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Important discoveries at the ancient Roman city of Claterna in northern Italy

The 2017 excavation campaign has inaugurated a new three-year research project focused on two specific sectors of the ancient city of Claterna: the former' blacksmith's house' and the central area dedicated in ancient times to public buildings.

Important discoveries at the ancient Roman city of Claterna in northern Italy
Excavating a Roman villa with mosaic flooring at Claternae 
[Credit: Desyman, WikiCommons]
For the' blacksmith's house', both the excavation activity (uncovering new rooms of the domus) and that of experimental archaeology (reconstructing walls and rooms on a real scale and in situ) started in 2005 .

As far as the central area of public buildings is concerned - an absolute first for 2017- excavations  have finally begun in one of the most important and at the same time less known sectors of the Roman city, revealing parts of the theatre and some perimeter foundations of another large public building.

Excavation and Reconstruction of the Blacksmith's House (Sector 11)

Research in Sector 11 began in June. This year the excavation activity has seen the contribution of the students of some high schools in Bologna in the project' exchange between schools. Another important series of rooms of the Blacksmith's Domus that lay northwards, probably around a courtyard, was discovered, while the reconstruction of one of the perimeter walls of the building (the one to the west, ie. towards Stradello Maggio) with a base in Roman brick built directly on the ground was continued.

The students of the Ca' Foscari University of Venice carried out the drawings of the structures and stratifications that emerged in the previous phase, setting the topographical baselines for the subsequent surveys.

The excavation of the domus of Sector 11 began with the removal of the debris fillings left by those who, in the Middle Ages, picked the ancient building materials of the city to their foundations - now abandoned for a long time - to re-use them elsewhere.

In the eastern part of the new excavation area was found what appears to be a sort of small private bath area belonging to the domus: a room with a raised floor (suspensurae), the typical circular bricks usually associated with the hypocaust of the thermal caldarium, has been identified. Amongst the collapsed material were found interesting fragments of a mosaic that perhaps decorated the floor above.

Important discoveries at the ancient Roman city of Claterna in northern Italy
View from the other side of the 2017 excavation area in the 'Blacksmith's House' 
[Credit: Paolo Nanni]
Further to the south, another floor of signinum (mortar mixed with tiles broken up into very small pieces, called 'cocciopesto' in modern Italian) was discovered, particularly well preserved despite its shallow depth from the current ground level, and another lower level floor associated with a well.

Deeper excavation revealed a series of layers that accurately reflect the various life stages of the domus over a very long period of time. Initial findings were the walls and beaten earth floors dating back to the fifth-sixth centuries (ie. at the time of the last phases of reoccupation of the domus) belonging to craftsmen who worked iron (hence the name 'Domus of the Blacksmith').

Continuing the excavation, a more ancient layer of debris (third-fourth centuries) has been identified, probably from a collapsed roof given the wide presence of tiles.

At least three rooms were identified under this debris. In the first was discovered a well made of 'puteal' bricks arranged in a circle. This is a very important finding because it could reveal many details about the daily life of the domus: wells are fundamental, first of all, for the study the city's water supply and secondly because objects of everyday use were often thrown into the wells and are typically in an excellent state of preservation.

The second room, the northern most one, has yielded two superimposed floors: an older one made of opus signinum (cocciopesto) and a more recent one, made with a thin layer of clay and lime. Finally the remains of ceramics, charcoal and ash were found in a third central room, indicating that this was infact a kitchen area.

This year's excavation has therefore identified a new wing of the blacksmith's house that will tell us a lot about everyday life: a small heated room and a series of functional rooms with wells and a kitchen.

Excavation of the public sector of the city of Claterna: The Theatre (Sector 16)

Between July and October, a new sector of excavation (Sector 16) was opened in the 'public' area of the city, ie. in a section north of the Via Emilia occupied by a series of large buildings already identified by aerial and satellite photographs.

Important discoveries at the ancient Roman city of Claterna in northern Italy
Aerial view of the Roman city of Claterna before excavations 
[Credit: Lets Dig Again]
This is an area of major importance because it has not been excavated since the end of the nineteenth century when Edoardo Brizio undertook some trial digs that identified, among other things, the towns judicial buildings.

In more recent years, satellite photographs and oblique aerial shots have shown that, in addition to the supposed area of the forum (understood as an open square), there was a whole series of buried buildings, carefully organized in the centre of the city, which by plan and width could well be public monuments.

The excavations were concentrated in the area where the aerial photos showed the evident traces of a theatrical building and were designed to intercept a portion of the cavea, orchestra and stage building, an impressive edifice of about 40 x 10m, that had been subsequently enlarged.

After a first destruction layer, the unmistakable traces of the theatre came to light, particularly the foundations and part of the cavea elevations. This was quite frankly an unexpected discovery because most people believed that, at the very best, only faint vestiges would be found. The archaeological reality, however, turned out to be quite different, yielding huge square blocks of sandstone (probably from local quarries), skilfully connected to form imposing circular walls.

These remains, which perfectly coincide with the outlines highlighted by aerial photos, are the support walls of the summa cavea, ie. the steps of the highest level on which the spectators sat. Further northwards, other elements have been found that suggest that the lower part of the steps (thema cavea) and the orchestra are to be found at a significantly lower depth, still to be excavated because it is covered by a heavy layer of earth.

To the north, the theatre was bordered by the road axis of one of the city's main decumani, while to the south some traces would appear to indicate the foundations of the outermost part of the cavea, probably built over a portico. Even further south, that is to say towards the forum, a cobblestone road separated the theatre from another large public building, of which some perimeter foundations have been intercepted.

The 2017 excavation was there particularly rewarding

The discovery of the public area of Claterna and the imposing structures of some of its most important buildings are destined to shed new light on the history of the city and to mark a breakthrough in the archaeological project to enhance the value of the ancient centre.

Of course, much remains to be done. The work in Sector 16 has served only to assess the main characteristics of the theatre building and its state of preservation. In fact, the explored area corresponds only to a small fraction of the real size of the theatre and any future research project will have to take into account its great width (estimated to be about 60 metres) and depth.

From the first collected materials (coins, ceramics) and from the characteristics of the remains of the architectural decorations (fragments of plant ornamentation made from limestone and marble panels) it seems likely that the site dates to the early Imperial Age, back to the period of Augustus (who died in 14 AD), even though this is still only conjecture.

Was it really M. Vipsanio Agrippa, the famous son-in-law and general of Augustus, who, as patron of the city of Claterna, advocated and promoted its construction? And was this the building in which the contemporary P. Camurius Nicephorus, a local magistrate named in a brief funerary inscription found not far from Claterna, organized games for five days?

People and faces which are slowly emerging through the material memories left by the city of Claterna.

Editor's Note

Claterna, also called Claternae, was a Roman town on the Via Emilia situated between the coloniae of Bononia and Forum Cornelii. The remains of the Roman town lie within the comune of Ozzano dell'Emilia at the hamlet of Maggio and close to the Quaderna stream, in the province of Bologna, northern Italy.

Source: Bologna2000 [November 14, 2017]

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