The Roman Republic - Vol. 1

By W. E. Heitland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY
8. 8. THE physical geography 1 of the Italian peninsula is in the main simple and easily brought under a general view. Throughout almost its entire length the great chain of the Apennine is the dominant feature of the country: the rivers are mostly mountain torrents, the water of which rushes to the sea in headlong waste and leaves its bed dry and stony for a great part of the year. Each stream cuts out its ravine, great or small, and brings down stones sand and mud to deposit near its mouth; thus the edges of the sea are made shallower bit by bit, while the edges of the land move slowly forward, growing with the yearly tribute of the hills. This change in the shore-line is of course more remarkable in some places than in others: good instances are to be found at the mouths of the Tiber and the Arno, but as a normal phenomenon it is perhaps equally striking along the Adriatic coast. From such a conformation of the country some important consequences follow. First, there are no great river-harbours, such as London or Hamburg. And, wherever in the neighbourhood of a stream's mouth there was formed a port sufficient for the needs of ancient shipping, the tendency to silt up was a constant trouble to its owners. The Tiber is a case in point. It was to some extent a harbour-river, for vessels were brought up as far as Rome: but the uncertainties of the mouth and the labour of the upstream passage made a port on the coast-line necessary: and the remains of the imperial harbour works exist to shew how the shore has advanced and the port been pushed further out seaward by the irresistible growth of the land. In a coast-line of about 2000 miles natural landlocked harbours scarcely exist, and the help of tidal estuaries is not offered by an almost tideless sea. Nature has in short done little to promote an active seaborne commerce on the coasts of Italy, and the only great maritime city developed there in ancient times was the Greek colony of Tarentum. When Italy became Roman, the needs of commerce led to the growth of other ports in more convenient situations: but these, with the exception
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1
The work of glacial and volcanic action in different parts of Italy is fully treated in Nissen Italische Zandeskunde vol. I ( Berlin 1883).

-9-

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