“At that time the Trojans who had fled with Aeneas from Troy after its capture landed at Laurentum, which is on the coast of the Aborigines facing the Tyrrhenian sea, not far from the mouth of the Tiber. And having received from the Aborigines some land for their habitation and everything else they desired, they built a town on a hill not far from the sea and called it Lavinium”.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, The Roman Antiquities, I, 45

The discovery

The location of Lavinium was identified in the 16th century by Pirro Ligorio, but, despite the repeated archaeological findings started since the 19th century, the systematic archaeological exploration of the settlement began in 1955 with the researches of Luca Cozza and Ferdinando Castagnoli; the systematic investigations of Castagnoli continued for several decades curated by La Sapienza University of Rome.

The narration of the myth by Dionysius of Halicarnassus

In the Ancient Age different traditions of the legend of Aeneas coexisted for centuries handed down by Greek authors (like Ellanico of Mitilene, Sigeion of Damasta, Timaeus of Tauromenium) and Latin authors (Fabius Pictor, Cato, Varro) of which remains today just a few fragments. Only two narrations are complete: the complex narration of Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the narration of Virgil. The two versions usually do not exactly match each other, both because they derive from different sources and in the case of Virgil, the myth is often the result of poetical interpretation.
C.G. Lorrain, The arrival of Aeneas to the shores of Latium, 1675
(Anglesey Abbey, National Trust)
(from Carandini, Cappelli 2010)
According to the narration of Dionysus, the Trojans arrive to the coast of ager laurentinus where the signs indicated by the oracles consulted by Aeneas during the journey manifest themselves showing that the real destination was reached. In fact, as predicted, several water springs start to flow in order to quench them (near those springs Dionysus describes two altars oriented respectively to east and west, called “Trojan structures”; then, extremely hungry, they eat the “mensae”, the flatbreads serving as plates for viands and foods; finally the pregnant sow chosen to be sacrificed to the gods manage to escape. Aeneas follows the animal because he understands that this is the pregnant sow indicated in the prophecy that would show him the place where to found the new city. After a run of 24 stadia (circa 4.400 m) in the inner land, the sow stops and give birth to 30 piglets: a divine voice suggests to Aeneas that this is the destined place and that after 30 years a second city will be founded by his descendants, even bigger and prosperous (Alba Longa). Aeneas sacrifices the sow and the piglets and starts the construction of the city called Lavinium: the walls, the buildings and the temples. In particular, the temple where the Penates, the gods brought from Troy, are collocated, is described by Dyonisius as the higher building of the city (acropolis) resembling a shed (kalias) with a circle plan. Those territories were inhabited by the Aborigines: their king, Latinus, is alarmed by the arrival of the Trojans but a god appears to him in a dream and invites him to welcome the foreigners. Trojans and Aborigines conclude a pact of mutual respect and alliance and together they fight against the Rutuli people from the near city of Ardea, led by their king Turnus. Latinus wed his daughter Lavinia to Aeneas. The name of the city derives by the name of the Latin Princess. With the marriage the two populations combine their customs, traditions, laws and rituals giving rise to a new population called the Latins. After the death of king Latinus, Aeneas becomes king and he has to struggle again with the Rutuli people, allied with the Etruscan whose king is Mezenzius. During the battle Aeneas disappears and since his body is not found, he is believed to be taken up to the gods or to be dead in the Numico river; for this reason the Latins built for him a monument.
Mouth of Numico river, Today Fosso di Pratica
At this part of the narration the historian Dyonisius offers to us a very important information: the monument for Aeneas is still visible at his times and he describes it as a “small tumulus surrounded by a regular row of trees, a place worth to see”, bearing the inscription “ to the father and to the Indiges who regulates the course of Numico river” (Ant. Rom. I, 64, 5). In fact Aeneas was honoured as Pater, with the appellative of Indiges, with the meaning of “internal”, “innate” for someone who lies in the river.

