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PRAENESTE (Πραινεστός, Strab. Appian; Πραίνεστε, Dio Cass.: Eth. Πραινεστῖνος, or Eth. Πραινεστηνός, Eth. Praenestinus: Palestrina), one of the most ancient, as well as in early times one of the most powerful and important, of the cities of Latium. It was situated on a projecting point or spur of the Apennines, directly opposite to the Alban Hills, and nearly due E. of Rome, from which it was distant 23 miles. (Strab. v. p.238; Itin. Ant. p. 302; Westphal, Römische Kampagne, p. 106.) Various mythical tales were current in ancient times as to its founder and origin. Of these, that adopted by Virgil ascribed its foundation to Caeculus, a reputed son of Vulcan (Verg. A. 7.678); and this, we learn from Solinus, was the tradition preserved by the Praenestines themselves (Solin. 2.9). Another tradition, obviously of Greek origin, derived its name and foundation from Praenestus, a son of Latinus, the offspring of Ulysses and Circe (Steph. B. sub voce Solin. l.c.). Strabo also calls it a Greek city, and tells us that it was previously called Πολυστέφανος (Strab. v. p.238). Another form of the same name name is given by Pliny (3.5. s. 9), who tells us its original name was Stephane. And finally, as if to complete the series of contradictions, its name is found in the lists of the reputed colonies of Alba, the foundation of which is ascribed to Latinus Silvius (Vict. Orig. Gent. Rom. 17; Diod. vii. ap. Euseb. Arm. p. 185). But there seems no doubt that the earlier traditions were those which assigned it a more ancient and independent origin. The first mention of its name in history is in the list of the cities of the Latin League, as given by Dionysius, and there can be no doubt of its having formed an important member of that confederacy. (Dionys, 5.61.) But as early as B.C. 499, according to Livy, it quitted the cause of the confederates and joined the Romans, an event which that historian places just before the battle of Regillus. (Liv. 2.19.) Whether its separation from the rest of the Latins was permanent or not, we have no information; but on the next occasion when the name of Praeneste occurs, it was still in alliance with Rome, and suffered in consequence from the ravages of the Aequians and Volscians, B.C. 462 (Liv. 3.8). The capture of Rome by the Gauls seems, however, to have introduced a change in the relations of the two cities. Shortly after that event (B.C. 383) the Praenestines are mentioned as making hostile incursions into the territories of the Gabians and Labicans: the Romans at first treated this breach of faith with neglect, apparently from unwillingness to provoke so powerful an enemy; but the next year, the Praenestines having sent an army to the support of the revolted colonists of Velitrae, war was formally declared against them. The Praenestines now joined their former enemies the Volscians, and, in conjunction with them, took by storm the Roman colony of Satricum. (Liv. 6.21, 22.) The next year the Volscians were defeated in a great battle by Camillus, but no mention is made of the Praenestines as taking part in it. The following season, however (B.C. 380), they levied a large army, and taking advantage of the domestic dissensions at Rome, which impeded the levying of troops, they advanced to the very gates of the city. From thence they withdrew to the banks of the Allia, where they were attacked and defeated by T. Quintius Cincinnatus, who had been named in all haste dictator. So complete was their rout that they not only fled in confusion to the very gates of Praeneste, but [p. 2.664]Cincinnatus, following up his advantage, reduced eight towns which were subject to Praeneste by force of arms, and compelled the city itself to submission (Liv. 6.26-29). There can be little doubt that the statement of Livy which represents this as an unqualified surrender (deditio) is one of the exaggerations so common in the early Roman history, but the inscription noticed by him, which was placed by Cincinnatus under the statue of Jupiter Imperator, certainly seems to have claimed the capture of Praeneste itself as well as its dependent towns. (Fest. s. v. Trientem. p. 363.)

Yet the very next year the Praenestines were again in arms, and stimulated the other Latin cities against Rome. (Liv. 6.30.) With this exception we hear no more of them for some time; but a notice which occurs in Diodorus that they concluded a truce with Rome in B.C. 351, shows that they were still acting an independent part, and kept aloof from the other Latins. (Diod. 16.45.) It is, however, certain that they took a prominent part in the great Latin War of B.C. 340. In the second year of that war they sent forces to the assistance of the Pedani, and, though defeated by the consul Aemilius, they continued the contest the next year together with the Tiburtines; and it was the final defeat of their combined forces by Camillus at Pedum (B.C. 338) that eventually terminated the struggle. (Liv. 8.12-14.) In the peace which ensued, the Praenestines, as well as their neighbours of Tibur, were punished by the loss of a part of their territory, but in other respects their position remained unchanged: they did not, like the other cities of Latium, receive the Roman franchise, but continued to subsist as a nominally independent state, in alliance with the powerful republic. They furnished like the other “socii” their quota of troops on their own separate account, and the Praenestine auxiliaries are mentioned in several instances as forming a separate body. Even in the time of Polybius it was one of the places which retained the Jus Exilii, and could afford shelter to persons banished from Rome. (Pol. 6.14.)

