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Locating the site of the Battle of Metaurus between Rome and Carthage

The University Institute of Research in Iberian Archaeology of the University of Jaen has carried out the first field work campaign in the Italian region of Le Marche (Marche), centred around the municipality of Fossombrone, within the research project "ILITAURO: Methodology for the archaeological study of battlefields and sieges in the context of the Second Punic War: Metaurus, Iliturgis and Castulo (208 - 206 BC), whose principal researcher is the UJA researcher Juan Pedro Bellon.

Locating the site of the Battle of Metaurus between Rome and Carthage
Area in which the archaeological microprospecting work has been carried out 
[Credit: UJA]
Following the signing of an agreement with the Universita degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo, and the authorisation of the Soprintendenza di Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio delle Marche, since the end of 2018 various works of cataloguing, analysis and sampling of lead projectiles have been carried out by the project researchers, kept in the collection of the Museo Civico in Fossombrone, with the aim of recognising their possible relationship with the Battle of Metaurus and the Battle of Baecula.

The research on the location of the battlefield has an extensive historiographical background dating back to the 15th century. These studies have always been based on local traditions and philological studies. The theses on their location are varied, although there is no archaeological evidence to date to support these proposals.

The research approach initiated by the IUIAI is based on a strategic plan of integral analysis of the different proposals, considering them as the basis for carrying out archaeological surveys to validate them. However, at the same time, an autonomous line of work is being developed based on the analysis of the museum collections of several localities where the battle was traditionally located. In this way it has been possible to locate and study a set of dozens of slingshot projectiles made of lead, stored in the Civic Museum of Fossombrone, coming from the surroundings near this Italian locality.

The morphological similarities of some of the Italian projectiles to those located on the scene of the Battle of Baecula, together with the application of metallographic and isotopic analyses of the lead carried out on them, is one of the lines of research initiated, since it can establish the origin of the mineral and show similarities or differences to those used by the Carthaginian army in the Battle of Baecula.

Locating the site of the Battle of Metaurus between Rome and Carthage
Slingshot projectiles made of lead, stored in the Civic Museum
of Fossombrone [Credit: UJA]
Based on these initial archaeological evidences, a work area was designed around Fossombrone, in which during the first two weeks of July archaeological microprospecting and GPS georeferencing of the metallic elements located by the team, made up of 6 members of the Instituto Universitario de Investigacion en Arqueologia Iberica (University Institute for Research in Iberian Archaeology), as well as 4 members of the Universita di Urbino (University of Urbino), were carried out.

According to Juan Pedro Bellon, the initial results have highlighted the archaeological complexity of the territory of Fossombrone, especially the environment of Monte Aguzzo, in which the team has been able to document, during the work carried out during the first two weeks of July, metallic objects related to an episode of war, although for the moment it is difficult to associate them directly with the Second Punic War, in the absence of future campaigns to intensify and expand the archaeological sampling carried out in the area.

The UJA researcher believes that, however, the validity of the methodology developed by the IUIAI during the Baecula Project for the archaeological analysis of this type of brief and complex scenarios of conflict in antiquity, such as the siege of the Iberian oppidum of Iliturgis (Mengibar, Jaen) or the attack on the northern gate of the oppidum of Puente Tablas (Jaen), "which opens up an interesting horizon for archaeological research on the battle of Metaurus, of which the first steps have begun to be taken by the University of Jaen", he said.

The Battle of the River Metaurus was decisive for the development of the Second Punic War, since the Roman army prevented the Carthaginian armies of the Barca brothers, Hasdrubal and Hannibal, from meeting and generating a direct threat to Rome. This battle faced three Roman armies, commanded by consuls Marcus Livius Salinator, Lucius Portius and Gaius Claudius Nero to the Carthaginian troops commanded by Hasdrubal Barca in 207 BC.

Locating the site of the Battle of Metaurus between Rome and Carthage
Archaeological microprospecting work carried out by the Iberian Archaeological Institute
of the Universidad de Jaen [Credit: UJA]
After the defeat of Hasdrubal in the battle of Baecula in 208 BC (Santo Tome, Jaen), the Carthaginian commander managed to regroup and embarked on a long road that took him to Italy in less than a year, with the aim of uniting and reinforcing Hannibal's army, which was in southern Italy. According to Roman historians such as Polybius, Titus Livius and Apian, the Carthaginian army was defeated after fleeing near the final stretch of the Metaurus river, given the superiority of the Roman armies, and Hasdrubal himself died during the battle.

Source: Universidad de Jaen [trsl. TANN, August 01, 2019]


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