The Romans in Valcamonica

The Civitas Camunnorum

The Roman administration caused a quite fast evolution of the political and social balance in the Valley, a territory linked to prehistoric traditions, as seen on the engraved rocks.

Latin inscriptions scattered in a wide area, bridges and a network of main and secondary roads tell of a territory controlled by a single ruler, crossed by commercial routes and lived less in a tribal way than before, where the civitas had become an administrative centre.

Graphic reconstruction of Civitas Camunnorum, modern Cividate Camuno (Valcamonica)

The town

The ancient Civitas Camunnorum was small and provincial but had the features of a sophisticated town. It followed the precepts of the centurial structure with important public buildings such as the theatre (the archaeological excavations brought to light all the layout of the porch behind the main stage), the arena (lately the remaining ruins have been excavated) and the thermae.

The housing were not like the classical Roman domus. They were much more popular in taste and structure, using a lot wood, stone and bricks for the fronts. There were more elegant buildings too, with elements in carved marble and mosaics on the floor.

The cults

Statue of Roman goddess Minerva, I sec AD, National Archaeological Museum of Cividate Camuno (Valcamonica)The traditional cults of the Valley, testified by the rock art scattered all over the territory, at first were adapted to fit in with the Roman ones and eventually evolved towards them.

A model of this evolution can be seen in the Minerva sanctuary in Breno, where ancient water cults kept their original meaning even after the Roman healing Minerva substituted an existing deity with the same ritual function.

At the feet of a wonderful statue of the goddess, now on display at the museum of Cividate Camuno, votive offers were placed, such as arulae, stones and coins, according to the Roman rituals.

Statue of 'the Hero', I sec. AD, National Archaeological Museum of Cividate Camuno (Valcamonica)In 2004 a lucky discovery in the centre of Cividate Camuno brought back to light a noteworthy, although fragmented, statue of a naked hero with drapery. It could be a member of the imperial Julius-Claudian family (maybe Drusus Minor). The location of the discovery and other items recovered during the excavation of the statue should be another confirmation of where the ancient forum and the main buildings in town were.

The two statues have been recently restored and are now on display at the Cividate Camuno Museum. Copies have been made during the restoration and are now displayed where the scholars think they were originally placed: one in the recently opened (2007) Spinera Archaeological Park (Breno), the other near the bridge on the river Oglio in Cividate Camuno.

The necropolis

Excavations in Borno, Breno and Cividate have found a lot of funerary equipments. These items were discovered in burials often used by the Romans: interment and burning. The items recovered underline the special attention that mankind has always reserved to the deceased, enriching their tombs with objects from their daily life: lanterns, coins, jewellery, tools.

The Theatre and Amphitheatre Archaeological Park

Carceres of the arena at the Civitas Camunnorum, Park of the Theatre and Amphitheatre (Valcamonica)The Roman town is now completely underneath the modern city, that will preserve most of it. The sections of the theatre that has been excavated so far and the good conditions of the amphitheatre, whose volumes and elevation are still easy to detect, testify its local importance.

Visiting these sites is a good way to understand clearly the importance of the transformation faced by the ancient Camunni society when the Romans arrived.

The Minerva Sanctuary Archeological Park in Spinéra, Breno

Bronze votive pendant from the prehistoric sanctuary of Spinéra, National Archaeological Museum of Cividate Camuno (Valcamonica) (Valcamonica)Half way between Cividate Camuno and Breno, near a bend on the river Oglio and close to ancient springs flowing out from caverns but nowadays dried up, there is the temple dedicated to Minerva, originally built during the time of Augustus and dedicated to the goddess later on. The building, with several halls and side wings has rooms with well preserved mosaics and remains of the original plasters painted on the walls. In one of these rooms there was the statue of the deity now at the Museum while in a nearby hall the water flowing out of the mountain was collected into pools where the pilgrims could perform their rituals ablutions.

Recent archaeological excavations found an interesting Protohistoric phase of the sanctuary, with a stone altar and a place reserved to burn votive offerings. Almost all the items date back to the Iron Age. Among the objects discovered the most interesting one is a small carved pendant. It is shaped like a praying bust emerging from a small boat whose ends are shaped like birds. This image reminds of another feminine deity found among the Veneto region tribes and the Raeti tribes, maybe the indigenous form of a deity similar to the Roman Minerva that replaced it.