My walk along the Via Latina (part 1)

Tomb along the Via Latina.

In the summer of 2018 I made a highly enjoyable walk along the famous Via Appia and published an extensive report about it on this website. Part of my walk happened to be a small piece of the less well-known Via Latina. Back then I already decided that one day I would make a full-fledged walk along the Via Latina as well. The Via Latina was never sung by poets, and much less of it has been preserved than of the Via Appia. Using Google Maps, I did spot a small stretch of the original road in an archaeological park, so my walk would definitely not be a boring trip through a heavily urbanised area. When I was back in Rome at the start of 2022, the one remaining question was exactly how I was going to walk along the Via Latin. With the Via Appia, I had started at the Porta Capena and had walked for some eight kilometres from there, to the Villa of the Quintilii. From the villa I had taken a bus back to the city centre. For the Via Latina, I decided to turn things around. I took metro A to Anagnina, got out at Numidio Quadrato and tried to reach the ancient Roman road from there.

History of the Via Latina

The Via Latina is at least a couple of decades older than the Via Appia. While the construction of the latter road – which started in 312 BCE on the initiative of the censor Appius Claudius Caecus – is fairly well documented, this cannot be said of the construction of the Via Latina. When discussing the Via Latina, we should probably differentiate between the creation of the road on the one hand and its subsequent transformation into a properly paved Roman road on the other. From the early years of the city, the Via Latina connected Rome to the important sanctuary of Jupiter Latiaris on the Mons Albanus. Each year in April the Feriae Latinae were celebrated there, a festival intended to confirm and strengthen the ties between the various Latin cities. The festival was so important that the presence of both Roman consuls was required; in their absence the city was governed by a city prefect, the praefectus urbi. The roots of the Feriae Latinae probably go back to the Age of Kings. After all, tradition holds that it was Tarquinius Superbus (ca. 534-509 BCE) who united the Latin cities under his authority and thus became the founder of what modern historians call the ‘Latin League’.

Latium and Campania with the Via Latina and Via Appia (source: Ancient World Mapping Center. “À-la-carte”; CC BY 4.0).

The story of the Feriae Latinae provides a clue that, perhaps from the late sixth or early fifth century, a rudimentary unpaved road was in existence which allowed the Romans to travel from Rome to the Mons Albanus. The road cannot have been used for religious purposes only. It led to a mountain pass close to the Mons Albanus which was called the Algidus. In the fifth century BCE the Romans fought several battles against their archenemies the Aequi in this pass, and with mixed results. In 431 BCE they managed to defeat their adversaries in a particularly bloody battle, in which even the dictator and consul were wounded. About a century later the Romans had brought the south of Latium and part of Campania under their control. Their conquests were crowned with the founding of the Latin colonies of Fregellae and Cales in 328 and 334 BCE respectively. The existing road to the Mons Albanus was subsequently extended to the new colonies. It is not clear whether the Via Latina – as we may now rightly call the road – was already fully paved at the time, but the stretch leading to Fregellae and Cales must have had a pavement consisting of blocks of basalt.

Remains of the Aqua Claudia.

Later the Via Latina was extended to Capua and Neapolis (modern Naples). In the end the road had a total length of about 200 kilometres. The Via Appia (now completed) and Via Latina allowed the Romans to quickly move troops to Campania. Sometimes this actually worked against them, as enemies could also make use of the Roman road network. When the Romans were besieging the city of Capua, which had defected to Carthage, in 211 BCE, the Carthaginian general Hannibal led his army along the Via Latina to Rome, sacking the cities of Casinum and Fregellae on the way. Hannibal eventually swung north towards Gabii, which allowed the consul Quintus Fulvius Flaccus, who had taken the Via Appia, to get back to Rome in time to lead the defence of the city. Rome was heavily fortified and protected by the Servian walls, and in the end Hannibal decided against attacking it.

The later history of the Via Latina is a bit hazy. After the Romans had conquered the south of Italy, the military importance of the road decreased. This was not the case with the Via Appia, which in the early second century BCE had been extended all the way to the port cities of Brundisium (Brindisi) and Tarentum (Taranto). Especially Brundisium was of major strategic importance. Here Roman armies boarded transport ships for military operations on the other side of the Adriatic. The Via Latina was probably still used for traveling to the Mons Albanus and celebrating the Feriae Latinae. The festival was possibly continued until the Christians put an end to such ‘pagan’ festivities in the fourth century.

The first part of my walk

As I already mentioned, I took the metro in the direction of Anagnina and took a bit of a shot in the dark by getting out at the Numidio Quadrato stop. The stop is named after Marcus Ummidius Quadratus, a Roman senator who was involved in a conspiracy against the emperor Commodus (180-192) in the year 182. Quadratus was a nephew of Marcus Aurelius (161-180), the previous emperor, which made him eligible for the purple if the plot against Commodus had succeeded. Unfortunately for him it failed miserably. Quadratus and his son were arrested and executed, as was Lucilla, Commodus’ sister, who had played a leading role in the plot. It may be a small comfort for Quadratus that, centuries later, a metro stop was named after him, although his name was actually Ummidius instead of Numidius, a name that is used in several ancient sources.

Remains of the Aqua Claudia.

From Numidio Quadrato I followed the Via del Quadraro to the south until I reached an athletics field. Here I admired several arches, still erect, of a large Roman aqueduct. The arches are what remains of the Aqua Claudia, an aqueduct of which the construction started under the emperor Caligula (37-41) and that was completed in the year 52 under the emperor Claudius (41-54). The aqueduct is named after Claudius and even in its ruined state it continues to impress. Those looking for more archaeological remains may want to continue their way further east, to the Parco degli Acquedotti. Beyond this park we find the ruins of a large Roman villa, nowadays known as the Villa dei Sette Bassi. I personally decided to skip the villa. Google Maps informed me that it was a four kilometre and 48 minute walk to get there, not counting the way back. This really was a bridge too far for me, so I turned northwest and walked into a green zone called the Parco di Torre Fiscale.

Parco di Torre Fiscale, on the left the Acqua Felice.

The park is named after a tower from the twelfth or thirteenth century, which is about 30 metres high. It once belonged to a certain Filippo Foppi, treasurer of the Pope. In the park we find another aqueduct, the Acqua Felice. Strictly speaking it is not a Roman aqueduct, as it was built by Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590), although Sixtus did reuse parts of the ancient Roman Aqua Marcia and Aqua Julia. The name Acqua Felice refers to the fact that this pope’s real name was Felice Peretti. The aqueduct, which has a length of many kilometres, has been preserved very well. Pedestrians cross under it at a small tavern (Ristoro Casale del Fiscale) and can then continue their way north. Here I had to pay attention, as I was now getting close to the archaeological park of the Tombe della via Latina. Visiting the park had always been the main objective of my walk.

Parco di Torre Fiscale, on the right the Acqua Felice.

To part 2.

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