Metapontum

Metapontum was an ancient Greek city founded by Achaeans in the late 8th or 7th century BC along the Gulf of Tarentum near the mouth of the Bradano River. It is located in modern Metaponto on the southern coast of the Basilicata region of Italy, 50 kilometres to the west of Taranto. Renowned for the fertility of its farmland, Metapontum thrived on agriculture and trade, and the city became one of the most prosperous colonies in Magna Graecia. Today, the best surviving evidence of Metapontum’s prosperity is an elegant Doric temple of the 6th century BC dedicated to Hera. An archaeological park has remains of temples and buildings which stood in the central sanctuary complex, while the nearby National Museum of Metaponto contains the rich heritage of archaeological materials found in the Greek colony.

Coordinates: 40° 23′ 0″ N, 16° 49′ 28″ E

Founded by an Achaean colony from Sybaris and Croton around 700 BC, Metapontum was part of the wave of Greek colonization from the 8th century BC onwards that spread up along the coast of southern Italy. Fertile farmlands surrounded the ancient coastal city and thus became a prosperous trading colony exporting wheat in exchange for olive oil and wine. The earliest coins from Metapontum were stamped with an ear of wheat and the Metapontines sent to the temple at Delphi an offering of a golden harvest. Metapontum was the last home and burial place of the philosopher Pythagoras.

Silver coin from Metapontum, Lucania, 340-330 BC.
Obverse: Head of Leukippos wearing Corinthian helmet
Reverse: Barley ear of seven grains

In is prime, Metapontum had at least 20,000 inhabitants as well as 10,000 neighbouring farmers. It covered an area of about 150 hectares and was protected by an encircling fortification wall. The city had a rectangular plan and consisted of the sanctuary and the Agora, situated beside each other at the southern extremity of the urban space. The sacred area had some of the city’s most important buildings, including five Archaic temples dedicated to Hera, Artemis, Apollo and Athena, and an ekklesiasterion (assembly place) located in the north-east of the agora. The ekklesiasterion was later transformed into a theatre with a cavea, a semi-circular orchestra, and a free-standing stage building that could seat ca. 7500-8000 people.

3D reconstruction of Metapontum sanctuary.
Gabellone, Francesco. (2015).

The finest surviving temple, however, lies outside the city limits. Known today as the Palatine Tables (Tavole Palatine), this is an elegant Doric temple erected in the late 6th century BC and dedicated to Hera (as indicated by the votive deposits). Fithteen columns of the colonnade (6 x 12 columns) are still standing.

The city declined after 207 BC when its inhabitants, who had supported Hannibal following his victory at the Battle of Cannae, followed the defeated Carthaginian general in his retreat. Spartacus marched on Metapontum with his army in the winter of 73-72 BC and wrecked the city. Archaeology has shown that a stoa (portico) was destroyed during this period. Metapontum was considerably deserted by the end of the 3rd century BC. By Pausanias’ time in the 2nd century AD, the city was in a state of ruin, with little more than its damaged theatre and walls surviving.

Since 1964 Metapontum has been the subject of intensive archaeological research. Excavations and extensive studies have allowed archaeologists to identify and outline the ancient town planning, from its foundation in the 7th century BC until the Roman conquest and the subsequent gradual abandonment in the late imperial age. However, only 2% of the site has been excavated.

PORTFOLIO

View of the southern part of the excavated area with the temenos in the foreground and the ekklesiasterion in the background.
The Ekklesiasterion/theatre, was a monumental building complex intended to host the political and religious assemblies. A primary phase, datable to the final decades of the 7th century BC and composed of simple wooden tribunals, has been documented in the deepest layers.
The remains of the earlier Ekklesiasterion, ca. 625 BC. The ekklesiasterion was a free-standing circular structure which dominated the Agora. It had an estimated seating capacity of ca. 7500-8000 people.

 

After the Ekklesiasterion had been abandoned for some time, a theatre was built on the same location. The theatre had a small semi-circular orchestra, six row of seats in the lower level, and five in the upper.
Access to the upper part of the cavea was provided by six ramps between the retaining wall and the facade. Part of the external walls of the threatre has been reconstructed.
The outer wall was decorated with columns and frieze of triglyphs and metopes.
View of the cavea, orchestra and stage building of theatre.
Remains of Ionic capitals from the Temple of Artemis (Temple D) situated at the north-east border of the religious sanctuary of the city. The building was constructed towards the end of the 1st quarter of the 5th century BC.
The foundations of the Temple of Artemis (Temple D). The temple was peripteral and was extremely long and narrow with the unusual number of 8 x 20 columns.
The foundations of the Temple of Apollo (Temple B) built in two phases between 570 BC and 530 BC.
The foundations of the Temple of Hera (Temple A). This temple belongs to an early archaic building with an exterior colonnade (8 x 17 columns). The order was Doric.
The foundations of Temple C, the oldest temple in the sanctuary. ca. 600 BC – ca. 475 BC. The name of the divinity to whom the Temple was dedicated is uncertain. It may have been dedicated to Athena, on the basis of an archaic inscription referring to Athena.
A Roman tomb.
The remains of the Doric Temple of Hera at Tavole Palatine. Extramural sanctuary, located ca. 3 km. outside the site, on the right bank of the Bradano River.
The Temple of Hera is dated to ca. 520 B.C. due to the style and profile of the column capitals, and the date of the ceramic and terracotta votive objects from the votive deposit inside the cella.
In plan, the temple is peripteral with 6 x 12 columns surrounding a cella building containing pronaos, naos and adyton, with no propteron.

Links:

Gnathia

Gnathia (present-day Egnazia) was an ancient city of the Messapii built on the border between the regions of Messapia and Peucezia. It is located near the town of Fasano, on the Adriatic coast of Apulia in southern Italy. The town is mentioned by Greek geographer Strabo (Strab. 6,3,8) for its privileged geographic location and by the Latin poet Horace who passed through in 38 BC during his famous voyage from Rome to Brindisi (Satire I, 5). In the Roman period, Gnathia became an active centre of trade and commerce along the Via Traiana and became the seat of a bishopric in the Christian period. Only partially excavated, the city preserves vestiges dating back to the Messapian, Roman and Late Roman eras.

Coordinates: 40° 53′ 16.07″ N, 17° 23′ 27.97″ E

The history of ancient Gnathia spans many centuries. The earliest evidence of organised life comes from the Acropolis and dates to the Late Bronze Age (13th-12th centuries BC) with groups of huts scattered along the coast and hinterland. In the 11th century BC, it was invaded by the Iapygians, while the Messapic (another Iapyyg tribe) era of the town began in the 8th century BC. The vitality of the town and its commercial and cultural relationship with other Messapian centres and Taranto (Taras) during the Archaic period are documented by the Peucetian pottery and the pottery imported from Greece.

Around the second half of the 4th century BC, a sharp increase in population is recorded in the Messapia. Gnathia took the appearance characteristic of a Messapian city, surrounded by powerful defensive walls made of stone blocks on its three landward sides. They enclosed an area of about 140 hectares. From this period date the necropolises with monumental chamber tombs, often containing painted frescoes and furnished with valuable vases.

Messapian earthenware found in Egnazia.

The vases attributed to the “Gnathia style” are so termed after the name of the site of Gnathia. Many potteries of this type were discovered in the tombs of Gnathia. Their production began in Apulia around 370/360 BC and consisted in decorating the traditional black glazed pottery with painted patterns, using mainly white, red and yellow color. The themes depicted include erotes, images from the life of women, theatre scenes and dionysiac motifs The vases decorated in “Gnathia style” were generally small in size (pelikes, lekythoi, alabastra, and skyphoi).

In the Roman period, especially during the Augustan period, the city prospered due to its location on the principal transit route to the Orient. The town underwent a significant modification of its urban space with new public buildings built on either side of the Via Minucia which crossed the town from the western to the eastern sector. In AD 109, Emperor Trajan improved the old Via Minucia. Starting at Benevento, the Via Traiana gave travellers from Rome to Brindisi a shorter and more comfortable alternative to the old Via Appia.

Gold coin of Trajan with the personification of the Via Traiana on the reverse, AD 112-117. © The Trustees of the British Museum

At the heart of the public space, an area was sacred to the Oriental gods. The sanctuary consisted of the temple of Cybele, of the sacellum dedicated to Attis and of the large elliptical enclosure, the so-called “amphitheatre”, for the performances enlivening the sacred rites.

In the Christian period, the city was the seat of a bishopric. The Acropolis was fortified by the Byzantines and, after the 6th century AD, embraced the settlement within a new surrounding wall. The destruction of the city has been traditionally linked to the invasion of Totila, King of the Goths, in 545 AD.

The first systematic excavations were undertaken in 1912 and 1913. Since 2001, a research programme has been carried out by the Department of Ancient and Late Antique Studies of the University of Bari “Aldo Moro”, in close collaboration with the Soprintendenza Archeologia of Apulia. Gnathia is famous for the discoveries made in its tombs. Also worthy of note are some stretches of the Via Traiana, the Basilica with the hall of the Three Graces, the Shrine of Eastern Divinities, the trapezoidal-shaped market square and the Sanctuary of Trajan in the area of the acropolis. The best-preserved burial chamber is the Tomb of the Pomegranate which probably belonged to a family of wealthy class who used it for many generations from the 4th to the 2nd century BC.

