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FORUM JULII (Cividale del Friuli) Italy.

A city in the Natisone river valley ca. 17 km from Udine. There are remains from the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages and traces of contact with the nearby early Veneti though here these peoples were overcome by a Carni invasion so threatening as to induce the Romans to establish the Latin colony of Aquileia in 181 B.C. A hypogeum, with remains of sculpture (three large stone masks of the type of the celebrated “Têtes coupées” in S France), shows traces of long use. This and persistent echoes in the local toponymy are the only remains of this population that was conquered in 115 B.C. by the consul M. Emilius Scaurus.

A sign of increasingly intense exchange with the Romans are coins found in tombs or in treasure hoards, all from the first half of the 1st c. B.C. The open position saved the area from the threatening raids of the Giapidi. The true pacifier of the area, as of all N Italy, was Julius Caesar, who united the region with Rome, making it a base for the conquest of transalpine Gaul. Forum Julii probably began as a forum or fortified place (the precise date is still under discussion) on an existing road already important for military and commercial traffic. It was not far from Tricesimo at the opening of the Tagliamento valley, where the senate of Aquileia at about this time constructed the gates and walls of a castello recorded by an inscription (CIL I, 2648).

Very soon, perhaps by 49 B.C., when the Lex Julia Municipalis gave Roman citizenship to the Cisalpine population, the settlement became a municipium, governed still by quattuorviri (and not according to the later use of duoviri), and was assigned to the tribus Scaptia. However, some connect the development of the site with the systematization of the roads of the region under Augustus in 2 B.C.

In order to distinguish this from other homonymic centers in Gallia Narbonese and in Liguria, Pliny (HN 3.130) called the inhabitants Forojulienses cognomine Transpadani. Ptolemy calls it a colony (3.120), but his testimony is not universally accepted.

Following the work of pacification of the whole Alpine area under Augustus, the region grew in importance. By virtue of its position and climate it became a vacation area for the rich of Aquileia and Trieste, and therefore dotted by spas, villas, and various other buildings though no traces of these remain above ground today. Inscriptions are neither particularly important nor numerous. It may be noted that the gentes mentioned are almost all of Roman or of central or S Italian origin.

The cults are recorded only by inscriptions and by small bronzes. They include Herakles, Jupiter, Fortuna, Augusta, Silvanus, Mercury, and the god Beleno, the best known among the local deities of the region and connected with a Gallic cult. It is possible that several columns of varicolored marble, fragments of doorposts and of architraves from an earlier temple were reused in the celebrated church of S. Maria in Valle. Inscriptions also indicate the existence of a Pontifex, of sexviri, and of Augustales. Unlike Aquileia, no record of artisan or agricultural activity is preserved here.

Excavations carried out at various times and stray finds have confirmed at Forum Julii the customary network of roads found in Roman cities, though of course with variations imposed by the geographical situation. The forum or center of the city must have corresponded to the present Piazza Duomo, where the cardo maximus intersected with the decumanus. Here have been found under the Palladian Palace of the Pretorio (itself constructed on the ruins of a patriarchal palace) the remains of a basilican building with two naves, an unusual type also found in the nearby center of Julium Carnicum (Zuglio).

The beautiful private houses, interesting for their varied plans, must have been richly decorated with mosaics. Many of these, conserved at the museum, date from the 1st to the 3d c. A.D. The museum contains a particularly tasteful head of Oceanus from the baths, judged to be from the Antonine age.

The walls offer some interesting problems. It is probable that the earliest city wall, constructed at the same time as the first forum, defended a center corresponding roughly to two-thirds the area enclosed by the later wall. The slightly later wall started from the Natisone, circled, and returned there, thus incorporating the steep bank of the river into the defensive system. The course of the wall has been securely established, and its average thickness is 2.4 m. Its remains have been found in the cellars of the houses constructed above. The wall was rebuilt or restored in great haste at the time of Marcus Aurelius when the center, menaced by the invasion of the Quadi and the Marcomanni, had to prepare a military defense. The Emperor, in fact, must have included the center in the defensive system he created with the praetentura Italiae et Alpium.

From that point on, all imperial interest in the area ceased and it again became the outpost it had been at the time of Julius Caesar, leaving no evidence of the succeeding phases it passed through. We know only that Forum Julii was hardly touched by the Goths, became a part of the Byzantine Empire, and was overrun by the Lombards when they crossed the Alps in 568.

There is scant evidence of the primitive Christianity that must have been practiced here and probably gave impetus to new construction, at least by the 4th c. A.D. The flowering of religious art came with the establishment of the first Lombard Duchy in Italy, at first Arian and then orthodox, especially after the transfer to Cividale of the Patriarchy of Aquileia, now in ruins.

With the patriarchal government ends the ancient history of the Forum Julii of Caesar. The necropoleis, placed as usual outside the gates (one to the S along the road from Aquileia, a second to the NE, and a third to the N), contain both cremation burials and the later inhumations of the barbaric period.


S. Stucchi, Forum Julii (1951); A. Degrassi, Il confine nord-orientale dell'Italia romana (1954) 26-36; G. B. Brusin, “Tessellati di Cividale,” in Memorie Storiche Forogiuliesi 40 (1960-61) 1-23; B. Forlati Tamaro EAA (1959); P. S. Leicht, Breve storia del Friuli (4th ed. 1970).


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    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.19
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