Crustumerium offers a unique opportunity to study many different aspects of Iron Age habitation in central Italy.
Below is a short list of chracteristics of the site that are discussed in the text:
- 15km north of Rome
- 60 hectares in size
- First settlement in the 9th century BC
- Founded on the edge of Latin, Etruscan, Faliscan and Sabine territory
- Evidence for large infrastructural projects
- Prominent place in Iron Age road network
- Unique local material culture
- Surrounded by large cemeteries
- Mentioned in many historical sources
- Conquered by Rome in 499BC
- Exact location lost until 19th century
- Rediscovered in the 1970's
The settlement of Crustumerium is situated on the Marcigliana Vecchia hill in the southeast of the volcanic district of the Monti Sabatini. The area is part of a relief system with rolling hills and serrated edges. The hills rise about 30 to 100 m above the Tiber plain and are divided by many small streams and canals. This hydrographical system has severely eroded the volcanic soil, which resulted in an irregular, hilly landscape with several smaller relief systems, independent of one another. The plateau of Crustumerium, for example, is surrounded by steep cliffs that have an inclination of about 30 to 40 degrees, creating an easily defensible position, except for its south-eastern side. The soil of the entire settlement area consists of a volcanic bedrock type named Tufo di Sacrofano, after the nearby extinct volcano. In some areas, other types of ‘tuff’ can also be distinguished. The soft bedrock permitted the landscape and subsurface to be easily modified artificially in antiquity, for example for irrigation works, deepened roads, quarries and the digging of tombs and caves – traces of which are often still visible today. Unfortunately, the soft soils have also been subject to massive erosion due to intensive agricultural exploitation in the past; a fact that threatens or has already destroyed part of the archaeological record.
The oldest surface finds that can be related to some form of habitation at Crustumerium can be dated to the end of ninth century BC. This coincides with the date of the oldest tombs. In the beginning the number of dwellings (huts built from perishable materials) would have been few. Some families with their own agricultural plots would have lived and worked within the settlement limits, occupying a large part of it. That the settlement flourished during the seventh and sixth century can easily be deduced from the abundant surface material and the growing number of tombs in the burial grounds. The early ‘village’ developed more and more urban characteristics, the overall density of habitation grew considerably within the settlement limits and the surrounding terrain would have been increasingly exploited to support the growing population. Landscape modifications for irrigation and infrastructure offer proof of this. The most striking example is the artificial road trench that was cut straight through the settlement. There is also evidence for a defensive moat and walls, where the terrain offered no natural defence. In the course of the fifth century BC Crustumerium started to decline rapidly under increasing territorial pressure from Rome. Eventually it was abandoned as a settlement and incorporated into the Roman suburbium as farmland.
The Burial Grounds
In antiquity, Crustumerium was surrounded by several burial grounds, some of which were in use from the late ninth century onwards. To date, sepulchral areas have been identified to the north, northeast, southeast and west of the settlement. The areas are named after the toponyms of their location; respectively Campo Grande, Sasso Bianco, Monte Del Bufalo, Cisterna Grande and Marcigliano. The presence of tombs at numerous locations outside of the settlement area has been attested by surveys, excavations and the mapping of illicit activities. A combined analysis of these data indicates that the slopes surrounding the urban plateau and the opposite geological units must have been occupied by tombs, forming a belt around the settlement. The areas to the north and southeast, near the roads leading to the Sabine, Etruscan and Latin lands, had probably been more intensively used. Large strips of empty land must have delimited the different funerary areas. Excavations of both the GIA and the Soprintendenza have focussed on the Monte Del Bufalo funerary area, where more than 300 tombs have been identified to date.