Ancient History & Civilisation

5. ETRUSCAN ROME

Whatever impetus the Etruscans may have given to the unification of the villages, they certainly provided the architectural and engineering skills that created the new buildings that made Rome into a city. The ground of the later Forum had to be prepared for a civic centre by drainage, which was traditionally carried out by both the Tarquins; there is some evidence for such work in c. 620 and c. 570 BC (though the cappellaccio work in the Cloaca Maxima dates to after 350). A pebble floor was then laid over the older graves and the huts, which were replaced with houses of sun-baked brick with tiled roofs early in the sixth century. The main street, the Via Sacra, followed the course of the controlled stream: it ran between the Regia and the temple of Vesta and so on towards the Capitol, while the Vicus Tuscus diverged from the Forum to the Cattle Market (Forum Boarium). Around this Vicus, in which stood a statue of the Etruscan god Vortumnus, lived Etruscan craftsmen and traders.

On the north side of the Via Sacra the early huts were replaced by a complex building, the Regia. This was described as having a double character, being both the house (domus) of a rex (the king or possibly the priestly rex sacrorum ? Later it became the seat of the Pontifex Maximus) and also a fanum, a sacred area containing the sacraria of Mars and Ops Consiva, together with an altar. Recent excavations have revealed something of the history of the Regia buildings, but their precise functions remain uncertain. The first buildings belong to the period of 590–570 and were decorated with bright terracottas and reliefs of animals and a Minotaur; a second phase, around 540, was marked by rebuilding and the use of terracottas showing Etrusco-Ionian influence. These earlier buildings were replaced c. 500 BC with a new Regia. Although the arrangement of the earlier sixth-century buildings has suggested to some that they were the dwelling of the rex sacrorum, the traditional view that the Regia was in fact the home of the king, at any rate in his capacity as head of Roman religion, may well be true. The word rex scratched on a bucchero cup of the seventh century, found during earlier excavations in the Regia, is significant and (like the regei on the cippus under the Lapis Niger in the Forum) may well refer to king rather than to priest.14

On the opposite side of the Via Sacra was the temple of Vesta which is dated c. 575–550 BC by the Greek pottery found in its votive deposits. At the northwest corner of the Forum was the Comitium, the later assembly-place of the Roman people which may have been used as such when its first pavement was laid; but below this was a gravel surface of c. 575 BC. Terracottas similar to those of the Regia suggest a building here corresponding to the first phase of the Regia. Nearby, under a black stone (the Lapis Niger) are the remains of a shrine (sacellum), with a later altar flanked by two lions which was held to be the tomb of Romulus; an aedicula, dedicated to a primitive but unknown deity, dates to c. 575 BC. This Lapis Niger complex, rather than a site near the north corner of the Forum, may represent the sanctuary of Volcanus, an altar in an enclosed area which formed a platform from which the king could address his people.15

This great outburst of building in the sixth century is matched by similar developments in the neighbouring Forum Boarium, as excavations around the church of Sant’ Ombono have revealed. A primitive altar was superseded by a temple that was erected c.575BC on a moulded podium; its terracottas resemble those of the first phase of the Regia and of the Comitium. In the third quarter of the sixth century it was reconstructed on a large new podium, with many new architectural features, together with statues of Athene and Heracles. Whether or not this archaic temple was dedicated to either Fortuna or Mater Matuta, it lay below two temples which were dedicated to these two deities, and which were built about the beginning of the fifth century. They were attributed to Servius Tullius, who may well therefore have been responsible at least for the rebuilding of the archaic temple, since its date accords with the traditional period of his reign. The site has yielded much Greek pottery from c. 575–450; the terracotta plaques depicting horses and charioteers are especially pleasing.16

The Tarquins extended the city to include the Capitoline hill where on the south side they built a great temple to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, making it the religious centre of the city. Traces of other early buildings have been found, together with a bucchero bowl inscribed with one of the three Etruscan inscriptions so far discovered in Rome.17 Jupiter’s temple was the crowning architectural glory of Etruscan Rome; vowed by Priscus, it was almost finished by Superbus and dedicated in the first year of the Republic. Only parts of its massive stone foundations and fragments of its terracotta antefixes and tiles still survive. It contained three cellae: for Jupiter, flanked by Juno and Minerva. An Etruscan master-sculptor, Vulca, was summoned from Veii to make the terracotta cult-statue of Jupiter. The temple was 180 feet wide, 210 feet long and 65 feet high, with three rows of six columns, eight feet in diameter, forming a pronaos in front of the cellae. Its gaily-coloured painted terracotta, which covered the wooden superstructure, its figured friezes and the towering figure of Jupiter in a four-horse chariot (quadriga) over the pediment provided an impressive yet cheerful sight.

