Archaeological research as a driver of local growth in Italy

A 2,000-year-old intact and inscribed sundial recovered during the excavation of a roofed theatre in Interamna Lirenas, Italy (credit: Alessandro Launaro)

Archaeological discoveries in Interamna Lirenas (Pignataro Interamna, central Italy) have transformed understanding of its nature and place, and allowed a significant re-evaluation of the transformations of Roman Italy more generally.

Many Italian towns have been continuously occupied since Roman times and still display their heritage in buildings and town plan. There is a tendency to think that anywhere where this is not the case was backward or marginal in Roman times. The Roman town of Interamna Lirenas is a good case in point.

Today the site is a series of arable fields, featuring very few, barely recognisable, traces of still-buried structures. The main evidence for past occupation is provided by the spread of archaeological materials (mostly tile fragments and potsherds) brought to the surface by ploughing.

Yet, its long-established interpretation could not be more coherent: founded as a colony in 312 BCE, Interamna Lirenas soon exhausted its strategic role as military bridgehead; unable to develop its civic dimension further by taking advantage of the opportunities presented by a growing empire, by the end of the 1st c. BCE it had already turned into a secondary centre, destined to a long decline until its definitive abandonment in the 6th c. CE.

Since 2010, the site and its surrounding landscape have been the object of archaeological fieldwork directed by Alessandro Launaro and Martin Millett, in partnership with the Italian Archaeological Service and the Municipality of Pignataro Interamna, with the technical collaboration of the British School at Rome and Ghent University.

Using magnetometry and ground-penetrating radar survey, the team produced a highly detailed image of the still-buried remains of a dense settlement featuring a complex plan with a surprisingly monumental appearance.

Close collaboration with the Italian Archaeological Service and the local Municipality resulted in considerable resources being committed to preserving and promoting the archaeological heritage.

The effective public communication strategy (involving Open Days, collaborations with local schools, popular articles in local and national periodicals) greatly enhanced the level of engagement among the local population with their Roman heritage, turning archaeology into a focus of civic pride and an effective vehicle for the cultural and economic growth of this community.