8 April, 2020
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Lugnano in Teverina belongs to the Club
I Borghi Più Belli d’Italia


On the hills around Lugnano in Teverina, a few kilometers from the border between Umbria and Latium, there is a place with an ominous and evocative name: the Necropolis of Children.

The Macabre Find

Forty-seven dead infants, found inside the five rooms of the ancient Roman villa – left to decay from the III Century a.C. – were all buried within a short time, as suggested by their stratified collocation, so that the floor had risen up to three metres, even though belonging to the same archeological site. The corpses of the bigger ones were stuck in amphoras, while infants and fetuses often lay on each other or are covered byfragments from the villa in ruins.


villa romana di Poggio Gramignano

One of the children found in the Roman villa of Poggio Gramignano and kept at the Lugnano Municipal Antiquarium, pic via


You must not consider people from the late Empire period as infanticide, because the hecatomb was due to a violent epidemic. In 2016, archaeologists discovered that the most lethal form of malaria, the Plasmodium falciparum strain, making Poggio Gramignano of Lugnano the oldest evidence of the disease penetration in Europe and in the Mediterranean area.

The Archaeological Site

The villa, which appeared as the percfect villa theorized by Varro, was transformed into a necropolis since the V Century. Though the body of adults are not been discovered yet, there are interested finds to talk about. In addition to isolated bones of adults, consumed, since they were alive, by malnutrition and porous (nerve tissue necrosis), raven’s claws, part of a toad‘s skeleton and several skeletal pieces of dog puppies have also been found. The latter, without any trace of atmospheric events and scattered along all three meters of the tumulus – made of bodies, pots, earth and ashes – were undoubtedly torn apart for ritual purposes. The sacrifice of dog puppies (five or six months old) was indeed linked to the worship of Ecate, a god from the underground who had the task to carry the deads in the Hereafter, not to mention that the same type of sacrifice was used to purify the abortion women (just remember the twenty-two fetuses buried in the villa). Also Pliny the Elder soke about those habits, linking the subject chosen for the sacrifice to Sirius, the Constellation of the Dog, a star that “rises” in the summer, a period in which the recurrence of malarial fevers is at its apex in Italy.

Pagan Incursions

Also some carbonized honeysuckle remains prove that the hecatomb happened in summer, because the honeysuckle is a shrub of the Mediterranean area that is in bloom during that period of the year. It is curious that, in an area officially considered christianized, had appeared such pagan rituals.


Honeysuckle, photo via


Moreover, we do not know who were that people, what was their ethnicity or their religion, we even did not know if their settlement was isolated or even a part of a community able to maintain its cultural independence against Cristian unifying action. We cannot exclude that with such a violent pestilence those poor souls had appealed to ancestral cults in order to survive the disease that was decimating them.

Chapters to be Rewritten

Even the fearsome Attila, the notorious Flagellum Dei who threated to plunder Rome in 452, probably decided to renounce because he didn’t want to die of malaria. According to what was written in the Leges novellae divi Valentiniani (V Century), among the reasons that led him to give up there was also a not specified pestilence, but now it may have found a name and a place.
The mephitic air of those areas will also strike Sidonio Apollinare, a few years later (467 a.C.):

«Then I crossed the other cities along Via Flaminia – one after the other – leaving the Piceni on the left and the Umbri on the right; and here my exhausted body succumbed to sirocco from Calabria or the unhealthy air of Tuscan lands, dense of myasms, sometimes with a sensation of cold, some others of hot. Thirst and fever devastated my soul to the core; in vain, I drank from from pleasurable fountains, from hidden springs and from every stream of water I encountered, even thought thay were vitreous translucents of the Velino, the frozen waters of the Clitumno, the ceruleas ones of Aniene, the sulfuries one of Nera, the clear waters of Farfa or the red ones of the Tiber.» (Epistulae, I.5, 8-9)


A coin depicting Attila, photo via

It is not so strange that Attila, camped at Ager Ambulejus (today’s Governolo, Mantua), decided to save Rome – and what remained of its own troops. Undoubtedly, it is a more plausible hypothesis than the blessed crucifix of Leo I, which, according to legend, pushed the king of the Huns far from Rome.
Certainly, in this story, superstition and science intersect in a rather intriguing way, demonstrating how many and which demons a plague can give rise to in the minds of men. On the other hand,we have to say that several histories of esoteric taste also circulated on Attila. Even though he was brave and cruel in battle, probably he was a simple and superstitious man – even according to the historian Prisco of Panion: it seems that convinced that the death of Alarico, King of Visigoths, was closely related to the looting carried out in Rome in 410, had decided to stay away from the city for fear of doing the same.



More on Lugnano in Teverina


Con Roberto Montagnetti, alla scoperta della Necropoli di Poggio Gramignano, in www.orvietonews.it 


Villa Rustica di Poggio Gramignano a Lugnano in Teverina, in www.paesionline.it 

Antiquarium comunale di Lugnano in Teverina, in www.beniculturali.it 

Lugnano: la villa romana di Poggio Gramignano tornerà a rivelare i suoi segreti, in www.umbriaecultura.it 

Lugnano in Teverina: il borgo con l’archeologia nel DNA, din www.umbriaecultura.it 

Chi fermò Attila? Forse la malaria, din www.popsci.it 


Lugnano in Teverina, sorprendenti scoperti nella necropoli di Villa Gramignano, in www.umbriaindiretta.it 

Sorprendenti scoperte nella Necropoli di Lugnano in Teverina, in www.terniinrete.it 




In 1863 and 1865, Domenico Golini found the world-famous frescoed tombs that were named after him, in Orvieto’s territory, more precisely at Poggio del Roccolo di Settecamini, between Orvieto and Porano. It is a pair of monuments of exceptional artistic and documentary value that form a unicum in the territory they belong to (another painted tomb, which belonged to hescanas family, was discovered in the same area). For obvious reasons of safety and preservation, wall paintings were detached in 1950 and moved to the Orvieto National Archeological Museum where are now displayed in a space that has been designed to replicate the original tombs.

