The Romans were highly skilled engineers and builders. They designed and built a system of roads (the most important of which were called Consular roads) so well constructed that many still exist and are traveled upon more than two thousand years later. Strategically, perhaps the most important of these roads was the Via Appia (Appian Way) which ran in a southeasterly direction from Rome to Brindisi. Another major road was the Via Salaria (Salt Road) which ran in a northeasterly direction from Rome to Porto d'Ascoli at the mouth of the Truentum (Tronto) river where the Abruzzo and Marche regions meet. The Sabine tribes of northern Abruzzo used this road to carry salt from the mouth of the Tiber river back to their homeland. About twenty miles east of Rome branching off the Via Salaria is the Via Cecilia. This road travels in a more easterly direction passing over the Gran Sasso before arriving at Montorio al Vomano, Interamnia (Teramo) and Giulianova. Valle San Giovanni sits midway between Montorio al Vomano and Teramo and it was here that a milestone marker of the Via Cecilia was discovered in the early 1990's.
In the early 1990's a milestone marker was discovered in Valle San Giovanni on Via della Vecchia Fontana (Street of the Old Fountain). The marker was originally transported to Teramo and later placed in the archeological museum of Chieti. It is not on display and remains largely hidden from public view. In recent years the residents of Valle San Giovanni have begun the task of petitioning the relevant authorities for permission to have the marker returned to the province of Teramo, perhaps to Valle San Giovanni itself where the marker rightfully belongs. The information below provides details about this exciting discovery as it first appeared in the local press.
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PHOTO: Vincenzo Torrieri from the Archeological Superintendent's Office and Giovanni Di Marco from the Association Ghandi during the excavation of Milestone 114 located on the "strada vecchia" (old road) in Valle San Giovanni. (Photo Di Marco)
PHOTO: Teramo. The milestone of Valle San Giovanni on deposit in the Sant'Anna archaeological compound.
Roads and Commerce of Today and Yesterday
Discovery in Valle San Giovanni of a milestone marker on the "Via del Batino"
by Giammario Sgattoni
In Italy, especially in the years following the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), states the archaeologist Ferdinando Castagnoli, director of the Istituto di Topografia Antica dell'Universita' di Roma (Topographical Institute of the University of Rome) in his book published in 1970 "La Strada Romana in Italia" (The Roman Road in Italy), "...the characteristic of the roads is essentially commercial. The road network is a primary factor with regard to the history of commerce..., and it is not difficult to understand that the Roman era tribune C. Sempronio Gracco, the great proponent of democratic agrarian reforms, was also the author of a law, Lex Sempronio, regarding roadways. Hence, in this context it is not difficult to understand the widespread diffusion of milestone markers along these roads during Gracco's rule, that is from the years 133 to 121 AC."
The recent archaeological discovery of Milestone 114 in the area of Valle San Giovanni known as Cavonetto, highlights in a novel and unexpected manner the existence over the course of many centuries of trade routes connecting Rome with the Adriatic Sea. The main route was the Via Salaria (Salt Road) and its network of secondary byways. It served an important role in this capacity from the days of the early Roman Empire to the beginning of the 5th century AD. Unfortunately, and not by chance, these same roads laid open the Pretuzo (today's Abruzzo) region to the repeated invasions of Alaric's Visigoths. Milestone 114 further enriches the voluminous evidence concerning the topographical features of Pretuzo region and, more specifically, the countryside surrounding Interamnia (Latin for "between two rivers", today's Teramo).
PHOTO: Teramo 1961 In the Cona area near the Messato bridge were discovered traces of the "Via del Batino" with monumental burial tombs in horizontal alignment. In the foreground grave markers of CAETRANIUS DAMA and of SEXTUS HISTIMENNIUS.
Evidence of the area's rich patrimony comes from ancient milestones unearthed in Vallorina di Sant'Omero, Poggio Umbricchio, Monte Giove (located in the commune of Cermignano) and Castilenti. Also important in this regard are cippi (boundary stones) and monumental grave markers discovered along tracts of the Via Salaria near Atri and adjacent to the Via del Batino (that is the road along the Tordino river) in an area currently known as Cona on the outskirts of Teramo. The Teramo artifacts were unearthed in 1961 near the Ponte Messato (Messato Bridge) where today can be found an ARPA (Autolinee Regionali Pubbliche Abruzzesi, the Abruzzo public transportation authority previously referred to as the INT) city bus garage.
It is known that a Roman mile was made up of 1000 footsteps or paces, each 1.48 meters in length. The distance from Rome to Valle San Giovanni is approximately 168 kilometers. Thus, discovery of Milestone 114 at Valle San Giovanni is most plausible and attests to its having been placed there Roman era times.
