Day 91: Alba Lovin’ You Longa Time

originally published March 31, 2012

The scenic little vista pictured above is a little town in central Italy called Castel Gandolfo, tucked up against Lake Albano. At one time it was an important cog in pre-Roman-Empire society. Located just twelve miles southeast of Rome, the ancient city of Alba Longa was the founder and head of the Latin League, which was kind of like the Justice League, but with fewer superheroes and more swarthy Europeans in togas.

Actually the Latin League was a group of about thirty cities united in an alliance against those pesky Etruscans. Alba Longa was the League’s headquarters until the reign of Tarquinius Superbus (who may also have been a Transformer), at which point they pretty much had to cede leadership over to Rome. Rome’s founders, Remus and Romulus, were born in Alba Longa, so there was a direct line of descent between the two cities.

Things fell apart between Alba Longa and Rome in the 7th century BC, in a very weird way. It started out when a handful of peasants on both sides plundered some property in the other city. A pretty minor thing, but for whatever reason it irked Roman king Tullus Hostilius, whose name would seem to indicate that he was probably a bit of a prick.

Hostilius declared war first, though Alba Longa’s king, Gaius Cluilius, declared war soon after. Ambassadors were sent from both sides to demand restitution for the wrongs done by the peasants to one another, but there was to be no peace. Shit was on.

Hostilius led his army out of Rome on a sunny Wednesday morning (maybe – though come to think of it ‘Wednesday’ had probably not been invented yet). Cluilius led his men into Rome and dug a trench around the city. Latin history describes this same Cluilian Trench popping up in a battle some 200 or so years later, so clearly it was built to last. Cluilius himself died of unknown causes while they were being built though, and they really aren’t important for the rest of our story.

So the two armies were ready to fight. Hostilius was leading the Romans, and a guy called Mettius Fufetius took over the helm for the Alba Longans. Mettius suggested that he and Hostilius meet and try for one last shot at peace. Hostilius accepted, but both armies still sharpened up their blades, figuring this probably wasn’t going to work.

Except that it did. Sort of. Mettius was more practical than Mr. Trench-Builder Guy. He knew that a massive spilling of blood was going to leave both Alba Longa and Rome low on defenses, and those damn Etruscans were just waiting for a chance to pounce. He suggested an alternative: each side brings forth a set of triplets, and those six guys battle it out for victory between the two cities.

Triplets. A symbolic victory that both sides agreed would represent the larger battle that they were hoping to avoid. This would be like if the US and the Soviet Union had simply decided to finish up the Cold War by holding a ski-off, like in an 80’s movie. Which would have been awesome.

Luckily, both cities happened to have three top-notch fighters who were triplets. I’m not sure how common that was back then, but let’s just gloss past this dubious plot point and get to the fighting.

Two of the Roman brothers were slain first. The remaining Roman brother, Publius Horatius, let out a distinctly Roman cry of “Oh, HELL no!”, and proceeded to get all pre-medieval on their Alba Longan asses. He sliced his enemies into angel-hair pasta, and Rome was declared the victor.

Great! The war is won with no bloodshed! Well, five bodies’ worth of bloodshed, but that’s pretty good for any war. The Alba Longans were sent home and told to be ready in case a real war breaks out. Just like that, Alba Longa had become a subsidiary, a vassal state of Rome. Think about it – the Romans pulled off a comeback victory on par with the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs coming back from a 3-games-to-0 deficit and sneaking a win. If they hadn’t done so, history could have been very different.

Of course, the Etruscans couldn’t keep quiet, and a massive war broke out shortly thereafter. Mettius was summoned by Hostilius, and the Alba Longans were told to suit up and meet the Romans at the Tiber River to beat some Etruscan ass. Mettius had no choice but to oblige.

Mettius should go down in history as one of the shittiest gamblers of all time. He gambled on his triplets and they bungled a solid lead. Now, after the battle with the Etruscans got under way, he bet that the Romans weren’t going to win. He yanked his troops away in the midst of battle, and quietly returned to Alba Longa.

Rome, of course, won. Hostilius set course for Alba Longa and proceeded to terminate Mettius Fufetius for his act of treason. I can’t really blame him for that one – Mettius pulled a real dick move. As an extra act of middle-fingertude, Hostilius ordered his troops to demolish the entire city of Alba Longa, then carted its entire populace on a 12-mile nature hike to Rome, where they would now live. It worked out really well for Rome – the city’s population filled out, and its army was instantly replenished.

The exact location of Alba Longa isn’t quite known. Some archeological digs pin the city at the base of the Alban Mount, a volcanic ‘mountain’ that’s really just an impressive hill with a superiority complex. Others – and again, this is the more accepted belief – put Alba Longa right beside the lake, as pictured at the top.

It depends on whether the translation of Alba Longa (“White” “Long”) refers to the long white ridge (mountain), or the long white town (which would fit beside the lake).

It really doesn’t matter where the city was, only that it played a part in a rather quirky series of historical events, and very nearly became the dominant city in the pre-Empire Roman landscape.

If only the citizens had known how to ski.

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