Otricoli, Umbria

Ocriculum, Otricoli (Umbria) 1997 – 2005

The Roman town of Ocriculum, located 44km north of Rome, was built on a volcanic spur that flanked the River Tiber. A dried-up oxbow lake at the foot of the northern slope indicates the ancient course of the river; an area known as the Porto dell’Olio. The route of the via Flaminia approaching from the south is clearly marked by its agger and a series of adjacent mausolea. Excavations in the eighteenth century, under the patronage of Pope Pius VI, revealed monumental structures such as an amphitheatre, theatre, bath complex and a vast arched structure, known as the Grande Sostruzione. These standing structures now lie in the undulating landscape with no obvious cohesion.

magnetometer survey in amongst the ruins of the theatre, bath complex and excavation section of the via Flaminia.

Results of the magnetometer survey in amongst the ruins of the theatre, bath complex and excavation section of the via Flaminia.

The present archaeological survey was initiated as part of the AHRB funded study of Roman towns in the Tiber valley being undertaken as part of the British School at Rome’s Tiber Valley Project.

The survey was conducted over four seasons in 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2004 by a collaboration of Prof Simon Keay (the British School at Rome/University of Southampton) and Prof Martin Millett (University of Cambridge) in association with the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archaeologici dell’Umbria in particular, Dott.essa Luana Cenciaioli.

Otricoli poses a series of challenges to archaeological survey. The lack of intervisibility and the topographic complexity of the setting mean that it is extremely difficult to provide any coherent account of its urban development. A strategy of implementing a variety of survey techniques such as topography, magnetometry, resistivity, GPR and surface collection aimed to overcome the limitations of the site and has led to the fuller and broader understanding of this complex settlement.

A detailed topographic survey of about 75% of the site was completed which accurately located the standing structures and placed them in the context of a detailed contour survey of the whole site. This survey has clarified our understanding of the results of the eighteenth-century papal excavations and provides important new information about the site layout. The geophysical survey included magnetometry covering the same areas as the topographic survey, plus the resistivity survey of selected areas and a sample area of georadar (kindly undertaken by Salvatore Piro of CNR). The results have clarified our understanding of the site, which now can be understood to have occupied much of the ridge running westwards from the hill on which the medieval town is sited, down towards the Tiber. It is flanked to the north and west by cliffs overlooking the ancient course of the Tiber and to the south by the valley of the San Vittore stream. The original settlement on the ridge seems to date to the late republican period. By the early Imperial period settlement had extended southwards across the valley of the San Vittore steam, which was modified by the construction of a substantial platform infilling a substantial sector of the valley. This area was occupied by the baths and overlooked by the amphitheatre, theatre, and a probable temple. On the ridge top a number of structures of the Imperial period can be identified in the results of the geophysical and topographic surveys.

The late eighteenth century excavations of Otricoli unearthed a wealth of finds. Statuary, including a large bust of Giove, and a polychrome mosaic from the bath complex now form part of the impressive Vatican colection. As is evident from our own discoveries of inscriptions, fragments of statuary including a head and rear, a complete altar and architectural elements made of terracotta, Otricoli still possesses a rich and abundant collection of material.

Further Reading

Hay, S., Keay, S., Millett, M. and Sly, T. (Forthcoming). Urban field-survey at Ocriculum (Otricoli, Umbria). In F. Coarelli and H. Patterson (eds) Mercator Placidissimus. The Tiber Valley in Antiquity. New Research in the Upper and Middle Valley. Rome: Quasar.

Hay, S., Keay, S. and Millett, M. (2013) Ocriculum (Otricoli, Umbria): an Archaeological Survey of the Roman Town (Archaeological Monograph 22)

Keay, S. and Millett, M. (with contributions from J.Taylor, S. Poppy and J. Robinson) 1999. Roman Towns in the middle Tiber Valley. Papers of the British School at Rome 67: 419-421

Millett, M. and Keay, S. 2003. Tiber Valley Towns: fieldwork in 2002. Papers of the British School at Rome 71: 317-8

Millett, M. and Keay, S. 2004. Tiber Valley Towns: fieldwork in 2003. Papers of the British School at Rome 72: 372-3

Millett, M. and Keay, S. 2005. Roman Urbanism in Italy. Papers of the British School at Rome 73: 284