FIDENAE

The ancient city of Fidenae is the site of the Villa Apronius in my novel, The Epiphany of Marcus Apronius. Fidenae is not fictional but was an actual Etruscan city on the Tiber River about five miles upstream from Rome on the Via Salaria.

I use the past tense “was” because the city has been completely obliterated by a combination of contributing factors:  destruction by vanquishing armies, centuries of neglect, looting of building materials by other towns and cities, including Rome, and the total indifference of Rome after the Etruscan tribes were dispatched.

Fidenae’s origin dates back to before the 8th century B.C. and according to Livy was once captured by Romulus, Rome’s first king. The Fidenates were a belligerent people and fought many battles with Veii, another Etruscan city state and their main rival. As neighboring Rome’s strength grew, Fidenae, Veii, and the other cities of Etruria were forced to band together and fight Rome’s expansionist plans. They rebelled against Rome, fought their armies, and suffered defeat time and time again until finally they were crushed completely and absorbed by Rome in 426 B.C.

In, The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, written by George Dennis, published in 1848,  there is a very interesting Chapter III titled, Castel Giubileo-Fidenae, that sounds almost like a travel brochure. Castel Giubileo is the modern name of Fidenae. Dennis writes a very colorful description of the Fidenae landscape as he travels from Veii and he interjects historical tidbits and descriptions from Livy whenever the occasion arises.

After 426 B.C., Fidenae pretty much vanished from historical records until A.D. 27 during the reign of Tiberius when Tacitus tells us in The Annals that a hastily-erected shoddy amphitheater of inferior materials in Fidenae collapsed during a gladiatorial show with a death toll exceeding twenty thousand people. Suetonius in his history, The Twelve Caesars, also briefly mentioned this terrible catastrophe in his chapter on Tiberius.

When I wrote the novel, I could have located the fictional Villa Apronius adjacent to any ancient city close to Rome but I chose Fidenae, a prime area that had been coveted by and possessed by the powerful Fabii familia for many centuries prior to the birth of the Empire. Fidenae, being only five miles from Rome on the important Via Salaria, must have been an ideal place for wealthy and powerful citizens like Lucius Apronius to establish their large villas on the banks of the Tiber River out of the hustle and bustle and putrid smells of the city.

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