You may wish to see an introduction to this section with a map of the area or some notes on Leprignano, a medieval town with an ancient history first.
(left-above) Shrine to Feronia: platform of an altar; (left-below) Museum of Lucus Feroniae: fragment of the decoration of a temple erected in 130-110 BC; (right) Museum of Lucus Feroniae: terracotta heads and small statues which were offered to the goddess
Prodigies announced from many places at the same time, augmented the terror. (..) By the advice of the decemviri it was decreed (..) that the very freed-women should, according to their means, contribute money from which a present might be made to Feronia.
Livy - The History of Rome - Book XXIII Chapter I - Translation by D. Spillan and Cyrus Evans.
The shrine to Feronia was sacked by Hannibal in 211 BC during the Second Punic War.
Below Mount Soracte is the city of Feronia, having the same name as a certain goddess of the country, highly reverenced by the surrounding people: here is her temple, in which a remarkable ceremony is performed, for those possessed by the divinity pass over a large bed of burning coal and ashes barefoot, unhurt.
Strabo - Geography - Book V Chapter II - Translation by H. C. Hamilton, and W. Falconer
The shrine was rebuilt and next to it a small town developed. The platform before the (almost entirely lost) temple might have been used for the ceremony described by Strabo. The site of the shrine and of the town were discovered in 1952.
(left-above) Road leading to Capena; (left-below) old baths: (right) fragments of an inscription stating the locations of cisterns ("castellum") and pipes ("fistula") of the aqueduct which supplied Lucus Feroniae. It indicates that the town had a theatre and a Temple to Hercules; it was found near the old baths
The shrine to Feronia was built by the inhabitants of Capena, who joined a federation of Etruscan towns in the Vth century BC. The Romans conquered Capena in 395 BC soon after having destroyed Veio (Veii), a larger Etruscan town. The shrine was located near the right bank of the Tiber (close to today's Fiano Romano) and it was surrounded by a sacred grove (Lat. lucus). Feronia was a local goddess who was worshipped also by the Sabines who lived on the other side of the river. After the Roman conquest of the area Feronia was regarded as a patron of the liberti (freedmen) which explains why freedwomen made donations to the shrine, as reported by Livy. Her yearly festival was a popular event and a sort of trade fair.
(above) Northern access to the town; (below) the Forum seen from the south; the wall on the eastern (right) side separated it from the shrine
Many inscriptions found in the Forum name the town as Colonia Iulia Felix Lucus Feroniae which suggests that privileges were given to its inhabitants by Julius Caesar or by Emperor Augustus, his successor, and that some land in its proximity was assigned to army veterans. The economy of the small town relied on activities associated with the shrine and on farming. The northern side of the Forum housed the main religious and civilian institutions: a basilica for the tribunals and for the merchants, a small temple to Salus Frugifera and Sacello degli Augustali, a hall for the cult of the imperial family. The western side had a series of taverns or shops and a large bath establishment. Excavations of the southern side did not yield clear indications on its facilities. It is possible that the population was dispersed in the countryside, because not much evidence has been found of houses.
Museum of Lucus Feroniae: statues found at Sacello degli Augustali; (inset-above) 106 AD dedicatory inscription to Emperor Trajan "restitutor" (restorer) of the town; (inset-below) the site of Sacello degli Augustali at the northern end of the Forum
Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia owned many estates along the right bank of the Tiber (e.g. Villa di Livia at Prima Porta) and we can assume that trusted freedmen ran these estates. Freedmen did not enjoy all the rights of Roman citizens, even though they could become very rich. In particular they could not enter the most prestigious priesthood colleges, e.g. that of the epulones. They could however become Augustales, members of the local college in charge of honouring the members of the imperial family. Halls where ceremonies havig this purpose were held have been found in many Roman towns, e.g. at Ostia and Herculaneum. The Augustales enjoyed a high social status and were assigned special seats in theatres and amphitheatres (see the tomb of an Augustalis at Pompeii).
Museum of Lucus Feroniae: details of the statues found at Sacello degli Augustali: (left) Emperor Augustus; (centre) Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa; (right) Antonia Minor, wife of Drusus (see her assumed portrait known as Juno/Hera Ludovisi - it opens in another window); the image used as background for this page shows a head of Emperor Vespasian
The cult of the imperial family was instituted by Emperor Tiberius in 14 AD, but it had been introduced by Augustus himself in the decoration of Ara Pacis Augustae, where, rather than as a military commander, he chose to be portrayed with all his relatives while leading a religious procession. It would be wrong to assume the statues of the imperial family were worshipped as those of deities; they represented a civilian authority and were not expected to perform miracles.
(left) Museum of Lucus Feroniae: statue of Salus Frugifera and detail showing a "capsa", a small box for jewels filled with incense grains; (right-above) site of her temple near Sacello degli Augustali; (right-below) latrine at the back of the temple and at the northern entrance to the town
For the ancient inhabitants of Capena and for the Sabines the word feronia most likely meant wild/untamed and perhaps it was a reference to the grove which surrounded the shrine. Eventually this meaning did not match the aspect of the farmed countryside around the Roman town and therefore the temple in the Forum was dedicated to Salus (Salvation/Welfare) Frugifera (fruit bearer), in essence still Feronia, but with a Latinized name which made explicit reference to fertility.
Inscriptions found at the Forum: (left) original in the museum; (centre/right) copies in the Forum
The inscriptions found at the Forum shed some light on the government of the town: it was run by two duumviri who were appointed for one year, similar to Roman consuls and were assisted by a local Senate of decuriones (in origin the title of a military officer); this system was common practice in most Roman towns, but it comes as a surprise considering the smallness of Lucus Feroniae.
