Anxa

A view of the site of attributed as Anxa. The lake once covered the level area in the foreground where there are now fields.

A view of the site attributed as Anxa / Angitiae Lucus. The lake once covered the level area in the foreground where there are now fields.

One of the sites that has fascinated me most is the strange settlement/sanctuary site on the western side of what was once Lake Fucino. This area is associated with a pre-Roman people known as the Marsi. Because of its location, it is believed to be the site of Anxa, otherwise known as Angitiae Lucus. Both of these names are known from ancient literary and epigraphic sources relevant to this location. The original Iron Age settlement appears to have been located at the top of the slope, which at some point had a fortification wall built around it. Subsequently, a new and impressive polygonal wall was built around a much larger area, stretching from the lake shore, up the steep slopes so that it enclosed the crest of the hill 200 metres above. Three separate trenches were dug against this wall by archaeologists. The recovered artefacts indicated that it was constructed in the second half of the fourth century BC.

Several features of this site aroused my curiosity. It is located only 11km to the south of Alba Fucens, a Latin colony founded by the Romans in 303 BC. If the new fortification of Anxa was built in the period 350-300 BC, as proposed, was it built before or after the Romans took control of the area? I don’t know the answer and, either way, it is difficult to explain. Based on the area enclosed by the walls, Anxa is c.30 ha in size, and Alba Fucens 32 ha. I can’t think of a reason why the Romans would allow (or instigate) the construction of such a large fortification in a recently subdued area so close to one of their colonies. Superficially, it would seem to be giving potential enemies a means to defend themselves. If it pre-dates the Roman subjugation of the area, the wall seems not to be typical of those from other Marsic sites.

The line taken by the fortifications meant that much of the area within the walls comprised a slope so steep that it is difficult to imagine it was suitable for habitation. The site had a strong religious association, and at least two temples have been excavated inside the walled area. ‘Angitiae Lucus’ can be translated as ‘the sacred grove of Angitia’, a local Marsic goddess, and various artefacts have been found nearby that are believed to have been deposited during rituals associated with the cult (votives). Did the wall then just enclose a sanctuary? Certainly, walled sanctuaries are known elsewhere in the central Appenines, built by the Samnites.

If the identification with Anxa is correct, then it became a municipium at some point from the 1st century BC onwards, and thus became a proper settlement if it had not been one before. It has also been suggested that it had a port which, given its location on the lake shore, seems likely. Yet the Romans attempted to drain the lake, and indications of ancient land-divisions marking out plots of cultivated land have been identified from aerial photographs in the area directly to the east of the site, where the lake once stood. So maybe Anxa lost its harbour facilities at some point, or they were moved.

If you are interested in where it is, just copy and paste the following coordinates into the ‘search’ field of Google Earth, and press return: 41°58’13.87″N, 13°27’37.19″E  You will see the excavated temples directly to the east of the yellow pin, and the large area of where the lake stood is easy to make out by the modern rectilinear field systems that cover it.

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