Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry June 2011, updated Aug 2021

he Ancient Unknown City of Amina/Picentia

The Picentine mountains are just above the northern part of the plain that extends along the coast of the Gulf of Salerno from the city of Salerno, itself, down to Paestum and the beginning of the Cilento region. The Picentino river starts SE of Salerno, about 25 km inland at Mt. Accéllica (1660 meters/5500 feet) and flows down into the Tyrrhenian Sea at a point just south of Salerno. Quite near the coast, the river passes through the town of Pontecagnano Faiano or, simply, Pontecagnano, a town that sits on the site of one of most obscure large towns of antiquity in Italy: the Etruscan city of Amina (renamed 'Picentia' by the Romans). (It is marked in the graphic, below, as the southernmost "other Etruscan city.")

The Etruscans, as you may read here, were one of the great peoples who inhabited the central part of the Italian peninsula between the Arno and Tiber rivers for many centuries beginning around the year 1100 BC. Indeed, there were Etruscan kings of Rome until the founding of the Roman republic in 509 BC. Etruria was a loose confederation of city-states rather than a single state or empire. The cultural influence of the Etruscans, however, was enormous throughout the peninsula, for they were the ones who came into contact with the immigrant Greeks of Magna Grecia, adopted the Greek alphabet and passed it on to the Romans (and probably to the invading Celts in 400 BC, that alphabet being the source of Celtic runes, according to some.)

The Etruscans are maddeningly enigmatic to us because, of the thousands of Etruscan inscriptions found in Italy, almost all are short funerary notes, names of the interred. So we can pronounce the names because we know the alphabet, but there isn't enough text of substance to tell us anything more than that the language, and thus the people, are not Indo-European. We know that they called themselves "Rasna." (We still await the discovery of some Etruscan writers, if not a Homer, then any graphomaniac historian or spinner of tales will do —anything but a bunch of names on tombs. What a waste of an alphabet!)

[See also: The Etruscan Language]

Considerable knowledge of the people, however, has come from studying the Etruscan necropoli in Italy. The sites from the seventh century (the 600s BC are rich, indeed; the burial sites may contain chariots, ivory, bronze, amber and gold ornaments. We have also found sanctuaries and temples with images of Greek gods. All of that plus written accounts about the Etruscans by Greek and Roman writers has provided a picture of a culture based on extended family units with internal hierarchies based on age with particular deference to the eldest couple, the patriarch and matriarch.

Pontecagnano is well south of the major towns of Etruria of central Italy and is apparently the largest major Etruscan outpost in the south. Archaeology since the 1960s at Pontecagnano shows the area first to have been inhabited by an earlier neolithic people, generally grouped with other Italic peoples of that era and region as part of what is called the Gaudo culture.*
[*The Gaudo culture was a neolithic culture primarily in the region of Campania, active at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. The culture is so named for the archaeological type site, Gaudo, a necropolis near Paestum at the mouth of the Sele river. The Gaudo culture is called an eneolithic culture due to its use of copper tools. The necropolis occupies about 2000 sq. meters and contains 34 separate tombs. It was discovered late in the year 1943, during the Allied invasion on the Salerno plain, when the construction of the Gaudo airfield unearthed some of the tombs. A British officer and archeologist, Lieutenant John G. S. Brinson, conducted a scientific excavation of the tombs, and recorded his findings in a notebook now held in the National Archeological Museum of Naples. Gaudo relics are at the archaeological museums  of both Paestum and Naples.

Although still speculative, some think that the Gaudo culture was a result of immigration from Anatolia (modern Turkey). This would not be unique since it is now widely held that the later Etruscans were also from Anatolia. The Gaudo population worked metals as may be seen from copper daggers and other weapons excavated from the necropolis. The tombs as well as ornamental objects found in the tombs and other underground spaces —some items apparently used for sacrificial purposes—indicate the presence of a sacred area. The tombs are typically of the "oven" variety—that is, chambers dug down into rock, providing space for both single as well as collective burials. The Gaudo culture seems to have begun in Campania and then spread south to Lucania and Calabria.]

