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Bill Thayer

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A Roman and Etruscan town near Roselle Terme

A town of southern Tuscany, a frazione of Grosseto: 42°48.5N, 11°08E. Altitude: 25 m.

[image ALT: A very flat wide valley with a range of mountains in the background behind it. In the foreground, ruins, 20‑60 cm high, of the walls and small rooms of a building. It is a view of the remains of the ancient Roman city of Rusellae, in Tuscany (central Italy).]

In Antiquity, the hill of Rusellae was an island: we should imagine the forum, the edge of which can be seen on the right, as a seaside piazza.

Rusellae is now a lost little place, accessible by a dirt road, in some hills behind the modern town of Roselle Terme, about 8 km NE of the city of Grosseto. In the photo above, we are looking west towards the Mediterranean, now about 20 km away. In Etruscan times, however, the plain before you was under the sea. It is now the valley of the Bruna, at about 5 m above sea level. The mountains you see, peaking at 631 m, were another island — on which, if you have good eyes and know where to look, you can see the Etruscan necropolis of Vetulonia.

Rusellae continues to be excavated in 1997. In addition to what you will find on this site, they've uncovered:

The images on this page are actually rather unusual too, by the way: it doesn't often snow in coastal Tuscany. The last snow before this (January 1, 1997) was in 1978 and it didn't stick.

[image ALT: a detail of a black-and‑white mosaic of a sea horse]

[ 1 page, 3 photos ]

As an Etruscan city, Rusellae had been important, but with the Romans decline set in, and it became a small provincial town. The downtown area has been excavated with its forum, its basilica and the houses of some of the leading citizens. Here are a few mosaics: a couple of small black-and‑white tessellated mosaics, and a variegated marble floor (opus sectile).

[image ALT: a ruined amphitheatre in a snowy landscape]

[ 1 page, 6 photos ]

The Roman amphitheatre is small and maybe not in the best shape: but it gives you a better feel of what a working amphitheatre must have been like than do the bigger ones in their present condition. It must have seated about 5000 people. Only the lower section remains: maybe the bleachers were made of wood. There are also two sort of alcoves just off the main field: nobody knows what they were for.

[image ALT: a rocky hole in some snow]

[ 1 page, 3 photos ]

Trust me, this is an Etruscan tomb: I saw three of them, and there may be others. One of them is in pretty good condition in fact, and I actually managed to climb inside it — and take a picture, of course.

[image ALT: A stylized representation of a metal hand-mirror, taken from the binding of a book. It is an Etruscan mirror motif representing that book, George Dennis's 'Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria'.]

[ 1 long detailed page, 1 woodcut ]

I'm hardly the only one to have visited Rusellae. The serious student, especially of things Etruscan, will be sure to read George Dennis's chapter on the town in Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria.

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Site updated: 29 Oct 17