Map of the Roman Empire - Tiber River
H-4 on the Map
The Ancient Tiber River - The city of Rome stands on the eastern banks of the Tiber River which is the main river in Central Italy, and third longest in Italy. The Tiber River was very important to Roman trade and commerce, because large ships could reach as far as 60 miles upriver from the city of Rome.
Tibĕris also Tibris, Tybris, Thybris, Amnis Tiberīnus or simply Tiberīnus. Now the Tiber or Tevere; the chief river in Central Italy, on which stands the city of Rome. It is said to have been originally called Albŭla, and to have received the name of Tibĕris in consequence of Tiberinus, king of Alba, having been drowned in it. It has been supposed that Albula was the Latin and Tiberis the Etruscan name of the river. The Tiber rises in the Apennines, near Tifernum, and flows in a southwesterly direction, separating Etruria from Umbria, the land of the Sabines, and Latium. After flowing about 110 miles it receives the Nar (Nera), and from its confluence with this river its regular navigation begins. Three miles above Rome, at the distance of nearly seventy miles from the Nar, it receives the Anio (Teverone), and from this point becomes a river of considerable importance. Within the walls of Rome, the Tiber is about 300 feet wide and from twelve to eighteen feet deep. After heavy rains the river in ancient times, as at the present day, frequently overflowed its banks, and did considerable mischief to the lower parts of the city (Liv. xxiv. 9, Liv. xxx. 38, Liv. xxxv. 9, 21, Liv. xxxviii. 28; Dio Cass. xxxix. 61, liii. 20). To guard against these dangers Augustus instituted the Curatores Alvei Tiberis (Suet. Aug. 37). At Rome the maritime navigation of the river begins; and at eighteen miles from the city, and about four miles from the coast, it divides into two arms, forming an island, which was sacred to Venus and called Insula Sacra (Isola Sagra). The left branch of the river runs into the sea by Ostia, which was the ancient harbour of Rome; but in consequence of the accumulation of sand at the mouth of the left branch, the right branch was widened by Trajan, and was made the regular harbour of the city under the name of Portus Romanus, Portus Augusti, or simply Portus. (See Ostia.) The whole length of the Tiber, with its windings, is about 200 miles. The waters of the river are muddy and yellowish, whence it is frequently called by the Roman poets flavus Tiberis. The poets also give it the epithets of Tyrrhenus, because it flowed past Etruria during the whole of its course, and of Lydius, because the Etruscans are said to have been of Lydian origin. See Etruria. - Harry Thurston Peck. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York. Harper and Brothers.
Tiberis fl., prius Albula, a r. of Italy, rising in the Apennines above Arretium and, after a course of 147 m., falling into Tyrrhenium mare at Ostia, by two mouths, the right now called Fiumecino, the left Finmara. The boundary of Etruria from Umbria, Sabinium, and Latium. Named from Thybris, a Tyrrhenian chief, drowned in it. Servius observes that on solemn occasions it is called Tyberinus; on ordinary occasions Tiberis; and poetically Tibris. Tevere; Tiber. - Classical Gazetteer
The Tiber (Latin Tiberis, Italian Tevere, Italian pronunciation: [ˈteːvere])
is the third-longest river in Italy, rising in the Apennine mountains in
Emilia-Romagna and flowing 406 kilometres (252 mi) through Umbria and Lazio to
the Tyrrhenian Sea. It drains a basin estimated at 17,375 square kilometres
(6,709 sq mi). The river has achieved lasting fame as the main watercourse of
the city of Rome, founded on its eastern banks.
