Exceptional hoard of Roman-Etruscan bronzes discovered at ancient Italian baths

Italian archaeologists have unearthed a trove of 24 remarkably well-preserved ancient bronze statues near a luxurious thermal bath in Tuscany. “It is a discovery that will rewrite history,” marvelled Jacopo Tabolli the lead excavator and professor at the Università di Stranieri di Siena.

In 2019 excavations began in a Roman-Etruscan sanctuary near the springs of the Great Bath of San Casciano, built around the third century BC. Revered for its healing benefits, the bath was frequently visited by the first Roman emperor Augustus (63 BC – AD 14). Archaeologists speculate that Christians in the fifth century BC sealed up the sanctuary with stones, inadvertently protecting the artefacts within from the mud and stream of the bathhouse.

The bronzes, some of which are preserved fully intact, were most likely made by local craftsmen as decorations for the bathhouse. Excavators found them partly submerged in sacred waters, indicating that they were thrown into the thermal waters as part of a ritual. “You give to the water because you hope that the water gives back to you,” suggested Tabolli.

Votive statues of Greco-Roman healing gods like Hygieia and Apollo were found in the hoard alongside countless figures of young men, elderly matrons, emperors, and anatomical parts. Five of the statues measure around a metre tall. Some 5,000 bronze, silver and gold coins were also recovered from the flooded site.

It is the greatest store of statues from ancient Italy,” Tabolli announced. “And is the only one whose context we can wholly reconstruct.

500 years before the arrival of the Roman Republic, the Etruscan civilisation flourished in the central regions of Italy, including Tuscany and Umbria. The sanctuary demonstrates that Romans and Etruscans could coexist in harmony despite the series of wars fought between the two civilisations between the eight and third century BC.

Massimo Osanna, the director-general of Italy’s museums, believes the trove is the most important find since 1972 when archaeologists uncovered the Riace bronzes, two life-size statues of naked bearded warriors cast between 460-450 BC. “It is certainly one of the most significant discoveries of bronzes ever produced in the history of the ancient Mediterranean,” Osanna explained.

Excavation efforts at San Casciano will resume spring next year once restoration of the artefacts has begun. Officials plans to display the bronzes locally whilst the ancient baths are developed into an archaeological park.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s