Italiano  Inglese

Official Portal of Tourism of the Province of Rovigo

Aerial view of Island of Albarella
You are in: Home / Historical Places / THE POLESINE IN THE EARLY AGES
Go Back

THE POLESINE IN THE EARLY AGES

Prehistory
Vasi The earliest human settlements discovered in the province of Rovigo date back to the Bronze Age to a period approximately between the XVIII and the X century BC.
At Canàr near San Pietro Polesine (commune of Castelnovo Bariano) the only known example of stilt housing in the province of Rovigo was found. In this period economic activity was based on agriculture and farming, supplemented by hunting and gathering of wild fruits. Weaving (loom spindles and weights) is documented as well as a certain degree of specialisation in carpentry. The use of bronze was not yet widespread, while one of the most documented household activities is the production of ceramics and it is precisely what characterises the Canàr site with amphora (vases with two handles), jugs and large bowls with brimmed edges.
From the Middle and Late Bronze age (XVI-XIII century) are the Marola and Canova settlements also in the commune of Castelnovo Bariano, and sporadic finds at Sarzano (commune of Rovigo) and maybe at Adria.
The last phase of the Bronze Age and early Iron Age (XII-IX century BC) is a period of profound social and economic change.
Attributed to this period are the villages of Mariconda, Melara, Frattesina of Fratta Polesine, Gognano, Villamarzana, Arquà Polesine, Saline di San Martino di Venezze and some sporadic discoveries (San Bellino and Frassinelle). Almost all of these settlements are located near an ancient waterway or its likely branches called Po di Adria or Filistina.
Its main course ran through the Polesine roughly following the present-day Tartaro Canalbianco. The River must have been above all an easy route of communication and the proximity to its bank side slopes was probably suitable protection from floods. The mouth may have been located at about 10 kilometers east of Adria near an ancient coastline of which low sand dunes remain.
Among those mentioned, the most interesting site by far in terms of data collected is Frattesina di Fratta Polesine. The village stood south east of the current town of Fratta, along the southern shore of the Po di Adria (corresponding to the present road to Villamarzana), covering in excess of 100 hectares. The dwellings (probably several hundred) were simple huts; one of these, discovered during the excavations begun in 1974, has clay flooring which had been laid over a bed of hot coals in order to better harden it.
The elevation was probably built with structural poles on which a trellis of branches and reeds plastered with clay was laid. The roof was also made from vegetation materials. Around the huts a whole series of household activities revolved such as the production of ceramics and weaving. The primary economic activities were of course agriculture (cereals, legumes) and livestock (pigs, cattle, goats and sheep in order of importance) but notable importance was also given to some handicraft activities such as glasswork and the working of bronze and stag horn. The many bronze objects found testify the high level of specialization that this production had reached. The raw materials (copper and tin) were almost certainly brought from Tuscan mines but were worked on-site as documented by the moulds, the furnace slag and the craftsmen?s stock of materials composed of pigs (ingots) and pieces to be cast. The products of this craft are ornamental like fibulas (broaches), large pins, rings, pendants, and work tools: knives, sickles, saws, axes, chisels etc. Weapons have very rarely been found (swords and spears).
The working of bone and especially stag horn was widely practiced. The overall extent of craft work documented at Frattesina is such that it does not find comparison with any other settlement of the late Italian Bronze Age.
Also relative to Frattesina, are the two necropolises located respectively a few hundred metres to the southeast and northeast of the town. The ritual of incineration, the deposition of the ashes of the dead in an urn, was an almost exclusive rite.
Urns are terracotta pots, quite similar to those for domestic use, covered by a bowl and laid in a simple pit.
In addition to the ashes they often contained a set of objects that should define the gender and social role of the deceased. Between the end of the IX and the beginning of the VI century BC, the territory of the Polesine loses the importance it had acquired in previous centuries. In fact, the total lack of finds from this period does not seem coincidental. The general hydraulic instability of the territory following an increase in rainfall is undoubtedly one of the reasons that can explain this phenomenon.
From the 6th century BC the territory of the Polesine seems to undergo repopulation by the indigenous ancient Venetian population and Greek and Etruscan peoples.
Many are the similarities between the archaic period and the previous protovenetan period: an important trade centre (Adria) was open to trade from Northern Europe and the Aegean. This was possible thanks to its favourable geographical position, close to the sea, to which Adria was connected by a network of lagoons.
Similarly to Frattesina, Adria must have been an important river port, which would have enabled easy connections with the hinterland, as testified by the settlements of Gavello, San Cassiano, Borsea and Rovigo (Balone area), perhaps lined up along an ancient course of water, connected to the Etruscan Mantova. Towards the sea the village of San Basilio was located together with other minor settlements behind the coastal dunes which today form the sandbar.

The archaic period (VI-V century BC)
urna
Adria. The old town was at 5 or 6 metres below the South western part of the modern city, that is, in the area where the archaeological museum is located. Classic authors who speak of Adria do not attribute its foundation to just one people, some citing the Greeks, others, the Etruscans and others still, even the Celts and Illyrians.
Archaeological data mention a paleovenetian and Greek presence during the first half of the 6th century BC.
Dwellings should not differ much from those described for Frattesina: wood, kindling and reeds remained the privileged materials due to their availability, along with the use of clay plaster.
The system of raised huts on overlapping plateaus sustained by poles sunk into the damp soil for consolidation was still used for construction.
It would seem, therefore, that the Greeks, as mentioned above, were the first to come into contact with the indigenous paleovenetian people. The Greeks most probably sought out the raw materials (mainly metals), artifacts from the transalpine regions and products of the fertile Po (particularly cereals). These objects were exchanged with products such as oil, wine and the prized attic pottery. Contact with the Etruscans must have been almost contemporary and Adria, in the first half of the 6th century BC, may have been one of the stations through which Greek luxury goods passed on the route to the Etruscan cities of Bologna and Marzabotto.
From the end of the 6th century BC the Etruscan presence in the Po Valley becomes more consistent, witnessed by finds of Etruscan inscriptions on ceramic artifacts. At the same time relations with the Greek world remain: various votive inscriptions including one dedicated to Apollo, have been found near the Church of Santa Maria della Tomba and have been connected to a sanctuary built by a community from Aegina. The attic pottery found in the dwellings bears the signatures of craftsmen of the most important Athenian workshops: Makron, Polignoto Brygos, etc.
It is worth noting that these products were symbols of prestige to those who possessed them and that to find such large amounts of pottery, especially kitchenware, in the village is further confirmation of the wealth of the city.
In the middle of the fifth century BC the Etruscan town, Spina takes the place of Adria soon becoming a pole of development of Greek trade in the Adriatic.
San Basilio. The period from the beginning of the VI century BC to the whole of the V century, sees a number of villages set up near waterways or the ancient shores. The most renowned and the subject of several excavation campaigns, is the site of San Basilio at about 20 km southeast of Adria, on the island of Ariano.
It stood behind the second strip of coastal dunes, which testifies its direct link with the sea, and near the end of the ancient "Po di Ariano" (partially corresponding to the current Po di  Goro).
The oldest materials found at San Basilio date back to the first half of the 6th century BC and are of paleovenetian and Greek manufacture confirming what has been supposed regarding Adria.
The importance of the Paduan delta as an arrival point and sorting station of exotic goods inland, is documented by other discoveries (Taglio di Po, Contarina and Balone area) and by the fact that a few decades after their arrival in the area, the Etruscans built Spina, in the southern part of the delta, thereby taking direct control of trade.
The IV century is a period of strong political and social contrast. Athens exits the Peloponnesian wars prostrate and loses power over the control of trade routes, in favour of Syracuse. According to literary tradition, the Syracusans widened their sphere of influence even over the Northern Adriatic and Adria is said to have been re-founded by them. Another threat to the political balance of the peninsula was represented by the Celts or Gauls. As early as the fifth century the Celts crossed the Alpine passes in small groups, occupying much of the Lombardian and Emilia Romagnolo plain. They failed to penetrate the Veneto, but, according to some ancient scholars, one group is said to have settled in the Paduan Delta.

The romanization
coccio
The Roman occupation of the Polesine was not confrontational but rather a slow process of absorption, initially economical and cultural and lastly political, as indeed happened throughout the territory of the Veneto.
Venetians and Romans were in fact allies against the Celts their common enemies and later against Hannibal when he tried to occupy the peninsula.
An essential tool for Roman penetration was the building of a complex road system that enabled direct military control and wide distribution of the culture of the new rulers.
Of 132 BC is the Via Popillia, a road linking Rimini to Adria. Dated a few years later (128 BC) is the Via Annia, the continuation of the Popillia road towards Padova, Altino and Aquileia.
In 49 BC, the main cities of the Veneto became "Municipia", which led to the right of Roman citizenship and to the definitive annexation of Veneto to the dominion of Rome.
The current province of Rovigo was divided between the municipium of Verona, Este and Adria which was to remain the most important town of the territory.
Cocci Centuria è un termine militare e indicava un gruppo di cento armati. La centuria agraria (circa 735 metri di lato) veniva suddivisa fra 100 coloni in genere ex militari che ricevevano in questo modo una specie di liquidazione. Tracce dell'antica maglia centuriale sono state individuate tra Rovigo e Adria, nella zona compresa tra Canalbianco e la provinciale Rovigo-Anguillara per un'estensione di circa 250 kmq.
The environmental conditions that characterized the Roman age favoured the population and exploitation of the lower plains.
The hot and dry climate gave the course of the rivers a certain stability enabling reclamation work and the construction of embankments which in turn permitted the cultivation of otherwise marshy areas.
The sea was separated from the mainland by the lagoons which stretched throughout the northern Adriatic from Grado to Ravenna. The Romans operated directly on this complex hydrographic system building massive artificial embankments, reactivating old river beds and setting up a network of drainage canals and waterways for navigation inland.
The steadying of rivers and draining of large valleys allowed the Romans to create their traditional system of cultivation: centuriation. It consisted in the subdivision of fields in a checkerboard pattern; the land surveyors traced centurial axis on the ground normally in a N. S. (Cardines) and W. E. (Decumani) direction. Centuria (century) is a military term and indicated a group of one hundred armed soldiers. The agrarian century (approx. 735 metres per side) was divided among 100 settlers, generally former military personnel who received in this way, a kind of liquidation. Traces of the ancient centurial network were identified between Adria and Rovigo, in the area between the Canalbianco and the provincial road Rovigo-Anguillara for an extension of about 250 square km.
The present day conformation of the fields corresponds to the Venetian reclamation of 16th century that did not completely erase the Roman precedent that may be seen fairly clearly in aerial photos.
In addition to field division and drainage systems, another important element of centuriation were the roads. The so-called "road to Villadose", named after the small town East of Rovigo, which it bypasses moving towards the Veneto lagoon, could have been the decumano massimo: the main axis on which the entire centurial network was based.
The main communication routes that passed through the territory were the coastal ones. The first was the Popillia road named after the consul Publius Popillius Lenas who had it built in 132 BC.
In 128 BC the Consul Titus Annius Rufus had the Via Annia built connect­ing Adria with Padua and Aquileia.
Despite the creation of roads, the preferred communication routes remained those on water, whether natural or artificial.
The apex of economic and cultural vitality was during the 1st century AD. In the 3rd century, the territory suffered the general political crisis of the Empire that led to the abandonment of many towns. The repopulation that followed in the 4th and 5th centuries lacked the features and the prosperity of the previous centuries.
Not long afterwards, the fall of the Empire and the consequent lack of political power to impose and organize the conservation and safeguarding of the major river banks and drainage canals, would lead to the collapse of the economic system. Direct consequences of this situation were the subsequent flooding and swamping of the valleys and the spread of woods and forests.
The environmental conditions of the early centuries of the modern era were therefore very similar to those of the prehistoric age.
This state of affairs would give the Polesine its fame of "endemically marshy area" that only the reclamation of the medieval and modern ages would counteract by freeing it from the dominion of the waters.