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CORTO´NA (Κόρτωνα, Ptol.: Eth. Cortonensis: Cortona), one of the most ancient and powerful of the inland cities of Etruria, situated on a lofty hill between Arretium and Clusium. It was distant only about 9 miles from the Lacus Trasimenus. There is great confusion about its ancient name. The Greek legend which represented it as founded by Dardanus, called it CORYTHUS, a form frequently used in consequence by the Latin poets. (Verg. A. 3.167-170, 7.206--210, &c.; Sil. Ital. 4.721, 5.122.) But there is little doubt that this was a mere transplanting of a Greek tradition (Müller, Etrusker, vol. i. p. 277), and the native name seems to have been Cortona, or some form closely resembling it. Dionysius writes the name Croton, and says it was changed to Cortona (which he writes Κοθορνία, probably an error of the MSS. for Κορθωνία), when it received a Roman colony. Livy, however, calls it Cortona at a much earlier period, without any allusion to its having changed its name. The confusion between Cor and Cro is so natural that it is no wonder the Greeks should write it Κρότων, even if the Roman form was the correct one: but it is not improbable that the Etruscans, who did not use the letter o, would have written the name KPVTVNA, as they wrote Pupluna for Populonium. (Dionys. A. R. 1.26; Steph. Byz. s. v. Κρότων; Müller, l.c. pp. 268, 277.) Polybius, however (3.82), writes the name Κυρτώνιον, and there can be no doubt that the Γορτυναία, in Tyrrhenia, of Lycophron and Theopompus, the foundation of which was ascribed by the latter to Ulysses, is merely a corruption of the same name. (Lycophr. Alex. 806; Theopomp. ap. Tzetz. ad loc.)

All accounts agree in representing Cortona as one of the most ancient cities of Etruria, and at a very early period one of the most powerful of the confederation. Dionysius expressly tells us that it was originally an Umbrian city, and was wrested from that people by the Pelasgians. (Dionys. A. R. 1.20.) It is evidently to the Pelasgic city only that the legend of its foundation by Dardanus, to which so prominent a place has been assigned by Virgil, can be referred: various other legends also appear to point to the same connection, and may be considered as proving that the Pelasgic character of the inhabitants was strongly marked and recognised by the Greeks. But, notwithstanding the high authority of Niebuhr, it seems impossible to admit the view of Dionysius, who refers to this city and not to Creston in Thrace, the statement of Herodotus concerning the language spoken by the Pelasgians in his day. (Hdt. 1.57; Dionys. A. R. 1.29. On this much disputed question compare Niebuhr, vol. i. p. 34, note 89; Müller, Etrusker, vol. i. p. 94--98; Lepsius, Tyrrhenische Pelasger, p. 18, &c.) Dionysius represents Cortona as having been made by the Pelasgians a stronghold and centre of operations from whence they gradually extended their arms over the rest of Etruria: and it is, doubtless, with reference to this statement that Stephanus of Byzantium terms it the metropolis of the Tyrrhenians. (Dionys. A. R. 1.20; Steph. Byz. s. v. Κρότων.) There are, indeed, circumstances which would lead us to infer that the dominion of the Etruscans, properly so called (the Rasena), was also extended from Cortona, or its neighbourhood, over the more southern parts of Etruria; and it would be a natural surmise that Dionysius had made a confusion between the Pelasgian Tyrrhenians and the Etruscans proper: but it seems more probable that both conquests may really have emanated from the same quarter. [ETRURIA]

Important as is the part which Cortona bears in these early traditions, it is singular how little we subsequently hear of it. There can be no doubt that it was one of the twelve cities of the Etruscan confederation: and hence in B.C. 310 Livy speaks of Perusia, Cortona, and Arretium, as at that period. among the chief cities of Etruria ( “ferme capita Etruriae populorum.” Liv. 9.37.) They on this occasion obtained a peace for 30 years, which was soon broken; but the name of Cortona is not again mentioned: and we have no account of the time at which it fell under the subjection of Rome. In the Second Punic War it is incidentally mentioned: Hannibal having marched beneath its walls, and laid waste its territory just before the battle of the Thrasymenian Lake (Pol. 3.82; Liv. 22.4), but the inaccessible position of the city itself rendered it secure from attack. At the same time the broad and fertile valley beneath it offered no obstacles to the march of an army, and it is probably for this reason that we hear so little of Cortona in history successive swarms of invaders having swept past it, without caring to attack its almost impregnable position. We learn incidentally from Dionysius (1.26) that Cortona had received a Roman colony not long before his time: there can be no doubt that this must be referred to the times of Sulla, and that [p. 1.693]it was one of the cities of Etruria, which he repeopled after his devastation of that country. (Zumpt, de Colon. p. 252.) It was not subsequently renewed, and therefore does not figure in the lists either of Pliny or Ptolemy as a colony. Both those authors, however, mention it among the towns of Etruria (Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 8; Ptol. 3.1.48): but this is the last notice of its existence in ancient times, though inscriptions prove it to have continued to subsist under the Roman Empire. (Gori, Inscr. Etr. vol. ii. pp. 361--398.) It became an episcopal see in the early ages of Christianity, and probably never ceased to exist, though no trace of it is again found in history till the 13th century.

The modern city of Cortona (which is still the see of a bishop, with about 5000 inhabitants) retains the site of the ancient one, on the summit of a high hill, almost deserving to be termed a mountain, and extending from its highest point down a steep slope facing towards the W., so that the gate at its lowest extremity is about half way down the hill. The ancient city was of oblong form, and about two miles in circumference; the circuit of its walls may be easily traced, as the modern ones are for the most part based upon them, though at the higher end of the city they enclosed a considerably wider space. “They may be traced in fragments more or less preserved almost entirely round the city, and are composed of rectangular blocks of great size, arranged without much regularity, though with more regard to horizontality and distinct courses than is observable in the walls of Volterra or Populonia, and often joined with great nicety like the masonry of Fiesole.” ... “The finest relic of this regular masonry at Cortona, and perhaps in all Italy, is at a spot called Terra Mozza, outside the Fortress, at the highest part of the city, where is a fragment 120 feet in length, composed of blocks of enormous magnitude. They vary from 2 1/2 to 5 feet in height, and from 6 or 7 feet or 11 and 12 in length; and are sometimes as much or more in depth.” The material of which they are composed is a grey sandstone much resembling that of Fiesole. (Dennis, Etruria, vol. ii. p, 436.) A few other fragments of Etruscan construction similar to the above, are found within the walls of the city: but only one trifling remnant of a Roman building. Outside the lower gate, on the slope of the hill, is a curious monument called the Tanella di Pitagora (from the confusion commonly made between Cortona and Crotona), which was in reality an Etruscan tomb, constructed of vast blocks and slabs of stone, instead of being excavated in the rock, as was their more common practice. A remarkable mound, commonly called Il Melone, which stands at the foot of the hill near Camuscia, has been also proved by excavation to be sepulchral. Numerous minor relics of antiquity have been discovered at Cortona, and are preserved in the Museum there: this is more rich in bronzes than pottery, and among the former is a bronze lamp of large size, which for beauty of workmanship is considered to surpass all other specimens of this description of Etruscan art. (Dennis, l.c. p. 442: who has given a full account of all the ancient remains still visible at Cortona.)


hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.57
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 3.167
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 7.206
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 3.170
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 37
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 4
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
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