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Saturday 30 September 2023
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Gubbio Under the Roman Empire

Anfiteatro e veduta di Gubbio - © William P. Thayer 2000
Gubbio was undoubtedly the most important city of the Umbrians and perhaps the only one of this civilisation comparable to the city-states of the Etruscans. In 295BC Ikuvinum formed an alliance with Rome with the name of Iguvium, but the mounting interference in its internal affairs on behalf of the capital of the future empire provoked a revolt in 90BC.
A clear idea of how society functioned in the “Tota Ikuvina” has been inscribed on the renowned Gubbio Tablets, which are kept in the Palazzo dei Consoli. These tablets are composed of seven bronze slabs of varying size, displaying inscriptions (even on both sides in some cases) in the ancient Umbrian language. Five inscriptions (2nd century BC) are in Etruscan characters, while two further inscriptions dating from between the 2nd and 1st century BC are in Latin that has been adapted to the language. The slabs were unearthed near Scheggia in 1444 and bought by the Comune of Gubbio in exchange for grazing rights. As well as being the most complete example of the ancient Umbrian language available to us today, the tablets are arguably the most important ritual text from the Classical Age to have survived intact. The inscriptions on the slabs provide a precise description of the religious ceremonies and sacrifices carried out by the Atiedii brotherhood, as well as references to the triple deity Grabovian cult that included Jove, Mars and Vophion - later known as the Quirine cult in Roman times and eventually substituted by the cult of Minerva. There is mention of twelve corporations gathered together into three groups: the ‘natine petrunia’ (masons), ‘natine vuhicia’ (carriers) and ‘sehmenies tekufies’ (traders and artisans). The city’s three gates are also mentioned: Trebulana, Tessenaca and Vehia. Only the Vehia gate has so far been identified, although there is some doubt as to the authenticity of this claim. Allegedly from between the 4th and 3rd century BC, the arch of Porta Vehia was remodelled in the Middle Ages. The slabs also mention enemy tribes and people such as the Etruscans (etruskus), the inhabitants of Terni and the Valnerina valley (naharskus), and the “accursed” citizens of Gualdo Tadino (Tarsinater), who the gods are called upon to exterminate.

Rovine romane - © William P. Thayer 2000
An ally of Rome since the 3rd century BC, in 89BC Gubbio (Iguvium) obtained civic Roman rights following an uprising. The entire plain beneath the city is filled with Roman remains. Remains of the ancient baths are under Via degli Ortacci, while the late-Republican period amphitheatre stands not far off. One of the largest of its time, the theatre boasts a 70-metre diameter cavea and could contain 7,000 spectators, making it only marginally smaller than the great Marcellus Amphitheatre in Rome. The ashlar-work construction was completed by two basilica structures that Gneus Satrius Rufus had restored and completed in the 1st century AD during his quadrumvirate. Restoration work and excavations carried out in the 18th century brought to light fine mosaics.

Anfiteatro Romano - © William P. Thayer 2000
The Roman amphitheatre is still in use today, during the Classical season of performances that take place in July and August.

The Roman mausoleum stands nine metres high and has been completely stripped of its exterior covering. The burial chamber in the interior measures 6.30m x 4.72m and is built in regular slabs topped by a barrel vaulted ceiling. Opinion is divided as to whom the mausoleum was intended for. Some sustain that it was the sepulchre of Genzius, king of the Illyrians, who was imprisoned in Gubbio after he surrendered to the Romans. Others believe the building to be the tomb of a certain Pomponius Grecinus.

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