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Coordinates: 41 ° 50 '  N , 12 ° 54'  E

Roman festival calendar ( Fasti Praenestini) found in Praeneste in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme , Rome

Praeneste (Greek Πραίνεστος ) was an ancient city in Lazio . Today's Palestrina rises on the ruins .

Foundation and early history

Virgil says about the founder Praenestes :

"Caeculus was not missing either, the founder and King Praenestes,
who, according to the belief of contemporaries, was begotten by Vulcanus,
once found with the cattle of the farmers on a burning herd
has been. The country folk followed him from afar, the men,
those in the high Praeneste, in the land of the Gabinese Juno,
next to the ice-cold Anio, on the foaming streams
Hernicist rocks live. "

But not only Caeculus was named as the mythical founder of the city, also Praenestes, son of Latinus and grandson of Odysseus , and Telegonos , son of Odysseus. The old authors did not even agree on whether Praeneste was an Italian or Greek foundation: according to Strabo, Praeneste would be a Greek city and would originally have been called Polystephanos .

Praeneste was probably founded in the 7th or 6th century BC. Founded as a colony of Alba Longas . Settlement as early as the 8th or 7th century BC BC is documented by grave finds. The most famous of these finds include those from the Tomba Bernardini and the Tomba Barberini, which are exhibited today in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia , as well as the Fibula Praenestina with what is probably the oldest inscription in early Latin .

Praeneste appears for the first time as a member of the Latin League with Dionysius of Halicarnassus . But as early as 499 BC After Livy , Praeneste fell away from the Latin League and joined Rome.

The alliance seems to have lasted for some time. Shortly after 383 BC Chr. Praeneste's raids on the area of Gabianum and Labicum are reported, to which Rome initially did not react. 382 BC Then Rome declared war on Praeneste after Praeneste had supported the uprising of the Velitrae colony . Praeneste allied itself with the Volskern and they succeeded in conquering the Roman colony of Satricum . In the following year the Volscians were defeated by the Romans under Camillus . Praeneste does not seem to have been affected by this defeat, because when there were internal tensions in Rome in 380 and therefore an army intended to war against Praeneste could not be formed, Praeneste himself took the initiative. A surprising campaign brought the army of Praeneste outside the walls of Rome, which caused considerable alarm there and resulted in Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus being hastily appointed dictator . Meanwhile the enemy had camped near the Allia in the hope that it would again be the site of defeat for Rome. However, the battle went in favor of the Romans and the opponents eventually withdrew behind the walls of Praeneste. After the Romans had conquered the eight cities ruled by Praeneste, Praeneste capitulated. The victorious dictator brought a statue of the Jupiter Imperator from Praeneste to Rome and set it up on the Capitol , with the proud inscription: Jupiter and all the gods granted the dictator T. Quinctius the conquest of 9 cities. In the following year there were again activities fueled by Praeneste, but then there seems to have been a relative calm for several decades, during which Praeneste was able to maintain his independence.

Praeneste under Roman rule

The independence of Praenestes only ended after another war against Rome in 338 BC. When Praeneste, allied with Tibur and other Latin cities, lost to Lucius Furius Camillus at Pedum . Nevertheless, Praeneste seems to have retained a certain degree of independence. The praenestic troops in the Roman army (the cohors Praenestina ) were subordinate to their own praetors and the city had the ius exilii , so it could give refuge to exiles.

In the events of the Roman civil wars between Gaius Marius the Younger and Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 82 BC. Chr. Praeneste played an important role again. As early as 87 BC In BC Praeneste was occupied by Lucius Cornelius Cinna , who had been expelled from Rome, and has since been literally a stronghold of the popular . After the younger Marius von Sulla was defeated at Sacriportus , he sought refuge in Praeneste and was besieged there by Quintus Lucretius Ofella , a general of Sulla. Attempts at relief failed, and when the Populares' cause was apparently lost after the battle at Porta Collina , the defenders of Praenestes opened the gates. Marius tried in vain to escape the city through an underground passage. Presumably he died by suicide. Sulla presented his severed head on the Rostra in Rome. The captured Senators of the Marius Party were executed. On Sulla's orders, the defenders of Praenestes pardoned the Romans, but the Samnites and the citizens of Praenestes were slaughtered - 12,000 according to Plutarch . The city was sacked.

Subsequently, Praeneste became a Sullan colony and no longer plays a major role in the history of the time. Large parts of the existing city complex seem to have been built over by the expansion of the Fortuna shrine and the city changed from a fortress into an imperial summer resort. Augustus and Tiberius stayed there. Under Tiberius, Praeneste eventually became a Municipium . Marcus Aurelius stayed there and Hadrian built a villa in Praeneste similar to the one in neighboring Tivoli . Praeneste was also a popular seat for writers and scholars: Horace , Pliny the Younger and in Rome's late period Symmachus owned villas in Praeneste.

