BMCR 2024.07.19

Storie intorno agli Scipioni. Immagini e voci da un’area archeologica: monumenti, epigrafi, archivi

, Storie intorno agli Scipioni. Immagini e voci da un'area archeologica: monumenti, epigrafi, archivi. Archeologia e arte antica, 6. Milan: Edizioni Universitarie di Lettere Economia Diritto, 2023. Pp. 248. ISBN 9788855131100.

Open Access


The title under review joins a recent spate of (mostly Italian) scholarship on the Tomb of the Scipios, located along the via Appia just outside the Porta Capena, including Michela Stefani, L’area archeologica del Sepolcro degli Scipioni a Roma (Oxford: BAR Publishing, 2022)—for which see BMCR 2023.06.36. Lavishly illustrated and amply documented, Storie intorno agli Scipioni offers a microhistory which deftly interweaves archaeology and epigraphy into a magisterial account of the management and conservation of a very complex and challenging site. Through extensive research in the Archivio Storico Capitolino, the Archivio Centrale dello Stato, and other archives, D’Andrea reconstructs the many interesting (and surprising) twists and turns in the transformation of the landscape from vigna into area archeologica. In her “Prefazione”, Rita Volpe rightly hails the volume as “un contributo importante non solo alle vicende di un monumento famosissimo, ma anche alla storia dell’archeologia e dell’antiquaria romana” (p. 8), and, for this reason, the book deserves a wide readership.

In the “Introduzione”, D’Andrea offers a brief overview of the site—“necropoli extraurbana, vigna intramuranea, area archeologica” (p. 11)—and summarizes the contents of the volume by chapter. In particular, the book focuses on the archaeological and epigraphical finds stored in the remains of an “insula” originally built right on top of part of the Tomb of the Scipios in the mid-third century A.D. and the fascinating (hi)stories behind those finds.

Thereafter, chapter 1 (“L’antichità: un paesaggio funerario alle porte di Roma tra via Appia e via Latina,”) details the history of the site. D’Andrea begins with the construction of the via Appia and continues with the subsequent development of the area between the via Appia and the via Latina as a home to many major funerary monuments, including the Tomb of the Scipios. The author traces the rise and fall of the family as well as the family tomb, ending with the transfer of control from the Cornelii Scipiones to the Cornelii Lentuli in the first century A.D. Changes in funerary practices during the period of transition from Republic to Empire prompted the construction of many columbaria in the vicinity, including that of Cn. Pomponius Hylas. Two centuries later, the tomb of the Scipios likely lay abandoned when the building of the abovementioned “insula” (see also Stefani 2022: 64–83) and other structures essentially erased the monument from the landscape. The site underwent further changes in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages and, by the Renaissance, had become the quintessential Italian/Roman countryside, complete with churches and monasteries, villas and vineyards, all built around the remaining ruins—and yet the area still retained much of its original form.

In chapter 2 (“Storia moderna di una vigna urbana e dei suoi monumenti tra antiquaria e archeologia,”), in conjunction with the “Appendice archivistica” (vide infra), D’Andrea recounts the history of the modern rediscovery/ies of the tomb, first in 1614 and then by the Sassi brothers in 1780. The author explains how, as at Troy, the rush to excavate (and, in some cases, to sell) the newly rediscovered antiquities may have served antiquarian interests but essentially foiled any attempts at a proper archaeological study. The useful and helpful periodization which D’Andrea introduces to organize the archival material divides the “storia moderna” into three phases: 1886–1924, 1926–1930, and 1930–. The history begins in 1886, when the Commissione Archeologica Municipale (more or less the forerunner of today’s Sovrintendenza Capitolina) proposed to the Consiglio Comunale the purchase of the Tomb of the Scipios, as well as of the Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas and the surrounding lands; the proposal was unanimously approved, and the purchase was finalized the following year. For many years thereafter, restoration and recovery efforts at the site made slow but steady progress in the face of many persistent challenges (topographical and administrative). In stark contrast, the rise of Italian fascism under Mussolini, with its celebration of the glories of ancient Rome, sparked a renewed interest in the tomb, which was completely transformed from vigna into area archeologica in a matter of years rather than decades: the work began on April 21, 1926, and the site was reopened to the public on April 21, 1930—and one can watch the brief promotional video for the (re)inauguration online. Since that especially fraught era in Italian (and, in particular, Roman) history, land and water management issues have continued to plague the monument, which was once again closed to the public in 1992, but reopened twenty years later in 2011. More than a history of the site, this chapter honors those who (have) dedicated their lives to the preservation of this most famous of Republican (funerary) monuments, from Rodolfo Lanciani to Antonio Maria Colini to Rita Volpe.

Chapter 3 (“La collezione epigrafica della Sovrintendenza Capitolina,”), in conjunction with the “Catalogo epigrafico” (vide infra), relates the history of the foundation and formation of the collection housed in the “insula,” which includes 624 objects in total, 403 archaeological and 221 epigraphical, all properly accounted for in SIMART and/or EDR. Understandably, if unfortunately, many, if not most, of the finds have no clear provenience or provenance; that said, most can be securely dated to the first several centuries of the Empire. D’Andrea, who recently edited and published 90 of the 221 inscriptions (Epigraphica 85.1–2 [2023]: 111–195), identifies three major times/places in the growth of the collection: first and foremost, the inscriptions found in the vigna Sassi and the surrounding area, but also those found in the vigna Corsi (c. 1831–1838) and outside the Porta S. Sebastiano (in 1940), as well as additional inscriptions recovered at various other times in various other places in the vicinity. The corpus is almost entirely composed of funerary inscriptions dated to between the first century B.C. and the fourth century A.D.: careful study of the names of the dead and of those who set up the inscriptions in their honor suggests the predominance of liberti/ae and servi/ae, with many Cornelii/ae attested during the Late Republic and a small but noteworthy cohort of members of the familia Caesaris during the Early Empire. At the end of the chapter, D’Andrea singles out an inscription (Cat. XI.21) which, if it has been restored correctly, seems to have been erected in honor of a man who had been a member of the (very rarely attested) college of priests called the bidentales: to the list of inscriptions given in n. 240 on p. 92, add Orelli, Inscr. 1.431 (#2483), who cites D. Romanelli, Viaggio a Pompeii (1817), 1.179–186; see also the original publication of the inscription in C. M. Rosini, Dissertationes isagogicae ad Herculanensium voluminum explanationem (1797), 1.86–91, with tav. XVIII, reprinted in Giuseppe Di Massa, Il territorio di Gragnano nell’antichità a l’ager Stabianus (2000), 8, along with Morella Massa, “Stabia,” BTCGI 19 (2005), 622–654; 624.

In the “Appendice archivistica”, D’Andrea transcribes a selection of the many documents housed in the Archivio Storico Capitolino which pertain to the history of the site during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This remarkable collection testifies to the indefatigable efforts of the author to leave no stone unturned in the search for archival materials, and the reader interested in navigating this assemblage of letters, reports, and other official papers would do well to begin with the following list: 1–2, 5–6, 9, 12, 18, 20, 22, 25, 27, 31, 34, 37–8, 46–7, 51, 59, 66, 73, 77, 78, 80, 86, 87, 95, 106–7, 119–22, 127–32, 135–6, 138–40, 145, 152, 155, 163, 169, 173, 180–1, 188–91, 194, 196, 197–9, 203–4, 208–24. In the “Catalogo epigrafico” (pp. 185–212), the author likewise publishes all 221 inscriptions in 11 groups by provenience. Readings and restorations are generally sound; I have only a few relatively minor suggestions to offer: 1.2 [filia]e for [—]e (?); I.7 fi[li-] for fi[—] (?); I.30 Valẹ[rius] for Valẹ[—], Valerị[a] for Valerị[—] (?); I.40 dulcissum[a–] for dulcissum[—] (?); III.7 [coniugi i]ncomp[arabili —] for C[—] / [—i]ncomp[abili —] (?) (cf. I.72, XI.74); VIII.2 Liv[i–] for Liv[—] (?); X.1 [ab inc]hoato refecer[unt] for [—]hoato refecer[—] (?) (cf. MDAIR 3 [1888]: 208–32, as well as D’Andrea, ArchClass 73, n.s. 2.12 [2022]: 269–304). The volume concludes with an “Indice delle persone menzionate nelle iscrizioni” (pp. 213–26), with indices by nomina and cognomina, as well as fragmenta nominum, fragmenta cogonominum, and fragmenta incerta; an invaluable “Bibliografia” (pp. 227–42); and the requisite “Referenze fotografiche e iconografiche” (pp. 243–6). As the body of scholarship on the Tomb of the Scipios continues to grow, so does the aura surrounding this most famous of Republican families and this most famous of Republican family funerary monuments.