Sunday, March 18, 2018


Paolo Brocato, Monica Ceci, Nicola Terrenato (ed.), Ricerche nell'area dei templi di Fortuna e Mater Matuta (Roma). Ricerche - Collana del Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, Sezione Archeologia, 10. Arcavacata di Rende: Università della Calabria, 2016. Pp. 236. ISBN 9788898197064. €65.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Nicolò Masturzo, Università degli Studi di Torino (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume contains the preliminary results of the research and conservation programme begun in 2009 and completed in 2015 in the area of the temples of Fortuna and Mater Matuta ('Area sacra di San Omobono') in Rome, by the Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali, with the collaboration of the Università della Calabria and the University of Michigan.

The San Omobono area (named after the nearby church) is one of the most important for the archaeology of archaic and Republican Rome. Excavations began in this area at the foot of the Capitoline Hill in 1936, following building work. They brought to light a large raised platform that in the Republican period (4th century BC) formed the podium of two adjacent temples (the eastern one lies beneath the structures of the church) on which the altars were also built. Further in-depth excavations uncovered the remains of a temple dated to the early 6th century. The archaic temple stood on a tall podium of tuff blocks, was of the Italic type and was built of wood and mud bricks, clad on the upper part with relief panels and decorative elements in terracotta. It is assumed that there was a second archaic temple of similar size next to it, as was the case with the later reconstruction of the Republican period.

The archaeological area of San Omobono is known thanks to numerous high quality scholarly publications dealing in depth with various features. However, we still lack an extensive and exhaustive treatment of all the various archaeological and monumental aspects. The new research programme aims to fill this gap, thanks to the review of the old excavations and new studies; the various papers collected in this volume represent the first stage of this project.1

The volume editors provide only a short chapter introducing the new research project, followed by a series of reports organized according to the chronology of the finds. We will now examine the individual chapters in more detail.

The detailed essay by Carlo Persiani ("Tracce di occupazione sulle sponde del Tevere nell'età del Bronzo e del Ferro") is based on a selection of residual ceramic materials found in a secondary context. The range of problems raised by the finds, particularly the question of the development of a 'cultural autonomy' of the Roman area in early Iron Age Lazio, is broad and only partially resolved. (This may be inevitable, given the materials found in the San Omobono area).

F. Vincenzo Timpano takes up the apparently modest but essential task of identifying the areas of provenance, and, where possible, the archaeological context of the architectural fragments of the archaic temple. Generally speaking, the decorated panels and fragments of felines come from the front side, while fragments of acroteria, either figured or with volutes, come from the trenches at the north-west corner of the temple.

Starting from the interpretations already suggested by M. Torelli2 and A. Mura Sommella,3 Desiré Di Giuliomaria reconsiders the iconography of the terracotta panels depicting chariot processions. In her opinion, the couples on the chariots represent a sacred marriage, emphasized by the human couple of rex and regina leading the separate pairing of Dionysus and Ariadne. Some secondary observations do not seem of particular significance for the interpretation of the iconography, in other words the trade with Athens and the area's topography. The hypothetical change in narrative theme in the second series of panels with chariots also remains problematic, since even in their new form these retain numerous formal elements typical of the earlier series. Essentially the study follows a 'traditional' interpretation, according to which the focus of the representation is the legitimation of the rex.4

Di Giuliomaria also covers the question of the acroteria on the basis of a 'technical' analysis. The study carefully examines the problem of re-assembling the fragments, but their incompleteness does not allow for a definitive architectural contextualization.

A brief note by F. Vincenzo Timpano argues in favour of the presence of a cult of Dionysus, but the line of reasoning proposed is too weak to support this nonetheless interesting idea.

Carlo Regoli's essay on ceramics is also preliminary to a more extensive study and highlights the uniformity of votive pottery in the Archaic Period, consisting mostly of ollae and bowls/lids.

A small trench dug in 1964 is discussed by Luca De Luca. A brief overview of the phases is followed by the description of two fragments of terracotta decoration, of uncertain stratigraphy and attributed to the second archaic phase, in around 530 BC.

Mattia D'Acri reconsiders another area excavated between 1977 and 1979. Re-examining the old excavation documents allows for a reliable reconstruction of the stratigraphy. The study of the ceramic sherds is again conditioned by their storage conditions, as a selection, and perhaps a dispersal, of fragments has taken place over time. It is unclear why the choice was made to publish a limited sample of materials from a single layer.

Daniel P. Diffendale's, "Five Republican monuments. On the supposed building program of M. Fulvius Flaccus," is one of the best-organized chapters in the volume. The author carefully examines the structures and provides an exhaustive discussion of potential parallels. He rules out the theory that the two altars in front of the Republican temples belong to a single building programme with the circular monument and the two fragmentary bases mentioning M. Folvios.

Hillary Becker's essay takes up the investigation of stonecutters' marks from P. Sommella's earlier study. She ascribes an alphabetical meaning to the marks and interprets them as relating to quarrying practices. The author's confidence seems excessive, since the marks may also be a method of assigning payments, making a strict compliance with the alphabet unnecessary though they are certainly influenced by the alphabet in use.

