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ALBA´NUS MONS

ALBA´NUS MONS (τὸ Ἀλβανὸν ὄρος, Strab.; Monte Cavo) was the name given to the highest and central summit of a remarkable group of mountains in Latium, which forms one of the most important physical features of that country. The name of Alban Hills, or Monti Albani, is commonly applied in modern usage to the whole of this group, which rises from the surrounding plain in an isolated mass, nearly 40 miles in circumference, and is wholly detached from the mountains that rise above Praeneste on the east, as well as from the Volscian mountains or Monti Lepini on the south. But this more extended use of the name appears to have been unknown to the ancients, who speak only of [p. 1.92]the Mons Albanus in the singular, as designating the highest peak. The whole mass is clearly of volcanic origin, and may be conceived as having once formed a vast crater, of which the lofty ridge now called Monte Ariano constituted the southern side, while the heights of Mt. Algidus, and those occupied by Rocca Priore and Tusculum continued the circle on the E. and NE. Towards the sea the original mountain wall of this crater has given way, and has been replaced by the lakes of Albano and Nemi, themselves probably at one time separate vents of volcanic eruption. Within this outer circle rises an inner height, of a somewhat conical form, the proper Mons Albanus, which presents a repetition of the same formation, having its own smaller crater surrounded on three sides by steep mountain ridges, while the fourth (that turned towards Rome) has no such barrier, and presents to view a green mountain plain, commonly known as the Campo di Annìbale, from the belief-wholly unsupported by any ancient authority--that it was at one time occupied by the Carthaginian general. The highest of the surrounding summits, which rises to more than 3000 feet above the level of the sea, is the culminating point of the whole group, and was occupied in ancient times by the temple of Jupiter Latiaris. (Cic. pro Mil. 31; Lucan 1.198.) It is from hence that Virgil represents Juno as contemplating the contest between the Trojans and Latins (Aen. 12.134), and the magnificent prospect which it commands over the whole of the surrounding country renders it peculiarly fit for such a station, as well as the natural site for the central sanctuary of the Latin nation. For the same reason we find it occupied as a military post on the alarm of the sudden advance of Hannibal upon Rome. (Liv. 26.9.)

There can be no doubt that the temple of Jupiter Latiaris1 had become the religious centre and place of meeting of the Latins long before the dominion of Rome: and its connection with Alba renders it almost certain that it owed its selection for this purpose to the predominance of that city. Tarquinius Superbus, who is represented by the Roman annalists as first instituting this observance (Dionys. A. R. 4.49), probably did no more than assert for Rome that presiding authority which had previously been enjoyed by Alba. The annual sacrifices on the Alban Mount at the Feriae Latinae continued to be celebrated long after the dissolution of the Latin league, and the cessation of their national assemblies: even in the days of Cicero and Augustus the decayed Municipia of Latium still sent deputies to receive their share of the victim immolated on their common behalf, and presented with primitive simplicity their offerings of lambs, milk, and cheese. (Liv. 5.17, 21.63, 32.1; Cic. pro Planc. 9, de Divin. 1.11; Dionys. A. R. 4.49; Suet. Cl. 4.)

Another custom which was doubtless derived from a more ancient period, but retained by the Romans, was that of celebrating triumphs on the Alban Mount, a practice which was, however, resorted to by Roman generals only when they failed in obtaining the honours of a regular triumph at Rome. The first person who introduced this mode of evading the authority of the senate, was C. Papirius Maso, who was consul in B.C. 231: a more illustrious example was that of Marcellus, after the capture of Syracuse, B.C. 211. Only five instances in all are recorded of triumphs thus celebrated. (V. Max. 3.6.5; Liv. 26.21, 33.23, 42.21; Fast. Capit.)

The remains of the temple on the summit of the mountain were still extant till near the close of the last century, but were destroyed in 1783, when the church and convent which now occupy the site were rebuilt. Some of the massive blocks of peperino which formed the substruction may be still seen (though removed from their original site) in the walls of the convent and buildings annexed to it. The magnificence of the marbles and other architectural decorations noticed by earlier antiquarians, as discovered here, show that the temple must have been rebuilt or restored at a comparatively late period. (Piranesi, Antichità di Albano; Nibby, Dintorni di Roma, vol. i. pp. 112, 113.) But though the temple itself has disappeared, the Roman road which led up to it is still preserved, and, from the absence of all traffic, remains in a state of singular perfection. The polygonal blocks of hard basaltic lava, of which the pavement is composed, are fitted together with the nicest accuracy, while the “crepidines” or curb-stones are still preserved on each side, and altogether it presents by far the most perfect specimen of an ancient Roman road in its original state. It is only 8 feet in breadth, and is carried with much skill up the steep acclivity of the mountain. This road may be traced down to the chesnut woods below Rocca di Papa: it appears to have passed by Palazzolo, where we find a remarkable monument cut in the face of the rock, which has been conjectured to be that of Cn. Cornelius Scipio, who died in B.C. 176. (Nibby, l.c. pp. 75, 114, 115; Gell, Top. of Rome, p. 32.)

Numerous prodigies are recorded by Roman writers as occurring on the Alban Mount: among these the falling of showers of stones is frequently mentioned, a circumstance which has been supposed by some writers to indicate that the volcanic energy of these mountains continued in historical times; but this suggestion is sufficiently disproved by historical, as well as geological, considerations. (Daubeny on Volcanoes, p. 169, seq.

[E.H.B]

1 Concerning the forms, Latiaris and Latialis, see Orell. Onomast. vol. ii. p. 336; Ernest. ad Suet. Calig. 22.

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