Book V, Chapter 1
The Fifth Book contains a description of Italy from the roots of the Alps to the Strait of Sicily, the Gulf of Taranto, and the region about Posidonium; likewise of Venetia, Liguria, Agro Piceno, Tuscany, Rome, Campania, Lucania, Apulia, and the islands lying in the sea between Genoa and Sicily.
1. After the foothills of the Alps comes the beginning of what is now Italy. For the ancients used to call only Oenotria Italy, although it extended from the Strait of Sicily only as far as the Gulfs of Tarentum [Taranto] and Poseidonia,  but the name of Italy prevailed and advanced even as far as the foothills of the Alps, and also took in, not only those parts of Ligustica  which extend from the boundaries of Tyrrhenia as far as the Varus River and the sea there, but also those parts of Istria which extend as far as Pola. One might guess that it was because of their prosperity that the people who were the first to be named Italians imparted the name to the neighbouring peoples, and then received further increments in this way until the time of the Roman conquest. At some late time or other after the Romans had shared with the Italiotes the equality of civil rights, they decided to allow the same honour both to the Cisalpine Galatae  and to the Heneti,  and to call all of them Italiotes as well as Romans, and, further, to send forth many colonies amongst them, some earlier and some later, than which it is not easy to call any other set of colonies better.
2. Now it is not easy geometrically to outline what is now Italy, as a whole, by means of a single figure, and yet they  say it is a triangular promontory extending towards the south and the winter-risings of the sun, with its vertex at the Strait of Sicily, and with the Alps as its base. I must concede also  one of the sides, namely, that which ends at the strait and is washed by the Tyrrhenian Sea. But "triangle" is the specific name for the rectilinear figure, whereas in this case both the base and the side are curved, so that, if I say "I must concede," I must put down both the base and the side as belonging to a curved-line figure, and I must concede also the slant of this side, namely, the slant towards the risings.  But as for the rest of the description given by these writers, it is inadequate, because they have assumed only a single side extending from the recess of the Adriatic to the strait; for by "side" we mean the line that has no angle, and a line has no angle when its parts either do not converge towards one another or else not much. But the line from Ariminum  to the Iapygian Cape  and that from the strait to the same cape converge very much. And the same holds true, I think, with the line from the recess of the Adriatic and that from Iapygia; for, meeting in the regions round about Ariminum and Ravenna, they form an angle, or, if not an angle, at least a considerable curve. Hence this stretch might perhaps be one side (I mean the coasting-voyage from the recess to Iapygia), though the side would not be straight; and the rest of the stretch, thence to the strait, might suggest another side, though this side would not be straight, either. In this sense one might call the figure "four-sided" rather than "three-sided," but in no sense whatever a "triangle," except by an abuse of the term. It is better, however, to confess that the representation of non-geometrical figures is not easy to describe.
3. Taking the parts severally, however, we can speak as follows: as for the Alps, their base is curved and gulf-like, with the cavities turned towards Italy; the central parts of the gulf are near the Salassi, while the extremities take a turn, the one as far as Ocra  and the recess of the Adriatic, the other to the Ligurian seaboard as far as Genua (the emporium of the Ligures), where the Apennine Mountains join the Alps. But immediately at the base of the Alps there lies a considerable plain, with its length and its breadth about equal, namely, two thousand one hundred stadia; its southern side is shut in both by the seaboard of the Heneti and by those Apennine Mountains which reach down to the neighbourhood of Ariminum and Ancona; for these mountains, after beginning in Liguria, enter Tyrrhenia, leaving only a narrow seaboard, and then, withdrawing into the interior little by little, when they come to be opposite the territory of Pisa, bend towards the east and towards the Adriatic until they reach the regions round about Ariminum and Ancona, there joining in a straight line the seaboard of the Heneti. Cisalpine Celtica, accordingly, is shut in by these boundaries; and although the length of the seaboard, together with that of the mountains, is as much as six thousand three hundred stadia,  the breadth is slightly less than one thousand. The remainder of Italy, however, is narrow and elongated, terminating in two heads, one at the Sicilian Strait and the other at Iapygia; and it is pinched in on both sides, on one by the Adriatic and on the other by the Tyrrhenian Sea. The shape and the size of the Adriatic are like that part of Italy which is marked off by the Apennine Mountains and by both seas as far as Iapygia and that isthmus which is between the Gulfs of Tarentum and Poseidonia; for the maximum breadth of each is about one thousand three hundred stadia, and the length not much less than six thousand. The remainder of Italy, however, is all the country occupied by the Brettii and certain of the Leucani. Polybius  says that, if you go by foot, the seaboard from Iapygia to the strait is as much as three thousand stadia, and that it is washed by the Sicilian Sea, but that, if you go by sea, it is as much as five hundred stadia short of that. The Apennine Mountains, after joining the regions round about Ariminum and Ancona, that is, after marking off the breadth of Italy there from sea to sea, again take a turn, and cut the whole country lengthwise. As far, then, as the territory of the Peucetii and that of the Leucani they do not recede much from the Adriatic, but after joining the territory of the Leucani they bend off more towards the other sea and then, for the rest of the way, passing throughout the centre of the territory of the Leucani and Brettii, end at what is called Leucopetra  in the district of Rhegium. Thus much, then, I have said about what is now Italy, as a whole, in a merely rough-outline way, but I shall now go back and try to tell about the several parts in detail; and first about the parts at the base of the Alps.
4. This country is a plain that is very rich in soil and diversified by fruitful hills. The plain is divided almost at its very centre by the Padus; and its parts are called, the one Cispadana, the other Transpadana.  Cispadana is all the part that lies next to the Apennine Mountains and Liguria, while Transpadana is the rest. The latter is inhabited by the Ligurian and the Celtic tribes, who live partly in the mountains, partly in the plains, whereas the former is inhabited by the Celti and Heneti. Now these Celti are indeed of the same race as the Transalpine Celti, but concerning the Heneti there are two different accounts: Some say that the Heneti too are colonists of those Celti of like name  who live on the ocean-coast; while others say that certain of the Heneti of Paphlagonia  escaped hither with Antenor from the Trojan war, and, as testimony in this, adduce their devotion to the breeding of horses — a devotion which now, indeed, has wholly disappeared, although formerly it was prized among them, from the fact of their ancient rivalry in the matter of producing mares for mule-breeding. Homer, too, recalls this fact: "From the land of the Heneti, whence the breed of the wild mules." Again, Dionysius,  the tyrant of Sicily, collected his stud of prize-horses from here, and consequently not only did the fame of the Henetian foal-breeding reach the Greeks but the breed itself was held in high esteem by them for a long time.
5. Now this whole country is filled with rivers and marshes, but particularly the part that belongs to the Heneti. And this part, furthermore, is also affected by the behaviour of the sea; for here are almost the only parts of Our Sea that behave like the ocean, and both the ebb-tides and the flood-tides produced here are similar to those of the ocean, since by them the greater part of the plain is made full of lagoons. But, like what is called Lower Egypt, it has been intersected by channels and dikes; and while some parts have been relieved by drainage and are being tilled, others afford voyages across their waters. Of the cities here, some are wholly island, while others are only partly surrounded by water. As for all the cities that are situated above the marshes in the interior, the inland voyages afforded thereto by the rivers are wonderful, but particularly by the Padus; for not only is it the largest of these rivers but it is oftentimes filled by both the rains and the snow, although, as the result of separating into many streams near the outlets, the mouth is choked with mud and hard to enter. But even the greatest difficulties are overcome by experience.
6. In early times, then, as I was saying,  the country round about the Padus was inhabited for the most part by the Celti. And the largest tribes of the Celti were the Boii, the Insubri, and those Senones who, along with the Gaezatae, once seized the territory of the Romans at the first assault. These two peoples, it is true, were utterly destroyed by the Romans later on, but the Boii were merely driven out of the regions they occupied; and after migrating to the regions round about the Ister, lived with the Taurisci, and carried on war against the Daci until they perished, tribe and all — and thus they left their country, which was a part of Illyria, to their neighbours as a pasture-ground for sheep. The Insubri, however, are still in existence. They had as metropolis Mediolanium, which, though long ago only a village (for they all used to dwell only in villages), is now a notable city; it is across the Padus, and almost adjoins the Alps. Near by  is Verona also (this, too, a large city), and, smaller than these two, the cities of Brixia, Mantua, Regium,  and Comum. Comum used to be only a moderate-sized settlement, but, after its ill treatment by the Rhaeti who are situated above it, Pompey Strabo, father of Pompey the Great, settled a Roman colony there; then Gaius Scipio added three thousand colonists; then the Deified Caesar further settled it with five thousand, among whom the five hundred Greeks were the most notable; and to these latter he not only gave the rights of citizenship but also enrolled them among the colonists. The Greeks did not, however, take up their abode there, though they at least left to the settlement the name; for the colonists were, as a whole, called "Neo-Comitae" — that is, if interpreted in Latin, "Novum Comum." Near this place is what is called Lake Larius; it is fed by the River Addua. The river then issues forth from the lake into the Padus; it has its original sources, however, in Mount Adula, in which also the Rhenus has its sources.
7. These cities, then, are situated considerably above the marshes; and near them is Patavium, the best of all the cities in that part of the country, since this city by recent census,  so it is said, had five hundred knights, and, besides, in ancient times used to send forth an army of one hundred and twenty thousand. And the quantities of manufactured goods which Patavium sends to Rome to market — clothing of all sorts and many other things — show what a goodly store of men it has and how skilled they are in the arts. Patavium offers an inland voyage from the sea by a river which runs through the marshes, two hundred and fifty stadia from a large harbour; the harbour, like the river, is called Medoacus. The largest city in the marshes, however, is Ravenna, a city built entirely of wood  and coursed by rivers, and it is provided with thoroughfares by means of bridges and ferries. At the tides the city receives no small portion of the sea, so that, since the filth is all washed out by these as well as the rivers, the city is relieved of foul air. At any rate, the place has been found to be so healthful that the rulers have given orders to feed and train the gladiators there. Now this is indeed one of the marvellous things at Ravenna, I mean the fact that the air in a marsh is harmless (compare the Egyptian Alexandria, where, in summer, the lake  loses its baneful qualities by reason of the overflow of the Nile and the disappearance of the standing waters), but the behaviour of the vine is also a thing fit to marvel at; for although the marshes support it and make it fruit quickly and in great quantities, it dies within four or five years. Altinum too is in a marsh, for the portion it occupies is similar to that of Ravenna. Between the two cities is Butrium, a town belonging to Ravenna, and also Spina, which though now only a small village, long ago was a Greek city of repute.[a] At any rate, a treasury  of the Spinitae is to be seen at Delphi; and everything else that history tells about them shows that they were once masters of the sea. Moreover, it is said that Spina was once situated by the sea, although at the present time the place is in the interior, about ninety stadia distant from the sea. Furthermore, it has been said that Ravenna was founded by the Thessalians; but since they could not bear the wanton outrages of the Tyrrhenians, they voluntarily took in some of the Ombrici,  which latter still now hold the city, whereas the Thessalians themselves returned home. These cities, then, are for the most part surrounded by the marshes, and hence subject to inundations.
8. But Opitergium, Concordia, Atria, Vicetia, and other small towns like them are less hemmed in by the marshes, though they are connected with the sea by small waterways. It is said that Atria was once an illustrious city, and that the Adriatic  Gulf got its name therefrom, with only a slight change in the spelling.  Aquileia, which is nearest of all to the recess of the Gulf, was founded by the Romans as a fortress against the barbarians who were situated above it; and there is an inland voyage thither for merchant-vessels, by way of the River Natiso, for a distance of more than sixty stadia. Aquileia has been given over as an emporium for those tribes of the Illyrians that live near the Ister;  the latter load on wagons and carry inland the products of the sea, and wine stored in wooden jars,  and also olive-oil, whereas the former  get in exchange slaves, cattle, and hides. But Aquileia is outside the boundaries of the Heneti. The boundary between the two peoples is marked by a river flowing from the Alps,  which affords an inland voyage of as much as twelve hundred stadia to the city of Noreia,  near which Gnaeus Carbo clashed to no effect with the Cimbri.  This region has places that are naturally well-suited to gold-washing, and has also iron-works. And in the very recess of the Adriatic  there is also a temple of Diomedes that is worth recording, "the Timavum"; for it has a harbour, and a magnificent precinct, and seven fountains of potable waters which immediately empty into the sea in one broad, deep river.  According to Polybius, all the fountains except one are of salt water, and what is more, the natives call the place the source and mother of the sea. But Poseidonius says that a river, the Timavus, runs out of the mountains, falls down into a chasm, and then, after running underground about a hundred and thirty stadia, makes its exit near the sea.
9. As for the dominion of Diomedes in the neighbourhood of this sea, not only the "Islands of Diomedes" bear witness thereto, but also the historical accounts of the Daunii and Argos Hippium,  which I shall relate  insofar as they may be historically useful; but I must disregard most of the mythical or false stories, as, for example, the stories of Phaethon, and of the Heliades that were changed into poplar-trees near the Eridanus (the Eridanus that exists nowhere on earth, although it is spoken of as near the Padus),  and of the Electrides Islands that lie off the Padus,  and of the guinea-fowls on them; for not one of these things is in that region, either. It is an historical fact, however, that among the Heneti certain honours have been decreed to Diomedes; and, indeed, a white horse is still sacrificed to him, and two precincts are still to be seen — one of them sacred to the Argive Hera and the other to the Aetolian Artemis. But some mythical elements, of course, have been added:  namely, that in these sacred precincts the wild animals become tame, and deer herd with wolves, and they allow the people to approach and caress them, and any that are being pursued by dogs are no longer pursued when they have taken refuge here. And it is said that one of the prominent men, who was known for his fondness for giving bail for people and was twitted for this, fell in with some hunters who had a wolf in their nets, and, upon their saying in jest that if he would give bail for the wolf, and agree to settle all the damage the wolf should do, they would set the wolf free from the toils, he agreed to the proposal; and the wolf, when set free, drove off a considerable herd of unbranded horses and brought them to the steading of the man who was fond of giving bail; and the man who received the favour not only branded all the mares with a wolf, but also called them the "wolf-breed" — mares exceptional for speed rather than beauty; and his successors kept not only the brand but also the name for the breed of the horses, and made it a custom not to sell a mare to outsiders, in order that the genuine breed might remain in their family alone, since horses of that breed had become famous. But, at the present time, as I was saying,  the practice of horse-breeding has wholly disappeared. After the Timavum comes the seaboard of the Istrii as far as Pola, which belongs to Italy. Between the Timavum and Pola lies the stronghold of Tergeste, at a distance of one hundred and eighty stadia from Aquileia. As for Pola, it is situated in a harbour-like gulf which has isles with good mooring-places and with fruitful soil; it was founded in early times by those Colchians who were sent forth in quest of Medea, but failed in their undertaking and thus condemned themselves to exile: "which a Greek would call 'the city of the exiles,' " as Callimachus has said, "but their tongue hath named it Polae."  The Transpadane districts, then, are occupied both by the Heneti and by the peoples who extend as far as Pola; and, above the Heneti, by the Carni, the Cenomani, the Medoaci, and the Symbri;  of these peoples, some were once enemies of the Romans, but the Cenomani and the Heneti used to help the Romans in their battles, not only before the campaign of Hannibal (I mean when the Romans were making war upon the Boii and the Symbri), but thereafter as well.
10. But the Cispadane peoples occupy all that country which is encircled by the Apennine Mountains towards the Alps as far as Genua and Sabata.  The greater part of the country used to be occupied by the Boii, Ligures, Senones, and Gaezatae; but since the Boii have been driven out, and since both the Gaezatae and the Senones have been annihilated,  only the Ligurian tribes and the Roman colonies are left. The Romans, however, have been intermingled with the stock of the Ombrici and also, in some places, with that of the Tyrrheni;  for both these tribes, before the general aggrandizement of the Romans, carried on a sort of competition with one another for the primacy, and since they had only the River Tiber between them could easily cross over against one another. And if, as I suppose, one of the two peoples went forth on a campaign against a third people, the other of the two conceived a contentious desire not to fail to make an expedition to the same places; and so, too, when the Tyrrheni had sent forth an army into the midst of the barbarians round about the Padus and had fared well, and then on account of their luxurious living were quickly cast out again, the other of the two made an expedition against those who had cast them out; and then, in turns, disputing over the places, the two, in the case of many of the settlements, made some Tyrrhenian and some Ombrican — the greater number, however, Ombrican, for the Ombrici were nearer. But the Romans, upon taking control and sending settlers to many places, helped to preserve also the stocks of the earlier settlers. And at the present time, although they are all Romans, they are none the less called, some "Ombri," and some "Tyrrheni," as is the case with the Heneti, the Ligures, and the Insubri.
