(above) Church and detached bell tower of S. Vittorino; (below) Roman theatre at the foot of the hill
In the territory of the Sabini, are the Amiternini, the Curenses (Fara Sabina), Forum Decii, Forum Novum, the Fidenates, the Interamnates (Teramo), the Nursini (Norcia), the Nomentani (Mentana) , the Reatini (Rieti), the Trebulani, the Tiburtes (Tivoli), and the Tarinates.
Pliny the Elder - Natural History - Book III
October 6th, 1843. After mid-day I set off from L'Aquila to Montereale, as I wished to see the Amphitheatre of Amiternum, and, if possible, to make an excursion either to Lionessa or Amatrice from Montereale, where a brother of Cav. Ricci of Rieti, to whom I had letters, resided. About two or three miles from Aquila a good carriage-road leaves that which goes through Antrodoco to Rome, and leads by uninteresting country to the village of San Vittorino, the modern representative of the ancient Sabine city of Amiternum. (..) . The modern San Vittorino, a mere hamlet, occupies an eminence which was perhaps the ancient citadel; and the campanile of its church is almost entirely composed of fragments of inscriptions found in the neighbourhood.
Edward Lear - Illustrated Excursions in Italy - 1846
Amphitheatre and S. Vittorino in an 1898 book illustration (see a list of amphitheatres covered in this website)
Of this important place, though many remains of aqueducts, substructions, &c., &c., are to be traced, the ruined walls of an amphitheatre standing on the plain, are the most conspicuous vestiges. Lear
Some antiquaries have believed that the present site of Aquila was included within the precincts of the ancient Sabine city of Amiternum; a circumstance entirely at variance with another hypothesis, which places it on the confines of the adjoining territory of the Vestini. The ruins and situation of Amiternum have, however, been recognised with more probability at a small village called S. Vittorino, about four miles distant from Aquila. This spot, which I visited on Whit-sunday of the year 1830 (see Appendix), offers some vestiges of antiquity; but these, except in a few portions of polygon walls on a hill, probably the citadel, do not point out a more remote era than that of the Roman empire. The situation, on a sloping bank above the river Aternus, from which it derived its name, is favourable to the necessities of a large town, and commands an extensive and cheerful view of the surrounding country. Along the banks of the stream are to be seen the fine substructions of an ancient road; and beyond it stand the remains of an amphitheatre constructed of bricks, about the size of that at Pompeii. The modern village consists of only a few huts scattered on the brow of the hill, with a small church, and a square detached tower adjoining it. (..) The walls of the church, as well as those of the contiguous tower, contain many Roman inscriptions.
Keppel Richard Craven - Excursions in the Abruzzi and northern provinces of Naples - 1838
Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo (MUNDA) - L'Aquila: relief depicting a fight during public games
"Amiternum". A town in fertile country at the foot of the Gran Sasso. Traditional cradle of the Sabine nation, Amiternum was fully Roman by the IInd century B.C. The historian Sallust was born here in 86 B.C. Under the Empire it flourished, became an episcopal see, and remained such in mediaeval times. It ceased to exist in ca. 1250 A.D. when its population migrated to newly founded Aquila. (..) Antiquities include a celebrated calendar, the Fasti Amiternini, and sepulchral slabs of ca. A.D. 50 with gladiatorial scenes in local style.
The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
The Samnites wore a sponge to protect the breast, their left leg was covered with a greave, their helmets were crested, to make their stature appear greater. (..) The Campanians (i.e. the citizens of Capua), in consequence of their pride and in hatred of the Samnites, equipped after this fashion the gladiators who furnished them entertainment at their feasts, and bestowed on them the name of Samnites.
Titus Livius (Livy), The History of Rome, Book 9
Today the relief is dated ca 50 BC because the "Samnite" type disappeared from the lists of gladiators at the time of Emperor Augustus; it might depict a fight which was held during a funeral, similar to a large relief found in the proximity of Lucus Feroniae near Rome. The spears shown in this relief are a reminder of the Caudine Forks, the yoke under which the Roman soldiers were forced to pass to save their lives.
Many families of L'Aquila preserve in their houses some specimens of the graphic art, as well as fragments of antiquity, among which a portion of a Roman calendar on stone deserves peculiar mention. Craven
The calendar showed the lucky (fausti) and the unlucky days: the latter were marked by "N". On these days the Romans avoided making important decisions. The Fasti Amiternini can be dated exactly to the Tiberian age. This calendar, in fact, contains numerous historic references, among which two events of the life of Tiberius himself: his adoption by Augustus and the unmasking of the conspiracy conceived by Marcus Scribonius Libo in 16 AD. It is very similar to a calendar discovered at Palestrina. Similar inscriptions in Rome listed the triumphs or the consuls.
(left) MUNDA: detail of the calendar with entries for the month of August; (right) Roman altar at the Spanish Castle which housed the museum until the 2009 earthquake
Some fragments of the calendar are well preserved and can still be easily read. August 9 (first: NP not propitious): celebration of Sol Indiges on the Quirinal and victory of Caesar at Pharsalus. August 12 (last: C comitial, i.e. a day during which assemblies could meet) celebration of Hercules Invictus at Circus Maximus. The image used as background for this page shows the entries for October 11 (MEDitrinalia, festival of the new vintage), 12 (AUGustus' return to Rome from Asia Minor in 19 BC) and 13 (FONTinalia, festival of the fountains and wellheads).
