Sept. 27th: Cosa, Tarquinia

We left bright and early to set foot on the Roman colonial site of Cosa, overlooking the coast of the ancient site of Vulci, located 140km northwest of Rome on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. According to several historical sources, it was established in 273 B.C., after the acquisition of Vulci by the Romans. According to legendary American archeologist, Frank Brown (who’s reputation of wearing his notable beret preceded him), this frontier colony was one of the first founded by the Romans on “virgin rock,” where there was no previous settlement on the site. Such colonial origin allows us to observe purely Roman influences on the buildings, site layout, and material, which makes Cosa a very valuable archeological site for studying Early Republican architecture and urban organization. This in turn can give us indications of the corresponding buildings and spaces in Rome during the Republic, assuming that the architecture at Cosa was imitating those of Rome.

The site was initially settled by 2500 families, totaling approximately 9000 people. These colonists would have been allotted 2-3 acres of land, and only about 300 families would have actually lived regularly within the walls of the colony.

Cosa itself is located approximately 131m above sea level, and due to the inability of our bus to get through a tunnel on our drive to the site, our group had to trek up the steep hillside to reach the site. In addition to this defensible location on a hill, the limestone wall made of imposing polygonal masonry would have implanted second thoughts on an invading force. (Aside: Unfortunately, Cosa was sacked around 70 B.C., most likely by pirates). Cosa also had towers made of the same masonry and material, on which would have been presumably missile troops raining down on the invaders. The southern gate was built to have a bottleneck effect, which would have increased casualties for the invaders when they tried to breach the gates. The wall circuit follows the contours of the topography, but the town streets follow a Hippodamian plan or organization.

We then visited the museum to view the finds, which were characteristic of Early Republican Rome. The models in the museum of the forum area and the Capitolium were very helpful when we were trying to understand how these spaces would have looked like in antiquity.

The Capitolium was our next stop, during which we took our first pop quiz. Within the middle of the main cella, the favissa capitolina (the sacred pit where the colonists would have deposited their first burnt offerings of vegetation) was found. Presumably the favissa would have been deposited during the founding the town in 273 B.C. The Capitolium was dedicated around 240 B.C., and was built about a century later. This temple was one of the first examples of opus caementicium (i.e. cement, being used on a structure). The limestone was laid like bricks, but glued together with cement, and it still can be seen in the ruins. The large cistern within the temple porch, coated with opus signinum could still be seen. Cisterns at the arx of a town would have served both religious and defensive purposes. The molding of carved limestone was also impressive. In antiquity, this prominent structure would have been seen from the sea, glistening in white stucco: a symbol of wealth, power, and religious devotion to the gods. Also, the augura currum, the platform where the initial augury would have taken place, still remained for us to stand on.

We visited the rather small comitium, the temple to the goddess Concordia, and the basilica. The comitium was a circular set of stone steps that was in front of the curia (the senate house). The comitium was the place where the general assembly met, the curia was the place where the senate met. Our next stop was the basilica, which was one of the earliest ones found in Italy. The bascilica was a public center for settling disputes (at the tribunal in the back of the building) and commerce. It likely had two floors with a ambulatory and a central nave that was lighted by a clerestory system. How the roofing worked is still under speculation. Our last stop was the triple, arched gateway made of opus caementicium, where the marks of the wooden planks on the intrados could still be seen.

Our day ended on another beach, where we founded the Roman coastal city of Ephespidarius, in the year 2766 ab urbe condita (a.u.c.). Quntilius Immanuarius founded the city by digging the pomerium and doing the initial augury; he received approval from the gods to found the city on the site. He began to build the walls, until Bretinus Buskanius came over the walls and murdered Immanuarius. To appease the gods, he built the temple of Juppiter Optimus Maximus Desmus Lucinus Varus Marcus Septimius Aurelius Vero on the arx of the city. Others joined from lands near and far, including the traveling Egyptian soothsayer Tenderius Hendersonius (that is his Romanized name), who built the massive ziggurat and pyramid with the help of his companion Tomarus. The city started to expand with the help of Lucius Dubenus; a group of builders founded the forum, a curia, another wall circuit, an amphitheatre, multiple public works, and even excavated a Villanovan hut urn from the 9th century B.C. However, the murder of Immanuarius had angered Neptune, and the sea began to consume the walls of the city. Although the citizens of Ephespidarius made human sacrifices and built more structures to appease Neptune, it was no use. Eventually, Neptune released the titan, Lizaria, who destroyed the city before sunbreak with her mighty feet and appetite for cities of sand. The remains of Ephespidarius could still be seen today, and perhaps the 2015 FSP group may be able to study its remains.

Your epic historian,


Photos (contributed by Yuhang):

Prepping for the introductory lecture, which for some meant catching their breath after running up the steep roads to the site of Cosa.


The Capitolium: once a lively center of religious activity in Cosa, but now the backdrop to the first FSP pop quiz.


Looks of despair during the quiz, followed shortly after by mutters of “What in the world is a columen plaque?”


“Tomba a ziro?! I'm CONVINCED that I wrote that down somewhere!”

**cue the sound of anxious flipping through notes**


Pop quiz over: the coast is clear.


Even from the back, the Capitolium is an impressive site to behold.


Group photo in the comitium!


Interesting wall at the back of the basilica. And by interesting, I really mean that we could not figure out what it belonged to.


Well, someone is displeased with the ruinous state of the forum gate.


Meandering in the entrance to the forum.


I spy with my little eye… A travertine voussoir!


Alas, beach time!





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