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Ancient Corsica A rocky and mountainous island west of Italia. The inhabitants were wild and inhospitable known for their rudeness, mountain men, and the worst of barbarians. Rome dominated Corsica over Carthage in 231 BC. During the time of the Roman Empire it was selected as a place of banishment for political exiles.

Corsica An island of the Mediterranean, called by the Greeks Κύρνος. Its inhabitants were styled by the same people Κύρνιοι; by the Romans, Corsi. In later times the island took also the name of Corsis (ἡ Κορσίς). The inhabitants were a rude race of mountaineers, indebted for their subsistence more to the produce of their flocks than to the cultivation of the soil. Seneca, who was banished to this quarter in the reign of Claudius, draws a very unfavourable picture of the island and its inhabitants; describing the former as rocky, unproductive, and unhealthy, and the latter as the worst of barbarians (De Consol. ad Helv. c. 6, 8). His lines upon the character of the Corsicans are still remembered by them with resentment, and are as follows:

Prima est ulcisci lex, altera vivere raptu,
Tertia mentiri, quarta negare deos.

The Corsi appear to have derived their origin from Ligurian and Iberian (called by Seneca Spanish) tribes. Eustathius says that a Ligurian woman, named Corsa, having pursued in a small boat a bull which had taken to the water, accidentally discovered the island, which her countrymen named after her. The Romans took the island from Carthage in B.C. 231, and subsequently two colonies were sent to it—one by Marius, which founded Mariana, and another by Sulla , which settled on the site of Aleria. Mantinorum Oppidum, in the same island, is now Bastia; and Urcinium, Ajaccio. See Jacobi, Histoire Générale de la Corse (Paris, 1835); and Gregorovius, Corsica (Stuttgart, 1854; Eng. trans. Philadelphia, 1855). - Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York. Harper and Brothers.

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Corsica CO´RSICA
CO´RSICA called by the Greeks CYRNUS (Κύρνος: Eth. Κυρναῖος: later Greek writers, however, use also Κορσίς and Κορσίκα; Dionys. Per.; Strab.; Ptol., &c.: the Latin Ethnic is Corsus, which Ovid uses also for the adjective: Corsicanus is the adjective form in Servius and Solinus), one of the principal islands in the Mediterranean, ranean, situated to the N. of Sardinia, from which it was separated only by a narrow strait. It was generally rally reckoned the third in magnitude of the seven great islands in that sea (Alexius, ap. Enstath. ad Dionys. Per. 4; Strab. ii. p.123), though other authors gave it only the sixth place. (Diod. 5.17; Scylax, § 113.) Pliny says that it was 150 miles long, and for the most part 50 broad, and gives its circumference at 325 miles; Strabo, on the other hand, states its length at 160 miles, and its greatest breadth at 70. (Plin. Nat. 3.6. s. 12; Strab. v. p.224.) Both these statements exceed the truth; the real length of the island is just about 100 geographical (125 Roman) miles, while its breadth nowhere exceeds 46 geographical or 58 Roman miles. Both Strabo and Diodorus reckon it 300 stadia distant from the island of Aethalia or Ilva, which is very little more than the truth; the former correctly states that it is visible from the mainland near Populonium, but he was misled by his guides when they led him to believe that Sardinia was so too. The northern extremity of Corsica, formed by a narrow ridge of mountains, extending like a great promontory near 30 miles from the main body of the island, is distinctly visible from many points on the coast of Etruria, and even from that of Liguria. The distance of this part of the island from Vada Volaterrana is correctly given by Pliny at 62 M.P., but it is not more than 58 from Populonium, which is the nearest point on the mainland. (Plin. l.c.; Strab. v. p.223; Diod. 5.13.)