Last October some workmen operating a backhoe were in the process of digging necessary utility line trenches needed for the new living quarters of Giuseppe Sabatini in Valle San Giovanni. It was in this exact location that they discovered Milestone 114 next to the house of Quintino Santarelli, an emigrant worker then in Switzerland. Also uncovered were traces of an ancient Roman road, most likely a section of the ancient Interamnium Vorsus cited by historical cartographers and other related specialists, that branched off the Via Salaria at Montorio al Vomano and snaked through the villages today known as San Lorenzo, San Mauro, Santa Maria di Brecciano/Villa Brozzi, and Case Matoni.
PHOTO: Rome. Milestone 104 which serves as a stand for a holy water basin in the parish church of Poggio Unbricchio. It is a rare testimonial of the Via Caecilla (Via Cecilia) marking the branch of the Via Salria which passed through the areas of Pretuzio (Abruzzo) and Hatrium (Atri).
The road then passed by the foot of the Colle Sant'Angelo (Sant'Angelo hills), cut through Valle San Giovanni (and the nearby locality of San Giovanni in Pergulis) before arriving at Interamnia (Teramo) and its final destination, Castrum Novum (Giulianova). The presence of Milestone 114 on the street leading from Valle San Giovanni's Fonte Vecchia to an area known as Castello, had been noted by Giovanni Marini 35 years previously. By fortune he had left the marker intact and unmoved thus leading to its rediscovery during the more recent restoration of the Santarelli residence. Credit for the recognition of the importance of the marker goes to Giovanni Di Marco, a member of the Associazione Ghandi (Ghandi Association) and the local archeological superintendent. They contacted two archeologists from Chieti, Drs. Glauco Angeletti and Vincenzo Torrieri, who examined the milestone's reliefs and conducted the necessary on-site scientific analyses. Afterward, the precious find was transported to the archeological holding site of Sant'Ana where it remains today (March, 1993). (NB: The milestone was later transferred to the Chieti archeological holdings site where it remains).
And so, just as today's Italian superhighway crosses the Apennines connecting the Tyrrhenian and the Adriatic seas, thus did the grand Via Salaria provide access across the Italian peninsula for many centuries in the era of the Roman empire. This attests to the importance of Teramo and its surrounding area as an important juncture in what was undoubtedly a thriving trade industry.
In truth, the Romans did nothing more than lay paving stones and widen, that is create the first real "roads", atop the network of trails, footpaths, and carriageways that existed since prehistoric times not only in Teramo but also in the adjacent Sabina nel Piceno (today's lower Marche) and the Sannio (an area of the south central Apennines) regions. These areas were rich in foods stocks such as meat and olive oil, lumber and other building materials, and household items such as leather goods that were needed the sustain ancient city of Rome.
Among the oldest of the Roman roads, it too likely constructed on the same route as a pre-existing trade route, is the Consolare Salaria (Consular Road Salaria) which from Rome cut through Reate (today's province of Rieti), passed Interocrium (Antrodoco) and Asculum (Ascoli Piceno), and followed the Truentum (Tronto River) on its way to the Port of Ascoli, Martinsicuro and Colonnella near the mouth of the Tronto River on the Adriatic shoreline.
PHOTO: Details of the milestone located in Poggio Umbricchio. The dedication is to Valentiniano, Valente, and Graziano, "pius, happy, stately, triumphant, and brought into this world for the public good" (Photo by P. De Angelis).
The Consolare Salaria turned to the south as it followed the Adriatic coast reaching Palma Picena (Tortoreto/Castrum Truentinum(?), Castrum Novum (Giulianova), Colonia (Cologna), and Mons Pagus (Montepagano). At this point the road arrived in Hatria where it met up with a tertiary route that had led to Mutinianium (Mutignano), Matrinum (likely today's port of Hatria) and Salinae (also known by the eloquent nickname Salinas) on the Saline river. Finally, the Via Salaria proceeded to the Pescara river at its mouth in Ostia Aterni (Aternum). It was here that it joined another consular road known as the Tiburtina-Claudia-Valeria. Additional historical evidence regarding the road comes from an area once occupied by the Franks in the commune of Martinsicuro, this being where the Via Salaria traveled along a path from Truentum to Hatria. These well preserved artifacts were discovered during the construction of the SS 16 (State Road 16) in the direction of Alba Adriatica.
