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Alba Longa

For the German wine grape, see Albalonga (grape).

Alba Longa
Map of Italy showing approximate location of Alba Longa
Location Italy
Region Alban Hills

41°44′49″N 12°39′01″E / 41.74691°N 12.65026°E / 41.74691; 12.65026{{#coordinates:41.74691|12.65026|type:landmark|||||| | |name=

Type Ancient
Part of Italy
Founded ca. 1151 B.C.
Abandoned mid-seventh century B.C.
Periods Classical antiquity

Alba Longa (occasionally written Albalonga in Italian sources) was an ancient city of Latium[1] in central Italy, Script error: No such module "convert". southeast of Rome,[2] in the Alban Hills. Founder and head of the Latin League, it was destroyed by Rome around the middle of the 7th century BC. In legend, Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, had come from the royal dynasty of Alba Longa, which in Virgil's Aeneid had been the bloodline of Aeneas, a son of Venus.


File:Castel Gandolfo.jpg
Castel Gandolfo on a long, sunlit ridge overlooking Lake Albano, the most likely site of ancient Alba Longa.

Livy said of Alba Longa that it was founded by Ascanius to relieve crowding at Lavinium. He placed it at the foot of the Alban Mount and said that it took its name from being extended along a ridge.[3] Dionysius of Halicarnassus repeated the story, but added that Ascanius, following an oracle given to his father, collected other Latin populations as well. Noting that alba means "white" (and longa "long") he translated the name "long white town." Dionysius placed the town between the Alban Mount and the Alban Lake,[4] thus beginning a long controversy about its location.

Since the 16th century, the site has been at various times identified with that of the convent of S. Paolo at Palazzola near Albano, Coste Caselle near Marino, and Castel Gandolfo. The last name of these places in fact occupies the site of Domitian's villa, which ancient sources state in turn occupied the arx of Alba.

Archaeological data show the existence of a string of villages in the Iron Age, each with its own necropolis, along the south-western shore of Lake Albano. At the time of being destroyed by Rome, these villages must have still been in a pre-urban phase, beginning to group around a centre. That center may well have been Castel Gandolfo, since its significantly larger necropolis suggests a larger town.

In the later republican period the territory of Alba (the Ager Albanus) was settled once again with many residential villas, which are mentioned in ancient literature and of which remains are extant.

Legendary history

Founding myth

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According to Roman legend,[5] after the fall of Troy in 1184,[6] Aeneas led a group of surviving Trojans through the Mediterranean to Sicily, Carthage, and eventually landed in Italy. Upon landing in Italy he was welcomed by Latinus, king of the early Latins. Soon, Aeneas married king Latinus' daughter, Lavinia, and would found the city Lavinium in her name. Latinus later fell in war making Aeneas king and his son, Ascanius (also called Iulus), his successor.

A few years later Aeneas was killed in battle like Latinus, and Ascanius became king of Alba Longa. Ascanius reportedly built Alba Longa at the slope of Mount Alba with six hundred families as a colony of Lavinium.[7] The city was founded thirty years after Lavinium (1151 BC)[3][4] His descendants would rule the Latins for another five hundred years.

Latin league

For more details on this topic, see Latin league.

Alba Longa was the leading city of the roughly thirty cities[8] that made up the Latin league. The league's conferences were held by the Ferentine spring, in the scenic part of the valley between Albano and Marino, Italy.[9] The sacrifices of the league were offered on the Alban mountain from which all the country of Latium might be seen. After the rise of it's colony, Rome, Alba Longa appeared as Rome's rival and was destroyed in the mid-seventh century BC by Rome.

