previous next


AQUILEIA (Ἀκυληΐα, Strab. et alii; Ἀκουιληΐα, Ptol.: Eth. Ἀκυλήϊος,, Steph. B. sub voce but Ἀκυλήσιος, Herodian.; Aquilleiensis), the capital of the province of Venetia, and one of the most important cities of Northern Italy. was situated near the head of the Adriatic Sea, between the rivers Alsa and Natiso. Strabo tells us that it was 60 stadia from the sea, which is just about the truth, while Pliny erroneously places it 15 miles inland. Both these authors, as well as Mela and Herodian, agree in describing it as situated on the river Natiso; and Pliny says, that both that river and the Turrus (Natiso cum Turro) flowed by the walls of Aquileia. At the present day the river Torre (evidently the Turrus of Pliny) falls into the Natisone (a considerable mountain torrent, which rises in the Alps and flows by Cividale, the ancient Forum Julii), about 13 miles N. of Aquileia, and their combined waters discharge themselves into the Isonzo, about 4 miles NE. of that city. But from the low and level character of the country, and the violence of these mountain streams, there is much probability that they have changed their course, and really flowed, in ancient times, as described by Strabo and Pliny. An artificial cut, or canal, communicating from Aquileia with the sea, is still called Natisa. (Strab. v. p.214; Plin. Nat. 3.18. s. 22; Mela, 2.4; Herodian, 8.2, 5; Cluver. Ital. p. 184.)

