Allia river

Allia river according to Titus Livy ran at the eleventh mile of Salaria road (maps 1 and 1a), flowing down Crustumini montes, the mounts of Crustumerium, currently named Marcigliana hills, whose height ranges from 80 to 120 m above sea level: it seems the Romans gave the word "mount" a wider meaning than us. Allia river is therefore identified with the present "fosso Maestro" (it means Main Drain: even the word "river" was maybe used more emphatically than we do), in Marcigliana area, belonging to 4th District of Rome municipality, at about 3 kilometers from the limits of Monterotondo borough.
Salaria road crosses Allia "river" at kilometer 18.300: coming from Rome is right past the garden centre (vivai Marcelli), on a bend to right,
photo 1 and map 2, few meters after receiving the tributary Fosso della Regina (Queen's Drain, photo 2 and map 3), then it runs (straightened as a canal) in parallel to the Tiber, in which flows near the Settebagni turn-off of the motorway connecting road Fiano-GRA (it is the last drain passed over by the motorway before Settebagni turn-off, coming from Florence, photo 3, at the kilometer 19). The photo 4 shows river Allia as seen from the fast railway Rome-Florence.
The municipality of Monterotondo named a street after Allia river: it lies at Monterotondo Scalo, and it is a side street of Salaria road, few meters back kilometre 22,500, then about four kilometres after the same river.


The battle
On July 18
th of 390 b.C. (Dies quartus decimus ante Kalendas Augustas) Allia river was the field of one of the most notorious battles of Roman age.
The Senones Gauls, led by Brennus, came down from their recent settlements in Marche and Romagna, attacked the city of Clusium, then headed for Rome. According to Strabo the Senones attacked Rome together with the Gaesates, which probably weren't a real people, but just mercenaries of the Gauls. At 11 miles from the city, near the location of the ancient city of
Crustumerium, which probably was already abandoned, the Gauls engaged in battle the Romans, who drew up an unskilled army, driven by the dreadful news from the lands raided by Gallic hordes.
The Romans were frightened by the Gauls, for their wild fighting behaviour, their weapons clanging on the shields, their ferocious songs and war-cries and for their appearance, with long hairs, bare trunk and painted face, traits never seen in the enemies the Romans faced in the previous wars in Italy and Mediterranean.
The number of Gauls was overwhelming and the Romans, to avoid an encirclement, placed the troops on a wide but not thick front; Brennus first attacked the right wing of the Roman army, which was made of reserve troops placed on Marcigliana hills.
Brennus suspected the small number of Roman soldiers on the wing could hide a larger number of concealed soldiers, to surround the Gauls as they were attacking the centre of Roman array; on the contrary the Roman right wing dispersed at once and this caused the scattering of the whole army, with a great number of Roman soldiers trying to flee towards Veii, swimming across the Tiber: many of them couldn't swim and drowned, even by the cuirass weight.
The Roman soldiers actually dead in action were very few, and Titus Livy asserts there were no losses in combat at all, and many of the dead were pierced through in the back by their own comrades crowding to escape. Those who succeeded in escaping to Veii, says Titus Livy, didn't worry about giving the alarm to Rome, while the survivors of the right wing, the first to be attacked, ran to Rome and sheltered in Capitol citadel without taking care to shut the city gates.
The news of the battle reached even Greece: Aristotle knew it and Heraclides turned it into a fanciful defeat against the Hyperborean (a mythological people of the Far North), while for the Romans the day of the battle was for centuries a mournful day (see next chapter: dies Alliensis), recalled also by Virgil in Aeneid (
VII, 717): infaustum ... Allia nomen.
According to Titus Livy the Gauls were astonished by the ease of the victory and became suspicious when their scouts noticed the city gates were open, so they waited between Rome and the banks of Aniene river before attacking, even if Plutarch maintained the delay in pursuing the offensive was due to the celebrations for the victory and to the division of the booty.
But, at last, three days after the battle, the Gauls burst into Rome through Collina gate, besieged Capitol citadel, in which the few defenders barricaded themselves (here occurred the Capitol geese episode) until the city surrended by starvation and was sacked and set on fire.
Indeed many of the inhabitants already sheltered after the battle, running away to Janiculum hill, Caere, Veii and other cities in the neighbourhood.
At the beginning the Gauls were awe-stricken, as evidenced by the episode of the Roman patricians: they sat in the Forum in a solemn attitude and the Gauls mistook them for statues, by their loftiness of mien and their dress, until one of the barbarians tried to pull the beard to one of them, Marcus Papirius, who reacted hitting him with his ivory sceptre, stirring up Gaul's wrath which started the slaughter.
The Gauls occupied Rome for about one year even if Polybius (Histories, II, 22) talk of a 7-months period, then, according to the legend, Furius Camillus conquered the city again, even if probably were the Gauls to resolve to leave, after getting a rich ransom (remember the well-known Brennus sentence "Vae Victis!" meaning "Woe to the conquered") signing a peace treaty which lasted for one century.
Only six years after the battle, in 384 b.C., the army of Praeneste, during a war against Rome, choose Allia river as a battle-field, expecting the Romans to have for the place the same awe they had for the date, but they were defeated by Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus, who pursued them until capturing the same city of Praeneste (Livy, VI, 28-29).

