previous next


LITERNUM (Λίτερνον, Strab.; Λείτερνον, Ptol.: Eth. Literninus: Tor di Patria), a town on the sea-coast of Campania, between the mouth of the Vulturnus and Cumae.1 It was situated at the mouth of a river of the same name (Strab. v. p.243: Liv. 32.29), which assumed a stagnant character as it approached the sea, so as to form a considerable marshy pool or lagoon, called the LITERNA PALUS (Sil. Ital. 7.278; Stat. Silv. 4.3. 66), and bordered on either side by more extensive marshes. It is not quite clear whether there was a town there at all before the establishment of the Roman colony: Livy's expression (l.c.) that that colony was sent “ad ostia Literni fluminis,” would seem to imply the contrary; and though the name of Liternum is mentioned in the Second Punic War, it is in a manner that does not clearly prove there was then a town there. (Liv. 23.35.) But the notice in Festus (v. Praefecturae), who mentions Liternum, with Capua, Cumae, and other Campanian towns, among the Praefecturae, must probably refer to a period earlier than the Roman settlement.

It was not till the year B.C. 194 that a colony of Roman citizens was settled at Liternum at the same time with one at Vulturnum ; they were both of the class called “coloniae maritimae civium,” but were not numerous, only 300 colonists being sent to each. (Liv. 32.29, 34.45.) The situation of Liternum also was badly chosen: the marshy character of the neighbourhood rendered it unhealthy, while the adjoining tract on the sea-coast was sandy and barren; hence, it never seems to have risen to be a place of any importance, and is chiefly noted from the circumstance that it was the place which Scipio Africanus chose for his retirement, when he withdrew in disgust from public life, and where he ended his days in a kind of voluntary exile. (Liv. 38.52, 53; Seneca, Ep. 86; V. Max. 5.3.1; Oros. 4.20.) At a later period, however, Augustus settled a fresh colony at Liternum (Lib. Colon. p. 235), and the construction by Domitian of the road leading along the sea-coast from Sinuessa to Cumae must have tended to render it more frequented. But it evidently never rose to be a considerable place: under the Roman Empire its, name is mentioned only by the geographers, and in the Itineraries in connection with the Via Domitiana already noticed. (Strab. v. p.243; Mel. 2.4.9; Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9 ; Ptol. 3.1.6; Itin. Ant. p. 122; Tab. Peut.) We learn, however, that it still existed as a “civitas” as late as the reign of Valentinian II. (Symmach. Ep. vi 5); and it was probably destroyed by the Vandals in the fifth century.

The villa of Scipio, where he spent the latter years of his life, was still extant in the days of Seneca, who has left us a detailed description of it, and strongly contrasts the simplicity of its arrangements with the luxury and splendour of those of his own time. (Ep. 86.) Pliny also tells us, that some of the olive trees and myrtles planted by the hands of Scipio himself were still visible there. (Plin. Nat. 16.44. s. 85.) It is certain that his tomb also was shown at Liternum in the days of Strabo and Livy, though it would appear that there was great doubt whether he was really buried there. The well-known epitaph which, according to Valerius Maximus, he caused to be engraved on his tomb,--“Ingrata patria, ne ossa quidem mea habes,” --could certainly not have been extant in the time of Seneca, who treats the question as one of mere conjecture, though he inclines to the belief that Africanus was really buried there, and not in the tomb of the Scipios at Rome. (Seneca, l.c.; V. Max. 5.3.1; Strab. l.c.; Liv, 38.56.)

The site of Liternum is now marked by a watchtower called Tor di Patria, and a miserable village of the same name; the adjoining Lago di Patrit is unquestionably the Literna Palus, and hence the river Liternus can be no other than the small and sluggish stream which forms the outlet of this lake to the sea. At the present day the Lago di Patria communicates with the river Clanius or Lagno, and is formed by one of the arms of that stream. It is not improbable that this was the case in ancient times also, for we have no account of the mouth of the Clanius, while the Liternus is mentioned only in connection with the town at its mouth. [CLANIUS] The modern name of Patria must certainly have been derived from some tradition of the epitaph of Scipio already noticed, though we cannot explain the mode in which it arose; but the name may be traced back as far as the eighth century. There are scarcely any ruins on the site of Liternum, but the remains of the ancient bridge by which the Via Domitiana here crossed the river are still extant, and the road itself may be traced from thence the whole way to Cumae.


1 The name is written in many MSS. LINTERNUM, and it is difficult, in the absence of inscriptions, to say which form is really the more correct; but LITERNUM seems to be supported, on the whole, by the best MSS., as well as by the Greek form of the name as found both in Strabo and Ptolemy. (Tzschucke, ad Mel. 2.4.9.)

hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 16.44
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 32, 29
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 45
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 53
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 35
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 52
    • Statius, Silvae, 4.3
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 5.3.1
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: