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.
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.
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.
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.
The archaeological area of Ocriculum is located in the southern tip of Umbria, where the ancient Via Flaminia once crossed the river Tiber to enter Roman Umbria, the Sexta Regio (“6th Region”) of the division of Italy made by Augustus. Allied with Rome in 308 BC after the battle of Mevania, Ocriculum played a strategic and commercial role as a border town between Umbria and Sabine territory and as a point of exchange between the fluvial and terrestrial roads along the Flaminian Way.
The original pre-Roman settlement dates back to the Early Iron Age and stood on a hill. It was destroyed during the social war (91–88 BC) as the town sided with the Italics. It was probably at this time that the city was moved from the hill to the river plain, was reorganized and then inscribed in the tribus Arnensis. It later became a municipium and assigned to the Regio VI.
The Flaminian Way, together with the river traffic on the Tiber, allowed the city to flourish considerably in the Imperial Age and contributed significantly to the development of trade and the economy. Its river port, known as the “Porto dell’Olio” (Oil Port), was used until the end of the 18th century, mainly for shipping agricultural products and locally made handcrafts.
Ocriculum was famous for the beauty of his landscape and his surrounding nature and was a vacation destination of some Roman patricians. Titus Annius Milo, a friend of Cicero and a prominent politician in the 1st century BC, had a villa in Ocriculum, as well as Pliny’s mother-in-law Pompeia Celerina.
The city was destroyed between AD 569 and 605 during the Lombard invasion, and by the 13th century, the community had transferred itself back to its more defensible hilltop.
Today the archaeological area of the ancient city of Ocriculum is one of the most important in Umbria, with its amphitheatre, baths, theatre, forum area, funerary monuments and other public buildings. Ocriculum was partly excavated in the 18th century by the Vatican under the patronage of Pope Pius VI. As a result, many of the finely crafted statues, including portraits of members of the Julio-Claudian family and of Jupiter and Venus are on display in the galleries of the Vatican Museum. The octagonal mosaic pavement in the Sala Rotonda of the Vatican comes from Ocriculum. Other artefacts of great value are exhibited in the Otricoli Municipal Antiquarium.
Since 2012, a three-day Roman Festival –Ocriculum AD 168– brings the visitors back to the year AD 168 for a spectacular journey through time when Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus were reigning. The event, held annually, offers an exciting full immersion in history, art, cuisine and historical re-enactment that relive the daily life in the flourishing river-port of the ancient city.