Titus Livy, History of Rome, V, 36-40
Plutarch, Parallel lifes, I, life of Camillus, XIX-XX
Polybius, II, 17-22;
Strabo, Geography. Italy, V, 1,6; (chapter: "Celts in battle")

dies Alliensis (July 18th)

July 18th, the date of the battle had a so great impact on Rome, that lasted in Roman calendary as dies Alliensis, (Varro, De Lingua Latina VI, 32; Florus, Epitomae de Tito Livio, 7,7.), indicated as ill-omened day (nefastus, from ne fas, meaning illicit), in which was not allowed to perform administrative acts, to go to Court and to do business, as a memory of the most shameful defeat of republican history (Livy, VI, II). Plutarch says the dies Alliensis was so inauspicious that because of it other two days a month were so deemed. Even Ovid in its Ars amatoria (I, 412-413) remembers the sad day: Tu licet incipias, qua flebilis Allia luce / Vulneribus Latiis sanguinolenta fui. Almost 500 years later Vitellius was blamed for undertaking Pontifex Maximus office on dies Alliensis, hence accusing him of being ignorant both of human and godly matters (Svetonius, Vit 11). Still talking about ignorance: according to a Romagna region website close to the Northern League (I don't put a link to it, for the sake of my ancestors from Romagna), Allia day should be a national holiday of padania, being the anniversary of a victory of the Celts over Rome (they write it with lower-case initial: ignorants!), but indeed, since that victory was about the only one in 1000 years, maybe they're right to celebrate. According to Plutarch in the same day, 87 years before (477 b.C.), it occurred the defeat of Cremera river (few kilometers in a bee-line from Allia) where the Etruscans killed in battle 300 members of gens Fabia, on dies Alliensis of 64 A.D. begun the Great Fire of Rome (the one imputed to Nero), which lasted 6 days. The day after dies Alliensis, 1943 July 19th Rome was bombed by the allies, and on 2001 July 20th, just on Crustumini Montes, I fell off my bicycle, getting myself abrasions to elbows and knees: beware the dies Alliensis!

References: (chapter: "Celts in battle")


Lucaria were feasts consecrated to the woods, celebrated between 19th and 21th of July (a.d. XIV-XII Kalendas Augustas), the days after Dies Alliensis, in a wood (lucus) between Salaria road and Tiber river, to thank the woods for the shelter given to the survivors of Allia river battle (Festus, De Verborum Significatione).
Titus Livy
relates of two prodigies occurred in 177 b.C. during the preparations for a military expedition in Spain: a meteorite fell on a lucus sacred to Mars, and a bird sacred to the god Sancus split a stone with its bill. It is possible the lucus above mentioned was the one in which the Romans celebrated Lucaria.
According to another interpretation the feast was dedicated generically to every wood and sylvan divinity, while Ovid (
Fasti 2, 67) maintained the feasts were consecrated to an asylum founded by Romulus near the Tiber (tum quoque vicini lucus celebratur Alerni, /qua petit aequoreas advena Thybris aquas).
Plutarch (Roman Questions, 88), tells the money spent for public feasts was called "lucar" because around the city there were sacred bushes (luci) consecrated to the gods, whose proceeds were set aside for public show.
Maybe Lucaria could be identified with propitiatory rituals addressed to genii, sylvan spirits protecting the woods. According to Cato (
De Agricultura, 139 - 140) these rituals were performed in the woods before felling them to cultivate, or anyway before ploughing untilled field, and consisted in sacrificing a pig and saying propitiatory wording, to be repeated along the lenght of the work, and to be performed once more if the work was interrupted or in case of interference with other religious feasts. According to other sources Lucaria were consecrated to Leucaria, mother of Rome, the legendary woman who gave her name to the city and to Rhea Silvia, mother of Romulus and Remus.
It looks that already in late republican age Lucaria weren't much followed.

SCHEID John (2009) Rito e religione dei Romani. Sestante, Bergamo.
STARA TEDDE Giorgio (1905) I boschi sacri dell'antica Roma. Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma, XXIII, 189-232.*/D.html

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   page created: September 2th 2004 and last updated: November 25th 2012