Dig the Roman city of Aeclanum
The Roman city of Aeclanum is located in the beautiful mountains of Irpinia, a scenic area of inland Campania at the southern end of the Apennines. The site has a long history, running from the Samnite period through to Late Antiquity, and a rich range of archaeological remains. The University of Edinburgh and Apolline Project investigations at the site employ a full suite of multi-method archaeological approaches, including excavation, architectural survey, geophysics, photogrammetry and GIS, archaeobotany, osteology, ceramic and marble analysis, conservation and public archaeology.
We are always keen to welcome returning and new participants to the project. In 2019, the excavation season will begin on the 17th of June and participants can attend for two, four or six weeks.
We hope to see you in Aeclanum soon!
Aeclanum (map) lies beyond the shores of the Bay of Naples in inner Campania and more precisely in the district of Irpinia (ancient Hirpinia). The city was probably founded in the 3rd c. BC, sacked by Sulla in 89 BC, turned into a colony under Hadrian in AD 120, and finally developed into an important Christian bishopric between the 4th and 7th centuries AD. Although the site is by no means small (at least 18 hectares), only a few buildings had been brought to light prior to our work at the site, notably part of a market (macellum), an early Christian church and the Roman baths, the walls of which are preserved up to several metres high in places. Rescue excavations in the 2000s on the edge of the site have uncovered large Roman and late antique cemeteries, workshops and public buildings, one containing a large imperial statue, probably of Marcus Aurelius, in white marble. All of these finds suggest a considerable level of wealth at the city during the Roman and early Medieval periods. Hirpinia was an important supply region for the coastal cities of Campania, providing timber and livestock, and a major concern of the project will be clarifying Aeclanum’s economic connections. The site also sits on the Via Appia, the most important road in Roman Italy, and is close the major river Calore. Unlike the coastal cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Aeclanum was not destroyed in AD 79 by the eruption of Vesuvius but continued to thrive well beyond this. The site was hit, however, by a significant earthquake in AD 346 and then the Vesuvian eruption of AD 472, volcanic layers associated with which we have successfully identified in the archaeological record.
The excavation at Aeclanum is hosted by the University of Edinburgh as part of the Apolline Project under the aegis of the British School at Rome and is supported by the Comune di Mirabella Eclano and the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le province di Salerno ed Avellino. Directed by Dr. Girolamo F. De Simone and Dr. Ben Russell, the project also involves the Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli and the Università degli Studi del Sannio at Benevento, as well as specialists from the Universities of Cambridge, Naples-Federico II, Naples-Suor Orsola Benincasa, Padua, Prague, Rome-La Sapienza, St Andrews, Sydney, Tokyo, and UCL. The first full season of excavations took place in 2017 and the 2019 season will start on the 17th of June. We welcome students from any university who are keen to be involved – to date we have welcomed students from over 70 universities in more than 15 countries.
The project directors are both specialists in Roman urban landscapes and the study oft the Roman economy, as well as experienced field archaeologists. Dr Girolamo F. De Simone, Contract Professor at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli and Research Fellow at the University of Bologna, is an expert in landscape archaeology, Roman economy, and Late Antiquity. His publications cover a wide range of topics related to ancient Campania, from the agricultural economy of Pompeii to the shape of Mt. Vesuvius before AD 79 to the micro-regional trade patterns in the 5th c. AD. In 2004 he established the Apolline Project, for which he received the European Archaeological Heritage Prize.
Dr Ben Russell, Senior Lecturer in Classical Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, is a specialist on Roman urbanism, architecture, art and the economy. His research has focused heavily on the exploitation, trade and use of stone in building and art in the Roman world. He has also worked on shipwrecks and trade, Roman stone-carving, and earth construction. As well as his fieldwork at Aeclanum, Dr Russell is Field Director at the Aphrodisias excavations (Turkey) and a co-director of the Kostoperska Karpa Archaeological Project (Republic of Macedonia); he has previously worked on projects in Britain, Italy, Greece, Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, and Croatia.
The Apolline Project in Hirpinia
The Apolline Project has a special interest in Aeclanum and more broadly the entire area of Hirpinia, because the environmental model built for the environs of Vesuvius points to certain degrees of economic interdependence between the Campanian plains and the Apennine mountains. Aeclanum works as an ideal control test for our theories. Just as Pollena Trocchia fills gaps in our knowledge about the north of Vesuvius and Campania post-79 AD, Aeclanum also has much to contribute to our understanding of the wider region as a whole. It is a representative site for the region and thus the conclusions we draw from its excavation have far-reaching significance.
This region was also a crucial corridor linking Latium and Campania with the south-east of the Italian peninsula (Apulia), effectively connecting the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic coasts. The presence of the Via Appia, which runs through Aeclanum itself, made this a highly connected region, opening up a range of questions about the inhabitants’ access to imported commodities and their ability to export their own products. Aeclanum, therefore, represents a perfect site to explore broader regional questions about trade between the mountains and coastal regions.
The site of Aeclanum itself represents a perfect case study of a multi-method archaeological investigation since it is almost entirely untouched archaeologically and has never been built over. In order to better understand the built environment of the city and its urban layout, four areas of excavation were opened in 2017: one in the area of a monumental structure previously assumed to be a nymhaeum (Area A); a second in the largest excavated structure in the city, the baths (Area B); a third in a central area which geophysics suggested was residential zone (Area C); and a fourth in what appears to be the public core of the city, containing a macellum (Area D).
Results from Area A show that this building is in fact the city’s theatre (the first to be excavated in Hirpinia), which was built in the 1st c. AD and heavily spoliated from the 4th c. AD onwards. In Area B, a series of 4th-c. AD alterations to the bathing complex were exposed: a new mosaic, which has been conserved, and a room with a marble-paved floor; this later room contained primary volcanic deposits associated with the AD 472 eruption of Vesuvius. In Area C, a collapsed structure was excavated, the layout and date of which suggest a connection with the well-known early 4th c. AD earthquake that hit the city. In Area D, geophysics and excavation explored not just the macellum but also identified an adjacent open paved area, almost certainly the city’s forum.
In 2018, work built on the excavation and survey work completed the year before. Two existing trenches were expanded and two new ones opened.
In Area A, where we identified a theatre in 2017, new work was undertaken to continue the exploration of the substructures of the cavea and a ring drain running around the perimeter of the orchestra. The former provided useful new data on the late antique demolition of the structure, including a fifth-century AD deposit relating to occupation in the ruins of the theatre during its dismantling.
Volcanic deposits relating to the AD 472 eruption of Vesuvius were identified over this occupation level.
In the baths, Area B, the trench from 2017 was extended and a new area of the marble paved room to the north of the frigidarium exposed. Further volcanic deposits, in this case combined with roof tiles, indicating a collapse, confirmed that the building was damaged and probably put out of use by this eruption.
The two new areas of excavation were opened on the north edge of the forum and in the area east of the baths, where the GPR in 2016 picked up evidence for a major road. The forum trench found little evidence for the Roman phase of the forum, which had been extensively spoliated. The north edge of the complex was clearly monumentalised in some way, apparently with a semi-circular structure, but all of the walls of this building have been removed. An earlier cut in this area, probably made in the 1960s, however, enabled us to explore levels beneath the Roman forum and here we uncovered a mudbrick wall and platform, associated with which was pottery from the 4th to 2nd centuries BC.
Fragments of architectural terracottas and stucco also suggest that late Republican or early Imperial buildings once occupied this area. Beneath this mudbrick structure a series of deposits could be traced down as far as a volcanic event, attested by a thick pumice layer, characteristic of the prehistoric eruption of Vesuvius. This material represents the earliest evidence so far identified for life at Aeclanum. The final trench, located over the apparent roadway, confirmed that this was indeed a major thoroughfare running north-south through the city. The road was paved with basalts and, at a width of at least 5 m, is very likely to represent the ancient Via Appia. Along its western side a shop, probably forming part of a row of buildings, was identified, which had again been spoliated in late antiquity; the remains of a small furnace testifies to the systematic character of this spoliation.
GPR survey continued in 2018 and was concentrated on the ridge projecting west of the forum. Further blocks of residential structures were identified, as well as a complex of large buildings. These are arranged perpendicular to the known church and the largest has an apsidal end; they could represent the remains of a major ecclesiastical complex.
Excavations in 2019 will focus on the area of the baths, the house with peristyle, and the macellum, where our understanding of late antique Aeclanum is increasingly rapidly. Students will be exposed both to monumental Roman architecture and rich finds of associated materials, including marble, as well as to late antique interventions which have left behind a fascinating record of both remodelling and spoliation.
Daily activities and practicalities
The project at Aeclanum is run as a field school, with tuition provided on site. Work on site takes place Monday to Friday between 8:30 am and 6 pm. Participants have the opportunity to develop their archaeological field techniques and will work on excavation, documentation, survey and finds processing. Typically, participants will excavate in the mornings and work on other activities, especially post-excavations find work, in the afternoon. The ratio of staff to students on the project is extremely high and students will therefore spend more time receiving tailored tuition than is practical in conventional field schools and training excavations.
It should be noted that excavation can be physically demanding and the Italian summer is hot (usually around 30-38 degrees Celsius in the middle of the day in June and July). Participants should therefore be prepared to work hard when needed and be in adequate physical condition to undertake field excavation. Students not able to excavate can join our team of finds specialists and receive training in various modes of analysis. As numerous veterans of the project will tell you the project is very enjoyable, with a positive and friendly international atmosphere. The diversity of nationalities on the project also provides a great opportunity for students who wish to develop their language skills – particularly their Italian.
