Northern Italy – Ariminum

We will now enter Northern Italy by way of northeast Umbria at Rimini. In early days this was in the northern part of Umbria, where the purity of the race was impaired by invaders. In the large Umbrian area extending from Ravenna down to the river Aesis above Ancona, was included the Ager Gallicus, occupied for a time by the Senonian Gauls, with Ravenna, Ariminum (Rimini), Pisaurum (Pesaro), Fanum (Fano), and Sena Gallica (Sinigallia) as important coast cities. It was reached from the heart of Umbria across the Scheggia Pass. At the top, on Monte Petrara, only eight miles from Iguvium, was the famous temple of Jupiter Apenninus, which even as late as imperial times remained the national oracle of the Umbrian race. And here we will take leave of the Umbrians and pass northward into the great plains of Emilia and Lombardy.

Rome had passed through Umbria in comet-like fashion in the first decade of the third century B.C., using it as a stepping-stone for the occupation of the Adriatic coast—especially the ager Picenus and ager Gallicus. Already in 289, in founding the colony of Hatria (Atri), she celebrated the extension of her power from sea to sea, and by establishing that of Ariminum further up the coast in 268, she laid the foundation for her advance northward to the Po valley, the foothills of the Alps and the upper Adriatic.

Ariminum was the first Roman colony beyond the boundary of Italy, as it was then reckoned, and the peculiar rights granted to its inhabitants went by its name and were extended to the entire group of the twelve latest of the Latin colonies. It protected the main approach to Rome from the north, and became both the refuge and the starting-point of Roman arms by sea and land during the critical times of the Punic wars. In fact it was like an immense permanent camp and arsenal. In 220 it became the terminus of the great Flaminian Way, and soon after the starting-point for the military roads by which Rome cemented her conquest of the north.

We associate Rimini with the passing of the Rubicon in 49 B.C., after the Italian frontier had been pushed north of the city by Sulla. We are apt to hang Caesar’s fortunes on this incident and to most readers of history Rimini means but little more. But if this city has not yet yielded anything that takes us back to Republican times, she still possesses two works of the Augustan age that are among the best preserved and the most authentic, each with its historic inscription : the arch and the bridge.

Before Augustus moved Italy’s frontier line from the Rubicon to the river Formio, 189 miles north of Ravenna, so as to include Istria, and while Rimini was still the northernmost city in Italy, the arch was built. It was in 27 B.C., the very year of all others that was critical and historic in the evolution of the Augustan constitution, when the emperor announced the basis in which the Roman world was to be governed by himself and the Senate, to be modified later by the amendments of 23 B.C.

We are told by Suetonius and others how much stress Augustus laid almost immediately on the renovation of the highways, which had evidently been deteriorating during the Sturm und Drang period of the civil wars. Until the Italian high-ways were in splendid condition the Augustan schemes of expansion would be hampered. We are familiar with his keen expedient for hurrying this work by ordering prominent wealthy men to pay for and take charge of the work on the different highways. It was natural that it should be commemorated in an arch at Rimini for the simple reason that the southern were not of as great importance to these schemes as the northern roads, and that Rimini was the official “jumping-off place” on the north at that time. So we read in the restored inscription that the Senate put it up as a thank offering to Augustus because of his great improvement of the various highways of Italy.

As a work of architecture it is simple and perhaps lacking in the qualities of a clearly conceived type. Evidently in 27 B.C. the scheme of the triumphal arch as a free-standing monument, while it may have been evolved and expressed elsewhere, was not yet current. This Rimini arch, while we have no proof that it was originally connected with the city wall, looks like a mere stretch of wall with an opening decorated with engaged columns, very similar to the lines of openings at the Tabularium in Rome or any other public structure in which the Greek design was plastered on a Roman constructive back-ground. Still, with this proviso, it is a work of delicate and exquisite details, both in the purely decorative work and in the medallion heads of the four gods, probably Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, and Neptune. In these medallions there seems to be an interesting echo of the heads with which the Etruscans of Perugia, Volterra and other cities decorated the spandrels of their city gates.

The arch stands on the southeastern edge of the city just back of the small stream Aprusa which bounded it along the whole front. The sea in ancient times hugged its northeast side, but is now nearly two kilometers distant. Only the southwest side was undefended by nature and must have been strongly fortified from the be-ginning by a wall of which we know but little.

