Sepino - La città romana
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The town of Sepino lies on the plain at the foot of the Matese, facing towards the Tammaro Valley. The name itself probably derives from saepire = "to fence in" indicating the ancient walled sheepfolds connected to transhumant migrations of livestock, an activity which later continued as the forum pecuarium.
The Roman town was preceded by a fortified Samnite town, situated on the mountain behind, in the locality of Terravecchia. Livy commented on the Roman siege of the site in 293 B.C. during the third Samnite War. At some point later, the settlement, from which the Roman town was to originate, developed on the plain where the routes which were to become the town’s main roads (the decumaus maximus and the cardus maximus) met: the Pescasseroli-Candela drove-road and the route leading down from the Matese to the hills of the Tammaro plain. The area was first fully developed during the 2nd century B.C. and reached its height during the Augustan age: it was at this time that the town’s most important structures (from the forum to the basilica, the macellum to the baths, etc.) were constructed or restored. The urban centre continued to flourish until at least the 4th/5th century A.D. when, perhaps as a result of the earthquake in 346 A.D. that affected Samnium and Campania, new construction work was carried out. However, this period was followed by a severe economic and demographic crisis, made worse by the ravages of the Greek-Gothic wars (535-553 A.D.). The depth of this crisis is indicated by the fact that the town’s most important buildings were either abandoned or collapsed, by the reduction in size of the inhabited area, by the fact that the forum’s basalt paving was covered with earth and the use of areas around its edges for burials.
In 667 A.D. the Lombard dukes of Benevento transferred the control of the plain to a Bulgarian colony, while the monks from the Benedictine monastery of S. Sofia of Benevento started an agricultural revival which lasted until the middle of the 9th century A.D. In this period, when the territory was under the threat of Saracen incursions, the population relocated to the peaks surrounding the plain. It was then that the population of Roman Sepino moved to Castellum Sepini, the site of present day Sepino in the mountains. The situation in the area remained unchanged until the arrival of the Normans in the first half of the 11th century A.D. when the territory of Sepino, along with that of Campobasso, became one of the baronial estates of the County of Molise.
The town walls, built in opus (quasi) reticulatum, using limestone from the Matese, are 1270 m in length and enclose a quadrangular area of almost 12 hectares. Four monumental gates and two postern gates open in the walls, which also present a symmetrical arrangement of circular towers and two octagonal towers located at the most exposed points of the circuit.
The four monumental gates open in alignment with the town’s main roads: Porta Tammaro (along the north-east stretch of the town walls leads to the plain watered by the river Tammaro), Porta Boiano (in the north-west section of the wall, leading to Boiano, Porta Benevento (on the south-east side of the walls, in the direction of Benevento) and Porta Terravecchia (in the south-west section of the town walls, facing towards the Matese mountains). They were conceived as triumphal arches, with a single arch, internal courtyard for security and were fitted with double inner doors. The gates are flanked by two round towers.
The theatre, dating to the first half of the 1st century A.D., is built in opus caementicium and is characterised by its horseshoe-shaped orchestra. The auditorium is divided horizontally into three parts, and vertically into several sectors by ramps of stairs. These stairs provided for the entrance and exit of the spectators. The theatre was crowned by a circular sacellum (small cult building) of which a few curvilinear blocks are still in situ. The entrance and exit of the spectators was facilitated by a postern gate that opened in the town walls, allowing visitors to enter directly into the theatre from outside the town, thus guaranteeing that the crowd could move in safety.
The “arena-pool-portico” complex was planned at the same time as the theatre and comprised a central space which was used for exercises and gladiatorial games, at the centre of which was a swimming pool; a U-shaped portico that provided shelter for the theatre audience during the intervals or in the event of bad weather and a garden which was, in the late imperial period, embellished with a fountain made from reused building materials.
The basilica has a rectangular plan with an internal peristyle of twenty columns, all smooth trunked and topped by Ionic capitals and supporting an upper level. The building has three entrances, linked to the road system, the main one incorporating a rectangular fountain. The hall communicates internally with an apse that is preceded by the “tribunal columnatum”, the tribune used by local magistrates. The basilica was built during the last years of the 1st century B.C. and was restored and modified a number of times until, at the end of the 4th/5th century A.D. it probably became a Christian cult structure, with the addition of the apse and the two symmetric rooms in the side hall.
The macellum or indoor market had an entrance raised above street level, to which it was linked via a pedestrian walkway, and had a threshold formed by a small paved area. This structure has a trapezoidal plan and a hexagonal central hall, paved with irregular limestone tesserae. The rectangular or trapezoidal spaces arranged around the sides are shops. At the centre of the stands a hexagonal basin built in the 1st century A.D. at the behest of M. Annius Phoebus, a member of the sacred order of the Augustales.
The forum, dating to the Augustan period, has a trapezoidal plan and is paved with basalt. At its centre, inscribed on the pavement and positioned so as to be read from the cardus, is an inscription naming the magistrates who paid for the paving. Numerous honorary monuments must have stood in the forum, of which four bases in the south-eastern corner, a group of materials collected around its edges and numerous traces on the basalt paving along the east and south sides, are all that remain.
An important building, dated to the beginning of the 2nd century A.D., is located on the south-western side of the forum. An arch stood in front of this building, of which the bases of the piers have survived in situ, bearing an inscription to L. Neratius Priscus who financed this entire construction. This building is followed by a series of structures of Augustan date, municipal buildings, sacellae or guild premises and a square fountain. Along the north-eastern side of the forum stand theComitium, a building with a trapezoidal plan fronted by a porch of pillars and the rectangular curia. Next there is a temple with podium, dated to the beginning of the 1st century and possibly dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus. It is divided into two rooms, which were accessed via a ramp. The square building fronted by a colonnade was most probably used to house the imperial cult in the 3rd to 4th century A.D.
Finally, bath complex opened onto the forum, of which a large internal hall with rooms to the sides, an open area onto which a portico opened, and a series of other square and rectangular rooms, have been identified.
The fountain of the Griffin, dated to between the 2nd century B.C. and the 4th century A.D., is decorated with a relief a griffin shown in profile, squatting on its hind legs.