The Roman Necropolis of Lovere

Travelling along Via Martinoli and Via Gobetti, now linking the Hospital to the church of Santa Maria in Valvendra, and marking the upstream boundary of the Lovere’s old residential area, you run along the area of the Roman necropolis.

 This burial site, one of the most important in Northern Italy, is the main Roman find in Lovere, where a village had to be built following the Roman conquest of the Val Camonica (Camonica Valley) in 16 BC. Even though there are no significant remains of the village, it has been possible to outline the cultural and socio-economic development of the community that buried their dead, thanks to the necropolis.

Via Martinoli and Via Gobetti retrace a section of the old road out of the village towards the Val Camonica. In fact, the necropolis was situated outside the residential area.

At least 215 tombs have been unearthed, the majority of which still had their grave goods, intended as personal baggage to deal with the afterlife.

This burial ground is characterized by its significant period of use, spanning from the 1st to the early 5th Century AD, and the many rare items of prestige found. The two burial equipments, unique in their value, discovered in 1907 and now displayed at the Civic Archaeological Museum of Milan are of particular interest. The most famous is the so-called “treasure of Scipio“, called this because of the name on the precious objects and consisting of silverware, such as the famous embossed and engraved “Coppa del Pescatore” (Fisherman’s Plate) and luxurious bronze artefacts. The second mainly consists of gold jewellery and precious stones.

Indirect cremation rites were practiced in Lovere in the early Imperial period, consisting in burning the body on a pyre in a separate place from the burial site. Cemetery space was arranged into walled funeral enclosures marking out specific family or collective burial sites.

The fact that objects typical of the Val Camonica (such as the Henkendellembechern type cup of Rhaetian origin, characterised by a functional depression on the handle) were persistently found in burial equipments dating back to the 1st early 2nd century AD suggests that the ancient inhabitants of Lovere belonged to that population. Following the conquest, the inhabitants took on Roman thought and culture once again. Typical Roman artefacts found are proof of this. Fine tableware and glassware, coins and oil lamps, but also ornaments or personal clothing in keeping with the new trends. There are some items of particular value among the latter and more common artefacts, including a gold crescent shaped pendant and a yellow glass pendant decorated with a Scorpion, from Egypt or Syria.

Cremation was permanently replaced by burial from the mid/late 3rd Century AD. The grave goods of this period consist, on average, of fewer artefacts, mostly tableware and ornaments. 4th and 5th Century grave goods mainly include glazed pottery and armille (bracelets). The “snakes head” type is mainly documented in Lovere, so-called due to the decoration characterizing the ends of the bracelet.

Studies carried out on both the bones and grave goods show that most individuals belonged to a middle class engaged in not overly heavy artisan and agricultural activities. This, combined with the availability of food, enabled individuals to generally reach 40 years of age, with the exception of the mortality affecting the 0-2 and 11-15 year olds, according to the statistics of the period. However, some grave goods prove the presence of a high social status, able to include objects of great value and prestige in their burial sites, obtained through wide ranging trade.


Chiara Ficini

Further information:

FORTUNATI ZUCCALA M., Lovere e l’alto Sebino in età romana: spunti di riflessione per la lettura del territorio, in Koinà. Miscellanea di studi archeologici in onore di Pietro Orlandini, a cura di Castoldi M., Milano 1999, pp. 469-480.

FORTUNATI M., Archeologia del territorio in età romana, in Storia Economica e Sociale di Bergamo. I primi millenni dalla Preistoria al Medioevo a cura di Fortunati M. e Poggiani Keller R., vol. 2, Cenate Sotto (Bg) 2007, pp. 597-605.

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