Tomba Golini I. Banchetto infero alla presenza di Ade e Persefone; restituzione grafica (da P. Bruschetti, Gli Etruschi a Orvieto. Collezioni e territorio, Città di Castello 2006, p. 69).

The Golini I tomb

The Golini I tomb, also called “dei Leinie” consists of a single, large quadrangular room with a tuff partition partition dividing it in two which, starting from the bottom wall, arrives at almost half of the sepulchral room. The fresco depicts a scene from a banquet in the underworld celebrating the dead man’s passage to the hereafter, where is welcomed by his ancestors with a feast. Very interesting is how architecture and painting merge using structural parts to separate materially and conceptually the illustrated scenes; the tuff partition, in fact, not only divides the area, but also separates the servile part from the main one; so the picture represents an essential ideological division and the two different stages of the feast: the scene from preparations and the scene from the real banquet.

Tomba Golini I. Servo con pestelli (da P. Bruschetti, Gli Etruschi a Orvieto. Collezioni e territorio, Città di Castello 2006)

The frescoes in the space on the left depict scenes from preparations for the banquet, showing servants and chefs who are preparing dishes and accompanied by an Etruscan flute player; very realistic is the picture of butchered carcasses hanging from hooks nailed to tables, as well as the scene of a slave who butchers meats. Another illustration depicts the other preliminary stages of the meal, as it shows the scene of the slave who is grinding foods, maybe spices, with pestles in a big three-feet bowl; there are also people who are lighting a fire or those who are preparing a long trapeza with tableware.

The frescoes in the space on the right depict the dead man who, on a chariot pulled by horses, with a winged genius (lasa), reaches the hereafter before Hades and Persephone; the underworld couple, seated on a litter, presides over the banquet attended by the ancestors and members of the Leine’s family, whom the tomb belongs to, whereas naked slaves prepare a magnificent tableware in an area lit up by high candelabras. Almost all characters represented in both the areas, as well as animals, are accompanied by inscriptions, a kind of captions aiming to recall the genealogy of the family members, the positions they occupied, but also the different roles played by slaves.

The Golini II tomb

The Golini II tomb or “delle due Bighe” (the tomb of the two chariots) consists of a single rectangular sepulchral chamber where stand out the illustrated scenes, unfortunately very damaged and sometimes illegible. The subject is very similar to that of the above-mentioned burial, the arrival of a pair of dead in the Hades where is taking place a banquet cheered by lituus and trumpet players.

Tomba Golini I. Inserviente che prepara pietanze (da P. Bruschetti, Gli Etruschi a Orvieto. Collezioni e territorio, Città di Castello 2006)

The main characters are depicted on the sides of the entrance door; the man on the left arrives on a chariot drawn by two horses, behind him the wall is painted with a procession of six characters going towards two klinai, where there are two couples of banqueters who are identified by inscriptions as members of cnezus family. To the right of the door there is another chariot led by a charioteer, whereas the wall shows three klinai similar to the previous ones; the characters depicted are identified by inscriptions as members of the Vercnas family. The frescoes that adorned the bottom wall are now badly deteriorated, except for few fragments concerning figures of warriors.

A Pictorial School

Both the monuments date back to the second half of the IV Century B.C. and show a consistency of conception that points out the existence of a studio or a local pictorial school which, most likely, stopped working after the destruction of the city in 264 B.C.

In conclusion, it is worth stressing that the above-mentioned tombs not only are a valuable and rare historical and artistic evidence of the Etruscan Volsinii painting in the late classical and Hellenistic age, but also they have an important documentary value due to the photographs of the daily aspects and of the customs that characterized the aristocracy life of the time. They also represent one of the latest signs of the figurative theme of the symposium in the Hereafter where the living and the dead feast together; then the subject of grave painting will be replaced with a new concept of tomb which becomes a three-dimensional representation of the Underworld where all the family members buried there take part in an eternal banquet.


More on Orvieto



-F. Boitani, M. Cataldi, M. Pasquinucci, Le città etrusche, Milano 1973.
-M. Cristofani, Etruschi. Cultura e società, Novara 1978.
-M. Cristofani, Dizionario della civiltà etrusca, Firenze 1985.
-P. Bruschetti, Gli Etruschi a Orvieto. Collezioni e territorio, Città di Castello 2006.
-Camporeale, Gli Etruschi. Storia e civiltà, Torino 2000.
-A. E. Feruglio, Porano. Gli Etruschi, Perugia 1995.
-M. Torelli, Storia degli Etruschi, Bari 1981.
-Torelli 1985 M. Torelli, L’arte degli Etruschi, Bari 1985.
-M. Torelli, “Limina Averni”. Realtà e rappresentazione nella pittura tarquiniese arcaica, in M. Torelli, Il rango, il rito e l’immagine. Alle origini della rappresentazione storica romana, Milano 1997, 122-151.
-M. Torelli (ed.), Gli Etruschi, Milano 2000.