The colonies of Alba Longa were distinct from the Alban townships which must have consisted of Albani plebs, as the genuine Albans were the populus. Among the Alban colonies some become part of the plebs: others become Latin cities. The others were ceded to the Latins to maintain a consistent thirty townships, thirty being of great importance among the Latin kingdoms as twelve was to the Ionians (or 4 divided into 3 parts each).[10] Accordingly, the Latin kingdom of Latinus, and the Rutulian kingdom of Turnus must have had thirty cities each with Laurentum as the Latin capital prior to the arrival of Aeneas.[10]

War with Rome

In the seventh century BC some Roman and Alban peasants had plundered each other's lands. Ambassadors were dispatched by each side to demand restitution. With the pretext now in place war was thereafter declared, first by the warlike Roman king Tullus Hostilius, and soon after by the Alban king Gaius Cluilius.[11]

Livy describes the war as being akin to a civil war, because the Romans were said to be descended from the Albans.[12]

Cluilius marched with his army into Roman territory, established camp, and constructed a giant trench surrounding Rome, which became known as the Cluilian trench. Cluilius however, died in the camp of unspecified causes and the Albans then appointed Mettius Fufetius dictator.[12]

Tullus emerged from Rome with his army, passed the Alban camp at night and marched into Alban territory. Mettius followed, camped nearby the Roman army, and then sent a representative to invite Tullus to confer before any engagement. Tullus accepted the invitation, however both sides were drawn up for battle whilst the leaders met between the two forces.[12]

At the conference, Mettius proposed that the dispute be resolved by some means other than mass bloodshed, citing the concern that the nearby Etruscans would fall upon the two Latin states if weakened by war and unable to defend themselves. It was agreed that a set of triplets from each side, three brothers Horatii and three Curiatii, would battle for the victory of the two states. Livy refers to conflict amongst his own sources as to which set of brothers represented which state, but prefers the view that the Horatii were the Romans, and the Curiatii Albans.[13]

Vows were entered into in a most solemn form by each of the Romans and the Albans as to this agreement by which the future of each state would be bound by the outcome of the fight. Marcus Valerius was appointed fetial, and Spurius Fusius pater patratus, for the purposes of binding Rome by the treaty.[14]

The battle was fought. Two of the Romans were the first to fall. Then the remaining Roman, Publius Horatius, slew the three Albans, and thus won victory for Rome.[15]

After the dispute was thus determined, Tullus ordered Mettius to return with his army to Alba, but to keep the Alban youths ready in case war with Veii should break out. The Albans became, in substance, a vassal state of Rome.[16]

Not long afterwards, war did indeed break out with Veii and also with the Fidenates. Mettius and the Albans were ordered to march to battle with Tullus and the Romans, and they met the Etruscans on the far side of the Anio, on the banks of the Tiber. However, when the battle commenced, Mettius led his troops away from the battle, leaving the Romans to fight the Etruscans alone.[17]

Rome was victorious against the Etruscans. After the battle Tullus executed Mettius for his perfidy. Then, on Tullus' orders, the Roman soldiers demolished the 400-year old city of Alba Longa, leaving only the temples standing, and the entire population of Alba Longa was transported to Rome, thereby doubling the number of Roman citizens. Tullus enlisted the leading families of Alba amongst the patricians, namely the Julii, Servilii, Quinctii, Geganii, Curiatii and Cloelii. Tullus built a new senate-house, the Curia Hostilia, to house the enlarged Roman senate. He also recruited ten new turmae of equites from amongst the Albans, and new legions.[18] The Alban immigrants lived on the Caelian Hill in Rome.[19]

Religious institutions

Temple of Vesta

The temple of Vesta which stood at the foot of the Palatine hill outside of Rome must have been built long before Rome,[20] because it stood outside Rome. At the time of it's founding, Rome only occupied the top of the hill. Therefore, the hearth of Vesta which was ordinarily found at the center of any city would not have been built outside Rome's walls.[21]

Worship of Vesta in Italy began in Lavinium, the mother-ctiy of Alba Longa and the first Trojan settlement. From Lavinium worship of Vesta was transferred to Alba Longa. Upon entering higher office, Roman magistrates would go to Lavinium to offer sacrifice to Vesta and the household gods the Romans called Penates. The Penates were Trojan gods first introduced to Italy by Aeneas. Among these household gods must have been Vesta who has been referred to as Vesta Iliaca (Vesta of Troy),[22] with her sacred hearth being named Ilaci foci (Trojan hearth).[23]

The priestesses of Vesta, known as Vestal Virgins, administered her temple and watched the eternal fire. Their existence in Alba Longa is connected with the early Roman traditions, for Silvia the mother of Romulus was a priestess.[24] They were finally established in Rome during the reign of Numa,[25] where they would remain until the institution is disestablished with the rise of Christianity during the late Roman Empire.

