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The landscape of Grumentum

by Francesco Tarlano

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In addition to the monuments of the ancient city of Grumentum, in rural areas of the city Grumento Nova there are many archaeological evidence which contribute, together with other kind of sources, to the reconstruction of the ancient landscape of the Upper Agri Valley, to manage properly and enhance as only one large monument on which are stratified epochs and historical events, from the formation of the basin, as a result of the erosive and depositional processes of the main river, the Agri river and its tributaries, to the present day, through Oenotrian settlement phases, Lucan occupation, the Romanization of the area, the abandonment during late antiquity of settlements and  infrastructure care, with the resulting formation of forests and swamps, until the control retrieval of the land by man with the genesis of the medieval villages which largely survive still today.

Very interesting for example are the dynamics of settlement between the fourth and third centuries B.C.: the Lucan peopling of the valley, scattered, looks like a set of villas and residential monumental complexes connected with worship areas: some of these settlements were abandoned in conjunction with the foundation of Grumentum that served as a centre of attraction for people previously spread in the valley. We can mention for example the settlement in locality Mattinella and the farm in locality Valdemanna in Marsicovetere, the monumental building in locality Masseria Nigro, the farms in locality Serrone and the farm-house in locality San Giovanni in Viggiano, the farm Fosso Piano dei Valloni in Grumento Nova: these settlements were subjected to changes during the third century B.C.: emblematic is the case of the very important complex at Masseria Nigro in Viggiano. The building was abandoned during the third century B.C., coinciding with the affirmation of Roman power in the area. Moreover will be abandoned the small village of Catacombelle in Viggiano, that one of Pagliarone in Marsiconuovo, the farm in locality Valloni in Viggiano, the farms in locality Fosso Concetta-Vracalicchio and in locality Piani Parete in Montemurro, the farm in locality Bosco Guardemmauro in Grumento Nova.

Thus, in the early third century begins the Romanization of the area, which we should see as a slow process of cultural exchange between indigenous populations and Romans, mainly thanks to the alliances between them and local oligarchies: in this sense should be read the mixed establishment of Grumentum, control center of the valley.

The territory of Grumento at this point assumes the typical characteristics of a Romanized area: the valley is provided with a more stable road system, the countryside is centuriated and distributed, begins the construction of the aqueduct that provides the city of Grumentum.

As for the road system, we have a series of sources that attest the set of the roads leading to Grumentum. Resuming routes of transhumance already active in the pre-protohistoric era, in Roman age the roads were upgraded. We are confident of the existence of a public street, the via Herculia, which crossed the Basilicata region and passed for Grumentum. This road was set on paths already  existing in Diocletian age, by Maximian Herculius. From the discovery of milestones on the place, we know that from Venusia the road reached Grumentum (the milestone found near Grumentum, exactly in Marsico Nuovo confirms the hypothesis). The ancient routes talk about many roads passing through Grumentum in Roman times. The Itinerarium Antonini mentions a path Potentia - Acidium - Grumentum - Semuncla - Nerulum, while the Tabula Peutingeriana describes a trail Potentia - Anxia - Grumentum - Tarentum. We do not know which of the two paths was that one traced by the Via Herculia, or to be more precise if the road reached the Ionian coast (and so Metaponto and Heraklea), or if near Nerulum it connected with the road Capua - Rhegium. However it's likely that near Grumentum, which had been founded just close to an important crossroads for monitoring of military traffic in Republican age, the Via Herculia branched off in two diverticula, one heading to east and the other to south. Are also important for the reconstruction of the ancient road some archaeological data, such as the discovery of a stretch of road in clay identified as part of Via Herculia in locality Porcili in Viggiano, or a series of Roman bridges. Among these, the most distinctive is located in locality Bosco di Maglia, on Maglia river, probably pertinent to the road that from Grumentum reached the Ionian coast.

Locality Bosco di Maglia: the bridge looking from south-east About the bridge nowadays we just have the archway soffit: between the shutter of the two arches exists a distance of 10 meters, while the distance from the keystone of the arch, lowered, to the ground is 3.30 meters. About the front now we still have, on both sides, only a few blocks, but they give us the possibility to measure the roadway, which, on the bridge, it was wide exactly 3 meters. The bridge sat on a bend of the river, which, over the years has cut the meander, so now it runs parallel to the structure, east-west oriented (as the remains of the road reaching the bridge). Analyzing the installation of the head blocks, we can see here that we have a kind of lowered arch, dating to the last two centuries of the republic. The bridge, located in a very characteristic area, spectacular from a naturalistic point of view, it’s still good to be visited today.

