Excerpts from Livy - History of Rome - Book 1 (translated by Rev. Canon Roberts):
(Romulus') next care was to secure an addition to the population that the size of the City might not be a source of weakness. It had been the ancient policy of the founders of cities to get together a multitude of people of obscure and low origin and then to spread the fiction that they were the children of the soil. In accordance with this policy, Romulus opened a place of refuge on the spot where, as you go down from the Capitol, you find an enclosed space between two groves. A promiscuous crowd of freemen and slaves, eager for change, fled thither from the neighbouring states.
... the Roman State had now become so strong that it was a match for any of its neighbours in war, but its greatness threatened to last for only one generation, since through the absence of women there was no hope of offspring, and there was no right of intermarriage with their neighbours. Acting on the advice of the senate, Romulus sent envoys amongst the surrounding nations to ask for alliance and the right of intermarriage on behalf of his new community. .... nowhere did the envoys meet with a favourable reception.
... the Roman youth could ill brook such insults, and matters began to look like an appeal to force. To secure a favourable place and time for such an attempt, Romulus, disguising his resentment, made elaborate preparations for the celebration of games in honour of "Equestrian Neptune", which he called "the Consualia". He ordered public notice of the spectacle to be given amongst the adjoining cities, and his people supported him in making the celebration as magnificent as their knowledge and resources allowed, so that expectations were raised to the highest pitch. There was a great gathering; people were eager to see the new City, all their nearest neighbours - the people of Caenina, Antemnae, and Crustumerium - were there, and the whole Sabine population came, with their wives and families. They were invited to accept hospitality at the different houses, and after examining the situation of the City, its walls and the large number of dwelling-houses it included, they were astonished at the rapidity with which the Roman State had grown.
Musei Capitolini: Pietro da Cortona: The Abduction of the Sabines
When the hour for the games had come, and their eyes and minds were alike riveted
on the spectacle before them, the preconcerted signal was given and the Roman youth
dashed in all directions to carry off the maidens who were present. The larger part
were carried off indiscriminately, but some particularly beautiful girls who had
been marked out for the leading patricians were carried to their houses by plebeians
told off for the task.
The abduction of the Sabine women eventually led to a strong alliance between the Romans and the Sabines: the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, was of Sabine origin. The image used as a background for this page shows a detail of the Abduction of the Sabines by Giambologna in Florence.
The Sabines lived north of Rome, on the left bank of the River Tiber and that region is today called Sabina after them. The territories on the right bank of the Tiber belonged to the Falisci and to the Etruscans who had developed a higher level of civilization than the Sabines.
I drove on and up into that beautiful mountain region - its hill-sides rich in oil and wine and chestnuts - a smiling district truly. The people are a strong, honest, patriarchal race; primitive and untaught for the most part. The character of this district is quite unlike that of Latium, with its sunny southern aspect. (..) Long as I have wandered over Italy, I have never beheld so magnificent a panorama as disclosed itself to me when I had gained the summit of that mountain. The sculptured outline of Soracte and the whole of the Vale of the Tiber lay spread out below.
Ferdinand Gregorovius - An excursion through the Sabina and Umbria in 1861 - Transl. by D. Roberts
We were glad to take the so-called diligence to Poggio Mirteto. (..) We at once began to reach a new country, rich in vines and figs and olives, and with lovely views towards the noble serrated outline of Soracte.
Augustus J.C. Hare - Days near Rome - 1875
The Sabines lived in vici, a Latin word which indicated villages within a rural area and they continued to do so after they merged with the Romans. Sabina did not house Roman towns of some size, thus archaeologists have not found evidence of buildings typical of large urban settlements e.g. theatres, public baths, etc., yet relics of Roman villas and small temples have been found in many locations.
Gens Sulpicia was one of the most ancient patrician families at Rome, from the foundation of the Republic to the imperial period.
(left) Torre Ugonesca at the top of the town and its belvedere; (right) mural painting at the side of the Town Hall celebrating the main resource of Montopoli: the production of olive oil
We proceeded to Montopoli
by an excellent road along the ridges of the swelling hills,
which are covered with olives, chestnuts, and peach-trees,
with an under-carpet of corn. Hare
The tower was built by Ugo, Abbot of Farfa in 997-1038, on the highest point of the town. Ugo became abbot at the age of twenty-five; he introduced effective reforms so that the Abbey flourished and became a sort of small state with its own army, servants and staff. It had a school, workshops, hostels for pilgrims and a pharmacy. In 1022 Holy Roman Emperor Henry II visited the monastery. The tower had the purpose to protect the Abbey from attacks from the north. The town still retains its tall medieval tower which is visible from afar, but the landscape is so peaceful that it does not convey a threatening message.
View from the belvedere towards the Apennines and the River Farfa valley
Gregory da Catino of Farfa (1062-1133) wrote a history of the Abbey by examining the vast material he found in the monastery archives, especially the accounting books. We owe to his work the first written records and Latin names of many of the towns covered in this section. They were very often called castrum (castle) or mons (mountain).
