The Settlements of the Latins

Indo-Germanic Migrations

The home of the Indo-Germanic stock lay in the western portion of central Asia; from this it spread partly in a south-eastern direction over India, partly in a northwestern over Europe. It is difficult to determine the primitive seat of the Indo-Germans more precisely: it must, however, at any rate have been inland and remote from the sea, as there is no name for the sea common to the Asiatic and European branches. Many indications point more particularly to the regions of the Euphrates; so that, singularly enough, the primitive seats of the two most important civilized stocks, —the Indo-Germanic and the Aramaean,—almost coincide as regards locality. This circumstance gives support to the hypothesis that these races also were originally connected, although, if there was such a connection, it certainly must have been anterior to all traceable development of culture and language. We cannot define more exactly their original locality, nor are we able to accompany the individual stocks in the course of their migrations. The European branch probably lingered in Persia and Armenia for some considerable time after the departure of the Indians; for, according to all appearance, that region has been the cradle of agriculture and of the culture of the vine. Barley, spelt, and wheat are indigenous in Mesopotamia, and the vine tothe south of the Caucasus and of the Caspian Sea: there too the plum, the walnut, and others of the more easily transplanted fruit trees are native. It is worthy of notice that the name for the sea is common to most of the European stocks—Latins, Celts, Germans, and Slavonians; they must probably therefore before their separation have reached the coast of the Black Sea or of the Caspian. By what route from those regions the Italians reached the chain of the Alps, and where in particular they were settled while still united with the Hellenes alone, are questions that can only be answered when the problem is solved by what route—whether from Asia Minor or from the regions of the Danube—the Hellenes arrived in Greece. It may at all events be regarded as certain that the Italians, like the Indians, migrated into their peninsula from the north.(1)

The advance of the Umbro-Sabellian stock along the central mountain-ridge of Italy, in a direction from north to south, can still be clearly traced; indeed its last phases belong to purely historical times. Less is known regarding the route which the Latin migration followed. Probably it proceeded in a similar direction along the west coast, long, in all likelihood, before the first Sabellian stocks began to move. The stream only overflows the heights when the lower grounds are already occupied; and only through the supposition that there were Latin stocks already settled on the coast are we able to explain why the Sabellians should have contented themselves with the rougher mountain districts, from which they afterwards issued and intruded, wherever it was possible, between the Latin tribes.

Extension of the Latins in Italy

It is well known that a Latin stock inhabited the country from the left bank of the Tiber to the Volscian mountains; but these mountains themselves, which appear to have been neglected on occasion of the first immigration when the plains of Latium and Campania still lay open to the settlers, were, as the Volscian inscriptions show, occupied by a stock more nearly related to the Sabellians than to the Latins. On the other hand, Latins probably dwelt in Campania before the Greek and Samnite immigrations; for the Italian names Novla or Nola (newtown), Campani Capua, Volturnus (from -volvere-, like -Iuturna- from -iuvare-), Opsci (labourers), are demonstrably older than the Samnite invasion, and show that, at the time when Cumae was founded by the Greeks, an Italian and probably Latin stock, the Ausones, were in possession of Campania. The primitive inhabitants of the districts which the Lucani and Bruttii subsequently occupied, the Itali proper (inhabitants of the land of oxen), are associated by the best observers not with the Iapygian, but with the Italian stock; and there is nothing to hinder our regarding them as belonging to its Latin branch, although the Hellenizing of these districts which took place even before the commencement of the political development of Italy, and their subsequent inundation by Samnite hordes, have in this instance totally obliterated the traces of the older nationality. Very ancient legends bring the similarly extinct stock of the Siculi into relation with Rome. For instance, the earliest historian of Italy Antiochus of Syracuse tells us that a man named Sikelos came a fugitive from Rome to Morges king of Italia (i. e. the Bruttian peninsula). Such stories appear to be founded on the identity of race recognized by the narrators as subsisting between the Siculi (of whom there were some still in Italy in the time of Thucydides) and the Latins. The striking affinity of certain dialectic peculiarities of Sicilian Greek with the Latin is probably to be explained rather by the old commercial connections subsisting between Rome and the Sicilian Greeks, than by the ancient identity of the languages of the Siculi and the Romans. According to all indications, however, not only Latium, but probably also the Campanian and Lucanian districts, the Italia proper between the gulfs of Tarentum and Laus, and the eastern half of Sicily were in primitive times inhabited by different branches of the Latin nation.

