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LAURENTUM (Λαύρεντον, Strab. et al.; Λωρεντόν, Dionys.: Eth. Λυρεντῖνος, Eth. Laurentinus: Torre di Paternò), an ancient city of Latium, situated near the sea-coast between Ostia and Lavinium, about 16 miles from Rome. It was represented by the legendary history universally adopted by Roman writers as the ancient capital of Latium, and the residence of king Latinus, at the time when Aeneas and the Trojan colony landed in that country. All writers also concur in representing the latter as first landing on the shores of the Laurentine territory. (Liv. 1.1; Dionys. A. R. 1.45, 53; Strab. v. p.229; Appian. Rom. 1.1; Vict. Orig. Gent. Rom. 13; Verg. A. 7.45, &c.) But the same legendary history related that after the death of Latinus, the seat of government was transferred first to Lavinium, and subsequently to Alba; hence we cannot wonder that, when Laurentum appears in historical times, it holds but a very subordinate place, and appears to have fallen at a very early period into a state of comparative insignificance. The historical. notices of the city are indeed extremely few and scanty; the [p. 2.147]most important is the occurrence of its name (or that of the Laurentini at least), together with those of Ardea, Antium, Circeii, and Tarracina, among the allies or dependants of Rome, in the celebrated treaty of the Romans with Carthage in B.C. 509. (Pol. 3.22.) From this document we may infer that Laurentum was then still a place of some consideration as a maritime town, though the proximity of the Roman port and colony of Ostia must have tended much to its disadvantage. Dionysius tells us that some of the Tarquins had retired to Laurentum on their expulsion from Rome: and he subsequently notices the Laurentines among the cities which composed the Latin League in B.C. 496. (Dionys. A. R. 5.54, 61.) We learn, also, from an incidental notice in Livy, that they belonged to that confederacy, and retained, in consequence, down to a late period the right of participating in the sacrifices on the Alban Mount. (Liv. 37.3.) It is clear, therefore, that though no longer a powerful or important city, Laurentum continued to retain its independent position down to the great Latin War in B.C. 340. On that occasion the Laurentines are expressly mentioned as having been the only people who took no share in the war; and, in consequence, the treaty with them which previously existed was renewed without alteration. (Liv. 8.11.) “From thenceforth” (adds Livy) “it is renewed always from year to year on the 10th day of the Feriae Latinae.” Thus, the poor and decayed city of Laurentum continued down to the Augustan age to retain the nominal position of an independent ally of the imperial Rome.

No further notice of it occurs in history during the Roman Republic. Lucan appears to reckon it as one of the places that had fallen into decay in consequence of the Civil Wars (7.394), but it is probable that it had long before that dwindled into a very small place. The existence of a town of the name ( “oppidum Laurentum” ) is, however, attested by Mela, Strabo, and Pliny (Mel. 2.4.9; Strab. v. p.232; Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9); and the sea-coast in its vicinity was adorned with numerous villas, among which that of the younger Pliny was conspicuous. (Plin. Ep. 2.17.) It is remarkable that that author, in describing the situation of his villa and its neighbourhood, makes no allusion to Laurentum itself, though he mentions the neighbouring colony of Ostia, and a village or “vicus” immediately adjoining his villa: this last may probably be the same which we find called in an inscription “Vicus Augustus Laurentium.” (Grater, Inscr. p. 398, No. 7.) Hence, it seems probable that Laurentum itself had fallen into a state of great Aecay; and this must have been the cause that, shortly after, the two communities of Laurentum and Lavinium were united into one municipal body, which assumed the appellation of Lauro-Lavinium, and the inhabitants that of Lauro-Lavinates, or Laurentes Lavinates. Sometimes, however, the united “populus” calls itself in inscriptions simply “Senatus populusque Laurens,” and in one case we find mention of a “Colonia Augusta Laurentium.” (Orell. Inscr. 124; Gruter, p. 484, No. 3.) Nevertheless it is at least very doubtful whether there was any fresh colony established on the site of the ancient Laurentum: the only one mentioned in the Liber Coloniarum is that of Lauro-Lavinium, which was undoubtedly fixed at Lavinium (Pratica). [LAVINIUM] The existence of a place bearing the name of Laurentum, though probably a mere village, down to the latter ages of the Empire, is, however, clearly proved by the Itineraries and Tabula (Itin. Ant. p. 301; Tab. Peut.); and it appears from ecclesiastical documents that the locality still retained its ancient name as late as the 8th century (Anastas. Vit. Pontif. ap. Nibby, vol. ii. p. 201). From that time all trace of it disappears, and the site seems to have been entirely forgotten.

