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Hellenistic and Roman Pontecagnano

IV The History of the Site

Helle W. Horsnæs et Birgit Tang

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The period before the layout

  • 1 Cf. d’Agostino & Gastaldi 1988, pl. 2.
  • 2 Cuozzo & D’Andrea 1991.
  • 3 We would like to thank Prof. Luca Cerchiai for sending us the unpublished report on the excavations (...)

1A number of early Iron Age cemeteries at Pontecagnano are known and are generally believed to represent a pattern of small nucleated settlements1. In the Orientalizing period there seems to have been two major nuclei, one at Pontecagnano itself, the other at S. Antonio c. 1-2 km east of Pontecagnano. Rich Archaic (i.e. 6th to early 5th centuries BC) tombs have been located beneath the centre of the modem town2. The wealth of the gravegoods testifies to a certain importance of the site, which is also reflected by the two sanctuaries (Apollo and Demeter?), both beginning in the 6th century BC. From this period there are settlement remains e.g. east of the Via Cavalleggeri, north of the modem town, in Q335/autostrada, and north-east of the Via dei Cavalleggeri viaduct, also in the area of the highway Salerno-Reggio Calabria3. The Archaic/Classical settlement, however, seems not to have included the Prop. Avallone area. The first occupation here took place in the second half of or late 4th century BC-not as part of a naturally grown town, but in the form of a planned layout in rectangular insulae, including the Courtyard House.

2The earliest finds from Prop. Avallone are not associated with any structures. These are primary sherds of the 7th to 6th centuries BC (impasto, bucchero, argilla depurata and Corinthian). A smaller group belongs to the later Archaic and Classical periods (Attic-type cups in black-gloss ware, Attic blackand red-figure). The extreme fragmentation and concentration in N II-III of the first group testify to their secondary context. The episodic presence of these sherds in other trenches and strata is by no means surprising.

Phase 1: Early Hellenistic period: Layout of the quarter and occupation

  • 4 Strom 1993, 115-118.

3The first sign of construction work in the area is the terra battuta street at level-785/788 with fill beneath (G XIV+XVI-XVII). The finds date to the 4th/early 3rd century BC. This street was cut by the foundation trench located in the southern part of the eastern insula (G XV) and containing pottery of the second half of the 4th century BC. Thus the time span between the two events seems to have been relatively short, but whether it represents decades, years or months cannot be answered. The quarter was laid out on a NE/SW-NW/SE axis and comprised at least two insulae, one to the east and one to the west of a c.6.5 m wide terra battuta street (Ds X-XI and G XII - 738/740). The foundation deposit (concave-convex cup and oinochoe, cat. nos. O-36 and O-88)4, use of ashlar masonry and the Courtyard House (trenches H-L) testify to the importance of the structures and the wealth of the community living here. The material from the destruction layers points to a destruction at the latest in the early 3rd century BC. It comprised e.g. South Italian red-figure, large amounts of black-gloss ware, black-gloss ware with overpainted decoration, red-and brown-gloss ware, fragment from core-formed glass alabastron and three anepigraphic silver obols of Campanian issue.

4The phase is best preserved in the eastern insula, which was abandoned after the destruction, whereas the western was reused. Ashlar masonry was employed for the socle course of the walls whose upper part was constructed in mudbrick supported by timber posts as evidenced by the cuttings in the blocks. Some of the ashlar blocks exceed 1.0 metre in length.

5The Courtyard House located in the northern part of the eastern insula had a stone-paved courtyard measuring c.6.20 x 4.20 m and probably a second paved area north of it. Some of the roof tiles were painted. Inside, the walls were decorated with polychrome stucco. This, as well as the finds of bronze vessels, much table ware and iron fibulae, reflects the economic potential of the occupants. Domestic activities are also attested: casseroles, baking covers (clibani) and a loom. The latter seems to have been standing in the area to the east of the courtyard (east of wall L1). An iron key of Greek type also belongs to the equipment of the house.

  • 5 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 126-128.

6This first phase is contemporary with periods I and II in the nearby Prop. Truono (cf. Fig. 2b), but the detailed subdivision proposed for the Prop. Truno material into periods and phases is not documented in that of Prop. Avallone. Prop. Truono period I is dated in the second half of the 4th century BC (abandoned during the last third of the 4th century BC) and period II (subdivided into two phases including various activities) from the end of the 4th to the first half of the 3rd century BC5. In Prop. Truono a NE/SW orientated street, c.4.80-5 m wide, was excavated to the length of c.84 m. The distance between this street and the one in Prop. Avallone is some 80 m. There is also documentation for an intersecting NW/SE street, which – supposing it continues towards the east – is located about 10 m south of wall A1 (trench A) in Prop. Avallone.

7The NE/SW street in Prop. Truono was paved with broken stones, and large blocks (measuring 1.0 x 0.45 x 0.16 m) were used for the socle course of the building attested in period I. This building was demolished, and rebuilding (room delimited by walls 3 and 4) and alterations took place in period II. In this period the walls were constructed with smaller blocks.

Phase 2: Late Republican period: Rebuilding in the western insula and occupation

8The rebuilding most probably took place sometime during the late Republican period. The eastern insula was then abandoned. As to the façade towards the street, new walls were built on top of the old ones (trench E) or the latter were incorporated into the new ones (trenches Ds and F). Internal room division is documented in trenches Ds, E and F. The street was renewed (Ds X and E VIII). The massive collapse material is dominated by roof tiles, black-gloss ware, slender fusiform unguentaria, thin-walled ware (often with barbotine dot decoration). No terra sigillata was found in the strata. Thus the time of destruction is dated before the mid- 1st century BC.

9In this period smaller blocks were used for the socle course. Reused material also occurs. Postholes are documented in trench F. Interior walls were decorated with plain white stucco, sometimes supplemented by red zones/lines.

10The kitchen, or combined kitchen-service room, identified in trench E might have included parts of trench Dn towards the south and trench B towards the west. In both places much black-gloss ware and casseroles were found, and there is some correspondence between Morel forms in trenches E and B: 2122, 2822, 2973-2974/2977-2978. Moreover, these two trenches had some quantity of jars and amphora fragments. Also in trench Ds there was much pottery: black-gloss ware, casseroles, jars, dolia and amphorae (e.g. Dressel 1A). Judging by the other finds, it seems that there was a workroom/workshop here as well: iron sickle, two lead weights, whetstone?, grinding stone? and marble chips. In trench A two possible lead weights were found, which might connect the two trenches.

11The kitchen was provided with a tile pavement of reused roof tiles and drainage. Both cooking (casseroles, jars, frying pan, clibani) and table wares as well as vessels for storage were found within this relatively small space. A jar in thin-walled ware with barbotine dot decoration was found lying directly on the floor (cf. chapter on stratigraphy).

  • 6 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 131-132.

12This second phase of occupation is contemporary with periods III.2 and III.3 in Prop. Truono, dated respectively to the mid- 2nd century BC and from the second half of the 2nd/end of the 2nd century BC to the 1st century BC6. In Prop. Truono period III.2 thinwalled ware, unguentaria of Forti type V and Dressel 1A amphorae occur for the first time. Stucco is documented in period III.3. The activities in periods III.2-III.3 include several renewals of the NE/SW street with terra battuta, an alteration of the western façade of insula 2 (wall 7) and the construction of a room in insula 1 (wall 5). A final street level belongs to period III.4, dated to the first decades of the 1st century BC. This street was partially covered with collapse material. No terra sigillata sherds were found.

Phase 3: End of Republican period-early Imperial period

13Various activities are documented. A new street level is documented in E V (upper part, -679/680), F V (upper part, -679) and G VIII (-678/695). In trench E a larger alteration seems to have taken place with the demolishing of wall E2 and a new lining of stones (wall E3), perhaps serving as a kerb. The hard layer between this stone lining and the terra battuta in the easternmost part of the trench is with all probability also part of this alteration. A likely date is the late 1st century BC to early 1st century AD.

14Wall A2, situated in the south-western comer of the excavation area, might go back to this phase.

Phase 4: Imperial period

15The frequentation of the area continued in the 1st to 4th/ 5th centuries AD, but the building activity was restricted to wall A2? or its upper courses only?, wall A3 and walls M1-M2. Their time of construction can be placed at the earliest sometime during the 1st century AD, but both in trenches A and M the strata are mixed, containing material from the 1 century as well as the 3rd to 5th centuries AD (e.g. AIV and MIV).

16At the same time much collapse material or rubbish material was dumped here. Large amounts occur in Ds V and G V. There are much roof tiles and pottery, e.g. African Red Slip Ware, common ware casseroles, platters, jars, lids (mainly of the orlo annerito type), coarse ware basins and amphora fragments. Generally, the material spans the period later 1st to 4th/ 5th centuries AD with much from the 2nd century AD.

17The northern part of the area was used for burials of children. Three burials ad enchytrismoi were located in the zone (stratum III) above the Courtyard House. Moreover, there were skeletal remains of a teenager in H IV, and a fourth child burial is possible in FIV. The three amphora types used for the burials overlap in the 3rd century AD. Probably the containers were used in this secondary context within the same century. Also further south the area was still frequented as evidenced by various rubbish material.

  • 7 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 132.

18In Prop. Truono a new building provided with pilasters was erected on top of the late Republican room in period IV, identical with the Roman Imperial period7.

  • 8 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 132 and 154.

19Burials from the 2nd century AD occur in Prop. Truono, and generally cemeteries are located at various places at Pontecagnano from the 2nd century AD onwards on top of the settlement8.

  • 9 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 133.

20In Prop. Truono reoccupation of the area took place as late as the 4th to 5th centuries AD, including a glass workshop9.


  • 10 This information was most kindly provided by Prof. Luca Cerchiai (unpublished excavation report).
  • 11 Bailo Modesti et al. 2005a, 38; Bailo Modesti et at. 2005, 199-200.
  • 12 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 130, 137, 153-154.
  • 13 Strabo 5.4.13.
  • 14 The literary sources regarding the foundation (?) of Picentia have recently been critically reviewe (...)

21The phases established in Prop. Avallone generally correspond with the ones in Prop. Truono, and there can be no doubt that the Prop. Avallone structures formed part of the general layout of the Etruscan-Campanian town in the late Classical/early Hellenistic period, most recently also documented to the north-east of the Via del Cavalleggeri viaduct10. In all three areas this phase of occupation stopped at the end of the 4th/beginning of the 3rd century BC, which corresponds with the situation in the sanctuaries11. Our material, however, does not allow for sub-phases, at least not based on the present analysis, and nor does it attest an occupation phase in the later 3rd century BC. In Prop. Truono period III. 1, comprising a new grid with e.g. cardo and a possible decumanus maximus, is dated in the second half of the 3rd century BC and related to the supposed colony inhabited by exiled Picenes. No structures, however, are known from this period in Prop. Truono12. According to Strabo, the Romans forced Picenes (from Picenum at the Adriatic coast) to settle in the Bay of Poseidonia, and he also mentions their centre Picentia which is identified with modern Pontecagnano13. This transfer is traditionally related to the information in the Fasti Triumphales from 268 BC recording the Roman triumph over the Picenes14. The question is whether the arrival of this particular group of people in the Sele Plain in the central decades(?) of the 3rd century BC is detectable in the archaeological record. The results from the two excavations show how much the situation may differ within a relatively short distance, and this might also reflect the ancient situation: namely, that only a part of the area was resettled/rebuilt.

  • 15 Fracchia 2001, 58, note 11. Cf. also Fracchia 1993, 265-267.

22On the other hand, it cannot be ruled out that there was an intermediate phase between our Phase 1 and 2, and that some of the objects found in strata belonging to Phase 2 in fact are residual material from such an intermediate phase. This applies to e.g. some black-gloss forms which are regarded as ‘early’ types, for instance the bowl with high moulded foot and overpainted decoration in the tondo (cat. no. O-111). It should, however, be noted that the chronology of black-gloss shapes is continuously open for adjustments, as e.g. applied to the grooved bowls, now also dated into the second half of the 3rd century BC15. But in all cases, it is difficult to judge whether these sherds are residual material from the first phase of occupation or in fact represent a later (and intermediate) phase.

23In both Prop. Avallone and Prop. Truono rebuilding took place in the 2nd century BC, but in Prop. Avallone it did not involved the entire area occupied by the early Hellenistic structures. The destruction, ending the life of the late Republican town, can be dated within the first half of the 1st century in both areas, e.g. due to the absence of terra sigillata sherds.

24Given the character of the site, the lack of findings of millstones and querns might be a cause for surprise, but in this case the limited excavated area should be taken into consideration (c. 143 m2).

25Activities and frequentation continued in the Imperial period, however to a much lesser degree.

  • 16 For a similar situation in Latium, see Attema 1996.

26In Prop. Avallone the latest ancient material dates to the 5th to 7th centuries AD and consist of a few African lamps (Hayes types I-II) and a single fragment of African Red Slip Ware (Hayes form 9ID). After this there seems to have been little or no occupation of the area. It might have been used extensively for pasture or the like16. This is in accordance with the fact that the Sele Plain (of which the Ager Picentinus is the northern part) was depopulated in Late Antiquity because of continuous inundations and subsequent malaria plague. In fact, the plain immediately north of Sele was described as infected by malaria as late as the 1920s, prior to fascist-period drainage work.

27In Prop. Avallone the disturbance of the area by water is evidenced by the fill in the amphora burials. Water infiltration redistributed the bones and brought tiny glass fragments into the containers.


1 Cf. d’Agostino & Gastaldi 1988, pl. 2.

2 Cuozzo & D’Andrea 1991.

3 We would like to thank Prof. Luca Cerchiai for sending us the unpublished report on the excavations north-east of the Via del Cavalleggeri viaduct presented at the Taranto congress in October 2005.

4 Strom 1993, 115-118.

5 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 126-128.

6 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 131-132.

7 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 132.

8 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 132 and 154.

9 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 133.

10 This information was most kindly provided by Prof. Luca Cerchiai (unpublished excavation report).

11 Bailo Modesti et al. 2005a, 38; Bailo Modesti et at. 2005, 199-200.

12 Cinquantaquattro 1994, 130, 137, 153-154.

13 Strabo 5.4.13.

14 The literary sources regarding the foundation (?) of Picentia have recently been critically reviewed: Giglio 2001. One of his conclusion is that the literary sources do not provide any evidence for a certain legal status of Picentia.

15 Fracchia 2001, 58, note 11. Cf. also Fracchia 1993, 265-267.

16 For a similar situation in Latium, see Attema 1996.

© Publications du Centre Jean Bérard, 2007

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