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« Rieti l'antica Reate, città dei Sabini, molto antica, sta sul Velino, all'estremità di una pianura ampia e fertile la cui bellezza può essere poco apprezzata solo da un visitatore frettoloso. [...] Penso di aver osservato poche volte una scena più attraente di quella offerta dalle torri di Rieti e dal suo tranquillo mondo di vigneti, così come la vidi l'ultima sera del mio soggiorno. »

(Edward Lear - 1843)

Reate was originally a major site of the Sabine nation. After the Roman conquest, carried out by Manius Curius Dentatus in late 3rd century BC, the village became a strategic point in the early Italian road network, dominating the "salt" track (known as Via Salaria) that linked Rome to the Adriatic Sea through the Apennines.

Curius Dentatus drained a large portion of the lake by making the Velino a distributary of the Nera river. The wide area once occupied by the lake turned into a fertile plain. Following Roman customs, the land was split into characteristic square allotments. The town itself underwent significant development, being re-organised according to typical Roman urbanistic standards (e.g., two orthogonal roads make up the settlement's backbone), and was fortified with strong walls. A stone bridge was laid across the Velino river, and a large viaduct was built to bring goods from the Salaria road directly to Rieti's southern door.

Roman Reate receives a number of mentions in Latin literature, thanks to its flourishing soil, its valued assets, and some peculiarities of the surroundings (such as wandering islands and hollow-subsurfaced fields). Cicero, for instance, describes the tensions between Reate and Interamna (Terni) following the lake drainage, and refers to the country houses (villae) that his friend Q. Axius owned in the plain.


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