From the Hut to the Pantheon

The Youth's Companion (June 1887)

Fig. 1.– Hut

Fig. 2.– Pantheon

[281] In one of the low-lying regions of the city of Rome, so low, in fact, that it is flooded whenever the Tiber rises a few feet above its ordinary level, there stands a huge, cylindrical edifice which nearly fills up one side of an open caved space–the Piazza della Rotonda. The exterior of this great building looks worn and battered; and time, or the hand of the spoiler, or both together, have stripped off an outer casing and left there the somewhat unsightly end of the bricks which rise tier upon tier, and are here and there arranged in blind arches as if to give greater strength to the fabric.

Standing well back of the opposite side of the Piazza one can just see the top of a domed roof, most of which is hidden within the upper circle of the outer wall. But there is nothing to attract the eye except a stately columned portico; and even this is placed at a disadvantage, because the ground slopes downward to the great doors which are overshadowed by it.

This is the famous Pantheon. Notwithstanding the ravages of "winter and foul weather," and the still worse mischief worked by foreign and native barbarians, especially the latter, it is the most perfect relic of imperial Rome in existence. So the statues which once adorned it within and without have long since vanished; and though, centuries ago, the bronze panels and beams of the portico went into a papal melting-pot, to reappear, partly as cannon in the walls of the castle of St. Angelo, and partly as the columns of the hideous canopy over the shrine of St. Peter in the great church on the Vatican Hill; yet the substantial features of the building remain very much what they were, when, nineteen centuries ago, it rose under the eyes of Augustus. But the baths of Caracalla, the Coliseum, and the basilica of Constantine, which were built long afterwards, some of them centuries later than the Pantheon, are now nothing but mighty ruins.

It is fortunate that the heirloom which has thus been transmitted to modern Rome is one of the most valuable of all the possessions of the ancient city. The unattractive exterior disguises a perfect jewel of interior architecture; and when I was in Rome in the winter of 1884-85, I never passed through the Piazza della Rotunda, without entering the venerable fane to renew my delights in it. There is but one adequate description of the general effect of the interior of the Pantheon that I know of:

"They went in, accordingly, and stood in the free space of that great circle, around which are ranged the arched recesses and stately altars, formerly dedicated to heathen gods, but Christianized through twelve centuries gone by. The world has nothing else like the Pantheon.....

"The rust and dinginess that has dimmed the precious marble on the walls; the pavement, with its great squares and rounds of porphyry and granite, cracked crosswise and in a hundred directions, showing how roughly the troublesome ages have trampled here; the gray dome above, with its opening to the sky, as if heaven were looking down into the interior of this place of worship, left unimpeded for prayers to ascend the more freely; all these things make an impression of solemnity which St. Peter's, itself, fails to produce."

I hope that the American youth whom I address do not fail to acquaint themselves with the work of the great writers of their own age and country–and, if so, they will know that I have borrowed from "The Marble Faun." Perhaps they are less familiar with the romance of Mount Beni than with the "House of the Seven Gables," or "The Scarlet Letter"; and, to those who are unacquainted with Rome, it may well be that the Italian story is less attractive than the other. But to those who know that place of ruins and retrospections, there is something in the pure and sad sobriety of tone, the suggestive half-light and mysterious shadows of Hawthorne's picture of the city which boasts itself eternal, which is wonderfully fascinating and true to nature.

I have omitted a paragraph about "dusty, artificial flowers, and all manner of trumpery gewgaws, hanging at the saintly shrines," partly because it seems to jar a little and partly because the evil is less rampant now than it was in Hawthorne's time. As the resting-place of Victor-Emmanuel, the Pantheon is out of favor with the Papalini; and I think that, at present, it is the only Roman church, with the exception of St. Paolo-fuori le Mura, the interior of which is not ruined by the bad taste of devout decorators.

The architect of the Pantheon must have been a master of his craft; and it is said that his name and fame have long since vanished into oblivion. When M. Agrippa, the friend and minister of Augustus, at whose cost the edifice was built, gave him his commission he seems to have resolved to construct something which should be eminently and characteristically Roman; perfectly simple, exquisitely beautiful, and yet of great majesty; withal so enduring that it should stand almost unscathed for two thousand years, in the most storm-worn city of the world, while every monument of similar antiquity was brought low. And if the unknown architect did thus aspire to have a witness of his unsurpassable skill for the admiration and the envy of future ages, he has undoubtedly succeeded.

