BMCR 2020.09.03

Fregellae: il tempio del Foro e il tempio suburbano sulla via Latina

, , , Fregellae: il tempio del Foro e il tempio suburbano sulla via Latina. Monumenti antichi. Serie miscellanea, Volume 23. Roma: Giorgio Bretschneider Editore, 2019. lvii, 358 p.. ISBN 9788876893148. €80,00.

Table of Contents

This is the third in a series of book-length publications on the excavations at ancient Fregellae (Lazio), with further editions promised for other portions of the site.[1] It covers two of the three uncovered temples: one in the forum and the other some 100m north of the settlement walls, near the intersection of the viae Latina and Sorana. Much of the material derives from excavations conducted by the University of Perugia in 1991-92 (the forum) and between 1998 and 2004 (suburban). The suburban temple also saw rescue excavations due to its vicinity to modern roadworks (which likely destroyed much evidence as well as the front portion of the structure). As the editors’ introduction notes, many of the shorter sections on the various kinds of material finds were written by students and early-career scholars, at some distance from this publication, with obvious consequences for the bibliography. In addition to the editors, several contributors have had long associations with the site. The introduction also notes that neither temple area was thoroughly excavated at depth, for a variety of reasons.

Roman involvement at Fregellae is well attested in historical accounts such as Livy’s: a colony of the later 4th c. BCE followed by destruction by Rome after a revolt in 125 BCE. The area was also said to have been occupied earlier by various Italic peoples. The results presented here confirm that overall chronology (with positive consequences for our confidence in those mid-Republican historical sources).

The body of the work begins with Coarelli’s only written contribution (3-5), situating the two temples in the broader context. It highlights many aspects to be detailed later, and includes his already proposed identification of the forum temple’s deity with Concordia, with obvious implications for the much disputed history of that cult at Rome. Coarelli also cites the temple’s vicinity to the building identified as Fregellae’s comitium for further connection with the capital.

Part II on the forum temple begins with Giovanni Battaglini’s description of the excavation and structure. Performed under Coarelli in 1991-92 the excavations were part of a larger project of exploring the forum area and conducted “in estensione”. Since the forum sits on a high point and the area had undergone extensive agricultural exploitation and apparent despoiling, only the foundations remain. Nevertheless enough is there to reconstruct a podium temple with a single cella, constructed to a large degree of tuff blocks over conglomerate and measuring 10.8×20.65m. Facing WSW and situated along the decumanus, opposite the comitium, the structure is dated from the architectural terracottas which show two phases: the first in the late 4th c. and the second early in the 2nd, with some later pieces dating towards the end of that century, all consistent with the colony’s foundation and destruction. Five “pozzetti” were discovered in front of the temple, two badly damaged, composed of travertine blocks and measuring 0.6×0.7m internally. The function of these features is not clear, though one yielded material likely related to the despoiling of the temple. Geomagnetic survey suggests the possible existence of others in the forum. (These are not to be confused with the series of similar structures on the north and western sides of the forum, which Coarelli has suggested form saepta.) Battaglini includes several good plans of the forum and temple, along with some photos (black and white, as throughout the book).

Francesca Diosono follows with an analysis of the details of the temple’s architecture and an attempt to place it within the broader Italian context. , She reconstructs the building’s plan as prostyle tetrastyle in the Ionic order, and includes drawings of a column fragment as well as the podium’s molding, together with numerous comparanda. One of the strengths and benefits of her treatment, notable in the other authors as well, is a thorough review of comparanda from throughout central and southern Italy.

The next three sections treat the terracottas associated with the temple. Antonella Pedacchioni begins with the over 500 mold-made fragments already studied in part by Rudolf Känel. As with other sections on various terracottas, she describes the several clays (all studied macroscopically without elemental or other chemical analysis) to which she is able to assign chronological periods of use. She then treats in turn the several types of revetment plaques, shown with photos and reconstruction drawings, and a potnia theron antefix type. A final section argues for a local workshop, with the likelihood of the presence of eastern artists, as more fully developed elsewhere in the book.

Känel and Sara Stangoni present the elements with hand-molded relief decoration. Especially notable are the vegetal friezes (240 fragments). Of note (and already published) is a partial inscription -THUMA-, considered the name of the artist and Greek in origin. The pedimental figures were also examined, consisting of 1,260 identified fragments, and likely many others too small for certain identification. The overall state of preservation is so poor that the authors believe it likely that the decoration was deliberately destroyed when the colony was. Given the size of the temple, they cautiously reconstruct two separate scenes, one each for front (Dionysiac) and back (military, perhaps inspired by Rome’s victory over Antiochus III in 187).

The same authors then discuss the temple’s cult statue, fragmentary and identified by its roughly life-size scale. The figure is female, dressed in a chiton and overlying mantle, and preserved mainly in the bottom portion. A separately made terracotta diadem may also have been placed on the statue.  On the basis of its classicizing style and especially the clay type, the authors connect it with the early-2nd c. reworking of the temple and the workshop of -THUMA-. They note that the figure’s iconography is not inconsistent with Coarelli’s Concordia proposal, though the statue is sufficiently fragmentary to render a certain identification impossible. These last two chapters are illustrated by photographs without drawings. Given the extensive work expended on all the sections on the temple’s decorative elements, it is a shame that no overall reconstruction is given for this or the suburban temple.

In Part III on the suburban temple, Battaglini again provides an overview of the excavation and structure of the building. As already noted, the temple was discovered in 1975 during road construction (it lies very near the A1) that damaged its front. In 1990 part of the temple seems to have been visible in the road scarp itself, along with other associated material; other finds from the early 20th century have also been associated with it. Because of the variety of building materials in the area, several other structures are thought to have been erected nearby, though the limited excavation of 2002 and 2004 did not encounter any.

As with the forum temple, this one also lies close to the modern surface. Similar in form, though smaller than the other, the temple measures 6.11×13.29m and faces roughly east (where it is cut by the road), with either two or four columns prostyle. The foundations are of tuff blocks and a few overlying travertine blocks remain, which Battaglini tentatively assigns to a second phase, suggesting that the absence of other stonework may indicate earthen walls in the first. Several drainage channels were found in the vicinity of the building, and their presence recalls an earlier, modern place-name for the area, “Fontana Maestro Giulio,” suggesting that the cult required regular use of water. Material from the area demonstrates use in the 7-5th c. BCE, followed by a gap and renewed use again near the end of the 4th c. when the first building was constructed. Again good plans are provided along with photos (several lacking an indication of north).

Diosono discusses the cult and its material remains in the next section where she provides more detailed evidence for chronology along with its relationship with the ancient historical sources. Since the material from this area comes from rescue operations, century-old sources, and only brief and non-intensive excavation, there are often challenges in interpreting its function and role in the ancient cult. Nevertheless Diosono points to the likely female identity of the divinity to whom the temple was dedicated, noting that Bona Dea seems most likely, especially given evidence that points to the importance of female life transitions (e.g., from girl to woman, wife to mother), but others like Juno, Fortuna, and Minerva cannot be securely excluded. As elsewhere, reference to other Italian sites is frequent and welcome.

Känel and Stangoni again study the architectural terracottas, including revetment plaques, vegetal friezes, a palmette acroterion, antefixes, and the pedimental statues, all of which they find typical of Etrusco-Italic work of the Hellenistic period. These remains are also very fragmentary. The statues include a seated female figure probably holding a cornucopia (Bona Dea or Fortuna?), a veiled female (Venus, Juno?), a male figure, a small-scale Eros, and another small figure. Geometry would seem to require that two seated figures be central, though only one seated figure is unambiguously represented among the finds. The authors make reference to Coarelli’s association of Venus Cloacina and Fortuna Muliebris to provide a parallel to the female figures here, but they acknowledge that such an explanation is far from certain. This decorative scheme is dated to 180-160 and nothing identifiable remains of any analogous elements from the first phase—perhaps, the authors plausibly suggest, because it was carted away or buried during the deliberate redecorating of the later phase. As in their earlier chapter, this one is illustrated with photos.

David Nonnis presents the unique find of an inscription in hand-molded terracotta letters on several of the revetment plaques, all found during the roadwork of 1990. Six fragments preserve seven letters: a likely word-beginning DE, B, D, R, C or O, and one more, perhaps an A. At 10 cm high, the collection hardly lends itself to easy interpretation. Given the 6m width of the temple, 75 letters and spaces could fit at an average width of 8cm, plenty of room for a variety of information, even without the use of a second line. This material nevertheless provides one of the earliest examples of such an inscription.

Nicol Tiburzi and Valeria Tosti contribute two short discussions of the building elements in terracotta (tiles and bricks), and lead (5 frr.), respectively.

The rest of the work is made up of mostly short sections by various authors considering the various kinds of material finds (e.g., votives, ceramics, metals). Often betraying their origins in the study seminars mentioned in the introduction, they provide a good overview and catalogue of the wide variety of objects from the site. They stand somewhat isolated from the rest of the work, especially in the sections on the ceramics where a good introduction to the broader topic could have set the stage for the individual contributions.

A good quality index rounds off the work (the bibliography was presented at the start), though I did notice the lack of some specific find types (e.g., chiodo, anthemion, most of the Latin item names from the ceramic sections). Copy-editing is good throughout. The photos are of decent quality, though nearly all those of objects lack a scale. The drawings are also generally good, though they suffer from pixelation, presumably caused by digitizing originally hand-drawn figures. The conventions for referring to figures, though easy to understand, vary across the sections, as do the placements of the figures within each.

This is a valuable publication on an important site whose findings have been much anticipated. In 2020 I wonder when standards of digital production will be adopted more widely in our field, as this is a hefty book (25x35cm) and the photographs and drawings certainly deserve better presentation.


[1] Coarelli, F., ed. 1986. Fregellae 2: Il santuario di Esculapio. Roma: Edizioni Quasar. Coarelli, F., and P.G. Monti, eds. 1998. Fregellae 1: Le fonti, la storia, il territorio. Roma: Quasar. Future volumes to cover at least the various domus, baths, and forum.