National Geographic : 1946 Nov
Before Rome Was Founded WRITTEN descriptions of the lake side communities which existed in central Italy in the centuries be fore the founding of Rome are lack ing; yet archeological investigations have made possible the assembly of a picture of this early life. The village here illustrated is set on the banks of the water-filled crater of a recently extinct volcano, similar to those which rise 1,000 to 3,000 feet in the Alban Hills and form the horizon to the gently rolling country of the Campagna southeast of the site of Rome. Since such a lake would abound in fish and eels and there would be game throughout the wooded slopes, most of the men are shown as fishers and hunters, but an armed warrior suggests that this seemingly idyllic life was not unvexed by quarrels with neighboring clans. The women, doing, as always in the times portrayed, much of the heavy work, are the water carriers. The houses are of plastered mud, roofed with thatch on rudely cut timbers. Huts like these are still made by the fisherfolk inhabiting the lagoons at the head of the Adriatic; and by study of contemporary exam ples it is possible to give a realistic interpretation to the tiny clay models of huts which early inhabitants of Italy often put in graves. During the so-called Early Iron Age, approximately a thousand years before Christ, it was the custom for relatives to preserve the ashes of their dead in a house-shaped receptacle made of baked clay, like a pot or urn. They buried this intended habitation for the dead person's soul in the earth along with weapons for war and for hunting and with painted jars for food and drink. Such burials un covered in modern times have re- vealed how the early Latin people were armed in war, what tools they used in their struggle to fell the forest trees and make their clearings for villages, and how they used sap lings and reeds for their dwellings. Their boats must have been dug outs; and since they understood bas ket making, they had probably al ready devised weirs for catching fish. At this period in Italy communities were small and widely scattered. There were as yet no proper roads, and nothing was manufactured on which commerce could prosper, though gold and silver were prized and worked with considerable skill and bronze had long been used for tools and weapons. Iron, because it was much more difficult to reduce from its ore and had to be worked on the anvil and tempered, was slower coming into use. Where these people originated, how they reached Italy, whence they derived their knowledge of animal husbandry, agriculture, and metal lurgy are all questions for disagree ment among the experts. But a dominant element in this pre-Roman population of Italy must have come out of Europe-over the Brenner Pass from Bavaria or out of the Danube Basin by way of Trieste since it imposed and transmitted a legacy of European speech over a considerable portion of the long, nar row Italian peninsula. Oscan, Umbrian, Volscian, Falis can, which survive only in brief frag mentary documents, were all a funda mentally identical tongue. Above this the stately Latin of the Romans was one day to tower as the ruling lan guage of all the western world, the source of modern Italian, Spanish, French, and Romanian.