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main index   © Jeff Matthews   entry Oct 2015               

1. Teanum Sidicinum (Teano)        2. The Savone River


The modern town of Teano is in the province of Caserta, 47 kilometers (30 mi) north of Naples. The town is at the southeast foot of the extinct Roccamonfina volcano (image, above), looking east over the Campanian plain (top center, on map, left). (That volcano is the oldest volcanic complex in the Campania region of Italy. It roared to life 630,000 years ago, before we were a species, and ended only about 50,000 years ago, when we were around to watch. It shaped the geology of the entire northern and northwestern side of Campania. There is a separate entry on the Roccamonfina National Park here.)

Teano has had some interesting recent history. It was the place where where Garibaldi and King Victor Emanuel met and shook hands in 1861 to seal the future of the new Italy, and, thus, is one of the school field-trip capitals of Italy! Also, the area borders on the Liri valley, called "Death Valley" by soldiers of the Allied armies advancing on the German defenses at Monte Cassino in 1943.
We focus here on ancient history. Teano sits on the site of ancient Roman Teanum Sidicinum, a Roman remake of the main city of a people known as the Sidicini. The Sidicini were one of the many Italic tribes that existed in central Italy, more or less independently, before the rise of Rome. Ethnically, these tribes, both in the  east (on the Adriatic) and west (on the Tyrrhenean) were all Indo-European peoples that filtered into Italy in the second millennium BC as part of Indo-European expansion in Italy. Such peoples have umbrella names, such as the Latins (or Latians, thus modern 'Lazio' for the name of the Italian region), the Oscans, the Umbrians, etc. The Sidicini were a subgroup of the Oscans, just as the Romans were a subgroup of the Latins. (Exception: the Etruscans, late arrivals, were not Indo-European.)

The year 500 BC was a historical watershed for the Italian peninsula. That was the year the Etruscans lost their hold on Rome and other Latin towns. At the time, the Latins were composed of about 15 separate towns (one of which was Rome) and were confined to a 100-km (60 mile) sliver of land along the Tyrrhenean coast. The rise of Rome is remarkable. Between 500 and 350 BC, it made treaties with other Latin communities and then dominated them in a so-called Latin league and began to tackle encroaching Oscan tribes, including their most formidable enemies, the Samnites, an Oscan tribe of very tough customers. At that same time in Italy, there were also a number of city-states of Magna Grecia further south, still strong (but never united), such as Cuma, Paestum, Elia (Velia), etc. The Samnites (an offshoot Oscan subgroup) were the single strongest tribe in central Italy.
This map shows political geography after 400 BC since it shows Rome already in the gulf of Naples, sharing it with the Samnites. That was after the first Samnite War, the mid-300s. The original Latin League from 500 BC, mentioned above, only went about halfway down that left-side orange strip. Tiny indeed. The red is what is left of the Etruscans, still extending down, but fading fast. The bright green shows some of the territory of cities of Magna Grecia. The other right-side orange folks in the SE are irrelevant for this discussion.


By the 400s the Sidicini had settled into the hills adjacent to Latia in the Roccamonfina mountains. They are mentioned by Strabo in his Geography (written approximately at the beginning of the Christian era) as an “extinct Oscan people”. They had actually helped set off the important first Samnite War, the first great expansionist move by the Romans. The Sidicini had felt encroached upon by tribes from Campania and called upon the Romans for help. The Romans went to war against the Samnites in a series of struggles that would last until 100 BC, during which time the Romans also won their wars against Carthage. The Sidicini came under Roman domination by 300 BC and the Sidicini city became Teanum Sidicinum. As part of Rome, Teanum Sidicinum was in a position of some strategic importance. Strabo speaks of it as the most important town on the Via Latina and as a town with the right to coin its own money (there are extant example in museums). During the later wars against Hannibal and during the Roman “Social wars" in 100 BC, when it could have turned against Rome (as did Capua when it had sided with Hannibal), Teanum Sidicinum did not. It remained faithful to Rome and, as such, never suffered subsequent retribution.

There are significant ruins of Roman Teanum Sidicinum, including the theater (image, right) (built in the 2nd century BC, and rebuilt in the 2nd century AD). It was once one of the greatest in Italy, 85 meters in diameter, supported by massive, vaulted substructures and possibly the oldest Roman theater built entirely of masonry. Teanum Sidicinum, at its height, was one of the largest and most important cities in Campania (an area, remember, that included Pompeii, Naples, Puteoli (Pozzuoli), etc. Statues have been found and some Roman dwellings. Teano is still the site of ongoing archaeological research. Recent research has found Roman necropoli in the area as well as the ruins of Roman country villas.

