1. Introduction

Giovanni Caruso

The archaeological site of S. Omobono has been considered to be of crucial significance for the archaeology of 1st millennium BCE Rome since its initial discovery. It is located in an extremely important area of the city, its river harbour (also known as the Forum Boarium). In this part of the ancient centre, the early levels are comparatively less well known than in other parts of the city, such as the Palatine or the Capitoline. While the Forum Boarium preserves some exceptional examples of ancient temple architecture, its history before the 2nd century BCE is poorly understood and has been the subject of a very active debate.

The site has been repeatedly investigated, beginning in the 1930s, but no thorough and detailed scientific study of it has ever been carried out and published. The reasons are to be found in the complexity of the historical and archaeological implications of the evidence, in the organisational difficulties that were encountered during fieldwork, and, of course, in the scarcity of funding available for a site that was competing for attention in a research context in which resources are strictly prioritised in terms of the historical prominence and touristic potential of a site

A new research endeavour, the S. Omobono Project, promoted since 2009 by the Sovraintendenza ai Beni Culturali di Roma Capitale (the office of the city government that has responsibility for its entire heritage), together with the Universities of Calabria and Michigan, is designed to re-study the existing evidence, carry out new fieldwork and make the site accessible and understandable to the public again. To this effect, an official agreement that defines the planned work and the relevant operational procedures (convenzione) was stipulated between the city of Rome and the two universities. This form of collaboration allows a more flexible response in the field to the complex challenges posed by the site. Thanks to a considerable financial commitment on the part of the Universities of Calabria and Michigan, work has also begun on the maintenance and conservation aspects, which are necessary to the investigation and comprehension of the site.

An agreement of this kind involves an equal sharing of responsibilities among the institutional partners, without hierarchical differences. Exclusively for reasons of historical continuity (and with the general agreement of the partners), it was decided that the city of Rome would be the holder of the excavation permit, given that all the previous archaeological investigations had been promoted by its Sovraintendenza ai Beni Culturali.

The present article aims at illustrating the new research project and assessing synthetically the vast amount of published and especially unpublished evidence, which is currently being re-studied and reorganised. The discovery of S. Omobono is analysed in the context of the extensive demolition that took place around it between the early 1900s and World War II, providing the first comprehensive overview of the whole area extending from the Capitoline slope to the church of S. Maria in Cosmedin. The next section reviews all the fieldwork that was carried out at the site before the beginning of the new project, from the pre-war excavations of A.M. Colini to those of L. Mercando and E. Gjerstad in the 1950s and 1960s, and to those of the Sovraintendenza ai Beni Culturali, which lasted into the 1990s and 2000s. For many of the excavation trenches, it has been possible to integrate preliminarily the published evidence with the archival one, while for others this extremely painstaking work is still ongoing. A review of the published literature on S. Omobono, which is not all easily accessible, is included in the article. Later sections briefly report on the ongoing work in the archives and in the storerooms where the vast amount of artefacts found at the site are kept. Finally the perspectives for new fieldwork at the site are discussed.


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