History of the Tiber River. According to legend, the city of Rome was founded in 753 BC on the banks of the Tiber about 25 kilometres (16 mi) from the sea at Ostia. The island Isola Tiberina in the center of Rome, between Trastevere and the ancient center, was the site of an important ancient ford and was later bridged. Legend says Rome's founders, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, were abandoned on its waters, where they were rescued by a she-wolf. The river marked the boundary between the lands of the Etruscans to the west, the Sabines to the east and the Latins to the south. Benito Mussolini, born in Romagna, adjusted the boundary between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, so that the springs of the Tiber would lie in Romagna. The Tiber was critically important to Roman trade and commerce, as ships could reach as far as 100 kilometres (60 mi) upriver; there is evidence that it was used to ship grain from the Val Teverina as long ago as the 5th century BC. It was later used to ship stone, timber and foodstuffs to Rome. During the Punic Wars of the 3rd century BC, the harbour at Ostia became a key naval base. It later became Rome's most important port, where wheat, olive oil, and wine were imported from Rome's colonies around the Mediterranean. Wharves were also built along the riverside in Rome itself, lining the riverbanks around the Campus Martius area. The Romans connected the river with a sewer system (the Cloaca Maxima) and with an underground network of tunnels and other channels, to bring its water into the middle of the city. Wealthy Romans had garden-parks or "horti" on the banks of the river in Rome up through the first century BC. These may have been sold and developed about a century later. The heavy sedimentation of the river made it difficult to maintain Ostia, prompting the emperors Claudius and Trajan to establish a new port on the Fiumicino in the 1st century AD. They built a new road, the via Portuensis, to connect Rome with Fiumicino, leaving the city by Porta Portese ('the port gate'). Both ports were eventually abandoned due to silting. - Wikipedia
Map of the Roman Empire (Enlarged)
Click on a Location
TI´BERIS (ὁ Τίβερις: Tevere, Tiber: the forms Tibris, Tybris, and Thybris are chiefly poetical, as is Θύμβρις also in Greek: the Latin poets use also Tiberinus as an adjective form, as Tiberinus pater, Tiberinum flumen, &c., and thence sometimes Tiberinus by itself as the name of the river), one of the most important rivers of Central Italy. It has its sources in the Apennines above Tifernum, but in the territory of Arretium (Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9), on the confines of Etruria and Umbria, and flows at first in a southerly direction, passing by the walls of Tifernum, which derived from it the name of Tiberinum (Città di Castello), and afterwards within a few miles of Perusia on the E., and within a still shorter distance to the W. of Tuder (Todi). From thence it still preserves a general S. direction, notwithstanding considerable windings, till it receives the waters of the Anio (Teverone), a few miles from the walls of Rome, from which point it has a general SW. course to the sea at Ostia. Pliny estimates the upper part of its course at 150 miles, to which must be added about 35 more for the lower part, giving as a total 185 miles (Plin. l.c.; Strab. v. p.218); but this estimate is below the truth, the whole course of the river being about 180 geogr. or 225 Roman miles. During the whole of its course from Tifernum to the sea the Tiber formed in ancient times the eastern boundary of Etruria, separating that country from Umbria in the upper part of its course, afterwards from the territory of the Sabines, and, in the lower, part, from the mouth of the Anio downwards, dividing it from Latium. (Strab. v. p.219; Plin. l.c.) It receives numerous confluents or tributaries, of which the most important are, the TINIA an inconsiderable stream which joins it from the E. a little below Perusia, bringing with it the waters of the more celebrated Clitumnus; the CLANIS which falls into it from the right bank, descending from the marshy tract near Clusium; the NAR a much more considerable stream, which is joined by the VELINUS a few miles above Interamna, and discharges their combined waters into the Tiber, a few miles above Ocriculum; and the ANIO which falls into the Tiber at Antemnae, 3 miles above Rome. These are the only affluents of the Tiber of any geographical importance, but among its minor tributaries, the ALLIA on its left bank, a few miles above the Anio, and the CREMERA on the right, are names of historical celebrity, though very trifling streams, the identification of which is by no means certain. [See the respective articles.] Two other streams of less note, which descend from the land of the Sabines and fall into the Tiber between Ocriculum and Eretum, [p. 2.1198]are, the HIMELLA (Aia) and the FARFARUS or FABARIS (Farfa).
The Tiber is unquestionably, in a merely geographical point of view, the most important river of Central Italy, but its great celebrity is derived from its flowing under the walls of Rome, or rather through the heart of the city, after this had attained to its full extension. The detailed account of the river in this part of its course must be sought in the article ROMA: we need here only mention that after flowing under the Milvian Bridge [PONS MILVIUS or MULVIUS] the river makes a considerable bend to the W. so as to approach the foot of the Vatican hills, and leave, on the other side, between its left bank and the nearest ridge of hills, a broad tract of plain, early known as the Campus Martius, the whole of which was eventually included within the imperial city. A short distance lower down, but still within the walls of the city, its stream was divided into two by an island known as the INSULA TIBERINA, and reported by tradition to have been formed by alluvial accumulations within the period of Roman history. It is remarkable that this is the only island of any consideration in the whole course of the river, with the exception of that called the INSULA SACRA, at its mouth, formed by the two arms of the river, and which is undoubtedly of late growth, and in great part of artificial formation.
