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Carsulae, the island on the white Flaminian way

by Monica Rosati

The historical heritage of this city speaks a language of modern inflection. An emotional place, to be saved from oblivion.

«Et maiores et posteros vestros cogitate».
«Think of your ancestors, think of posterity», wrote Publio Cornelius Tacitus and never, like in the case of Carsulae, has it been ever so adequate.
Even though today’s visitors may walk through a site of scattered ruins and remains around 20 hectares large, the compared studies supported by modern technologies (applications and video-mapping especially), are allowing to enjoy a rather complete vision of a sensational place, which deserves to be torn from oblivion.

A salubrious island, florid and welcoming

Built in the vicinity of Interamna Nahars and Casventum, the modern cities of Terni and San Gemini – harbingers of contrasting images of steel mills and mineral water springs – Carsulae is an island in the course of the Roman Flaminia way. Its destiny is consumed along the white cobblestones of the consular road, marked by the furrows of the wagons – and there were many! – built between 220 and 219 b.C. to connect Rome with the northern Adriatic Sea.

The pre-roman populations had understood the opportunity for increasing trade and quality of life and eventually settled closer to the road, building town centers and putting to use the nearby flat lands. Under Emperor Augustus (44 a.C – 14 d.C.), after being recognized as a township, Carsulae reaches its definitive urban layout. The Roman historian Tacitus (Hist. III, 60), together with Plinius the Younger (Ep. I, 4), describe it as florid and hospitable, rich in architectural splendors, salubrious and fertile, speckled with cultivations, vineyards and olive groves, politically active and open to the world.

 

Carsulae, photo by Carsulae site

Teeming with life

What if we were tourists in the age of its maximum splendor? We would be blinded by its white monuments, statues and bright enthusiasm! Let’s try and walk through it all again, walking along the Cardo Maximus (Flaminia road) cutting through the ancient town. There is the San Damiano Arch, suggestive northern gate, built with robust travertine block and inset in a triple-vaulted structure. Beside it, just outside the town perimeter, we find a place of remembrance: the Necropolis, with its sepulchral monuments of illustrious families. In front of the Forum, the basilica – once used as a tribunal – and around it, we can almost hear the sound of passing-by wagons, voices of men, women and children, of deals being struck at the shade of the associations’ guilds. The square, paved in marble and lined with porticos on its longer sides, is embellished by the facades of the public buildings, two twin temples dedicated to Castor and Pollux and the Capitolium, in honor of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. All around, the tight network of the domus, the Roman houses. Social life was enriched by entertainment varied in venues and cruelty. In the theater, harmoniously inserted in the urban context, tragedies, comedies and satires would be staged, while the nearby amphitheater – about 85 meters long and with a dug-out ring built into a natural depression – gladiators would engage in gruesome fights. Among the luxurious urban commodities, the cistern replenished the city with water, also used for the public thermal baths, major attraction for relaxing and socializing time.

 

Carsulae, photo by Carsulae site

End and rebirth

Yet a mist of forgetfulness descended on Carsulae. Between the Fourth and Fifth century A.D. it became an inhospitable place, after an earthquake caused great damage and caused the route of the Flaminian way to be diverted towards Terni and Spoleto.

The white road which had once brought favorable conditions for the city, now concurs to its fall, and Carsulae becomes a mine for construction materials. The archeological digs, started in the Sixteenth century but especially effective between 1951 and 1972, have now allowed the rediscovery of a historical heritage of inestimable value for the province of Terni, which has entrusted its communication to the documentation center U.Ciotti[1].

BOX – The battle of battles

During the winter of 69 A.D., in full Roman civil war, while the generals Vitellus and Vespasian were fighting for power, Carsulae became a crucial player for the faith of Rome and its Empire. After setting up camp on a well-exposed plain with views over Narni, where Vitellus had left some of his cohorts, Antonio Primo, Vespasian’s general, and the lieutenant Arrio Varo decide to scout out the city of Carsulae. After appreciating its beauty and its people’s warm welcome, the two spend a few days in the basilica to plan their strategy – knowing that the soldiers prefer a victory to peace. After laying out a plan and having offered sacrifices to the gods, the battle begins at the shout “Ahead men, fight! As long as you do not want to leave your banner to the enemy”. The victory of Antonio Primo end the civil war will favor the proclamation of Emperor Vespasian.

 


[1] Cfr. www.carsulae.it consulted on 19 July 2019.

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