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Eth. HE´RNICI (Eth. Ἕρνικοι, Strab.; ῞ερνικες, Dionys.) a people of Central Italy, whose territory was in later times included in Latium but who appear in the early history of Rome as a separate and independent nation. They inhabited the upper valley of the Trerus or Sacco, together with the mountain district N. of that river; and bordered on the Aequians towards the N., and on the Volscians to the S. and E. We are told that their name was derived from an old Sabine or Marsic word “herna,” signifying a rock, an appellation well suited to the character of their country, the “Hernica saxa” of Virgil. (Virg. A en. 7.684; Serv. ad loc.; Festus, v. Hernici.) This derivation would seem to point to their being a race akin to the Sabines; and Servius distinctly calls them a Sabine colony (Serv. ad A en. l.c.): nor does there seem to be any reason to. reject this statement, although the authority of that commentator is in itself of little weight (Niebuhr, vol. i. [p. 1.1060]p. 102). An older commentator on Virgil assigns them a Marsic origin (Schol. Veron. ad Aen. l.c.), which comes to much the same thing, as the Marsi were certainly closely related to the Sabines. [MARSI] On the other hand, Julius Hyginus (ap. Macrob. 5.18) affirmed that the Hernicans were a Pelasgic race; and Macrobius regards the description of their arm and attire given by Virgil as pointing to the same conclusion. No value can, however, be attached to this inference: and the former tradition seems to be the best attested, as well as in itself the most probable. The peculiarly close relation which we find subsisting between the Hernicans and Latins, probably arose from their common interest in opposing their formidable neighbours, the Aequians and Volscians, rather than from any community of origin.

The Hernicans first appear in Roman history in the reign of Tarquinius Superbus, when, according to Dionysius, they concluded a treaty of alliance with that monarch, who sought to unite the Hernicans and Latins into one common league with Rome. (Dionys. A. R. 4.49.) This fact is not noticed by Livy, but is not in itself improbable; and the alliance thus concluded may have been only the forerunner of that which we know to have existed at a later period. An ancient tradition, indeed, not noticed by the historians, but preserved to us by Festus (s. v. Septimontium), represents the Hernican chief, Laevius Cispius of Anagnia, as conducting a body of auxiliaries to Rome at a still earlier period. But it is probable that this legend, as so often happens in the early history of Rome, is chronologically misplaced. After the expulsion of the Tarquins, the Hernicans appear for a short time on terms of hostility with Rome (Liv. 2.22, 40; Dionys. A. R. 6.5, 50): but this state of things was soon terminated by a treaty, which established between the two nations those relations of amicable alliance which from this time subsisted for a long period without interruption (Liv. 2.41; Dionys. A. R. 8.69). It is true that this treaty, which was concluded by Sp. Cassius in B.C. 486, is represented by the Roman historians as granted to the Hernicans after they had been vanquished in war; and Livy even tells us that they were deprived by it of two-thirds of their territory, but this appears wholly inconsistent with the position in which we afterwards find them: and there is every probability that Dionysius is correct in stating that the treaty with the Hernicans was a counterpart of that concluded seven years before, by the same Sp. Cassius, with the Latins. (Niebuhr, vol. ii. p. 87.) The motive for both treaties was indeed obviously the same--the necessity of combining their forces against the increasing power of the Aequians and Volscians. The latter people had already made themselves masters of the Hernican town of Ferentinum, and were threatening to drive the Hernicans from the whole valley of the Trerus. Tile statement of Livy already alluded to, may possibly, as suggested by Niebuhr, have arisen from a misconception of the fact that a third of all conquered lands, as well as of the booty taken in war, was thenceforth to be assigned to the Hernicans: a condition which is expressly stated by Dionysius (8.71, 77), and which shows that they entered into the league as an equal and independent power. From this time forth, during a period of more than a century, they continued, in pursuance of the terms of their alliance, to take part with the Romans and Latins in their long and continuous struggle against the Aequians and Volscians, and they were even, from their position, often the first to bear the brunt of hostilities. (Liv. 3.6; Dionys. A. R. 9.5, 67, 10.20.)

