Alba Longa

Alba Longa (in Italian sources occasionally also written Albalonga) was an ancient city of Latium, founder and head of the Latin Confederation; it was destroyed by Rome around the middle of the 7th century BC.

Legendary history

According to legend Alba Longa was founded by Ascanius or Iulus, son of Aeneas, thirty years after the foundation of Lavinium. Chronologically this would have been around the middle of the 12th century BC, some time after the destruction of Troy (which according to ancient scholars occurred in 1184 BC).

From Ascanius there is said to have sprung a dynasty of Alban kings, among whom we know the names only of Procas and his sons Numitor and Amulius. The legitimate heir of Procas was Numitor; he was expelled, however, by his brother Amulius, who seized the throne and forced Numitor's daughter Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin and thus take a vow of chastity. When Rhea Silvia gave birth to the twins Romulus and Remus, fathered on her by Mars, Amulius ordered them killed. The twins were abandoned instead to the Tiber and saved. Grown to manhood and becoming aware of their birthright, they chased Amulius from the throne, which they restored to Numitor: the latter in turn permitted them to found a new city, Rome: the Romans thus traditionally viewed Alba Longa as their mother-city.

As Rome's power increased, the two cities fell into conflict, and finally under King Tullus Hostilius (around the middle of the 7th century BC), a war between them was settled by the famous combat of the Horatii and the Curiatii; Alba was destroyed, never to be rebuilt, and her inhabitants were transferred to Rome, where the Caelian hill was given to them.

Archaeological data and historical interpretation

The location of the ancient Latin city has been much debated since the 16th century. The point of departure is the foundation story in Dionysius of Halicarnassus (I.66 ff.) (*.html#66) which speaks of a site between Monte Cavo and the Alban Lake. The site has been at various times identified with the convent of S. Paolo at Palazzola, near Albano, or with Coste Caselle, near Marino, or finally with Castel Gandolfo. The last of these places in fact occupies the site of Domitian's villa, which ancient sources state in turn occupied the arx of Alba.

Archaeological data available for the Iron Age show the existence of a string of villages, each one with its own necropolis, along the southwestern shore of the Alban Lake. When Rome destroyed them these villages must have still been in a pre-urban phase, starting to group around a center that may well have been Castel Gandolfo, since the necropolis there is significantly larger, suggesting a larger town.

In the later republican period the territory of Alba (the Ager Albanus) was settled once again with many residential villas, which are mentioned in ancient literature and of which remains are extant.

The shrine of Jupiter Latiaris

On the top of the Alban Mount there was a very ancient shrine consecrated to Jupiter Latiaris. Florus (2d century AD) states that the site was selected by Ascanius, who, having founded Alba, invited all the Latins to celebrate sacrifices there to Jupiter, a custom which eventually led to the annual celebration there of the Feriae Latinae, at which all the cities that belonged to the Latin Confederation would gather under the aegis of Alba, sacrificing a white bull, the flesh of which was distributed among all the participants.

After Alba Longa was destroyed and her leadership rle was assumed by Rome, tradition records the building of a full-scale temple to Jupiter Latiaris on the Alban Mount in the reign of Tarquinius Superbus; of which only a few courses of perimeter wall remain today, now removed offsite; and substantial remains of the paved road that connected it to the Via Appia near Ariccia.

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