A town 88 km
NW of Rome and 7.5 km W of the Tiber, in a region
scarred by deep ravines and lying about 300 m above sea
level. Rome wrested control of the district from the
Etruscans ca. 265 B.C. Etruscan Ferentium (7th-5th c.
B.C.) lay on a site slightly SW of the later Roman town:
excavation has recently laid bare its necropolis, temples,
and houses with terracotta decoration.
Roman Ferentium was already a flourishing municipium by the time of Augustus, and it remained such
down to the Late Empire. Its most famous native son was
Otho, the ephemeral emperor of A.D. 69, whose family
sepulcher was found immediately NE of the site in 1921.
Flavia Domitilla, wife of Vespasian and mother of the
emperors Titus and Domitian, may also have come
from Ferentium (Suet. Vesp
. 3). In the Late Empire
Ferentium dwindled to a village, but it retained its own
bishops down to the 7th c. Neighboring Viterbo finally
destroyed the place in 1172.
Its temples to Fortune and Salus, recorded by Tacitus
. 15.53), have disappeared, but its theater, in the
S section of the site, is one of the best preserved anywhere. Apparently it was built under Augustus, or slightly earlier, and was later restored (perhaps under Septimius Severus). Explorations in 1901 and 1927-28
revealed that it conforms closely to the theater norms
recommended by Vitruvius (De Arch
. 5.6), who may
have been living at the time of its original construction.
The scaena, ca. 40 m long, was adorned with marble
statues of Apollo, the Muses, and a winged Pothos,
copied from originals by Skopas: these are now in the
Museo Archeologico in Florence. The rear wall of the
scaena, lofty as usual, seems to belong to the later reconstruction: it is largely of brick and was pierced by 11
exits (seven survive) leading to an ambulatory. The
stage proper was on the N side of the scaena: its surviving foundations, built of a local peperino commended by
Vitruvius (De Arch
. 2.4.7), show that it was 5 m deep
and ca. 1.5 m high; the customary three doors linked
the proscenium with the scaena. The orchestra has a
diameter of 28 m, is paved with the local peperino, and
is reached by parodoi faced with opus reticulatum. The
cavea was originally divided into six sections: little remains of its original stone seating, but 13 rows have been
recently restored in cement. A spectacular semicircle of
massive stone pilasters, 60 m in diameter, runs round
the cavea: the 28 pilasters are 4 m apart and are linked
by arches, 25 of which (one of them restored) still stand,
their voussoirs holding themselves in place without cement. Surviving fragments of the marble cladding further
attest the sumptuous appearance of the theater.
Next to the theater on the E are extensive ruins of
baths, mostly of brick but with some opus reticulatum:
fragments of marble, of stucco veneer, and of white and
black mosaic paving also survive. The date seems Augustan, but there were later rebuildings. Investigation in
1908-9 revealed that the baths covered ca. 4000 sq. m,
provided separate accommodations for men and women,
and had the tepidaria and calidaria at the S end as usual.
They, too, apparently adhered to Vitruvian canons.
An inscription on a marble slab used for repairing the
baths in the Late Empire indicates that the forum was
monumentalized, in either A.D. 12 or 18, with an Augusteum, as yet unidentified, which housed over 50 statues.
Blocks from the E end of the town wall and traces of
the defensive agger at its W end also survive, as well as
a well-preserved stretch of the decumanus maximus that
ran W to join the Via Cassia some 4 km away. Excavation will probably reveal much else, especially in the NE
part of the site where remains of an amphitheater are
Several ancient bridges cross the nearby ravines, the
most notable being the lofty Ponte Funicchio of ca. 100
B.C. immediately to the SW.
Many of the archaeological finds are now at Viterbo
in the Museo Civico (the convent of S. Maria della
Verità). They include an altar front with bas reliefs
(from the Augusteum ?), a female statue (headless but
beautifully draped), and numerous inscriptions (one of
them honoring Otho).
A. Garzana, Ferento: Guida degli Scavi
(1935); M. E. Blake, Ancient Roman Construction in
(1947) 221, 224, 240; pl. 26 fig. 2; P. Giannini, Ferento
, with good bibliography.
E. T. SALMON