11. There are some famous cities in Cispadana and in the neighbourhood of the Padus: first, Placentia and Cremona, which are very near each other and are at about the centre of the country; and secondly — between these two and Ariminum — Parma, Mutina, and Bononia (once in Bononia you are near Ravenna), and also some small towns scattered between these three which also lie on the road  to Rome — I mean Ancara, Regium Lepidum, Macri Campi  where a public festival is held every year, Claterna, and Forum Cornelium; and then, Faventia and Caesena, near the River Sapis and the Rubicon, where, at last, you are on the borders of Ariminum.  Ariminum is a settlement of the Ombri, just as Ravenna is, although each of them has received Roman colonists. And Ariminum has a harbour and a river of like name.  From Placentia to Ariminum the distance is one thousand three hundred stadia. Beyond Placentia, towards the boundaries of the land of Cottius, there lies, within a distance of thirty-six miles from Placentia, the city of Ticinum (and also the river of like name  that flows past it and joins the Padus), and also, on a road which runs slightly to one side, there lie Clastidium, Derton  and Aquae Statiellae. But the direct road to Ocelum  runs along the Padus and the River Durias, the greater part of it over ravines, since, besides these two, it has several other rivers to cross, among which is the Druentia,  a distance of about sixty miles.  And this  is where the Alps Mountains and Celtica  begin.
Near those mountains which lie above Luna is a city, Luca, although some of the people here live only in villages; nevertheless the country has a goodly store of men, and the greater part of the soldiery comes from here, and also the majority of those men of equestrian rank from whom the Senate recruits its ranks.  Derton is a considerable city, and it is situated about midway of the road which runs from Genua to Placentia, being four hundred stadia distant from each; and this is the road on which Aquae Statiellae is situated. Of the distance from Placentia to Ariminum I have already spoken; there is also a voyage thence by the Padus down to Ravenna which takes two days and nights. Now a considerable part of Cispadana too used to be covered by marshes (through which Hannibal, on his advance against Tyrrhenia, passed only with difficulty); but Scaurus  drained the plains by running navigable canals from the Padus as far as Parma; for near Placentia the Padus is joined by the Trebia, as also before that by several other rivers, and is thus made excessively full. This Scaurus is the man who constructed the Aemilian Way which runs through Pisa and Luna as far as Sabata and thence through Derton; there is another Aemilian Way, however — I mean the one which succeeds the Flaminian. For Marcus Lepidus and Gaius Flaminius were consuls together;  and, upon subjugating the Ligures, the latter constructed the Flaminian Way  from Rome through Tyrrhenia and Ombrica as far as the regions of Ariminum, and the former the succeeding road that runs as far as Bononia, and from there, along the base of the Alps, thus encircling the marshes, to Aquileia. Now the boundary of all this country which we call Cisalpine Celtica — I mean the boundary between it and the remainder of Italy — was once designated by that part of the Apennine Mountains which is beyond Tyrrhenia, and also by the River Aesis, but later on by the Rubicon; both these rivers empty into the Adriatic.
12. As for the excellence of the regions, it is evidenced by their goodly store of men, the size of the cities and their wealth, in all which respects the Romans in that part of the world have surpassed the rest of Italy. For not only does the tilled land bring forth fruits in large quantities and of all sorts, but the forests have acorns in such quantities that Rome is fed mainly on the herds of swine that come from there. And the yield of millet is also exceptional, since the soil is well-watered; and millet is the greatest preventive of famine, since it withstands every unfavourable weather, and can never fail, even though there be scarcity of every other grain. The country has wonderful pitch-works, also; and as for the wine, the quantity is indicated by the jars, for the wooden ones are larger than houses; and the good supply of the pitch helps much towards the excellent smearing the jars receive. As for wool, the soft kind is produced by the regions round Mutina and the River Scultenna (the finest wool of all); the coarse, by Liguria and the country of the Symbri, from which the greater part of the households of the Italiotes are clothed; and the medium, by the regions round Patavium, from which are made the expensive carpets and covers and everything of this kind that is woolly either on both sides or only on one. But as for the mines, at the present time they are not being worked here as seriously as before — perhaps on account of the fact that those in the country of the Transalpine Celti and in Iberia are more profitable;  formerly, however, they were seriously worked, for there was a gold mine at Vercelli too; Vercelli is a village near Ictumuli (this too a village), and both are near Placentia. So much, then, my geographical description of the First Portion of Italy.
The Editor's Notes:
This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran