Sunday, December 20, 2009

Exploring 1st - 4th century Roman villas in Brescia sounds fascinating!


I received a touristy little news item about the northern Italian town of Brescia that caught my interest.  The article mentioned that the area contained the largest Roman excavation in northern Italy so, of course, I had to read more about it.  I learned that Brescia, was once known as Brixia.

[Image: Mosaic floor of a 1st - 4th century Roman villa preserved at the Brescia Musei, Brescia, Italy.]

"Different mythological versions of the foundation of Brescia exist: one assigns it to Hercules, while another attributes its foundation to Altilia ("the other Ilium") by a fugitive from the siege of Troy. According to a further myth, the founder was the king of the Ligures Cidnus, who had invaded the Padan Plain in the late Bronze Age. Scholars attribute the foundation to the Etruscans." - Wikipedia

The Etruscans fell to the  Gallic Cenomani, allies of the Insubres, in the 4th century BCE.  The Celts succumbed to the Romans in 225 BCE.   But the Celts were not all satisfied with Roman rule and became part of a Celtic confederation allied with the Carthaginians in 202 BCE during the 2nd Punic War.

"...but, after a secret agreement, [Brixia] changed side and attacked the Insubres by surprise, destroying them. Subsequently the city and the tribe entered the Roman world peacefully as faithful allies, maintaining a certain administrative freedom. In 89 BC Brixia was recognized as civitas ("city") and in 41 BC its inhabitants received Roman citizenship. Augustus founded a civil (not military) colony there in 27 BC, and he and Tiberius constructed an aqueduct to supply it. The Roman Brixia had at least three temples, an aqueduct, an amphitheater, a forum with another temple built under Vespasianus, and some baths.

When Constantine advanced against Maxentius in 312, an engagement took place at Brixia in which the enemy was forced to retreat as far as Verona. In 402 the city was ravaged by the Visigoths of Alaric I. During the invasion of the Huns under Attila, the city was again besieged and sacked in 452 while, some forty years later, it was one of the first conquests of the Gothic general Theoderic the Great in his war against Odoacer." - Wikipedia

Republican-era buildings were discovered there in the 19th century under the remnants of the Capitolium, the temple built by the Emperor Vespasian.  Artifacts recovered from these excavations include Celtic arms, Roman portrait sculpture, frescoes and mosaics.  The Santa Giulia City Museum houses these discoveries as well as a collection of preserved Roman townhouses from the 1st to 4th century CE.

I'm also a big fan of armor collections and I see that the castle portion of the Museum houses an arms collection in the keep.  Over 580 swords, firearms and suits of armour, over half of the 1090 items bequeathed by industrialist Luigi Marzoli, are displayed in ten exhibit rooms.  The oldest item is a sword from the 13th century and one of the rarest is a large Venetian helmet and under-helmet with visor in the shape of a dog’s muzzle.

I had a wonderful time photographing the extensive armor collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York several years ago.  I would love to add images of  Brescia's marvelous collection to my Flickr set! I haven't yet visited Venice and I was really anxious to explore Ravenna someday too.  It looks like I need to plan a major expedition to northern Italy!


Houses, Villas, and Palaces in the Roman World     Roman Villas in Central Italy (Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition)     Arms & Armor (DK Eyewitness Books)   Medieval Arms and Armor: A Pictorial Archive (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)   Vespasian   The Architecture of Roman Temples: The Republic to the Middle Empire
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