(Aosta) Val d'Aosta, Italy.
About 80 km N-NW of Turin in a beautiful
valley 3 km wide, surrounded by mountains ca. 3050 m
high. At the confluence of the Dora Baltea and Buthier,
it is a highly strategic site where the Great and Little St.
Bernard passes converge, after crossing the Pennine and
The Roman general Terentius Varro conquered the
earliest identifiable inhabitants of the area, the troublesome Salassi, in 25 B.C.; and to control the Alpine approaches, Augustus (emperor 27 B.C-A.D. 14) at once replaced Varro's camp with a military colony. Its 3000
settlers were praetorians: hence the name Augusta Praetoria (Cass. Dio 53.25.3-5). Although never very populous, the town has always been of great military importance; it has often been controlled from beyond the Alps.
Today it is the capital of Val d'Aosta, an autonomous
The Roman monuments, some partly buried by today's
higher ground level, are mainly Augustan. The town walls
stand, although much damaged, for almost their entire
circuit. They enclosed a rectangular castrum (572 x
724 m). Originally over 10 m high, they are of concrete,
with a squared-stone facing of local travertine most of
which has disappeared (except on the S wall). Of the
twenty square towers that reinforced the walls two survive: Torre del Pailleron in the S wall, a restored but
good specimen of Roman military architecture, and
Torre del Lebbroso in the W wall, a structure with much
Renaissance modification. The town gates were portcullised and built of squared-stone blocks: the S one, Porta
Principalis Dextra with a single opening, is still visible;
the E one, Porta Praetoria, a magnificent two-curtained
affair, has three passageways and a large interior court
(11.87 x 19.80 m).
Outside the walls stands the handsome Arch of Augustus. It is ca. 320 m E of the Porta Praetoria, close to a
Roman bridge over the Buthier, and is axially aligned
with both monuments. It is of stone and has engaged
Corinthian columns supporting a Doric entablature on
each face; its single opening is 11.5 m high; attic and
dedicatory inscriptions vanished centuries ago.
Inside the walls the modern street plan reflects the
ancient grid of seven decumani and seven cardines. The
theater, or more accurately odeum (since, for climatic
reasons, it was roofed), stood near the Porta Praetoria:
the S section of its perimetral wall still towers 22 m above
the cavea, orchestra, and scaena. North of it but also,
somewhat surprisingly, inside the walls, was the amphitheater, eight of the stone arcades of which still survive.
The forum lay farther W, at the present Piazza della
Cattedrale: surrounding it was a quadrilateral cryptoporticus (79.2 x 89 m), of which three sides still exist,
together with part of the podium of a temple (the Capitolium ?). The baths, between forum and amphitheater,
are poorly preserved. Some remains of houses have also
The museum of antiquities, in the Priorato di S. Orso,
contains the famous inscription honoring Augustus, which
was set up by the Salassi in 23 B.C. The Cathedral houses
an ivory diptych of A.D. 406 bearing likenesses of the contemporary emperor Honorius, and its crypt has ten
Roman columns and an Early Christian altar.
The mountains around Aosta contain numerous specimens of Roman engineering: bridges, viaducts, rock-cuts, etc.
P. Barocelli, Augusta Praetoria
(= Forma Italiae
: Regio XI, Transpadana. Vol. I) (1948) with
good earlier bibliographyMPI
; F. Castagnoli, Orthogonal
Town Planning in Antiquity
(1971) 112, 113; S. Finocchi,
(in the Municipi e Colonie
Rome, Istit. di Studi Romani, forthcoming.
E. T. SALMON