Rome Before Romans

by Giorgio Fabretti

 

Albalonga

Millions of tourists every year come to Rome, reading in the guidebooks that Rome was founded in the year 753BC. Very few know what Rome was before it had been “founded.”

Prince Prof. Giorgio Fabretti at his caves, the source of the cobblestones used to build St. Peters Basilica, in Rome, photo by Kim Steele

I can tell you because I inherited the title of “Prince of the Roman Antiquity,” from my ancestor Raffaele Fabretti (1618-1700). Raffaele Fabretti was entitled in the year 1691, by a decree of Roman Senate, sealed by the the Pope Innocenzo XII, from famiglia Pignatelli from the south of Italy, elected on July 1691. He was the founder of Roman Archeology. I followed in his scientific footsteps, having been a Historical Anthropologist at the University of Rome, Sapienza. Another curiosity, even my family name “Fabretti” (that means “Smithsons”) is older (as it has been spelled until today) than Rome; possibly 3,000 years old; as old as the Latin Language.

In fact, Rome flourished at least 250 years before the “official, political foundation by Romolo,” by being a detachment of the Albalonga Kingdom (nowadays Albano Laziale), built on the top of the then dead “Vulcan of Albano”, which 280,000 years before, had vomited its “lava,” like a ‘tongue,’ indeed a river of liquid stone (called “leucitite”) all the way to the future Rome. That solidified river of hard stone became later the first real and longest proper road (the Appian Way) from Rome to Brindisi Harbour, and to Greece, linking the two countries which founded Western Civilization.

File:Lo Scheggia, Reduction of Alba Longa by Tullus Hostilius, Circa 1430 - 35, Sotheby's.jpg

Lo Scheggia, Reduction of Alba Longa by Tullus Hostilius, Circa 1430-35

The Roman detachment of Albalonga, possibly 3,000 years old, was about a 15 mile distance from the Tiber River. It’s purpose was to defend the trade of cows and sheep with the neighboring Etruscans, grazing just across the ford on the Tiber River (the crossing of the river that is called today “Ponte Rotto,” at the “Tiberine Island” in the center of Rome).

The cows and sheep were then a precious merchandise bred by the Latin tribes, and parked in precincts built on a muddy valley bordering the crossing of the river Tiber, that a millennium later was to be “Circus Maximus,” whose ruins can still be visited today. That was the largest arena of the ancient times, made for horse races and having up to 250,000 seats, in the year 0 (yes, zero!).

Back to the detachment of Albalonga, 1,000 years BC, in the late Bronze Age, at the beginning Iron Age, the cows and sheep in the valley of the crossing had to be guarded against frequent robberies of animals. So the “Romans before Rome,” indeed Latin soldiers speaking Latin Language, had been stationed and were living on the two small hills (40-80 meters high) overlooking the wet river valley, where malaria was a problem. On the two hills, instead, called later Aventino and Palatino, there were less mosquitoes and more security from robberies.

Time came, that the animal trading flourished, and many more Latin people moved from Latin Lands (where they were living on what we call today “Castelli Romani” and “Campagna Romana”) onto the Palatine Hill overlooking the Tiber crossing, and onto the neighboring hills, which in those days were called “mons” singular, “montes” plural.

 

 

And now, to the mainly Latin populated area of “Septimontium,” that was “Rome before Rome.” This included seven hills (“montes”) that were not the “seven hill” of the later expanded Rome (Aventino, Campidoglio, Palatino, Celio, Esquilino, Quirinale, Viminale). Rome before Rome was a smaller area that the first founder of Rome, Romolo, in the year 753BC, who wanted (210 hectares) of its then main strategic competitor of Veio, an Etruscan capital city of 200 hectares, a few miles from Rome, across the Tiber River. So the Septimontium properly said, was extended to these smaller heights called “montes”: 2 on Palatino hill (Palatium, Cermalus), 3 on the Esquilino hill (Fagutal, Oppius, Cispius), and 2 others Velia, Caelius.

 

Archeological findings support the hypothesis that the first Septimontium was not including Caelius hill, that was added later, while the precincts were surrounding seven inhabited territories whose seventh one was “Mons Carinae and Subura” rather than Caelius (Septimontium originally meant not “seven hills,” but rather “septis” or “precincted heights,” related to a functionally defended border, rather than to a symbolic number).

 

 

Mons Carinae was a secondary height of the Velian one, sharply declining toward the small stream running down the Carinae height (today buried under the paved streets of Via Urbana, Via Leonina, crossing under Foro Romano, and falling into the Cloaca Maxima, toward the Tiber River). Subura was, before Rome, a poor Latin village of simple huts made for the servants of the shepherds in a malaria area. It had been densely populated because it bordered the enemy territory of Sabina, on the nearby Quirinale hill, where the Sabine tribes–also called Quirites, were challenging the Latin tribes.

In those prehistoric times, all the heights surrounding the strategic Tiber River were occupied by different tribes (like today along the borders of Thailand, Burma and Vietnam), causing an embarrassing competitive sort of ‘chess game’ of thefts followed by conflicts.

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Subura

The most famous chess game happened in Subura, shortly after the foundation of Rome (that indeed was a sort of ethnic cleansing to reunite the mainly inhabited Latin heights into an homogeneous speaking territory, called “Rome” from the Etruscan name for the strategic river crossing). This was the legendary, “Abduction of the Sabines” by the Latin men, who simply pulled the beautiful women, by force, into the Latin side of the Subura. The unknowing Sabine women had been washing their clothes in the small stream surrounded by natural precincts of canes growing around those streams, at the feet of those heights of “Rome before Romans.”

I have depicted a sketch of the Latin tribes living in what later would have been Rome of the Romans. They were groups of shepherds speaking an oral, not yet written Latin language. They lived in a border town, were warriors to defend themselves from other populations, but in order to trade animals they remained open to cultural hybridization–this was indeed the “softpower” that guided the Roman diplomacy afterwards.

“Rome before Romans” provides both historical and anthropological foundations as to the phenomenon of how and why shepherds came to build the largest and most populated empire of the ancient times, which in fact founded modern global civilization, centering on a city of about 1.5 million people, 2,000 year ago, with stadiums, theaters, thermal baths so large and well built they could accommodate and entertain 1 million people at the same time–all of them Roman citizens, apart from 1/3 of the population who were slaves.

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Abduction of a Sabine Woman, 1581-83, by Giambologna, sculptor of the Medici Family, 1583, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence

 

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