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Antiquity Vol 77 No 296 June 2003

Recent Research In Roman South Italy: Grumentum in the Val d' Agri.

H.J. Thaler & A. Watson

For the past four years a multinational team of archaeologists under the direction of one of the authors has been excavating the site of the Roman city of Grumentum, in the province of Baslilitcata, Italy, a few kilometres from the city of Viggiano (figure 1). This project has two main goals: firstly to gain an insight into the spatial evolution of a Roman city, and secondly, to excavate and restore certain buildings under the auspices of the Italian government for the further development of Grumentum as an archaeological park.

Grumentum (figure 2) is positioned on a large bluff oriented NW-SE, overlooking the Agri River. Located in an inter-montane valley (at 590m above sea level), it has a commanding position along the axis of the valley and controls the access to the Ionian coast. The city is thought to have been founded shortly after 295 BC The Republican city was destroyed during the Social wars (90-83 BC), but the city was refounded in the Augustan era (20-10 B.C.). This foundation lasted until the fifth century AD when the chaos caused by the break up of the Roman Empire, coupled with the onset of malaria and a massive earthquake, led to the cessation of urban life. In the early medieval period the site was levelled and has been used for agricultural purposes until the present day.

Figure 1 (Click to View)

Figure 1: The location of Grumentum in Italy. Click to enlarge.

Figure 2 (Click to View)

Figure 2: Grumentum from the air, looking SE

Prior to the current project there has been intermittent work at the site from the 1700s onward (Bottini 1997). In this project there have been three foci of excavation: the amphitheatre (1999), the north decumanus superior (2000), and in 2000-2 the imperial baths (figure 3). The current excavations have yielded the spectacular discovery of five statues in the imperial baths. They were discovered in what is thought to be the nympheum and in a context which dates to AD 380-420 (figure 4). They consist of two torsos, one thought to be Dionysus; two bases, one thought to be Aphrodite; and one relatively complete statue lacking only the head and arms. They are undergoing further analysis to determine their date, source and to verify their identities.

Figure 3 (Click to View)

Figure 3: Click to enlarge

Figure 4 (Click to View)

Figure 4: The statues in context. Note the squares, used for 3d provenance.

The excavations have traced a spatial shift in the organization of the city that mirrors the historic changes from Imperial to Late Antique times. Numismatic and ceramic evidence indicates the gradual abandonment of the southern decumanus and the clustering of settlement along the northern one. Along one cardo, a series of walls were found straddling the road, cutting the connection between the decumanus superior and the decumanus (figure 5). Nearby, a villa connected to the cardo but cut from the decumanus superior, by the walls, was abandoned and destroyed. This decline is well illustrated by the archaeological sequence of the baths. There, after several phases of reconstruction, it was abandoned and used as a garbage dump. However, the archaeology indicates that this decline was not a continuous process. The north decumanus was resurfaced in Severian times indicating the revival of the city's fortunes in this period. Post-Roman settlement has been found in the area of the baths and includes hearths, post-holes, architectural remains and a necropolis. The necropolis is in and around the baths and consists of inhumation single and double burials that have been genetically identified as Lombards, a Germanic tribe that entered Italy in the seventh century A.D (Flad 2002, unpublished data).

Figure 4 (Click to View)

Figure 5: The Cardo from the baths. Note the wall crossing the cardo and cutting the drain.

Future plans include the full publication of the previous excavations and further research in the area of the Imperial baths. Grumentum has yielded many fascinating discoveries and there is every expectation of more insights into Imperial Roman urban life. For more information the project website is located at Please note that the text is in German and Italian without an English translation.

  • BOTTINI P. 1997 Il museo archeologico nazionale dell‘alta Val d’Agri Lavello

Thaler, 16 Meinhardstraße, Innsbruck, Austria A-6020,
Watson, 10 Voitsbergstraße, Varhn (BZ), Italy 39040,

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