MUNDA - Augustan age findings of the late XIXth century: (left) tombstone with a finely written inscription: D(iis) M(anibus) S(acrum) C. Aufidio Asiatico et Gnesio Camuria Pyralis filio mater infelicissima, B(ene) M(erenti) P(osuit) V(ixit) A(nnos) XXV; (right) lid of cinerary urn depicting a snake, a symbol of death, but also of medicine and regeneration which was very popular in the region
At the shrine of S. Domenico, in Cocullo, there is an annual festa in the town, at which the number of snake-charmers is very great; the floor of the church, I have been told by many persons, exhibiting swarms of reptiles crawling over it. I was not fortunate enough to see this display, but I have no doubt of the fact. Lear
Prompted by the European demand for ancient objects, especially inscriptions and statues, the first intensive excavations took place in the 1830s. Records are scarce and it is seldom possible to accurately locate these early excavations. Objects from these excavations found their way onto the international art market and were subsequently scattered across Europe.
In the late 1870s and 1880s extensive excavation campaigns were undertook under the control of Italian authorities and there are specific records of new findings at Amiternum.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale d'Abruzzo (MANDA) - Chieti (the main archaeological museum of the region): (above - left to right) head of woman (early IInd century AD); foot of a colossal statue (Ist century AD); head of Augustus; (below) capitals of the IVth century AD bearing an earlier inscription celebrating Lucius Caesar for his appointment as consul: L(ucio) Caesa(ri) Augu(sti) f(ilio) pr(incipi) iventu(tis) con(n)s(uli) desi(gnato)
In the Augustan period, the settlement in the valley underwent extensive renovation, in the course of which many older buildings were abandoned and filled in. Together with the construction of new and unusually large residential buildings, the town experienced a remarkable development with the construction of a theatre, a forum and a basilica. These monuments were decorated with statues and inscriptions. Most of the findings at Amiternum are on display at L'Aquila, but some of them are part of the collections of the main archaeological museum of Abruzzo at Chieti.
MUNDA: Relief depicting a "pompa funebris", a funerary procession (Ist century AD); it was found in 1879
The pompa funebris, the funeral procession, was a fundamental part of the rituals enacted upon the death of a Roman, especially those of the aristocracy. A public event, the funeral procession was part performance, part entertainment, and part commemoration, designed to engage both the family and friends of the deceased as well as members of the general populace. The passage of the procession was announced by musicians (above - two cornicines, horn players and one tubicen, long trumpet player - see a funerary monument near Lucus Feroniae; below - four tibicines, double flute players who had their own guild in Rome); the dead on his funerary bed was impersonated by an actor and paid women mourned him. Similar processions can be seen in Etruscan sarcophagi.
MANDA: "Tabulae patronatus" IVth century AD bronze tables from Amiternum
Tabulae patronatus were tables, specially made of bronze and intended to be displayed in public, where a patronage was established under Roman law. In this way, an indigenous population was subject to the tutoring of a political office resident in Rome, in an ambivalent treaty of loyalty and protection. They are typical of towns of Africa and Spain and the tables of Amiternum are an indication that the Italian peninsula had lost its former privileged status. In general not many lengthy bronze inscriptions have been found, chiefly because they were melted down and reused for other purposes. A famous one was found at Lyon and it recorded a speech delivered by Emperor Claudius in the Senate, by which he granted political rights to worthy citizens of Gaul. The largest bronze inscription which was found at Amiternum celebrates the deeds of Gaius Sallius Pompeianus Sofronius in particular his restorations of the aqueduct and of the theatre. It is dated 325 AD by the name of the two consuls at the top of the inscription.
The town was hit by a devastating earthquake in 346 and the tabulae are the last written source about Roman Amiternum.
Appendix: Whit Sunday at S. Vittorino by Keppel Richard CravenThere was a great concourse of country folks of both sexes within and round the church, attracted by the festal rites of the day, and a kind of fair for cotton handkerchiefs, ribbons, toys, and cakes. These peasants appeared to be a hardy, sedate, and civilised race, without either obsequiousness or arrogance in their manner. The females, who were in general taller in proportion than the men, advanced no higher claim to good looks than a straight form and a fair complexion; attributes which not imperfectly corroborated the assertion of one of my companions, that they descended, with but slight foreign mixture, from the Langobard tribes. Their dress, of substantial and cleanly materials, was not unbecoming; consisting of a dark blue body, with sleeves of the same fastened on the shoulder with full bows of ribbon,- a petticoat of similar substance (cloth), and peculiar from the quantity of small plaits into which it is gathered, - and a head-dress formed of an oblong piece of white cotton or muslin, simply but most gracefully placed on the hair, and bordered with a deep row of thread-lace of a coarse but rich pattern. Several of the men bore pieces of coloured silk of about two yards in length, which they displayed as the prizes that were to excite competition in a foot-race which was to take place in the evening.
Introductory page to this section
Borgocollefegato and the Cicolano
L'Aquila - the Vale
L'Aquila - Historical outline
L'Aquila - S. Maria di Collemaggio
L'Aquila - S. Bernardino
L'Aquila - Other churches
L'Aquila - Other monuments
Leonessa - The Town
Leonessa - The Churches
XVIIIth century Sulmona
Sulmona: Easter Day Ceremony (La Madonna che scappa - The Fleeing Madonna)