Day 31 - Aesernia
October 15th, 2007
Radha Kulkarni and Josh Turnbull.
Today began (bright and early as usual) with a potential bus crisis. Bracci, our faithful, friendly bus company had decided to leave us in the middle of Central Italy with no means of transport. Thankfully, our stern instructor and our Italian liaison, Alessia, had everything solved before we could even sit in our seats—there was much rejoicing. We said so long to Hotel Sayonara (ironic, don’t ya think?) and headed into the heart of modern Isernia, ancient Aesernia, to find the local archeological museum. En route we passed a very museum-looking building and stumbled upon an amazing find—an Italian and classics library complete with mahogany tables and enormous leather tomes. It would give Rauner Library a run for its money! The librarians were gracious hosts and allowed us to roam a bit—we could have all stayed there all day—but time constraints forced us to move on
Just around the corner we found the Isernia museum, one of the small regional collections that has not been harvested and crammed into a large exhibit like the Vatican. Unfortunately, these small museums do not allow picture taking, forgive us their absence. Here, we were able to see the clear Romanization of the area that was made into a Roman colony as early as 264 BCE. The museum, also a Paleolithic museum containing (to Lily Dahn’s [and Andriu’s] delight) an entire floor of dinosaur bones, housed mainly epigraphic material and the remains of funerary markers. Unfortunately, we were only given an hour or so in the museum because of our long periods of travel throughout the day, so onward we went.
Our next stop was the ancient town of Saepinum, which was captured and established as a colony in the 290s BCE. The site of Saepinum had burial remains dating all the way back to the early Iron Age. Later finds indicated the influence of the Etruscans, Abruzzi, and Campanians. Not to be outdone by other sites, and because no site would be complete without its share of Greek pottery – they found Greek drinking cups here as well. In terms of the Roman colony, Saepinum introduced to us a perplexing problem: how to investigate archeological remains without being fooled by restorations. To tackle this predicament, we broke into five groups to find and study the basilica, the curia, the capitolium, the theater and the city walls. More easily said than done, some of these sites so clearly identified on a modern site plan simply do not exist. The group designated to find the curia had absolutely no remains excluding a completely rebuilt series of walls. Despite their agitation, this exercise allowed the students as a whole to realize that some of these so called site plans we study and use religiously in our text books are simply educated (and sometimes poorly educated) guesses. Lily Dahn and Briar gave an excellent explanation of the city walls, second only to Michael Poppler’s entertaining show in the Roman Theater.
After another strenuous drive, this time with our new driver Alberto, we arrived at Beneventum. Although it had been a long day, the students and professor had no trouble mustering the required enthusiasm for the Arch of Trajan, dating to the second century CE. The arch was breathtaking in its half Ionic, half Corinthian splendor. We were privileged to have Professors Ulrich and Stewart lecture on the monument. They pointed out the mixing of elites and non elites, cities personified as women, children with parents, Trajan and Hercules, and Trajan receiving military recruits with Mars Ultor watching. We all agreed that it was a great way to end the day and after the requisite coffee and gelato break headed on to the bus for the ride to Capua.