Lucius Octavius (left) restored the Forum with his own money. Nasidius Messorius (centre) was a veteran of the army where he commanded cavalry speculatores (explorers). Lucius Marcius (right) in addition to being a duumvir was an Augustalis. The last two inscriptions were placed with the endorsement - l(ocus) d(atus) d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) - of the local Senate.
Terme del Foro: large mosaic
New baths were built at the south-western corner of the Forum on the sites of some taverns, most likely by Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, both known for the very high number of monuments which were built at their initiative or anyhow during their rule in the whole Roman Empire. The baths had a separate smaller section for women with only a frigidarium (cold room) and a calidarium (hot room).
Terme del Foro: (left-above) detail of the large mosaic with an acanthus leaf motif; (left-below) central panel of the large mosaic depicting a man lying by a river and a flying Eros, perhaps the prologue of the Apollo and Daphne tale; (right) mosaic of another hall
By and large in the provinces of the Roman Empire (e.g. at Antioch) mosaics tended to be highly coloured, whereas in the capital there was a preference for black and white mosaics. We can assume this had to do with the decoration of the walls; if the latter was based on frescoes, then a plain floor was more suited as at Villa Romana della Farnesina. Emperor Hadrian who by no means was worried of spending too much decorated the rooms for his guests at Villa Adriana with black and white mosaics. Terme di Caracalla, the most luxurious baths of Rome had many black and white mosaics and these were very frequently used at Ostia too.
Terme del Foro: other details of mosaics
Archaeologists found evidence of repairs made to the baths during the reign of Emperor Caracalla by analyzing the trade-marks of bricks they found there. It is possible that some slightly coloured mosaic panels were added at that time.
(above) Site of a small amphitheatre; (below-left) inscription celebrating its construction in the museum; (below-right) the countryside around Lucus Feroniae with Monte Gennaro (left) and S. Angelo Romano (right) in the background
In Rome you may see "the smallest house of Trastevere", at Ripatransone "the narrowest street of Italy" and at Lucus Feroniae the tiniest amphitheatre of the Roman Empire. However M. Silius Epaphroditus, the freedman who built it, was very proud of his achievement and in the celebratory inscription he pointed out that a solo p(ecunia) s(ua) f(ecit), he made it entirely with his own money. Roman benefactors often gave evidence to the financial side of their contributions to the common good; they followed the example of Augustus who wrote a detailed summary of the personal expenses he incurred for the benefit of the Romans.
Museum of Lucus Feroniae: (left) altar from the Forum; (right) funerary altar depicting Charon, the ferryman who carried the souls of the dead to the Underworld
The last inscriptions found at Lucus Feroniae are dated second half of the IIIrd century, a period of civil wars and anarchy during which the town might have been sacked and destroyed by one of the armies approaching or leaving Rome. Eventually it was covered by mud carried by river inundations. Before 1952, based on the reference made to it by Strabo, Lucus Feroniae was associated with another site:
Separated from the main mass of the mountain on the Roman side, is an attendant rock supporting the picturesque little town of Sant'Oreste, which has given its modern name to Soracte. At the foot of this smaller hill is the fountain of Felonica, marking the side of Feronia, where the peasants of the surrounding districts offered their first fruits to the great Sabine goddess, who would seem to have been identical with Proserpine.
Augustus J. C. Hare - Days Near Rome - 1875
In 1961 during the construction of Autostrada del Sole, a key highway, evidence was found of Villa dei Volusii, a Roman villa on the edge of the river, only hundreds of yards from Lucus Feroniae. It belonged to an important family from Cingulum and it is dated Ist century BC. It was enlarged in the IInd century AD. In addition to being a residential location it was also a farm.
Reliefs showing two of six couples of gladiators
In 2007 officers of Gruppo Tutela Patrimonio Archeologico della Guardia di Finanza, a body in charge of preventing illicit trade of ancient works of art, detected signs of excavations in the countryside near Lucus Feroniae. Their investigations led to the discovery of a series of reliefs which were buried under a thin layer of earth. Presumably those who had found them had in mind to sell them on the antiquarian market. The reliefs decorated the base of a funerary monument which most likely had a sort of small temple at its top, similar to those at Aquileia and other Roman towns. The reliefs depicted the final phase of six fights between gladiators.
The reliefs do not portray neither the amphitheatre where the fights occurred, nor the crowds watching them. It is therefore possible that the fights were staged for the funerals of the person for whom the monument was built, a tradition which went back to the ceremonies for the death of Patroclus and which is mentioned by Roman historians with reference to the funerals of Lucius Iunius Brutus, one of the first consuls. Assuming this hypothesis is correct the gladiators in the reliefs were bustuarii, i.e. they fought about the bustum, or pile of a deceased person, in the ceremony of his obsequies.
The reliefs show the musicians who announced the fights and highlighted their key moment, i.e. the defeat of one of the gladiators. In an amphitheatre the games were accompanied by a small orchestra including a pipe organ which was activated by water.
Details of the reliefs
The reliefs show the gladiators wearing helmets, shields and protective equipment for wrists and ankles. This element led archaeologists to date them Ist century BC, because later on gladiators fought with less protections as Seneca reports:
The other day, I chanced to drop in at the midday games, expecting sport and wit and some relaxation to rest men's eyes from the sight of human blood. Just the opposite was the case. Any fighting before that was as nothing; all trifles were now put aside - it was plain butchery. The men had nothing with which to protect themselves, for their whole bodies were open to the thrust, and every thrust told. The common people prefer this to matches on level terms or request performances. Of course they do. The blade is not parried by helmet or shield, and what use is skill or defence? All these merely postpone death.
Seneca - Moral letters to Lucilius - Epistle 7 - Translation by Richard Mott Gummere
Return to page one (Introduction, Riano and Castelnuovo di Porto) or to page two (Morlupo and Leprignano/Capena) or go to Villa dei Volusii.