On the arrival of Pyrrhus in Italy the fidelity of the Praenestines seems to have been suspected, and the Romans compelled them to deliver hostages. (Zonar. 8.3.) Shortly afterwards Praeneste was the point from whence that monarch turned back on his advance to Rome. There is no probability that he took the town. Eutropius says merely that he advanced to Praeneste; and the expression of Florus that he looked down upon Rome from the citadel of Praeneste is probably only a rhetorical flourish of that inaccurate writer. (Flor. 2.18; Eutrop. 2.12.) In the Second Punic War a body of Praenestine troops distinguished themselves by their gallant defence of Casilinum against Hannibal, and though ultimately compelled to surrender, they were rewarded for their valour and fidelity by the Roman senate, while the highest honours were paid them in their native city. (Liv. 23.19, 20.) It is remarkable that they refused to accept the offer of the Roman franchise; and the Praenestines in general retained their independent position till the period of the Social War, when they received the Roman franchise together with the other allies. (Appian, App. BC 1.65.)

In the civil wars of Marius and Sulla, Praeneste bore an important part. It was occupied by Cinna when he was driven from Rome in B.C. 87 (Appian, App. BC 1.65) and appears to have continued in the hands of the Marian party till B.C. 82, when it afforded a shelter to the younger Marius with the remains of his army, after his defeat by Sulla at Sacriportus. The natural strength of the city had been greatly increased by new fortifications, so that Sulla abandoned all idea of reducing it by force of arms, and was content to draw lines of circumvallation round it, and trust to the slower process of a blockade, the command of which he entrusted to Lucretius Ofella, while he himself carried on operations in the field against the other leaders of the Marian party. Repeated attempts were made by these generals to relieve Praeneste, but without effect; and at length, after the great battle at the Colline Gate and the defeat of the Samnite general Pontius Telesinus, the inhabitants opened their gates to Ofella. Marius, despairing of safety, after a vain attempt to escape by a subterranean passage, put an end to his own life. (Appian, App. BC 1.87-94; Put. Mar. 46, Sull. 28, 29, 32; Vell. 2.26, 27; Liv. Epit. lxxxvii., lxxxviii.) The city itself was severely punished ; all the citizens without distinction were put to the sword, and the town given up to plunder; its fortifications were dismantled, and a military colony settled by Sulla in possession of its territory. (Appian, l.c.; Lucan 2.194; Strab. v. p.239; Flor. 3.21.) The town seems to have been at this time transferred from the hill to the plain beneath, and the temple of Fortune with its appurtenances so extended and enlarged as to occupy a great part of the site of the ancient city. (Nibby, Dintorni, vol. ii. p. 481; but see Bormann, Alt. Lat. Chorogr. p. 207, note 429.)

But the citadel still remained, and the natural strength of the position rendered Praeneste always a place of importance as a stronghold. Hence, we find it mentioned as one of the points which Catiline was desirous to occupy, but which had been studiously guarded by Cicero (Cic. in Cat. 1.3); and at a later period L. Antonius retired thither in B.C. 41, on the first outbreak of his dispute with Octavian, and from thence endeavoured to dictate terms to his rival at Rome. Fulvia, the wife of M. Antonius took refuge there at the same time. (Appian, App. BC 5.21, 23, 29.) From this time we hear but little of Praeneste in history; it is probable from the terms in which it is spoken of both by Strabo and Appian, that it never recovered the blow inflicted on its prosperity by Sulla (Strab. l.c.; Appian, App. BC 1.94); but the new colony established at that time rose again into a flourishing and considerable town. Its proximity to Rome and its elevated and healthy situation made it a favourite resort of the Romans during the summer, and the poets of the first century of the Empire abound in allusions to it as a cool and pleasant place of suburban retirement. (Juv. 3.190, 14.88; Martial, 10.30. 7; Stat. Silv. 4.2. 15; Plin. Ep. 5.6.45; Flor. 1.11.) Among others it was much frequented by Augustus himself, and was a favourite place of retirement of Horace. (Suet. Aug. 72; Hor. Carm. 3.4.23, Ep. 1.2. 1.) Tiberius also recovered there from a dangerous attack of illness (Gell. N. A. 16.13); and Hadrian built a villa there, which, though not comparable to his celebrated villa at Tibur, was apparently on an extensive scale. It was there that the emperor M. Aurelius was residing when he lost his son Annius Verus, a child of seven years old. (Jul. Capit. M. Ant. 21.)

