The Gilt Bronzes from Cartoceto di Pergola is the only Roman gilt bronze equestrian group still in existence. Originally, it was composed of two horses with two knights, only one of which remains, and two women standing.
Discovery & restoration
In June 1946, hundreds of little pieces of gilt bronze, some weighing hundreds of kilograms, were discovered in Santa Lucia di Calamello
, near Cartoceto di Pergola
. The discovery itself is credited to Canon Giovanni Vernarecci, who was at the time the archaeological inspector of Fossombrone
, and the circumstances of the discovery are known from his written testimony.
The bronzes were recovered by Vernarecci and Nereo Alfieri, regional inspector of the Soprintendenza alle Antichità delle Marche. The restoration was completed in several periods between 1949 and 1988. In all, 318 pieces were joined together to reconstitute the four statues.
The group was recovered not far from the intersection of the Via Flaminia
and the Via Salaria Gallica
. The location, isolated from any urban center, has led to the conjecture that the group was removed from its original position and set aside in a repositioning sometime in late antiquity
, or perhaps under the Byzantines
— it has been hypothesized that this was as a result of a damnatio memoriae
The bronzes' original position is still uncertain. The most accepted hypothesis is that the group was originally on a base in some public area (probably the forum of a Roman city near the discovery site. Notable candidates are: Forum Sempronii (Fossombrone), which was the closest city, Sentinum (Sassoferrato), where the existence a foundry for large statues has been attested, or Suasa, because other large fragments of a similar gilt bronze horse were found there (these are being conserved at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore).
The group is composed of two horsemen, two women, and two horses. The people were probably all from one of the senatorial
families. The identification of the people is uncertain, and various hypotheses have been suggested. Initially, the group was identified with the imperial family of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty
, dating the statues between 20 and 30 AD: the horsemen were thought to be Nero Caesar
and Drusus III
, the sons of Germanicus
, and the women to be Livia Drusilla
(Germanicus' grandmother) and Agrippina the Elder
The hypothesis now most widely accepted establishes a date between 50 BC and 30 BC, and identifies the people with a prestigious legate's family from the territory in which they were discovered, the Ager Gallicus. Several candidates have been proposed, including the family of Domitius Ahenobarbus, as well as Marcus Satrius (senator and patron of Sentinum) and Lucius Minucius Basilus (founder of Cupra Maritima, modern Cupra Marittima).
A last hypothesis sees the group originally located in the Heraion of Samo and the people as the family of Cicero, identifying one of the horsemen with Cicero himself.Horsemen
- The best-conserved horseman is a mature man (about 40 years old), whose clothes (the paludamentum and tunic) identify him as a high-ranking military officer in time of peace, further supported by the position of the right arm, raised in the symbol of peace. Little remains of the other horseman but fragments.Women
- The surviving standing figure depicts an old woman, whose Hellenistic hairstyle (characteristic of the second half of the first century allows the group to be dated. The woman is dressed in a stole and palla. The other female figure is substantially less preserved, with only the lower portions of her body surviving.Horses
- The horses are presented with one raised front leg. The pectorals are decorated with Tritons e Nereids, seahorses and dolphins. The harnesses are adorned with metal on which are represented various gods: Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Juno, Minerva, and Mercury.
Technique and materials
The statues were made using the lost-wax method
, using primarily an alloy of copper
with traces of lead
. After assembly, the statues were covered with gold leaf.
Because of its extraordinary archaeological importance, the group has been the object of a long controversy between the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici delle Marche
and the commune of Pergola
, over who would keep it and where (in the National Archeological Museum of the Marche, in Ancona
, or in the Museo dei Bronzi dorati e della città di Pergola
). The resulting compromise provides for alternating the original bronzes and a perfect copy between the two sites.
Another copy, intended to show them in their original state, is displayed on the roof of the Palazzo Ferretti (the site of the National Archaeological Museum of the Marche) as a symbol of local archeology.