Within the past hundred years, there has been a great deal of interest by historians concerning the Via Salaria. In 1893 Niccolo' Persichetti published in Rome Viaggio Archeologico sulla Via Salaria (Archeological Travel along the Via Salaria). Other interesting monographs followed including Via Caecilia 1898-1903 (Via Cecilia 1898-1903); Salaria nel Circondario di Ascoli Piceno, 1904 (Via Salaria in the Ascoli Piceno Area, 1904); and Circondarii di Roma e di Rieti (The Surroundings of Rome and Rieti) in 1910. In his works Professor Persichetti addressed the most important questions that had been raised concerning the Via Salaria itself, as well as those related to the somewhat less important Via Caecilia (Via Cecilia), the route which follows the Vomano Valley from Monte Giove to Atri. The Via Cecilia continues to be an important route in central Abruzzo notwithstanding the fact that travel from one side of the Gran Sasso to the other can now be accomplished via two great tunnels that have been constructed deep within the bowels of its majestic peaks.
But an old saying goes, "There is nothing new under the sun." And so arrives the homegrown archeologist of merit from Castelli, Felice Barnabei, who might well have become founder and Director General of Antiquities and the Fine Arts. Our own, Felice Barnabei who, in the year preceding the 1868 publication Giornale degli Scavi di Pompei (Journal of the Pompei Excavations) published his own striking and suggestive essay Relazione di un Viaggio Archeologico sulla Via Salaria, Lungo Corso del Vomano (An Account of an Archeological Expedition on the Via Salaria Following the Course of the Vomano River). It goes without saying that Professor Barabei's masterpiece preceded Professor Persicetti's observations by a good 25 years.
PHOTO: Teramo, "Il Ponte degli Impiccati" (Hangman's Bridge) on the tributary Vezzola. This Roman empire era bridge was once part of a route from Interamnia (Teramo) to Castrum Novum (Giulianova). At present it is almost completely covered by detritus.
Luigi Sorricchio, another illustrious scholar from Abruzzo who presents perhaps as bit overenthusiastic but by no means incorrect in his opus Hatri-Atri (published in Rome, 1911) speaks of the importance of Hatria (Atri) in Roman era times. He bases this conclusion on that fact that that all of the branches of the Via Salaria ended up in Hatria (today's Atri). These include the roads from Truentum (Tronto) and Castrum (Giulianova), from Beregra (present location unspecified) and Interamnia (Teramo), from Pinna (today's Penne), and finally another leading along the Saline river towards Ostia Aterni/Aternum (today's Pescara). This last road crossed the previously mentioned Via Clauda-Valeria before following yet another route to the capital, Rome. Thus did Rome completely dominate the middle Italy portion of the Adriatic seacoast - from the northern point of Truentum a Castrum (?Porto d'Ascoli at the mouth of the Tronto river) as far south as Hatria ad Aternum (Atria). It did this by colonizing the area, taking advantage of the available natural resources, reinforcing local trading centers, and building up the most useful seaports along the Adriatic sea (which in Roman times according to Tito Livio carried the name Hatriaticum). From the mid to later era of the Roman era, this area was an important byway of communication and contacts with the eastern portions of the Roman empire.
PHOTO: Sant'Omero. The milestone of Vallorina. Today located in the house of Dr. Luigi Tanzi. The photo comes from the study of Pasquale Rasicci from Corropoli.
PHOTO: Castilenti. Up until this 1940's this milestone could be found along the "strada vecchia" (Old Road) in a front of the small rural church, San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains).
This would explain the extensive construction and restorative efforts of these important roads during the reign of Valentiniano, Valente, and Graziano as documented on the nearly identical milestones discovered in Poggio Umbricchio and Castilenti and which now have been placed in the Fano museum near Pesaro.
In his works, professor Sorricchio often cites the German scholar Christian Hulsen. In 1896 it was Hulsen, coming after Professors Barnabei and Persichetti, who published in 1896 his seminal article L'iscrizione della Via Caecilia (Inscriptions from Via Cecilia) in the journal Notizie degli Scavi (Notices of the Excavations). In it he shed additional light on the importance of these roadways as links between these two bodies of water or, more specifically, between Rome and the Adriatic sea. Professor Hulsen based much of his thesis on the basis of an analysis of a large inscribed stone marker that by chance was discovered in Rome in 1873 (the marker had laid hidden in a medieval era wall beside Rome's finance ministry not far from the Piazza Termini and Via XX Settembre). Thanks to this discovery, in conjunction with the studies that had been completed by several researchers from Teramo including Giovan Bernardino Delfico, Pancrazio Palma and Professor Barnabei, the illustrious German archeologist Hulsen was able to consolidate and make more precise many aspects of Roman era presence with regard to the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga mountain areas. Corroboration of these findings has come only with the addition of more recent post WWII archeological discoveries. Professor Hulsen's basic tenets, as well as those of the earlier researchers still stand basically unchanged to the present day.
PHOTO: Teramo 1967. Junction of the Fiumicino. A large Augustine inscription and other signed Roman era archeological finds found along the road that from Interamnia reached the port of Castrum Novum (Giulianova). Photo: Beppi Monti
on the way to Teramo.