Dig the Roman city of Aeclanum
The major fieldwork project at Aeclanum is the result of an agreement with the Soprintendenza Archeologica della Campania and the Comune di Mirabella Eclano. Directed by Dr. Girolamo F. De Simone and Dr. Ben Russell, the Aeclanum excavations are part of the wider Apolline Project and are led by the University of Edinburgh. The project team is composed of scholars from a range of international institutions and we welcome students from any university who are keen to be involved; in 2016 we had around 150 students from 15 countries and 72 universities, among which Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Trinity College Dublin, Harvard, Brown, Michigan, Sorbonne, Tübingen, Uppsala, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Complutense Madrid, Sydney, and São Paulo.
Aeclanum (map) lies beyond the shores of Naples, Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius, in inner Campania and more precisely in the district of Hirpinia, which in antiquity constituted the southern part of Samnium. The settlement seems to have developed in the 3rd c. BC as a Samnite centre, was sacked by Sulla in 89 BC, and became a Roman municipium at some point soon after. The city then prospered, in part thanks to its location on the important Via Appia – the main Roman road through southern Italy. The prosperity continued right through the Roman period, with the city becoming a colony under Hadrian, and continued well into Late Antiquity, at which point it became an important Christian bishopric.
Despite the city’s strategic position, it has been largely overlooked by mainstream archaeology scholarship. The first scientific excavations at the site date to the beginning of the 1900s and since then only small, intermittent campaigns have been undertaken until recently. Although the site is by no means small (at least 18 hectares), only a few buildings have been brought to light so far, noticeably part of the market building (macellum), a large early Christian church with mosaics, and part of the well-preserved Roman baths. Despite the paucity of structures uncovered, the quality of the architectural remains and artefacts brought to light so far is spectacular and speaks of a considerable level of wealth during the Roman and early Medieval periods. Highlights include substantial monolithic columns in imported coloured marbles, marble statues – including one of the emperor Marcus Aurelius – and high-quality mosaics and painted wall plaster.
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 mountains of Samnium, thus Aeclanum works as an ideal control test for our theories. Just as Pollena Trocchia fills in gaps of our knowledge by looking at the area north of Vesuvius and 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 impacts.
This region was also a crucial corridor linking Latium and Campania with the south-east of the Italian peninsula, 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, not just because of its prime location but also because it is almost entirely untouched archaeologically and has never been built over.
In 2016, we undertook a pilot season of documentation, geophysics and conservation at the site, with spectacular results. Our primary aims were to acquire an overview of the topography of the site and the varying stratigraphy at key point across it, with a view to planning future campaigns. We also wanted to fully understand and, where possible, conserve those structures that had already been excavated. With this in mind, we around the already-excavated baths, the layout and history of which are only now beginning to be understood.
As part of this work we were able to get dating evidence for different phases of the structure, identify a series of later alterations to the complex, expose the marble-lined natatio or swimming pool (originally dug in the 1950s), and rediscover and conserve a large late antique mosaic, which had been found during earlier work on the site but never studied. We also undertook a new photographic survey of the baths, from which we will create three-dimensional models to better understand the layout and phasing of the complex.
Beyond the baths, a second area of interest was a large public building, initially excavated during the early 2000s and conventionally identified as a nymphaeum. Our work in this area in 2016 suggested that rather than a nymphaeum this was in fact the city’s theatre, or possibly a covered odeon. In an area which was vastly disturbed by the works for the creation of the parking area, by removing the modern contexts we discovered right under the surface the foundations of the paving of the orchestra and of the first row of seats, as well as pipes and drains connected to water management in the space. If this is indeed the theatre then it is the first one excavated in Hirpinia and could reveal crucial details about investment in public architecture at the site.
Some of the most important results from the 2016 campaign came from the geophysical survey. Two hectares of the site were subjected to intensive GPR (ground-penetrating radar) survey and the picture acquired is extremely exciting. A major road, perhaps the Via Appia, flanked by public buildings, was identified at the northern end of the site, just to the east of the exposed baths. Behind our proposed theatre we were able to identify large semi-circular walls, which seem to confirm our hypothesis about the identification of this structure. While at the southern edge of the site, to the west of the macellum, we were able to identify further public buildings and an enormous open piazza, possible with its paving still preserved in places. Further work will be needed to confirm the identity of this space but a working hypothesis is that this is the city’s forum.
In 2017, therefore, we have much to do. We hope to open one trench in the baths, with a view to understanding the later phases of this complex and its extension to the East. We will continue to work on our possible theatre and the collapsed structure in the centre of the city, which we hope will inform us about the final years of the site’s lifespan. A new trench will be opened in the area of the possible forum, to confirm whether we have indeed located the city’s civic centre.
This is a fantastic and rare opportunity for any student who wants to develop an understanding of Roman urban topography and the complexities of dealing with multi-period sites. The combination of survey and excavation also provides a well-rounded archaeological experience, with additional opportunities to study ceramics and marble finds.
Excavation takes place Monday to Friday between 8:30 am and 6 pm. Participants have the opportunity to develop their archaeological field techniques involving both excavation and recording. For one day of the week each participant carries out laboratory archaeology, learning key post-excavation skills while working with materials excavated from site. 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. 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 Italian.
The excavation runs from the 19th of June to the 28th of July. Participants must stay for a minimum of two weeks but there is no maximum. The contribution to participate is 400EUR (roughly 310GBP or 500USD) for 2 weeks, 700EUR for 4 weeks, 900EUR for 6 weeks; this includes all tuition and 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 can collect you from the airport and pickup details will be provided once successful applicants have confirmed their participation. Academic credit can be provided upon request and negotiation with your host institution. For some universities this may cost extra depending upon the policy of your particular institution. 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.