But the relations which had so long subsisted between the Hernicans and Rome, appear to have been broken up by the great Gaulish invasion; and soon after the capture of the city, in B.C. 387, we find the Hernicans as Well as the Latins appearing in arms against the republic, and even lending assistance to their old enemies the Volscians. (Liv. 6.2, 6, 8, 11, 17, &c.) From this time they appear to have been sometimes in open hostility; at others a suspension of arms at least must have taken place; but in B.C. 361, after an interval of some years, during which a precarious peace seems to have existed, the whole Hernican nation took up arms, and engaged with all their forces in the struggle with Rome. (Id. 7.6--9.) Though at first successful, they were afterwards twice defeated by the Romans, and the strong city of Ferentinum taken; but still the war seems to have lingered on, till, in B.C. 358, we are told that the Hernicans were defeated and subdued ( “devicti subactique sunt” ) by the consul C. Plautius. (Liv. 7.15; Fast. Capit.) The exact force of these expressions, and the terms on which they were now reduced to submission, we are left to conjecture; but it seems certain that they were either effectually humbled, or again ad~ mitted to such favourable terms as secured them to the Roman alliance, for, even on occasion of the great outbreak of the Latins in B.C. 340, the Hernicans did not follow their example, but were steadfast to the Roman cause. At a later period they were less faithful: in B.C. 306, it was discovered that Hernican auxiliaries had fought in the ranks of the Samnites against Rome; and an investigation being ordered by the senate, the Hernicans resented this interference, and declared war against Rome. Their counsels were, however, divided; and though Anagnia, their chief city, put itself at the head of the warlike party, the three powerful cities of Alatrium, Ferentinum, and Verulae refused to take part in hostilities. The consequence was that the war was carried on with little spirit, and the consul Q. Marcius in a single campaign was able to reduce the whole people to subjection. (Liv. 9.42, 43; Fast. Capit.) Their relations to the conquerors were now established on a permanent footing; the three cities that had taken no part in the war were allowed to retain their own laws and magistrates, with the privileges of mutual intercourse, while Anagnia, and the other towns that had taken arms against Rome, received the nominal boon of the Roman civitas, but without the right of suffrage; their magistrates were deprived of all civil jurisdiction, and they were reduced to the subordinate and degraded condition of praefecturae. (Liv. l.c.; Festus, v. Praefectura.

From this time the Hernicans disappear from history. They must have obtained the full rights of Roman citizens by the Lex Julia in B.C. 90, and became gradually merged in that condition, in common with the Latins and Volscians. But though their territory was included in Latium, in the sense in which that term was understood in the days of Augustus, the Hernicans were still distinguishable as a separate people, and are mentioned even at a later time as retaining many characteristics of their rude and simple forefathers. (Juv. Sat. 14.180.) The exact limits of their territory [p. 1.1061]cannot be fixed with any certainty, and they probably varied at different times, as did those of the neighbouring Volscians. The only cities which we can assign to them with certainty are, ANAGNIA the capital or chief city of the league, FERENTINUM, ALATRIUM, and VERULAE to which may be added the small town of CAPITULUM and probably also TREBIA. FRUSINO appears to have been a Volscian rather than a Hernican town, though it may have originally belonged to the latter people. But it is evident from a passage of Livy, in which he tells us that all the states of the Hernicans ( “omnes Hernici nominis populi,” 9.43), besides the four above mentioned, joined in the war against Rome, that there must have been several other towns of sufficient importance to have taken part in the war, and in the assembly which preceded it, as independent states. And it is at least a plausible inference of Niebuhr's, that, of the 47 cities stated by Dionysius to have taken part in the sacrifices on the Alban Mount, 16 must have belonged to the Hernicans. It is however probable that these were for the most part merely little mountain towns, of which we are unable to point out either the names or localities. Strabo's statement (v. p. 231) that the Hernicans dwelt near to Lanuvium and Alba and Rome itself, is utterly unintelligible, and is probably nothing more than a mere mistake.

The country of the Hernicans is well characterised by Virgil in a single line, where he speaks of the “roscida rivis Hernica saxa” (Aen. 7.684; Sil. Ital. 4.226, 8.393). The mountains on the N. of the valley of the Trerus are everywhere watered with beautiful streams, and clothed with magnificent woods of oak and chesnut, which render them one of the most beautiful regions of the Apennines. They are separated from the range of the Volscian mountains, the Montes Lepini, by the broad and fertile valley of the Sacco, which communicates with the plains of Latium by the pass or opening below Praeneste. Towards the interior the Hernican mountains rise in a lofty group or range which separates the valley of the Sacco and the upper course of the Anio from the waters of the Liris. Besides the TRERUS or Sacco, the only other stream in the land of the Hernici of which the ancient name is preserved to us, is the COSAS (Κόδας,, Strab. v. p.237), still called the Cosa, which flows beneath the walls of Alatri and Frosinone, and joins the Sacco about 5 miles below the latter city.


hide References (12 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (12):
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 41
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 15
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 22
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 42
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 40
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 8
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 3, 6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 2
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