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Extensive Definition

For other uses of Tusculum, see Tusculum (disambiguation).
Tusculum is the classical Roman name of a major ancient Alban Hills city, in the Latium region of Italy.


The ruins of Tusculum are situated on the Tuscolo hill, on the north edge of the outer crater ring of the Alban volcano. The volcano is in the Alban Hills 6 km (4 miles) north-east of the modern Frascati .
The highest point is 670 m above sea level, the top of Tuscolo hill. It has a very extensive view of the Roman Campagna, with Rome lying 25 km (15 mi) to the north-west. Rome was approached by the Via Latina (from which a branch road ascended to Tusculum, while the main road passed through the valley to the south of it), or by the Via Labicana to the north.
In the territory of Tusculum there was an old river called "Tuscus Amnis" which rose at Tuscolo hill under the acropolis and flowed southerly through the Latin valley. The river then turned to the northerly direction and met the Aniene river near the Mammolo bridge. Afterwards a dam, built in 1122 by Pope Callixtus II in Morena resort, changed the course of the "Tuscus Amnis" toward the "Albula river" (Tiber river).
Strabo wrote about Tusculum in Geography, V 3 § 12.:
"'' But still closer to Rome than the mountainous country where these cities lie, there is another ridge, which leaves a valley (the valley near Algidum) between them and is high as far as Mount Albanus. It is on this chain that Tusculum is situated, a city with no mean equipment of buildings; and it is adorned by the plantings and villas encircling it, and particularly by those that extend below the city in the general direction of the city of Rome; for here Tusculum is a fertile and well-watered hill, which in many places rises gently into crests and admits of magnificently''".


Early history

Funerary urns datable to the 8th - 7th centuries BC demonstrate a human presence in the late phases of Latial culture in this area, and there was a continuous occupation from the eighth century BC to the 12th century AD.


According to tradition, the city was founded by Telegonus, the son of Ulysses and Circe. When Tarquinius Superbus was expelled from Rome his cause was espoused by the chief of Tusculum, Octavius Mamilius, who took a leading part in the formation of the Latin League, composed of the thirty principal cities of Latium which banded together against Rome. Mamilius commanded the Latin army at the battle of Lake Regillus (497 BC), but was killed, and the Rome's predominance among the Latin cities was nearly established. According to some accounts Tusculum became from that time an ally of Rome, and on that account frequently incurred the hostility of the other Latin cities.
In 460 BC the Sabines, commanded by Appius Herdonius occupied the Capitol. Only Tusculum, among the Latin cities, hastened with the troops, commanded by the dictator Lucius Mamilius, in help of the Romans and together with the strengths of the consul Publius Valerius Volumnius Publicola freed Rome. Rome was thankful to the Tusculans for the received help and also conferred to Lucius Mamilius the honour Roman citizenship because, as Titus Livius wrote, Rome received help only from them "...solum auxilium Tusculans venit".
In 459 BC the Aequi attacked Tusculum and conquered its fortress. Due to their gratitude from the help in the recent war, the Romans moved to aid the attacked city. The fortress was regained with the troops of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, defeating the troops of the Aequi in the battle of Mons Algidus.

