Friday, May 23, 2008

Isernia's Fontana Fraterna

The Poste Italiane have issued a new stamp to represent Molise, to accompany Valle d'Aosta, Veneto, and Sicilia in their "Regioni d'Italia" series. Its design features the so-called "Fontana Fraterna," a well-known monument in the city of Isernia with an interesting history. It was supposedly built in the 14th century by the Rampiniani family in honor of Pope Celestine V, a native of Isernia, incorporating Roman stonework from the family tomb of the Pontii family (of Judean procuratorship fame). Of these suppositions, only the fact that it incorporates Roman spolia can be verified.

The idea that the fragmentary inscription ---]AE PONT[--- could be read famili]ae Pont[iae was disposed of by Mommsen, who read it Nerv]ae pont[ifici (CIL IX, 2636). M. Buonocore suggests that it need not pertain to Nerva, but could refer to a prominent local family.

Franco Valente, in his intriguing article "La Fraterna di Isernia, la fontana dei misteri," traces the long and winding history of the fountain. The most certain fact is that current fountain was rebuilt "exactly," albeit in a new location, after its destruction during the Second World War.

Earlier than that, the going gets dicey. The fountain, or a fountain, has been destroyed by earthquakes, rebuilt, moved, expanded, incorporated bits from other fountains, moved again -- maybe. It bears a curious Latin inscription on one end, which Valente dates to the 13th century and reads:
fons iste / cuius posit(ores) / Rampiniani / me parabis

I'm not convinced that the inscription must have originally referred to this particular fountain. Given the circumstances, I'm not sure where I would draw the line between this fountain and a different fountain. Is it really one fountain suffering numerous vicissitudes, undergoing numerous reconstructions, or a family of fountains, genetically linked as it were by incorporating material from predecessors?

(Stamp news source:; Fountain history, F. Valente, 'La Fraterna di Isernia, la fontana dei misteri'; Fountain photos: my Flickr photos)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A new gate at Amelia, Umbria

According to the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Umbria, a new gate has been discovered in the ancient city walls at Amelia, the ancient Ameria. The arch-topped gate was discovered during the dismantling of a modern embankment, and is now exposed to a height of 4.5 m. The wall circuit is built in polygonal masonry and dates generally to the 4th-3rd centuries BCE.

For more general information, see Bill Thayer's page on Amelia, and that of the Soprintendenza.

(Thanks to Dave Morris for the use of his photo of a (different) section of the walls)

More bits

The Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz hosts a database called TOMBA, which is "a multilingual internet image database for the tombs of the élites in Bronze and Early Iron Age Europe (2400/2300 - 480/450 BC). The database is localized into Danish, English, French, German, Greek, and Italian."
This is a fantastic resource, if you can get past the frames and javascript design.

Elizabeth Colantoni reviews Roman Roth, Styling Romanisation. Pottery and Society in Central Italy (2007), at BMCR.

The town of Frosolone in Molise is throwing a Transhumance Festival this coming weekend to celebrate the annual return of the Colantuono family and their 300 cows from Puglia. According to the article, the Colantuono are the only family still practicing long distance transhumance between Molise and Puglia (as opposed to the more common short-distance traffic between lowlands and uplands). I notice too that the Wikipedia article 'Transhumance' makes no mention of the Italian variety (somewhat remedied by the discussion in the Italian version, 'Transumanza'.

Research is to resume
at the important Nuragic site of Sant'Imbenia, Sardinia. Sant'Imbenia shows evidence of contact with Pithekoussai by the mid 8th century BCE. The new work aims at continuing excavation, setting the site within its broader landscape context, developing it as a didactic tool, and safeguarding it for future generations (no surprises there). If you need to brush up on your Sardinian archaeology, you can check out the recent monograph by Stephen Dyson and Robert Rowland, Jr., Archaeology and History in Sardinia from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages: Shepherds, Sailors, and Conquerors (2007).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Miscellanea Italica

Three things to report today. To get to the hearts of the matter:

The (always momentous) news from Molise brought to my attention a band calling themselves "Tabula Osca," hailing from Agnone, the findspot of the famous Tavola di Agnone (seen here on the left is the copy held in the town hall at Agnone; the original is in the British Museum). The band's website is I haven't yet been able to give it a listen, but it's bound to be easier on the ears than "Sakahiter," self-proclaimed purveyors of "SAMNITE BLACK METAL," whose first album Lex Sacrata features an image of the Roman army passing under the Samnite yoke after the Battle of the Caudine Forks:

A new note by William Gilstrap, "Chronology and Variability of Etruscan Architectural Terracotta," is available over at Rasenna (Journal of the Center for Etruscan Studies). It seems to be a poster (with Carl Lipo and Hector Neff, all of California State University Long Beach) from the poster session at the SAA (Society for American Archaeology)'s 2008 Annual Meeting in Vancouver.

Epigraphers take note: the early third century CE statue of Neptune that came out of the Rhone along with the bust of the Elderly Republican Gentleman carries a Latin inscription on its base:

I haven't been able to rustle up a better photo yet, and I can't make a dang thing out from this one.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

27 New Tombs at Tarquinia

Twenty seven Etruscan tombs were discovered on April 3 in Tarquinia at a construction site in loc. Madonna del Pianto. Of the 27, only one appears to have been violated, probably about 50 years ago, according to Maria Tecla Castanaldi, Soprintendente for Southern Etruria and director of the Museo Nazionale Etrusco in Tarquinia, who visited the open tomb yesterday morning. The new tombs are located about 500m from the painted tombs on Monterozzi hill, near the Scataglini necropolis.

(Via Eternally Cool, Tuscia Web, il Giornale)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Prohibited items

The United States Postal Service lists the following items as being prohibited from sending to Italy:

Albums of any kind (of photographs, postcards, postage stamps, etc.).
Arms and weapons.
Articles of platinum or gold; jewelry; and other valuable articles unless sent as insured Priority Mail International parcels.
Artificial flowers and fruits and accessories for them.
Bells and other musical instruments and parts thereof.
Cartridge caps; cartridges.
Clocks and supplies for clocks.
Compound medicaments and medicines.
Coral mounted in any way.
Ether and chloroform.
Exposed photographic and cinematographic films.
Footwear of any kind.
Haberdashery and sewn articles of any kind, including trimmings and lace; handkerchiefs; scarves; shawls, needlework including stockings and gloves; bonnets, caps, and hats of any kind.
Hair and articles made of hair.
Human remains.
Leather goods.
Lighters and their parts, including lighter flints.
Live bees, leeches, and silkworms.
Live plants and animals.
Nutmeg, vanilla; sea salt, rock salt; saffron.
Parasites and predators of harmful insects.
Perfumery goods of all kinds (except soap).
Playing cards of any kind.
Postage stamps in sealed or unsealed First-Class Mail International shipments.
Radioactive materials.
Ribbons for typewriters.
Roasted or ground coffee and its substitutes; roasted chicory.
Saccharine and all products containing saccharine.
Salted, smoked or otherwise prepared meats; fats; and lard.
Toys not made wholly of wood.
Treated skins and furs.
Weapons of any kind and spare parts for them.

At first glance, it's an odd and amusing list (and has been seen as such already). It certainly wasn't composed all at one time; note the separately listed, redundant items "Arms and weapons" and "Weapons of any kind." In 2008, we're used to all sorts of restrictions on dangerous materials such as weapons, lighters, radioactive materials, and the like. Postal reluctance to handle live bees is understandable. But "Bells and other musical instruments and parts thereof"? "Footwear of any kind"? "Roasted or ground coffee and its substitutes; roasted chicory"? These may be holdovers from the import restrictions imposed by the Fascist government in the late 1920s and early 30s to protect prices of Italian-made goods. But really -- "Artificial flowers and fruits and accessories for them"?

Monday, May 05, 2008

The News from Italy

Archeoblog signals the opening of a new exhibition in Matelica, "Potere e Splendore: gli antichi Piceni a Matelica" ("Power and Magnificence: the ancient Picenes in Matelica"). The exhibition has a flashy website at, available in both Italian and English. The artifacts on display come from tombs excavated in the necropoleis of Brecce, Villa Clara, Cavalieri, Passo Gabella, and Crocifisso, dating between the 9th and 7th centuries BCE. It runs through October 31st.

Elsewhere in the museum is the "Globo di Matelica," which is "a kind of ancient solar clock found in the historic centre. It is an exceptional instrument belonging to the Hellenistic-Roman period, unique all over the world, which, through the boundary line between lights and shadows traced out on its marble surface, showed the hours of the day, the seasons and the constellations." It looks a bit like the Death Star to me...

In other news, with the dust freshly resettled after the recent elections, I'd like to point out those on their way out (outgoing Minister of Culture Francesco Rutelli, instrumental in the return of, among other things, the Sarpedon krater; via Looting Matters), and those on their way in (incoming Mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno, who wants to get rid of Meier's Ara Pacis museum; via Eternally Cool).