Praeneste appears to have always retained its [p. 2.665]colonial rank and condition. Cicero mentions it by the title of a Colonia (Cic. in Cat. 1.3); and though neither Pliny nor the Liber Coloniarum give it that appellation, its colonial dignity under the Empire is abundantly attested by numerous inscriptions. (Zumpt, de Colon. p. 254; Lib. Colon. p. 236; Orell. Inscr. 1831, 3051, &c.) A. Gellius indeed has a story that the Praenestines applied to Tiberius as a favour to be changed from a colony into a Municipium; but if their request was really granted, as he asserts, the change could have lasted for but a short time. (Gell. N. A. 16.13; Zumpt, l.c.

We find scarcely any mention of Praeneste towards the decline of the Western Empire, nor does its name figure in the Gothic wars which followed: but it appears again under the Lombard kings, and bears a conspicuous part in the middle ages. At this period it was commonly known as the Civitas Praenestina, and it is this form of the name--which is already found in an inscription of A.D. 408 (Orell. Inscr. 105)--that has been gradually corrupted into its modern appellation of Palestrina.

The modern city is built almost entirely upon the site and gigantic substructions of the temple of Fortune, which, after its restoration and enlargement by Sulla, occupied the whole of the lower slope of the hill, the summit of which was crowned by the ancient citadel. This hill, which is of very considerable elevation (being not less than 2400 feet above the sea, and more than 1200 above its immediate base), projects like a great buttress or bastion from the angle of the Apennines towards the Alban Hills, so that it looks down upon and seems to command the whole of the Campagna around Rome. It is this position, combined with the great strength of the citadel arising from the elevation and steepness of the hill on which it stands, that rendered Praeneste a position of such importance. The site of the ancient citadel, on the summit of the hill, is now occupied by a castle of the middle ages called Castel S. Pietro: but a considerable part of the ancient walls still remains, constructed in a very massive style of polygonal blocks of limestone; and two irregular lines of wall of similar construction descend from thence to the lower town, which they evidently served to connect with the citadel above. The lower, or modern town, rises in a somewhat pyramidal manner on successive terraces, supported by walls or facings of polygonal masonry, nearly resembling that of the walls of the city. There can be no doubt that these successive stages or terraces at one time belonged to the temple of Fortune; but it is probable that they are of much older date than the time of Sulla, and previously formed part of the ancient city, the streets of which may have occupied these lines of terraces in the same manner as those of the modern town do at the present day. There are in all five successive terraces, the highest of which was crowned by the temple of Fortune properly so called,--a circular building with a vaulted roof, the ruins of which remained till the end of the 13th century, when they were destroyed by Pope Boniface VIII. Below this was a hemicycle, or semicircular building, with a portico, the plan of which may be still traced; and on one of the inferior terraces there still remains a mosaic, celebrated as one of the most perfect and interesting in existence. Various attempts have been made to restore the plan and elevation of the temple, an edifice wholly unlike any other of its kind; but they are all to a great extent conjectural. A detailed account of the exiting remains, and of all that can be traced of the plan and arrangement, will be found in Nibby. (Dintorni, vol. ii. p. 494--510.)

The celebrity of the shrine or sanctuary of Fortune at Praeneste is attested by many ancient writers (Ovid, Ov. Fast. 6.61; Sil. Ital 8.366 Lucan 2.194; Strab. v. p.238), and there is no doubt that it derived its origin from an early period. Cicero, who speaks of the temple in his time as one of great antiquity as well as splendour gives us a legend derived from the records of the Praenestines concerning its foundation, and the institution of the oracle known as the Sortes Praenestinae, which was closely associated with the worship of Fortune. (Cic. de Div. 2.4. 1) So celebrated was this mode of divination that not only Romans of distinction, but even foreign potentates, are mentioned as consulting them (V. Max. 1.3.1; Liv. 45.44; Propert. 3.24. 3); and though Cicero treats them with contempt, as in his day obtaining credit only with the vulgar, we are told by Suetonius that Tiberius was deterred by religious scruples from interfering with them, and Domitian consulted them every year. Alexander Severus also appears, on one occasion at least, to have done the same. (Suet. Tib. 63, Domit. 15; Lamprid. Alex. Sev.: 4.) Numerous inscriptions also prove that they continued to be frequently consulted till a late period of the Empire, and it was not till after the establishment of Christianity that the custom fell altogether into disuse. (Inscr. ap. Bormann, pp. 212, 213; Orelli, Inscr. 1756--1759.) The Praenestine goddess seems to have been specially known by the name of Fortuna Primigenia, and her worship was closely associated with that of the infant Jupiter. (Cic. de Div. l.c.; Inscr. ut sup.) Another title under which Jupiter mas specially worshipped at Praeneste was that of Jupiter Imperator, and the statue of the deity at Rome which bore that appellation was considered to have been brought from Praeneste (Liv. 6.29).