The great stone bridge over the wide Ariminus, the modern Marecchia, was not begun by Augustus until he had moved the frontier of Italy to Istria and had completed his chain of northern and Alpine fortresses commanding the passes. It would have been a source of weakness to Rimini as a fortress, but now that the city could be considered merely as an inland town, commercial advantages could be made paramount. The bridge was commenced in 14 A.D. under Augustus and completed in 20 A.D. by Tiberius. Its five arches all measure 8.75 m. except that in the center (10.5 m.) , and their low massiveness sounds the opposite aesthetic note in Augustan bridges to that of the lofty slenderness of Narni and Vulci. We are here in the flatter country, where the rivers are broader and slower and the changes of level neither so extreme nor so violent. The later date of this bridge carries with it a more decorative design as compared to the Augustan bridges on the Flaminian Way below Rimini. The rich niches with their entablature and gable, the heavily corniced parapet with its closely-spaced corbels, mark a step even beyond the scheme of the bridge at Verona, which is al-most as low and heavy.

Not the least interesting experience in a visit to Rimini is the very convincing way one can trace in a building of the early Renaissance the imitation of Roman design. In that most singularly charming and in so many ways original reconstruction of S. Francesco by Leon Battista Alberti, the triumphal arch is so clearly the basis of design as to make any discussion superfluous. Usually the imitation takes place in some other city and distance lends vagueness to one’s realization of it. But here one has both model and copy. Not that Alberti was a plagiarist. We knew him as one of the three greatest architects of the early Renaissance ; absolutely the leader of the scientific and literary coterie in the architectural revival. His letters show how careful his study of ancient monuments was and how he assimilated their principles as well as their style. For the rest, and regardless of any connection with Roman art, I will allow myself in a brief aside, to counsel every lover of the poignantly beautiful, of the poesy of line and frozen motion, of emotional and hypnotic suggestiveness, not to miss the interior of S. Francesco. We may not wonder that it shocked even a Pope of the Renaissance into labeling it a pagan temple rather than a church, but the captivating witchery of its insouciance raises it far above the sensuous and wraps Isotta and Sigismondo Malatesta in a maze of exquisite sentiment.

Beyond Rimini are the plains of the north. A few dates show how they were opened up to Roman occupation. During the half century after 268 B.C. Rome busied herself with founding colonies and market-towns, distributing home-steads and transforming an inimical land into a faithful Roman province. This was done in the direction of the Po, the Alps and Dalmatia. Then in 225 B.C. the Gallo-Celtic invasion led Rome to decide on a permanent occupation of the Po valley. In 222 the Alps were reached; in 221 the Istrian coast line was guarded. In 218 the fortress-colonies of Placentia (Piacenza), on the right bank and of Cremona on the left bank of the Po were established to act as wedges between the Insubrian and Boian Gauls and to control the river communications. Still, it required over thirty years to complete the pacification of the region and make the building of the Via Aemilia possible in 187 B.C. Then came the founding of Aquileia, above modern Venice, and the building of the Via Popilia to it along the Adriatic coast : while, on the Mediterranean the extermination of the Ligurians and the founding of Luna (177 B.C.) led to the extension of the Via Aurelia along that coast line. Finally, as center of this advance, and as a wedge driven into the Alps, up to the foot of the passes, Eporedia (Ivrea) was built in 100 B.C.

The very progressiveness of the people of northern Italy has helped to obliterate traces of this conquest and settlement during the third and second centuries. But the far greater magnificence of the Augustan age, which so thoroughly overshadowed earlier evidences of culture, is well represented. In fact it would be unreasonable to expect more. There was no such early civic evolution in the north as there had been in the center and south. If any student cares to ferret out the probable aspect of the pre-Roman towns he can visit the museum of Bologna and study the government reports on the excavations in the neighboring Etrusco-Italic town of Marzabotto. On this site itself nothing remains, I believe, to be studied.

We must imagine that the Augustan architects had almost a free hand in building up the cities of the north, unhampered by previous settlements of monumental scheme. In studying what the Augustan age has left us in the North I shall start at the northwest end and swing around toward Dalmatia along the Alpine line. This makes Turin the first city to visit.