If the artistic influence of Etruscan statues and temples on the early Romans was great, the religious impact was no less. The vaguer spirits which men hitherto had worshipped were now conceived in the form of men and women, who were honoured with temples in place of rustic altars; Jupiter, the Greatest and Best, became the state-god of the whole community. Further, this new cult was linked with the elaboration of a simple Latin ceremony, the triumph. The king led a victory procession to the temple and sacrificed on theCapitol to the god whom he had represented in the procession.18 He then descended to the Circus Maximus in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine, where the Roman Games were held in the god’s honour. These Games were ascribed to Romulus, but since the Etruscans were devoted to horse-racing they were no doubt elaborated, if not first instituted, by the Tarquins, who built wooden stands for the spectators.19

This expanding city needed protection, which Servius provided. It is generally agreed that the existing ‘Servian’ Wall belongs in the main to the fourth century; some pieces made of cappellaccio tufa may possibly represent sixth-century defence walls of some of the separate hills, but there is no evidence for a complete girdle of walls. However, Servius is to be credited with an earthwork (agger), more than 25 feet high and with a parallel ditch, which ran across the Quirinal, Viminal and Esquiline, blocking the heads of the valleys leading into Rome and similar to the earthworks which still survive at neighbouring Ardea and which are roughly contemporary.20

Thus under Etruscan rule Rome became a centralized city with a unified government, and with public buildings worthy to be set alongside those in Etruria itself; indeed, the Capitoline temple may have even outshone anything there. Something of the spirit of public life is reflected in the gaily coloured decorations and in the scenes shown on the friezes: banqueting, horsemen, chariots and men walking in procession, chariot races, strange feline beasts and minotaurs. The quantity of imported Greek pottery shows how far the cultural level of the upper classes had advanced beyond that of their predecessors who were living in huts not long before. The sixth century saw a spectacular change in Roman public life.

Under Etruscan rule Rome remained basically an agricultural community (p. 307), enriched now by the vine and viticulture,21 but at the same time she received an immense stimulus to develop industry and commerce. The growth of town life created many fresh needs, and the technical skill of the Etruscans in metal and clay set an example for many Roman craftsmen to follow. The labour guilds which are attributed to the regal period are quite credible: bronzesmiths, potters, goldsmiths, dyers, carpenters, leather-workers, tanners and flute-players. The various pieces of terracotta revetments of the sixth century found in many parts of the city testify to the growth of a pottery industry. In bronze work the Capitoline Wolf is unique: if made by an Etruscan artist, it at least set a very high standard for native Romans to admire and imitate. It is difficult to distinguish the contribution of immigrant Etruscan artists from what is due to native Romans. No less important than any actual industry at Rome is the fact that the Etruscans extended Rome’s horizon beyond the limits of a parochial state. Etruscan Rome almost certainly had a formal treaty agreement with the great trading nation of the western Mediterranean, Carthage, since the first treaty between Rome and Carthage made at the beginning of the Republic (p. 144) was probably the renewal of an earlier agreement. The Pyrgi inscriptions (p. 29) demonstrate the close contacts between Carthage and Etruscan Caere: the Tarquins of Rome will not have wished to lag behind the city from which they themselves perhaps derived (p. 49). The site of Rome offered many commercial advantages: it lay at the point where sea commerce stopped and river traffic began, it commanded the old salt route (Via Salaria) from the Tiber mouth to central Italy, while the Pons Sublicius led into the heart of the city and probably carried a large part of the growing trade between Etruria and Campania. With the development of Roman trade may be linked the beginning of a new settlement on the Aventine hill, alongside which the first river wharves were built, and the institution of a fair at the sanctuary of Diana (p. 50) where merchants from other Latin towns could meet traders from overseas.

The scale of Roman imports is shown by the quantity of Greek pottery found on the site of the city. Fragments of at least 306 vases of the period 575–500 BC (and only 26 before that date) survive, and 203 of these belong to 530–500, while no less than 253 are Attic. Thus in the latter sixth century the upper classes in Rome were not behind other Etruscan cities in their appreciation of Attic pottery.22 Imports, of course, had to be paid for (coined money did not yet exist: cattle, or lumps of copper (aes rude) weighed in the balance, served as currency). What Rome had to offer was salt from the pans at the Tiber mouth, timber from the upper valleys of the Tiber and Anio, perhaps some slaves acquired as prisoners of war, and possibly some products of her industry.

Rome’s debt to the Etruscans in other spheres will be mentioned in due place. However, we may note here that besides founding temples under Etruscan influence, the Romans derived anthropomorphic conceptions of deity and learnt to elaborate the practice of augury from Etruria. Politically, it was under the Etruscan kings that Rome gained a centralized government, while the trappings and insignia of the magistrates came from the same source: the lictor’s axe and rods (fasces), the curule chair, the purple toga, the ivory rod and the golden wreath. But despite all these great changes which completely transformed Rome in the sixth century, Rome was never in any real sense an Etruscan city; she merely had to endure the domination of a small number of powerful families and receive into her midst a number of Etruscan workers. Apart from some eighth-century tombs on the Esquiline, the nearest Etruscan burial yet found lies four miles from the Forum on the Colle di S. Agata near Monte Mario. The Romans borrowed much, but they remained essentially Latin, in race, language, institutions, and religion. But their relations with the Latins were gradually altered, for the Etruscans had reorientated the city. Previously it had been a northern outpost of the Latins against Etruria; it became a southern outpost of Etruria against the Latins. The spear-head was turned from north to south.

