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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Vol. XIX

[image ALT: A view of a wide expanse of landscape, consisting for the most part of a low foreground of forest and scrub in which on our left can be glimpsed three arches of a small ruined stone building; the middle ground is dotted with the occasional farmhouse, and on a tall ridge to the right can be seen in the early afternoon haze a stone-built town, Otricoli (in Umbria, central Italy). In the distance, on the left, another ridge, sloping gently down to the center of the photo.]

The Encyclopaedia Britannica entry that follows focuses on the ancient Roman town of Ocriculum, although its medieval and modern successor Otricoli is a beautiful and historic place and well worth a detailed visit, not in least part for its pre-Roman walls and hundreds of Roman inscriptions.

Here, looking north, we see Otricoli perched on her hill to our right, and in the valley to our left we can make out some arches of the "great substructures" of the Roman town. The Tiber, offscreen left, flows towards us on its way to Rome.

Ocriculum (mod. Otricoli), an ancient town of Umbria, Italy, on the Via Flaminia, near the E. bank of the Tiber, 44 m. N of Rome and 12 m. S of Narnia. It concluded an alliance with Rome in 308 B.C. The modern village lies higher than the ancient town, and excavations on the site of the latter in 1775 and following yearsa led to the discovery of the baths, a theatre, a basilica and other buildings. In the baths were found a number of works of art, now in the Vatican, notably the mosaic pavement of the Sala della Rotonda, and the celebrated head of Zeus and the head of Claudius in the same room. An amphitheatre is still visible, but the other buildings have in the main been covered up again.b

Thayer's Notes:

a To this day, more than a hundred years after this entry was written, the principal excavations remain those of Giuseppe Pannini in 1775‑1783, whose plans and drawings were published by Giuseppe Antonio Guattani in his serial Monumenti antichi inediti for the year 1784. The 1950s and 1960s saw significant excavation of the amphitheater and the theater, and in 2011 work on the theater was resumed, concentrating on the stage area. A cemetery and part of an aqueduct have also recently been excavated.

I owe this information to Sophie Hay, Simon Keay, and Martin Millett: Ocriculum (Otricoli, Umbria) An Archaeological Survey of the Roman town (Archaeological Monograph #22 of the British School at Rome: London, 2013, 169pp+xvii), where the excavation history of the town is covered in much greater detail, pp13 ff. In turn, the authors themselves conducted extensive topographical and geophysical surveys documented in that publication.

b This must have been true when this encyclopedia entry was written, and seems partly true again in 2020, to judge from the current GoogleMap satellite view; but in 1997 and 2004 I saw a good deal more than the amphitheater, at least some of which has not been covered up again. Chief among these remains are the so‑called "great substructures" ("grandi sostruzioni"), a theater, a bath complex, a tower tomb and remnants of a gate near a short stretch of the Via Flaminia entering town from the east.

[image ALT: A flat, roughly plowed field with a few low trees, shrubs, and vines. The horizon is blocked by mixed deciduous and conifer woods, but in the center of the photo, arresting our attention, is a line of four vaulted recesses, about 1½ stories tall, a line that on closer examination extends to the right edge of the photo by another half-dozen arches more or less concealed behind vegetation. To the left, less clearly discerned, a comparatively insignificant group of other stone ruins. The view is of Ocriculum, the ancient Roman town near Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy); the line of arches form what are termed by archaeologists the 'great substructures'.]

The "great substructures" are the most prominent building seen here, comprising a row of 14 vaulted spaces, the last two of which are offscreen right. To the left, some of the seating area of the adjacent theatre can be made out. We are looking slightly east of due north.

[image ALT: A ruined stone building, or rather the partial shell of one, consisting of a somewhat curving wall about 1½ stories tall looking like the lower part of a dome, and a few shorter fragments of walls. The ruins, about 10 m wide at their greatest width, are set in a slight grassy depression. It is the remains of the Thermae of Ocriculum, the ancient Roman town near Otricoli, Umbria (central Italy).]

What's left of the baths.

In addition, my 1997 diary entry may be instructive, and includes two more photographs — the amphitheater and a close‑up view of arches 1‑4 of the great substructures; the 2004 entry has one good photo of some very nice opus reticulatum in the theater.

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Page updated: 13 Jun 20