Ferdinand Gregorovius, a German historian best known for his studies on medieval Rome, spent the summer of 1856 at Genazzano; from there he decided to visit some of the nearby towns e.g. Anagni, Ferentino and Alatri to see their ancient walls and medieval monuments.
Gregorovius described this journeys in accounts written for a
The Labican Road, leading to Genazzano, and the Via Praenestina, both start from the Porta Maggiore in Rome. Picture to yourself that great Roman road which, of old, joining the Via Latina below Anagni, proceeded to cross the river Liris at Ceprano (the ancient Fregellae) after traversing the valley of the Sacco (aka as Ciociaria) as it went south. (..) These Ciociari wear long, fiery red waistcoats, and black, peaked felt hats, which are seldom without either a smart feather or bunch of bright flowers. I found amongst them, as elsewhere in the Campagna, a pleasing mixture of fair-haired, blue-eyed folk. They crop their hair short at the back, leaving two long locks to fall down, one on each side of the face, from the temples. Fling a shabby grey waterproof or a white or black sheep-skin about the Ciociario, and behold your "Sandal-man" fully equipped. But we won't give him a gun in his hand, lest he fall upon us in the Pass of Ceprano, crying out "Faccia in terra," (Face to the ground) and forthwith our pockets will be emptied with astounding dexterity. Gregorovius - transl. by Dorothea Roberts
See some brigands of Ciociaria and their ciocie (sandals) in an etching by Bartolomeo Pinelli.
Museum of Ceprano: prehistoric exhibits: (left) cast of a skull cap, accidentally unearthed in a highway construction project in 1994 near Ceprano; (right) bone of Palaeoloxodon antiquus (Straight-tusked elephant) accidentally discovered near Ceprano in 2022
"Argil", the Man of Ceprano, is most likely about 450,000 years old; its cranial features are intermediate between those of Homo Erectus and Homo Neanderthalensis of whom evidence was found on Mount Circeo.
Bones of another straight-tusked elephant were found in 1932 during excavations of the gardens of Palazzo Rivaldi in the very centre of Rome. The abundance of water near Ceprano created marshlands which favoured the development of great mammals. You may wish to see a diorama of prehistoric Latium at Museo Civico di Zoologia in Rome.
(left) Town Hall with the coat of arms of Ceprano showing three medieval towers and an ancient bridge on the River Liri; (right) the only remaining tower
Ceprano (Locanda Trani, a large house with a civil landlord, and on the whole very tolerable as a resting place). This is the frontier town of the Papal States, and passports must be visée by the proper authorities before leaving it. The river Liris is the boundary of the two states. Soon after crossing it, by a bridge built by Pius VI. on the foundations of one of Roman times, passports are demanded and signed at the office of the Neapolitan police. (..) The Liris rises in Abruzzo and flows through the Val di Roveto, to Ceprano, on the Papal frontier. It there unites with the Sacco. It flows thence to the sea, under the name of the Garigliano, falling into the Bay of Gaeta, near the site of ancient Minturnae, at the distance of about 60 miles from its source. (..) The Count of Caserta, Manfred's brother-in-law who was left at Ceprano to defend the passage of the Garigliano, retired at the approach of Charles, and the strong fortress of Rocca d'Arce was carried by storm. These events are immortalised by Dante in the Inferno (XXVIII): "Il cui ossame si accoglie A Ceperan, la, dove fu bugiardo Ciascun Pugliese." (Whose bones are still heaped at Ceperano, where
all the Apulians turned traitor. Transl. by A. S. Kline).
Murray Handbook for travellers in Southern Italy - 1853
On my return the Roman officials were much more liberal. I had then, besides the six books bestowed upon me by Dom Luigi Tosti, all the materials collected at Monte Cassino. When I displayed all this dangerous matter in the custom-house at Ceprano, the Roman officer, glancing at it, said, with true Roman gentilezza, "Passate pure, Signore." Gregorovius
Tuesday, November 9, 1790. I continued my journey to Ceprano, a small but populous city, belonging to the Pope; having passed the boundary of the Papal and Neapolitan territories on this side of Isoletta. Ceprano is supposed to occupy the site of the ancient Fregellae, mentioned as a station on the Via Latina; but I could find no inscription, or other monument of antiquity, to attest its origin.
