4.3 The artefacts from S. Omobono published to date

Hilary W. Becker

The archaeological materials recovered from the excavations at S. Omobono have, like the site itself, experienced an uneven history since their discovery. Some materials, such as the Archaic architectural terracottas and imported vessels, have been published repeatedly and from different perspectives, whereas other material has never been published. Between these two extremes lies yet another category, as some of the ceramics have been published only in a cursory fashion and thus merit further study, especially in the interests of locating comparanda at other sites. It is clear that a great deal may still be learned from the material excavated during the course of various campaigns of fieldwork in the 20th century. The dual goals of understanding ceramic material in relation to their stratigraphic context, as well as revising ceramic typologies for the different classes of ceramics found at the site, provided a motivation for a systematic reinvestigation of the finds. The summary offered here will proceed chronologically through the different phases of excavations at the site, making sure to note any exceptional finds.


A.M. Colini directed the excavations in the sanctuary during the late 1930s. None of the material stemming from Colini's excavation that is still located in the storeroom at the site, which is underneath the eponymous church, includes any stratigraphic notation. Some of the best-known materials from S. Omobono were discovered during this first season, such as the terracotta statues of Athena and Hercules, as well as architectonic membra (painted tiles, palmette antefixes, volutes, and friezes) dating to the Archaic period (first published in Colini 1938b).

From the excavation led by Colini, Peroni published the Bronze Age material, Paribeni the imported Greek wares, and Colonna both the painted Etruscan wares and the impasto wares dated to the Early Iron Age; the first three are contained in Colini 1962, and the article on impasto wares is Colonna 1966. The article published by Colonna on impasto remains a fundamental resource for the study of impasto of the Orientalising period and includes clear profile drawings. The impasto studied for this article remains in the storeroom. Paribeni's study includes good descriptions, photographs, and pictures but no line drawings; the imported wares studied by Paribeni are no longer in the storeroom. Peroni's article also contains good line drawings and discussions. Gjerstad re-examined some of the material from this season in his volume Early Rome III (Gjerstad 1960, 437-56), providing a survey of objects organised by class. Gjerstad provides photographs but no line drawings.


Gjerstad led excavations in 1959 that were published in Italian in the Bollettino Comunale (1962) and in English in his own Early Rome III (1960). All of his finds are published with stratigraphic indicators, as he organises his discussion of materials according to stratigraphic sectors and then the strata within each. His stratigraphic focus resulted in less attention being paid to the individual classes of pottery and the establishment of typologies. Instead, he presents photographs of representative pottery from each stratum. However, the individual pieces are not drawn in profile nor were comparisons made with ceramics from other sites. In his English version, Gjerstad also mentions some finds from 1938. Gjerstad only provides a summary description of finds such as bucchero, Italo-Corinthian ware, Greek wares, and architectonic members. In this discussion, his priority is to provide a sampling of this material in order to provide a chronological range of artefacts (Gjerstad 1960, 379). It should be noted that Peroni and Pallottino critiqued Gjerstad's chronology soon after the publication of these materials in their own treatment (Peroni 1962;l Pallottino 1965). Another feature unique to Gjerstad is his use of the term 'coarse ware'; or 'ceramica grossolana', which describes a grittier, Early Iron Age impasto, especially used for dolia. Virgili published a re-examination of Gjerstad's material in the Bullettino Comunale in 1985. This treatment is more synthetic, regrouping the materials according to object class and providing section drawings for the more diagnostic pieces.

1961-1962, 1962-1964

L. Mercando led the excavations of 1961-1962 and published the finds in the Bollettino Comunale (1966). Her report organises the finds according to designated excavation areas and describes the classes of material found within each area. Each piece is given a brief description and measurement; photos of a few of the most diagnostic pieces accompany these descriptions but there is no discussion of the typology of ceramic classes. There are multiple section drawings for the materials (mostly black gloss and coarse wares). The material stemming from the excavations in 1962-1964 remains unpublished.

Ioppolo published the bones from the excavations of 1962-1964 (settori II and IV; Ioppolo 1972). The study begins by discussing animal bones in context, but then offers a broader summary of animal bones divided by species rather than by locus. This discussion is followed by an appendix by Cassoli that provides a detailed list of the bones of each species and precisely what has survived (Cassoli 1972).


In 1974 and 1976, excavations were again conducted by Colini in Settore I, a Roman taberna, dating from the 2nd century CE up until the early part of the 4th century CE. The excavators recognised this shop during excavation as being a pigment shop. Colini et al. (1978) published this material according to stratigraphic layer, seeking to give an impression of the different types of material classes present in each layer in order to provide broad chronological anchors. The second half of the article is dedicated to a typological treatment of finds from these seasons, for example looking at bucchero as a class and then discussing the various forms found. The discussion of forms is quite valuable and makes good references to other parallels. Pictures are provided of some vases, but individual examples are not discussed and profiles are not provided. The section on varied sigillate wares (e.g. ITS, ITA a-d, etc.) makes good references to parallels in Hayes (1972) but this is again only a general, typological overview. There is a short osteological and botanical summary appended to the end of the stratigraphic discussion, which confirms the osteological observations made by Ioppolo 1971-1972 and also reports the various botanical remains (seeds, charred wood remains etc.) noted in samples (Colini et al. 1978, 428). A more complete discussion of these subjects was reserved for a later publication (Constantini and Constantini Biasini published the botanical remains 9in Pisani Sartorio et al. 1989, 61-64), while A. Tagliacozzo published the osteological remains (in Pisani Sartorio et al. 1989, 65-69)).

Pictures of some of the most diagnostic material, as well as special items of interest (e.g. amber beads, worked ivory, bone, and bronze) are also provided in Colini et al. (1978). This same publication also provides a chemical analysis for most of the pigments uncovered in strata 1-5 of sector 1, as well as a brief, typological study of the lamps found in this sector.

1977-1979, 1981

The excavations of 1977-1979 only received a preliminary five-page publication. While key stratigraphic information is relayed, the report only briefly mentions the different classes of ceramics uncovered. Notably, the ivory tessera hospitalis was found during this season; further mention of it can be found below. Some of the most diagnostic and intact pieces found from 1978-1980 were published in the catalogue Enea nel Lazio (1981, 125-49); these materials include imported wares, bucchero, miniature vessels, lamps, hammered bronze figurines, etc. To date, the majority of artefacts found in the excavations from 1977 to 1981 have not been published.


The excavations from the early Christian church that lies directly beneath the modern church of S. Omobono were conducted by A. Ramieri and published in two articles (Ramieri 2005a; 2005b). The 2005a publication presents a typological overview of ceramic classes found at the site, including Archaic Maiolica. Many profile drawings are presented to augment the discussion of different forms. Ramieri also gives pictures and discussion for the many sculpted architectural Roman membra found within this early church, and also gives a full report of Roman inscriptions and brick stamps (N.B. as with most of the bricks on site, they date to the Hadrianic period). A handful of Roman coins discovered in the church, as well as two objects of worked bone, are also reported. More pictures of the Maiolica, inscriptions, and architectural membra can be found in Ramieri 2005b. It should be noted that to date the pottery dating before the medieval period (as well as other materials, such as glass) has not been published.

Archaic architectural terracottas and other special finds

A great quantity of the Archaic architectural terracottas found at S. Omobono, including the famous acroterial statues of Hercules and Minerva, as well as the processional frieze, painted tiles, heraldic animals, and architectonic volutes were found during the initial work carried out in 1937-1938 (Colini 1938b, 281). As with all of the material from this first phase of excavation, no stratigraphic information was recorded; however, Colonna does comment upon the general find spot of these materials based on unpublished reports (Colonna 1991, 54). In the intervening decades these architectural terracottas have been well published, both as part of excavation reports and as museum exhibitions. The most complete discussion of these objects can be found in Mura Sommella (1977a, 1977b), which provides photos and line drawings of these membra. (See section 4.2 for a discussion of the chronological debates that have developed over these architectural terracottas, especially in so far as they may inform the dating of one or both of the Archaic temple phases.) A possible join with a piece in a Danish museum has recently been suggested (Mura Sommella 2011).

Many of the remarkable finds from S. Omobono appear in excavation reports from their corresponding excavation season(s). Two exhibition catalogues, La Grande Roma dei Tarquini (Cristofani 1990a) and Enea nel Lazio (1981), each devote a full chapter to S. Omobono. Both of these chapters treat the architectural terracottas but the latter publication also deals with some of the more well-preserved imported wares; these are discussed and illustrated, along with other notable pieces such as the ivory tessera hospitalis, votive implements (miniature vessels, small hammered bronze figurines), loom weights, and ivories. Additionally, Talamo has also published a brief article featuring a small, ivory figurine and three made of bone found at S. Omobono (1985).


Most of the inscriptions found at S. Omobono, both monumental and instrumenta domestica, have been published to date. Inscriptions such as the Etruscan inscription uqnus and the inscribed tessera hospitalis on an ivory lion plaque have been published in conference proceedings (e.g. Enea 1981).

The inscribed ivory lion plaque, used as a tessera hospitalis that bore an Etruscan inscription and an elite Etruscan name from Tarquinia (Spurianas), was discovered in the excavations of 1978-1979 (Pisani Sartorio and Virgili 1979, 45) and has appeared in subsequent conference proceedings (Pisani Sartorio et al. 1989, 58, Cristofani 1990a, 130 n. 1.6). An Etruscan inscription reading uqnus and inscribed on an impasto vessel was found in 1963 in a so-called 'sacrificial pit' and was first published by Torelli (1968, 75-76). This inscription was also discussed in a number of publications (Pisani Sartorio and Virgili 1979, 45; Virgili 1990, 129-30). These inscriptions have excited so much interest not simply because of their early date (late 7th-early 6th century BCE), but also because they provide evidence of Etruscan contact with Rome and corroborate ideas of an Etruscan Rome during the 6th century BCE for some scholars.

An early Latin inscription reading ouduios, found on a body sherd of bucchero pottery, was discovered in 1963 and was interpreted by Mario Torelli as an onomastic inscription (Torelli 1968, 75-76, fig. 2). The monumental inscription of M. Fulvius Flaccus, commemorating his conquest of Volsinii was first published by Degrassi (1963-1964) but then reinterpreted by Torelli in 1968. Sommella (1968) published a number of mason's marks inscribed on some of the Monteverde tufo blocks. It should be noted that many inscriptions of the Roman period were found reused within the early church (Ramieri 2005a; 2005b). These inscriptions were well photographed and discussed, with ample comparanda provided. Other inscriptions found on site over the years are not collated in any comprehensive article or publication; instead individual inscriptions are typically mentioned in the typological discussion of a certain class of ceramics. A notable exception is Virgili's re-publication of material from Gjerstad's excavation in 1959, wherein three inscriptions as well as many brick stamps (the latter are all listed with CIL numbers) are presented. The exhibition catalogue Il viver quotidiano in Roma arcaica (Pisani Sartorio et al. 1989) devotes two pages to inscriptions (57-58).


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