The Tiber was at all times, like most rivers which are supplied principally by mountain streams, a turbid, rapid, and irregular river, that must always have presented considerable difficulties to navigation. The yellow and muddy hue of its turbid waters is repeatedly alluded to by the Roman poets ( “flavum Tiberim,” Hor. Carm. 1.2.13; “suo cum gurgite flavo,” Verg. A. 9.816; &c.), and the truth of Virgil's description, “Vorticibus rapidis et multa flavus arena,” (Aen. 7.31), must be familiar to everyone who has visited Rome. In the upper part of its course, as we learn from Pliny, the river was with difficulty navigable, even for small boats; nor did its first tributaries, the Tinia and Clanis contribute much to its facilities in this respect, though their waters were artificially dammed up, and let off from time to time in order to augment the main stream. (Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9.) But from the point of its junction with the Nar, the Tiber became navigable for larger vessels, and even from an early period extensive supplies of various kinds were brought down the river to Rome. (Liv. 2.34, 5.54; Cic. de Rep. 2.5; &c.) In the more flourishing period of the city the navigation of the Tiber was of course enormously increased; and vast supplies of timber, stone, and other materials for building, as well as corn and provisions, were continually introduced by means of the river and its tributaries. (Strab. v. p.235.) Corn was brought down the Tiber even from the neighbourhood of Tifernum, when the upper part of the stream was navigable. (Plin. Ep. 5.6.) It seems also to have been used as an ordinary mode of travelling, as we are told that in A.D. 20, Piso, the murderer of Germanicus, proceeded from Narnia to Rome by descending the Nar and the Tiber. (Tac. Ann. 3.9.) At the present day the river is navigated by boats of large size as far as the confluence of the Nera, and small steamers ascend as far as Borghetto, a few miles from Otricoli.
But it was from Rome itself to the sea, a distance of 27 miles by the river (Strab. v. p.232), that the navigation of the Tiber was the most important. Pliny speaks of it as in this part of its course navigable for the largest vessels ( “quamlibet magnarum navium ex Italo maria capax” ), and as becoming the receptacle of merchandise from every part of the world. The latter statement may be readily admitted; but the former is calculated to astonish any one acquainted with the river in its present condition yet it is partly confirmed by the distinct statement of Strabo (v. p.232), that the larger class of merchant vessels used to ride at anchor in the open sea off the mouth of the river, until they had been lightened of a part of their cargoes, which they discharged into barges, and afterwards proceeded up the river to Rome. Dionysius gives the same account, with the exception that vessels which exceeded 3000 amphorae in burden were unable to enter the river at all, and forced to send their cargoes up by barges. (Dionys. A. R. 3.44.) But all kinds of rowing vessels, not excepting the largest ships of war, were able to ascend the river (Ib.); and thus we find the younger Cato on his return from Cyprus proceeding at once in his galley to the Navalia within the walls of Rome. (Plut. Cat. Mi. 39.) We learn also from Livy that the ships of war which had been taken from Perseus king of Macedonia, though of unusual size ( “inusitatae ante magnitudinis” ), were carried up the river as far as the Campus Martins (Liv. 45.42); and even the gigantic vessel constructed for the purpose of bringing the obelisk that was set up in the Circus Maximus, was able to ascend as far as the Vicus Alexandri, within three miles of Rome (Ammian. 17.4.14). The chief difficulties that impeded the navigation of the river in the time of Strabo were caused by its own accumulations at its mouth, which had destroyed the port of Ostia. These were afterwards in great measure removed by the construction of an artificial port, called the PORTUS AUGUSTI commenced by Claudius, and enlarged by Trajan, which communicated by an artificial canal or arm with the main stream of the river. (The history of these works, and the changes which the mouths of the Tiber underwent in consequence, are fully given in the article OSTIA) The importance of the navigation of the Tiber led to the formation of distinct bodies or corporations in connection with it, called Navicularii and Lenuncularii, both of which are frequently mentioned in inscriptions of imperial times (Preller, p. 147).