All authors agree in ascribing the first foundation of Aquileia to the Romans; and Livy expressly tells us that the territory was previously uninhabited, on which account a body of Transalpine Gauls who had crossed the mountains in search of new abodes, endeavoured to form a settlement there; but the Romans took umbrage at this, and compelled them to recross the Alps. (Liv. 39.22, 45, 54, 55.) It was in order to prevent a repetition of such an attempt, as well as to guard the fertile plains of Italy from the irruptions of the barbarians on its NE. frontier, that the Romans determined to establish a colony there. In B.C. 181, a body of 3000 colonists was settled there, to which, 12 years later (B.C. 169), 1500 more families were added. (Liv. 40.34, 43.17; Vell. 1.15.) The new colony, which received the name of Aquileia from the accidental omen of an eagle at the time of its [p. 1.171]foundation (Julian. Or. II. de gest. Const.; Eustath. ad Dion. Per. 378), quickly rose to great wealth and prosperity, and became an important commercial emporium; for which it was mainly indebted to its favourable position, as it were, at the entrance of Italy, and at the foot of the pass of Mount Ocra, which must always have been the easiest passage from the NE. into the Italian plains. The accidental discovery of valuable gold mines in the neighbouring Alps, in the time of Polybius, doubtless contributed to its prosperity (Pol. ap. Strab. iv. p.208); but a more permanent source of wealth was the trade carried on there with the barbarian tribes of the mountains, and especially with the Illyrians and Pannonians on the Danube and its tributaries. These brought slaves, cattle and hides, which they exchanged for the wine and oil of Italy. All these productions were transported by land carriage as far as Nauportus, and thence by the Save into the Danube. (Strab.iv. p. 207, v. p. 214.) After the provinces of Illyria and Pannonia had been permanently united to the Roman Empire, the increased intercourse between the east and west necessarily added to the commercial prosperity of Aquileia. Nor was it less important in a military point of view. Caesar made it the head-quarters of his legions in Cisalpine Gaul, probably with a view to operations against the Illyrians (Caes. Gal. 1.10), and we afterwards find it repeatedly mentioned as the post to which the emperors, or their generals, repaired for the defence of the NE. frontier of Italy, or the first place which was occupied by the armies that entered it from that quarter. (Suet. Aug. 20, Tib. 7, Vesp. 6; Tac. Hist. 2.46, 85, 3.6,8.) The same circumstance exposed it to repeated dangers. Under the reign of Augustus it was attacked, though without success, by the Iapodes (Appian. Illyr. 18); and at a later period, having had the courage to shut its gates against the tyrant Maximin, it was exposed to the first brunt of his fury, but was able to defy all his efforts during a protracted siege, which was at length terminated by the assassination of the emperor by his own soldiers, A.D. 238. (Herodian. 8.2--5; Capitol. Maximin. 21--23.) At this time Aquileia was certainly one of the most important and flourishing cities of Italy, and during the next two centuries it continued to enjoy the same prosperity. It not only retained its colonial rank, but became the acknowledged capital of the province of Venetia; and was the only city of Italy, besides Rome itself, that had the privilege of a mint. (Not. Dign. ii. p. 48.) Ausonius, about the middle of the fourth century, ranks Aquileia as the ninth of the great cities of the Roman empire, and inferior among those of Italy only to Milan and Capua. (Ordo Nob. Urb. 6.) Though situated in a plain, it was strongly fortified with walls and towers, and seems to have enjoyed the reputation of an impregnable fortress. (Amm. Marc. 21.12.) During the later years of the empire it was the scene of several decisive events. Thus, in A.D. 340, the younger Constantine was defeated and slain on the banks of the river Alsa, almost beneath its walls. (Victor. Epit. 41.21; Eutrop. 10.9; Hieron. Chron. ad ann. 2356.) In 388 it witnessed the defeat and death of the usurper Maximus by Theo-dosius the Great (Zosim. 4.46; Victor. Epit. 48; Idat. Chron. p. 11 ; Auson. l.c.); and in 425, that of Joannes by the generals of Theodosius II. (Procop. B. V. 1.2; Philostorg. 12.14.) At length in A.D. 452 it was besieged by Attila, king of the Huns, with a formidable host, and after maintaining an obstinate defence for above three months, was finally taken by assault, plundered, and burnt to the ground. (Cassiod. Chron. p. 230; Jornand. Get. 42; Procop. B. V. 1.4. p. 330; Marcellin. Chron. p. 290; Hist. Miscell. xv. p. 549.) So complete was its destruction, that it never rose again from its ashes; and later writers speak of it as having left scarcely any ruins as vestiges of its existence. (Jornand. l.c.; Liutprand. 3.2.) But these expressions must not be construed too strictly; it never became again a place of any importance, but was at least partially inhabited; and in the sixth century was still the residence of a bishop, who, on the invasion of the Lombards, took refuge with all the other inhabitants of Aquileia in the neighbouring island of Gradus, at the entrance of the lagunes. (Cassiodor. Var. 12.26; P. Diac. 2.10.) The bishops of Aquileia, who assumed the Oriental title of Patriarch, continued, notwithstanding the decay of the city, to maintain their pretensions to the highest ecclesiastical rank, and the city itself certainly maintained a sickly existence throughout the middle ages. Its final decay is probably to be attributed to the increasing unhealthiness of the situation. At the present day Aquileia is a mere straggling village, with about 1400 inhabitants, and no public buildings except the cathedral. No ruins of any ancient edifice are visible, but the site abounds with remains of antiquity, coins, engraved stones, and other minor objects, as well as shafts and capitals of columns, fragments of friezes, &c., the splendour and beauty of which sufficiently attest the magnificence of the ancient city., Of the numerous inscriptions discovered there, the most interesting are those which relate to the worship of Belenus, a local deity whom the Romans identified with Apollo, and who was believed to have co-operated in the defence of the city against Maxi-; min. (Orell. Inscr.1967,1968, &c.; Herodian.8.3; Capitol. Maximin. 22; Bertoli, Antichità di Aquileia, Venice, 1739, p. 86--96.)

Besides its commercial and military importance, Aquileia had the advantage of possessing a territory of the greatest fertility; it was especially noted for the abundance of its wine. (Herodian. 8.2.) Nor was the situation, in ancient times, considered unhealthy, the neighbouring lagunes, like those of Altinum and Ravenna, being open to the flux and; reflux of the tides, which are distinctly sensible in this part of the Adriatic. (Vitr. 1.4.11; Strab. v. p.212; Procop. B. G. 1.1. p. 9.) Strabo speaks of the river Natiso as navigable up to the very walls of Aquileia (v. p.214); but this could never have been adapted for large vessels, and it is probable that there existed from an early period a port or emporium on the little island of Gradus, at the mouth of the river, and entrance of the lagunes. We even learn that this island was, at one time, joined to the mainland by a paved causeway, which must certainly have been a Roman work. But the name of Gradus does not occur till after the fall of the Western Empire (P. Diac. 2.10, 3.25, 5.17), when it became, for a time, a considerable city, but afterwards fell into decay, and is now a poor place, with about 2000 inhabitants; it is still called, Grado.


hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 1.10
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 20
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 1.4.11
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 2.46
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 3.6
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 2.85
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.18
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 54
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 43, 17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 22
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 55
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 40, 34
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 45
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 21.12
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: