From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 20
Roman Gioviano
(2nd Century B.C.)

During the Etruscan-Ligurian-Apuanian occupation of the Garfagnana and Serchio Valleys, the subsistence population must have been only a few thousand souls at best. There are about 150 inhabitants of Gioviano today, and I would suspect that during the Etruscan period, there were less than 50.

Certainly, there must have been great rejoicing in Gioviano when Hannibal and his 50,000 or so men left the Serchio Valley to meet the Roman armies to the south. Before the age of modern warfare, armies traditionally fed off of the lands through which they passed. Hannibal’s troops and their camp followers of wives, prostitutes and the children of both would have quickly decimated the food stocks of the local inhabitants. Sheep, goats, donkeys, and any other animal in the possession of the Giovianini would have been taken in order to satisfy the hunger of Hannibal’s army. Any remaining supplies of farro from the previous year’s harvest would have been commandeered. Perhaps sensing the danger, the Giovianini fled into the mountain fastness into familiar caves and hidden valleys, taking with them whatever livestock and food supplies they could. Otherwise, after Hannibal’s departure there would have been great suffering and even starvation.

The Romans were quite angry that the indigenous Apuanians had sided with Hannibal against them. Thus the relative peace amongst Etruscans, Romans, Apuanians and Ligurians was broken when the Roman army moved northward to take control of the Versilian Coast and the Apuanian Alps, upon the slopes of which Gioviano rests. The indigenous Apuanians, being wily and much more familiar with the terrain than the Romans, ambushed them at Saltus Marcius on the Col del Cavallo, which is located some 11 miles east of Gioviano.

The Roman defeat during which some 4,000 soldiers were slaughtered by the Apuanians did not go unpunished. By 180 B.C., the Romans had not only defeated their enemy but also deported the entire population en masse to the Sannio region southeast of Rome where they could be assimilated into Roman culture and thus permanently neutralized.

At the same time Rome decided that permanent control of the Serchio Valley and Versilian Coast could be realized only if a colony was established. The Ligurians, who were confederated with the Apuanians against the Romans, held out in their mountain fastness for some 22 years after the establishment of Lucca as a Roman colony in 177 B.C.

The transition from Etruscan to Roman domination of both Lucca and Gioviano was no doubt relatively peaceful because the less sophisticated early Romans adopted Etruscan gods and other elements of their culture and civilization. In addition, the Etruscans had already allied themselves with Rome against the Ligurians.

Because of Gioviano’s unique position and easy access to the valley floor, a small Roman garrison would have been sent to take up residence with the current inhabitants. The commander would have perhaps built a small permanent structure, the first in Gioviano, and he would have adopted the worship of the Etruscan gods in their primitive temple. Hybrid vigor, from the intermarriage between Romans and Etruscans would have strengthened the gene pool and improved the general health and welfare of the inhabitants as well as insuring their protection from marauding Ligurians.

Gioviano had profited from its easy access to the primitive trade route along the Serchio as well as its position in regard to several mountain passes over both the Apuanian Alps and the Apennines. The Etruscans had introduced the Apuanian-Ligurians to wine, and the soils of Gioviano produced bountiful crops of grapes. In addition, there was a great demand in Pisa for both wool and timber. The mountains above Gioviano were blessed with an abundance of oak, beech and fir trees, and both the high mountain pastures in summer and the bottomland pastures in winter could support many sheep.

To take advantage of these primitive trade routes, the Romans built the Via Clodia along the course of the Serchio around 155 B.C. The Giovianini could look down onto the Roman road and keep tabs on the comings and goings of the tradesmen and soldiers. I have placed a cozy leather couch next to my Tuscan window so that I can watch the passing throngs traveling along the route of the Via Clodia today. From this perspective, I can imagine what I would have seen passing beneath the window of my little Roman house had I been living in Giviano some two thousand years ago.

For the citizens of Roman Gioviano, the next 705 years would have been extremely peaceful and relatively prosperous. By the 6th Century A.D., the shadow of the Dark Ages was looming over Italy. The great Roman Empire was soon to be assaulted by forces that could not be conquered, and Gioviano would be thrust into the midst of chronic conflicts that would last for nearly 1,500 years, with only short interludes of peaceful respite.

The invasion of the barbarians from the north had begun with a vengeance, and the glory that had been Rome was soon to be no more. What would the future hold for the Roman Giovianini, who after hundreds of years of peace and prosperity, would be thrust into the middle of a period of terror including massive social dislocation, terrible famines, plagues, and the depredations of the barbarian tribe?

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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