Laurentum seems to have, from an early period, given name to an extensive territory, extending from the mouth of the Tiber nearly, if not quite, to Ardea, and forming a part of the broad littoral tract of Latium, which is distinguished from the rest of that country by very marked natural characteristics. [LATIUM] Hence, we find the Laurentine territory much more frequently referred to than the city itself; and the place where Aeneas is represented as landing is uniformly described as “in agro Laurenti;” though we know from Virgil that he conceived the Trojans as arriving and first establishing themselves at the mouth of the Tiber. But it is clear that, previous to the foundation of Ostia, the territory of Laurentum was considered to extend to that river. (Serv. ad Aen. 7.661, 11.316.) The name of “ager Laurens” seems to have continued in common use to be applied, even under the Roman Empire, to the whole district extending as far as the river Numicius, so as to include Lavinium as well as Laurentum. It was, like the rest of this part of Latium near the sea-coast, a sandy tract of no natural fertility, whence Aeneas is represented as complaining that he had arrived “in agrum macerrimum, littorosissimumque.” (Fab. Max. ap. Serv. ad Aen. 1.3.) In the immediate neighbourhood of Laurentum were considerable marshes, while the tract a little further inland was covered with wood, forming an extensive forest, known as the Silva Laurentina. (Jul. Obseq. 24.) The existence of this at the time of the landing of Aeneas is alluded to by Virgil (Aen. 11.133, &c.). Under the Roman Empire it was a favourite haunt of wild-boars, which grew to a large size, but were considered by epicures to be of inferior flavour on account of the marshy character of the ground in which they fed. (Verg. A. 10.709; Hor. Sat. 2.4. 42; Martial, 9.495.) Varro also tells us that the orator Hortensius had a farm or villa in the Laurentine district, with a park stocked with wild-boars, deer, and other game. (Varr. R. R. 3.13.) The existence of extensive marshes near Laurentum is noticed also by Virgil (Aen. 10.107) as well as by Martial (10.37. 5), and it is evident that even in ancient times they rendered this tract of country unhealthy, though it could not have suffered from malaria to the same extent as in modern times. The villas which, according to Pliny, lined the shore, were built close to the sea, and were probably frequented only in winter. At an earlier period, we are told that Scipio and Laelius used to repair to the seaside on the Laurentine coast, where they amused themselves by gathering shells and pebbles. (Cic. de Or. 2.6; V. Max. 8.8.4.) On the other hand, the bay-trees (lauri) with which the Silva Laurentina was said to abound were thought to have a beneficial effect on the health, and on this account the emperor Commodus was advised to retire to a villa near Laurentum during a pestilence at Rome. (Herodian. 1.12.) The name of Laurentum itself was generally considered to be derived from the number of these trees, though Virgil would derive it from a particular and celebrated tree of the kind. (Vict. [p. 2.148]Orig. G. Rom.. 10; Varr. L. L. 5.152; Verg. A. 7.59.)

The precise site of Laurentum has been a subject of much doubt; though it may be placed approximately without question between Ostia and Pratica, the latter being clearly established as the site of Lavinium. It has been generally fixed at Torre di Paternò, and Gell asserts positively that there is no other position within the required limits “where either ruins or the traces of ruins exist, or where they can be supposed to have existed.” The Itinerary gives the distance of Laurentum from Rome at 16 M. P., which is somewhat less than the truth, if we place it at Torre di Paternò, the latter being rather more than 17 M. P. from Rome by the Via Laurentina; but the same remark applies to Lavinium also, which is called in the Itinerary 16 miles from Rome, though it is full 18 miles in real distance. On the other hand, the distance of 6 miles given in the Table between Lavinium and Laurentum coincides well with the interval between Pratica and Torre di Paternò. Nibby, who places Laurentum at Capo Cotto, considerably nearer to Pratica, admits that there are no ruins on the site. Those at Torre di Paternò are wholly of Roman and imperial times, and may perhaps indicate nothing more than the site of a villa, though the traces of an aqueduct leading to it prove that it must have been a place of some importance. There can indeed be no doubt that the spot was a part of the dependencies of Laurentum under the Roman Empire; though it may still be questioned whether it marks the actual site of the ancient Latin city. (Gell, Top. of Rome, pp. 294--298; Nibby, Dintorni di Roma, vol. ii. pp. 187--205; Abeken, Mittelitalien, p. 62; Bormann, Alt Latin. Corographie, pp. 94--97.)

It is hardly necessary to notice the attempts which have been made to determine the site of Pliny's Laurentine villa, of which he has left us a detailed description, familiar to all scholars (Plin. Ep. 2.17). As it appears from his own account that it was only one of a series of villas which adorned this part of the coast, and many of them probably of equal, if not greater, pretensions, it is evidently idle to give the name to a mass of brick ruins which there is nothing to identify. In their zeal to do this, antiquarians have overlooked the circumstance that his villa was evidently close to the sea, which at once excludes almost all the sites that have been suggested for it.

The road which led from Rome direct to Laurentum retained, down to a late period, the name of VIA LAURENTINA (Ovid, Ov. Fast. 2.679; V. Max. 8.5.6.) It was only a branch of the Via Ostiensis, from which it diverged about 3 miles from the gates of Rome, and proceeded nearly in a direct line towards Torre di Paternò. At about 10 miles from Rome it crossed a small brook or stream by a bridge, which appears to have been called the Pons ad Decimum, and subsequently Pons Decimus: hence the name of Decimo now given to a casale or farm a mile further on; though this was situated at the 11th mile from Rome, as is proved by the discovery on the spot of the Roman milestone, as well as by the measurement on the map. Remains of the ancient pavement mark the course of the Via Laurentina both before and after passing this bridge. (Nibby, Dintorni, vol. i. p. 539, vol. iii. p. 621.)

Roman authors generally agree in stating that the place where the Trojans first landed and established their camp was still called Troja (Liv. 1.1; Cato, ap. Serv. ad Aen. 1.5; Fest. v. Troia, p. 367), and that it was in the Laurentine territory; but Virgil is the only writer from whom we learn that it was on the banks of the Tiber, near its mouth (Aen. 7.30, 9.469, 790, &c.). Hence it must have been in the part of the “ager Laurens” which was assigned to Ostia after the foundation, of the colony; and Servius is therefore correct in placing the camp of the Trojans “circa Ostiam.” (Serv. ad Aen. 7.31.) The name, however, would appear to have been the only thing that marked the spot.


hide References (11 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (11):
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 11
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 7.59
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 7.45
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 10.709
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 2.6
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.5
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 2.17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 37, 3
    • Ovid, Fasti, 2
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 8.5.6
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