There are some fragments of the architecture of the pre-Roman city of the Sidicini in what is left of megalithic defensive walls typically called "Cyclopean" because of their size. They are long-attested in Italy and remain a major feature of first-millennium-BC construction. They are scant in the immediate area of Teano but evident as you move farther north and inland in Lazio. Also, pre-Roman Necropoli with funerary items, including jewelry have been found. Beyond the immediate area the are ruins of pre-Roman shrines. There is a very good Archaeological Museum of Teanum Sidicinum in Teano at Piazza Umberto I, 29 (tel. 0823/657302; 0823/658442).


2. The Savone River – Foundries, Mills and Bandits

The Roccamonfina volcanic complex has always been known for its tumbling streams and waterfalls. Most of them flow down to the valleys and then into the Volturno river in the south or the Garigliano in the north and then on to the sea. There is an exception, however. The largest of these watercourses that come down the slopes of Roccamonfina is the Savone; it starts up at 600-650 meters near the town of Roccamonfina, itself, not far from the extinct crater, and picks up a number of tributaries on the way down and, at least in years gone by, snow melt. It turns toward the sea well before it might feed the Volturno and flows directly into the Tyrrhennean at the town of Mondragone. The river is 48 km/30 miles, from source to sea. In Roman times the area at the base of the mountains through which both the Volturno and Savone flowed to the sea was called ager Falernus, known for Falerno wine even back then. Once you crossed the Volturno, you were in ager Campanus.

Over the centuries the Savone has cut and worn its own route down the limestone slope of the volcano, forming deep channels and brilliant waterfalls. These watercourses create their own micro-climates, where luxuriant plant-life sprouts and flourishes—ideal habitats for birds, small mammals, insects and fish.

The Savone, also known as the Saone, was known in ancient time to the Sidicini and Aurunci populations of the area. They were pre-Roman Oscan visitors from areas to the east (marked as Umbrians and Samnites on the map, above in part 1). As noted, they have left traces of their culture, but here is where they ran into the Romans. They should have stayed home.

Inhabitants of these mountain slopes have always been wise enough use the resources so readily available, primarily fish—there are still trout in these waters. And in the Middle Ages a number of iron works were built along the river to take advantage of the powerful flow of the river. Damns were built to channel water into long basins to hold water and dole it out upon demand to the mills and increase their efficiency. Thus, the river became an active part of local economies. Near Teano, there was a  working iron foundry on the Savone even before 1500; others are from the 1600s and 1700s. One was still running in the 1960s!

          Early industry along the Savone
You can say that a good part of the economy of the area developed along the banks of the Savone, from poor subsistence grain economy that lived from the turning of the millstones to that which historians now term “proto-industry”, represented by the foundries of Teano (image, left). These days, these are now what we show off as “industrial archaology” bound to the developing steel industry of the Mezzogiono (southern Italy).

The Savone, all the depths and winding gorges, was not just an economic resource, but a safe haven for those sought by the law. Indeed, shortly after the unification of Italy (1860), Roccamonfina was used by bandits as refuge where entire bands could hole up, protected by the rough terrain and helped by local sympathizers. Bear in mind that, although there really were genuine bandits, that term was also post-unification shorthand for southerners who violently continued to resist national unity. They hid in the hills. (See this link.) Hunted by the national army as well as local law enforcement, bandits could dig or find shelters along the river in the most inaccessible places, hide-outs with multiple ways both in and out or even with tunnels that led to different levels. They used their shelters along the river not just to get back and forth without having to come out of hiding and run into ambushes, but even to hold prisoners while they waited for ransom to be paid.

Hike it? As noted, the Savone is 48 km long, so I don't think you want to do the whole river. You might find Teano, though. Have a look at the neat archaeological museum. Ask about hikes along the river. The main road running from Teano up to Roccamonfina is SP(strada provinciale)-111. It runs along the river much of the way, and there are wooded trails that lead in. (The waterfall image, above, is at a point along SP-111 only about 3 km up from Teano). Perhaps easier said than done, though. Maybe ask a bandit.

photos: Roccamonfina volcano, Marco Ceci; second map, Wikipedia;
Roman theater, Paese News; waterfall, Antonio Manno; factory ruin,
Le ferriere borboniche di Teano (Livio TV).

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