Italy – Ferentino

At Ferentinum, the modern Ferentino, there is no such acropolis as at Alatri, but the city walls and gates are both better preserved, and also extremely curious in the way they show the juxtaposition of Roman work of the early Republican period above the original cyclopean masonry. Alatri was much higher in the hills, at five hundred and two meters, while Ferentino was on a gentler slope overlooking the broad valley, at only three hundred and ninety-three meters, and a city of greater size and importance.

The most imposing gate is now called Porta Sanguinaria. It originally either had a wooden architrave or was entirely of stone, and as it would have been impossible to span the doorway with a single block we must imagine in that case that the upper blocks projected and were cut back at their base, as in the gates of Signia and Arpinum, giving almost or entirely the effect of a pointed arch. We read in Livy that the Roman army in 413 B.C. attacked the Volscians at Ferentinum, captured the city which they had recently taken and gave it back to their allies the Hernicans, to whose territory it really belonged. Then, in 361 B.C., in an almost fratricidal war, the Romans captured it from the Hernicans. It was probably on one of these two occasions that the partial destruction of the walls and gates took place. They were doubtless restored at once and, the fashion of cyclopean masonry having gone out in the fourth century, or else the Romans not ever having practised it, the repairs were in the new style, similar to that of the Servian wall. The straight architrave over the gates was replaced by the round arch, such as was also current in Etruria. There was no attempt to temper the transition from one method to the other. The contrast is obvious and violent.

Entirely of this later style and epoch is a most interesting and picturesque double gate below the walls. It is unique in this region, and perhaps the most important of its class in Italy. Only the arcades and their connecting walls re-main. The upper part has disappeared. It was built on the usual plan of forcing the enemy as, he approaches to face his unprotected side toward the city wall. But it is unusual in this that it does not lead directly into the city but into an approach parallel with the wall, as we shall see at Segni—a modification of the primitive scheme of defense. The broad single arch leads into an inclosed square court, which was entered by a similar arch at the opposite end. It is of the sort of simple Janus gates that we must imagine to have existed at Rome: of its massive superstructure we can judge from the better preserved but somewhat later city gate at Aquinum (see p. 197). It is a fine piece of simple-course masonry and shows in what style the Ferentines would have built their city walls had they had the work to do shortly before or after 400 B.C. The method of complete alternate courses of headers and stretchers, here used, was current at least as early as the Servian walls and lasted until about the Augustan age, though displaced occasionally by the Hellenic type.

There is a passage in Livy ‘(IV, 61) relating to the Volscian wars in 404 B.C. in this valley and these hills that needs quoting. “A pitched battle was fought with the Volscians between Ferentinum and Ecetra; the battle going in favor of the Romans, Artena, a Volscian city, was then laid siege to by the tribunes. During an attempt at a sally, the enemy was driven back into the town and an opportunity given to the Romans of forcing in, and every place was taken except the citadel. Into this fortress, well protected by nature, a body of armed men retired. Beneath the fortress many were killed and captured. The citadel was then besieged; but it could neither be taken by storm because it was held by a garrison sufficiently large to defend it, nor could it be forced to surrender, all the corn having been conveyed into the citadel before the city was taken; and they would have retired from it, being worn out, had not a slave betrayed the fortress to the Romans, The soldiers being admitted by him through a place difficult of access, took it; the guards being killed, the rest, panic-stricken, surrendered. After demolishing both the citadel and the city of Artena, the legions were led back from the Volscian territory; and the whole Roman power was turned against Veii. To the traitor, besides his freedom, the property of two families was given as a reward. His name was Servius Romanus.”

This is the fullest description I have seen of such a capture of a cyclopean city, and it helps to solve more than one puzzle. The so-called destruction could have been only partial, of course, and is an example of what probably happened at Ferentinum. In fact, the site of the destroyed Artena, as well as of Ecetra, seems to have been identified. Then again, it illustrates how important the citadel was in those cities, after the capture of the town. And finally we can explain from the extant ruins of the Hernican and Latin cities, the way in which the citadel of Artena was betrayed to the Romans. They were admitted “through a place difficult of access” : that is, they did not scale the wall, neither did they come through a gate! Now, there are in all these walls certain small doorways which are evidently not ordinary means of access. In the citadel at Alatri there is one opening at quite a height above the city level. There is one on the left side of the main gate in the walls at Norba and Signia, through which one enters a long subterranean passageway. There are others in the city walls of Ferentinum, Aletrium, Circeii and other cities. Those of Praeneste were famous. The Etruscan sites like Clusium (Chiusi) are full of them. In fact, the ancient subsoil was honeycombed with vaulted passages which passed out through or beyond the walls.

There are two theories : one considers them to be sewers or outlets for the water, to protect the walls from disintegration; the other regards them as sally-ports by which the garrison could keep in touch with the outside or surprise the enemy. In my opinion most of them are sally-ports; the size of the opening and of the corridors proves it in a number of cases.

We cannot tell what system was used to protect these openings. But their existence solves in my mind the common objection to Livy’s account of the way in which Camillus finally captured Veii. He is said to have done it by running a mine under the walls and into the citadel itself, which, we are now told, would have been impossible to the engineers of that time. But if we can imagine that he gained entrance through one of these vaulted passages which led directly into the heart of the city, ending under the temple of Juno Lucina, the difficulty disappears. It is probable that it was in this way also that Norba was betrayed to Sulla, and that Fidenae was entered when it is said by Livy to have been captured by the Romans in 435 B.C. by a mine which reached to the citadel.

The doubt as to their use is by no means modern. Even in the time of Augustus, Strabo speaks of the two uses I have mentioned in con–nection with Praeneste. He says “the city was’ everywhere perforated by concealed passages, some of which are for carrying off the water, others for sudden sorties, in one of which the younger Marius was caught and killed when Praeneste was captured by Sulla.” This is referred to by Appian.