Federico Grande examines a small shrine and conjectures three building phases. The hypothesis of a wholesale reconstruction of the podium in the 'second phase' is somewhat dubious, in part because the photograph taken at the time of excavation shows the absence of the concrete structure (USM 1451), which therefore must be a modern restoration. The profile mouldings of various monuments, compared to those of the shrine, do not provide a precise date; and a chronology earlier than that proposed (Flavian period – second half of the 2nd century AD) cannot be ruled out.5

The final essay by Monica Ceci considers the ancient phases of the church of Sant'Omobono in light of the medieval sources and examines the area in late antiquity and the Middle Ages with a particular emphasis on craftworking activities. This is a commendable attempt to organize the archaeological knowledge of the later phase of the area.

The book has the merit of collecting a variety of studies aimed at clarifying specific aspects of the 'Sant'Omobono' complex. It is limited by the partial nature of the reports, which generally refer readers to more detailed and exhaustive future studies. A substantial chapter providing a general introduction to the area is lacking: this might have clarified the importance of the individual reports in the volume. A general chapter would also have helped in the understanding of the thorny archaeological problems still posed by the old excavations, which, moreover, were generally conducted less carefully than more recent studies.

Other issues, whilst certainly not fundamental, concern the absence of dates in the captions to the photographs of older excavations, a lack of uniformity in the drawings and the variable and sometimes unsatisfactory quality of the photographs. The volume does not include a discussion of the conservation and maintenance of the monumental area, described by the editors in the Introduction as among the objectives of the 'ricerca e valorizzazione' project. This seems to suggest the existence of a problem of disciplinary focus. It is to be hoped that a second volume will attribute greater importance to the conservation programme, including the study of previous restoration work, fundamental for understanding the current state of the monuments.

Authors and titles

Claudio Parisi Presicce, Giovanni Caruso, Monica Ceci - Prefazione
Paolo Brocato, Nicola Terrenato - Introduzione
Carlo Persiani – Tracce di occupazione sulle sponde del Tevere nell'età del Bronzo e del Ferro
F. Vincenzo Timpano - Contesti di provenienza dei reperti architettonici del tempio arcaico di S. Omobono
Desirè Di Giuliomaria – I cortei su carri raffigurati nelle lastre di rivestimento architettonico del tempio arcaico di S. Omobono. Una nuova ipotesi di lettura
Desirè Di Giuliomaria – L'alloggiamento degli acroteri sul tetto del tempio arcaico di S. Omobono. Alcune questioni da rivedere
F. Vincenzo Timpano – Alcuni aspetti iconografici e cultuali dal tempio arcaico di S. Omobono
Carlo Regoli – Le indagini di Giovanni Ioppolo nei settori II-IV: la ceramica d'impasto bruno, rosso e rosso-bruno
Luca De Luca, Ddesirè Di Giuliomaria – Il settore V e le terrecotte decorative
Mattia D'Acri – Note sui reperti e sulla stratigrafia del Settore VII-IX
Daniel P. Diffendale – Five Republican monuments. On the supposed building program of M. Fulvius Flaccus
Hilary Becker – Additions to the known corpus of massons' marks at S. Omobono
Federico Grande – Il compitum del Vicus Jugarius: analisi dei resti in situ
Monica Ceci – S. Salvatore in Portico e il quartiere produttivo. Spunti di ricerca sul paesaggio post antico nel Foro Boario


1.   The research project on the San Omobono area is described in: N. Terrenato et al., The S. Omobono Sanctuary in Rome: Assessing eighty years of fieldwork and exploring perspectives for the future, Internet Archaeology 31, 2012; P. Brocato, N. Terrenato (eds.), Nuove ricerche nell'area archeologica di San Omobono a Roma, Arcavacata di Rende, Università della Calabria, 2012.
2.   M. Torelli, "I fregi figurati delle regie latine ed etrusche. Immaginario del potere arcaico", in Ostraka I.2, 1992, pp. 249-274; and his numerous more recent publications.
3.   See: A. Mura Sommella, "La decorazione architettonica del tempio arcaico", in PP 32, 1977, pp. 62-128; Ead., "L'area sacra del Foro Boario: il tempio arcaico", in Enea nel Lazio. Archeologia e mito, Rome 1981, pp. 115-123; and her other more recent publications listed in the volume's bibliography.
4.   See G. Adornato, "L'area sacra di S. Omobono. Per una revisione della documentazione archeologica", in MEFRA 115.2, 2003, pp. 809-835, especially pp. 821-831 for a 'tyrannical' political message.
5.   This is not the place to discuss comparisons and chronology. Cf. F. Coarelli, "Un monumento onorario dei Domizi dal Campidoglio", in Epigrafia. Actes du colloque international d'épigraphie latine en mémoire de Attilio Degrassi, Rome 1988, Rome 1991, p. 200.

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