Times On Line
Sacrifice find supports legend of Siena's Roman heritage
From Richard Owen in Rome
April 11, 2003
Archaeologists at Siena cathedral have uncovered evidence to support the legend that the Tuscan city was founded by the Romans.
According to the founding myth, the name Siena derives from Senius, son of Remus, who founded Rome with his twin brother, Romulus. Senius fled to Siena to escape persecution by his wicked uncle Romulus, who sent warriors on horseback to stop him.
An official history of the Palio, Siena’s famous horse race, suggests that this explains the city’s subsequent fascination with horses. Archaeologists said yesterday that they had evidence of a ritual sacrifice, dating to early Roman times, in a well beneath the transept of the Duomo, near the Campo, the piazza where the Palio is run every summer.
Riccardo Francovich, professor of archaeology at Siena University, said his team had found the bones of three slaughtered dogs and a horse, with each animal cut up into three pieces. Professor Francovich said the slaughter of animals was a “votive ritual” used by the Romans to bring good fortune when founding a new city.
He said there had been an earlier Etruscan settlement, but the Romans had clearly refounded Siena and expanded it, burying the sacred bones on the site now occupied by the cathedral and the ancient hospital of Santa Maria della Scala.
Marie Ange Causarano, one of the archaeologists involved in the dig at the Duomo, said that the Roman well in which the ritual bones had come to light had been dug deep into the tufa, or rock, and was square in shape rather than round. It still bore the holes for corner poles to support a wooden lid, and had probably been lined with wooden planks at first. It had been filled in and lain undiscovered for centuries.
The evidence was hailed as proof of the long-held local belief in the Roman origins of Siena, which uses as its logo the image of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a shewolf, the symbol of Rome.