Rome And Etruria – Falerii

The capital city of the Faliscans was at Falerii, the present Civita Castellana, the nearest town of any size north of Rome, where not enough remains to warrant a visit, unless it is to see the masterpiece of Roman medieval artists, the neo-classic porch of its cathedral. About four miles away, to the west, Falerii lives again, however, in a humbled force-given offspring, a well preserved and strongly walled city of the days of the Republic. One stumbles across it with something of a shock, accustomed as one is to look to the heights for all such cities. Its builders took advantage, it is true, of a deep ravine, one of the strange burroni of this volcanic region, gashed in the surface and invisible until one nearly falls into them.

It is not a large city, not quite a mile and a half in circuit, yet it makes a vivid impression, notwithstanding its prosaic position, because it is the best preserved example of military architecture of its period. The walls are almost un-broken. At one point, where they descend to the ravine at the Porta di Bove, they remain to a height of nearly sixty feet, and the gate, being pierced in the base of this mass of masonry, seems insignificant. Yet the ox head that occupies the keystone of the gate, symbol of the Roman domination, is a significant confirmation of the date and character of the city.

It is new Falerii, Novi Falerii, built in 240 B.C. as a punishment for the rebellion of old Falerii, whose impregnable position made her a dangerous enemy. The original city was an early foundation by a race of non-Etruscan origin, connected with the Sabines, though tradition calls them “Pelasgic” and connects their worship of Juno with Argos. Falerii was among the largest cities in Southern Etruria, and though she never was thoroughly Etruscanized, helped her Etruscan neighbor Veii in her wars with Rome, against whom she fought for two centuries. One of the best known episodes of these wars is that of the treacherous schoolmaster who had charge of the sons of the nobles of Falerii at the time of the siege by Camillus and enticed them into the lines of the Roman besiegers. The generosity of Camillus in sending the boys back and delivering the schoolmaster. bound, for them to whip back to the city, is said to have so touched the Faliscans that they voluntarily accepted the overlordship of Rome. This was in 394 B.C. For a century and a half after this there seem to have been in the city both pro-Roman and anti-Roman factions which alternately guided its policy. It was soon after this that Rome took the first aggressive step toward holding Etruscan territory, after annexing that of Veii, by establishing two strong military colonies, one at Sutrium (Sutri) in 383 and a second at Nepet (Nepi) in 373, both on the southern border of the territory of Falerii. They played quite a part in subsequent wars. At present their sites are hardly worth visiting.

It was in 240 B.C. at the time of the wars with Pyrrhus that an ill-advised revolt of the Faliscans gave Rome an opportunity to crush the city, annex half her territory, tear down her walls, destroy her buildings except the temples, and remove her inhabitants to a new site—New Falerii. It was then that the Faliscan gods were reverentially moved to Rome, as was so often done in conquered cities. Juno Curitis, the patron goddess, Minerva Capta, Janus Quadrifrons, all found new sanctuaries in Rome.

Recently two temples have been found in the abandoned city. The larger of the two was outside the walls in the citadel and was probably the main temple of Juno. I have already spoken of it as approaching in size and form the Capitoline temple. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the city is its site, so strong and yet so low, surrounded on all sides except on the west by deep clefts or ravines occupied by streams : on the east the river Treja; on the north the rio maggiore and del purgatorio; on the south the rio Saleto. Communication with the surrounding country was entirely by bridges. Even the acropolis or citadel was not in the walls but on the east side and also reached by a bridge and protected by a bend of the river. To descend one of these perpendicular clefts by goat paths and steps in the rock and then look up at the bridges is a unique sensation in the study of city sites. Though hardly rising above the level of the plain it is as thoroughly isolated as if it occupied, like Volsinii (Orvieto), the whole expanse of a high rocky plateau.

In the old city, then, the modern Civita Castellana, which can be easily reached from Rome by the trolley which passes the foot of poetic Soracte, one hires a team to drive out to the new Falerii, to which we will now return. We enter it first by what is now the main gate, called Porta di Giove, which is set in the apex of the triangle of the walls. The amphitheater is outside and of this and the theater, inside, not enough remains to give much of a clue to their age. The walls and gates are well worth studying. They are between seven and nine feet thick and are strengthened by about eighty square towers, projecting about ten feet from the wall line. The view of the Porta di Giove gives part of its two flanking towers. The voussoirs and moldings are of peperino, but this is the only trace of any other material than red tufa in the entire circuit. Over the keystone is the youthful head of a beardless deity, which looks less like the Jove it has been popularly named than the Juno who was the patron divinity of the new city, as she had been of the old city. The later name, in fact, under the Empire was Colonia Junonia Falisca Etruscorum.

The only other gate of interest that remains is the Porta di Bove, which I have already de-scribed, and from which a steep passage leads up to the city level from the low side of the ravine. Of the towers, about fifty remain. The tufa blocks are arranged in courses two feet high in alternate lines of headers and stretchers. They are, perhaps, the most extensive ruins in a style analogous to the Servian wall in Rome, before the use of small units came into fashion toward the close of the Republic.

Just inside the Porta di Bove are the ruins of a Cistercian monastery of the twelfth century. built with the materials from the walls. My first visit to this site was for the sake of this medieval ruin, for the church had bold tunnel vaults, very unusual in Italy, which fell less than a century ago. The entire site is now owned by a gentle-man farmer who keeps a caretaker in the ruined monastery. The key to the church was not to be found and I remember applying my camera to a crack in the heavy wooden door ; when the film was developed I saw the interior of the church for the first time, which I missed seeing with my own eyes. It is an additional incentive for a visit to the ancient city.