New Research Ascoli Satriano



The site and its cultural context

Ascoli Satriano is a municipality in Apulia, about 30km south of the present provincial capital Foggia. In ancient times, the site was known as Asculum or Ausculum. The settlement occupies one of the last southeastern foothills of the Apennines in this region; to the east the land slopes down to the North Apulian plain, which extends to the Adriatic Sea to the west and south. In Classical antiquity, the site is known from written sources mainly as one of the locations of Rome's conflicts with the Molossian king, Pyrrhus of Epirus. The exact location of the battle is not entirely clear, but it was probably in the area of the meandering Carapelle River on the plain. These battles, at the beginning of the 3rd century BC, ended victoriously but with heavy losses for the latter, leading to the popular expression "Pyrrhic victory".


Map of Daunia


However, the area of Ascoli Satriano was already a settlement site of regional and supra-regional importance well before these events. While few prehistoric findings are known so far, from the Iron Age onwards, especially from the 7th BC, a not inconsiderable presence of ancient Italic peoples can be documented archaeologically in the form of settlement traces, but especially in the form of graves. These inhabitants of what is now northern Apulia are referred to in Greek and Roman written sources as "Daunians", who, according to one of the (certainly late) traditions, are said to be descended from the mythical king Daunos, who is said to have ruled here at the time of the Trojan War.

The archaeological finds from the settlement area of "Daunian" northern Apulia show some particularly characteristic types of finds. One is the so-called "Daunian" stelae, made in the Archaic period (7th-5th century BC): rectangular stone slabs in abstract anthropomorphic form, depicting human figures with rich costumes and armaments or jewellery. They form a unique testimony to indigenous iconography and demonstrate the high cultural and artistic status of the inhabitants of this relatively unexplored region. The ceramic products of the area also bear witness to the high level of technical and craft skills as well as to the special 'taste' of its inhabitants. They are distinguished by characteristic regional vessels types, such as the olla (large bulbous storage vessel), attingitoio (shallow bowl with a high, partly sculptured handle) and askos (bag-shaped pouring vessel with one or two spouts), which differ in their design from other surrounding ceramic traditions. The vessels, fired from light-coloured clay, are covered with fine dark brown, and from the 7th/6th century BC also bi-chrome (red and dark brown), geometric patterns. Simple geometric bird(?) figures are also characteristic and frequent for this ceramic style. With some stylistic variations (in the 4th century BC, for example, horizontal floral bands became a popular decoration, largely displacing the geometric patterns), the production of regional pottery continued until the 3rd/2nd century BC - longer than for any other southern Italian region, where Italic pottery was displaced or replaced by Greek-style pottery much earlier.


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This traditionalism may be due to the fact that there were no Greek settlements (apoikia or so-called 'colonies') on the Adriatic coast of Apulia, as has been documented elsewhere in southern Italy and Sicily since the 8th century BC. It is precisely this regional autonomy that makes northern Apulia a particularly interesting field of research - a region that was only indirectly exposed to Greek influence from the 7th century onwards, but certainly had knowledge of and relations with the newcomers of the city states in the Ionian Gulf (e.g. Taranto, Metaponto) and also selectively integrated their material goods (e.g. pottery) into its own living environment. From the late 4th and 3rd centuries BC, the region was the scene of conflict between the western Greek coastal cities, the northern Greek (Epirotic-Macedonian) kings allied with them and their armies, and the rising power of Rome, which extended its sphere of influence to the entire Italian peninsula.

Especially from the 4th century BC onwards, somewhat later than in the areas close to the Greek foundations, Greek-style pottery was also produced in northern Apulia and integrated into indigenous life and especially funeral culture to a much greater extent than before. Workshops in places like nearby Canosa and also in Ascoli Satriano itself now produce vases richly decorated with figures in the red-figure style, which are deposited in the tombs of the local elite and demonstrate their penchant for conspicuous funeral rites.




The most impressive testimony to the local funerary luxury of the 4th/3rd century BC, however, is an ensemble of monumental stone objects from a tomb in the Ascoli area that had unfortunately been looted by grave robbers and therefore could not be located with certainty; it appeared on the international art market in 1985, but has meanwhile been returned. On these marble objects (some vases, a basin and above all a table foot in the shape of two griffins attacking a hind), numerous traces of painting are extraordinarily well preserved, giving witness to the colourfulness of ancient objects, most of which did not survive into the present day.




In scientific researches of these different cultural influences and tensions, consideration of the Italic population of the area has been long out of focus in favour of the protagonists (Greeks and Romans), who are also much better known from the ancient written sources. Therefore, apart from the aforementioned material legacies and handicraft products, rather little is known about the ancient indigenous inhabitants of northern Apulia; their way of life and economy, their religious beliefs and their social organisation are still largely in the dark, which makes the study of them all the more fruitful.

The older Innsbruck research

Research at Ascoli Satriano by Innsbruck concentrates on the pre-Roman settlement traces at the site. It began in 1997 and was led by Dr Astrid Larcher until 2015. The investigations in the years up to 2002 concentrated on the so-called Colle Serpente - one of the hills on which the present-day village area is located and which has also been home to an archaeological park since 1995. Here, together with Italian colleagues, grave and settlement remains from the 6th to 4th centuries BC were uncovered (for more information, see this link to the old homepage/web presence of investigations until 2015).



From 1999 onwards, additional investigations were started in the Giarnera Piccola. This area, which has become conspicuous due to the high number of finds and their wide distribution, is located about 1 km west of Colle Serpente on a slope below the hilltops. In particular, the high proportion of early find material, which had come to light during agricultural work, gave rise to the archaeological investigation. Although preparatory geophysical investigations had already revealed numerous traces of partly systematic excavation activity in addition to the ancient features, the sections opened in this area still contained a large number and density of undisturbed layers from the period between the 8th and 4th centuries BC. Such structures are also known from other North Apulian-Daunian settlements, but their significance has not yet been clearly recorded. In Giarnera Piccola, for example, they lead to chamber tombs of the 4th century BC (unfortunately often heavily disturbed by robbery), which are certainly to be associated with members of the local elite. One, for example, contained the mortal remains of four individuals, accompanied by rich grave goods, including banquet dishes. In addition, the tomb complex seems to have included smaller buildings above ground. However, the entire complex was already ritually abandoned towards the end of the 4th century BC, as evidenced, for example, by the careful removal of individual paving sections and the covering of other associated areas with bricks.



1 Giarnera Piccola - 2 Colle Serpente - 3 Valle Castagna - 4 Cimitero Vecchio

The new project


The aim of the new project, which has been continuing the investigations since 2016, is the detailed recording and evaluation in particular of the architectural remains in the area of the Giarnera Piccola and their relationship to the often directly related burial finds. This applies to the brick pavements of the 4th century BC, but especially to the earlier burials of the Archaic period (6th/5th century BC) which were laid out in and under smaller post-built huts and can possibly be regarded as a direct funerary-cultic precursor to the pebble pavements associated with larger graves and stone buildings. In Ascoli Satriano, the large number of such features, their repeated occurrence in the direct vicinity and the favourable situation of preservation offer a unique opportunity to investigate this connection between graves and architecture in more detail. Detailed stratigraphic investigations should clarify the chronological relationship between graves and building structures, and investigations of the find contexts and the grave goods should provide solid information about the construction of the post and stone structures (which has so far only been unsatisfactorily clarified in the South Italian indigenous area) as well as about the social role of the buried themselves and their position in the community burying them. The close connection between the grave and the (possibly only symbolic) "dwelling place" could also provide further information about the world of ideas, including religious concepts, of this indigenous community. (For more details see the here).


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