Views towards Salisano (above), Castel San Pietro (below-left) and Mompeo (below-right)
The nearer hills, majestic in their wild, rugged outlines, were set with towns and grim old castles, like jewels, in their recesses, and in this little communities dwell the descendants of that old, persistent Sabine race, still retaining the customs and modes of living and of tilling the soil which have been handed down to them from primeval days. Gregorovius
Montopoli and the other nearby small towns are surrounded by olive groves. In 1996 the extra virgin olive oil produced in the Sabina region was given the status of Protected Designation of Origin by the European Union. Techniques used to produce it are almost the same as in pre-Roman times with necessary technological innovations and the soil and the mild climate are of fundamental importance for the quality of the final product.
(left) Gate of the town; (centre) a detail of the bell tower of S. Michele Arcangelo (XIIth century); (right) a street in the medieval town
The town was first recorded as Castellum Montis Opuli and evidence of some defensive walls can be seen in the maze of narrow streets which reach the top of the hill. There is only one entrance to the medieval town, but the road leading to it is a modern one.
(left) S. Michele Arcangelo; (centre) fragment of a Roman statue and funerary inscription outside the church; (right) statue of St. Anthony the Abbot
The medieval parish church was entirely redesigned in the XIXth century, exception made for its bell tower. The statue of St. Anthony the Abbot testifies to the farming tradition of Montopoli. The saint is the patron of domesticated animals which are blessed on his feast day (January 18) during a once very popular ceremony.
S. Maria delle Grazie: (left/centre) fašade; (right) interior
The steepness of the road leading to Montopoli was reduced by raising parts of it and a small cosy church cannot be appreciated in its entirety. Yet it is worth a visit because it seems fit to embellish a street of Rome. It was built in the late XVIth century, perhaps at the initiative of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese when he was Abbot of Farfa. It was redesigned in the XVIIIth century, most likely by Giuseppe Sardi (see the fašade of S. Paolo alla Regola by this architect).
View of Poggio Mirteto
Poggio is an Italian word meaning small hill, but to the word is attached a sense of beauty, either because of the shape of the hill or because of its vegetation. It is appropriately used for Poggio Mirteto which is surrounded by trees and is dominated by its large cathedral, the Episcopal Palace and a Renaissance clock tower. Mirteto is a reference to the myrtles which in the very past grew on the site of the town.
(left) Houses outside Porta di Sotto; (centre) Porta di Sotto; (right) a street of the medieval town
Similar to Montopoli also Poggio Mirteto was recorded as a castrum and the access to the town from the Tiber Valley retains the aspect of a fortified site, although houses were eventually built on top of the walls. Narrow and steep streets characterize this part of the town.
(left) S. Paolo outside the walls; (centre) bell tower; (right-above) detail of the portal; (right-below) an ancient capital in the bell tower
The church of a small cemetery to the north of the medieval town retains its XIIIth century aspect. The tall bell tower had also a defensive purpose.
(left) Piazza del Borgo Vecchio; (centre) portal of the Episcopal Palace; (right) Torre dell'Orologio
The heart of the medieval town was redesigned in the XVIth and XIXth centuries. Cardinal Alessandro Farnese promoted the development of Poggio Mirteto and he enlarged the Episcopal Palace which at the time served as summer residence of the Abbots of Farfa (the Cardinal built a grand palace at Caprarola, not very far from Poggio Mirteto). The clock tower was built in 1565.
In 1837 Pope Gregory XVI declared Poggio Mirteto a cittÓ and in 1841 a suburbicarian see with its bishop directly reporting to the Holy See. The Episcopal Palace was modified to house a seminary which replaced that of Farfa and Cardinal Luigi Lambruschini, the Pope's Secretary of State, celebrated the event in a lengthy inscription.
(left) Main square with the Cathedral and Porta Farnese; (right) Porta Farnese leading to the medieval town
The main gate of Poggio Mirteto was built in 1577 by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese who decorated it with the heraldic symbol of his family. He was also Vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman Church (the head of a very important branch of the papal administration) from 1535 until his death in 1589 and the inscription mentions this title. By the end of the XVth century the development of artillery had made obsolete most of the medieval fortifications. Northern Latium and Sabina were protected by a state-of-art fortress at Civita Castellana and therefore the new gate was designed without defence worries. The town was expanded beyond the walls on flat ground at its eastern end and in 1641 the construction of a new cathedral began.
It took more than 80 years to build the cathedral which was completed in 1725. Its design reflects that of many churches of Rome, e.g. S. Carlo al Corso, with a large nave, two aisles and side chapels and its decoration is full of colours, although most of the effect is due to fake marbles (see a page on the colours of the churches of Rome in the same period).
Cathedral: stucco decoration of the aisles
During the XVIIth century the making of stucco was technologically improved and this material was widely used in Rome, especially for the decoration of ceilings with some amazing effects, e.g. at Il Ges¨. It was not expensive and it was relatively easy to work.
S. Rocco and the symbol of SocietÓ del Gonfalone
Records indicate that a church dedicated to St. Roch, a saint who was invoked against the plague, existed on this site in 1683. The current building is dated 1785 and, similar to the Cathedral, it follows Roman patterns. It was built by SocietÓ del Gonfalone, a brotherhood which existed also in Rome.