Location and Legend: Alba Longa was a region in the area of ancient Italy known as Latium. Although we don't know exactly where it was, since it was destroyed early in Roman history, it was traditionally founded at the foot of the Alban mountain about 12 miles southeast of Rome.
A doublet legendary tradition, found in Livy, makes King Latinus' daughter, Lavinia, the mother of Aeneas's son Ascanius. The more familiar tradition credits Ascanius as the son of Aeneas' first wife, Creusa. Creusa disappeared during the escape of the Trojan band led by Prince Aeneas, from the enflamed city of Troy -- the story told in Vergil's Aeneid. (We know she died because her ghost makes an appearance.) Harmonizing the two accounts some ancient thinkers say there were two sons of Aneas with the same name.
Be that as it may, this Ascanius, wherever born and of whatever mother -- it is at any rate agreed that his father was Aeneas -- seeing that Lavinium was over-populated, left that city, now a flourishing and wealthy one, considering those times, to his mother or stepmother, and built himself a new one at the foot of the Alban mount, which, from its situation, being built all along the ridge of a hill, was called Alba Longa.
Livy Book I
In this tradition Ascanius founded the city of Alba Longa and the Roman king Tullus Hostilius destroyed it. This legendary time period spans about 400 years. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (fl. c.20 B.C.) provides a description of its founding along with a note about its contribution to Roman wine.
To return to its founding, Alba was built near a mountain and a lake, occupying the space between the two, which served the city in place of walls and rendered it difficult to be taken. For the mountain is extremely strong and high and the lake is deep and large; and its waters are received by the plain when the sluices are opened, the inhabitants having it in their power to husband the supply as much as they wish. 3 Lying below the city are plains marvellous to behold and rich in producing wines and fruits of all sorts in no degree inferior to the rest of Italy, and particularly what they call the Alban wine, which is sweet and excellent and, with the exception of the Falernian, certainly superior to all others.
The Roman Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus
A famous legendary battle was fought under Tullus Hostilius. The outcome was decided by a variation on single combat. It was a battle between two sets of triplets, the Horatii brothers and the Curatii, perhaps respectively from Rome and Alba Longa.
It happened that there were in the two armies at that time three brothers born at one birth, neither in age nor strength ill-matched. That they were called Horatii and Curiatii is certain enough, and there is hardly any fact of antiquity more generally known; yet in a manner so well ascertained, a doubt remains concerning their names, as to which nation the Horatii, to which the Curiatii belonged. Authors incline to both sides, yet I find a majority who call the Horatii Romans: my own inclination leads me to follow them.
Livy Op. cit.
Of the six young men, only one Roman was left standing.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus describes what may have been the fate of the city:
This city is now uninhabited, since in the time of Tullus Hostilius, king of the Romans, Alba seemed to be contending with her colony for the sovereignty and hence was destroyed; but Rome, though she razed her mother-city to the ground, nevertheless welcomed its citizens into her midst. But these events belong to a later time.
Dionysius Op. cit.
The temples of Alba Longa were spared and its name was given to the lake, mountain (Mons Albanus, now Monte Cavo), and valley (Vallis Albana) in the area. The territory was named for Alba Longa, too, as it was called the "ager Albanus" -- a premium wine-growing region, as noted above. The area also produced Peperino, a volcanic stone considered a superior building material.
Alba Longan Ancestry: Several patrician families of Rome had Alban ancestors and are assumed to have come to Rome when Tullus Hostilius destroyed their hometown.
Alba Longa References:
- "Alba Longa" Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) William Smith, LLD, Ed.
- "Ascanius' Mother," by Robert J. Edgeworth; Hermes, 129. Bd., H. 2 (2001) , pp. 246-250.
- Religions of Rome: Volume 2, A Sourcebook, by Mary Beard, John North, and S.R.F. Price; Cambridge University Press: 1998.