The other ancient remains which have been discovered at Palestrina belong to the later city or the colony of Sulla, and are situated in the plain at some distance from the foot of the hill. Among these are the extensive ruins of the villa or palace of the emperors, which appears to have been built by Hadrian about A.D. 134. They resemble much in their general style those of his villa at Tivoli, but are much inferior in preservation as well as in extent. Near them is an old church still called Sta Maria della Villa.

It was not far from this spot that were discovered in 1773 the fragments of a Roman calendar, supposed to be the same which was arranged by the grammarian Verrius Flaccus, and set up by him in the forum of Praeneste. (Suet. Gramm. 17.) They are commonly called the Fasti Praenestini, and have been repeatedly published, first by Foggini (fol. Romae, 1779), with an elaborate commentary; and again as an appendix to the edition of Suetonius by Wolf (4 vols. 8vo. Lips. 1802); also in Orelli (Inscr. vol. ii. p. 379, &c.). Not-withstanding this evidence, it is improbable that the forum of Praeneste was so far from the foot of the hill, and its site is more probably indicated by the discovery of a number of pedestals with honorary inscriptions, at a spot near the SW. angle of the modern city. These inscriptions range over a period from the reign of Tiberius to the fifth century, thus [p. 2.666]tending to prove the continued importance of Praeneste throughout the period of the Roman Empire. (Nibby, vol. ii. pp. 513--515; Foggini, l.c. pp. v.--viii.) Other inscriptions mention the existence of a theatre and an amphitheatre, a portico and curia, and a spoliarium; but no remains of any of these edifices can be traced. (Gruter, Inscr. p. 132; Orelli, Inscr. 2532; Bormann, note 434.)

The celebrated grammarian Verrius Flaccus, already mentioned, was probably a native of Praeneste, as was also the well-known author Aelianus, who, though he wrote in Greek, was a Roman citizen by birth. (Suid. s. v. Αἰλιανός). The family of the Anicii also, so illustrious under the Empire, seems to have derived its origin from Praeneste, as a Q. Anicius is mentioned by Pliny as a magistrate of that city as early as B.C. 304. (Plin. Nat. 33.1. s. 6.) It is probable also that in Livy (23.19) we should read M. Anicius for Manicius. It is remarkable that the Praenestines appear to have had certain dialectic peculiarities which distinguished them from the other Latins; these are more than once alluded to by Plautus, as well as by later grammarians. (Plaut. Trinum. 3.1. 8, Truc. 3.2. 23; Quintil. Inst. 1.5.56; Fest. s. v. Nephrendis, Id. s. v. Tongere.

The territory of Praeneste was noted for the excellence of its nuts, which are noticed by Cato. (R. R. 8, 143; Plin. Nat. 17.13. s. 21; Naevius, ap. Macrob. Sat. 3.18). Hence the Praenestines themselves seem to have been nicknamed Nuculae; though another explanation of the term is given by Festus, who derives it from the walnuts (nuces) with which the Praenestine garrison of Casilinum is said to have been fed. (Cic. de Or. 2.6. 2; Fest. s.v. Nuculae.) Pliny also mentions the roses of Praeneste as among the most celebrated in Italy; and its wine is noticed by Athenaeus, though it was apparently not one of the choicest kinds. (Plin. Nat. 21.4. s. 10; Athen. 1.26f.)

It is evident from the narrative of Livy (6.29) that Praeneste in the days of its independence, like Tibur, had a considerable territory, with at least eight smaller towns as its dependencies; but the names of none of these are preserved to us, and we are wholly unable to fix the limits of its territory.

The name of Via Praenestina was given to the road which, proceeding from Rome through Gabii direct to Praeneste, from thence rejoined the Via Latina at the station near Anagnia. It will be considered in detail in the article VIA PRAENESTINA


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  • Cross-references from this page (36):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.45
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.10.87
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.8.65
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.3.23
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.3.29
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.10.94
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.3.21
    • Cicero, Against Catiline, 1.3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 3, 8
    • Plautus, Trinummus, 3.1
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 7.678
    • Plautus, Truculentus, 3.2
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 2.6
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 72
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 63
    • Lucan, Civil War, 2.194
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 17.13
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 33.1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 21.4
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.5
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 5.6.45
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 45, 44
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 19
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 22
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 21
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 26
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 30
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 19
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 29
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 14
    • Cicero, De Divinatione, 2.4
    • Statius, Silvae, 4.2
    • Ovid, Fasti, 6
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 1.26
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