Sanctuary and Oracle of Fortuna Primigenia

View of the sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia after a reconstruction by Pietro da Cortona .
Sanctuary of Fortuna - rows of arches made of mortar masonry as substructures in the hilly terrain.

Origin and reputation of the oracle

Praeneste was particularly famous for the sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia and the associated oracle, the sortes Praenestinae ("prenestinian lots"). The epithet Primigenia ("firstborn" or "original") already indicates the high rank of the form of Fortuna revered here . The cult image placed in the sanctuary shows her as a mother with two children in her lap, Juno and Jupiter , who reaches for her breast. Fortuna Primigenia was also venerated in Rome, where there were two temples: one on the Capitol, attributed to Servius Tullius , a legendary king of Rome, and one on the Quirinal , donated by P. Sempronius Sophus and consecrated by Q. Marcius Ralla .

Cicero reports the legend of the origin of the oracle: A certain Numerius Suffustius, a respected man, was repeatedly asked in a dream and finally threatened to split a rock lying at a designated point. When he finally did, the tokens popped out of the broken rock. The lottery tickets were made of oak and archaic characters were carved into them. Furthermore, honey flowed from an olive tree at the site of the later sanctuary, which was taken as a sign to make a container for the storage of the lots from the wood of this tree.

The oracle was given with the help of these lots: At a nod from the cult image, a boy mixed the lots and then voted; whether one or more lots is not known. The drawn lots were interpreted and, based on this, the oracle was given to the questioner. One must imagine the process in principle similar to that of laying tarot cards .

According to Cicero, the prestige of the prenestinian oracle had waned in his time, at least among the educated, but that seems to have changed again during the imperial era. Suetonius reports from Tiberius that he tried to suppress private oracles and fortune-telling, but the sortes Praenestinae had taught him respect: he had them sealed in their container and brought to Rome, but could not find them (or could not use them?), until they were returned to the sanctuary. And it is reported about Domitian that the Fortuna Primigenia, from whom he had received a favorable oracle every New Year, gave him a very gloomy saying in his last year, which also spoke of bloodshed. Even Alexander Severus to the unreliable Historia Augusta , according to the oracle interviewed when he (was not yet emperor) by his cousin Elagabalus was followed by assassinations.

After all, the oracle at that time seems to have mostly been associated with matters of lesser importance (such as love affairs). So Properz asks his Cynthia: Are you going to Praeneste to hear a vain oracle? This may be related to the fact that Fortuna Primigenia as mother goddess (see her cult image) was especially popular with women.

That was not always the case: Valerius Maximus reports in his anecdotal collection that the Senate had expressly forbidden Gaius Lutatius Catulus , the victor in the First Punic War , to consult the oracle of Praeneste in state affairs, since it was a foreign oracle and Roman affairs should only be presented to the Roman state oracles. From this it can be concluded that at that time, in the middle of the 3rd century BC BC, the oracle of Praeneste considered worthy and significant enough to decide questions of the state well-being.

The oracle existed until Theodosius I , on whose orders it was closed.

Temple complexes

Remnants of the sanctuary are still there. The late Republican terraces of the sanctuary represent the starting point of a specifically Roman monumental architecture. An old core was magnificently expanded into an axially symmetrical complex with seven artificial terraces, in a combination of indigenous-Italian ( podium temple ) and Hellenistic structures (columned halls, open stairs).

Basically two parts of the temple complex can be distinguished, a lower - older - part with two grottos and a basilica and an upper - newer - complex with the Fortuna temple.

Lower plant

The lower part probably corresponds to the original sanctuary and contains the oracle site. In the western grotto (seen from the front on the left) there was a floor mosaic with a marine theme, showing fish, a coast and a temple of Poseidon. The grotto is of natural origin but has been enlarged. A spring in the grotto was put in a well. It has been assumed that this grotto was the actual oracle cave, which is why it is now commonly referred to as Grotta delle Sorti ("Grotto of the Lots").

Nile mosaic

Nile mosaic from Palestrina

See main article Nile mosaic from Palestrina

The eastern grotto was part of an apse building . A magnificent mosaic floor with the imaginative depiction of a Hellenized Egypt was found in this, the so-called Barberine mosaic or Nile mosaic . It can be seen today in the Palazzo Barberini-Colonna, which was built on top of the temple complex. The mosaic measures 5.85 × 4.31 meters. Part of the mosaic (0.95 × 1.02 m) is in the Berlin Collection of Antiquities . The dating is controversial and ranges from the end of the 1st century BC. Until the time of Hadrian .

Today there is an open space with remains of columns between the two grottos. It is believed that the room was covered and that there was a basilica there.

Upper plant

A newer temple complex, crowned by a semicircular temple of Fortuna, rises above the lower complex in several terraced steps connected by wide stairs. Overall, the temple was certainly one of the most impressive sacred complexes of the Roman Empire due to its size and its location, which was visible from afar.



