Roman Theatre from Interamna Lirenas

From a University of Cambridge press release:

The head of a lion and griffin, believed to be part of the decoration of the theatre, as well as stone blocks with steps carved into them, are helping to further revise historical understanding about the site of Interamna Lirenas, founded by the Romans in the late 4th century BCE.

The town, which disappeared following its abandonment around 500 CE, was last year mapped by geophysical analysis and imaging undertaken by a team of researchers led by Cambridge archaeologists Dr Alessandro Launaro and Professor Martin Millett.

The discovery of the theatre remains follows the first-ever test excavation of the site this summer and adds new weight to the team’s theories about Interamna Lirenas’ growth and importance.

Dr Launaro said: “The discovery of the theatre remains is an important breakthrough. It bears witness to the social and economic dynamism of the town in a period when modern scholarship has for long believed it to be stagnating and declining.”

“The dating of the first phase of the building to the second half of the first century BCE prompts a serious reconsideration of the urban development of Interamna Lirenas.”

The forgotten remains of the town, which lies 50 miles south of Rome in the Liri Valley, were revealed using ground penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometry – which measures changes in the earth’s magnetic field caused by different features beneath the surface.

Work at the site began in 2010 but the latest finds add new depths of understanding to a settlement that was wrongly believed by earlier scholars to have been a sleepy backwater of the Roman Empire for much of the 800 years of its inhabitation from 312 BCE to 500 CE.

Dr Launaro added: “The town plan was virtually unknown until we began work here with colleagues from Italy and the UK. But the presence of the theatre from the first century BCE points towards a major overhaul of the town at that time and is evidence of a thriving community – challenging all previous preconceptions of the town as a dreary and somewhat neglected outpost of the empire.”

Today, the site appears as an uninterrupted series of ploughed farmer’s fields, devoid of any recognisable archaeological feature. Before disappearing beneath the earth, the site is thought to have been scavenged for building materials in the years following its abandonment.

The original geophysical work revealed the location of the town’s theatre, marketplace and other buildings spread across the entire settlement which spans some 25 hectares. Dr Launaro and Professor Millett’s research is part of a project that aims to understand more about what happened in towns established by the Romans in Italy following her conquest. The research is led by the pair in collaboration with the Italian State Archaeological Service (Dr Giovanna Rita Bellini), the Comune of Pignataro Interamna (Mayor Benedetto Evangelista), the British School at Rome and the Archaeological Prospection Services of Southampton University.

Dr Launaro said: “Interamna Lirenas is an enticing case study because, in spite of its size, it was not re-occupied at the end of the Roman period, meaning that it retained much of its original shape and features.”

Researchers knew a town existed on the site but did not excavate it in the past as it was thought that all such settlements followed the same template.

Following the discovery of the theatre, the Cambridge team carried out a test excavation of the building to gather information about the nature of the structures, their chronology and level of preservation.

However, the team’s work is not just confined to the town itself, but also its hinterland. Here an intensive archaeological survey, carried out over the last three years, has recovered a varied archaeological evidence pertaining to settlement patterns (e.g. farms, villages, villas) over the period 350 BCE to 550 CE.

Remarkably, site numbers seem to peak precisely between 50 BCE to 250 CE, the outcome of a gradual growth which had originated with the foundation of Interamna Lirenas in the closing years of the fourth century BCE. More importantly, a preliminary comparison of the archaeological finds such as pottery recovered during the rural survey has shown a close overlap, suggesting a symbiotic exchange between town and hinterland as they grew together.

“The integrated approach is making it possible to fully appreciate the significance of transformations taking place within a Roman town by casting them against a wider horizon,” said Dr Launaro. “This and other issues will be explored by us in the coming years as we excavate new areas with geophysical prospection and archaeological surveys across the countryside.”

As mentioned above, they mapped the site a year ago: Mapping Interamna Lirenas

Mapping Interamna Lirenas

From Cambridge Research News:

An ancient Italian town, which disappeared after its abandonment 1,500 years ago and now lies buried underground, has been mapped by researchers, revealing the location of its theatre, marketplace and other buildings.

Originally founded as a Roman colony in the 4th century BCE, the site of Interamna Lirenas lies in the Liri Valley in Southern Lazio, about 50 miles south of Rome itself. After it was abandoned around the year 500 CE, it was scavenged for building materials and, over time, its remains were completely lost from view. Today, the site is an uninterrupted stretch of farmland, with no recognisable archaeological features.

