Historical period from 1191 B.C. till 496 B.C. date of the Lake Regillus Battle between Tusculum and Rome.
The oldest documents about the grapes and the wine refers as being known in Armenia around 8000 B.C. Some populations were making wine from the wild grape, which certainly would not taste good to us, but for sure the great civilizations of the past, grew the wine grape Vitis Vinifera, which is native of the Mediterranean Region and for Frascati wine, we start our voyage in Greece. The Greek used to name Italy Enotria, i.e. the land of wine and this alone is an indication that grapes and wine were produced in a fertile land much more suited than their homeland Greece, where the soil is mainly stony and rocky and the climate is very dry. Italy, being in the center of the Mediterranean, was an ideal place to grow the God's nectar.
We know for sure that wine growing was introduced in Southern Italy by the Greek domination, in Sicily and the Apulia region, where there was a variety known to the Romans and called Greco, from their introducers, and from where it spread north and west. The Frascati wine has a Greek heritage, as the Malvasia di Candia, one of the today's component grape varieties, derives its name from Candia the antique name of the Crete island. But more important for our story, is the cultivation of grapes by the Etruscans, which lived in central Italy, on the Tirrenian coasts from Tuscany down to Latium. As the famous painted graves in Tarquinia demonstrate, wine was drunk in greek style kylos by a dancer.
Tarquinia. Tomb of the Leopards - Dancer with a cup of wine
Tarquinia was an Etruscan town, and today is a small beautiful place few miles north of Rome along the coast. When defeated by the Roman winners, the defeated (victi) Etruscan were still able to play a role by giving to Rome two of their famous seven kings.
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus the fifth King of Rome, 616-579 B.C. , father of Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud)
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (535 - 496 B.C.) the seventh and last king of Rome
The origin of Tusculum, Frascati old town.
Here the history meet the legend. Many historical references, tell the story that during the Odyssee, Ulysses met Cyrce on the Tirrenian coast and was seduced by her. Their son Telegonus is said to have founded the city of Tusculum, the today's Frascati.
Telegonus, the mythical founder of Tusculum, now Frascati, on a statue at the entrance of Parco dell' Ombrellino, Frascati, former Villa Lancellotti
However a more recent theory suggests that Tusculum was founded by the Etruscans. Three major facts may support this:
- The position of the town on a hill, but not very far from the sea, like other Etruscan cities (For example Caere, today's Cerveteri)
- The name Tusculum is probably derived as a diminutive of Tuscium, the name of an Etruscan area.
- The fact that Tarquinius the Proud, when forced to leave Rome, went back to Tusculum and not Tarquinia.
Tusculum exact birth date is impossible to determine, it has been dated about 400 years before the founding of Rome. Since Tusculum was destroyed in year 1191 after Christ, we arbitrary put the birth of Tusculum at 1191 B.C. to have a nice simmetry in the Tusculum existence (1191 B.C. - 1191 A.D.)
Tusculum was not only the town, but the whole territory around it. On top of the Tusculum hill there was the sacred part, including the forum and the amphitheatre as well as villas of the ruling families, the Cecilii, the Mamilii, the Furii. On the belt immediately beneath the top of the mountain, there were, and there are today still, chestnuts woods. Further down, on the hill side, there was the village of Frascati and immediately beneath the were plantations of olive trees and vineyards. As the plane valley of Roman Campagna was reached, the cultivations changed to cereals for bread, or just wild grass for the sheeps and livestock.
Map of Tusculum, from Canina, A description of ancient Tusculum, 1841. Note Tusculo on top of the hill, the dark woods, the city of Frascati downhill, and the cultivated lands with olive trees and vineyards around.
Today's area of Frascati, GrottaFerrata, Monteporzio, Montecompatri, Albano, Marino is called Colli Albani. Tusculum, which was the most powerful town of the Colli Albani, together with all other populations of the Latium region, tried to resist to the growing power of Rome, by creating the so called Latin League. Among the members of the Latin League were the Etruskans. Tarquinius Superbus after being sent away from Rome, asked help to Octavius Mamilius (a Tusculum dictator, father of his Tarquin's wife), and this web site honor this famous leader and Lucius Mamilius, his grandson which played an important role later one during the Roman times.A dictator, in the antique meaning is the one giving the orders (dictum), the leader.
They both tried to create an alliance, a win win pact: Tarquinius the Proud to reconquest kingdom, and the Tusculani to stop the expansionism of Rome.
Frascati map, beginning of 1600, note the wineyards immediately beneath the town, and Tusculum on top of the hill
And now both history and legend meet the territory. On an area close to Frascati called Lacus Regillus, in 496 B.C., the Romans defeated the Latin League, led by Octavius Mamilius who died in the battle together with other 20 000 people. The Roman were said to be rescued by the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux, therefore they dedicated to them a temple which is right in the Forum Romanum. It was considered to be the second most bloody war after Carthago in Northern Africa, but the Romans did not want to make it too much public, because their policy was to defeat and then to include the defeated people. In fact the Latin League people were annexed to the Romans and they made a threaty called foedus Cassianus to preven rebellions. The winning strategy of Rome was to turn the people into Roman citizens and making then actively participate to the growing power.
Lacus Regillus, now no longer a lake, lied in the hill regions beneath Tusculum, in the area called Prataporci, (name from the gens Portia, whom Marcus Porcius Cato belonged) where today there are quality wineries.
In the top of the hill part of Tusculum, where the amphitheater and rests of important villas exist today, in the last two centuries archeologists sponsored by the Savoy family found many archeological reperts, which are now in Castello d'Agliè in Piemonte.
Tusculum amphitheatre today
Between them a wall painting of two goats with white grapes are dated back to the 5th century B.C.
The two goats with grapes, wall painting from Villa dei Cecilii, Tusculum, V Century B.C.
Another wall decoration
But there are a statue of Bacchus and many smaller decorations where the grapes are shown
Bacchus statue and other findings showing grape decorations and harvesting scenes
The territory belonging to the Frascati wine, as it is defined today the wine protecting authorities, did not change much over the centuries. The uniqueness of volcanic soils, sun and wind exposition, humidity and climate made the ancient people select the best places to grow grapes. The combination of mild climate, volcanic terrains and shelter by the hills guaranteed the best results for the cultivation in the past as also today. Furthermore the area has a lot of friable volcanic rock, and people since ancient times escavated galleries used as cellars for storing the wine, another important element to make a great wine.
Map of the Frascati Area
In summary grapes and wine making in the Tusculum territory dates back at least to the 5th century B.C. on the hills sloping down from Castelli Romani. Thanks to the Greeks and the Etruscans, the Frascati wine was born. This is the beginning of our journey.
The Roman street leading to Tusculum, today