The Roman Tusculum

In 381 BC, after an expression of complete submission to Rome, the people of Tusculum received the Roman franchise, Tusculum became the first "municipium cum suffragio", or self-governing city, and thenceforth the city continued to hold the rank of a municipium. The Tusculum citizens were therefore recorded in the "Tribus Papiria". Other accounts, however, speak of Tusculum as often allied with Rome's enemies, last being the Samnites in 323 BC.
Several of the chief Roman families were of Tusculan origin, e.g. the gentes Mamilii (Mamilius), Fulvii, Fonteii, Juventii, Oppii, Coruncanii, Quinzii, Rabirii, Javolenii, Cordii, Manlii (Manlius), Furii (Furius) and Porcii; to the last-named the celebrated Catos belonged (as Marcus Porcius Cato "Cato the Elder" was born in Tusculum 243 BC); Cornelius Nepos wrote about him: "M. Cato, ortus municipio Tusculo adulescentulus, priusquam honoribus operam daret, versatus est in Sabinis, quod ibi heredium a patre relictum habebat".
In 54 BC, in his Orationes Pro Cn. Plancio, Marcus Tullius Cicero said: "....tu es ex municipio antiquissimo tusculano ex quo plurimae sunt familiae consulares quot e reliquis municipiis omnibus non sunt...." VIII cap. ("You are from the most ancient municipium of Tusculum, from which so many consular families are originating, among shich even de gens Iuventia - all other municipia (together) do not have so many (consular families) coming from them")
Varro wrote about the laws of Tusculum in "De Lingua Latina", V book: "Apud Tuscolanos lege cautum erat, ne quis novum vinum, antequam vinalia colerentur, in urbem inveheret" ("New wine shall not be transported in the town before the Vinalia are proclaimed")
The town council kept the name of senate, but the title of dictator gave place to that of aedile. Notwithstanding this, and the fact that a special college of Roman equites was formed to take charge of the cults of the gods at Tusculum, and especially of the Dioscuri, the citizens resident there were neither numerous nor men of distinction. The villas of the neighborhood had indeed acquired greater importance than the not easily accessible town itself, and by the end of the Republic, and still more during the imperial period, the territory of Tusculum was one of the favorite places of residence of the wealthy Romans.
In 45 BC Cicero wrote a series of books in his Roman villa in Tusculum, the Tusculanae Quaestiones.
Seneca wrote:"...nemo Tusculanum vel Tiburtinum paraturus salubritatis causa et aestivi recessus, quoto anno empturus sit, disputat". ("Nobody who want to acquire a home in Tusculum or Tibur for health reasons or as a summer residence, will calculate how much yearly payments are")
The last archeological evidence of Roman Tusculum is a bronze tablet of 406 AD commemorated Anicio Probo Consul and his sister Anicia.
From the 5th to the 10th century there are no historical mentions of Tusculum. In the 10th century it was the famous base of the Counts of Tusculum, an important family in the Medieval History of Rome.
The number and extent of the remains almost defy description, and can only be made clear by a map. Even in the time of Cicero there were eighteen owners of villas there. Much of the territory (including Cicero's villa), but not the town itself, which lies far too high, was supplied with water by the Aqua Crabra. On the hill of Tuscolo are remains of a small theatre excavated in 1839 (pictured).

High Middle Ages

In the High Middle Ages, there were three churches in Tusculum: St. Saviour and Holy Trinity "in civitate", while St. Thomas on the acropolis. The Greek monastery of St. Agata lay at the foot of the Tuscolo hill, at XV mile of Via Latina road, the old "Statio Roboraria" : it was founded in 370 AD by basilian monk John of Cappadocia disciple of St. Basil of Caesarea, called St. Basil the Great, he brought a relic of the master, handed it over to him by monk Gregory Nazianzus. In this Greek monastery the 27 December 1005 Saint Nilus the Younger died.
The Counts of Tusculum
From X to XII century the Tusculum history is strictly connected to the history of the Counts of Tusculum. They were a family, a clan system, started with Theophylact I, Count of Tusculum (-; 924) and with his daughter Marozia (892 - 932) who married Alberic I of Spoleto (-; 917), Marquis of Spoleto and Camerino, winner in 915 in the battle of Garigliano river against the Saracen Army.
The Counts of Tusculum became arbiters of political and religious affairs in Rome - a position they held for a long period of time. They were pro-Byzantine and anti the German Emperor. From their clan came many Popes of the period between 914 and 1049.
The particular "formula" created by the Counts of Tusculum was a solution to the problem of the meet between civil and religious power in Rome, they subordinated their own needs to those of the Papacy; in the same time the Counts of Tusculum had two members of the clan nominated one Pope and the other civil chief of Rome.
Count Gregory I of Tusculum is remembered as one of the greatest Counts because he rebuilt the fortress on Tuscolo hill, gave as a gift the "Criptaferrata" to Saint Nilus the Younger and headed the rebellion of the Roman people of 1001 against the German Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor.
After 1049 the Counts of Tusculum Papacy declined because the particular "formula" of the papacy-family became outdated. Subsequent events from 1062 confirmed the change of Counts Tusculum politics, which became pro-Emperor against the Commune of Rome.
The Notable Guests of Tusculum
Tusculum had in this time several notable guests: Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor, and his wife Empress Agnes in 1046, the Pope Eugene III from 1149, Louis VII of France and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1149, Frederick Barbarossa and the English Pope Adrian IV in 1155.
The war with the Commune of Rome
In 1167 the Roman Commune Army attacked Tusculum (Battle of Monte Porzio - field of Prataporci), but it was defeated by the Emperor-allied army, headed by Christian I, Archbishop of Mainz; in the summer of 1167 a plague decimated the Emperor Army and Frederick Barbarossa went back to Germany.
In 1183 the Roman Commune Army attacked again Tusculum, the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa send a new contingent of troops to its defence.
The Commune of Rome Army destroyed the town on 17 April 1191 with the consent of Pope Celestine III and the authority to proceed of Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, son of Frederick Barbarossa, obtained by the Commune of Rome.
Roger of Hoveden wrote "lapis supra lapidem non remansit", indeed the Roman Commune's army took away the stones of the walls of Tusculum as spoils of war in Rome.
Portrait of "Madonna del Tuscolo" placed nowadays in a little aedicule on the Tuscolo hill, is a reprodution in ceramic of an earlier original icon of Tusculum, spoil of war, which now is in the Abbey of St. Mary in Grottaferrata.

From destruction to nowadays

The plunder of Tusculum
After destruction the land of Tusculum city became woodland and pasture lands. The buildings destroyed in Tusculum became a big open quarry of materials for the inhabitants of the neighbours towns of Alban Hills.
The dispersion of the Tusculum residents
From 1167 the residents of Tusculum became to transfer to the neighbours (Locus) or little villages as Monte Porzio Catone, Grottaferrata but most "Tusculans" went to Frascati: the day of destruction Tusculum city, as matter of fact, was deserted, there were only a little group of defense troops.
In the extra-urban area located south of the city, between it and the Via Latina, there are archeological evidence of burials in the place of a medieval church already in ruin, dated to the 13th century, after the 1191, found by the last archeological excavation (1999).
The rediscovery and the archaeological excavations of Tusculum
In 1806 started the first campaign of archaeological excavation on the top of the Tuscolo hill by Lucien Bonaparte.
In 1825 the archaeologist Marquis Luigi Biondi (1776-1839) excavated to find out Tusculum, engaged by Queen Maria Cristina of Bourbon, wife of Charles Felix of Sardinia. In 1839 and 1840 the architect and archaeologist Luigi Canina (1795-1856) engaged by the same royal family, excavated the Theatre area of Tusculum. The ancient works of art excavated were sent to Ducal Savoia Castle of Agliè in Piedmont.
In 1890 Thomas Ashby (1874-1931) arrived to Rome as Director of "British School at Rome": he was an expert of ancient monuments topography and studied the Tusculum monuments and reported the results in "The Roman Campagna in Classical Times" published in London, 1927.
In 1955 and 1956 the archaeologist Maurizio Borda excavated a necropolis with cinerary urns.
From 1994 to 1999 the last excavation campaigns of archaeologist Xavier Dupré and his staff undertaken by "Escuela Espanola de Historia y Arqueologia en Roma": they have helped to understanding better the history of this ancient Latium city.
The cross
The cross of Tusculum there was already in 1840, as the Cardinal Wiseman, rector of the English College, remembered, that in the summer he brought the students in holiday to Monte Porzio. In October, 1864 the students of the English College rebuilt the plinth of foundation of the old cross.
Now on the top of the Tuscolo hill there are an altar and an iron cross 19 metres (62,33 feet) high. The height of cross is 19 m because it was built 19 centuries after the death of Jesus Christ.
On the altar there is a marble slab with the Latin inscription:


  • Richard Stillwell, ed. Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, 1976: "Tusculum, Latium, Italy"
  • Cassius Dio "Roman History"
  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus: The Roman Antiquities
  • Thietmar of Merseburg - Chronicle
  • Roger of Howden - Chronica
  • Gregorovius, Ferdinand. Rome in the Middle Ages Vol. IV Part 1. 1905
  • William Gell The Topography of Rome and its Vicinity with Map". 2 vols. London, 1834. [Rev. and enlarged by Edward Henry Banbury. London 1846]
  • William Gell Analisi storico-topografico-antiquaria della carta de' dintorni di Roma secondo le osservazione di Sir W. Gell e del professore A. Nibby''. Rome 1837 [2nd ed. 1848]
  • Thomas Ashby - The Roman Campagna in Classical Times - London 1927
  • G. Bagnani - The Roman Campagna and its treasures - London 1929
  • G.E. Mc Cracken - A History of Ancient Tusculum - Washington 1939
  • B. Goss - Tusculum in PECS (Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites) - 1976
  • T.J. Cornell - The beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to Punic War - London 1995 - ISBN 0-415-01596-0
  • Xavier Dupré - Scavi archeologici di Tusculum - Rome 2000 - ISBN 88-900486-0-3
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