Accommodation is provided in the local town of Passo di Mirabella, a neighbourhood of Mirabella Eclano, close to the site. The accommodation provided by the project is a former school and the conditions are hostel-like. To keep prices down as much as possible we provide cooking facilities rather than set meals. Participants can buy food in the town and cook it themselves or eat out at the local restaurants. This should make the whole experience more affordable and enable you to eat what (and when) you want. Alternative accommodation and dining can be arranged in the nearby Hotel Aeclanum for participants who do not want to live in the communal accommodation. Aeclanum is close to Benevento, with its striking Roman remains, and to Avellino. Participants wanting to visit the sites of the Bay of Naples are advised to book extra days in Naples at the beginning or end of their stay since it is difficult to reach these areas on the weekends; however a daily trip to the Bay of Naples is provided once per block.
The excavation runs from the 17th of June to the 26th of July 2019. Participants can attend for two, four or six weeks. The contribution to participate is 450EUR (roughly 400GBP or 510USD) for 2 weeks, 800EUR for 4 weeks, 1000EUR for 6 weeks. Discounts will be made available for returning participants. The contribution covers all tuition and the hostel-style accommodation in Passo di Mirabella but does not cover travel or food – students tend to get a sandwich or pizza lunch from a café and cook for themselves in the evening or eat in a local restaurant.
We will collect participants by bus from central Naples at the beginning of their stay and drop them back at the end.
Academic credit can be provided upon request and negotiation with your host institution. For some universities (mostly in the USA) this may cost extra depending upon the policy of your particular institution.
Spaces on the excavation fill up quickly and we encourage you to submit your application earlier rather than later.
The application process is easy and straightforward. Please follow this link and complete the electronic application.
Nota Bene: if you have landed directly in this webpage, you might want to take a look at our other activities here.
- G.F. De Simone, B. Russell, “New work at Aeclanum (Comune di Mirabella Eclano, provincia di Avellino, Regione Campania)”, Papers of the British School at Rome 86 (2018), 298-301 [ISSN: 0068-2462]
- G. Strapazzon, B. Russell, G.F. De Simone, “Integrating GPR and excavation at Roman Aeclanum (Avellino, Italy)”, in: B. Jennings et al., AP2017 - 12th International Conference of Archaeological Prospection, Oxford 2017, 242-244 (Archaeopress) [ISBN: 9781784916770]
- 27 October 2018: Josef Souček, Lucia Michielin, and Guglielmo Strapazzon, ‘Where imagination fails: new possibilities of presenting the unexcavated’, at the Computer Applications & Quantitative Methods in Archaeology – CAA-UK conference, Edinburgh (UK)
- 26 October 2018: Zofia Guertin and Ambra Ghiringhelli, ‘Creating comics for public engagement in Roman Aeclanum: visual conversations with Ancient History’ at the Public Engagement with Research conference, University of St Andrews (UK)
- 9 October 2018: Martina Astolfi, Ferdinando De Simone, Philip Harrison, Antonio Mesisca, and Ben Russell, ‘Marble revetment at Aeclanum (Italy): new evidence from three public buildings’, at the ASMOSIA XII conference, Izmir (Turkey)
- 10 September 2018: Zofia Guertin, ‘Creating comics for public engagement in Roman Aeclanum: illustrating Ancient History’, at the Drawing on the Past: The Pre-Modern World in Comics conference, Institute of Classical Studies, London (UK)
- 14 April 2018: Zofia Guertin, ‘Public archaeology in Aeclanum: creating pedagogical materials and site narratives for outreach’, at the Roman Archaeology Conference 2018, University of Edinburgh (UK)
- 12 April 2018: Ferdinando De Simone and Ben Russell, ‘A Roman city on the Via Appia: New work at Aeclanum’, at the Roman Archaeology Conference 2018, University of Edinburgh (UK)
- 1 December 2017: Ferdinando De Simone and Ben Russell, ‘Archeologia dell’invisibile ad Aeclanum: dal georadar al 3D’, at the Arte è Scienza conference, Mirabella Eclano (Italy)
- 21 November 2017: Ben Russell and Ferdinando De Simone, ‘Aeclanum: A city on the Via Appia from the Samnites to Late Antiquity’, University of Cambridge (UK)
- 20 November 2017, Ben Russell and Ferdinando De Simone, ‘New work at Aeclanum: A Roman city on the Via Appia’, University College London (UK)
- 13 September 2017, Guglielmo Strapazzon, Ben Russell, and Ferdinando De Simone, ‘Integrating GPR and excavation at Roman Aeclanum (Avellino, Italy)’, at AP2017: 12th International Conference of Archaeology Prospection, University of Bradford (UK)
- 24 May 2017, Ferdinando De Simone and Vincenzo Castaldo, ‘Sea or land? Trade on the fringes of Campania’, at LRCW 6: 6th International Conference on Land Roman Coarse Ware, Cooking Ware and Amphorae in the Mediterranean, Agrigento (Italy)