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HERDONIA (Ordona) Italy.

Some 25 km S of Foggia above the Apulian plain on the S bank of the river Carappelle. The Roman city has the form of an elongated lozenge (730 x 300 m). It stood on the site of a much larger native settlement which included necropoleis and dwellings.

Although the name of the town is perhaps to be found on 5th and 4th c. coins, it appears in literary sources only in the 3d c. in the accounts given by ancient authors of the events of the Punic wars in S Italy. In 214 and 212 the Roman army was beaten there by Hannibal, who burned the city and deported the population in 210. Herdonia appears to have received the title of municipium under the Republic. Strabo describes it as a way station on the road from Brindisi to Benevento (Geog. 6.3.7). Pliny mentions it, but for Silius Italicus it is only a poor, abandoned spot (8.567). Included in the II Augustan region, the city underwent a remarkable renaissance in the 1st c. A.D. when it became an important crossroads on the Via Traiana. In this capacity it is mentioned in the majority of the itineraries. In the 5th c., it appears to have been an episcopal see. The mediaeval town, a pale reflection of the ancient one, lived meagerly on one of the hills of its predecessor. The townspeople buried their dead in a series of chapels set up in the ancient buildings. On the acropolis was erected a fine early church, which was soon transformed into a fortress. Coins and ceramics show that the site was occupied until the 17th c.

Among archaeologists, Ordona is known principally for its rich necropoleis, which have furnished artifacts illustrating the native civilizations of Apulia, particularly that of Daunia. The first official explorations were made there in 1872, followed by others in 1902. The Roman city was touched for the first time in 1954-1955, and in 1962 systematic study of the site was undertaken. This recent work has led to the complete excavation of the public buildings of the city center, as well as a detailed study of the city wall and the examination of a part of the necropolis.

It is now clear that towards the beginning of the 3d c. B.C. a sector of the native settlement was surrounded by a wall composed of an earthen rampart almost 13 m thick reinforced by a wall of sun-dried bricks. This rampart was restored on many occasions with the addition of towers and bastions. At the beginning of the 1st c. B.C., under the threat of the civil wars, Herdonia was surrounded by a new wall of more solid construction. The old wall of sun-dried bricks was enclosed in fine facings of opus incertum masonry. At the beginning of our era, the rampart was dismantled, and an amphitheater erected in the moat. Inside the city, the first attempts at city planning took place from the end of the 2d c. B.C. A temple of Italic tradition was built in the artisan sector, which was destined to become the monumental center of the city. During the reign of Augustus a magnificent basilica (41 x 27 m) was erected. The laying out of the forum (59 x 35 m) necessitated considerable terracing. Along a vast esplanade stood shops, a cryptoporticus, and a market. During the 1st c. A.D., the aediles of Herdonia were extremely active: the original shops were replaced, a second temple built across from the basilica. The Via Traiana was flagged for the whole of its length within the city. This flowering was short-lived. From the 3d c. on, many of the public buildings were abandoned or transformed. Small Christian chapels appeared in the ancient edifices; the population concentrated increasingly in the N sector of the town, at the farthest extremity of which a great Christian basilica with three naves was soon to be built. Two noteworthy coin hoards have been found: the first, dating from the 5th c., shows that the center of the town continued to be occupied under the Late Empire. The second, from the end of the 10th c., is composed of gold coins struck in imitation of Arab money, and is a valuable contribution to knowledge of numismatics of early mediaeval Italy.

Although the most recent excavations have centered in the Roman city, they have furnished important information on the native pre-Roman settlement, such as the fact that the tombs and the dwellings were mingled together indiscriminately with no separation of city of the dead from that of the living. In the tombs, the deceased was placed in a squatting position, surrounded by rich grave goods.

The excavations have furnished a particularly rich and varied quantity of artifacts: coins, lamps, sculptures, inscriptions, ceramics. Among the latter should be noted the local pottery, with its polychrome geometric decoration. It is an important contribution to our knowledge of the native Italic civilizations of S Italy.


A. Chieffo, Herdoniae (1948); EAA S (1963) 725-26 (N. Degrassi); J. Mertens, Ordona I. Rapport provisoire sur les travaux de la mission belge en 1962-64 (Etudes de philologie, d'archéologie et d'histoire anciennes publiées par l'Institut historique belge de Rome VIII, 1965); id., Ordona II (Etudes IX, 1967); id., Ordona III (Etudes XIV, 1971); Herdonia. Chantier archeologique belge en Italie (1969); G. Alvisi, La viabilità romana della Daunia (Società patria per la Puglia. Doc. et Monografie XXXVI, 1970); M. D. Mann, Topografia storica della Daunia antica (Civiltà della Daunia I, 1970) 31-137. For a study of the lamps and coins, see Ordona IV (1973).


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