previous next

AUGUSTA PRAETORIA (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 Graian Alps.

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 French-speaking region.

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 been found.

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, Augusta Praetoria (in the Municipi e Colonie series), Rome, Istit. di Studi Romani, forthcoming.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: