1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lavinium

LAVINIUM, an ancient town of Latium, on the so-called Via Lavinatis (see Laurentina, Via), 19 m. S. of Rome, the modern Pratica, situated 300 ft. above sea-level and 21/2 m. N.E. from the sea-coast. Its foundation is attributed to Aeneas (whereas Laurentum was the primitive city of King Latinus), who named it after his wife Lavinia. It is rarely mentioned in Roman history and often confused with Lanuvium or Lanivium in the text both of authors and of inscriptions. The custom by which the consuls and praetors or dictators sacrificed on the Alban Mount and at Lavinium to the Penates and to Vesta, before they entered upon office or departed for their province, seems to have been one of great antiquity. There is no trace of its having continued into imperial times, but the cults of Lavinium were kept up, largely by the imperial appointment of honorary non-resident citizens to hold the priesthoods. The citizens of Lavinium were known under the empire as Laurentes Lavinates, and the place itself at a late period as Laurolavinium. It was deserted or forgotten not long after the time of Theodosius.

Lavinium was preceded by a more ancient town, Laurentum, the city of Latinus (Verg. Aen. viii.); of this the site is uncertain, but it is probably to be sought at the modern Tor Paterno, close to the sea-coast and 5 m. N. by W. of Lavinium. Here the name of Laurentum is preserved by the modern name Pantan di Lauro. Even in ancient times it was famous for its groves of bay-trees (laurus) from which its name was perhaps derived, and which in imperial times gave the villas of its territory a name for salubrity, so that both Vitellius and Commodus resorted there. The exact date of the abandonment of the town itself and the incorporation of its territory with that of Lavinium is uncertain, but it may be placed in the latter part of the republic. Under the empire a portion of it must have been imperial domain and forest. We hear of an imperial, procurator in charge of the elephants at Laurentum; and the imperial villa may perhaps be identified with the extensive ruins at Tor Paterno itself. The remains of numerous other villas lie along the ancient coast-line (which was half a mile inland of the modern, being now marked by a row of sand-hills, and was followed by the Via Severiana), both north-west and south-east of Tor Paterno: they extended as a fact in an almost unbroken line along the low sandy coast—now entirely deserted and largely occupied by the low scrub which serves as cover for the wild boars of the king of Italy’s preserves—from the mouth of the Tiber to Antium, and thence again to Astura; but there are no traces of any buildings previous to the imperial period. In one of these villas, excavated by the king of Italy in 1906, was found a fine replica of the famous discobolus of Myron. The plan of the building is interesting, as it diverges entirely from the normal type and adapts itself to the site. Some way to the N.W. was situated the village of Vicus Augustanus Laurentium, taking its name probably from Augustus himself, and probably identical with the village mentioned by Pliny the younger as separated by only one villa from his own. This village was brought to light by excavation in 1874, and its forum and curia are still visible. The remains of the villa of Pliny, too, were excavated in 1713 and in 1802–1819, and it is noteworthy that the place bears the name Villa di Pino (sic) on the staff map; how old the name is, is uncertain. It is impossible without further excavation to reconcile the remains—mainly of substructions—with the elaborate description of his villa given by Pliny (cf. H. Winnefeld in Jahrbuch des Instituts, 1891, 200 seq.).

The site of the ancient Lavinium, no less than 300 ft. above sea-level and 21/2 m. inland, is far healthier than the low-lying Laurentum, where, except in the immediate vicinity of the coast, malaria must have been a dreadful scourge. It possesses considerable natural strength, and consists of a small hill, the original acropolis, occupied by the modern castle and the village surrounding it, and a larger one, now given over to cultivation, where the city stood. On the former there are now no traces of antiquity, but on the latter are scanty remains of the city walls, in small blocks of the grey-green tufa (cappellaccio) which is used in the earliest buildings of Rome, and traces of the streets. The necropolis, too, has been discovered, but not systematically excavated; but objects of the first Iron age, including a sword of Aegean type (thus confirming the tradition), have been found; also remains of a building with Doric columns of an archaistic type, remains of later buildings in brick, and inscriptions, some of them of considerable interest.

See R. Lanciani in Monumenti dei Lincei, xiii. (1903), 133 seq.; xvi. (1906), 241 seq.  (T. As.)