Page images
PDF
EPUB

HISTORY OF ROME.

INTRODUCTION.

ANCIENT ITALY.

THE peninsula of Italy lies nearest to that of Greece, and is surrounded on all sides by the sea, except on the north; there, the loftiest of the European mountains, the Alps, form a natural barrier which shuts it off from the rest of the continent of Europe. The length of Italy from the Alps to the Straits of Messina is 700 miles, and its breadth varies from 350 miles in Northern Italy to 100, on an average, in the more southern portions of the peninsula.

The coast bordering on the Tuscan and Ionian Seas is indented with deep gulfs and natural harbours, adapted for commerce and navigation, whilst broad plains stretch behind as if inviting cultivation. The shores of the Adriatic, unlike the coast on the Ionian and Tuscan Seas, is without ports, and the navigator, in order to escape the Illyrian labyrinth of islands which fringe the coast of Illyria, found no other refuge on the inhospitable shores of the Adriatic, than amongst the lagunes of Venetia.

Italy was accessible from the north by a few difficult and narrow passes. The first crossed the Maritime Alps. Five passed by Monte Ginevra, Mont Cenis (Cenisius), the little St. Bernard (Alpis Graja), the great St. Bernard (Penninus Mons), and the St. Gothard (Adulus Mons); another led by the lake of Como and over the Valteline; the eighth traversed the Brenner; the ninth, the Col de Tarvis; and the tenth led across the Julian Alps into Illyria.

Towards the south-western extremity, the Alps sink gradually

at the Col di Tenda to rise again near Savona under a new name, that of the Apennines. This range of mountains traverse nearly the whole length of Italy, and after separating into two branches, take a south-west direction through Lucania and the Bruttii to the extreme point of the peninsula. The average height of the Apennines is over 3000 feet, and their eastern slopes, which border the Adriatic coast, are covered with pasture grounds or wooded heights, down which numerous torrents flow towards the sea. On their western slopes, between the foot of the mountains and the coast, stretch the rich plains of Etruria, Latium, and Campania, watered by the tranquil streams of the Tiber, Liris and Vulturnus, but subject to the scorching south wind from the African desert, and rendered unhealthy by pestilential marshes. Both Cæsar and Augustus attempted to drain the Pontine marshes, but the herculean task remains still to be done. These plains form an exception, the rest of the Italian peninsula being everywhere diversified by steep and lofty hills and sequestered valleys, so much so that in some parts, as the Abruzzi and Calabria in Southern Italy, the country is inaccessible to an invading army.

The northern portion of Italy consists of the great plain drained by the river Padus or Po, and its many tributaries. This plain is flanked by the Alps, which curve in a majestic semicircle round it on the north. Anciently, Northern Italy consisted of two principal divisions, Liguria and Cisalpine Gaul, whilst its eastern extremity formed the Roman province of Venetia.

Central Italy comprised Etruria, Latium, and Campania on the west, whilst on the coast were Umbria, Picenum, and Samnium.

Lower or Southern Italy was at one time called Magna Græcia, on account of its Greek colonies. It was divided into the four countries of Lucania, the Bruttii, Apulia, and Messapia. The islands adjacent to the Italian coast, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica, were considered by the Romans as separate provinces, though geographically belonging to it. The surface of these three large islands equal almost a quarter of the whole of the Italian peninsula.

From the banks of the Padus to the extremity of Italy, is one long line of volcanic formation. But the activity of the subterranean fires appears to be concentrated at the southern extremity of the line at Vesuvius, and that volcanic plain which extends along the coast of Campania, from Cuma to Capua,

« PreviousContinue »