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Brindisi and the Bronzes                                 


The heel of the Italian boot is in the Italian region of Puglia (Apulia). By geographical name the heel is called Salento and is very close to what lies across the Adriatic—the Balkans and Greece. At some points the distance is only about 80 km (50 miles). It is no wonder that when the ancient Greeks came calling at the beginning (about 600 BC) of their impressive cultural expansion that gave us Magna Graecia, they found the area occupied—it was that easy to get to. In this case the coastal regions of the heel were in the hands of an early people called the Messapians, also an Indo-European people that had sailed or rowed to Italy much earlier from across the Adriatic.

The Messapians were a loosely knit confederation with a major town at Brindisi, one of the best natural harbors in Italy. The say that the name comes from Brunda, meaning (in Messapian), “the Head of a Deer”, inspired by the shape of the harbor. I don't see it, but I don't speak Messapian. For a few centuries the resident Messapians and new-comer Greeks had trade relationships and also a few wars, but sooner or later that no longer mattered since the Romans took it all over in 267 BC. They lengthened their Appian Way to Brindisium, built temples, baths, an amphitheater, a mint and an aqueduct. Cicero was a frequent visitor and in 19 BC, Rome's epic poet, Virgil, died there. We can let the rest of history pass as irrelevant to the title of this entry. (OK, just one more. Brindisi was the capital of Italy for a few months in late 1943 and early '44—that is, after Italy surrendered to the Allies in WWII and before the Allies finally drove the Germans from Rome.)

These days, Brindisi has one of those fine medium-sized museums that you find throughout Italy. They are more satisfying than the tiny museums that have a single specialty display, and they won't grind you down like the huge museums (such as the National Museum in Naples). Besides, since the medium museums have a tighter focus, you will find detail in them that you won't find in larger facilities. It is the "F. Ribezzo" Provincial Archaeological Museum and it provides visitors with six sections devoted to culture and history of the area: epigraphy, sculpture, the antiquarium, prehistoric, coins, and the showcase item—the Bronzes of Punta del Serrone (now also called the Bronzes of Brindisi). The museum is named for Francesco Ribezzo, a great scholar and student of the Messapian culture. It is an absolutely well-ordered and finely detailed series of displays.

Bronzes” refers to the statues and other items discovered on the sea-bed two miles from the port in 1992. There were about 200 pieces; they are now on display in the museum (image, above).
A lab was set up on the premises of the museum to treat the items; some of the restoration was done in Florence. Among the most interesting are:

- two male busts, to human scale, from the age of the First Roman Empire;
- two bearded heads resembling philosophers, also from the Roman Empire;
- the fragmented head of a man thought to be Emperor Caracalla;
- two female heads of fine workmanship and that of a young girl;

It certainly isn't the first time that the Italian seas have yielded ancient treasures (think of the Riace Bronzes) and it won't be the last. As with most such finds, it isn't certain how the objects wound up at the bottom of the sea. They might have been jettisoned in a storm (no ship was found near the items); some historians say the items may have been held to be of inferior quality and were being shipped to the foundry in Brindisi to be melted down and recycled. But no one really knows.


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