About the land division, the Liber Coloniarum talks about agrarian subdivisions in centuries of 20 actus (then about 710 meters at the side) in the territory of Grumento, made during the Gracchus era, and secundum coelum oriented, that means north - south. From the persistence of centurial traces readable from maps and aerial photography, we can see actually two centurial blocks, oriented in a different way: on the right bank of Agri river, the land division is oriented northeast - southwest, the same way as the decumani of the city and the main branch of the aqueduct, while on the left bank are very evident traces of an arrangement oriented north - south (so to identify with that one demonstrated by Liber Coloniarum. The two different orientations can be explained by the different fluvial geomorphology on the two sides of Agri river: in both cases the necessity to create a drainage water system that would guarantee stability to crops had a significant influence on the choice of orientations. It' s possible that the two centuriations had different datations: it is certain that at the moment of the city foundation, then in the early decades of the third century B.C., the countryside was divided. Maybe the land division oriented northeast-southwest was pertinent to this first phase. It 's certain however is that something happened in Gracchus age: we have confirm, not only in the Gromatici Veteres, but also in some archaeological data: some productive plants dug in the valley are dating back precisely to the second half of the second century B.C., while other precedent settlements change their functions just in this period, preferring productive activities to the residential ones, prevailing until that time. It 's likely that the Gracchi made viritane distributions, even dividing the territory on the left bank of Agri river, with the centuriation oriented north - south. Another plausible hypothesis is that the Gracchi restricted theirselves to adjust the grids and redistribute lands, using the preceding subdivisions: in this case we date both centurial blocks to the phase of Grumentum foundation. But there is no doubt that the two centurial blocks differently oriented were in function at the same time.

Locality Spineta: remains of the aqueduct archesAnother Roman infrastructure that is well enough preserved until today is the monumental aqueduct that served the ancient city: it collected the waters to the springs in locality Castagneto in Moliterno. Nowadays are still preserved various sections of the aqueduct. About 500 meters to east of the public road which from the Archaeological Museum of Upper Agri Valley heads to south, along the valley running to south of the city, designated by the IGM map with the toponym Spineta, are visible the ruins of the aqueduct arches, designated by the scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth century with the name "Pilieri". These are the pillars of the arches on which were placed the aqueduct channels: the structures appear with regular intervals. For about 330 meters they can be followed very well: we can still see the remains of at least 51 wall complexes preserved in various formats.

Locality Spineta: one of the pillars of aqueduct archesThe exterior façade is in opus reticulatum, while for the internal filling were used stones not always of regular size, mixed with very consistent malt. For some of the wall fragments, at the base is possible to track the original external facing, in opus vittatum, with regular small blocks arranged in horizontal rows only at the corners, where it inserts the opus reticulatum present in the elevation. The height of the structures varies depending on the level of preservation: the best preserved wall complex measures approximately 4.5 meters in height, while in other cases are also visible fragments of walls just above the grass surface. The structures, in the points in which are present in succession, are located at a distance of 1.85 meters, so we should assume that this one was the light of the arches. The best preserved sections of walls, of which we can recognize their external limits, are long about 2.35 meters and tall about 0.90 meters. The work may be dated to the half of the first century B.C.

About 50 meters to north-west of the small church of San Giuseppe, just to south of the existing road that leads from the SS 103 to the Archaeological Park of Grumentum, next to the stretch of aqueduct located along the slope on the south-western side of the plain of the city, is located perfectly aligned with the stretch of aqueduct placed within the walls a stretch of aqueduct on continuous structure in opus reticulatum, therefore different from the previously analyzed stretch, whose channels stood on arches. The tract of structure, perfectly oriented north-south, that can be followed for about sixty meters, begins just to south of the road running below the short side south-west of the ancient city, and stops just before the north-east side of the fence surrounding the Archaeological Museum.

In sections where the opus reticulatum is collapsed, you see the opus caementicium, with stones of various size mixed with very compact malt, probably thrown in the opus reticulatum facing. At the base of opus reticulatum, at the corners there are boards of blocks arranged in a regular way. The height of the work varies depending on the state of preservation, and ranges from 40-50 cm to 2.50 meters in height. Above, on the other hand we can see in several points the track of the channel carrying the water.

Locality San Giuseppe - archaeological area of Grumentum: remains of the aqueduct on continuous structure in opus reticulatum at the entrance of the ancient city, from south The same tract, interrupted by the passage of the modern public road, can be followed also within the archaeological area of Grumentum, about 100 meters to north-east from the St. Joseph chapel, where are preserved significant remains of the terminal part of the aqueduct that served the city, resting on the slope below the urban area. They reach a height of about 4 meters in the lower part of the slope, and then decrease in the upper part, in such a way as to let the channel stay always at the same altitude. The width of the structures is approximately 140 cm, in the places where it’s preserved the external facing of opus reticulatum; where it is collapsed, it’s possible to see the core of the wall, 105 cm wide, in opus rectangular, with blocks of uniform size, regularly arranged. In some points are clear, because of the malt, traces of a recent restoration of the internal opus of the wall. The opus is developed for about twenty meters, and reaches the plain at a point where is visible a big pile of rubble, which perhaps was meant to represent a point of water collection, probably the castellum aquae.

Finally, other landmarks are visible in the territory of Grumento: two mausoleums of cylinder-type on a square base, one in locality San Giuseppe, the other in locality Bosco di Maglia, dated between the second and third centuries D.C., they can be visited and are still preserved quite well, despite the ruptures and subsequent reuses. In locality Traversiti, however, we can see the entrance of a burrow probably Roman, with a barrel vault roof, that can be interpreted as a hydraulic work, because it’s placed it just on the left bank of Agri river.

Locality San Giuseppe: the mausoleum seen from south-west Locality Traversiti: the burrow seen from south














Copyright text and images (where there aren’t other references) by Francesco Tarlano.