The Site of Gabii

The ancient Latin city of Gabii is situated 18 km (11.2 miles) to the east of Rome along the modern Via Prenestina. The ancient city perches on the slope of the Lago di Castiglione, an extinct volcanic crater that was a lake in ancient times, but was filled with earth in modern times. Gabii was a renowned city in Roman times, particularly during the Republican period, and is, in legendary terms, said to be the place where Rome’s mythical founder, Romulus, and his brother, Remus, were educated. During the Archaic period Rome and Gabii were at war with one another (Livy 1.53.4), a dispute in which Rome ultimately prevailed. A treaty was struck between the two cities and this treaty, consisting of a text written on the skin of a bullock stretched over a wooden shield, was displayed in a temple in Rome known as the Semo Sancus (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 4.58). In fact the relationship between Rome and Gabii was very important and there are various Gabine influences that can be identified in Roman culture.


Gabii’s position in central Italy

One of the aims of the Gabii Project is to better contextualize our understanding of this important ancient city and thus explore its relationships not just with Rome, but also with the archaeology of Central Italy. The ancient site of Gabii has been the subject of archaeological investigation of various sorts prior to the present day. In 1792 the Scottish antiquarian and painter Gavin Hamilton excavated an area at Gabii in order to recover nearly 40 statues that initially entered the collection of the Borghese family in Rome, but some of which subsequently ended up in the collection of the Louvre in Paris.  These statues included numerous famous portraits of members of the Imperial family, ranging from busts of Marcus Agrippa to portraits of the Severan emperors.  While some documentation of the location of Hamilton’s excavation was provided by Ennio Visconti (see drawing below, the exact location of Hamilton’s trenches remains unknown.


In the twentieth century the Spanish School at Rome conducted excavations on a podium temple believed to belong to the cult of Juno; this important work remains the most thorough campaign of archaeological fieldwork carried out in Gabii’s urban area. The ruins of the temple of Juno remain prominently visible at the site. Nearby the excavations of the Iron Age necropolis at Osteria dell’Osa revealed evidence from more than 600 burials dating to the end of the second / beginning of the first millennium BC. Thoroughly researched and published by Anna Maria Bietti-Sestieri, Osteria dell’Osa provides important evidence not only about social complexity and hierarchy in Iron Age Latium, but also about the interconnectedness of the area of Gabii with other parts of Italy, particularly South Etruria and Calabria, respectively. In more recent times fieldwork has been carried out by Massimo Osanna (Matera) and Marco Fabbri (Roma II), as well as by the local archaeological inspector of the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma, Dott. Stefano Musco.


View of Gabii on the rim of the crater of Castiglione


View of the Iuno temple and the urban area of Gabii