Now, researchers have successfully produced the first images of the ancient site, using geophysical methods that allowed them to look beneath the surface of the earth and map the layout of the entire settlement, which spans 25 hectares.

The resulting pictures have already thrown up a few surprises. Earlier scholars had previously imagined that the Roman town of Interamna Lirenas was something of a sleepy backwater, but the large marketplace and theatre instead suggest that, in fact, it was a bustling economic and social centre in its own right.

“Having the complete streetplan and being able to pick out individual details allows us to start zoning the settlement and examine how it worked and changed through time,” Martin Millett, Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, said.

“It shows that this was a lively and busy place, even though most scholars have reckoned that it was marginal and stagnating. We have also carried out research in the surrounding countryside which adds to the picture because it shows that the nearby farmland was thriving as well.”

The images are the result of a project which began in 2010 that aims to understand more about what happened in towns established by the Romans as colonies in Italy following her conquest. This research is led by Millett and Dr Alessandro Launaro (British Academy Postoctoral Fellow and Fellow of Darwin College) in collaboration with Dr Giovanna Rita Bellini (Director of the Archaeological Area of Interamna Lirenas, Italian State Archaeological Service), the British School at Rome and the Archaeological Prospection Services of Southampton University. It has been generously supported by the British Academy, the Faculty of Classics (University of Cambridge), the McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research (University of Cambridge) and the town of Pignataro Interamna.

Interamna Lirenas is an enticing case study because, in spite of its size, it did not expand significantly during the high point of Rome’s Imperial age, meaning that it retained much of its original colonial shape and features.

Thanks to antiquarian research, archaeologists have long since known that a town existed on the site, but it has never been excavated. One reason is that until relatively recently, experts believed that all Roman colonial settlements followed the same template – something which the new pictures from Interamna Lirenas are now helping to question.

Knowing that a full-scale excavation of such a large area would be impractical, the research team decided to carry out a systematic geophysical analysis instead.

The main techniques they used were magnetometry and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). Magnetometry measures changes in the earth’s magnetic field caused by different features beneath the surface, and allowed the researchers to identify the town’s overall layout, many individual buildings and a wide open area in the settlement’s centre – its forum or marketplace.

GPR sends electromagnetic radar waves through the soil to search for changes in its composition and the presence of structures. It does this by measuring the time in nanoseconds that elapses between a radar wave being sent and the reflected wave returning.

This technique was applied after the initial survey revealed the existence of a large building at the northern corner of the forum that the researchers could not make out. GPR analysis revealed that the building had several walls arranged in a radial pattern, creating a semicircular seating area. This conclusively proved that they were looking at the remains of a Roman theatre. Judging by its structure, it is believed to date from some time around the turn of the First Millennium.

Major public buildings of this type strongly suggest that, far from a backwater, Interamna Lirenas was in fact an important urban centre in its own right. In addition, the images add to growing evidence that Roman colonial settlements were more varied than some scholars have previously believed. As such sites are uncovered, it is becoming clear that even two colonial towns in close proximity to one another could often be quite different.

The site of Interamna Lirenas itself, for example, lies close to the remains of another settlement, Fregellae. Both were built astride the Via Latina, the principal road running south-east from Rome. Yet despite certain similarities, the new results from Interamna Lirenas reveal important differences, including the position and plan of its market-place which includes a dominant temple and adjacent theatre.

These features matter, Millett argues, because the traditional view was that each colonial settlement had a standard template so that Rome could project a certain image of itself for the benefit of a subject population. Yet the new pictures from Interamna Lirenas show how different towns were designed according to equally different ideas about how a colonial town should look, and what the community’s priorities should be.

The Cambridge team is now about to embark on a five-year project which will try to confirm this conjecture, and answer other questions, using further geophysical analysis. The first proper archaeological excavation at Interamna Lirenas is now also being planned.

Further studies should also help to confirm how many people lived in the settlement at different times. “Part of our analysis involves trying to say which areas were used for housing and what types of houses they were,” Millett said. “Until we have been able to do this it will be difficult to put a firm figure on the population. However, we are talking about a community of a few thousand people.”

via: Geophysical survey reveals first images of lost Roman town (Cambridge Research News)

The original article has a little slide show of the work in progress and those maps that geophysical surveys provide …