oday Aquileia ­ which, according to recent excavations, was already inhabited in the Iron Age ­ is a charming little country town in the lower Friuli plain, near the sea and the seaside resort of Grado, whose population only just exceeds the three thousand mark. The surrounding landscape is dotted with many remains of its glorious past. 
    “Aquileia, that is closest to the inlet of the Adriatic, was founded by the Romans and fortified against the inland barbarians. It can be reached by ship by sailing up the Natiso for about 60 stadia [NB: about 10 km]. It serves as a trading station for those Illyrian peoples living along the Ister [the Danube]; they come looking for products of the sea, wine which they pour into wooden barrels and load on carts and, lastly, oil, while local people come to buy slaves, livestock and hides.” This is how Strabo, whose Geografia was written between the end of Caesar Augustus’ reign and the beginning of Tiberius’, described Aquileia (1,8), a Roman colony founded in 181 BC by consuls Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica, Gaius Flaminius and Lucius Manlius Acidinus by order of the Roman Senate with the aim of opposing the Gauls-Carni pressing at the borders and to establish a base for future military operations. 
    The first contingent of 3000 colonists, consisting of infantrymen, centurions and cavalrymen, was joined in 169 BC by a further group of 1500 men and their families. It is thought that at that time the residential population numbered 20,000, this figure would increase tenfold when the city reached the peak of its expansion. To these we must add the people who passed through the town, chiefly merchants who came not only from transalpine countries but from all over the Mediterranean, from Asia Minor to Syria, from Spain to Tunisia and from Arabia. Nor should we forget the slaves and above all the military personnel who would stop off in the town during their campaigns before proceeding to Pannonia, Germany and Dalmatia. 
    It was for this reason that many Roman emperors visited Aquileia, sometimes accompanied by their wives, like Caesar Augustus who often stayed in the town with his wife Livia Drusilla. Apparently she particularly appreciated a wine called Pucino, which she thought bestowed long life. The border town was also visited by Julius Caesar, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, Maximinus Thrax, Alaric king of the Visigoths and Attila king of the Huns. 
    The new colony was immediately connected to the Po valley road system by important link roads: the Via Annia, built in 153 BC which linked the town centre to Rimini via Padua and Altino and, in 148 BC, the Via Postumia which went as far as Genoa touching on Sevegliano, Codroipo, Oderzo, Treviso, Vicenza, Verona, Cremona, Piacenza and Tortona. 
    The so-called Via Julia Augusta went from Aquileia towards Noricum and Magdalensberg, which was an important centre. The town was connected to Emona (Ljubljana) by a route that linked Aquileia, Villesse, Gradisca and Pons Sontii (the bridge over the Isonzo river was near Mainizza) with the mutatio Castra (Ajdovšåina) and on to Emona. Lastly, a coast road went from Tergeste (Trieste) to Pula. 

    Felix, populosa, splendida, sublimis, inclita divitiis, clara: charming, populous, refined, sublime, renowned for its wealth, famous: these are just a few of the adjectives used to describe Aquileia by writers of ancient times who were struck by the city’s magnificent aspect. Today it is hard to imagine that magnificence, it has disappeared under centuries of rebuilding, alterations, restorations and despoliation which ended towards the middle of 1700 when everything still standing was razed. 
    With the aid of IT technology, which supplements historical sources, and the results obtained from decades of archaeological excavations, we are now able to reconstruct the town’s layout over the centuries. 


    With a new administrative structure in Italy, and the creation of the X Regio (Tenth Roman Legion) which covered a vast area from East Lombardy to the Istrian peninsular, under the reign of Caesar Augustus Aquileia became the capital of a huge territory and swiftly developed as an important commercial centre. It soon achieved great prosperity, aided in this by the river port. A series of structural alterations to the port have been detected which demonstrates its constant use over the centuries and, at the same time, gives a good idea of the efforts made to overcome problems regarding the river’s discharge and changes in commercial requirements (transition from transit trade to a stockpiling system needing covered warehouses). Another very interesting aspect is the canal system that linked the colony to the lagoon. 
    The town’s urban development was the subject of an impressive project in terms of both the extension of the town and the grandeur of its buildings. The town provided itself with a vast system of defensive walls ­ with iron-clad gates, towers and moats ­ which reached their peak in the 3rd century; it built a forum with a series of public buildings such as the civic basilica ­ used for meetings and assemblies, as a business centre and for administrating justice ­ the great market, the temple and the curia comitium. The forum’s colonnade, re-erected by anastylosis, is still clearly seen. The forum, whose square measured 130 x 70 m, was visited by over 75,000 tourists last year and is the constant subject of archaeological investigations by Dr. Franca Maselli Scotti from the local Soprintendenza. 
    Archaeological studies have confirmed that in the northern part of the town there were many cultic buildings with rich terracotta decorations. The locations of areas dedicated to games and leisure are also well-documented, such as the circus for chariot races; the amphitheatre which was apparently destroyed in the eleventh century by Patriarch Poppone, the stone being used to build the bell tower; the great baths which were discovered by chance in 1922 when polychrome mosaics with figures and traces of marble intarsia emerged from the ground and the theatre from which we have some seats with the spectators’ names carved on them. 
Remains of private buildings give further proof of the level of wealth and opulence achieved by the town. For example, during building work on the Civic Museum (1986-87) a house with heated rooms, a drainage system and mosaic floors was discovered. A scalpel was found lying on one of the floors and it gave the house its name ­ the House of the Surgeon. The remains that have come to light prove that the house was inhabited from the first to the fourth centuries AD. Significant mosaic fragments belonging to private houses can be seen over a vast area to the North of Aquileia’s cathedral; the mosaics are both monochrome and polychrome, their decorative syntax and dimensions make them particularly striking. The ornamentation in the House of the Wounded Beasts, the House of Calendione and Iovina and the house in Piazza Capitolo are also particularly beautiful. 
    Archaeological excavations around Aquileia have brought to light a number of necropolises which demonstrate that both cremation (in terracotta or glass vases, stone urns or in pieces of amphorae) and burial (in simple graves, wooden or brick coffins) were practised. Ever since 1548 a locality to the south of the town, Beligna, has been the source of rich fun-erary treasures, datable mainly between the first Imperial period and the late antique period. 
    A large necropolis has been discovered in Colombara and Sant’Egidio on the road leading to Emona and this serves to confirm the owners’ need for self-representation; highly visible tombs would have been a constant reminder of their past existence to passers-by. 

(to be continued )