Investigating Latium, Athanasius Kircher's 1671 study of the area around Rome

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Exploring the Kingdom of Saturn assesses a pioneering study of ancient Latium by one of the most interesting figures in the history of learning, the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher. Although Kircher's Latium, published in 1671, is not without errors in its reading of the ancient monuments and topography of the area around Rome, this highly influential work launched future topographical study of the Roman campagna. Harry B. Evans investigates Kircher's Latium, its methods and accuracy, its possible use as a reference now, the scholarly quarrel between Kircher and rival scholar Raffaello Fabretti, and the Vatican's publications committee's involvement with Latium.

While Kircher himself is well known for his many publications on a wide variety of subjects---Egyptian hieroglyphs, linguistics, natural science, musicology, and the history of China---his work as an archaeologist and topographer has often been dismissed. But his Latium is worth a detailed assessment: not only was it an early attempt to link ancient literary and historical sources to physical evidence, with splendid illustrations and maps, but the book spurred enormous interest in the region, prompting a more sophisticated study of it by Kircher's contemporaries and later generations. Anyone interested in the history of archaeology, the world of seventeenth-century Italian antiquarians and scholars, and the fascinating region of Latium itself will want to learn more about Kircher's achievements and the scholarly legacy of his book.

Harry B. Evans is Professor Emeritus of Classics, Fordham University.

"In Exploring the Kingdom of Saturn, Harry Evans, an expert on Ancient Rome's water supplies, follows [Kircher] around the lakes and rivers, villas and towns of Latium. Passages from Kircher's works, beautifully translated, and clearly reproduced maps and illustrations enable us once again to watch Kircher at work."
London Review of Books

- London Review of Books