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MA´NTUA (Μάντουα: Eth. Mantuanus: Mantova), a city of Cisalpine Gaul, situated on the river Mincius, on an island formed by its waters, about 12 miles above its confluence with the Padus. There seems no doubt that it was a very ancient city, and existed long before the establishment of the Gauls in this part of Italy. Virgil, who was naturally well acquainted with the traditions of his native place, tells us that its population was a mixed race, but the bulk of the people were of Etruscan origin; and Pliny even says that it was the only city beyond the Padus which was still inhabited by an Etruscan people. (Verg. A. 10.201-203; Plin. Nat. 3.19. s. 23.) Virgil does not tell us what were the other national elements of its population, and it is not easy to understand the exact meaning of his expression that it consisted of three “gentes,” and that each gens comprised four “populi;” but it seems certainly probable that this relates to the internal division of its own territory and population, and has no reference (as Müller has supposed) to the twelve cities founded by the Etruscans in the valley of the Padus. (Müller, Etrusker, vol. i. p. 137; Niebuhr, vol. i. p. 296, note 757.) The Etruscan origin of Mantua is confirmed by its name, which was in all probability derived from that of the Etruscan divinity Mantus, though another tradition, adopted by Virgil himself, seems to have deduced it from a prophetic nymph of the name of Manto. (Serv. ad Aen. l.c.; Schol. Veron. ad loc. p. 103, ed. Keil.) According to one of the oldest scholiasts on Virgil, both Verrius Flaccus and Caecina, in their Etruscan histories, ascribed the foundation of Mantua to Tarchon himself, while Virgil represents Ocnus, the son of Manto, as its founder. (Verg. A. 10.200; Schol. Veron. l.c.) The only historical fact that can be considered as resulting from all these statements is that Mantua really was an Etruscan settlement, and that for some reason (probably from its peculiar and inaccessible situation) it retained much of its Etruscan character long after this had disappeared in the other cities of Cisalpine Gaul.

After the settlement of the Gauls in Northern Italy, Mantua was probably included in the territory of the Cenomani (Ptol. 3.1.31); but we find no mention of its name in history, nor do we know at what period it passed under the Roman dominion. From an incidental notice in Livy (24.10) during the Second Punic War, we may probably infer that it was then on friendly terms with Rome, as were the Cenomani and Veneti; and as its name is not mentioned during the subsequent wars of the Romans in Cisalpine Gaul, it is probable that it passed gradually, with the other towns of the Cenomani, from a state of alliance to one of dependence, and ultimately of subjection. But even under the Roman dominion the name of Mantua scarcely appears in history, and it is clear that it was far from possessing the same relative importance in ancient times that it did in the middle ages, and still retains. It was undoubtedly a municipal town, and is mentioned as such by all the geographers, as well as in inscriptions, but both Strabo and Martial speak of it as very inferior to the neighbouring city of Verona, in comparison with which the latter terms it “parva Mantua.” (Strab. v. p.213; Plin. Nat. 3.19. s. 23; Ptol. 3.1.31; Martial, 14.195.) During the civil wars after the death of Caesar, Mantua suffered the loss of a part of its territory, for Octavian having assigned to his discharged soldiers the lands of the neighbouring Cremona, and these having proved insufficient, a portion of the territory of Mantua was taken to make up the necessary amount. (Verg. Ecl. 9.28, Georg. 2.198; Serv. ad loc.) It was on this occasion that Virgil was expelled from his patrimonial estate, which he however recovered by the favour of Augustus.

The chief celebrity of Mantua under the Roman Empire was undoubtedly owing to its having been the birthplace of Virgil, who has, in consequence, celebrated it in several passages of his works; and its name is noticed on the same account by many of the later Roman poets. (Verg. G. 3.12; Ovid, Amor. 3.15. 7; Stat. Silv. 4.2. 9 ; Sil. Ital. 8.595; Martial, 1.62. 2, 14.195.) According to Donatus, however, the actual birthplace of the poet was the village of Andes in the territory of Mantua, and not the city itself. (Donat. Vit. Virg. 1; Hieron. Chron. ad ann. 1947.)

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Mantua appears to have become a place of importance from its great strength as a fortress, arising from its peculiar situation, surrounded on all sides by broad lakes or expanses of water, formed by the stagnation of the river Mincius. It, however, fell into the hands of the Lombards under Agilulf (P. Diac. 4.29), and after the expulsion of that people was governed by independent counts. In the middle ages it became one of the most important cities of the N. of Italy; and is still a populous place, and one of the strongest fortresses in Italy. It is still so completely surrounded by the stagnant waters of the Mincio, that it is accessible only by causeways, the shortest of which is 1000 feet in length.

Mantua was distant from Verona 25 miles; so that Procopius calls it a day's journey from thence. (Procop. B. G. 3.3.) It was situated on a line of road given in the Tabula, which proceeded from Mediolanum, by Cremona and Bedriacum, to Mantua, and thence to Hostilia, where it crossed the Padus, and thence proceeded direct to Ravenna. (Tab. Peut.) Mantua was distant from Cremona by this road about 40 miles. It would appear from one of the minor poems ascribed to Virgil (Catalect. 8. 4), that this distance was frequently traversed by muleteers with light vehicles in a single day.


hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 10.203
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 10.200
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 10.201
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.12
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.19
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 10
    • Statius, Silvae, 4.2
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 14.195
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
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