Aremarkable collection of bronze statues has been found at an Etruscan-Roman sanctuary connected to the Bagno Grande (‘great bath’) of San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy.
San Casciano dei Bagni is home to a natural thermal spring, which has attracted visitors for centuries. It is believed that the site’s ancient baths were first built by the Etruscans in the 3rd century BC, then enhanced during the Roman period, with people coming from near and far to take advantage of the mineral-rich waters and the healing powers of the divinities worshipped at the attached sanctuary.
Excavations at the Bagno Grande began in 2019, led by Jacopo Tabolli, from the Università per Stranieri di Siena, but it was the 2022 season that produced what Tabolli has described as ‘the most significant discovery of its kind in Italy in the last 50 years.’ Archaeologists uncovered 24 finely worked bronze statues – the largest deposit of Etruscan and Roman bronze statues ever found in Italy. Some depicted the deities who were worshipped here, including Hygeia (goddess of health) and Apollo (god of healing and disease), while others represent individuals who may have visited the site, including children, matrons, and even emperors. The excavations also revealed thousands of gold, silver, and bronze coins – possibly thrown into the baths for luck – and many votive objects, including bronze depictions of organs and anatomical parts, dedicated to the gods of the sanctuary in the hope that they would provide healing, fertility, or general good fortune.
The sanctuary remained in use until the 5th century AD, when the rise of Christianity ended worship at the site and the pools containing the statues were sealed over with heavy stone pillars. The bronzes remained in the warm muddy water, untouched, until their recent rediscovery. Such conditions ensured an exceptional degree of preservation, with inscriptions still present on many of the statues. These engravings include the names of powerful Etruscan families in the region, as well as Latin references to the aquae calidae (‘hot springs’), revealing that the site was visited by elite members of both the Etruscan and Roman worlds.
This shared use of the site is significant, as most of the statues have been dated to between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD, which was a period of significant change and social upheaval in Tuscany, with constant conflict between the expanding influence of Rome and the existing Etruscan cities. However, it seems that here at the sacred spring of San Casciano dei Bagni, Etruscan and Roman visitors chose to leave the ongoing hostility outside and coexist peacefully.
The bronzes are currently undergoing conservation and plans have been announced for the creation of a new museum to house the finds. Excavations at the Bagno Grande will continue next summer, and once research has been completed the site will be turned into an archaeological park attached to the museum.
IMAGES: Emanuele Antonio Minerva – © Ufficio Stampa e Comunicazione MiC