Destinies very dissimilar awaited these different branches. Those settled in Sicily, Magna Graecia, and Campania came into contact with the Greeks at a period when they were unable to offer resistance to their civilization, and were either completely Hellenized, as in the case of Sicily, or at any rate so weakened that they succumbed without marked resistance to the fresh energy of the Sabine tribes. In this way the Siculi, the Itali and Morgetes, and the Ausonians never came to play an active part in the history of the peninsula. It was otherwise with Latium, where no Greek colonies were founded, and the inhabitants after hard struggles were successful in maintaining their ground against the Sabines as well as against their northern neighbours. Let us cast a glance at this district, which was destined more than any other to influence the fortunes of the ancient world.


The plain of Latium must have been in primeval times the scene of the grandest conflicts of nature, while the slowly formative agency of water deposited, and the eruptions of mighty volcanoes upheaved, the successive strata of that soil on which was to be decided the question to what people the sovereignty of the world should belong. Latium is bounded on the east by the mountains of the Sabines and Aequi which form part of the Apennines; and on the south by the Volscian range rising to the height of 4000 feet, which is separated from the main chain of the Apennines by the ancient territory of the Hernici, the tableland of the Sacco (Trerus, a tributary of the Liris), and stretching in a westerly direction terminates in the promontory of Terracina. On the west its boundary is the sea, which on this part of the coast forms but few and indifferent harbours. On the north it imperceptibly merges into the broad hill-land of Etruria. The region thus enclosed forms a magnificent plain traversed by the Tiber, the "mountain-stream" which issues from the Umbrian, and by the Anio, which rises in the Sabine mountains. Hills here and there emerge, like islands, from the plain; some of them steep limestone cliffs, such as that of Soracte in the north-east, and that of the Circeian promontory on the south-west, as well as the similar though lower height of the Janiculum near Rome; others volcanic elevations, whose extinct craters had become converted into lakes which in some cases still exist; the most important of these is the Alban range, which, free on every side, stands forth from the plain between the Volscian chain and the river Tiber.