Another disadvantage under which the Tiber laboured, in common with most rivers of mountain origin, arose from the frequent inundations to which it was subject. These appear to have occurred in all ages of the Roman history; but the earliest recorded is in B.C. 241, immediately after the close of the first Punic War (Ores. 4.11), which is said to have swept away all the houses and buildings at Rome in the lower part of the city. Similar inundations, which did more or less damage to the city are recorded by Livy in B.C. 215, 202, 193, and again in 192 and 189 (Liv. 24.9, 30.38, xxxv 9, 21, 38.28) and there is little doubt that it is only from the loss of the detailed annals that we do not hear again of the occurrence of similar catastrophes till near the close of the Republic. Thus we find a great inundation of the Tiber noticed as taking place in B.C. 54 (D. C. 39.61), which is alluded to by Cicero (ad Q. Fr. 3.7); and several similar inundations are known to have occurred in the time of Augustus, in B.C. 27, 23 and 22, of which the first is probably that alluded to by Horace in a well-known ode. (Hor. Carm. 1.2.13; Orell. Excurs. ad l.c.; D. C. 53.20, [p. 2.1199]33, 54.1.) Great attention was bestowed by Augustus upon the subject, and he first instituted magistrates with the title of Curatores Tiberis, whose special duty was to endeavour to restrain the river within due bounds, to preserve the embankments, &c. (Suet. Oct. 37.) These officers received increased powers under Tiberius, and continued down to the close of the Empire. We frequently meet with mention in inscriptions of the “Curatores alvei Tiberis et riparum,” and the office seems to have been regarded as one of the most honourable in the state. (D. C. 57.14; Orell. Inscr. 1172, 2284, &c.; Gruter, Inscr. pp. 197, 198.) But it is evident that all their efforts were ineffectual. In the reign of Tiberius so serious was the mischief caused by an inundation in A.D. 15 that it was proposed in the senate to diminish the bulk of the waters by diverting some of the chief tributaries of the stream, such as the Nar, Velinus and Clanis. (Tac. Ann. 1.76; D. C. 57.14.) This plan was, however, abandoned as impracticable; and in A.D. 69 another inundation took place, which appears to have caused still more damage than any that had preceded it (Tac. Hist. 1.86). It is strange that in face of these facts Pliny should assert that the Tiber was so confined within artificial banks as to have very little power of outbreak, and that its inundations were rather subjects of superstitious alarm than formidable in themselves. (Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9.) During the later ages of the Empire indeed we hear but little of such outbreaks of the Tiber, but this is very probably owing only to the scanty nature of our records. One great inundation is, however, recorded as doing great mischief in the reign of Trajan, another in that of Macrinus, and a third in that of Valerian. (D. C. 78.25; Vict. Caes. 34, Epit. 13.) One of the most destructive of all is said to have been that of A.D. 590, which added to the various calamities that at that time almost overwhelmed the city. (Hist. Miscell. xviii. p. 583; Greg. Turon. 10.1.) At the present day the lower parts of Rome are still frequently flooded by the river, for though the soil of these parts of the city has unquestionably been raised, in some places many feet, the bed of the Tiber has undoubtedly been also elevated, though probably in a less degree. The whole subject of the inundations and navigation of the Tiber, and the measures taken in ancient times in connection with them, is fully illustrated by Preller in an article entitled Rom und dear Tiber in the Berichte der Sächsischen Gesellschaft for 1848 and 1849.
The Tiber appears to have been in ancient times occasionally frozen, at least partially; a circumstance to which the Latin poets repeatedly allude. But we must not construe their rhetorical expressions too strictly; and it is clear from the terms in which Livy notices its being frozen over in the extraordinary winter of B.C. 398, that such an occurrence was of extreme rarity. ( “Insignis annus hieme gelida ac nivosa fuit, adeo ut viae clausae, Tiberis innavigabilis fuerit,” Liv. 5.13.) St. Augustin also alludes to such a winter (apparently the same noticed by Livy), “ut Tiberis quoque glacie duraretur,” as a thing unheard of in his times. (Augustin, Civ. Dei, 3.17.)
It was a tradition generally received among the Romans that the Tiber had been originally called Albula; and that it changed its name in consequence of Tiberinus, one of the fabulous kings of Alba, having been drowned in its waters. (Liv. 1.3; Dionys. A. R. 1.71; Vict. Orig. G. Rom. 18.) Virgil, however, who calls the king Thybris, assigns him to an earlier period, prior to the landing of Aeneas (Aen. 8.330). Hence the river is not unfrequently called by the Roman poets Albula. (Sil. Ital. 6.391, 8.455, &c.) It had naturally its tutelary divinity or river-god, who, as we learn from Cicero, was regularly invoked in their prayers by the augurs under the name of Tiberinus (Cic. de N. D. 3.2. 0). He is frequently introduced by the Roman poets as “pater Tiberinus” (Enn. Ann. i. p. 43; Verg. A. 8.31, 72; &c.) - Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) William Smith, LLD, Ed.
Return to the Map of the Roman Empire
Return to Bible History Online