The archaeological record since then is an overlay of various cultures of the first millennium BC from the Etruscans to the Romans. Some of the episodes of "cross-cultural" contact were anything but peaceful: invading Samnites (the great enemies of the Romans) took the city in the fifth century, and the Romans eventually razed it in the third and built their own "Picentia" on the ruins of Amina. The Etruscans were at a high point in Pontecagnano around the year 600 BC and shortly thereafter, at which time the town co-existed with the cities of Magna Grecia such as Poseidonia (Paestum), Velia, Pithecusa (Ischia) and Cuma and was a major crossroad of merchandise, ideas and peoples from all over the Mediterranean: Greeks, Phoenecians, Etruscans and others. The city started to decline around 550 BC. Like other Italic peoples, the Etruscans of Amina chose unwisely in later struggles against Roman hegemony. They sided, for example, with Hannibal in the Second Punic War.
The National Archaeological Museum
of the Agro Picentino 

So far, archaeologists have found about 9,000 tombs in the area. Many of the artifacts such as pottery, jewely, etc. may be viewed at The National Archaeological Museum of the Agro Picentino (Picentine Plain) and at the Archaeology Park of Pontecagnano. The museum is divided into six sections, running from Prehistoric (3500-2300BC) to the age of the Romans (3rd century BC to 5th century AD). At its height, the town of Picentia, as in Etruria, proper, seems to have been a society in which political and economic power was in the hands of an aristocracy, dominated by powerful princes who lived a luxurious life-style. The museum has a breath-taking display of one the oldest aristocratic tombs yet found in Campania. It is of a princess, accompanied in death by a vast array of jewelry and other symbols of rank. Such tombs reflect a certain social model in which Etruscan women enjoyed greater prestige and power than their Greek or Roman counterparts.

The in situ Archaeology Park in Pontecagnano covers 85 hectares/210 acres. Much of the work has thus far concentrated on Roman Pictentia, but the entire area is the object of intense archaeology, and time will reveal much more.

added this in Aug 2021

                                    Boy's remains found in Etruscan outpost in Campania
                                        Find at Pontecagnano near Paestum is Significant.

The most visited tourist site in Italy is the Colosseum in Rome. That is the standard spelling, with the upper-case C. 'Coliseum' is a variant. You can make up your own. Maybe not anything that takes you to the giant Cauliflower Sports Arena in Vienna, although it's great. But in Italy, Rome is number 1 and Pompeii is number 2. (If you spell it with one i, you mean the nearby modern city of Pompei, but if you want all that old Roman stuff next to it, it's 'Pompeii'. All tourists —even Italians from the north— want to see Pompeii. It's worth it.

The people at the Pontecagnano museum (image right) would like to remind you that they are here too. The problem is that it's near Paestum, Herculaneum, Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, my house, and half-a-dozen other "must-see" places. So make a choice. It's not an easy one, but if you don't visit this very well-organized museum, you will miss a more in-depth look at our history —before the Romans, before the Greeks. You'll see something about the Etruscans and before. This recent find —the remains of a 12-year-old boy wearing a warrior's bronze belt and ceramic cups at his feet for food and wine in the afterlife— is, says the museum, the 10,000th find at Pontecagnano in over 60 years of success. The museum displays objects from Greece to Egypt, Sicily and Sardinia, even the Far East, all of it found at Pontecagnano. In its day Pontecagnano was a big deal. Try not to miss it.


—Aurino, Paola and Gianni Bailo Modesti. "Pontecagnano (SA) - Between The City and the Sanctuary: The Excavations along the Motorway's SA/RC Extension" in Newsletter Archeologia (CISA), no. 0 [sic], pp. 6-21, pub. by the Orientale University of Naples, on-line here.

Bonfante, Larissa. "Etruscans" in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Oxford U. Press, ed. by Brian M. Fagan, 1996.

Fedei, Maurizio et al. "Integrated geophysical survey to recognize ancient Picentia’s buried walls, in the Archaeological Park of Pontecagnano – Faiano (Southern Italy)" in Annals of Geophysics, vol. 51, N. 5/6, October/December 2008. Published by INGV, the National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology, Bologna, Italy.

Martin, Debra L. and David W. Frayer. Troubled times: violence and warfare in the past.
Routledge, 1997. 

Robinson, Andrew. "The Etruscan Alphabet" in Lost Languages; The Enigma of the World's Undeciphered Scripts. McGraw-Hill, 1957.

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