Richard Colt Hoare - A classical tour through Italy and Sicily - 1819
Ceprano, similar to nearby Ceccano, was founded in the Early Middle Ages when most of the ancient settlements in the valleys and plains of Italy were abandoned in favour of small fortified towns at the top of hills, or otherwise protected by ravines and rivers. Modern Ceprano does not retain any significant traces of its historical past because in 1943-1944 it was heavily bombed by the Allies to stop supplies to the German troops at Montecassino.
Museum of Ceprano: terracotta relief most likely portraying a personification of Rome between two victories which was found in a house of modern Ceprano
Fregellae was made a Roman colony in the year of Rome 426, and 327 years before Christ, under the consulate of P. Plautius Proculus and P. Cornelius Scapula. According to Strabo*, it was afterwards demolished by the Romans themselves. This induced another classic writer to exclaim.
"O perfidiosae Fregellae! quam facile scelere vestro contabuistis! at cujus nitor urbis Italiam nuper illustravit, ejus nunc vix fundamentorum reliquiae maneant!"(Perfidious Fregellae, how quickly, because of your crime, you have wasted away! As a result, of the city whose brilliance but yesterday irradiated Italy, scarce the debris of the foundations now remains. - Cicero - Ad Herennium - Loeb Edition).
Richard Colt Hoare
* Fregellae, though now a village, was formerly a considerable city, and the chief of the surrounding places we have just named. Even now their inhabitants throng to it on market days, and for the performance of certain religious solemnities. Its defection from the Romans was the cause of its ruin.
Strabo - Geography V 3 10 - translation by H.C. Hamilton, Esq., W. Falconer, M.A.
Museum of Ceprano: floor mosaics from houses of Fregellae: (left) a "cocciopesto" mosaic similar to those found at Paestum, in Sicily and in Tunisia; its decorative motif can be seen also in many later Roman mosaics, e.g. at Villa dei Volusii; (right) one of the earliest examples of Roman coloured floor mosaics
Fregellae was founded by the Romans on the left bank of the River Liri a couple of miles east of Ceprano which is on the right bank of the river. In the 1980s archaeological surface explorations and excavation campaigns under the supervision of Prof. Filippo Coarelli identified the site of the whole town and unearthed some houses and public buildings in addition to a temple to Aesculapius immediately outside the town. A small museum in the Town Hall of Ceprano displays a selection of the archaeological findings, mainly terracotta decorative panels, fragments of statues or small objects.
Museum of Ceprano: (left) stone altar from the Temple to Aesculapius; (right-above) inscription on the altar: F AISC(OL)AP; (right-middle) painted tufa lintel of the temple with evidence of triglyphs; (right-below) painted wall from the temple (first Pompeian style)
The Roman expansion southwards was accomplished in the Liri valley through the establishment of this colony despite of a pact with the Samnites in 354 BC which had limited the area of Roman influence to the right bank of the River Liri. After a short period spent under the rule of the Samnites who had defeated the Romans at the battle of the Forche Caudine, Fregellae was rebuilt in 312. In this way the Romans established a closer control over the Liri Valley and extended Via Latina until Capua. Livy and other Roman historians report events which show the importance reached by Fregellae in the following decades, e.g. the town acted as speaker for the colonies which were faithful to Rome in the war against Hannibal, the request to live in town by two hundred noble Carthaginian hostages in the aftermath of the Battle of Zama (202 BC) which was accepted by the Senate, the existence of a cavalry squad (turma fregellana) formed by forty noble Fregellans who were the bodyguard of the consul in at least two important battles.
Museum of Ceprano: ex-votos from the Temple to Aesculapius: (left) male and female sexes; (right) internal organs of the thorax. The image used as background for this page shows another ex-voto; see a selection of ex-votos from a shrine to Minerva in Rome
The most important change which occurred during the short lifespan of the town is the great number of immigrants coming from the surrounding regions who were attracted by its prosperous economy. According to Livy in the year 177 BC as many as four thousand Samnites and Peligni had moved to Fregellae. This led to a massive "deromanization" of the town. During the Gracchi crisis, Fregellae stood in the front line in the fight for Roman citizenship which would allow thousands of immigrants to integrate more easily by taking advantage of the free distribution of public land reserved to Roman citizens. In 125 BC a bill granting Roman citizenship to Latins was rejected by the Senate. This caused the rebellion of Fregellae which was quelled by the Roman army. The urban area of the town was destroyed and salt was thrown on its ruins to mean that nothing could ever spring again from that land, similar to what had occurred at Carthage.
