The Early History of Atina
Atina has experienced an interesting and eventful history. The early history of Atina is linked to ancient myths and legends.
The Roman God of Saturn
Atina is said to have mythological connections with the Roman god of Saturn. The Greek equivalent was Kronus. When Saturn was exiled from Olympus by his son Zeus, he fled and eventually found refuge in ancient Latium. This land was inhabited by Janus, the ancient Italic god of the sun. It is said that Janus welcomed Saturn to this green fertile mountainous terrain. Saturn is said to have founded five large towns, the names of which all commenced with the letter A. They were: Aletrium (the present day Alatri), Anagnia (Anagni), Arpinum (Arpino), Atina and Antinium (now known as Ferentino). In the Aeneid, the great Roman poet Virgil writes of “Atina potens” or “mighty Atina” which along with the other four big cities, forged weapons for Turnus, king of the Rutili.
Saturn is said to have taught the native Italic tribes to live together in harmony, in a civilised community. He also taught them the skills of cultivation, and thus he became known as the Roman God of agriculture and fertility. His reign was said to have been one of peace and prosperity and this era is often referred to as the “Golden Age”.
The ancient coat of arms of the town recalled these mythical origins, as it bore “a figure of Saturn and an old winged man, carrying a scythe in one hand and sprigs of wheat in the other” and on the upper part two pillars on a light blue background surmounted by a crown, around which was written the motto “Atinas Civitas Saturni Latino”. The present day coat of arms still has a golden crown and two marble pillars surmounted by the crown and the motto.
The master blacksmiths of ancient Atina were renowned for forging excellent weaponry. As a consequence the area flourished and its territory became much sought after. Throughout its history, Atina was closely linked with the production of metal. This was due to its proximity to mines at Monte Meta which extracted copper, silver and iron ore. “Five great cities with resounding anvils, in the preparation of arms: the powerful Atina, proud Tivoli, and Adrea, Crustumerio and Antenna fortified with towers.”
Atina was was claimed by the Samnites in 337 BC and became part of the territory of Samnium. The Samnites controlled the Val di Comino and had a mighty fortress there named Cominium. They formed part of the Samnite League, a group of four tribes, opposed the expansion of the Roman Republic. During three violent wars the Romans battled against the Samnites, (343–341, 327–304, and 298–290). In the final confrontation the Romans took control of the area in 293 BC. The Roman historian Livy wrote that 255,000 Samnites were slaughtered during this tumultuous conflict.
Roman History of Atina
Thus Atinam was incorporated into the Roman state. Its status was initially reduced to that of a “prefecture“, a district strictly controlled by the government of Rome. As Atinam grew it developed into a colony that was allocated to the Roman Teretina tribe.
Finally it progressed to gain the rank of a municipality. The town was protected by strong fortified walls, made of large polygonal blocks of stone, which had been constructed in two main phases: pre-Roman and Roman. There were several gates leading into the town including Porta Aurea, Porta Virilassi and Porta Posterula.
Atina was situated in a strategic location, lying along important commercial routes that ran between Campania and Etruria. From its dominant position it guarded the entrance into the Val di Comino from Cassinum. It also had an wide view out over the the valley. Silicus Italius, a Roman consul orator and poet wrote of Atina’s impregnable position among the strongholds of the Apennines.
Indeed Cicero, the Roman orator writer and statesman, frequently visited the area and spoke of Atina as being a prosperous country town.
Virgil described Atina as being “potens“, meaning strong and powerful. He also wrote: “Atina mother of many illustrious, so much so that no city in Italy can said to be richer” relating to the presence of numerous high-ranking figures and families.
Cicero was a close friend of Gnaeus Plancius who was born in Atina. Plancius served in Africa and Macedonia in the role of quaestor, a manager of financial affairs. Cicero, when he was forced to flee in exile, had stayed in Macedonia during 58 BC and Gnaeus Plancius aided and protected him.
Atina was the birthplace of Lucius Munatius Plancus, (c. 87 BC – c. 15 BC) a renowned Roman commander and politician. He founded two Roman colonies, that of Lyon in France (Lugdunum) and Basel in Switzerland (Augusta Raurica). There is a street named after him in Atina, Via Planca. His mausoleum can be found on Monte Orlando in the seaside town of Gaeta in the province of Latina.
Much evidence of Atina’s history can still be seen today in the form of rich archeological finds, such as stretches of polygonal town walls dating from 5th to 4th century BC. There are also the remains of a Roman aqueduct, a water cistern, villas, temples, tracts of Roman road, statues, inscriptions, epigraphs and funerary monuments.
There is also a wonderful floor mosaic, dating from the 2nd century BC, made of black and white tiles. The intricate mosaic depicts four armed Samnite warriors between panels of geometrical designs. This was discovered in 1946 during excavations in Via Virilassi. This is now housed in Atina’s Palazzo Ducale.
Many ancient relics can be found in Atina’s Archaeological Museum, whilst other important pieces are now preserved in Rome such as a beautiful mosaic depicting “The Liberation of Hesione by Hercules” which is housed in the Villa Albani.
photo – Archivio Biblioteca di Atina
Photos have been accredited to the photographer / owner.
All other photos I have taken myself – © Louise Shapcott