The Virgilian version

Without taking into account the geographical coherence, Virgil locates the landing place of Aeneas at the mouth of river Tiber introducing a variation to the legend functional to the boundaries with Rome, represented by the mythic city of King Evandro situated over the Palatine, whose name derives from Pallantium a city of Arcadia Once they got off the ships, the Trojans tired and starving ate even the “mensae”, the flatbreads used as plates to contain the viands. Suddenly Aeneas understands that their journey is over because the prophecy of the Harpy Celenum about the “mensae” came true. Aeneas sends an embassy to king Latinus who welcomes the foreigners accepting their gifts and wedding the daughter Lavinia to Aeneas.
F. Bol, Aeneas at the court of King Latinus, oil on canvas, 1661
(Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum)
The clash with Rutuli people breaks out: god Tiberinus appears in a dream to Aeneas encouraging him to go up the river Tiber towards the city of Pallanteus in order to call for help Evandro, King of the Arcades. On the banks of the river Aeneas will find a white sow with 30 piglets which represent the years that will pass before Aschanius will found the city of Alba Longa. The profecy of the white sow comes true the morning after the dream and Aeneas sacrifices the animal with the piglets to the goddess Juno. Evandro receives Aeneas assuring him of his support and inviting him to go to the Etruscan city of Cerveteri, together with his son Pallante, in order to ask hlep against the Rutuli people. During the battle Pallante dies, murdered by Turnus; then Aeneas kills Mezensio and his son Lauso; finally the poem ends with the death of Turnus killed by Aeneas.

The Places and the History

The most ancient permanent settlement of Lavinium dating back to the Bronze Age and the early Iron Age, is situated on the small hill that later will become the acropolis of the city and in the modern age the village of Borgo di Pratica di Mare. As early as the 8th century B.C. the settlement starts to occupy the plateau below and its is defended by strong walls made by big fragment of cappellaccio. In VI century B.C. the city assumes a more “urban” appearance: the houses, consisting of several rooms, are disposed according to a regular asset; the defensive circuit is strengthen and reinforced with square blocks; from the east door, equipped with a defensive bastion, starts a road leading to the coast. Alongside this road is located the sanctuary of the 13 Altars and on the final facing the sea, is located the sanctuary of Sol Indiges.. In that same period, in the east hilly slopes is built the sanctuary dedicated the goddess Minerva. The south sanctuary represents one of the most important expressions of the archaic Latin culture. Apparently lacking of a temple building, the sanctuary comprehends 13 altars of tuff, built in an outdoor areas and all oriented to east. The altars were erected in a progressive way since the VI century B.C. when they become a complete sequence that in the IV century B.C. comprehended 12 altars, some of them later restored or rebuilt. At the end of II century B.C. the sanctuary was abandoned definitively. It could be noted that the construction of the altars is not the result of a unique project but of a slow process characterised by supplements and substitutions. Next the altars has been discovered a building of considerable size belonging to the archaic age and composed of several rooms of uncertain function but surely connected with the activities of the sanctuary. Even if we already know series of altars in Greece and Magna Graecia, the sequence of the altars of Lavinium represents an exceptional example. It was thought that every single altar could be dedicated to a different divinity: in the area were found several bronze leaves with different inscriptions: one to the goddess Cerere, one to the Dioskouroi. These bronze leaves should be placed on the part dedicated to the donors near the altars. However is probable that the sanctuary was open to the numerous and different Latin cities for a common cult.
The 13 Altars
This sacred area is connected with what is thought to be the heroon of Aeneas, the commemorative monument of the Trojan Hero.
Heroon of Aeneas: inner part of the tumulus
This is a burial mound, seen by Dionysus of Halicarnassus and described as the tomb of the common father of the Latins’ lineage (patèr chtònios) later identified with Aeneas. The burial mound went through three different construction phases: a the origins, in the middle of VII B.C., it contained an inhumation burial conserved in a stony case, probably the tomb of a king of the ancient settlement, buried with a rich funerary equipment and personal objects.
Reconstruction of the tomb (VII sec. B.C.) with the rich funerary equipment
Before the first half of the VI century B.C., in chronological concomitance with the construction of the oldest one of the altars, the tomb was violated for unknown religious purposes and as reparation offer two vases was collocated inside; one oinochoes in bucchero and a wine amphora.


