Towards a Phenomenology of Samnite Fortified Centres

By Bispham, E. H.; Bradley, G. J. et al. | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Towards a Phenomenology of Samnite Fortified Centres


Bispham, E. H., Bradley, G. J., Hawthorne, J. W. J., Kane, S., Antiquity


The Sangro Valley Project was established in 1994 by John Lloyd, Neil Christie and Amalia Faustoferri. Its aim was to study anthropogenic change in society, economy and settlement between the Bronze Age and the Middle Ages, within the context of a Mediterranean river valley system (see Lloyd et al. 1997; Lloyd & Faustoferri 1998). Part of this research has integrated field survey between the Sangro river and Monte Pallano with excavations conducted by the Soprintendenza on the mountain itself. Monte Pallano is best known for its fine megalithic walls (Oakely 1995: 84-7), marking a putative oppidum site. Recent Italian excavations (with Anglo-American support) have aimed at clarifying the situation at a substantial public building/villa complex on the mountain. This work has been fruitful in its initial phases; much, however, remains to be done.

One outstanding question is `where were the Samnites?' One answer, based on survey data, is that most of them lived in `village' or `proto-urban' sites which ring the lower slopes of Monte Pallano. What then of the `defensive' walls higher up? Perhaps we need to deconstruct their role as `fortifications'. While taking digital images for a virtual reconstruction of the Sangro valley, a team visited Guilmi, at 660 m dominating the Sinello valley opposite Monte Pallano. From here, the view of the Pallano ridge is spectacular (see FIGURE 1). The walls, visible to the naked eye, clearly stand at a point on the ridge where the natural protection afforded by the cliffs on this side is interrupted.

[FIGURE 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Two inter-related readings of this view of the mountain are possible:

1 the display of this substantial feat of engineering is a symbol of power and aspiration on the part of the builders;

2 from the distance of Guilmi it is not immediately easy to distinguish cliff from wall on Monte Pallano: the line between nature and manufacture has been blurred. Monte Pallano as seen from the Sinello not only dominates the landscape, but is a manipulation of that landscape.

Monte Pallano's walls are also visible from Montenerodomo (near Iuvanum above the Aventino valley), where Oakley has identified remains of megalithic walls consistent with a fortified oppidum (1995: 80-81). All this suggests that Monte Pallano's walls were meant to be seen from a distance by other Samnite centres. …

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