The name of this country, as well as of its inhabitants, appears in ancient inscriptions invariably without the h,
as Raetia and Raeti, while the MSS. of Latin authors commonly have the forms Rhaetia and Rhaeti,--a circumstance which goes far to show that the more correct spelling is without the h. Rhaetia was essentially an Alpine country, bordering in the north on Vindelicia;, in the west on the territory inhabited by the Helvetii, in the south on the chain of the Alps from Mons Adula to Mons Ocra, which separated Rhaetia from Italy, and in the east on Noricum and Venetia; hence it comprised the modern Grisons,
and some of the northern parts of Lombardy.
This country and its inhabitants did not attract much attention in ancient times until the reign of Augustus, who determined to reduce the Alpine tribes which had until then maintained their independence in the mountains.
After a struggle of many years Rhaetia and several adjoining districts were conquered by Drusus and Tiberius, B.C. 15. Rhaetia, within the boundaries above described, seems then to have been constituted as a distinct province (Suet. Aug. 21
; Vell. 2.39
; Liv. Epit. 136
; Aurel. Vict. Epit.
1). Vindelicia, in the north of Rhaetia, must at that time likewise have been a separate province; but towards the end of the first century A.D. the two provinces appear united as one, under the name of Rhaetia, which accordingly, in this latter sense, extended in the north as far as the Danube and the Limes.
At a still later period, in or shortly before the reign of Constantine, the two provinces were again divided, and ancient Rhaetia received the name Rhaetia Prima, its capital being called Curia Rhaetorum (Chur
); while Vindelicia was called Rhaetia Secunda.
The exact boundary line between the two is not accurately defined by the ancients, but it is highly probable that the Alpine chain extending from the Lake af Constance
to the river Inn
was the natural line of demarcation; it should, however, be observed that Ptolemy (2.12
) includes under the name of Rhaetia all the country west of the river Licus as far as the sources of the Danubius and Rhenus, while he applies the name of Vindelicia to the territory between the Licus and Oenus.
Ancient Rhaetia or Rhaetia Proper was throughout an Alpine country, being traversed by the Alpes Rhaeticae and Mons Adula.
It contained the sources of nearly all the Alpine rivers watering the north of Italy, such as the Addua, Sarius, Olbius, Cleusis, Mincius, and others ; but the chief rivers of Rhaetia itself were the Athesis with its tributary the Isargus (or Ilargus), and the Aenus or Oenus.
The magnificent valleys formed by these rivers were fertile and well adapted to agricultural pursuits; but the inhabitants depended mainly upon their flocks (Strab. vii. p.316
The chief produce of the valleys was wine, which was not at all inferior to that grown in Italy; so that Augustus was particularly partial to it (Strab. iv. p.206
; Plin. Nat. 14.3
;Virg. Georg. ii.
96; Col. 3.2
; Martial, 14.100
; Suet. Aug. 77
). Besides this Rhaetia produced abundance of wax, honey, pitch, and cheese, in which considerable commerce was carried on.
The ancient inhabitants of Rhaetia have in modern times attracted more than ordinary attention from their supposed connection with the ancient Etruscans. They are first mentioned by Polybius (34.10
; comp. Strab. iv. p.204
, vii. pp. 292, 313).
According to tradition the Rhaetians were Etruscans who had originally inhabited the plains of Lombardy, but were compelled by the invading Gauls to quit their country and take refuge in the Alps, whereby they were cut off from their kinsmen, who remained in Italy and finally established themselves in Etruria. (Justin, 20.5
; Plin. Nat. 3.24
; Steph. B. sub voce Ῥαιτοί.
) This tradition derives some support from the fact recorded by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1.24) that the Etruscans in Etruria called themselves Rasena, which is believed to be only another form of the name Rhaeti.
A decision of this question is the more difficult because at the time when the Romans conquered Rhaetia the bulk of its inhabitants were Celts, which in the course of a few centuries became entirely Romanised.
But, assuming that the Rhaeti were a branch of the Etruscan nation, it is not very likely that on the invasion of Italy by the Gauls they should have gone back to the Alps across which they had come into Italy ; it seems much more probable to suppose that the Etruscans in the Alps were a remnant of the nation left behind there at the time when the Etruscans originally migrated into Italy.
But, however this may be, the anxiety to obtain a key to the mysterious language of the Etruscans has led modern inquirers to search for it in the mountains and valleys of ancient Rhaetia; for they reasonably assumed that, although the great body of the population in the time of Augustus consisted of Celts, who soon after their subjugation adopted the language of the conquerors, there may still exist some traces of its original inhabitants in the names of places, and even in the language of ordinary life.
In the districts where the nation has remained purest, as in the valley of Engadino
and in the Grödnerthal,
the language spoken at present is a corruption of Latin, the Romaunsh as it is called, intermixed with some Celtic and German elements, and a few words which are believed to be neither Celtic, nor German, nor Latin, and are therefore considered to be Etruscan. Several names of places also bear a strong resemblance to those of places in Etruria ; and, lastly, a few ancient monuments have been discovered which are in some respects like those of Etruria.
The first who, after many broad and unfounded assertions had been made, undertook a thorough investigation of these points, was L. Steub, who published the results of his inquiries in a work Uber die Urbewohner Raetiens und ihren Zusammenhang mit den Etruskern,
Munich, 1843, 8vo.
A few years ago another scholar, Dr. W. Freund, during a residence in Rhaetia collected a vast number of facts, well calculated to throw light upon this obscure subject, but the results of his investigations have not yet been published.
As to the history of the ancient Rhaetians, it has already been intimated that they became known to the Romans in the second century B.C. They were a wild, cunning, and rapacious mountain people, who indulged their propensity to rob and plunder even at the time when they were subject to Rome, and when their rulers had made a great road through their country into Noricum (D. C. 54.22
; [p. 2.701]Hor. Carm. 4.14
. 15). Like all mountaineers, they cherished great love of freedom, and fought against the Romans with rage and despair, as we learn from Florus (4.12
), who states that the Rhaetian women, who also took part in the war, after having spent their arrows, threw their own children in the faces of the Romans. Still, however, they were obliged to yield, and in B.C. 15 they were finally subdued, and their country was made a Roman province. During the later period of the Empire their territory was almost entirely depopulated; but it somewhat recovered at the time when the Ostrogoths, under Theodoric, took possession of the country, and placed its administration into the hands of a Dux (Euipp. Vit. S. Severini,
29; Cassiod. Var.
After the death of Theodoric, the Boioarii spread over Rhaetia and Noricum, and the river Licus became the boundary between the Alemanni in Vindelicia, and the Boioarii in Rhaetia. (Egin. Vit. Carol. M.
The more important among the various tribes mentioned in Rhaetia, such as the LEPONTII, VIBERI, CALUCONES, VENNONES, SARUNETES, ISARCI, BRIXENTES, GENAUNI, TRIDENTINI, and EIGANEI, are discussed in separate articles. Tridentum. was the most important among the few towns of the country ; the others are known almost exclusively through the Itineraries, two roads having been made through Rhaetia by the Romans, the one leading from Augusta Vindelicorum to Comum, and the other from the same town to Verona; Paulus Diaconus, however, mentions a few towns of the interior which were not situated on these high-roads, such as the town of Maia, which was destroyed in the eighth century by the fall of a mountain, and the site of which is now occupied by the town of Meran.