Almost the whole of Corsica is occupied by a range of lofty and rugged mountains, extending from N. to S. from one extremity of the island to the other. The highest summits of this range attain an elevation of from 8000 to 9000 feet, and are in consequence covered with snow during the greater part of the year; their sides are furrowed by deep torrents, and intersected by narrow, crooked valleys or ravines, while they are covered almost throughout with dense forests. The vast extent of these, and the magnitude and excellence of the timber which they produced, have been celebrated in all ages. (Theophrast. H. P. 5.8. § § 1, 2; Dionys. Per. 460; Diod. l.c.) But notwithstanding this advantage, as well as the excellent ports with which the W. and S. coasts of the island abound, its rugged and inaccessible nature rendered it in ancient, as they still do in modern times, one of the wildest and least civilised portions of Southern Europe. Theophrastus says that the whole island was “shaggy and savage,” from the [1.690] vast forests with which it was covered (δασεῖαν καὶ ὥσπερ ἠγριωμένην τῇ ὕλῃ, l.c.). Strabo speaks “wilder than the very beasts” (ἀγριώτεροι θηρίων, v. p. 224), and of so untameable a character, that when they were brought to Rome as slaves it was impossible to make any use of them, or accustom them to domestic habits. The judgment of Diodorus on this point is more favourable. He says the Corsican slaves were very docile, and readily adapted themselves to the ways of civilised life; and that the natives of the island, though ignorant of tillage, and subsisting wholly on meat, milk, and honey, were remarkable for their love of justice. (Diod. 5.13, 14.) Seneca, who was banished to the island in A.D. 41, and lived there eight years in exile, naturally takes an unfavourable view of it, and speaks in exaggerated terms of the barrenness of its soil, as well as the barbarism of its inhabitants, and the unhealthiness of its climate. (Sen. Cons. ad Helv. 6.4; Anthol. Lat. 129, 130.) In the latter respect, however, it had greatly the advantage of the neighbouring island of Sardinia; the low grounds on the E. coast are indeed very unhealthy, but the greater part of the island is free from the scourge of malaria; and ancient writers speak of the native Corsicans as remarkable for their longevity. (Eustath. ad Dion. Per. 458.)

We have very little information as to the origin of the native population of Corsica, but there seems little doubt that it was derived principally from a Ligurian source. This is the opinion of Seneca, though he tells us that there were some tribes in the island of Spanish or Iberian extraction,whose manners and dress resembled those of the Cantabrians, and appears inclined to regard these as the earliest inhabitants, and the Ligurians as subsequent settlers. (Sen. l.c. 8.) Solinus, however, following authors now lost, who had written fully concerning Corsica, expressly ascribes its first population to the Ligurians, and this is confirmed by the legend which derived its name from a Ligurian woman of the name of Corsa, who was fabled to have first discovered and visited its shores. (Solin. 3.3; Eustath. l.c.; Isidor. Origg. 14.6.) We are expressly told that Corsica was the native name of the island, adopted from them by the Romans (Diod. 5.13; Dionys. Per. 459); the origin of that of Cyrnus, by which it was known to the Greeks, is wholly unknown, though late writers, as usual, derived it from a hero Cyrnus, whom they pretended to be a son of Hercules.

The island appears to have been early known to the Greeks, and the Phocaeans founded the city of Alalia on its eastern coast as early as B.C. 564. (Hdt. 1.165; Seneca, l.c.) Twenty years later they established themselves in much greater force, but after a stay of only a few years were compelled to abandon it again [ALERIA]; and from this period we hear nothing more of Greek colonies on the island. According to Diodorus, the Tyrrhenians, who had united their arms with the Carthaginians to expel the Phocaeans, established their authority over the island, in which they founded the city of Nicaea (a name that certainly appears rather to point to a Greek origin), and exacted from the inhabitants a tribute of resin, wax, and honey. (Diod. 5.13.) Their supremacy fell with the decline of their naval power, and Corsica, as well as Sardinia, appears to have been in a state of dependency, if not of subjection, to Carthage at the time of the First Punic War. On this account it was attacked, in B.C. 259, by a Roman fleet under L. Scipio, who took the city of Aleria, and compelled the inhabitants to acknowledge the sovereignty of Rome, and give hostages for their fidelity. (Zonar. 8.11; Flor. 2.2.16; Liv. Epit. xvii.; Orell. Inscr. 552.) It is probable that the submission of the wild tribes of the native Corsicans was at this time little more than nominal; and after the close of the First Punic War we find them again repeatedly in arms, together with their neighbours the Sardinians; at length, in B.C. 231, C. Papirius Maso is said to have effectually subdued them, for which he claimed the honour of a triumph. (Zonar. 8.18; Liv. Epit. xx.; Fast. Capit.) Yet long after this, repeated revolts attest the imperfect nature of their subjection; and the victories of the Roman praetors appear to have effected nothing beyond a nominal submission, and the payment of an occasional tribute. (Liv. 40.19, 34, 42.7, 21.) Before the close of the Republic, however, the maritime parts of the island at least were brought under complete subjection, and two colonies of Roman citizens were established on its E. coast, that of Mariana by Marius, and Aleria by Sulla. (Plin. Nat. 3.6. s. 12; Mel. 2.7.9; Seneca, Cons. ad Helv. 8.2.) This example, however, was not followed; and under the Roman empire little pains were taken to extend the civilisation of Italy to an island which was regarded as wild and inhospitable. Even in the time of Augustus, Strabo describes the mountain tribes of the interior as subsisting principally by robbery and plunder; while the Roman governors from time to time made an attack upon their fastnesses, and carried off a number of prisoners, whom they sold as slaves. (Strab. v. p.224.) The fact that it was selected as a place of banishment for political exiles (of which Seneca was the most illustrious example) in itself shows the unfavourable estimation in which it was held. Its name only once occurs in the history of this period, during the civil wars of A.D. 69, when a vain attempt was made by Decimus Pacarius to arouse the Corsicans in favour of Vitellius, though their coasts were exposed to the fleet of Otho. (Tac. Hist. 2.16.) Under the Roman Republic, Corsica had been united in one province with Sardinia, and subject to the same praetor. Tacitus speaks of it apparently as having then a separate Procurator, but this was probably exceptional. After the time of Constantine, however, the two islands were separated, and each had its own governor, with the title of Praeses. (Not. Dign. ii. pp. 6, 64; P. Diac. 2.22.) The seat of government was probably at Aleria. On the fall of the Western Empire, Corsica fell into the hands of the Vandals, from whom it was wrested by Belisarius, but was again conquered by the Goths under Totila. (Procop. B. V. 2.5, B. G. 4.24.) It was, however, recovered by the Exarchs of Ravenna, and continued a dependency of the Byzantine empire, till it was conquered in the 8th century by the Saracens.

The physical character of Corsica has been already adverted to. The great chain of mountains which fills up almost the whole island approaches, however, somewhat nearer to the W. than the E. coast; the former is in consequence extremely rugged, and broken by great mountain promontories, with deep bays between them, many of which afford excellent harbours, though these are rendered comparatively useless by the difficulty of communication with the interior. The E. coast, on the contrary, is lower and more regular, presenting a nearly unbroken line for a distance of 75 miles, from the [1.691] neighbourhood of Bastia to the Gulf of Porto Vecchio; but near its southern extremity this also is indented by two deep inlets, one of which, called in ancient times the Portus Syracusanus (now Porto Vecchio), constitutes a harbour of first-rate excellence. (Diod. 5.3.) The central mass of the mountain chain, now called the Monte Rotondo, is apparently that which is called by Ptolemy the Mons Aureus (τὸ Χρυσοῦν ὄρος). It is in this group that the two principal rivers of the island have their rise: the Rhotanus of Ptolemy, now known as the Tavignano; and the Tuola or Tavola (Τουόλας or Ταυόλας), now called the Golo. Both of these flow from W. to E., and enter the sea, the first near the colony of Aleria, the second close to that of Mariana. The other rivers of the island are of inferior magnitude; of those which flow to the W. coast, Ptolemy mentions the Circidius (Κιρκίδιος), which is probably the modern Liamone; and the Locras, Ticarius, and Pitanus, which cannot be identified with any certainty. The Hierus or Sacer fluvius (Ἱερός πόταμος), which he places on the E. coast, S. of Aleria, may probably be the Fiume Orbo; and the Valerius (Οὐαλέριος or Οὐολέριος), described by him as entering the sea in the middle of the N. coast, can be no other than the small stream now called the Cigno, which flows by S. Fiorenzo.

The same author, to whom we are indebted for what little information we possess concerning the ancient geography of Corsica, gives us the names of a number of headlands, and bays or harbours; but very few of these can be identified with any approach to certainty. A glance at a good map will show how irregular and broken is the whole W. coast of the island, so that it is idle to choose a few out of the number of bold headlands and deep inlets that it presents, and assume them to be those intended by Ptolemy.1 The northernmost point of the island, now called Capo Corso, appears to be that called by him the Sacred Promontory (Ἱερὸν ἄκρον); and the southern extremity, near Bonifacio, may be that which he calls Marianum, adjoining which was a city of the same name (Μαριανὸν ἄκρον καὶ πόλις). Between these (proceeding from N. to S. along the W. coast of the island) he enumerates: Tilox Pr., the Caesian shore (Καισίας αἰγιαλός), the Attian Pr., the Gulf of Casalus, the Prom. of Viriballum, the Rhoetian mountain, the Prom. of Rhium, the Sandy Shore (Ἀμμώδης αἰγιαλός), the Portus Titianus. The Portus Syracusanus in the SE. part of the island is probably, as already observed, the Gulf of Porto Vecchio. (Ptol. 3.2. § § 3--5.)