Between the early Iron Age and the end of the regal period Rome’s relations with her Latin neighbours varied considerably. According to the earliest indications her territory stretched about five miles around the city, but by the end of the sixth century it had increased to about seven times this size, as a result of almost continuous struggles which arose, often from cattle-lifting, despite the fact that Roman fetial law (p. 60) forbade wars of aggression. When a village was destroyed its land was acquired by Rome; the conquered people were often taken to Rome, though sometimes they may have been forcibly transported to a less defensible position near their captured hill town, a regular practice in the third century. Small settlements often gained security by yielding (deditio) before attack and the population might become the clientes of the king or some noble house. Thus Rome began her career of conquest with a policy of incorporation.

A few incidents stand out from a long series of raids and counter-raids. Towards the Tiber mouth Rome’s expansion was early, as shown by the tradition that Ancus Marcius won the salt-pans near the site of Ostia (p. 48),23 and that he also captured Ficana nearby; as we have seen (p. 34), recent archaeological evidence shows the importance of the sites of Ficana and Decima (Politorium) but the very latest evidence (1980) suggests that the latter survived after the traditional date of Ancus. North of the Tiber little could be done in face of the power of the Etruscan city of Veii, though the last three kings may have won some temporary successes; this is not contradicted by the existence of an Etruscan regime at Rome, because Etruscan cities often fell out with each other. To the north-east Fidenae blocked the advance of the Romans, who gained little permanent control further than some ten miles beyond the Anio. They did not join with the Faliscan peoples around Mt Soracte, who were akin to them.24

In the Alban Hills the Roman advance was early and successful. The tradition that Alba Longa was captured and destroyed by King Tullus is strengthened by the disappearance of Alba from history and by the fact that Aricia before long headed a Latin League, although the epic fight of the three brothers on each side, the Horatii and Curiatii, may be dismissed as legendary. Some of the defeated Albans were perhaps settled at the lower-lying Bovillae. South of the Anio the elder Tarquin took Collatia, but Tibur retained its independence. Between Tibur and the Alban Hills lay Gabii and Tusculum. With the former Tarquinius Superbus made a treaty, which was written on the ox-hide covering of a shield and was said to have been preserved until the time of Augustus in a temple on the Quirinal; there is no strong reason to suppose that it was a forgery.25 Good relations were also probably established with Tusculum, whether or not the story that Tarquin’s daughter married the chief citizen of Tusculum, Octavius Mamilius, is true (theturris Mamiliaat Rome was very ancient and shows that the Mamilii were linked to Rome in the regal period). The extent of Rome’s influence further south in Latium remains uncertain. She probably came into conflict with some of the members of the Arician League, one of which was Pometia. This town, north of the Pomptine Marshes, is said to have been captured by Tarquinius and to have yielded spoils worth forty talents of silver which were devoted to building the Capitoline temple (a record of such a dedication might well have survived into later times). Rome’s control of Pometia gave her a base against pressure from the Volscians beyond. Circeii, much further south, is said to have been colonized by Tarquin; this cannot be accepted, but since Circeii is among the towns named in the first treaty between Rome and Carthage (as noted below) as ‘subject to the Romans’, Tarquin seems to have gained some control there.

Absorption of tribal villages by conquest was at first easy, but when many of these villages grew into politically self-conscious townships, opposition to Rome would stiffen. Rome reacted by developing a new form of incorporation, as illustrated by her relations with Gabii which entered into the Roman state by treaty (see above). The extent of this system during the regal period is uncertain, but in the treaty with Carthage, which Polybius assigns to 508 (p. 144), Rome spoke for the cities of the Latin coast who were ‘subject’ to her (i.e. Ardea, Antium, Circeii, Tarracina and probably Lavinium) and for those who were not. The former were probably socii, who recognized Rome’s military leadership in individual treaties, as that of Gabii. Rome’s claim to speak for those Latins ‘such as were not subject’ suggest that she was acting as spokesman for a league of which she was a prominent member. As has been said (p. 35), among several incipient leagues the Arician League at Lucus Ferentinae had gradually overshadowed the rest. Doubtless Rome sought to win control of these groups: thus Servius Tullius tried to centralize, rival or supplant the cult of the Arician League by building the temple to Diana on the Aventine (see p. 50). The advantages of membership of such leagues were obvious. Between all the Latins there existed a general isopolity which would probably receive greater definition among fellow-members of the league. To be able to buy and sell, to hold property or to contract a lawful marriage in another village or town (privileges later crystallized as iura commercii et conubii) was a great benefit. Thus under the Tarquins Latium became more united under the lead of Rome, from both the political and social points of view.

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