Here settled the stock which is known to history under the name of the Latins, or, as they were subsequently called by way of distinction from the Latin communities beyond the bounds of Latium, the "Old Latins" (-prisci Latini-). But the territory occupied by them, the district of Latium, was only a small portion of the central plain of Italy. All the country north of the Tiber was to the Latins a foreign and even hostile domain, with whose inhabitants no lasting alliance, no public peace, was possible, and such armistices as were concluded appear always to have been for a limited period. The Tiber formed the northern boundary from early times; and neither in history nor in the more reliable traditions has any reminiscence been preserved as to the period or occasion of the establishment of a frontier line so important in its results. We find, at the time when our history begins, the flat and marshy tracts to the south of the Alban range in the hands of Umbro-Sabellian stocks, the Rutuli and Volsci; Ardea and Velitrae are no longer in the number of originally Latin towns. Only the central portion of that region between the Tiber, the spurs of the Apennines, the Alban Mount, and the sea—a district of about 700 square miles, not much larger than the present canton of Zurich—was Latium proper, the "plain,"(2) as it appears to the eye of the observer from the heights of Monte Cavo. Though the country is a plain, it is not monotonously flat. With the exception of the sea-beach which is sandy and formed in part by the accumulations of the Tiber, the level is everywhere broken by hills of tufa moderate in height though often somewhat steep, and by deep fissures of the ground. These alternating elevations and depressions of the surface lead to the formation of lakes in winter; and the exhalations proceeding in the heat of summer from the putrescent organic substances which they contain engender that noxious fever-laden atmosphere, which in ancient times tainted the district as it taints it at the present day. It is a mistake to suppose that these miasmata were first occasioned by the neglect of cultivation, which was the result of the misgovernment in the last century of the Republic and under the Papacy. Their cause lies rather in the want of natural outlets for the water; and it operates now as it operated thousands of years ago. It is true, however, that the malaria may to a certain extent be banished by thoroughness of tillage—a fact which has not yet received its full explanation, but may be partly accounted for by the circumstance that the working of the surface accelerates the drying up of the stagnant waters. It must always remain a remarkable phenomenon, that a dense agricultural population should have arisen in regions where no healthy population can at present subsist, and where the traveller is unwilling to tarry even for a single night, such as the plain of Latium and the lowlands of Sybaris and Metapontum. We must bear in mind that man in a low stage of civilization has generally a quicker perception of what nature demands, and a greater readiness in conforming to her requirements; perhaps, also, a more elastic physical constitution, which accommodates itself more readily to the conditions of the soil where he dwells. In Sardinia agriculture is prosecuted under physical conditions precisely similar even at the present day; the pestilential atmosphere exists, but the peasant avoids its injurious effects by caution in reference to clothing, food, and the choice of his hours of labour. In fact, nothing is so certain a protection against the "aria cattiva" as wearing the fleece of animals and keeping a blazing fire; which explains why the Roman countryman went constantly clothed in heavy woollen stuffs, and never allowed the fire on his hearth to be extinguished. In other respects the district must have appeared attractive to an immigrant agricultural people: the soil is easily laboured with mattock and hoe and is productive even without being manured, although, tried by an Italian standard, it does not yield any extraordinary return: wheat yields on an average about five-fold.(3) Good water is not abundant; the higher and more sacred on that account was the esteem in which every fresh spring was held by the inhabitants.

Latin Settlements

No accounts have been preserved of the mode in which the settlements of the Latins took place in the district which has since borne their name; and we are left to gather what we can almost exclusively from a posteriori inference regarding them. Some knowledge may, however, in this way be gained, or at any rate some conjectures that wear an aspect of probability.


The Roman territory was divided in the earliest times into a number of clan-districts, which were subsequently employed in the formation of the earliest "rural wards" (-tribus rusticae-). Tradition informs us as to the -tribus Claudia-, that it originated from the settlement of the Claudian clansmen on the Anio; and that the other districts of the earliest division originated in a similar manner is indicated quite as certainly by their names. These names are not, like those of the districts added at a later period, derived from the localities, but are formed without exception from the names of clans; and the clans who thus gave their names to the wards of the original Roman territory are, so far as they have not become entirely extinct (as is the case with the -Camilii-, -Galerii-, -Lemonii-, -Pollii-, -Pupinii-, -Voltinii-), the very oldest patrician families of Rome, the -Aemilii-, -Cornelii-, -Fabii-, -Horatii-, -Menenii-, -Papirii-, -Romilii-, -Sergii-, -Voturii-. It is worthy of remark, that not one of these clans can be shown to have taken up its settlement in Rome only at a later epoch. Every Italian, and doubtless also every Hellenic, canton must, like the Roman, have been divided into a number of groups associated at once by locality and by clanship; such a clan-settlement is the "house" (—oikia—) of the Greeks, from which very frequently the —komai— and —demoi— originated among them, like the tribus in Rome. The corresponding Italian terms "house" -vicus-or "district" (-pagus-, from -pangere-) indicate, in like manner, the joint settlement of the members of a clan, and thence come by an easily understood transition to signify in common use hamlet or village. As each household had its own portion of land, so the clan-household or village had a clan-land belonging to it, which, as will afterwards be shown, was managed up to a comparatively late period after the analogy of household—land, that is, on the system of joint-possession. Whether it was in Latium itself that the clan-households became developed into clan-villages, or whether the Latins were already associated in clans when they immigrated into Latium, are questions which we are just as little able to answer as we are to determine what was the form assumed by the management on joint account, which such an arrangement required,(4) or how far, in addition to the original ground of common ancestry, the clan may have been based on the incorporation or co-ordination from without of individuals not related to it by blood.


