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SI´GNIA (Σιγνία: Eth. Signinus: Segni), an ancient city of Latium, situated on a lofty hill at the NW. angle of the Volscian mountains, looking down upon the valley of the Sacco. It is represented by ancient authors as a Roman colony founded by Tarquinius Superbus, at the same time with Circeii. (Liv. 1.55; Dionys. A. R. 4.63.) No trace of it is found before this; its name does not figure among the cities of the Latin League or those of which the foundation was ascribed to Alba; and the story told by Dionysius (l.c.), that it originated at first in a fortuitous settlement of some Roman troops encamped in the neighbourhood, which was afterwards enlarged and strengthened by Tarquin, certainly points to the fact of its being a new town, and not, like so many of the Roman colonies, a new settlement in a previously existing city. It passed, after the expulsion of Tarquin, into the hands of the Roman Republic, as it was attacked in B.C. 497 by Sextus Tarquinius, who in vain endeavoured to make himself master of it (Dionys. A. R. 5.58). A few years later, it received a fresh colony, to recruit its exhausted population (Liv. 2.21). From this time it appears to have continued a dependency of Rome, and never, so far as we learn, fell into the power of the Volscians, though that people held all the neighbouring mountain country. Signia must indeed, from its strong and commanding position, overlooking all the valley of the Trerus and the broad plain between it and Praeneste, have been a point of the utmost importance for the Romans and Latins, especially as securing their communications with their allies the Hernicans. In B.C. 340 the Signians shared in the general defection of the Latins (Liv. 8.3); but we have no account of the part they took in the war that followed, or of the terms on which they were received to submission. We know only that Signia became again (as it had probably been before) a Colonia Latina, and is mentioned as such during the Second Punic War. On that occasion it was one of those which continued faithful to Rome at the most trying period of the war (Liv. 27.10), and must therefore have been still in a flourishing condition. On account of its strong and secluded position we find it selected as one of the places where the Carthaginian hostages were deposited for safety (Id. 32.2): but this is the last mention of it that occurs in history, except that the battle of Sacriportus is described by Plutarch as taking place near Signia (Plut. Sull. 28). That decisive action was fought in the plain between Signia and Praeneste [SACRIPORTUS]. It, however, certainly continued during the later ages of the Republic and under the Empire to be a considerable municipal town. It received a fresh body of colonists under the Triumvirate, but it is doubtful whether it retained the rank of a Colonia. Pliny does not reckon it as such, and though it is termed “Colonia Signina” in some inscriptions, these are of doubtful authenticity. (Strab. v. p.237; Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9; Sil. Ital. 8.378; Lib. Colon. p. 237; Zumpt, de Col. p. 338; Gruter, Inscr. p. 490. 5, &c.)

Signia was chiefly noted under the Roman Empire for its wine, which, though harsh and astringent, was valued for its medical qualities, and seems to have been extensively used at Rome (Strab. v. p.237; Plin. Nat. 14.6. s. 8; Athen. 1.27; Sil. Ital. l.c.; Martial, 13.116; Cels. de Med. 4.5). Its territory produced also pears of a celebrated quality (Juv. 11.73; Plin. Nat. 15.15. s. 16; Col. 5.10.18; Macr. 2.15), as well as excellent vegetables, which were sent in large quantities to Rome (Col. 10.131). These last were grown on a hill near the city, called by Columella Mons Lepinus, apparently one of the underfalls of the Volscian mountains; but there is no authority for applying the name (as modern writers have frequently done) to the whole of that mass of mountains [LEPINUS MONS]. Signia also gave name to a particular kind of cement known as “opus Signinum,” and extensively employed both for pavements and reservoirs of water (Plin. Nat. 35.12. s. 46; Col. 1.6.12, 8.15.3; Vitr. 8.7.14).

The modern town of Segni (a poor place, with about 3500 inhabitants) occupies a part only of the site of the ancient city. The latter embraced within the circuit of its walls the whole summit of the hill, which stands boldly out from the Volscian mountains, with which it is connected only by a narrow neck or isthmus. The line of the ancient walls may be traced throughout its whole extent; they are constructed of large masses of stone (the hard limestone of which the hill itself consists), of polygonal or rudely squared form, and afford certainly one of the most remarkable specimens of the style of construction commonly known as Cyclopean or Pelasgic, of which striking instances are found also in other cities in this part of Latium. The city had in all five gates, two of which still retain their primitive construction; and one of these, known as the Porta Saracinesca, presents a remarkable instance of the rudest and most massive Cyclopean construction. The architrave is formed of single masses of stone not less than 12 feet in length, laid across from one impost to the other. This gate has been repeatedly figured1; another, less celebrated but scarcely less remarkable, is found on the SE. side of the town, and is constructed in a style precisely similar. The age of these walls and gates has been a subject of much controversy; on the one hand the rude and massive style of their construction, and the absence of all traces of the arch in the gateways, would seem to assign them to a remote and indefinite antiquity; on the other hand, the historical notices that we possess concerning Signia all tend to prove that it was not one of the most ancient cities of Latium, and that there could not have existed a city of such magnitude previous to the settlement of the Roman colony under Tarquin. (For the discussion of this question as well as for [p. 2.999]the description of the remains themselves, see the Annali dell' Instituto Archeologico for 1829, pp. 78--87, 357--360; Classical Museum, vol. ii. pp. 167--170; Abeken, Mittel Italien, p. 140, &c.) The only other remains within the circuit of the walls are a temple (now converted into the church of S. Pietro) of Roman date, and built of regularly squared blocks of tufo; and nearly adjoining it a circular reservoir for water, of considerable size and lined with the “opus Signinum.” (Annali, l.c. p. 82.) Several inscriptions of imperial date are also preserved in the modern town.



1 The annexed figure is taken from that given by Abeken (Mittel Italien, pl. 2).

hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 15.15
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.5
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 14.6
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 10
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 55
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 21
    • Plutarch, Sulla, 28
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 1.6.12
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 5.10.18
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 8.15.3
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 13.116
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 1.27
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