  • Edward Herbert Bunbury:  Praeneste . In: William Smith : Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London 1854.
  • Leonardo Cecconi: Storia di Palestrina città del prisco Lazio illustrata con antiche iscrizione e notizie finora inedite. Ascoli 1796
  • Ralph van Deman Magoffin: A Study of the topography and municipal history of Praeneste. Johns Hopkins, Baltimore 1908 ( online ).
  • Jörg Martin Merz: The sanctuary of Fortuna in Palestrina and the architecture of modern times. Hirmer, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-7774-8940-9
  • Gerhard Radke : Praeneste. In: The Little Pauly (KlP). Volume 4, Stuttgart 1972, Col. 1110 f.
  • Lawrence Richardson Jr .:  Praeneste (Palestrina) Italy . In: Richard Stillwell et al. a. (Ed.): The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976, ISBN 0-691-03542-3 .
  • Atti del Convegno di Studi Archeologici, Palestrina:
    • Urbanistica ed architettura dell'antica praeneste. Atti del Convegno di Studi Archeologici, Palestrina, 16/17 April 1988, Assessorato alla Cultura, Palestrina 1989.
    • La necropoli di Praeneste. Periodo orientalizzante e medio repubblicano. Atti de 2nd Convegno di Studi Archeologici, Palestrina, April 21-22, 1990, Assessorato alla Cultura, Palestrina 1992.
    • Le Fortune dell'età arcaica nel Lazio ed in Italia e loro posterità. Atti del 3 ° Convegno di studi archeologici, Palestrina 15-16 ottobre 1994, Assessorato alla Cultura, Palestrina 1997.

Fortune Shrine:

  • Furio Fasolo, Giorgio Gullini: Il Santuario della Fortuna Primigenia a Palestrina. Rome 1953.
  • Heinz Kähler : The Fortuna Shrine of Palestrina Praeneste. In: Annales Universitatis Saraviensis. Philosophy - Lettres . Volume 7, 1958, Fasc. 3/4, pp. 189-240.
  • Luise Westkirch: The Fortuna von Praeneste. Reclam, Leipzig 1926 (Reclam's Universal Library, No. 6644).

Web links

Commons : Roman Ruins in Praeneste  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. For example, in Strabo , Geographica 5238 and Appian , bella civilia 1.94.
  2. Virgil, Aeneid 7.687. See also Cato frg. 59P.
  3. Quoted from the translation by Dietrich Ebener. Virgil: works in one volume. 2nd Edition. Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 1987. p. 320.
  4. Zenodotos von Troizen , in: FGrH 821 F 1.
  5. Aristocles, Italica 3. FGrH 831 F 1.
  6. Antiquitates Romanae 5.61.
  7. ^ Livy 2.19.
  8. A few years earlier (387 or 390 BC) the Battle of the Allia took place there, the legendary defeat of the Romans against the invading Celts under Brennus .
  9. ^ Iuppiter atque divi omnes hoc dederunt ut T. Quinctius dictator oppida novem caperet .
  10. Livy 6.21f, 6.27-30.
  11. Livy 8.12-14.
  12. Polybios 6.14.
  13. Appianus , civil wars 1.87-94; Plutarch, Sulla 28,29,32; ders., Marius 46.5; Velleius Paterculus , Roman History I.26–27.
  14. CIL XV p. 289.
  15. Aulus Gellius 16.13.5: Praenestinos autem refert maximo opere a Tiberio imperatore petisse orasseque, ut ex colonia in municipii statum redigerentur, idque illis Tiberium pro referenda gratia tribuisse, quod in eorum finibus sub ipso oppido ex capitali morbo revaluisset.
  16. From: JM Suares: Praenestes antiquae libri duo. Rome 1655
  17. ^ Plutarch , De Fortuna Romanorum ( Moralia IV.23) 10.
  18. Livy 34.53
  19. Cicero, De divinatione 2.41 (85-87)
  20. De divinatione 2.41: Sed hoc quidem genus divinationis vita iam communis explosit; fani pulchritudo et vetustas Praenestinarum etiam nunc retinet sortium nomen, atque id in volgus. Quis enim magistratus aut quis vir inlustrior utitur sortibus?
  21. Suetonius , Tiberius 63.1: vicina vero urbi oracula etiam dissicere conatus est, sed maiestate Praenestinarum sortium territus destitit, cum obsignatas devectasque Romam non repperisset in arca nisi relata rursus ad templum.
  22. ^ Suetonius, Domitianus 15.2
  23. Historia Augusta, Severus Alexander 4.6
  24. Properz, Elegies 3.30
  25. Valerius Maximus Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri IX 1.3.2
  26. New Bels Style History. Vol. 2. p. 223.