The durability of the Pantheon speaks for itself: The late eminent French architect, Viollet-le-Duc, declares that, of all the great domes now in existence, that of the Pantheon alone remains without a flaw.1 I have given better authority than my own for its beauty and its grandeur; but, as to its simplicity and its eminently Roman character, I have somewhat to say.

Beauty, as a general rule, implies simplicity; I do not mean the simplicity of monotony, but the simplicity of unity. That which is highly and nobly beautiful always conveys an impression of balance, harmony, or rhythm; the parts, however various they may be, are related in a way which produces an intellectual satisfaction. Mind agitates the mass of sensible impressions; the inner order shines through them and appeals to the reason.

For a long time, I was perplexed to know what it was about the proportions of the interior of the Pantheon which gave me such a different feeling from that made by any other domed space I had ever entered. But on studying an architectural section of the building, I believe I found the key to my problem, for its form results from the combination of two extremely simple geometrical figures, a sphere and a cylinder.

Take a sphere and a cylinder, the latter being the same diameter as the sphere, and of the same height as its diameter. Then cut the sphere into two hemispheres and the cylinder into two cylinders of equal height–that is to say, of a height equal to the radius of the sphere. Next stick one hemisphere by its flat side on to the flat top of one of the half cylinders; take a cast of the whole in papier-machè, or some such material, and cut a circular hole in the summit of the hemisphere. The result will be a tolerably exact model of the interior of the Pantheon, which measures about 140 feet from the summit of the dome to the centre of the circular floor, while this is about 140 feet in diameter.2

Nothing can be much simpler than such a combination of sphere and cylinder; and I conceive that this extreme simplicity lies at the foundation of the beauty of the result, while grandeur is conferred by the vast size of the whole. And both these æsthetic qualities are not a little heightened by the magical illumination yielded by the great, round, solitary top-light, in which the bright sky is framed like a heavenly window by day; while, by night, the "unbasting and unresting" procession of the stars, from east to west, marks the ceaseless passage of all things from a past to a future eternity.

I have said that the Pantheon is an eminently and characteristically Roman work. In fact, the constructor of its vast, domed roof must have been familiar with the building of arches of great span; and the Romans are the only ancient people who have left evidence that they had attained to this degree of architectural skill. The great hall of the temple at Karnak and the temple of Neptune at Pæstum impress one as unsurpassable masterpieces in their several styles, but there is nothing to show that any Egyptian or Greek architect attempted the construction of a wide arch or of a large dome.

Prof. G. Baldwin Brown, in his recently published interesting work "From Schola to Cathedral," though he seems inclined to suspect that the Romans may have been the debtors of the Greeks, in arch-building as in so many other things, yet declares emphatically that "The first monumental dome of which we have, either remains or a clear record, is the cupola erected by the architect of Marcus Agrippa over the drum of the Pantheon, sometime before the year 27 B.C."

In the article to which I have referred above, Viollet-le-Duc has explained how the Roman architects, by the employment of an ingenious combination of concrete with brick, contrived to build their great arches and domes, with comparatively little outlay upon scaffolding, or, indeed, upon any work requiring skilled labor. The success of this method of construction must have depended largely upon the extraordinary strength of their concrete, owing to the use of puzzuolana in its preparation. This substance, however, is abundantly furnished by the volcanic districts of Italy; and it seems not improbable that the apparently sudden and unprecedented development of arched forms of building in old Rome may be connected with the discovery, by some adventurous builder, of the singular trustworthiness of Roman cement.

However this may be, there seems to be little doubt that all known domed and arched structures of any magnitude are traceable to Roman precedents.


There is another aspect under which the Pantheon may be regarded as an eminently characteristic product of old Italian life. Great and manifold as have been the differences of opinion as to the exact purpose for which the Pantheon was destined, it is now indubitable, firstly, that it was a sanctuary; and secondly, that, in the technical sense, it was not a temple. In order to have the technical status of a templum in old Rome, a building and the space in which it stood must be consecrated by those rites which the Augurs alone were competent to perform, and these required that the building should be rectangular. An edifice devoted to sacred purposes which was other than rectangular appears to have had, strictly speaking, no claim to the title of a templum, but was called a sacred ædes or fanum. Nevertheless, it would be a great mistake to suppose that less sanctity necessarily attached to an ædes than to a templum.

On the contrary, the oldest and most highly venerated of the Roman sanctuaries were ædes; and among them, the small, circular, dome-roofed, building dedicated to Vesta, the foundations of which are yet traceable in the Forum at the foot of the famous Palatine Hill, held the highest place. This sanctuary contained no image of the goddess; but, day and night, her representative, the sacred fire, was kept burning upon the solitary altar by virgin priestesses, selected from the noblest of the Patrician families, whose neglect of their duties or violation of their obligations was visited with the cruelest punishment.

The fire, which thus continually burned upon the hearth of Vesta, was venerated as the symbol and personification of the bonds which connected the members of every household with one another, and which united the households into their groups of higher order, the gens, the curia, the tribe, so as to bind the citizens of Rome into one organic whole. In all public supplications of the gods, the name of Vesta came first, and with this recognised precedence and importance it seems, at first, singular, that the sanctuary of such a high divinity should have taken the form of an insignificant ædes in the valley of the Forum; while, on the summit of the Capitoline Hill–the most conspicuous site in all Rome–splendid temples were erected to other gods and goddesses.

The explanation of this apparent anomaly is to be sought in the origin and nature of the worship of Vesta. Rome appears to have been founded by the union into a confederation of independent villages, settled upon the Quirinal, Palatine, Capitoline, and perhaps others of the hills, which rise upon the left bank of the Tiber, and are, in fact, spurs of the eastern boundary wall of the deep valley, which the Tiber has cut through the volcanic plateau of the Campagna.

The inhabitants of these villages lived in round huts, built of stakes, wattles, and thatch, with high pitched roofs, provided with a hole, at or near the top, to let out the smoke, the likenesses of which are preserved, not only in the very ancient urns of baked clay, for holding the ashes of the dead, which are to be seen in the Museums of Rome, but in the huts of the shepherds of the Campagna at the present day. Each hut belonged to a family. It had a hearth on which the household fire had burned, generation after generation, before the images of the tutelary gods, representing the ancestors to whom the family traced its origin and on the continuance of whose protection the welfare of the family was believed to depend.

In all probability, there was, in each village, a special hut, with its constant fire on the hearth, dedicated to the real or imaginary ancestors of all the families which composed it. And, when the various, previously independent, villages confederated to form the community or city of Rome3, they seem, in like manner, to have set apart a hut, build on common ground between the hills, to serve as a meeting and market place, as the outward and visible sign of the new social bond.

This hut represented all the homesteads of the city; its hearth and fire all the hearths and fires; its goddess Vesta all the ties of citizenship conceived as religious obligations; while the Vestals were an undying family, actually, and not merely metaphorically, representative of the life of the city from generation to generation.

It is a curious illustration of the tenacity with which the Romans adhered to ancient traditions, that on the one day of the year on which the Vestal fire was permitted to go out, it was originally obliged to be relighted by the primitive method of rubbing one piece of wood against another. If conservatism went this length in so small a matter as lighting the fire, it is not wonderful that, however the growth of art and of wealth might affect the form and dimensions of other buildings, the ædes Vestæ underwent no essential alteration, in these respects, in the long duration of pagan Rome. Stone and bronze might be substituted for wattles and thatch as Ovid tells us they were:

Where now is bronze, a thatch of straw was seen,
And a wall woven out of pliant wythes."4

But, to the end, the sanctuary of Vesta retained the general form and dimensions of the hut in which it originated.

Architecturally speaking, however, the Pantheon is little more than an ædes Vestæ on a gigantic scale. Therefore, it is the old Italic but magnified and transfigured, with the smoke-hole turned into a top-light. Or, to put the matter in another way, the round hut, the ædes Vestæ, and the Pantheon are so many stages in a process of architectural evolution which was affected between the first beginnings of Roman history and the Augustan age.5

It would not be correct to say that the first term of this series–the round hut–is exclusively Roman, or even Italic, for such huts were the ordinary dwelling-places of Gauls and Teutons when the Romans first came in contact with them; and similar huts are built by savages in the most distant parts of the world at the present day.

But, in one sense, the Pantheon is really the flower of a thoroughly Italic seed, inasmuch as it can be proved that the practice of constructing habitations in the form of round huts was widely prevalent and of immeasurable antiquity in Italy. Throughout the peninsula, from the great "Padane Plain," traversed by the Po and its innumerable affluents as they wind their way to the Adriatic in the north, to Calabria in the south, abundant remains of the works of prehistoric men have been discovered by the zealous and able anthropologists of Italy. In that country, as elsewhere in Europe, the oldest gravels and the cave deposits have yielded remains of human handiwork in the shape of [282] chipped-stone implements of the most archaic type. Ground stone implements succeed them, and are followed, in deposits of a later epoch, by bronze-work, after which come the remains of the iron weapons and tools with which the ancient inhabitants of Italy were provided, at the dawn of history.

The relative age of the stages of culture represented by the use of stone, bronze, and iron respectively is shown with remarkable clearness in various localities in Italy; though here, as in other cases, it is well to recollect that the use of the terms stone age, bronze age, and iron age is apt to mislead, unless one remembers that the several stages of this succession were by no means necessarily contemporaneous in different localities. In places out of the reach of commercial or other external influences, the stone age might be fully represented, long after stone was superseded by bronze or iron elsewhere.

When I was in Torres Straits, in 1848, the people of some of the islets near the southeastern coast of New Guinea, far out of the way of the course of even Malay prahus, knew nothing about guns or gunpowder, and were still practically in the stone age, though they were greedy for iron. By this time, I dare say, they have passed, not only into the iron but into the gunpowder, or, perhaps, I had better say dynamite age, and certainly without the intermediation of a bronze period.

Now it is a very interesting fact that, all over Italy, stone implements, without any trace of the use of bronze or of iron, have been met with in certain circular patches of soil which first attracted attention by possessing a darker aspect than the adjacent ground. These patches are usually ten or twelve feet in diameter, and the dark soil which distinguishes them is found to be two or three feet deep. Its peculiar color arises from the intermixture of remains of animal and vegetable food materials, with charred wood and ashes, the relics of the fuel of the fire which once served to warm and cook the food of a prehistoric Italian. The bones of stags, oxen, sheep, goats, pigs, cats, and beavers (but neither of dogs, nor of horses) have been met with. Fragments of rude pottery, hand-made, sun-dried, or imperfectly baked and unglazed, harmonize with the other indications of a low social state.

The Italian anthropologists term these curious patches of soil "fondi di capanne," or "hut-floors." And the justice of this determination of their nature has been borne out by the discovery, in some cases, of remains of the circle of stakes which supported the wall (probably wattled and plastered with clay) of the hut, which one must imagine to have had an opening on one side for entrance, and probably a hole at the top for the exit of smoke. In fact, these prehistoric huts, or wigwams, must have been essentially similar to those of the modern Italian shepherds.

A number of these hut-floors are frequently found close together and obviously mark the site of a prehistoric village. Sometimes the remains of several hearths, one above the other, indicate long occupation of the same spot. In some cases, a rude earthen receptacle containing the ashes of a man has been found interred beneath the hearth, showing that, like certain uncivilised modern people, the prehistoric Italian of the stone age buried the dead in his own house. In fact, this custom was continued down to the historic age in Italy.

The grammarian, Servius, who wrote a commentary6 on the Æneid of Virgil and was deeply learned in Roman antiquities, affirms that, in very ancient times, it was the custom to bury the dead in their houses, and he adds the very interesting remark that in consequence of this, the household gods–the Lares and Penates–are worshipped in the houses. Hence the close association of the worship of the Manes, or deified ancestors, with the Lares and Penates, if, in fact, the latter were anything but the Manes under another aspect–family ghosts told off to look after the household, as it were.

I have mentioned above, that the evidence of the succession of bronze to stone, and of iron to bronze, is remarkably clear in some parts of Italy. In order to appreciate its cogency, we must leave the hut-floors and turn to the consideration of certain other very much more extensive areas of discolored soil which are known to the country people as "marniere " or "terremare." "Manure-earth" would probably be the most exact English equivalent for these terms, but, in anticipation of the exposition of their real nature, it will be more convenient to call these accumulations (which are in some respects analogous to the well known "kitchen-middens" of Scandinavia, and elsewhere), pile-middens.

Remains of nearly a hundred of these "pile-middens" have already been met with in different parts of the Padane plain, so that there can be no doubt that they must, formerly, have been very numerous. They are especially abundant in the neighborhood of Parma, Reggio and Modena; and a good many occur in the space included between the Lago di Garda, on the north, and Mantua and Legnago, on the south.

A pile-midden is usually situated close to a stream (though well above its level); partly, no doubt, in order to secure a good supply of water to the people whose habitation it denotes. But, as Helbig has recently pointed out in his excellent work, "Die Italiker in der Po-Ebene," there was another reason for this vicinity to streams. In ancient times, the Padane plain, now so bare of trees, was covered by a dense forest of oaks, chestnuts, and elms; and the only openings and practicable roads lay in the course of the multitudinous rivers and rivulets which traverse it.

No doubt the first step of the people whose existence is made known to us by the pile-middens, was to take advantage of a natural clearing or to make an artificial one in these old Italian back-woods. They then laid out an oblong rectangular space, the area of which varies from three, or four, to twenty or more, acres, the four sides of which appear to have been often, though not always, directed approximately toward the four points of the compass. They then dug out a deep ditch along these four sides and threw up the earth into an embankment four or five feet high, on the inner side of the ditch. In some cases, if not in all, the embankment was furnished with a firm foundation in the shape of a strong wooden frame work, formed of planks joined at right angles to one another, and thus enclosing deep, box-like chambers. These were filled with earth and the earth was afterward heaped over the frame work.7

Thus a fortified camp was formed, quite similar, in principle, to those with which the ancient Britons and the Romans have crowned many a hill in England. The eight or nine feet between the bottom of the ditch and the top of the embankment would confer no small advantage for defensive purposes, upon the dwellers within, even though they were not sheltered by the embankment but fought from the platform which we see rested on it.

Piles of wood, six to ten feet long, set from one to two or three feet apart, were driven perpendicularly into the ground, throughout the enclosed space, until the tops of all the piles were on a level with the top of the embankment. A floor of wooden planking was then fixed to the tops of the piles and extended from the outermost row of these to the top of the embankment. Finally, the proper dwelling-places, which appear to have been circular wattled huts, were built upon the firm floor thus laid. All the refuse from the huts dropped on to the ground beneath the platform and accumulated in a midden, until it gradually filled up the adjacent space.8

One would think that, after a time, the people would have been forced to leave their unsavory residence and build another. But the attractions of home (sweet or otherwise) seem to have been strong, for there is evidence, in some cases, that as they were crowded out by the ever-growing midden, another, and after this even yet another, set of new piles were driven in between and above the old ones, to form the foundation of a new village, the embankment being at the same time correspondingly elevated. It may be, that, in some of these cases, the old village was destroyed by fires to which, whether they arose by accident or by the contrivance of enemies, such wooden constructions must have been very liable, in the hot dry summer of Italy.

It is the accumulation of refuse which gives its peculiar quality to the soil of the pile-middens and enables them to be recognized, even when all the woodwork has mouldered away and the embankment has ceased to be distinguishable.


It will be readily understood that, in the course of the long years, perhaps centuries, during which the rubbish of the pile-middens accumulated, the pottery, implements, weapons, ornaments, and remains of food which dropped through by accident, as well as the refuse was cast away by design, have been preserved, and thus furnish the means of forming a clear and comprehensive conception of the social condition of the people who dwelt in the huts above. But, before considering evidence of this kind, attention may be drawn to the obvious conclusion that the hewing, shaping and transport of the immense quantities of wood employed in these constructions, no less than the digging out of the earth for the embankment, implies a great amount of systematic labor, and, consequently, a considerable population and a definite social organization among the people who built these pile dwellings. We should thus expect them to have reached a higher stage of civilization than the hut-floor people already mentioned. And this expectation is fully justified by the evidence of the remains already referred to.

The pottery is better made, though not yet glazed, and many of the vessels are provided with a peculiar and characteristic form of handle, which has been termed "ansate." The handle is, in fact, perforated in the middle, and its upper margin has a deep excavation. No doubt the forefinger was placed in the hole and the thumb in the excavation, and thus the handle was firmly grasped. Iron is usually absent; bronze is abundant and is extensively used in the fabrication of axes and spear heads; while stone, though still employed for some kinds of implements and for arrow heads, retires into the background. The bronze is cast and not hammered, and the presence of moulds shows that the people did their casting for themselves. But the rough bronze could have reached them only by way of commerce, neither copper nor tin being attainable in the Padane plain; and the existence of commerce is also proved by the occasional, though rare, occurrence of amber beads, the material of which probably came from the shores of the Baltic.

Though the predominance of bronze and the absence of iron characterize the pile-middens, in general, there are some in which iron makes its appearance, while there are others in which even bronze is rare or absent. However, speaking broadly, the pile-middens belong to the bronze age.

That the pile-midden people practised agriculture on a large scale is rendered certain by the presence of abundant remains of wheat, beans and vines. Moreover, as domesticated animals they had oxen, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, and dogs. The stags, the roe-deer, the boars, which roamed in the Padane forests, furnished them with game; and some remains of bears indicate that they occasionally attacked more dangerous quarry. But, curiously enough, there are neither fish-bones nor fish-hooks, though the Po and its affluents abound in fish.

It is plain, then, that the people who have left their mark in the pile-middens had reached a grade of civilization which is by no means contemptible. Indeed, to all appearance, it is quite as high as that attained by the Gauls and the Germans, when they first appear in history; and it probably differed little from that of the Italic people in general, not very long before the foundation of Rome. And that these people were more modern than the hut-builders of the stone age is rendered certain by the fact that hut-floors of that age have been found beneath the pile-middens; that is to say, the pile-driving people had built on the site of a deserted, or destroyed, round-hut village of the stone age.

There is something so peculiar about the fashion of building a dwelling-place on piles, that the temptation to believe that all the people who adopted it were of one race is undoubtedly very strong. But there are sundry well-known facts which dictate great caution in adopting any such conclusion. Nobody has suggested, or is likely to suggest, that the pile-dwelling builders of Europe were either Malays or Papuans; yet, at the present day, both Malays and Papuans build pile-dwellings of the same essential character, sometimes in the water and sometimes on dry land. Moreover, the Malays and the Papuans are as distinct from one another as any two races of mankind can be, in fact, as different as both are from Europeans; so that, if they were to become extinct, and no trace were left of them but their dwellings, the traveller from the Malay peninsula to the coasts of New Guinea and its adjacent islets, who should suppose that all the pile-dwellings he met with were fabricated by one and the same people, would fall into a prodigious error. Moreover there are Papuan people who build beehive-shaped, thatched huts; and, therefore, stand in the same architectural relation to the other Papuans as the hut-floor people of Italy to the pile-driving people.

Hence, the facts adduced are wholly insufficient to justify any decided conclusion as to either the similarity, or dissimilarity, of the people to whom the grades of social organization indicated by the hut-floors on the one hand, and the pile-dwellings on the other, belong. They may be merely groups of one race, of which the later has reached a higher grade, by means of commerce and other external influences; or the later may be immigrants, of different blood from the primitive Italic stock, who brought a more advanced civilization with them.

However this may be, there is no reason to suppose that the round huts were at any time completely superseded (except in particular localities) by the pile-dwellings. No doubt they continued to exist, contemporaneously with the pile-dwellings, in most parts of Italy; and, after the pile-dwellings ceased to be in fashion, the round huts again became practically universal. And it can be proved that the people who built them shared in the general progress of civilization, and passed through the bronze to the iron stage, until this primitive form of shelter obtained a permanent representative in the ædes Vestæ.

It has already been stated that the pile-middens are to be met with in the Padane plain as far north as the Lago di Garda. But, in the lake itself, there are constructions of the same essential character, in so far as they consist of wooden piles supporting a platform, on which huts are erected, over the water. That is to say, the piles are not driven into the dry land but into the bottom of a shallow part of the lake; whereby the latter plays the part of a moat, and the ditch and parapet become superfluous.

The aquatic pile-dwellings, found in this and other Italian lakes, again, are altogether similar to the constructions which of late years have attracted as much attention in Switzerland, and are known as "lake-dwellings." Traces of them have been discovered in many other parts of Europe, and Sig. Pigorini has met with them as far east as the lower course of the Danube. As in Italy, the majority of these constructions belong to the bronze age; but, as in Italy, some are older and some are younger.

If the prehistoric round hut is the earliest stage of a developmental series which has culminated in the Pantheon, is there no corresponding process of evolution traceable among the pile-dwellings? In the Padane plain, itself, their chances of development appear to have been cut short by the Etruscans, a race of rude and superstitious warriors, who came over the Apennines, and whose chief significance seems to lie in the fact that they were the intermediaries by whom more or less of the culture of the Phœnicians, and afterwards of the Greek, traders who reached their coast was transmitted to the old Italians.

At a later period, Etruscan domination was swept away by the Gauls, whose big-boned skeletons, with their long iron swords by their sides, tell of the formation of Bononia, the ancestress of the modern Bologna, on the ruins of the Etruscan Felsina, which again was founded on the site of a nameless pile-dwelling town.

But the eastern fringe of the Padane plain presents a conformation admirably adapted for the building of aquatic pile-houses. The plain is, in fact, nothing but the flat, almost horizontal surface of the mud, sand, and gravel which, for thousands upon thousands of years, have been made out of fragments of the rocks of the Alps and Apennines, split off by frost, washed away by rains, and ground down by glaciers, to be finally rounded and pulverized in mountain torrents and swept away to the lowest point attainable.

After filling up the vast valley between the two great mountain ranges of the Alps on the north, and the Apennines on the west and south, these deposits have gradually thrust themselves forward into the waters of the Adriatic, and have given rise to a great wilderness of swamps, islands, shoals and lagoons, bounded on the sea-face by the long sand-bar of which the Venetian Lido forms a part.

No place of refuge could be better adapted for people who had learned how to make themselves at home in the pile-dwellings; and, although I cannot say that there is any evidence which directly proves that the prehistoric pile-dwelling builders availed themselves of the advantages offered, yet it is quite certain that, in very ancient times, settlements of houses built on piles existed in the region in question. The old cities of Altinum and Atria were thus constructed, as also was Ravenna, the last refuge of the emperors of Rome. In later times, Grado, Torcello, and finally Venice, were built in the same fashion.

Thus, as the Pantheon lay potentially in the round hut of the stone gage, so it seems more than probable that the germ of the Piazza of St. Mark, with its glorious Duomo, was contained the prehistoric pile-dwellings of Italy.

1 See the article "Voûte" in his "Dictionnaire de l'Architecture Française."

2 Authorities differ as to the exact measurement.

3 It is hard for us to think of a city without stone or brick buildings, orderly streets, and paved roads, but none of these were essential to the "civitas" or corporate body of citizens and probably none existed when Rome was first constituted. The remarkable work of Fustel de Coulanges, "La cité antique," which gives a very vivid picture of the ancient civic organization, and of its intimate connection with the theology of the Greeks and Romans, has been my chief guide in what I have had to say on this topic.

4 Quae nunc aere vides, stipula tunc tecta videres

Et paries lento vimine textus erat. Fasti VI, 261.

5 Since this article was written, I have found that the same idea is clearly set forth in Sig. Maes' "Vesta e Vestali" (p. 114), published in 1883.

6 "Commentarii in Virgilium Serviani." In the commentary on Book VI, 152, however, Servius appears to contradict what he says about the Penates in the commentary on Book V., 64.

7 It is curious to compare with this the account of the wall and ditch, strengthened by piles of wood, which the Greeks of the Iliad constructed for the defence of their ships.

8 See the instructive and excellent illustrated memoir by Sig. Pigorini on the Terramara of Castione, published in the Transactions of the 'Accademia dei Lincei,' 1882-83.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University