics, Niebuhr has inferred (vol. i. p. 385) that there must have been an ancient bond of close connexion between the two cities; and in the first edition of his history he even went so far as to suggest that Rome was itself a colony of Caere; an idea which he afterwards justly abandoned as untenable. Indeed, the few notices we find of it prior to this time, are far from indicating any peculiarly friendly feeling between the two. According to Dionysius, the Caerites were engaged in war against the Romans under the elder Tarquin, who defeated them in a battle and laid waste their territory; and again, after his death, they united their arms with those of the Veientines and Tarquinians against Servius Tullius. (Dionys. A. R. 3.58, 4.27.) Caere was also the first place which afforded a shelter to the exiled Tarquin when expelled from Rome. (Liv. 1.60.) And Livy himself; after recounting the service rendered by them to the Romans at the, capture of the city, records that they were received, in consequence of it, into relations of public hospitality (ut hospitium publicé fieret, 5.50), thus seeming to indicate that no such relations previously existed. From this time, however, they continued on a friendly footing, till B.C. 353, when sympathy for the Tarquinians induced the Caerites once more to take up arms against Rome. They were, however, easily reduced to submission, and obtained a peace for a hundred years. Livy represents this as freely granted, in consideration of their past services; but Dio Cassius informs us that it was purchased at the price of half their territory. (Liv. 7.20; Dio Cass. fr. 33. Bekk.) It is probable that it was on this occasion also that they received the Roman franchise, but without the right of suffrage. This peculiar relation was known in later times as the Caerite franchise, so that “in tabulas Caeritum referre,” became a proverbial expression for disfranchising a Roman citizen (Hor. Ep. 1.6, 62; and Schol. ad loc.), and we are expressly told that the Caerites were the first who were admitted on these terms. (Gel. 16.13.7.) But it is strangely represented as in their case a privilege granted them for their services at the time of the Gaulish war (Strab. v. p.220; Gell. l.c.), though it is evident that the relation could never have been an advantageous one, and was certainly in many other cases rather inflicted as a punishment, than bestowed as a reward. Hence it is far more probable, that instead, of being conferred on the Caerites as a privilege immediately after the Gallic War, it was one of the conditions of the disadvantageous peace imposed on them in B.C. 353, as a punishment for their support to the Tarquinians. (See on this subject, Niebuhr, vol. ii. p. 67, vol. iii. p. 185; Madvig. de Colon. p. 240; Mommsen, Die Römische Tribus, pp. 160, 161; Das Römische Münzwesen, p. 246.) It is uncertain whether the Caerites afterwards obtained the full franchise; we are expressly told that they were reduced to the condition of a Praefecture (Fest. s.v. praefecturae); but during the Second Punic War they were one of the Etruscan cities which were forward to furnish supplies to the armament of Scipio (Liv. 28.45), and it may hence be inferred that at that period they still retained their nominal existence as a separate community. Their relations to Rome had probably been adjusted at the same period with those of the rest of Etruria, concerning which we are almost wholly without information. During the latter period of the Republic it appears to have fallen into decay, and Strabo speaks of it as having, in his time, sunk into complete insignificance, preserving only the vestiges of its former greatness; so that the adjoining watering place of the Aquae Caeretanae actually surpassed the ancient city in population. (Strab. v. p.220.) It appears, however, to have in some measure revived under the Roman empire. Inscriptions and other monuments attest its continued existence during that period as a flourishing municipal town, from the reign of Augustus to that of Trajan. (Gruter, Inscr. p. 214. 1, 226. 4, 236. 4, 239. 9; Bull. d'Inst. Arch. 1840, pp. 5--8; Nibby, Dintorni di Roma, vol. i. p. 342--345.) Its territory was fertile, especially in wine, which Martial praises as not inferior to that of Setia. (Mart. 13.124; Colum. R. R. 3.3.3.) In the fourth century it became the see of a bishop, and still retained its existence under its ancient name through the early part of the middle ages; but at the beginning of the thirteenth century, great part of the inhabitants removed to another site about 3 miles off, to which they transferred the name of Caere or Ceri, while the old town came to be called Caere Vetus, or Cervetri, by which appellation it is still known. (Nibby, l.c. p. 347.)

The modern village of Cervetri (a very poor place) occupies a small detached eminence just without the line of the ancient walls. The outline [p. 1.468]of the ancient city is clearly marked, not so much by the remains of the walls, of which only a few fragments are visible, as by the natural character of the ground. It occupied a table-land, rising in steep cliffs above the plain of the coast, except at the NE. corner, where it was united by a neck to the high land adjoining. On its south side flowed the Caeretanus amnis (the Vaccina), and on the N. was a narrow ravine or glen, on the opposite side of which rises a hill called the Banditaccia, the Necropolis of the ancient city. The latter appears to have been from four to five miles in circuit, and had not less than eight gates, the situation of which may be distinctly traced; but only small portions and foundations of the walls are visible; they were built of rectangular blocks of tufa, not of massive dimensions, but resembling those of Veii and Tarquinii in their size and arrangement.

The most interesting remains of Caere, however, are to be found in its sepulchres. These are, in many cases, sunk in the level surface of the ground, and surmounted with tumuli; in others, they are hollowed out in the sides of the low cliffs which bound the hill of the Banditaccia, and skirt the ravines on each side of it. None of them have any architectural facades, as at Bieda and Castel d'Asso; their decoration is chiefly internal; and their arrangements present a remarkable analogy to that of the houses of the Etruscans. “Many of them had a large central chamber, with others of smaller size opening upon it, lighted by windows in the wall of rock, which served as the partition. This central chamber represented the atrium of Etruscan houses, and the chambers around it the triclinia, for each had a bench of rock round three of its sides, on which the dead had lain, reclining in effigy, as at a banquet. The ceilings of all the chambers had the usual beams and rafters hewn in the rock.” (Dennis's Etruria, vol. ii. p. 32.) One tomb, called from its discoverer the Regulini-Galassi tomb, is entered by a door in the form of a rudely pointed arch, not unlike the gate-way at Arpinum (see p. 222), and like that formed by successive courses of stones gradually approaching till they meet. Some of the tombs also have their interior walls adorned with paintings, resembling those at Tarquinii, but greatly inferior to them in variety and interest. Most of these are of comparatively late date,--certainly not prior to the Roman dominion,--but one tomb is said to contain paintings of a very archaic character, probably more ancient than any at Tarquinii. This is the more interesting, because Pliny speaks of very ancient paintings, believed to be of a date prior to the foundation of Rome, as existing in his time at Caere. (Plin. Nat. 35.3. s. 6.) Another tomb, recently discovered at Cervetri, is curious from its having been the sepulchre of a family bearing the name of Tarquinius, the Etruscan form of which (TARCHNAS) is repeated many times in different inscriptions, while others present it in the Roman form and characters. There seems every reason to believe that this family, if not actually that of the regal Tarquins of Rome, was at least closely connected with them. (Dennis, l.c. p. 42--44; Bull. d'Inst. Arch. 1847, p. 56--61.)

The minor objects found in the sepulchres at Caere, especially those discovered in the Regulini Galassi tomb already mentioned, are of much interest, and remarkable for the very ancient character and style of their workmanship. The painted vases and other pottery have, for the most part, a similar archaic stamp, very few of the beautiful vases of the Greek style so abundant at Vulci and Tarquinii having been found here. Two little vessels of black earthenware, in themselves utterly: insignificant, have acquired a high interest from the circumstance of their bearing inscriptions which there, is much reason to believe to be relics of the Pelasgian language, as distinguished from what is more properly called Etruscan. (Dennis, l.c. pp. 54, 55; Lepsius, in the Annali d'Inst. Arch. 1836, pp. 186--203; Id. Tyrrhenische Pelasger, p. 40--42. For a fuller discussion of this point, see the article ETRURIA

There is no doubt that Caere, in the days of its power, possessed a territory of considerable extent,. bordering on those of Veil and Tarquinii, and probably extending at one time nearly to the mouth of the Tiber. Its seaport was PYRGI itself a considerable city, the foundation of which, as well as that of Agylla, is expressly ascribed to the Pelasgians. [PYRGI] ALSIUM also, of which we find no notice in the early history of Rome, must at this period have been a dependency of Caere. Another place noticed as one of the subject towns in the territory of Caere is ARTENA which others placed in the Veientine territory, but according to Livy erroneously (Liv. 4.61). The grove sacred to Sylvanus, noticed by Virgil, and placed by him on the banks of the Vaccina (the “Caeritis amnis” ), is supposed to have been part of the wood which clothed the Monte Abbatone, on the S. side of the river.

Caere was not situated on the line of the Via Aurelia, which passed nearer to the coast; but was probably joined to it by a side branch. Another ancient road, of which some remains are still visible,

  • A. Village of Cervéri.
  • BB. Site of ancient city.
  • CC. Hill of the Banditaccia (Necropolis).
  • DD. To rent of the Vaccina (Caeretanus Amnis).
  • E. Monte Abatone.
  • aa. (Gates of ancient city.
  • bb. Sepulchres.

[p. 1.469]

led from thence to join the Via Clodia at Careiae. (Gell, Top. of Rome, p. 12.)

The antiquities of Caere, and the various works of art discovered there, are fully described by Dennis (Etruria, vol. ii. p. 17--63). See also Canina (Descrizione di Cere antica, Roma, 1838), and Grifi (Monumenti di Cera antica, Roma, 1841). The annexed plan is copied from that given by Dennis.


hide References (15 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (15):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 15.14
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.166
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.167
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 8.59
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 8.480
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.5
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 60
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 28, 45
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 61
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 16.13.7
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 13.124
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.6
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