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Ancient 'mansio' unearthed in Tuscany

Pliny mentioned the once bustling trading post in his writings

15 July, 16:09
Ancient 'mansio' unearthed in Tuscany (ANSA) - Grosseto, July 15 - Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a complex in Tuscany they believe was once a bustling staging post on a major trade route mentioned by the ancient Roman writer Pliny.

The building, which runs parallel to the River Ombrone in the Maremma Natural Park, was probably built in around 200 AD and functioned for at least a couple of centuries.

The size and layout of the building, as well as its location next to a river and a major Roman road, has led archaeologists to conclude they have probably discovered a well-known 'mansio', or staging post.

Pliny and another Roman writer known as 'Anonymous of Ravenna' both referred to the 'Mansio ad Umbronem' ('Staging post on the River Ombrone'), which was located near the Via Aurelia.

Mansios were usually stopping places on Roman roads maintained by central government for the use those travelling on official business but the descriptions of the Roman writers suggest this particular site may also have provided additional services. According to Pliny and the anonymous Ravenna writer, the Mansio ad Umbronem' was a key point for the storage and redistribution of goods and material arriving by road and sea, thanks to the nearby port where the Ombrone once flowed into the sea.

Lending further support to their theory were the various ceramic, glass and religious artefacts discovered during the course of the excavation. More than 80 coins were discovered, helping date the site, as well as dozens of fragments of metal and ceramic objects from across the entire Mediterranean and, in particular, from Africa. Of particular interest was a votive terracotta statuette representing the bust of the Greek-Egyptian god Serapis.

The discovery comes just a year after a similarly important find nearby in another part of the park of a 75-square-metre temple complex dating back to the fourth century AD.

Archaeologists believe the two discoveries together are almost certain evidence of Roman settlements along the Tuscan coast that played a key role in linking inland towns with Mediterranean and African ports. The mansio was unearthed as part of an ongoing project to discover sites from the park's ancient past.

The project's four directors and four permanent archaeologists will resume work in August on three sites currently under excavation, assisted by 30 students from across Europe.

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