Informazioni aggiuntive
Oinochoe in bucchero and wine amphora found in the Heroon of Aeneas (Archaeological Museum of Lavinium)
It is probable that already in this age, the person buried in this tomb was identified with the Pater Indiges, the Progenitor, important and ancestral local Latin divinity, linked with the river Numico. Finally, at the end of IV century B.C., immediately after the Latin war of 338 and the special alliance with Rome which recognised Lavinium as the home of Penates (Trojans), the ancient tumulus received a different monumental accommodation with an open entrance (pronao) and an inaccessible cell closed by a stone door with two wings.
The monumental door of the Heroon of Aeneas exposed to the Municipal Archaeological Museum of Lavinium.
With this modification the tumulus assumed the appearance of the heroic tumulus of the Troas region and the regal tumulus of the Macedons: this is the evidence that the founder king of Lavinium, buried in the most ancient stony case tomb, was considered as the Pater Indiges, as Aeneas, progenitors of the Romans and of the “nomen Latinum”.
Reconstruction of the Heroon of Aeneas.
For this reason, Lavinium will be always considered as the place of the origins for the roman population: in concomitance with the phase of great develop and growth of the city of Rome It was politically useful to build a mythical lineage from Aeneas, the son of the goddess Venus, honoured for his ability to obey to the gods. The Trojan lineage of Rome underlined the alterity between Romans and Greeks but in an equal relationship of loyalty and trust, a boundary between peoples respecting human and divine laws, hospitality and pacts. Consequently became widespread the tradition according to which Romulus, founder of Rome, has his origins in the lineage of Aeneas as he was descending from the kings of Alba Longa. On the Ara Pacis, the monument erected by the Emperor Augustus, the Trojan hero and Ascanius are depicted in the act of making a sacrifice for the Penates after their arrival to Lavinium.
Ara Pacis (Roma): Aeneas, with his head covered, making a sacrifice after his arrival to Lavinium; in front of him Ascanius and at the top left the temple of Penates brought from Troy.
The other extra-urban sanctuary was dedicated to Minerva, the Iliac Minerva linked to the Trojan legend. Since now monumental sacred buildings have not been found, however the sanctuary returned extraordinary remains like a hundred terracotta statues dated back to the early V century and the end of III century B.C. These statues are mainly symbolic representations of the devotees or statues of the divinity, like the Palladium, the reproduction in terracotta of the ancient image of wood of Minerva protecting the city of Troy since its foundation. The goddess, in her warrior appearance is sword-wielding, with helm, shield and a Triton (half man and half fish) on her side. This last element allows us to recognise the Minerva Tritonia, venerated also in Greece and in Boeotia and mentioned also by Virgil in the Aeneid (XI, 483): “armipotens, praeses belli, Tritonia virgo”.
Little terracotta statue depicting the Palladium from to the sanctuary of Minerva
Terracotta statue of Minerva Tritonia (V century B.C.)
Just outside the walls, along the road for Ardea, a burial chamber, was found. Originally incorporated in a tumulus, It contained 4 burials: the most ancient deposed in a urn and the other ones in a sarcophagus dated back to VI-V century b.C., with extraordinary objects of funeral equipment among which an amphora in bucchero with an Etruscan inscription. The position of the sepulchre, just outside the most important door of the city, the type of the tumulus and the extraordinary quality of the funeral equipment indicate that the tomb should belong to an important family of the city where only the most eminent members were buried during the years. The digging investigations realised in the urban area returner some structures dated back to the middle and late Republican age (IV-II century B.C.): houses and laboratories for the production of ceramic, a sector of the Forum, with a temple and a building identified as the Curia. During the Imperial Age, the square was surrounded by arcades and it was enriched by a sacellum (chapel) dedicated to the goddess Isis, a fountain and an “Augusteus”, a place dedicated to the imperial cult, considering the magnificent portraits of Augustus, Tiberius and Claudius found there. In II century B.C. a huge building with porch that was used as headquarter of the College of Dendrofori and two thermal baths were built. One of the thermal baths was finely decorated and later restored by Emperor Constantine and Licinius between 313 and 316 A.D. as documented by a monumental inscription.
West thermal baths of Lavinium: architrave with the inscription that recalls the restauration of the building by Emperors Constantine and Licinius.
(archivio Soprintendenza sabap-rm-met)