Our knowledge of the internal geography of the island is extremely vague and uncertain. Neither Strabo nor Pliny give us the names of any of the tribes into which the native population was doubtless divided. The former says merely that some parts of the island were habitable, and contained the towns of the Blesini, Charax, Eniconiae, and Vapanes. (Strab. v. p.224.) Pliny tells us that Corsica contained thirty-three “civitates,” besides the two Roman colonies, but without giving the names of any. Ptolemy, on the contrary, gives us the following list: “The Cervini occupy the W. side beneath the Golden Mountain; then follow the Tarrabenii, the Titiani, the Balatonii. The most northerly promontory is occupied by the Vanaceni; next to whom come the Cilebensii, then the Licnini, Macrini, Opini, Simbri, and Comaceni, and furthest to the S. the Subasani” (3.2.6). Nothing more is known of any of these obscure tribes, who, as Ptolemy expressly tells us, dwelt only in scattered villages; besides these, he enumerates 14 towns in the interior, all of which are utterly unknown. Even those towns which he places on the W. coast of the island cannot be determined with any approach to certainty, their position depending on those of the promontories and bays, the geography of which (as already observed) is extremely vague. The names of these places are as follows: Urcinium (Οὐρκίνιον), Pauca (Παῦκα), Ficaria (Φικαρία), and Marianum, near the promontory of the same name. On the E. coast our data are rather more precise; the site of the two Roman colonies of ALERIA and MARIANA being known with certainty. The Itinerary of Antoninus also gives us a line of road (the only one in the island) along this coast from Mariana to Pallae, a city mentioned also by Ptolemy, which was probably situated at the head of the gulf called the Portus Syracusanus. The intermediate stations between this and Aleria are the Portus Favonii (still called Porto Favone, and probably identical with the Φιλωνίου λιμήν of Ptolemy), and Praesidium, half way between Portus Favonii and Aleria, probably, from its name, a mere military post. (Itin. Ant. p. 85; Ptol. 3.2.5.) Besides these, Ptolemy mentions Rubra and Alista, which he places between the Portus Syracusanus and Aleria; and the towns of Mantinum, Clunium, Centuria, and Canelate, all of which are to be sought in the northern part of the island, N. of Mariana. Nicaea, which from its name would appear to have been a Greek colony, but is called by Diodorus (5.13) a Tyrrhenian one, is not mentioned by any of the geographers, and its position is quite unknown. It is a plausible conjecture of Cluverius that it was the same place afterwards called Mariana.

Of the natural productions of Corsica, the chief, as already observed, is timber, of which it furnished an almost unlimited supply. Theophrastus speaks with especial admiration of the pine and fir trees that grew on the island, and of which the Romans made great use for their fleets. (Theophr. H. P. 5.8.1.) The same forests produced resin and pitch, and abounded in wild bees, so that wax and honey were in all ages among the chief exports of the island, and we find the Corsicans on one occasion compelled to pay 200,000 pounds of wax as a punishment for their revolt. (Liv. 42.7; Diod. 5.13; Plin. Nat. 21.14. s. 49.) The longevity of the inhabitants was supposed by some writers to arise from their abundant use of honey as an article of food. (Steph. B. sub voce Κύρνος.) Yet the Corsican honey had a bitter taste, owing to the bees feeding on the box trees, which rendered it unpalatable to strangers. (Theophr. H. P. 3.15.5; Diod l.c.; Verg. Ecl. 9.30; Ovid, Amor. 1.12. 10.) Sheep, goats, and cattle were also abundant, though the former were allowed to run almost wild about the mountains. (Pol. 12.4.) But the island produced little corn, and even under the Roman empire the cultivation of fruit trees, vines, and olives was almost wholly neglected. (Senec. Cons. ad Helv. 9.2; Anthol. Lat. 130.) Of wild animals, according to Polybius, there were [1.692] found abundance of foxes and rabbits, but no wolves, hares, or deer; the wild goat also was unknown, but the wild sheep or mousmon (μούσμων) was found in the mountains of Corsica, as well as of Sardinia. Strabo mentions it in the latter island only, but it is still common to them both. (Pol. 12.3, 4.) The mines of Corsica seem to have been neglected by the Romans; but its granite, which is of a very fine quality, was worked for architectural purposes; and the Roman quarries in two little islets a few miles from Bonifacio, at the southern extremity of Corsica, are still visible. (Valery, Voyage en Corse, chap. 80.)   - Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, LLD, Ed.  


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