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main index © Jeff Matthews entry June 2011
The Ancient Unknown City of Amina/Picentia
The Picentine mountains are just above the northern part of the plain that extends along the coast of the Gulf of Salerno from the city of Salerno, itself, down to Paestum and the beginning of the Cilento region. The Picentino river starts SE of Salerno, about 25 km inland at Mt. Accéllica (1660 meters/5500 feet) and flows down into the Tyrrhenian Sea at a point just south of Salerno. Quite near the coast, the river passes through the town of Pontecagnano Faiano or, simply, Pontecagnano, a town that sits on the site of one of most obscure large towns of antiquity in Italy: the Etruscan city of Amina (renamed 'Picentia' by the Romans). (It is marked in the graphic, below, as the southernmost "other Etruscan city.")
Etruscans, as you may read
here, were one of the great peoples who
inhabited the central part of the Italian peninsula
between the Arno and Tiber rivers for many centuries
beginning around the year 1100 BC. Indeed, there were
Etruscan kings of Rome until the founding of the Roman
republic in 509 BC. Etruria was a loose confederation
of city-states rather than a single state or empire.
The cultural influence of the Etruscans, however, was
enormous throughout the peninsula, for they were the
ones who came into contact with the immigrant Greeks
of Magna Grecia, adopted the Greek alphabet and passed
it on to the Romans (and probably to the invading
Celts in 400 BC, that alphabet being the source of
Celtic runes, according to some.)
The Etruscans are maddeningly enigmatic to us because, of the thousands of Etruscan inscriptions found in Italy, almost all are short funerary notes—names of the interred. So we can pronounce the names because we know the alphabet, but there isn't enough text of substance to tell us anything more than that the language—and thus the people—are not Indo-European. We know that they called themselves "Rasna." (We still await the discovery of some Etruscan writers, if not a Homer, then any graphomaniac historian or spinner of tales will do—anything but a bunch of names on tombs. What a waste of an alphabet!)
[See also: The Etruscan Language]
knowledge of the people, however, has come from
studying the Etruscan necropoli in Italy. The sites
from the seventh century (the 600s BC are rich,
indeed; the burial sites may contain chariots, ivory,
bronze, amber and gold ornaments. We have also found
sanctuaries and temples with images of Greek gods. All
of that plus written accounts about the Etruscans by
Greek and Roman writers has provided a picture of a
culture based on extended family units with internal
hierarchies based on age with particular deference to
the eldest couple, the patriarch and matriarch.
Pontecagnano is well south of the major towns of Etruria of central Italy and is apparently the largest major Etruscan outpost in the south. Archaeology since the 1960s at Pontecagnano shows the area first to have been inhabited by an earlier neolithic people, generally grouped with other Italic peoples of that era and region as part of what is called the Gaudo culture.*
The archaeological record since then is an overlay of various cultures of the first millennium BC from the Etruscans to the Romans. Some of the episodes of "cross-cultural" contact were anything but peaceful: invading Samnites (the great enemies of the Romans) took the city in the fifth century, and the Romans eventually razed it in the third and built their own "Picentia" on the ruins of Amina. The Etruscans were at a high point in Pontecagnano around the year 600 BC and shortly thereafter, at which time the town co-existed with the cities of Magna Grecia such as Poseidonia (Paestum), Velia, Pithecusa (Ischia) and Cuma and was a major crossroad of merchandise, ideas and peoples from all over the Mediterranean: Greeks, Phoenecians, Etruscans and others. The city started to decline around 550 BC. Like other Italic peoples, the Etruscans of Amina chose unwisely in later struggles against Roman hegemony. They sided, for example, with Hannibal in the Second Punic War.
The National Archaeological Museum of the Agro Picentino
So far, archaeologists have found about 9,000 tombs in the area. Many of the artifacts—pottery, jewely, etc.—may be viewed at The National Archaeological Museum of the Agro Picentino (Picentine Plain) and at the Archaeology Park of Pontecagnano. The museum is divided into six sections, running from Prehistoric (3500-2300BC) to the age of the Romans (3rd century BC to 5th century AD). At its height, the town of Picentia, as in Etruria, proper, seems to have been a society in which political and economic power was in the hands of an aristocracy, dominated by powerful princes who lived a luxurious life-style. The museum has a breath-taking display of one the oldest aristocratic tombs yet found in Campania. It is of a princess, accompanied in death by a vast array of jewelry and other symbols of rank. Such tombs reflect a certain social model in which Etruscan women enjoyed greater prestige and power than their Greek or Roman counterparts.
The in situ
Archaeology Park in Pontecagnano covers 85
hectares/210 acres. Much of the work has thus far
concentrated on Roman Pictentia, but the entire area
is the object of intense archaeology, and time will
reveal much more.
Paola and Gianni Bailo Modesti. "Pontecagnano (SA)
- Between The City and the Sanctuary: The
Excavations along the Motorway's SA/RC Extension"
Archeologia (CISA), no. 0 [sic], pp.
6-21, pub. by the Orientale University of Naples,
Larissa. "Etruscans" in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology.
Oxford U. Press, ed. by Brian M. Fagan, 1996.