“Extraordinary” bronze statues preserved by mud and boiling water for thousands of years have been discovered in a network of baths built by the Etruscans in Tuscany.
The 24 partially submerged statues, dating back 2,300 years and hailed as the most important discovery in 50 years, depict a sleeping Ephesus next to Hygeia, the goddess of health, with a serpent wrapped around her arm.
Archaeologists found the statues during excavations at an ancient spa in San Cassiano dei Bagni near Siena. The modern day spa with 42 hot springs is adjacent to the ancient site and is one of Italy’s most popular spa destinations.
Near Epibe (an adolescent male, usually 17–18 years old) and Hygeia are statues of Apollo and many others representing matrons, children, and emperors.
Believed to have been built by the Etruscans in the third century BC, the baths, which included fountains and altars, became so opulent during the Roman period that emperors, including Augustus, frequented the springs for their health and therapeutic benefits.
Along with 24 bronze statues, five of them nearly a meter tall, archaeologists found thousands of coins and Etruscan and Latin inscriptions. Visitors are said to throw coins into the bathroom to bring good luck to their health.
Massimo Osanna, director general of museums at the Italian Ministry of Culture, said the relics were the most significant find since the 1972 discovery of two full-length Greek bronzes of naked bearded warriors on the Calabrian coast near Rias. Certainly one of the most important discoveries of bronze in the history of the ancient Mediterranean,” Osanna told Italian news agency Ansa.
The excavation project at San Casciano dei Bagni has been led by archaeologist Jacopo Tabolli since 2019. In August, several artifacts were found at the site, including fertility statues believed to be dedicated to the goddess. Daboli, a professor at Siena’s University for Foreigners, described the latest discovery as “absolutely unique”.
The Etruscan civilization flourished in Italy, mostly in the central regions of Tuscany and Umbria, about 500 years before the arrival of the Roman Republic. The Etruscans had a strong influence on Roman cultural and artistic traditions.
Preliminary analysis of 24 statues believed to have been made by local artisans between the second and first centuries BC, as well as numerous votive offerings found at the site, indicate that the monuments originally belonged to elite Etruscan and Roman families, landowners. Local nobles and Roman emperors.
Tabolli told Ansa that the hot springs, rich in minerals including calcium and magnesium, were active until the fifth century, before being closed in the Christian era, but not destroyed. The ponds were covered with heavy stone pillars while the idols of the gods were left in the holy water.
The treasure was discovered after archaeologists removed the lid. “This is the largest store of statues from ancient Italy whose context we can completely reconstruct,” Taboli said.
Recently appointed Italian culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said the “exceptional discovery” reaffirms that “Italy is a country full of great and unique treasures”.
These monuments are important evidence of the transition between the Etruscan and Roman periods, when Bath was considered a haven of peace.
“Even in historical eras where the worst conflicts are raging outside, inside these pools and these altars the two worlds, the Etruscan and the Roman worlds, seem to merge seamlessly,” Taboli said.
Excavations at the site will resume next spring, while the winter will be used to restore relics and conduct further research.
The artifacts will be housed in a 16th-century building recently purchased by the Ministry of Culture in San Cassiano, near Florence. The site of the ancient ponds will also be developed into an archaeological park.
“All these will be enhanced and harmonized and represent an additional opportunity for the spiritual growth of our culture and the cultural sector of our country,” Sangiuliano said.
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