Learn more:

F. Castagnoli, Lavinium I. Topografia generale, fonti, storia delle ricerche, Roma 1972
F. Castagnoli, Lavinium II. Le tredici are, Roma 1975
Enea nel Lazio, archeologia e mito, catalogo della mostra, Roma 1981
F. Zevi, “Note sulla leggenda di Enea in Italia”, in Gli Etruschi e Roma, Atti dell’incontro di studi in onore di Massimo Pallottino (Roma 1979), Roma 1981, Roma pp. 145-158
A.M. Jaia, “1995-2015. Sessant’anni della missione archeologica della “Sapienza” a Lavinium”, in Giornata di studio per il decimo anniversario dell’istituzione del Museo Archeologico “Lavinium”. Ferdinando Castagnoli: dalla ricerca archeologica nel Lazio arcaico alla valorizzazione del territorio, Roma 2017, pp. 17-25

La città è strettamente legata al racconto del mitico viaggio di Enea, cantato da Virgilio nell’Eneide, come punto di arrivo dell’eroe troiano sulle coste laziali.
Secondo la tradizione ripresa da Virgilio, infatti, appena sbarcato Enea fece il primo sacrificio, in un luogo presso il fiume Numico (oggi Fosso di Pratica: Numico_1), dove poi sarebbe sorto un santuario dedicato a Sol Indiges. Inseguendo una scrofa bianca gravida, l’eroe percorse una distanza di 24 stadi: qui la scrofa partorì trenta piccoli e il prodigio offrì ad Enea un segno della volontà degli dei di fermarsi e fondare una nuova città. L’eroe incontrò Latino, il re della locale popolazione degli Aborigeni, il quale, dopo aver consultato un oracolo, capì che i nuovi arrivati non dovevano essere considerati degli invasori, ma come uomini amici da accogliere. Enea sposò dunque la figlia di Latino, Lavinia, e fondò la città di Lavinium, celebrando la nascita di un nuovo popolo, nato dalla fusione tra Troiani e Aborigeni: il popolo dei Latini. Il mito racconta che Enea non morì, ma scomparve in modo prodigioso tra le acque del fiume Numico e da questo evento fu onorato come Padre Indiges: Il padre capostipite.

La piazza pubblica della città aveva una pianta rettangolare, ornata sui lati lunghi da portici, su cui si aprivano diversi edifici: uno di questi aveva forse la funzione di “Augusteo”, luogo dedicato al culto imperiale, come sembra indicare il ritrovamento di splendidi ritratti degli imperatori Augusto, Tiberio e Claudio. Sul lato corto occidentale si affacciavano un edificio elevato su un podio, forse la Curia (luogo di riunione del governo locale), e un tempio, risalente ad età repubblicana.

Il santuario, situato ad est della città antica, era dedicato alla dea Minerva, che a Lavinium è dea guerriera, ma anche protettrice dei matrimoni e delle nascite. È stato trovato un enorme scarico di materiale votivo databile tra la fine del VII e gli inizi del III sec. a.C., costituito soprattutto da numerose statue in terracotta raffiguranti soprattutto offerenti, sia maschili che femminili, alcune a grandezza naturale, che donano alla divinità melograni, conigli, colombe, uova e soprattutto giocattoli: le offerte simboleggiano l’abbandono della fanciullezza e il passaggio all’età adulta attraverso il matrimonio

Eccezionale il ritrovamento di una statua della dea, armata di spada, elmo e scudo e affiancata da un Tritone, essere metà umano e metà pesce: questo elemento permettere di riconoscere nella raffigurazione la Minerva Tritonia venerata anche in Grecia, in Beozia, e ricordata da Viirgilio nell’Eneide (XI, 483): “armipotens, praeses belli, Tritonia virgo” (O dea della guerra, potente nelle armi, o vergine tritonia…)

Il culto del santuario meridionale nasce in età arcaica ed era caratterizzato da libagioni. Nella fase finale il culto si trasforma invece verso la richiesta di salute e guarigione, documentato dalle numerose offerte di ex voto anatomici. Sono state trovate iscrizioni di dedica che ricordano
Castore e Polluce (i Dioscuri) e la dea Cerere. La molteplicità degli altari e delle dediche è stata interpretata come testimonianza del carattere federale del culto, quindi legato al popolo latino nel suo insieme: ogni altare potrebbe forse rappresentare una delle città latine aderenti alla Lega Latina, confederazione che riuniva molte città del Latium Vetus, alleatesi per contrastare il predominio di Roma.

