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SALASSI

Eth. SALASSI (Σαλασσοί), one of the most powerful of the Alpine tribes in the N. of Italy, who occupied the great valley of the Durias or Dora Baltea, now called the Val d'Aosta, from the plains of the Po to the foot of the Graian and Pennine Alps. Their country is correctly described by Strabo as a deep and narrow valley, shut in on both sides by very lofty mountains. (Strab. iv. p.205.) This valley, which extends above 60 miles in length from its entrance at Ivrea to its head among the very highest ranges of the Alps, must always have been one of the natural inlets into the heart of those mountains: hence the two passes at its head, now called the Great and Little St. Bernard, seem to have been frequented from a very early period. If we may trust to Livy, it was by the former of these passes, or the Pennine Alps, that the Boii and Lingones crossed when they first migrated into the plains of the N. of Italy. (Liv. 5.35.) It was the same pass by which Hannibal was commonly supposed in the days of Livy to have crossed those mountains, while Coelius Antipater represented him as passing the Little St. Bernard, an opinion commonly adopted by modern writers, though still subject to grave difficulties. One of the most serious of these arises from the character of the Salassi themselves, who are uniformly described as among the fiercest and most warlike of the Alpine tribes, and of inveterate predatory habits, so that it is difficult to believe they would have allowed an army like that of Hannibal to traverse their country without opposition, and apparently without molestation. (See Arnold's Rome, vol. iii. p. 481.)

The Salassi are commonly reckoned a Gaulish people, yet there are reasons which render it more probable that they were in fact, like their neighbours the Taurini, a Ligurian race. The Ligurians indeed seem, at a very early period, to have spread themselves along the whole of the western chain of the Alps, and the Gaulish tribes which occupied the plains of the Padus passed through their country. But the ethnical relations of all these Alpine races are very obscure. No mention of the Salassi is found in history till B.C. 143, when they were attacked without provocation by the consul Appius Claudius, who was, however, punished for his aggression, being defeated with the loss of 5000 men. But he soon repaired this disaster, and having in his turn slain 50100 of the mountaineers, claimed the honour of a triumph. (Dio Cass. Fr. 79; Liv. Epit. liii.; Oros. 5.4.) From this time they appear to have frequently been engaged in hostilities with Rome, and though nominally tributary to the republic, they were continually breaking out into revolt, and ravaging the plains of their neighbourhood, or plundering the Roman convoys, and harassing their troops as they marched through their country. As early as B.C. 100 a Roman colony was established at Eporedia (Ivrea), at the mouth of the valley (Vell. 1.15), with the view of keeping them in check, but it suffered severely from their incursions. Even at a much later period the Salassi plundered the baggage of the dictator Caesar when marching through. their country, and compelled Decimus Brutus, on his way into Gaul after the battle of Mutina, to purchase a passage with a large sum of money. (Strab. iv. p.205.) In B.C. 35 they appear to have broken out afŕesh into revolt, and for some time were able to defy the efforts of Antistius Vetus; but the next year they were reduced to submission by Valerius Messala. (D. C. 49.34, 38; Appian, App. Ill. 17.) Still, however, their subjection was imperfect, till in B.C. 25 Terentius Varro was sent against them, who having compelled the whole nation to lay down their arms, sold them without distinction as slaves. The number of captives thus sold is said to have amounted to [p. 2.881]36,000 persons, of whom 8000 were men of military age. The tribe of the Salassi being thus extirpated, a Roman colony was settled at Praetoria Augusta (Aosta), and a highroad made through the valley. (D. C. 53.25; Strab. iv. p.205; Liv. Epit. cxxxv.) The name of the Salassi, however, still remained, and is recognised as a geographical distinction both by Pliny and Ptolemy, but no subsequent trace of them is found as an independent tribe. (Plin. Nat. 3.17. s. 21; Ptol. 3.1.34.)

One of the main causes of the disputes between the Salassi and Romans had arisen; from the goldwashings which were found in the valley, and which are said to have been extremely productive. These were worked by the Salassi themselves before, the Roman invasion; but the Romans seem to have early taken possession of them, and they were farmed out with the other revenues of the state to the Publicani. But these were, as might be expected, involved in constant quarrels with the neighbouring barbarians, who sometimes cut off their supplies of water, at other times attacked them with more open violence. (Strab. iv. p.205; Dio Cass. Fr. 79.)

The line of road through the country of the Salassi, and the passes which led from Augusta Praetoria over the Pennine and Graian Alps, are described in the article ALPES [Vol. I. p. 110].

[E.H.B]

hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Appian, Illyrian Wars, 4.17
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 35
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
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