Naples:life,death &
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© Jeff Matthews    entry June 2013
Minturno — Roadside Antiquity


The Roman macellum (market) of Minturnae   
Museums were invented to bring antiquity to you —if not to your door, at least to a very large building that you can get to easily. Italy, of course, is full of those. The National Archaeological Museum of Naples is so big that I get weary before I even get to sub-basement VI, corridor 12 —and that's still in the cloak room. (No one wears cloaks anymore, so they just packed it with more marble). Fortunately, Italy is also one of those places where there is so much antiquity outdoors that they can just leave it there and sooner or later you will bump into it. It's delightful to drive nowhere in particular and run into the marvelous little Roman hick town of Saepinum, or the Samnite amphitheater at Pietrabbondante (to cite two examples of many such places in Italy, bits of ancient Italy just lying by the roadside waiting for you to wander by). Of course, they are not unknown sites; most of them are now kept up by national and local guardians of culture because they want tourism. That's fine. (There are also a vast number of small-town indoor museums in the nation. Basically, they put a roof over some stuff and call it a museum. Two rooms, maybe three; Roccagloriosa is a recent favorite of mine. That's fine, too.)

Back outside, if you head north from Naples and hug the old coast road, the via Domiziana, you will start finding these outdoor displays as you make your way up towards Gaeta. Some of them were very important in the Roman age of Empire, but some of them played a role before that. These are the centuries of Rome's battles with rival Italic peoples such as the Samnites and then the Punic wars (Rome's struggle with Carthage). Call it the years from 350 BC to 50 BC, when Julius Caesar walked in and said, "We can stop this bickering now. I'm here."

The Roman theater at Minturnae            
As you move out of Naples proper, you pass by local outdoor museums such as the Flavian amphitheater in Pozzuoli, and then the Roman baths at Baia. Pass Cuma and move up onto the coast and you're at Lago Patria and Liternum, the home of Scipio Africanus. A short distance later, you cross into Latina, the southernmost province of the Italian region of Lazio, the capital of which is Rome. You are now in somewhat of an unexpected trove of ancient sites, most prominent of which is probably Minturno, although the folks at  nearby Sperlonga might say, "Uh, wait just a minute now...". (Actually, both Minturno and Sperlonga are near the National Archaeological Museum of the Region of Lazio, but as I have implied, you can skip that unless you really need the bathroom.) Briefly, then...

...The modern town of Minturno is about 50 km/30 miles north of Naples and 2 km inland and to the north-east of ancient Minturnae. The ancient town was directly on the north bank of the Garigliano river, on the Appian Way at the point where that road crossed the river by bridge. It was about a mile upstream from the mouth of the river. Coming from the south out of Naples, you pass through Mondragone and Baia Domizia, cross the Garigliano and branch left off of via Domiziana onto the Appian Way (SS7). That is where prominent ruins of ancient Minturnae (images on this page, for example) start. The term for what I have been calling "outdoor museums" throughout Italy is now "archaeological park." Many of them (such as Minturnae) are now well annotated by display boards.

Minturnae was one of the towns of an early Italic people, the Ausones (one of the "rivals" mentioned above), who warred against Rome. The Ausones were pre-Greek, and even pre-Etruscan; they were indeed an Indo-European (IE) tribe that entered Italy early in the second millennium BC as part of the IE expansion. They were closely related to another such early population, the Aurunci, with whom they formed part of a league called the Aurunci Federation. They resisted Rome in vain in the so-called Latin Wars (340-338 BC). Minturno became a colony of Rome in 296 BC. The Roman city of Minturnae was destroyed during the Longobard invasion of 600 AD. Refugees founded another city a short distance away, named Traetto. It, too, was sacked, this time by Saracen invaders in 883 AD. It later came under the protection of Gaeta and then the Abbey of Montecassino. It then passed from one feudal lord to another. In the Napoleonic invasion of Italy, it was again destroyed, this time around by French troops, for having aided the infamous bandit, Fra Diavolo. Traetto reassumed the ancient name of Minturno in 1879. It has given its name to the nearby Minturno War Cemetery, final resting place for about 2,000 Commonwealth soldiers who fell in the ferocious battles around Monte Cassino as the Allies advanced up the boot of Italy in 1944 in WWII.


photo credits: Susann98

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