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Le fortificazioni arcaiche del Latium vetus e dell’Etruria meridionale (IX–VI sec. a.C.): Stratigrafia, cronologia e urbanizzazione. Atti delle Giornate di Studio. Roma, Academia Belgica, 19–20 settembre 2013

April 2018 (122.2)

Book Review

Le fortificazioni arcaiche del Latium vetus e dell’Etruria meridionale (IX–VI sec. a.C.): Stratigrafia, cronologia e urbanizzazione. Atti delle Giornate di Studio. Roma, Academia Belgica, 19–20 settembre 2013

Edited by Paul Fontaine and Sophie Helas (Artes, Institut historique belge de Rome 7). Pp. 294. Belgisch Historisch Instituut te Rome, Brussels and Rome 2016. €75. ISBN 978-90-74461-85-6 (paper).

Reviewed by

This collection of papers on archaic fortifications in Latium Vetus (the ancient Latin lands south of Rome) and south Etruria (the Etruscan lands immediately north of Rome) results from a two-day conference at the Belgian Academy in Rome in 2013. The objective of the conference was to bring together reports on past (still unpublished) and ongoing excavations to increase our understanding of not only the form and function of the Latin and Etruscan fortifications but also their often debated and still uncertain chronology. To this end the editors asked the contributors to focus on stratigraphy and ceramic dating evidence, opting for a pragmatic approach to the topic. As all contributors are field archaeologists with an excellent track record in protohistoric excavation practice, this was an excellent choice. The relevant case studies concern settlements located on the volcanic hills around Rome and along the lower Tiber—that is, the heartlands of Rome’s earliest expansion. The archaic fortifications of Rome itself have been left out as a case study, having received ample attention elsewhere.

New data are presented on four recently investigated fortifications of south Etruria (Veio and Castellino del Marangone) and Latium Vetus (Gabii and Colle Rotondo), along with five older excavations (Laurentina Acqua Acetosa, Ficana, Lavinium, Satricum, and Collatia-La Rustica, all in Latium Vetus). The focus of the volume is on the protohistoric agger-vallum fortifications (early protohistoric earthworks with a deep moat in front), rather than on the later archaic and Roman enceintes of volcanic tuff in opus quadratum that are cursorily treated. My review therefore concerns, foremost, the chapters that deal with the agger-vallum fortifications. The best example of this type is described by Bedini in the much-awaited publication on Iron Age Laurentina Acqua Acetosa (139–76), a small settlement south of Rome near the Tiber. His elaboration of data from the 1970s yields important stratigraphical information allowing distinct phasing. The first phase dates to the Final Bronze Age, followed by a short phase of abandonment, after which, in the late ninth century B.C.E., an imposing earthwork was erected, reinforced with terrace walls with a deep moat in front. The fortification formed an obstacle 8.10 m high for attackers to overcome, to which we should add a wooden palisade on top. This impressive fortification served to protect a settlement area of only 2.5 ha that, during the Archaic and Roman periods, expanded beyond its limits.

The early Final Bronze Age fortification phase at Laurentina Acqua Acetosa finds a parallel at Colle Rotondo, near present-day Anzio, where Guidi and Cifani investigated two aggeres (111–24). Of these, the easternmost preserved an older phase dating to the end of the Bronze Age/start of the Early Iron Age, despite the destruction of an Archaic phase by agricultural works in 2005. It was reinforced with a framework of wooden poles (“cervoli” in the ancient sources). During the Archaic and Middle Republican periods, an internal agger was erected subdividing the settlement in a 2 ha area with a view on the coast and a 6 ha area defended by the old agger. As to the chronology of Colle Rotondo’s fortifications, the authors make a comparison with the agger of ancient Anzio, below whose Archaic-period wall a thick stratum of materials was found dating to Latial periods IIB–III (earliest date mid ninth century B.C.E.).

The above examples are but two instances of stratigraphic research into agger-vallum fortifications revealing a long history of defensive arrangements; another is the recent excavation at Veio in the area of Campetti, presented by Boitani, Viagi, and Neri, with evidence for agger-vallum phases starting in the Final Bronze Age or Early Iron Age (period 1). The earthworks were replaced by an enceinte of tuff walls in the Archaic period. The excavations at Gabii may serve as another example of the complex biographies of fortifications. Here the earliest earthwork, identified by Helas in her excavations near Gabii’s arx, dates to the Early Iron Age, after which it was covered in the eighth century B.C.E. by a 10 m wide agger. In the sixth century B.C.E., this earthwork was reinforced with a wall in opus quadratum. More recent work on Gabii’s fortifications is presented by Fabbri and Musco concerning the defenses in the northeast sector and near the arx.

These and other intricate fortification biographies—of Collatia (De Santis, Musco), Ficana (Fischer-Hansen), Lavinium (Jaia), and Satricum (Gnade)—inform us on the fortification strategies of individual sites in the context of urbanizing central Italy. While a general trend from agger-vallum fortification to enceintes in opus quadratum appears, each case has to be evaluated on its own. Clearly, stratigraphic research on protohistoric fortifications will often detect an earlier phase preserved in later fortification works showing how fortification was organic and likely geopolitically situated. This “situatedness” is well illustrated in the overview table given by Gatti and Palombi (241) comparing fortified cites in the inland limestone areas (città del calcare) with those from the volcanic area of Latium Vetus. The table shows widely differing chronologies, building techniques, and phasing. The challenge is thus to discern patterning within this diversity, an issue that is, however, not explicitly addressed as a theoretical and methodological issue.

The volume ends with comparative “external” papers by Frederiksen on fortifications and the archaic city in the Greek world and by Fernández-Götz and Krausse on early centralization processes north of the Alps. Although interesting in themselves, these papers do not interact with the central Italian cases.

The real value of this book lies, therefore, in the new data brought forward in the case studies on the archaic (in the sense of pre-Roman) fortifications in the volcanic areas around Rome, adding new fuel to the debate on the early urbanization of Latium Vetus and (to a lesser extent) south Etruria. Finally, while leaving out Rome is helpful to obtain an unbiased view on the phenomenon of fortification, its historic role should not be ignored in future synthetic studies on fortifications in central Italy.

Peter Attema
Groningen Institute of Archaeology
University of Groningen

Book Review of Le fortificazioni arcaiche del Latium vetus e dell’Etruria meridionale (IX–VI sec. a.C.): Stratigrafia, cronologia e urbanizzazione. Atti delle Giornate di Studio. Roma, Academia Belgica, 19–20 settembre 2013, edited by Paul Fontaine and Sophie Helas 

Reviewed by Peter Attema

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 2 (April 2018)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1222.attema

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