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LOVERE – The Roman cemetery in Via Martinoli

LOVERE - The Roman cemetery in Via Martinoli

Lovere occupies a strategic position in the Bergamo hinterland: situated at the start of Valle Camonica and at the junction of roads to Bergamo and Brescia, a link between the Oglio and Lake Iseo, it is also connected via the river to the Po Plain. 

In prehistoric times Lovere belonged to the territory of the Camunni, whose origins remain uncertain. In 16 BC they were subjugated following the decision of Augustus to consolidate the northern margins of the Roman Empire by means of a military campaign conducted by the consul Publius Silius Nerva against the Raetians.

After the Roman conquest the Camunni were kept in a condition of semi-subjection through the  practice of adtributio, which allowed them to maintain their own tribal organization, while the principal city in the zone (in this case Brixia) became the administrative, judicial and fiscal centre. They later acquired Roman citizenship and in Flavian times were assimilated to the Quirina tribe, although they maintained a certain administrative independence – as indicated by the mention in several inscriptions of the  Res Publica Camunnorum.

The process of Romanization began in Civitas Camunnorum (Cividate Camuno), a town founded by the Romans in about AD 23, and already in the first century the Camunni were well integrated with the political and social structures of the Roman world.

It is likely that the settlement in Lovere grew up in an area corresponding to the modern town centre, although there is currently little confirmatory archaeological evidence. It was probably a small village, typical of the sparse settlement of the huge expanse of Valle Camonica with scattered rural homesteads and small hamlets.

Thanks to the discovery in Via Martinoli of numerous burials that range in date from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD, we know that the settlement lasted until at least the 4th century and that the inhabitants progressively acquired the trappings of Roman culture. 

The grave goods present in the Lovere tombs suggest that most of the population belonged to a middling social rank, although the few cases of luxury objects demonstrate the existence of a smaller, wealthier class.

The first burials were found in 1818-1819 – two inhumations in brick/tile tombs, of which one contained bones and grave goods – in the same area where further discoveries were made in 1847, when an improvised excavation was conducted after a water main burst in front of Palazzo Bazzini, behind the Santa Chiara convent. Large-scale urban building work in 1907 – the construction of a new hospital and the Lovere–Cividate railway line –  involved lowering and widening the road, which brought to light numerous tombs containing many objects. In April 1929 further discoveries were made during re-laying of the square in front of the hospital. In 1957, after the  subsidence of the retaining wall erected in 1907-1908 and raised several years later, work was conducted to terrace the up-slope side of the new parish sports ground, leading to the discovery of archaeological deposits and the excavation of several tombs. On 20th August 1973, when the retaining wall was demolished for the construction of a garage in front of the Santa Maria church façade, fragments of brick and human bone were noticed, and subsequently 31 burials were excavated. In 1996 an emergency excavation was carried out after the southern part of the football pitch retaining wall collapsed. In summer 2013 test pits were dug in order to assess the situation and plan a systematic excavation, which was conducted between January and May 2015.

 

La necropoli era situata lungo l’antico tracciato viario che in uscita dal centro abitato conduceva verso la Val Camonica. La suddivisione e la gestione degli spazi interni era affidata a recinti funerari in muratura distribuiti lungo il fronte stradale; ne sono stati individuati in tutto sei con dimensioni variabili dai 41 mq ai 145 mq.

Sono state rinvenute complessivamente 140 tombe, di cui 91 inumazioni e 48 incinerazioni; un’ulteriore inumazione è stata rinvenuta all’esterno dei recinti, lungo un muro conservato in fondazione che correva perpendicolare all’andamento dei recinti, verso monte.

The cemetery was situated beside the ancient road that led from the village centre towards Valle Camonica. It was divided into internal funerary enclosures by means of walls placed along the street frontage; in all six of these have been found, with areas ranging from 41 to 145 m2.

A total of 140 tombs have been unearthed, 91 inhumations and 48 cremations; a further inhumation burial was present outside of the enclosures, near a wall surviving in foundation that ran up-slope, perpendicular to the enclosure walls. Most of the burials are in simple grave cuts; cremations in brick/tile structures are quite frequent, generally box-shaped, while some inhumations have tombs in brick, or brick and stone.  

Many objects were found during the course of the excavations, the study of which has thrown light on ancient Lovere’s trade and cultural influences – bearing in mind of course that burial practices may present a distorted picture of reality due to the effects of funerary ideology. 

Most of the material belongs to the Roman cultural tradition; the most common class is pottery. The fine tableware, plates and bowls in terra sigillata, thin-walled ware beakers and cups are of common types with numerous parallels in north Italy. The common-ware vessels are mostly jars and pots, while glazed jugs and small amphorae – especially those with pointed ‘shoulders’ on the handles – are present: these forms closely resemble those found elsewhere in eastern Lombardy. The numerous lamps – also made of pottery and used for lighting – are typically Roman. 

Certain terracotta items, such as lamps, terra sigillata vases and bricks/tiles, have a stamp indicating the workshop of manufacture or the maker’s trademark. These indicate the existence of well-developed centres of production that supplied extensive markets, and help us to understand the nature of commercial exchange.  

On the other hand the Lovere-type mug or Henkendellenbecher – in semi-fine ware with a distinctive depression beneath the handle – was of Raetic tradition but continued to be produced in Roman times.

 

There are also numerous metal objects: nails, fibulae (brooches), buckles, knives, sickles and other implements used for work, tweezers – and also unusual items such as bronze dice, perfectly preserved. There are distinctive “snake-head” brooches, with three stamped circles that resemble a stylized serpent’s head on the curved  brooch body, whereas bracelets may feature the same design or a more realistic snake’s head. Many such bracelets have been found in Lovere, and are widespread around Lake Iseo, along the road leading from Valle Camonica to the Po Plain, in addition to in the Alps in general and southern Bavaria. Typical of Valle Camonica are a particular hook-like metal tool, and a kind of silver brooch with the arched body perforated and divided into three strips, decorated with granulation (tiny metal globules).

With regard to glassware, there are numerous phials used for unguents and perfumes, characteristic  grave goods of the early Empire, as well as flasks, bottles, bowls, drinking vessels and decorative objects – largely glass or glass-paste necklace beads of various colours and shapes, such as light-blue, grooved melon beads. The items of personal decoration show the full adoption of Roman customs and include necklaces, rings – many in silver with settings for stones – and earrings.

The high quality grave goods from two tombs found in 1907 are evidence of the presence of inhabitants of upper-middle social rank. One burial, of 3rd century AD date, contained valuable silverware, the owner of which – to judge from the letters SC, SCP and SCIP scratched on luxury bronze artefacts – was called Scipio,. The collection included a “fisherman’s cup” with embossed and engraved decoration showing a fishing scene and marine motifs. The second tomb featured refined jewellery ranging in date from the imperial to late Roman periods: gold and silver rings set with stones and engraved gems, and a necklace composed of sixteen gold filigree beads interspaced with five irregular beads and four emeralds.

 

Chiara Ficini, Archaeologist

Emiliano Garatti, Archaeologist