The shrine of Jupiter Latiaris

On the top of the Monte Cavo (Mons Albanus) was a very ancient shrine consecrated to Jupiter Latiaris. Florus (2nd century) states that the site was selected by Ascanius, who, having founded Alba, invited all the Latins to celebrate sacrifices there to Jupiter, a custom which eventually led to the annual celebration there of the Feriae Latinae, at which all the cities that belonged to the Latin Confederation would gather under the aegis of Alba, sacrificing a white bull, the flesh of which was distributed among all the participants.

After Alba Longa was destroyed and her leadership role was assumed by Rome, tradition records the building of a full-scale temple to Jupiter Latiaris on the Alban Mount in the reign of Tarquinius Superbus; of which only a few courses of perimeter wall remain today, now removed off site; and substantial remains of the paved road that connected it to the Via Appia near Aricia.

See Also


  1. ^ Guralnik, David B, ed. (1986). "Alba Longa". Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (Second College ed.). New York, NY: Prentice Hall Press. ISBN 0-671-41809-2. (indexed), (plain edge), ISBN 0-671-41811-4 (pbk.), ISBN 0-671-47035-3 (LeatherKraft). 
  2. ^ Mish, Frederick C, ed. (1985). "Alba Longa". Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (9th ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc. ISBN 0-87779-508-8. (indexed), ISBN 0-87779-510-X (deluxe). 
  3. ^ a b Titus Livius. "I.3". History of Rome. ISBN 0-89236-763-6. 
  4. ^ a b Dionysius of Halicarnassus. "I.66". Roman Antiquities. ISBN 0-674-99352-7. 
  5. ^ Vergil The Aeneid
  6. ^ Kathleen O'Neill, Michael Spring Virgil's the Aeneid p. 22
  7. ^ Leonard Schmitz 1847 History of Rome p.14, Dionysius of Halicarnassus Roman Antiquities 1.67
  8. ^ Rome, Italy (City) British and American Architectural Society Journal, Volume 2 p.313
  9. ^ Viscount James Bryce Bryce The World's History: The Mediterranean nations p.343
  10. ^ a b Barthold Georg Niebuhr, William Smith, Leonhard Schmitz The History of Rome, Volume 2 p.20 - 22
  11. ^ Wilhelm Ihne Early Rome: From the Foundation of the City to Its Destruction by the Gauls
  12. ^ a b c Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:23
  13. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:23–24
  14. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:24
  15. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:25
  16. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:26
  17. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:27
  18. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:28–30
  19. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:33
  20. ^ James George Frazer (Editor and translator) Fastorum libri sex p.179
  21. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus II. 65
  22. ^ Ovid Fast vi. 265
  23. ^ The Classical Journal, Volume 15 p.214
  24. ^ William Smith A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities [Retrieved 5/4/2015]
  25. ^ Plutarch Life of Numa 10


  • Ashby, Thomas (1899). "Alba Longa". The Journal of Philology 27 (53): 37–50. 
  • Daniel Paret, A. Legoüez, (1853). Encyclopédie classique: pouvant servir aux candidats à l'examen du Baccalaurèat ès Lettres Fr (32). p. 67-70. 

External links

Coordinates: 41°44′49″N 12°39′01″E / 41.74691°N 12.65026°E / 41.74691; 12.65026{{#coordinates:41.74691|N|12.65026|E|source:dewiki_region:IT-RM_scale:1000_type:landmark|||| |primary |name= }}