Archaeology breakthrough unearths ancient town more modern that history claimed

A major archeological breakthrough has helped rewrite the historical understanding of how the Roman Empire fell in Italy. The landmark excavations have been led by researchers at the University of Cambridge, and the new materials found suggest the unearthed town in southern Lazio thrived into the 3rd century AD.

This was a period that has historically been associated with the decline of the Roman Empire.

The researchers used pottery analysis from the site to demonstrate that it was in face 300 years later when the town’s decline started.

It was published in the edited volume Roman Urbanism in Italy.

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Initially, archaeologists on the site, which was known to Romans as Interamna Lirenas, could only excavate shards of ancient pottery.

But a geological survey then revealed incredible detail about the town’s layout, which showed it had a series of urban features including numerous public baths, a temple, a warehouse and a theatre.

The team also conducted a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey. This was carried out alongside a series of targeted excavations.

The study’s co-author Alessandro Launaro said: “We found a thriving town adapting to every challenge thrown at it for 900 years. We’re not saying that this town was special, it’s far more exciting than that.”

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Dr Launaro added: “We think many other average Roman towns in Italy were just as resilient.

“It’s just that archaeologists have only recently begun to apply the right techniques and approaches to see this.”

Back in the Eighties, previous studies were conducted into the distribution of potsherds – which are pieces of broken ceramic materials – at the Interamna Lirenas ruins.

These found that occupation of the town peaked in the late 2nd to early 1st centuries BC.

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However, fast-forward to the modern-day and the latest findings show that in fact the decline did not happen until much later.

Dr Launaro added: “Based on the relative lack of imported pottery, archaeologists have assumed that Interamna Lirenas was a declining backwater. We now know that wasn’t the case.”

This has led to suspicions that the Italian town was a thriving hub for trade that operated during the reign of Roman Emporer Julius Caesar.

The expert continued: “Interamna Lirenas was strategically located between a river and a major road, and it was a thriving node in the regional urban network.

“It would have been valuable to Julius Caesar as he sought to consolidate support across Italy during the civil wars.”

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