The Tomb of the Pomegranate was discovered In 1971 during the construction of the museum. On the walls are some paintings such as the pomegranate, a symbol of eternity. The Archaeological Museum of Egnazia is set outside the boundary walls. It showcases a permanent didactic exhibition about the history and the topography of ancient Gnathia, including a selection of mosaics and architectural fragments from the inhabited area and the necropolises.

PORTFOLIO

The western necropolis was used from the Messapian period (4th Century BC – 2nd Century BC) through the middle ages, and belonged to the following types: pit graves, semi-chamber tombs and chamber tombs.
A chamber tomb in the western necropolis cut into the bedrock. It consisted of a burial chamber accessed through a stepped corridor-like entrance (dromos). The chamber was closed with large doors that were made of two stone blocks and in some cases that were equipped with hinges.
The inside of the chamber tomb. The tombs hey had frescoes reproducing the typical wall decorations of the houses such as marble slabs on the walls and wooden beams in the covering slabs.
Wall painting from a Messapian tomb depicting a young warrior with a horse, 5th century BC.
A 5th Century BC old road with ruts crossing the western necropolis. It fell into disuse in the 3rd century BC when it was interrupted by the construction of two semi-chamber tombs.
The western acropolis.
A domus (private house) south of the forum with an atrium floored with a white mosaic pavement.
The residential and production district located south of the forum.
The Via Traiana crossing the urban centre of the town and partly built upon the route of the former late Republican Via Minucia.
The entrance to trapezoidal-shaped market square. The square was first built in the Messapian period (4th Century BC – 3rd Century BC). It was probably re-organised in the time of Augustus but the majority of the surviving buildings were built under Trajan when the Via Traiana was established.
The market square was paved with regular blocks of tufa and enclosed by a portico with Doric columns.
The market square with a small square rostrum.
The so-called Amphitheatre, an elliptical enclosure with a monumental entrance leading to the temples of the Cybele and Attis. It may have been used for religious festivals and houses performances and games held in honour of the Oriental gods (Cybele, Attis and Dea Syria/Atargatis).
The elliptical enclosure was made of Opus Africanum (a form of ashlar masonry characterized by pillars of vertical blocks of stone alternating with horizontal blocks), a uncommon type of masonry in Apulia.
The small Temple of Cybele. It had two columns at the front and yielded objects of Cybele’s worship, such as carved lions. It also had a room with a tank perhaps used for breeding fish sacred to Atargatis or to purify the believers (lavatio).
The Sacellum (shrine) of Attis, opening onto the Via Traiana, occupies a former late Republican portico. It was decorated with frescoes (now lost) and floored with precious marbles. It housed the statue of Attis made of Greek marble, of which the head and part of the hand holding a pan flute (syrinx) are the only remains.
Marble head of the god Attis wearing the characteristic Phrygian cap. It is dated to the Hadrianic period based on comparisons with the portraits of Antinous.
The sacred area with a copy of the base on which the statue of Attis probably stood. It decorated with the musical instruments that would accompany the ceremonies in honour of Cybele.
Statue base bearing the dedication of Flavia Cypare, priestess of Magna Mater and goddess Dea Syria/Atargatis, 2nd century AD (AE 1989, 0192).
Flavi[a] C L Cypa[re] sace[rd]os Matris Magn[ae] et Syriae dea[e] ex imp[er]io fecit l[aeta] l[iberris] d[ono] d[edit].
The urban stretch of the Via Traiana.
The Civil Basilica, used for meetings, administration of justice and business. With its rectangular plan and an inside quadriporticus supported by 4 x 8 columns, it had its main front and entrances on the broader south-east side.
Part of the mosaic floor decorating an area connected to the Basilica Civile, 4th century AD.
The urban stretch of the Via Traiana with the Civil Basilica in the background.
The Forum Baths, built together with the forum in the Augustan age.
The urban stretch of the Via Traiana next to the Forum Baths.
The production area adjacent to the Forum Baths and dating to the 5th century AD.
The public and private buildings south of the forum.
The Episcopal Basilica built in the last years of the 5th century AD on the initiative of bishop Rufensius who signed the acts of the Roman synods of 501 and 502.
The Southern Basilica dating to the Late Roman period.
The cryptoporticus was built in the southern area in the Augustan period. It was a large underground corridor with a quadrangular plan, likely surmounted by a collonnade and a temple (now gone).
The underground tunnel network below the temple complex.
The Sanctuary of Trajan in the area of the acropolis.
The Museum

Links:

  • Egnazia.eu
  • GNATHIA (Egnatia) Apulia, Italy – The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites