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GNATHIA (Egnatia) Apulia, Italy.

A city between Bari and Brindisi. Ancient sources place it on the border between Messapia and Peucezia and identify it as a maritime freight station and crossroads for land traffic (Strab. 6.282; Ptol. 3.1.15; Mela 2.4; Plin. 2.107, 3.102). Horace (Sat. 15.97ff.) passed through Gnathia in 38 B.C. on his voyage from Rome to Brindisi.

The earliest evidence of organized life comes from the acropolis and dates to the Bronze and Iron Ages. About the 4th-3d c. B.C. the site acquired the appearance characteristic of a Messapian city, surrounded by powerful walls on its three landward sides. From this period date rich tombs, often containing painted ornaments and furnished with valuable vases.

In the Roman period, especially during the early centuries of the Empire, the city prospered because of its location on the principal transit route to the Orient. In A.D. 109 the Emperor Trajan, in order to facilitate communication between the capital and Brindisi, improved the old pack road cited by Strabo and Horace. A stretch of this paved road, the Via Traiana, and traces of the gate of Egnatia have recently been discovered in the course of systematic excavation. In the Christian epoch the city was the seat of a bishopric. A bishop of Egnatia, Rufentius, participated in the Council of Rome, convened in the early years of the 6th c. by Pope Symmachus I. The causes of the city's destruction and end at the beginning of the Middle Ages remain unknown.

The first systematic excavations were undertaken in 1912 and 1913 and have continued at intervals since then. The city was defended on the landward sides by a circuit wall, almost 2 km long, preceded by a wide ditch. The wall was of double curtain construction built of large blocks of tufa in isodomic courses, with interior rubble fill. The best-preserved stretch of this wall is visible near the sea. The acropolis was also defended by walls. Traces of the port establishments are preserved underwater as a result of gradual changes in the relative level of land and sea. Between the acropolis and the Via Traiana, was the Roman forum. It was paved with regular blocks of tufa and enclosed by a portico with Doric columns, covered with limestone. The Hellenistic agora was also surrounded by porticos, later turned into shops. Not far from the two forums is a large ellipsoidal plaza, perhaps intended as a place for spectacles. A monument with a dedicatory inscription (sacerdos Matris Magnae et Syriae deae) documents the existence of an Oriental cult widespread in Italy at the beginning of the Empire. The Via Traiana, which runs parallel to the sea, divides a zone of public buildings at the foot of the acropolis from an area of rather modest private houses. They are quadrangular in plan, occasionally show traces of white mosaic pavements, and almost always are furnished with catch basins to collect rainwater. Among the ruins of more recent monuments are those of two Christian basilicas with mosaic pavements that date from the early mediaeval period when the city was the seat of a bishopric.

The earliest necropolis lay outside the acropolis in an area that was later included in the Roman urban plan. Sumptuous chamber tombs were often painted and richly provided with ceramics. In the Hellenistic age the ceramics are of the overpainted type, called vases of Gnathia because they were discovered here in abundance for the first time.


L. Pepe, Notizie storiche ed archeologiche dell'antica Gnathia (1883); RE VII.2 (1912) 1478-79 (Weiss); EAA 3 (1960) 167-71 (C. Drago); L'antica Egnazia, a cura della Soprintendenza alle Antichità della Puglia (1965).


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    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 2.107
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