The Expedition to Minturnae

Originally Published in 1933

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DURING the first season at Minturnre, Italy, the Museum’s expedition (as reported from time to time in these pages) cleared two blocks of the city: in one of these was revealed the Forum of the Roman Colony which was established at Minturnae in 295 B. C.; in the other was found a double portico surrounding a temple identified as the Temple of Julius Caesar. Five other temples were discovered, including the colonial Capitolium which stood in the Forum. Furthermore, the excavators were able to ascertain the exact dimensions of the pre-Roman city and to clear a short stretch of the colonial enceinte.

Bronze plague with Latin inscription and triangular top with an angelic figure
Plate VII — Christian Plaque of Bronze from the Theater at Minturnæ, Italy

It is now possible to summarize Dr. Jotham Johnson’s report on the admirable accomplishments of the second season, which was brought to a close during the past summer. The principal objectives of this season were the excavation of the Augustan theater and the delimitation of the wall of the Roman colony, which was completely hidden underground. The latter objective was not wholly attained, owing to the unexpectedly great extent of the early city.

Commencing with a pentagonal tower (one of three or four such so far found in all Italy) on the north side of the town, the wall was traced westward across the Appian Way, and, with two intervening square towers, continued beyond the limits set for excavation. Still further west, where the famous Minturnae aqueduct reaches the city, are two towers once bridged by an arch which had been thought to constitute the gate through which passed the Appian Way. Upon clearing the foundations of these towers, blocks of the colonial wall were found in place beneath, and the wall here ran north and south, showing that the corner had been turned and that this was the western boundary. The pavement of the passage through the gate failed to reveal the deep wheel ruts, the product of sixteen hundred years of traffic, elsewhere to be found along the Appian Way. It became evident that the real Appian Way ran just to the south of this gate which was itself the Appian Gate of the original colony wall, but modified and transformed by later additions into a triumphal double or perhaps triple entrance.

In the Augustan theater [Plate VIII] the excavators cleared the stage, the orchestra, and the lower cavea. The whole cavea rested on high vaults, made necessary by the absence of any hillside slope, and the structure thus shows kinship with the typical amphitheater rather than with the usual Roman theater. Access to the upper seats was had by monumental stairways. The drainage system of the theater was most elaborate; small tributary channels lead from every section into an ample covered sewer draining into the river Liris.

Excavated layout of the theater showing a half circle and stage
Plate VIII — The Theater at Minturnæ, Italy, Showing Seats, the Orchestra, and the Scene Building. The Republican Forum is in the Background

Fantastic animal heads were sculptured in the parapet separating the cavea from the orchestra circle. More important than these sculptures were two Imperial portrait heads, one of which, originally carved in the first century A. D., had at a later period been recut to form another likeness. From a large number of marble fragments it was possible to restore four other sculptures: a charming Hermes freely adapted from the famous Praxitelean statue at Olympia, and representations of Artemis, Hercules, and Bacchus. These statuettes, three feet high, together with others probably ornamented a series of low niches which formed the front of the stage. In one of the outer arcades of the theater was discovered a bronze plaque [Plate VII] commemorative of a Roman consul of about A. D. 500 and bearing the Christian symbols: the first tangible proof of Christianity to be found at Minturnae.

During the first season a trench sunk against the base of a monument in the Imperial Forum brought to light a deposit of discards from the kiln of a local potter of about 200 B. C. Further investigation and study of this deposit during the past season revealed a hitherto unimagined scope in the work of the ancient potter. Altogether a hundred and ten different sizes and shapes were found: familiar black Campanian ware; other black ware; toy vessels an inch high and clay writing-tablets, belonging rather to the Etruscan tomb furniture of an earlier century; hard, fine, yellow pottery; Campanian coarse ware for kitchen and commercial use; lamps, clay votive offerings, roof tiles, drain pipes, and other objects were among this extraordinarily varied deposit. The presence of three different signature stamps on various pieces indicates that the potter was perhaps not an individual but rather a syndicate or cooperative group. Six coins found in the deposit will be valuable for dating purposes.

Cite This Article

"The Expedition to Minturnae." Museum Bulletin IV, no. 5 (October, 1933): 135-139. Accessed July 24, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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