Museum of Ceprano: panels which decorated the Temple to Aesculapius: (left) a winged Attis; (right-above) a typical Roman gargoyle (see that of the Temple to the Sun at Baalbek); (right-below) floral motifs
The importance of the findings at Fregellae lies in their providing archaeologists and art historians with evidence of the decorations of a IInd century BC Roman town which was untouched by later developments. In a way Fregellae is similar to Pompeii which provides a picture of a Roman town of 79 AD. The buildings of Fregellae were destroyed and the urban area was eventually farmed, but fragments of their rich terracotta decoration were found in great numbers.
It is likely that the Temple to Aesculapius was initially dedicated to Salus (Health/Welfare) an early Roman goddess (see a statue of Salus Frugifera at a shrine at Lucus Feroniae, north of Rome).
The terracotta statue of a chariot is part of the sima, the decoration of the upper part of an Etruscan temple (see a Vth century BC example at Arezzo). This type of decoration was adopted by the Romans (see a IInd century BC Temple to Mars) and by the inhabitants of Palestrina.
The Temple to Aesculapius stood at the centre of a portico at the top of a series of terraces, a design which can still be seen in the large Asklepeion of Kos. In general the fragments of its decoration are dated IInd century BC, i.e. shortly before the destruction of Fregellae.
Museum of Ceprano: Ellenistic small telamons from the baths
Near the Forum excavations unearthed the ruins of a thermal building which is divided into two sectors, probably one for women and one for men. Within it are the remains of the furnace and evidence of the raised floor (hypocaust) and of the round clay tubes (tubuli) through which the hot air heated the walls (see the heating system of Terme di Nettuno at Ostia). The decoration was based on many small painted terracotta telamons. They depict satyrs but two different series were found.
Museum of Ceprano: telamons depicting old satyrs from the baths; they call to mind statues of Marsyas
In one series the satyrs have beastly features (see a statue of Pan, a lustful satyr), in the other one their monstrous nature is noticeable only because of their long ears.
Museum of Ceprano: works by Thvma from the Temple of the Forum; in origin they were all painted
The excavations by Coarelli in 1991-1992 explored the area of the Forum which had undergone extensive agricultural exploitation so that only the foundations of its buildings could be found. One of them was a podium temple with a single cella, facing WSW and situated along the decumanus, the main east-west street of Fregellae. The structure is dated from the architectural terracottas which show two phases: the first in the late IVth century and the second early in the IInd, with some later pieces dating towards the end of that century, all consistent with the colony's foundation and destruction. According to Coarelli, the temple was most likely dedicated to Concordia, though the fragments of the cult statue are not enough for a certain identification. The finest fragments of the decoration suggest the existence of a local workshop, with the likelihood of the presence of Greek artists, one of whom (THVMA) left a partial inscription.
Museum of Ceprano: details of the small statues by THVMA which include the head of a panther (a symbol of Dionysus) and the head of Medusa on a Roman armour (see two armours of IInd century AD emperors)
Given the size of the temple, archaeologists believe it was decorated by two separate scenes, one each for front (Dionysiac) and back (military, perhaps inspired by Rome's victory over Antiochus III in 187).
Introductory page on Ferdinand Gregorovius
Other pages on this walk: Ferentino, Alatri, Frosinone, Ceccano, Fiuggi (Anticoli di Campagna) and Piglio and Acuto
The Roman Campagna: Colonna and Zagarolo, Palestrina, Cave, Genazzano, Olevano, Paliano and Anagni
The Volsci Mountains: Valmontone and Montefortino, Segni, Carpineto, Norma and Cori
On the Latin shores: Anzio and Nettuno and Torre Astura plus An Excursion to Ardea and An Excursion to Lavinium (Pratica di Mare)
Circe's Cape: Terracina and San Felice
The Orsini Castle in Bracciano
Subiaco, the oldest Benedictine monastery
Small towns near Subiaco: Cervara, Rocca Canterano, Trevi and Filettino.