Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.08.17
Flaminia Verga, Persistenze ed evoluzione del popolamento in area centro-italica in età antica: il caso del vicus di Nersae. Mediterranea. Supplemento, 7. Civiltà arcaica dei Sabini nella valle del Tevere, 3. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2011. Pp. 99. ISBN 9788862274012. € 195.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Ingrid Edlund-Berry, University of Texas at Austin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To a student of Roman history, the Aequi appear frequently in the ancient texts as enemies of the Romans. The archaeological remains, however, are less well known, and the area they occupied northeast of Rome, now in modern Lazio, deserves more attention as a major player in the history of central Italy.
As suggested by the title of the volume by Flaminia Verga, this is a case study of one site, the vicus (settlement) of Nersae, to be seen as an example of general settlement patterns in this area. It forms the third volume in the series on the Sabines in the Tiber valley, of which the first volume was published in 1973, and the second in 2008.
An introductory chapter by Alessandro de Luigi provides the historical background for the presentation of the archaeological remains. As is often the case with Rome’s neighbors, the historical sources for the Aequi come primarily from Latin and Greek authors. While Vergil (Aen. 7.744) mentions the mountainous Nersae, home of tough warriors, historians such as Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus include references to the Aequi in connection with events in Rome, such as the introduction of the so-called ius fetiale (Livy 1.32.5), a legal process used in declaration of war.
Since, however, there are no independent records of the history of the Aequi, there are many gaps in our knowledge that can only be partially filled by the topographical and archaeological evidence. So, for example, do we find references to two names, Aequi and Aequiculi/Aequicoli, which De Luigi explains as referring to the same people but used at different time periods. Thus, according to Diodorus Siculus (14.117.4), Aequi was the earlier name, replaced by Aequiculi by his time, that is, during the time of Augustus. Today, the name Aequiculi has been transformed into Cicolano which corresponds with the upper valley of the river Salto.
Although the contacts between the Aequi and the Romans were limited (at least based on the historical texts), the strategic location of the homeland of the Aequi in the Salto valley allowed them opportunities to side with other neighbors such as the Volscians, probably with the goal of reaching the Tyrrhenian coast while bypassing Rome. Ultimately, however, their alliance with the Samnites against Rome proved costly, and the area became controlled by the Romans after 290 B.C. As a result Roman municipia were later established at Cliternia (Capradosso) and at a site for the Res publica Aequiculanorum, to be identified with the Nersae mentioned by Virgil, today’s Civitella di Nesce (near Pescorocchiano).
De Luigi attributes the importance of the Aequi to the location of their territory which served as a “corridor” between the Latins and the Hernici, and which has played a role also in later Italian history. As late as 1927, the area was transferred from the Abruzzo to the province of Rieti in Lazio.
Evidence for the political system and culture of the Aequi is limited. Names of two kings are recorded, Septimus Modius and Fertor Resius, and later military commanders of the Cloelian family. These names are recorded in Latin texts, whereas inscriptions found in the territory of the Aequi refer to a Pupidius Herennius who is identified as a meddix tuticus Nuersinus (chief magistrate of Nersae). Unfortunately these local inscriptions have been considered forgeries and should thus be used with caution.
In addition to texts, evidence for the culture of the Aequi is found in the archaeological remains. Although the remains of buildings have been known for centuries, few have been excavated systematically and are therefore difficult to date. Important burial grounds, including the tumulus at Corvaro, provide evidence of grave goods from the early Iron Age through the Orientalizing and Archaic periods to the end of the Roman Republic. All in all, both the texts and the material remains support the traditional image of the Aequi as warriors eager to defend their land. The sequence of habitation seems to run parallel to that of the neighboring peoples, allowing for the difficulty in dating the settlements and sanctuaries.
De Luigi’s presentation is well documented and gives ample material for continued study. It seems, however, unfortunate that whether due to space constraints or for other reasons he cuts short a discussion by simply referring to a footnote with a bibliographical note. For example, the cippus from the Palatine in Rome (CIL VI.1302) would seem important enough for the history of the Aequi to warrant a more detailed analysis in the text. Also, for the much-debated local inscriptions mentioned above, De Luigi refers to an unpublished study by Andrea De Santis, and Verga later discusses the interpretation briefly, but the history of the discovery of these inscriptions and their interpretation would seem highly relevant for our understanding of modern scholarship on the Aequi.
Following De Luigi’s summary of the historical evidence, Verga presents her study of the vicus of Nersae. A brief introduction (Ch. 1) summarizes the location of the Aequi and the importance of the area for communication and travel within central Italy. The development of the settlement of Nersae is seen as an example of a vicus being transformed into a municipium (Roman municipality).
The second chapter defines the geology of the area based on the IGM map 145 Avezzano, the section for Pescorocchiano. If available, a geological map like the one published in Gli Equi, tra Abruzzo e Lazio, ed. S. Lapenna (Sulmona 2004) 22 would have been useful as a comparative tool.