Dionigi di Alicarnasso, vissuto sotto il principato di Augusto, afferma di aver visto in questo luogo, ancora al suo tempo, nel I sec. a.C., due altari, il tempio dove erano stati posti gli dèi Penati portati da Troia e la tomba di Enea circondata da alberi: «Si tratta di un piccolo tumulo, intorno al quale sono stati posti file regolari di alberi, che vale la pena di vedere» (Ant. Rom. I, 64, 5)

Lavinium fu considerata anche il luogo delle origini del popolo romano: all’immagine di Roma nel momento della sua espansione e della crescita del suo potere era utile costruire una discendenza mitica da Enea, figlio di Venere, onorato per le sue virtù, per la capacità di assecondare gli dèi; di conseguenza si affermò anche la tradizione per la quale Romolo, il fondatore di Roma, aveva le sue origini, dopo quattro secoli, dalla medesima stirpe di Enea.
Secondo questa tradizione Ascanio Iulo, il figlio di Enea, aveva fondato Alba Longa, città posta presso l’attuale Albano, dando l’avvio a una dinastia, che serviva per colmare i quattrocento anni che separano le vicende di Enea (XII sec. a.C.) dalla fondazione di Roma (VIII se. a.C.), quando, dalla stessa stirpe, nacquero i gemelli Romolo e Remo, secondo la tradizione allattati da una lupa. Questi erano dunque i nipoti del re di Alba Longa. La madre era Rea Silvia e il padre il dio Marte. Romolo uccise Remo e poi fondò Roma nel 753 a.C. Lavinium diventava così la città sacra dei Romani, dove avevano sede i “sacri princìpi del popolo romano”.

Il Borgo sorge su una altura occupata nell’antichità dall’acropoli di Lavinium. In età imperiale vi sorge una domus, testimoniata da pavimenti in mosaico in bianco e nero (Borgo_1). Una civitas Pratica è ricordata per la prima volta in un documento del 1061, mentre nell’epoca successiva si parla di un castrum che fu di proprietà del Monastero di San Paolo fino al 1442. La Tenuta di Pratica di Mare, comprendente anche il Borgo, allora definito “Castello” (Borgo_2), divenne poi proprietà della famiglia Massimi e in seguito fu acquistata nel 1617 dai Borghese. Il principe Giovan Battista, nel tentativo di valorizzare il territorio con l’agricoltura, ristrutturò il villaggio nella forma che ancora oggi rimane, caratteristica per la sua pianta ortogonale e la sua unitarietà. Dalla metà dell’Ottocento la malaria, che devastava la campagna romana, causò lo spopolamento del borgo, finché Camillo Borghese dal 1880 si impegnò nell’opera di ricolonizzazione, restaurando il palazzo e intervenendo con una importante opera di riassetto della tenuta, dove fu impiantata una singolare vigna a pianta esagonale. Il Borgo e la tenuta rappresentano una preziosa area monumentale e agricola ancora intatta all’interno della zona degradata di Pomezia e Torvaianica.


According to the narration provided by ancient authors, the ancient settlement of Lavinium was founded by Aeneas, arrived to the shores of Latium after his escape from the city of Troy and a long journey through the Mediterranean Sea. The archaeological area with the sanctuary of 13 altars (VI-IV century B.C.), the huge tumulus which was probably the heroon of Aeneas –the symbolic burial site of the divinized Trojan hero- and the extraordinary remains today exposed in the Municipal Archaeological Museum, represent the most important elements of the myth linked to the foundation of the city by the Trojan hero. The myth itself contributed to make Lavinium the origin place of Roman people when the tradition of the direct lineage of Romulus, the founder of Rome, with Aeneas became widespread. In fact, Romulus descended from the kings of Alba Longa, the city founded by Ascanius, the son of Aeneas.


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