Bk 1 xxxvi 8-9 De schematibus (cont)

“The woods of Anguitia wept..”

as well they might, now, for Lake Fucinus. It is gone.

what was once its bed is now  ‘Borgo Ottomila.’ During the medieval centuries the lake lay in the fiefdom of the d’Avalos; it passed to the Colonna family before (eventually) being owned by Prince Alessandro Torlonia who during the 1850s decided to drain it.

The Marsic cult of Anguitia is now associated with Luco dei Marsi. The following account from a modern source: 

Medea Anguitis – from a Lucanian red-figure . 450-400 BC.

 The chief temple and grove of the goddess Angitia stood at the southwest corner of Lake Fucinus, near the inlet to the emissarius of Claudius … and the village of Luco dei Marsi.  She (or they, for the name is in the plural in the Latin inscription next cited) was widely worshipped in the central highlands as a goddess of healing, especially skilled to cure serpent bites by charms and the herbs of the Marsian woods, which was carried out by local inhabitants until modern times. Their country was considered by Rome to be the home of witchcraft.

see: ‘Serpari of Cocullo


The designation ‘Lucus’ implies a sacred grove,  lucus being one of four terms having the general sense of a ‘forest, woodland or grove’.  The other three are nemus, silva and saltusSilva denoted a natural forest; nemus the unconsecrated arboretum and the saltus as a rule an area in which one might become bewildered – one which was disordered, untamed, unpredictable and uncultivated.  Lucus was used to indicate a specifically religious use. Thus Servius defines it as “a large number of trees having religious significance”.

On the ’emissarius’ of Claudius, the following bibliographic references are offered at a web site dedicated to Roman aqueducts

  •       Lake Fucinus. uco dei Marsi – ANGITIAE LUCUS (incl.siphon) *giovannoni 1935; *eaa 1958; *blake 1959 p82;  *hodge 1983,1992 p.154,428; *meire 1998;  *talbert 2000; deRosa 2008.

Scientific destruction and Commercial Profit

The Lake’s destruction was deliberate, undertaken at the instigation of a member of the nobility who was affected by the same dual passion for ‘modern science’ and commercial profit as affected most of western Europe at the time. The idea which inspired Prince Torlonia seems to have been imagined a new Imperial ideal, within himself in the role of the Emperor Claudius, under whose reign the Lake had earlier been tampered with to take water to Rome. But in addition to this was the prospect of creating a very large number of new agricultural plots whose rent would enrich Prince Torlonia as owner.  

It did not take long for the disastrous effects on health, ecology and local standards of living to become apparent. And once again, matters seem able to advance chiefly because associated with someone deemed a prince.  As early as 1885-6, the council documents of l’Aquila refer to the great number of complaints “about the hygienic and economic conditions of Marsica, consequent on the drainage of Lake Fucino ” and finally:  “Considering that the total drying of the lake caused such climatic changes to seriously undermine the general interests of a large population of Marsica; [the Council swears] to the Royal Government that its contract obliges Prince Torlonia to restore part of Lake Fucino, in the amount that will be deemed necessary, so that in the future the general interests of those populations that are currently seriously compromised will not remain unbearable.”

Until the late nineteenth century Lake Fucinus (Lago Fucino) had been the peninsula’s third largest lake and one marking its mid-point almost exactly.  The lake was a great mountain tarn, elevated two thousand feet and more above sea-level (c.635 meters). Its ‘glassy waves’ were a result of there being no natural outlets from it, and so no movement save those resulting from swelling rains and the action of the moon.

A Drowned Site and Lost Relics.

It was well known that below the Lake’s waters was at least one submerged ancient site, but in another curious expression of contemporary attitudes, the comprehensive article ‘Fucinus Lacus’ in Smith’s Dictionary of Ancient and Classical geography arbitrarily dismisses the knowledge of local inhabitants. The following paragraphs from an otherwise faultless article: 

As noted above, the Claudian emissus was on the southern shore and near Trasacco, while the cult-site is now identified with Luco dei Marsi.   It may have been here that Prince Torlonia’s workers found a bronze plaque. The event is said to have occurred in 1877 as the draining continued despite the public outcry and formal objections raised during the previous two years. 

This plaque was inscribed in an early Italic script; it was appropriated for Prince Torlonia’s private collection (termed a ‘Museum’) but within a few years its whereabouts were unknown.  This, by the way, is less probably the result of theft or stupidity than of simple ignorance.  At the time it was not known that a great many materials, after long immersion, will distintegrate on being left to dry in air.  Dissolved minerals, as they dry, start to crystalise and this expansion effectively ‘explodes’ the artefact from within. In the case of metals, this rapid process is added to simple oxidation in the surface layer.

Fortunately the object had been photographed by Bernabei (found, alternatively as ‘Barnabei’) and when the original artefact could no longer be found in 1894, that photograph was available for Conway and others attempting a transcription and/or translation of the ‘Marsic tablet’.  In the event, the photograph was not of sufficient clarity to allow any consensus of opinion by the specialists, though it is agreed that it was an early Italic script and that the dialect appears to show some evidence of being related to Oscan. The sources agree that the publication by Bernabei/Barnabei is in one of two works published in 1894. More than this I’ve been unable to discover.

  • Robert Seymour Conway, The Italic Dialects 2 vols. (1897).   ‘Inscriptions of Lucus Angitiae‘ in Vol.1 pp.293ff.  (Vol. 2 is also available at the internet archive).
  • Conway refers to ‘Barnabei’ but relevant publications in Italian ( e.g. material relating to Tarrasco) have  ‘F. Bernabi’.  See e.g. the citation and bibliographic entry in
  •  Jonathan R. W. Prag and Josephine Crawley Quinn (eds.),  The Hellenistic West: Rethinking the Ancient Mediterranean (2013) Also helpful isthis illustrated article.

Subsequently, in 1949, permissions for excavation of sites in the region – particularly Alba Fucens – were assigned to Belgium which began excavations  in 1950 under the direction of Joseph Mertens. His reports and following archive materials are available fr study on written request.

  • Mertens Archive (Alba Fucens)‘, Academia Belgica (website). Additional related matter in Serena Cosentino, Vincenzo D’Ercole & Gianfranco Mieli (2001) ‘L’utilizzo delle grotte del Fucino nella protostoria’, in  Grossi et al. (eds),  Il Fucino e le aree limitrofe nell’antichità. Atti del II convegno di archeologia in ricordo di Antonio Maria Radmilli e Giuliano Cremonesi. Museo di Preistoria, Celano – Paludi 26/28 novembre 1999, Avezzano,  Archeoclub d’Italia – Sezione della Marsica. 2001, pp.133-168. 

  • Composite: detail from the Medea Sarcophagus. (140-1450 AD). Now in Berlin’s Altes Museum, or ‘Pergamon Museum’.The sarcophagus is among the items sketched by William Turner in 1819 during visits to  the Vatican’s Museo Pio-ClementinoHis sketchbook is now in the Tate. Accession No. D15201 (Turner Bequest CLXXX 49 a).
  • band – detail from the Amanthus Sarcophagus. Archaic Cyprus. Met. Museum Cesnola collection 74.51.2453.



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