Forum Novum – Vescovio

Introduction

The Roman town and early medieval bishopric of Forum Novum lies in the Sabine hills at the head of a broad river valley which leads into the Tiber. Forum Novum was a new Roman foundation which developed as a forum or market centre during the Republican period. By the early 1st century AD Forum Novum had been elevated to the status of municipium, appearing as such in Pliny’s list of towns. Knowledge of the history of the centre comes largely from literary sources and the rich epigraphic evidence. Forum Novum seems to have functioned throughout the imperial period and a market was still being held at the centre in the fourth century. Although urban life probably underwent a decline around this period, Forum Novum, later Vescovio, continued to act as a local and regional focus with the establishment of a bishopric in the fifth century, a role it maintained throughout the early medieval and medieval periods. Little systematic archaeological work had been carried out on the centre or its valley. Excavations carried out by the Soprintendenza Archeologica per il Lazio in the late 1970s and early 80s revealed the basilica, a temple complex, part of the forum and various associated buildings of uncertain function.

Objective

The project began in 1997 and is currently being prepared for publication. The aim was to apply a series of approaches to the centre in order to provide a detailed and systematic study. This included examining (1) the size and organization of the centre, (2) its growth and development in relation to the surrounding territory and to Rome itself; (3) developments during late antiquity and the early middle ages, which saw the decline of the municipium and the emergence of the site as a bishop’s seat.

Fieldwork

The investigations were directed by Helen Patterson (British School at Rome), Vince Gaffney (University of Birmingham) and Paul Roberts (British Museum), in collaboration with Giovanna Alvino of the Soprintendenza Archeologica del Lazio, Salvatore Piro (CNR – Istituto per le Tecnologie Applicate ai Beni Culturali) and the Provincia di Rieti. The size and layout of the town was investigated through a range of surface survey techniques, in particular geophysical survey (resistivity, magnetometry and georadar), combined with intensive field survey. This was followed by the excavation of selected areas to examine the origins and social and economic development of the centre.