These clanships, however, were from the beginning regarded not as independent societies, but as the integral parts of a political community (-civitas-, -populus-). This first presents itself as an aggregate of a number of clan-villages of the same stock, language, and manners, bound to mutual observance of law and mutual legal redress and to united action in aggression and defence. A fixed local centre was quite as necessary in the case of such a canton as in that of a clanship; but as the members of the clan, or in other words the constituent elements of the canton, dwelt in their villages, the centre of the canton cannot have been a place of joint settlement in the strict sense—a town. It must, on the contrary, have been simply a place of common assembly, containing the seat of justice and the common sanctuary of the canton, where the members of the canton met every eighth day for purposes of intercourse and amusement, and where, in case of war, they obtained for themselves and their cattle a safer shelter from the invading enemy than in the villages: in ordinary circumstances this place of meeting was not at all or but scantily inhabited. Ancient places of refuge, of a kind quite similar, may still be recognized at the present day on the tops of several of the hills in the highlands of east Switzerland. Such a place was called in Italy "height" (-capitolium-, like —akra—, the mountain-top), or "stronghold" (-arx-, from -arcere-); it was not a town at first, but it became the nucleus of one, as houses naturally gathered round the stronghold and were afterwards surrounded with the "ring" (-urbs-, connected with -urvus-, -rurvus-, perhaps also with -orbis-). The stronghold and town were visibly distinguished from each other by the number of gates, of which the stronghold has as few as possible, and the town many, the former ordinarily but one, the latter at least three. Such fortresses were the bases of that cantonal constitution which prevailed in Italy anterior to the existence of towns: a constitution, the nature of which may still be recognized with some degree of clearness in those provinces of Italy which did not until a late period reach, and in some cases have not yet fully reached, the stage of aggregation in towns, such as the land of the Marsi and the small cantons of the Abruzzi. The country if the Aequiculi, who even in the imperial period dwelt not in towns, but in numerous open hamlets, presents a number of ancient ring-walls, which, regarded as "deserted towns" with their solitary temples, excited the astonishment of the Roman as well as of modern archaeologists, who have fancied that they could find accommodation there, the former for their "primitive inhabitants" (-aborigines-), the latter for their Pelasgians. We shall certainly be nearer the truth in recognizing these structures not as walled towns, but as places of refuge for the inhabitants of the district, such as were doubtless found in more ancient times over all Italy, although constructed in less artistic style. It was natural that at the period when the stocks that had made the transition to urban life were surrounding their towns with stone walls, those districts whose inhabitants continued to dwell in open hamlets should replace the earthen ramparts and palisades of their strongholds with buildings of stone. When peace came to be securely established throughout the land and such fortresses were no longer needed, these places of refuge were abandoned and soon became a riddle to after generations.

Localities of the Oldest Cantons

These cantons accordingly, having their rendezvous in some stronghold, and including a certain number of clanships, form the primitive political unities with which Italian history begins. At what period, and to what extent, such cantons were formed in Latium, cannot be determined with precision; nor is it a matter of special historical interest The isolated Alban range, that natural stronghold of Latium, which offered to settlers the most wholesome air, the freshest springs, and the most secure position, would doubtless be first occupied by the new comers.


Here accordingly, along the narrow plateau above Palazzuola, between the Alban lake (-Lago di Castello-) and the Alban mount (-Monte Cavo-), extended the town of Alba, which was universally regarded as the primitive seat of the Latin stock, and the mother-city of Rome as well as of all the other Old Latin communities; here, too, on the slopes lay the very ancient Latin canton-centres of Lanuvium, Aricia, and Tusculum. Here are found some of those primitive works of masonry, which usually mark the beginnings of civilization and seem to stand as a witness to posterity that in reality Pallas Athena when she does appear, comes into the world full grown. Such is the escarpment of the wall of rock below Alba in the direction of Palazzuola, whereby the place, which is rendered naturally inaccessible by the steep declivities of Monte Cavo on the south, is rendered equally unapproachable on the north, and only the two narrow approaches on the east and west, which are capable of being easily defended, are left open for traffic. Such, above all, is the large subterranean tunnel cut—so that a man can stand upright within it—through the hard wall of lava, 6000 feet thick, by which the waters of the lake formed in the old crater of the Alban Mount were reduced to their present level and a considerable space was gained for tillage on the mountain itself.

The summits of the last offshoots of the Sabine range form natural fastnesses of the Latin plain; and the canton-strongholds there gave rise at a later period to the considerable towns of Tibur and Praeneste. Labici too, Gabii, and Nomentum in the plain between the Alban and Sabine hills and the Tiber, Rome on the Tiber, Laurentum and Lavinium on the coast, were all more or less ancient centres of Latin colonization, not to speak of many others less famous and in some cases almost forgotten.

The Latin League

All these cantons were in primitive times politically sovereign, and each of them was governed by its prince with the co-operation of the council of elders and the assembly of warriors. Nevertheless the feeling of fellowship based on community of descent and of language not only pervaded the whole of them, but manifested itself in an important religious and political institution—the perpetual league of the collective Latin cantons. The presidency belonged originally, according to the universal Italian as well as Hellenic usage, to that canton within whose bounds lay the meeting-place of the league; in this case it was the canton of Alba, which, as we have said, was generally regarded as the oldest and most eminent of the Latin cantons. The communities entitled to participate in the league were in the beginning thirty—a number which we find occurring with singular frequency as the sum of the constituent parts of a commonwealth in Greece and Italy. What cantons originally made up the number of the thirty old Latin communities or, as with reference to the metropolitan rights of Alba they are also called, the thirty Alban colonies, tradition has not recorded, and we can no longer ascertain. The rendezvous of this union was, like the Pamboeotia and the Panionia among the similar confederacies of the Greeks, the "Latin festival" (-feriae Latinae-), at which, on the "Mount of Alba" (-Mons Albanus-, -Monte Cavo-), upon a day annually appointed by the chief magistrate for the purpose, an ox was offered in sacrifice by the assembled Latin stock to the "Latin god" (-Jupiter Latiaris-). Each community taking part in the ceremony had to contribute to the sacrificial feast its fixed proportion of cattle, milk, and cheese, and to receive in return a portion of the roasted victim. These usages continued down to a late period, and are well known: respecting the more important legal bearings of this association we can do little else than institute conjectures.

From the most ancient times there were held, in connection with the religious festival on the Mount of Alba, assemblies of the representatives of the several communities at the neighbouring Latin seat of justice at the source of the Ferentina (near Marino). Indeed such a confederacy cannot be conceived to exist without having a certain power of superintendence over the associated body, and without possessing a system of law binding on all. Tradition records, and we may well believe, that the league exercised jurisdiction in reference to violations of federal law, and that it could in such cases pronounce even sentence of death. The later communion of legal rights and, in some sense, of marriage that subsisted among the Latin communities may perhaps be regarded as an integral part of the primitive law of the league, so that any Latin man could beget lawful children with any Latin woman and acquire landed property and carry on trade in any part of Latium. The league may have also provided a federal tribunal of arbitration for the mutual disputes of the cantons; on the other hand, there is no proof that the league imposed any limitation on the sovereign right of each community to make peace or war. In like manner there can be no doubt that the constitution of the league implied the possibility of its waging defensive or even aggressive war in its own name; in which case, of course, it would be necessary to have a federal commander-in-chief. But we have no reason to suppose that in such an event each community was compelled by law to furnish a contingent for the army, or that, conversely, any one was interdicted from undertaking a war on its own account even against a member of the league. There are, however, indications that during the Latin festival, just as was the case during the festivals of the Hellenic leagues, "a truce of God" was observed throughout all Latium;(5) and probably on that occasion even tribes at feud granted safe-conducts to each other.

It is still less in our power to define the range of the privileges of the presiding canton; only we may safely affirm that there is no reason for recognizing in the Alban presidency a real political hegemony over Latium, and that possibly, nay probably, it had no more significance in Latium than the honorary presidency of Elis had in Greece.(6) On the whole it is probable that the extent of this Latin league, and the amount of its jurisdiction, were somewhat unsettled and fluctuating; yet it remained throughout not an accidental aggregate of various communities more or less alien to each other, but the just and necessary expression of the relationship of the Latin stock. The Latin league may not have at all times included all Latin communities, but it never at any rate granted the privilege of membership to any that were not Latin. Its counterpart in Greece was not the Delphic Amphictyony, but the Boeotian or Aetolian confederacy.

These very general outlines must suffice: any attempt to draw the lines more sharply would only falsify the picture. The manifold play of mutual attraction and repulsion among those earliest political atoms, the cantons, passed away in Latium without witnesses competent to tell the tale. We must now be content to realise the one great abiding fact that they possessed a common centre, to which they did not sacrifice their individual independence, but by means of which they cherished and increased the feeling of their belonging collectively to the same nation. By such a common possession the way was prepared for their advance from that cantonal individuality, with which the history of every people necessarily begins, to the national union with which the history of every people ends or at any rate ought to end.

Notes for Book I Chapter III

1. I. II. Italians

2. Like -latus- (side) and —platus— (flat); it denotes therefore the flat country in contrast to the Sabine mountain-land, just as Campania, the "plain," forms the contrast to Samnium. Latus, formerly -stlatus-, has no connection with Latium.

3. A French statist, Dureau de la Malle (-Econ. Pol. des Romains-, ii. 226), compares with the Roman Campagna the district of Limagne in Auvergne, which is likewise a wide, much intersected, and uneven plain, with a superficial soil of decomposed lava and ashes—the remains of extinct volcanoes. The population, at least 2500 to the square league, is one of the densest to be found in purely agricultural districts: property is subdivided to an extraordinary extent. Tillage is carried on almost entirely by manual labour, with spade, hoe, or mattock; only in exceptional cases a light plough is substituted drawn by two cows, the wife of the peasant not unfrequently taking the place of one of them in the yoke. The team serves at once to furnish milk and to till the land. They have two harvests in the year, corn and vegetables; there is no fallow. The average yearly rent for an arpent of arable land is 100 francs. If instead Of such an arrangement this same land were to be divided among six or seven large landholders, and a system of management by stewards and day labourers were to supersede the husbandry of the small proprietors, in a hundred years the Limagne would doubtless be as waste, forsaken, and miserable as the Campagna di Roma is at the present day.

4. In Slavonia, where the patriarchal economy is retained up to the present day, the whole family, often to the number of fifty or even a hundred persons, remains together in the same house under the orders of the house-father (Goszpodar) chosen by the whole family for life. The property of the household, which consists chiefly in cattle, is administered by the house-father; the surplus is distributed according to the family-branches. Private acquisitions by industry and trade remain separate property. Instances of quitting the household occur, in the case even of men, e. g. by marrying into a stranger household (Csaplovies, -Slavonien-, i. 106, 179). —Under such circumstances, which are probably not very widely different from the earliest Roman conditions, the household approximates in character to the community.

5. The Latin festival is expressly called "armistice" (-indutiae-, Macrob. Sat. i. 16; —ekecheipiai—, Dionys. iv. 49); and a war was not allowed to be begun during its continuance (Macrob. l. c.)

6. The assertion often made in ancient and modern times, that Alba once ruled over Latium under the forms of a symmachy, nowhere finds on closer investigation sufficient support. All history begins not with the union, but with the disunion of a nation; and it is very improbable that the problem of the union of Latium, which Rome finally solved after some centuries of conflict, should have been already solved at an earlier period by Alba. It deserves to be remarked too that Rome never asserted in the capacity of heiress of Alba any claims of sovereignty proper over the Latin communities, but contented herself with an honorary presidency; which no doubt, when it became combined with material power, afforded a handle for her pretensions of hegemony. Testimonies, strictly so called, can scarcely be adduced on such a question; and least of all do such passages as Festus -v. praetor-, p. 241, and Dionys. iii. 10, suffice to stamp Alba as a Latin Athens.

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