In the third chapter, Verga presents the archaeological evidence for history of the area for which the specific remains are documented in the fifth chapter. Adding to the source material discussed by De Luigi, Verga introduces an overview of the location of sites, including Civitella di Nesce, the presence of transhumance trails, remains of buildings, small finds, including votives, and inscriptions. According to Verga, the combined evidence points to the identification of the site of Nersae as the location of the municipium for the res publica Aequiculorum and it is possible to follow the continued history of this area through antiquity.
In addition to more recent studies of the area, listed in the bibliography, a major source is a manuscript with drawings by the architect Giuseppe Simelli in the early 19th century. Chapter four is devoted to the history of this author, the manuscript, and its important role in the archaeological discussions of his time. Simelli was born in Stroncone in the province of Terni and the account of his travels in Cicolano included study of the majestic “cyclopean” walls in the area. While some colleagues, in particular the French antiquarian Petit-Radel, valued his important observations, others, including the British traveler Dodwell, were unaware of his work. Drawings by Vespignani, intended for a publication of Dodwell’s travels in this area, are of particular value for verifying or supplementing Simelli’s observations, and other 19th century studies provide additional information.
Chapter five provides the documentation of the archaeological remains in the area between Pescorocchiano and Civitella. In all, eleven features are described in catalogue format, and their location is marked on the map following the text the of chapter (Tav. I). With the exception of no. 1 (remains of a Roman bridge) and no. 12 (necropolis), the archaeological remains are distributed in three main areas, Casale de Santis (nos. 2, 3, and 4) just south of Monte Forcella, Civitella (nos. 5, 6, and 7), and Casale di Marco (nos. 8, 9, 10 and 11). As is apparent from Verga’s description, the photographs, and the drawings, Simelli’s work is crucial for documenting remains no longer visible or in poor condition.
The remains from Casale de Santis include large blocks and a Corinthian capital (nos. 2-3) as well as remains of a road (no. 4), and a variety of small finds recorded by Simelli and others. Because of the monumentality of the blocks, and the location of the finds, the original building at this site may have been a large mausoleum used for funerary rituals at the end of the Roman Republic or beginning of the Empire.
The area of Civitella (di Nesce), identified by the church of S. Angelo, preserves remains of a massive polygonal terrace wall, of which the remaining south wall measures over 80 m. (no. 5). Both Simelli and Vespignani have provided drawings of this impressive monument, which includes the podium of a sanctuary roofed with tiles found at the site. Verga compares this podium to temple C at Largo Argentina in Rome, but it is not clear from the description whether it also had a crowning cyma reversa moulding. The tile fragments are said to be of Wikander’s type II, and would therefore indicate reuse from the 6th c. B.C., perhaps from a previous building at the site.
Connected with what remains of the west wall of the terrace is a section of a wall (no. 6) excavated in the 1990s. It enclosed a votive deposit consisting of a variety of objects, including bovine and equine figurines and anatomical votives, pottery, and coins (described and illustrated by G. Alvino in ArchLaz 12:2  475-486). In the same general location are other remains of walls that may have been connected with the main terrace (no. 7).
In the area identified as San Silvestro and Casale Di Marco-ex Domizi, we find stretches of walls constructed in opus caementicium and opus quadratum (no. 8). Documented already by Simelli, but today less visible, these walls document considerable technical skill in securing terracing of the land and buttressing as needed.
From the same area are documented elements of paving and architectural elements, including columns, column bases, and an altar, which belong to the second half of the first century B.C. or first third of the first century A.D. (no. 9). Based on inscriptional evidence, they may belong to a sanctuary to eastern deities (Sarapis and Isis).
Further remains from San Silvestro include a stretch of polygonal wall (no. 10). As drawn by Simelli, the blocks are joined with great care, and are of a quality similar to that found at the theater at Pietrabbondante. Simelli further records a block with a serpent carved in relief (no longer identifiable). A stretch of road (no. 11), finally, provides evidence of contacts with neighboring areas.
Chapter six contains a summary of the topography of the area of San Silvestro/Casale di Marco and its archaeological remains. Already the early antiquarians have identified this location with the municipium representing the State of the Aequicoli (res publica Aequiculorum) because of its position in the landscape and links to the ancient roads and the Salto river. Key points were the plateau of San Silvestro, to be equated with the vicus of Nersae and later the municipium, and the sanctuary at S. Angelo/Civitella di Nesce. As is clear from Verga’s presentation, the primary focus of this volume is the topography and landscape as well as the remains of buildings, whereas the reader will need to consult other publications for detailed information on the inscriptions mentioned in the text, and the votive objects and other finds. Although the location of the individual find spots is marked on Tav. I and the general areas are indicated on figs. 32 and 33, aerial photographs and maps of the roads and neighboring communities would have clarified the narrative in the text.
Like other volumes in this series, the quality of the paper is excellent and the print clear and legible. Considering the importance of the contents, it is, however, most unfortunate that the reproduction of maps, plans, and photographs is so poor.
This monograph touches on many important topics, and illustrates well the importance of analyzing all types of evidence for piecing together a historical context for this area of central Italy and for Rome’s interactions with her neighbors. As our knowledge about the Aequi increases, the need for a comprehensive study of their history and culture with adequate maps, landscape images, and illustrations of monuments and objects is evident. The study discussed here is for specialists and for research libraries.